Sunday, August 27, 2006

More On World Domination

I found this hiding in Blogger's Draft folder. It's from back in 2006, but still fairly relevant, though the specific brouhaha it addresses has long gone.

A few more thoughts on Linux Domination:

It's not just an anti-Microsoft thing. Back in the day, I used Windows NT 3.2, including running overnight programs on my desktop. But then I discovered that Linux could do that kind of thing better (think backgrounding, not a feature of early Windows).

Then I discovered that I could make Linux my own. I'm fairly sure that my desktop is unlike any other desktop in the world. I know where everything is and what it's supposed to do, because I put it there. You can't get that from Windows. OK, you can get addons and patches that will more or less make your system behave, but every time you install a new program you get all sorts of things riding along. Me, if I install a new package, I just use "dpkg -L" to figure out what's in it, and if I find anything useful I put it into the .fvwmrc menu file, making it a part of my desktop. If something offends me, I can pluck it out immediately.

Then there are the practical reasons I mentioned in the last post. It's a lot easier to fix a friend's Linux machine than his Windows machine, no matter what the distribution. If my brother eventually decides to ditch his Win98 OS and run some obscure Linux distribution, well, I can help him with it. If my POSSLQ-in-law decides she's had it with viruses but wants a Windows-like environment, well, I can help with Gnome or KDE.

So I'd like Linux to achieve something close to World Domination.

But what's the cost? Eric Raymond wants us to embrace paid-for commercial drivers, at least in the short term. The perils of this from a practical point of view are obvious — in particular, if the company goes out of business, then you're screwed when someone finds a major security hole in the driver's code. Maybe that's the price we have to pay for total world domination. Certainly I've started down that road. I watch YouTube, which uses Flash (7, fortunately), I use RealPlayer for the codecs instead of HelixPlayer, and I rip my CDs to MP3s, 'cause that's what my car's sound system wants to hear. I haven't picketed Ford to tell them to convert to .ogg format. I've got Ubuntu's Multiverse repository ready to feed me any software I want.

But no matter how far down that (slippery, slopey) road some Linux distributions go, Linux won't go that far, because Linux and the GNU utilities that accompany it are released under the GPL. There will always be a totally free OS available, and, as we've seen over the last 15 years, someone to work on it.

So I'm not going to worry much about whether or not ESR is "selling out". Even if he is, he hasn't sold Linux down that road, because he can't.