Friday, 1 April 2016

Tribute to the Linux collective

It's a long while since I last had a good rant about the virtues of Linux. Windows has meanwhile seen many improvements in its development, but can still often be frustrating to use in comparison.

All that computer tinkering yesterday got me to bed later than I needed, so I slept late this morning, and eventually returned to the task of getting the Acer to work again by installing Linux Mint properly. It's  half to three quarters of an hour from boot to a fully working system. Better than Windows. You're then advised to update, but can do so at your leisure. Update runs for half an hour, bringing the latest version of the operating system and software. It does so without preventing you from carrying on with work, and usually without asking you to reboot. Utterly brilliant if you're busy. 

All you need available for productive working is there. If you have additional software needs it's easy to top up with your favourites to complete the job. All made possible by the core design of Linux at the outset. It's one of the greatest collaborative social enterprises of our era. Fortunes are made by companies offering Linux software services, yet it's available for free within a global community of volunteers and professionals, for anyone to adopt - especially when Windows dies on them. It's still hard to find Linux driven computers readily available in the consumer marketplace.

I discovered Linux working in Geneva twenty years ago, learned to use it and become intrigued by it on hardware that wasn't really powerful enough to do it justice. I have watched it evolve and diversify into an ecosystem of related products that can get the best out of all kinds of equipment, especially in the scientific community. Now it's being introduced to systems running on the international space station. In some regions it's used to run whole departments of government and for the trading engines of the economy. 

MS Windows and Apple Mac have had their hold on consumer markets for decades, but the innovation of Android on smartphones and tablets has changed habits of digital consumption radically irreversibly. The Android operating system is derived from Linux. It has not only risen to meet expectations, but also helped shape expectations of what is possible to do with a powerful pocket computer. Admittedly this vision of the possible was generated by Apple with its iPhone and apps, and the challenge taken on by Android, but Apple operating systems developed, from origins in the BSD operating system with many of the same characteristics and philosophy as Linux.

These days, I don't do much more than enjoy using Linux, where once I enjoyed tinkering, learning how to use its own command scripts. It was always hard work, paying attention to that kind of detail, and nowadays easily configurable user interfaces remove the need to tinker unless desperate. The modest amount that has stuck in my brain, however, makes life easier when it comes to diagnosing and troubleshooting problems. 

Before I consigned the broken Windows 7 to Microsoft Hell, I figured out that essential files were missing, deleted either from the boot partition which performed essential start up functions, including linkage to a main partition where most Windows 7 software is installed. This killed access to the recovery partition, making impossible a factory re-set or an independent re-install. There was nothing to suggest hard disk damage by a surge. Files had been irretrievably deleted without which not even a minimal operating system could fire up and facilitate a repair. Whether by accident or sabotage, this shouldn't be possible, but it happens. The world of work is less efficient, less secure as long as vulnerabilities due to poor design remain.

Sure, over the years I may have wasted a lot of time trying to learn things for which I may well be temperamentally and intellectually unsuited, perhaps a bit like my shoddy efforts to learn how to sight read music or speak other languages fluently over the years. Yet, I do feel enriched by these minor efforts to understand what changes are going on in our era and how they work.

For what it's worth, such a waste of time has been lots of fun in a perverse sort of way. I remember when I first got an early version of SUSE Linux to boot to the command line, during our Swiss sojourn, seeing a message displayed when reaching the command line saying something like:

' You are now running Linux. Have lots of fun ! '

Thanks to all those who have contributed to making it so.

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