At Year’s End, Living My Technology Politics – or Trying

A special shout-out to the students of LIS 502LE, visiting this blog at the end of their hard work in the inaugural intersession LEEP Foundations in LIS course. Congrats on a job well done, everyone!!

My blog posting has been on the wane of late, but it has been for a good reason. Work on my dissertation has continued apace, which means I’ve been putting the vast majority of my writing efforts towards it and fewer here. That having been said, I relish this space as a great starting point to help me work out my thoughts and capture issues as they are unfolding – your comments and participation are a great help to me, in that end, and I appreciate greatly the participation of those of you who read this site. I look forward to our conversations in the coming year. Thank you!

"From Freedom Came Elegance."
“From Freedom Came Elegance.”

One of the few things I’ve been able to give time to that is not directly tied to my dissertation work has been to switch a good portion of my computing to an open source platform. I’ve been a Mac user since the late 1980s and online (on the Internet) for just about 20. In that time, I’ve watched with interest as the open source software movement, in general, and Linux, in particular, have gained momentum and a following. My own attempts at using Linux spans pretty much its entire existence, and I’ve tried more distros than I can remember – Red Hat, NetBSD/FreeBSD, Ubuntu are the ones that are coming easily to mind. Because extraneous PC hardware upon which to run the Linux flavors was often out of my grasp, or the technical acumen required to run the OSes lost out to my ease of use and familiarity with my OS of everyday choice, MacOS, many of my attempts to work Linux into my own computing life ended prematurely.

My increasing frustration with the restrictions being placed on Mac OS, and its increasing iOS-ization, as well as my disdain for both the experience of Windows and the practices of its maker, led me to put a call forth to my friends for the headlines on the state of the art of Linux computing. The call was met with a unanimous response: check out Linux Mint. This elegant, aesthetically lovely project, led by Clément Lefebvre and teams of many other volunteers and based off a branch of the Ubuntu distro, was also reported to be easy to use, user-friendly and accessible (at least as far as Linux goes). I was ready to take the plunge and, along with a friend, we installed Linux Mint 14 on our refurbed Lenovo laptops that we have for Windows emergencies (when we are forced to run Windows for some task or other). He was a Linux newbie and I, more of a veteran, but also with a steep uphill battle to getting my chops back. To our delight, the OS installed with ease and we were up and running, and using, Mint – and abandoning Windows – almost immediately.

Part of my joy in this process has been discovering the open source analogues to so many of the software packages and processes that everyone I know of, including myself, has come to rely upon. Many I already knew of and had used in the past (e.g., Gimp), but so many more of them have come so far even since my last attempt at getting serious with Ubuntu, about five or six years ago, that it’s been a great pleasure to find out what is truly possible while running under Linux. All of my everyday necessities are working nicely: productivity software, Zotero (and its hooks into other apps), browsers and net utilities, graphics and audio apps, and so on. And there is great pleasure, too, in being able to get under the hood and really crank around in the file system from the command line (I remember my thrill when I first was able to score a Unix shell account at the University of Wisconsin in my freshman year, by joining up with a computer club pretty much in name only).

I also appreciate so much the politics of what Linux, specifically, and many open source projects, in general, represent: another model, and an alternative way of doing things that challenges the status quo and conventional wisdom that major projects like this can only succeed when driven by a profit motive. Mint, and other projects like it, relies on a healthy community of developers and users who engage in mutual aid and assistance, and welcome newcomers. My hat goes off, for example, to the fellow who stayed up with me into the wee hours of the morning a number days ago, as we worked together to troubleshoot a particularly tricky dual-boot issue that challenged my knowledge and solo skillset. I have thought about this today in particular while waiting on endless hold today to get a hold of someone at Microsoft in order to “unlock” the OS (Windows 8) that I already paid for, and yet can’t fully use.

With the increase in tethered devices (e.g., smart phones; tablet computers) and a philosophy of closed, proprietary computing only increasing in prevalence, my switch to Mint has brought with it a surprising feeling of freedom and of possibility – the same kind I used to have when I first ventured online in the early 1990s, and imagined what could be in the new world of information and social interaction that I discovered there. If you, like me, are feeling constrained by the artificial blocks, locks and relationships being imposed on you by your reliance on commercial OSes and all that those relationships entail – financial obligation, limitations on use, surveillance, etc. – then I urge you to give Linux Mint – or any flavor of an alternative OS – a try. Report back and let me know how it goes. I’ll be eager to hear what you have to say.

Happy new year to all!

7 thoughts on “At Year’s End, Living My Technology Politics – or Trying

  1. I haven’t really used it much yet, but I put a Mint partition on my work laptop because of you posting about it.

  2. Nice write-up and like you recently came back to Linux. Was flabbergasted at Ubunut Unity thing and started to search. Was easy as everything came up Mint instead of Roses. So Installed Mint 14 cinnamon and started to give it a whirl. Installation went without a hitch. Using open source video driver on my Ati 4350 some tweaking on my wifi but worked out of the box.

    The reason I left Linux Ubuntu in 2007-8 was lack of applications for Photo Editing and Gimp is a big Hate to me.
    So was forced back to Win7 for Lightroom and other photo editing and video editing software.

    Now 2012 and photographers have more choices like outstanding darktable & RawThrapee software. Industry standard Video Editing suite in Lightworks soon to be released next couple of months.

    And have learned enough with darktable that my clients like Getty and others do not even know I’m using Linux Mint and free programs to deliver their Image requirements.

    Tho do still find a few areas lacking like CD/DVD authoring & burning to still be way behind to windows counterparts. But many reasons leaving have been nullified by recent last few years.

    And like you like the Concept & Community driven model much better than the coming 1984 Mono-Theistic Controlled Society We ARE Becoming!

  3. Orbmiser, I agree wholeheartedly. Things have come such a long way in just the past few years, not to mention the past 15-plus during which time I’ve watched Linux evolve. I’ve been catching myself lately, when using my machine running Mint, saying out loud (to no one in particular), that “this could be my full-time OS.” It can and it should be. I’m looking forward to the journey.

  4. Great read and switched from one to another after years of use. Mint has been very good to me over the last 6 months. 🙂

  5. I’ve yet to come across anyone who has reported a bad experience with Mint. It’s really spectacular.

  6. Just for fun, I’ve now installed Ubuntu 12.10. I look forward to taking it for a spin, and evaluating the affordances/constraints vis-à-vis Mint.

Comments are closed.