Linux is not just a tool, something that allows us to do something. Behind the world of the penguin, there is an entire philosophy, a history of absolute freedom and democracy, a desire for communion and sharing, to be independent and understand what is behind what we do.
The computer world is relatively young. In recent decades, it has developed exponentially, becoming a mass phenomenon without having time to be properly regulated by society. Seeing companies earning more than entire states is crazy. Today, tech companies hold enormous power, almost frightening.
All tech companies earn twice: first when they sell their product, and second when they stay in touch with the products sold, or rather with their customers and follow their moves, behavior, life. Today, most software has tracking systems, often disguised as security systems. Because if you have to protect the user, prevent them from doing dangerous things, you need to know what they are doing. Recently, Chrome proposed an advanced security system that keeps an eye on every action the user is doing to protect them. It checks downloaded files, viewed sites, and all online activity. The goal is certainly noble, but at what cost?
All of this may seem like a great advantage for the average user. They don’t have to worry about anything, can click on all ads to increase their bank account or the size of their penis without fear of getting viruses (actually, they might still get them…). And all for FREE!
Well, in reality, all of this comes at a very high price. Think back to when you were a child, when you didn’t know what was safe and what wasn’t. How did you learn to grow up? Do you have parents and grandparents who still follow you, stay behind you at every move, telling you what is right and wrong, or have you learned to understand how to behave in the world and are now independent? I hope the correct answer is the second one.
In the real world, having someone constantly spying on us is annoying, even frightening, and a huge violation of human rights. Instead, in the online world, we don’t pay much attention, almost don’t notice it. Perhaps it’s because we don’t physically see someone watching us, although it’s not so difficult to do, tweaking a bit with settings and terms of service reveals some not-so-pleasant things.
It would be enough to learn how to use the internet correctly, and once learned, abandon the babysitter of the moment and proceed on our own.
But why doesn’t almost anyone do it?
Because we have remained children in the online world; we let ourselves be led by the hand at every step.
First of all, it is a complicated world. Perhaps for those in the industry, moving around in our world may seem trivial, but for most people using Chrome and MS Word, doing something outside their basic patterns requires a huge effort. So, antivirus that blocks me if I do stupid things, fills my memory with useless files, and distracts me with continuous pop-ups of offers are welcome.
If in the real world it’s bad to be guided hand in hand every time you cross the street, in the online world, this is convenient. Everyone likes to be pampered, leave the hard work to others, and bask in tranquility. But the price to pay for being children can be very high, especially in the long run.
Leaving private companies in charge of deciding our lives is frightening. We have already seen how social media influences elections, but that already happened with newspapers or the sermons of priests; it has always happened. However, leaving such power in the hands of a few entrepreneurs free to move regardless of common will is not ideal.
Let’s get technical
With Linux, I mean the entire open-source community, the world of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software). Of course, there are closed-source Linux software, paid, and it is necessary to remember that Free means “free,” not necessarily Gratis. Also, Linux is just the kernel; we should talk about GNU-Linux, etc., etc., etc… Okay, we understood, but what I mean.
Linux is another world. Certainly, it’s challenging, closed, full of knowledgeable and sometimes rude people, ready to insult you if you ask the wrong question, but it’s free.
Let’s go back to the example of the child. To learn well, it’s better to have a compliant teacher, who, instead of getting angry with you, does things for you, or a military one, decisive, ready to yell at you in the face just to make you learn? I’m not saying it’s always like that; when I was a teacher, I’ve never been that type, but we can think of a Linux user who answers badly as the bastard teacher who insults you, but not for fun, but to make you understand and improve.
Our world revolves around computers now. It is frightening because a tiny percentage really knows how these computers work. Schools think that teaching how to use MS Word is enough, and voilà, in reality, it would be essential to have a basic notion available to everyone, at least about how the internet works.
If we think about car engines, not everyone knows how they work in detail, but we all know the role of gasoline, how to recharge a battery, change water, and spark plugs. In reality, even these things are no longer common knowledge, but it seems that the world is heading in this direction, that of calling someone for every little problem, often using the network through an app. But we’re already going off-topic…
Why should we all use Linux
This “all” is not intended globally; logically, we cannot expect my grandmother to use Linux, even if it would be cool, but all of us slightly more technical should start using it. Let’s see why:
Every distro was born with the aim of giving something to users, not to programmers. Profit almost never is at the center of the Linux world. Doing things for money or for passion is very different.
Linux is synonymous with open source. Having open-source code is a guarantee of security and seriousness. The fact that anyone can take a look “under the hood” and check that everything is done correctly is a great advantage, both in terms of security and transparency. If I use a service with open-source code, I know exactly what is done with my data, how they are managed, how the app behaves at all levels. Also, if someone notices a flaw in the code, they can report it to the developers so that they can intervene. Not surprisingly, Microsoft is slowly opening up to open source. Of course, it does it with a different purpose than the Linux world, but this approach has many advantages.
Linux is for everyone. There are hundreds of distros, each designed for a specific type of user, there are thousands of apps available for millions of operations, there is a whole world of developers who work with great passion to make the Linux world better and better. Of course, some very popular proprietary software is not available for Linux, and this prevents many from joining. Primarily MS Office and
the Adobe suite. There are alternative solutions, the big problem is that people learn to use MS and Adobe software first and then expect Linux alternatives to work in exactly the same way. It’s not like that; they are different worlds and visions. If Gimp seems complicated, it’s because you learned on Photoshop. Recently, I spoke with a graphic designer who learned everything on Gimp and finds Photoshop incomprehensible…
Often people come to Linux for this reason, but I wanted to leave it at the end. This is because it is a great reason, but there are far more important ones. It doesn’t always have to be free. I am very fond of Elementary OS, which has adopted the “Pay what you want” philosophy as its underlying philosophy. In this way, it offers its products to anyone at the price the user decides.
It is possible to download the distro for free, try it, and if you think it works well, you can make a payment. This is also the case for apps; you can download and pay whatever you want. It’s a system that I personally really like, and I think it fully aligns with the philosophy of open source. If it’s a bad time, I can still use everything for free. However, if I’m doing well, I can be grateful to the EOS team and decide to pay what I can afford. The result is the same; it’s up to the user to decide how to show gratitude for the team’s work.
Why don’t we all switch to Linux
Slowly, calmly, and without making too much noise, the Linux world is spreading. Thanks to social media, YouTube, and various forums, more and more people are approaching the penguin system, and I am very pleased with it.
However, there are still some fundamental problems to overcome.
If the beauty of Linux is that I can customize it as I please, for some, this can be a disadvantage. Users accustomed to turning on the computer and working without paying too much attention find themselves displaced by having to do something more to maintain their machine.
Linux is still resource-intensive compared to its competitors… If a notebook with Windows can last up to 12 hours on battery, Linux will always do worse, at least for the moment. Work is also being done on this point, but for the moment, it is still at a loss. For those like me who consider battery life a fundamental parameter in choosing a laptop, this is a sore point.
Finding a laptop that can make the most of Linux is not easy. Driver issues are no longer very high, but they still exist. You have to check that all components are compatible with Linux. There are already some companies offering laptops with Ubuntu preinstalled; in this case, both the battery and the internal components will surely be fine, but they are still very few. However, I take this opportunity to mention Slimbook, an interesting Spanish company that seems to be doing a great job.
Everything depends on the knowledge one has. If the user knows what they are doing, then there are distros that, in terms of stability, beat Windows and MacOS hands down. Unfortunately, if the user does something stupid, they can crash the whole system. Being free software, the system rarely blocks the user when they are doing something stupid; it lets them act calmly. It is easy, therefore, to copy terminal commands taken from online forums without knowing exactly what one is doing and end up cursing like crazy and having to start over. The advice is this: if you are a beginner, it is better to use a virtual machine to try terminal commands. On the primary system, it is better to do only safe things.
Finally, in my opinion, the biggest problem was created by Apple when they launched the M1 processors. Being able to take home a MacBook Air for just over a thousand euros is too tempting. With a correct amount, you can have a great computer with an exaggerated battery, fantastic performance, fanless (for those who like it), a wonderful screen and touchpad, and elegant and functional software. It’s hard to resist all of this. Considering also the “Cool” effect of having Apple hardware, it is difficult to think of Linux as a competitor; only a developer or a tinkerer can consider it.
What can be done
A lot, but a lot has already been done. I really appreciate the influencers who sponsor Linux, like our Riccardo Palombo or Nick from The Linux Experiment; this makes the penguin system known to large numbers of people and can gradually increase the number of users.
Thinking that Linux users have tripled in the last 10 years is a great thing, even if we are still below 3%… (Roughly, we have 80% Windows and 15% MacOS…), but they need to grow even more to gain more and more interest from developers.
Big developers look at the market, and today, developing an app for Linux is not very convenient… Also, all this freedom of the
FOSS world has led to a great dispersion, not only of distros but also of development environments, with integralists from every side…
Let’s also think about this:
Apple: by buying Apple hardware, you can enjoy a premium product from every point of view, well-groomed, beautiful, and functional. However, you become imprisoned in their world. If I have a Mac, sooner or later I will have to take an iPhone to integrate myself better into the ecosystem, then an iPad, an Apple Watch, AirPods, and so on. I enter a world from which it is difficult to get out. Sure, everything is beautiful, but if a period comes like the years between 2016 and 2018, where MacBooks were expensive and had low-level hardware, I can only put up with it, give my money to Apple, and pay a lot for something that doesn’t work so well… Now, with Apple Silicon, they have recovered (in a big way), but if I enter the club, I will struggle to get out, I will be almost imprisoned.
Microsoft: Microsoft products are more democratic, more for everyone, but they have very low-security standards. The system already contains spammy ads right after installation; it’s not possible that the first thing to do as soon as you buy a PC is to start cleaning it… Microsoft was very cunning in capturing the business world with Office software, so it entered the private and public sectors, and now it’s hard to get out. The standard for office software is theirs, and no one can take it away anymore (even if Google is slowly succeeding). But it’s a messy and ugly system, full of flaws. However, the best thing is that it allows you to play practically everything.
Google: in terms of privacy, Google can be jokingly considered “The absolute evil.” Google is like the nosy neighbor who spends all day at the window checking what you’re doing. Also here, the same speech as Apple, if you enter their system, you end up trapped, forced to use it without being able to do without it. For example, Google used to offer the ability to upload photos to Google Photos for free, but a few months ago, this feature became paid. Sure, it’s a great service, but it surprised many users. It will never happen, but imagine if one day Gmail became paid! Half the world would panic…
By using software from these companies, we are not owners of what we do. Also, think about Kindles; if I buy a book, I don’t become the owner of it as with a paper book, but I have the right to read it on the Kindle device. If Amazon closes (unlikely), I lose access and can’t do anything about it. Legally, you acquire something that then doesn’t become yours.
With Linux, instead, you own what you do 100%. Therefore, many cloud services are self-hosted, so everyone has complete control over their data and actions.
My advice is not to go crazy; you don’t necessarily have to create a private NextCloud server and abandon the services of big companies, but at least start thinking about it a bit and try to be slightly more independent.
If more people started using Linux, then companies would be more interested in bringing their software to this platform, allowing users an alternative between expensive Apple and poor Microsoft.
I’ve been working with Linux for a year now, and there are very few times that I have regretted this choice.