Three Acres and a Penguin: Why Distributists Should Try Linux

Gripe, gripe, gripe. Globalization swallows the globe. Monsanto poisons your popcorn. Big Business and Big Government team up to embed RFID tracking chips in schoolkids. And distributists love to hate the whole mess. Cheers!

Well, friends, I have good news. Linux. It's time to free your computer.

Have you heard of Linux? Maybe you went to download Firefox (a free web browser), clicked around, and noticed that after "Windows" and "Mac" there was "Linux", with a little penguin. (His name is Tux.) Maybe you're periodically forced to interact with your IT department, and you've overheard "Linux" as they discuss their arcane secrets. Maybe you're way ahead of me, and are irritated because I'm probably not going to mention OpenBSD.

Or maybe you have no clue what I'm talking about. What is Linux? Basically, Linux is a pile of programs that lets you take your computer, strip it down to the bare hardware, and start fresh. Linux is an alternative operating system . If you just download Firefox, you're still in Microsoft Windows or OS X. When you download Linux, you're in Linux.

Why is this good news for distributists? Because Linux is free . Not only "free as in beer," but far more importantly, "free as in speech." You can download Linux and use it as you will. You can try free alternatives for almost any task you can think of: email, browser, word processor, spreadsheet, graphic design, typesetting, games, and many more. You can customize most of these programs, as well as the overall window manager, beyond your wildest pre-Linux dreams. You can also remove any application that annoys you. (Try removing IE.)

You can even read the source code; and if that sounds silly, you can rest assured that thousands of other programmers do read the source code. Why does this matter? Computer programs are made up of hundred, thousands, or millions of lines of code, and in the world of Microsoft or Apple, that code is proprietary . It's generally illegal to read the code unless you work for Microsoft or Apple. In fact, when you buy the program, you don't even get the source code. You only get (no, you rent) the computer-readable binary code, which looks like gibberish and can't be altered. It works (hopefully) but you are not allowed to know how. Or fix it.

Imagine if you could only fill your car with gas from Exxon. Or only get an oil change at the dealership. Or if it was illegal to open the hood of your car unless you worked for the manufacturer. Even if you had no desire to be your own car mechanic, these rules would seem a bit draconian.

So why this paroxysm of intellectual property law for computer software? It's understandable; when advances in computing made it possible for companies to sell software to non-programmers, they quickly noted that you could pay a hundred thousand dollars to develop a vital program, and your competition could copy it the next day. They thought sharing wouldn't work. They were wrong.

Whether the proprietary model is moral is beyond my allotted portion. It's certainly obvious that, permissible or not, it drastically curtails the freedom of the user. It seriously tips the balance of power towards the corporation. How would you feel about a brake job if it was illegal to have a rival company check up on the work? You probably store plenty of private information on the same computer that mysteriously connects you to the Internet; wouldn't you prefer that this computer had no secrets?

Linux is exciting because it turns the proprietary model on its head, and it works . Linux is often called open source or simply free (or libre) software ; the basic idea is that you can read the code, tweak it, add to it, re-release it, even charge money for it. For instance, I charge money for customizing an installation of web site software. You get a web site that's based on a common, powerful, well-supported program, but I make it unique for you. Anyone can do anything they like with the code except try to lock up the portions they used. The code stays free.

So where does all this code come from? Why do programmers spend millions of hours on code they will give away?

This also should excite distributists. Free software is a unique ecosystem. (I'm going to stop saying "Linux" now; it sounds cooler than "free software," but it actually has a definite technical meaning, and it isn't the only free OS in town, either.) A program is not like an apple. If I share my apple with you, we each only get half. (Which is why it matters who owns an apple tree.) If I share my program, we both have a full copy; and I benefit from your feedback.

Every program's niche is different. Many programs happen simply because the programmers want or need them. Major programs might be the work of a non-profit foundation, as with Apache (which runs more than half the servers on the Internet), or subsidized by a for-profit company so the code can be reused elsewhere, as with (a free office suite which also runs on Windows or a Mac). Some companies offer free software, and charge money for support. Some programmers seem to live on donations and advertising. People do what works.

Chesterton fought for economic liberty, and knew it was bound up with political liberty. Today, he would say that both are bound up with digital liberty. Do you own a computer? Especially a spare older computer you can wipe clean without fear? Try a few free Linux lessons. Or if you'd like to stay on your current operating system, at least try a free web browser or word processor. If these are the tools you use every day, why not choose tools you can make your own?

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Donald Goodman Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 3:34:00 PM CDT  


Hear, hear! I've wanted to write a distributist argument for using free software for some time. I'm glad to see this.

Not to mention that free software is more distributist because it's more decentralized; rather than Microsoft or Apple trying to fulfil your every computer need, you have thousands of programmers all over the world working on individual programs which will do one thing and do it well. But that's another issue to be argued at another time.

Again, hear hear! Praise be to Christ the King!

Anonymous,  Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 4:00:00 PM CDT  

Three Acres and a Penguin...

That's awesome.

Maybe you're periodically forced to interact with your IT department, and you've overheard "Linux" as they discuss their arcane secrets.

We're not that bad...are we? ;)

You can also remove any application that annoys you. (Try removing IE.) I've actually tried that before...oh the computer was having breakup symptoms.

Chesterton fought for economic liberty, and knew it was bound up with political liberty. Today, he would say that both are bound up with digital liberty.


Do you own a computer? Especially a spare older computer you can wipe clean without fear? Try a few free Linux lessons. Or if you'd like to stay on your current operating system, at least try a free web browser or word processor. If these are the tools you use every day, why not choose tools you can make your own?

Great ideas! For the more tech-savy: try partitioning your hard drive to allow for the installation of multiple operating systems -- say Windows Vista (if that's your primary OS you're already used to and using) and Linux Ubuntu. You can boot to the OS of your choice upon startup.

Wonderful article, thank you for posting it.

Richard Aleman Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 6:45:00 PM CDT  


A fabulous article! Certainly Linux appears to be the distributist answer in the tech-world.

Danby Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 11:59:00 PM CDT  

If you're interested in trying Linux, but don't want to take any chances with your Windows installation, you can boot from a live CD. Most major Linux versions are distributed as live CD images. With a live CD, you boot and run the operating system from a CD, and don't touch the hard drive where Windows is stored. If you decide you like it, you always have the option of installing to your hard drive.

Running from a CD is considerably slower than from a hard drive, but for a reasonably modern machine is quite usable. The down side is that you can't save your settings or install software other than what the distributor puts on the disk. Still it gives you a good taste of what Linux is and what it can do.

And what Linux can do is just about anything a computer can do. Software is available to do anything from reading email to calculating the effects of nuclear reactions. In fact, Linux is by far the most common OS on supercomputers these days. The only difficulties I encounter is making connections to closed-system software like Microsoft Exchange, and playing the latest games.

Some of the more popular and easy-to-use distributions of linux are:
Ubuntu from South Africa, including it's many variants, such as
Kubuntu (different desktop, looks more like Windows)
Edubuntu (includes educational and class-management software)
Mythbuntu (turns your Linux computer into a media server)
Xubuntu (a lightweight system for older machines)
Linux Mint (unofficial adaptation which tries to make everything "just work")

Other variants, for people who just don't like Ubuntu:
Fedora from North Carolina
Madriva from France and Brazil
Yellow Dog Linux for older PPC Macintoshes and Sony PS3 game consoles
OpenSuSe from Germany
TurboLinux from Japan

One of the beauties of Open Source software is that anyone is free to translate the menus and messages into any language they want. That means that specialized versions of Linux are available for just about any language, including many that have never been available before, such as Khazak, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Dravidian, and even many of the thousands of languages spoken in Africa and south Asia. It would even be possible to produce versions in such "dead" languages as Latin and Koine Greek, if anyone wanted to do the work.

Anonymous,  Friday, March 13, 2009 at 5:38:00 AM CDT  

But what about the idea that people deserve a just wage for their work? Is it fair really to be thinking about getting people's labour for free?

Anonymous,  Friday, March 13, 2009 at 9:15:00 AM CDT  

But what about the idea that people deserve a just wage for their work? Is it fair really to be thinking about getting people's labour for free?

This is true, but with Linux it's different. These guys (and gals) who are contributing to the code base know that it's not paid work, and they do it because (they're geeks? :) they enjoy the work and want to contribute to the common good (I suspect that there is some underlying effort to take down Microsoft as well. ;)

If we were trying to obtain, for free, work which we should be paid for -- like music / movies / etc -- then of course, we need to compensate for those efforts (living wage). But Linux is a collaborative effort of programmers around the world to together a quality product with the intention of distributing it free of charge. I think that's quite okay, and quite in-line with the Distributist mindset.

Bill Powell Friday, March 13, 2009 at 9:52:00 AM CDT  

First, off don't forget ArchLinux (my distro of choice.) :)

About getting people's labor for free -- this is definitely a valid concern. If you want to dig _real_ deep, you can get into a debate about intellectual property in general. But actually, for code, the reality is much simpler.

First, in the real world, many programmers do get paid to write free software, or they collect donations or advertising revenue. For instance, I recently got paid to develop a specialized script for a company. They paid because they needed it now, tailored to their situation. But I put the script under a free license, and if someone else ever finds it useful, great!

More importantly, people who write free software get paid in:

- First, what the code actually does. Unlike a novel or a song, the result of code is straightforward: the computer does what you tell it to. The people who wrote Apache wanted to be able to serve web sites. They gave the code to the world, but meanwhile, they also got to serve the web sites they wanted to serve.

- Secondly (and this is really the key), by making the code free, these programmers get _free help_ from everyone who helps contribute, or even just points out bugs. They basically get paid in better code. The more people use Apache (and over half the Internet does), the better Apache will be. Even though not every user will contribute back to the project, a certain percentage will, and that's extremely significant.

In fact, it's precisely by not charging for the code that the code will spread as rapidly as possible -- increasing this percentage along with it.

Because of the nature of software, the economics are different. We may be used to thinking of remuneration solely in terms of cash, but the success of free software shows that there are other ways to pay people for their work.

There's a lot more to say about this, and intellectual property in general, but I'd better save it for another article. :)

Donald Goodman Friday, March 13, 2009 at 10:44:00 AM CDT  


What Bill said regarding getting other people's work for free. People write free software because they get paid to do it (Linus Torvalds, the primary author and maintainer of the Linux kernel, gets paid by the Linux Foundation, which is supported by IBM, Red Hat, and lots of other companies that benefit from Linux, for example), or because they like getting the recognition for writing a really superb piece of software, or because they wanted to see if they could do it (Linus Torvalds started Linux for that reason), or because they themselves needed that particular program, or because they want to contribute to the good of their community (like Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation). Or for any other reason. While it's important that people be recompensed for their work, we shouldn't insist that they get recompensed in only one particular way. They can be "paid" in whatever way they want, even if it is just a pat on the back and compliments for writing such excellent software.

Free software is distributist for a number of reasons. Most basically, it's more decentralized, and thus better respects the principle of subsidiarity. Further, it's conscious of the common good. Software isn't created for the sole benefit of one person, which is comparable to Shakespeare refusing to let anyone read his plays without paying him $400 a pop, and you'd better not cheat him of his $400 by reading them to anyone else, either! Rather, it's created for the benefit of an entire community. Finally, it respects multiplicity of products. Microsoft and Apple have a vested interested in having *everyone* use only their own software. Linux, BSD, and other free systems do not, and in fact these systems interact with one another much better than proprietary systems do. (Windows won't interact with Linux at all, for example; Linux has to do *all* the work for that to happen.) Thus, there's no pressure for everyone to buy into the same system, and thus much less pressure toward turning computing into a monopoly or oligopoly.

Donald Goodman Friday, March 13, 2009 at 10:45:00 AM CDT  

Oh, and since somebody mentioned the Ubuntus, let's not forget Debian, the source of it all. And my own system. :-)

Danby Friday, March 13, 2009 at 11:33:00 AM CDT  

The vast majority of programmers who work on Linux ARE compensated for their work. Most of them work for companies that either use Linux or support Linux.Companies that use Linux extensively have a vested interest in making it work as well as possible and many are willing to donate to the project any code the develop to do so. The benefit to the company donating the code back to the project are many, but the major one is not having to manage a separate branch of the OS. Once the code is integrated into the project, it's part of the improvement/testing/release cycle, and they don't have to maintain it.

Think of it this way. If there are 1000 companies each willing to pay 1% of the cost of maintaining and improving the operating system, without any other recompense than having the best system for their needs, then all it takes is an effectively organized team to do the development. Torvalds is somewhat of a legend in project management circles for what he's been able to accomplish in that regard.

The idea of selling software is a relatively recent one. Only something like 4% of the software used around the word is purchased off-the-shelf. The rest is custom-written within companies for their own use, or that of their customers. There are a ton of other ways to make money around computers and software, besides selling the software itself. And, in the long run the freedom of open-source software makes it possible to have better software for everyone. That it's available for you to use without charge is a side-effect of the process.

Steven Luotto Friday, March 13, 2009 at 7:19:00 PM CDT  

I'll keep trying, but my yearly encounters with Linux have so far made me want to go out and shoot the first Penguin.

It's free until you have to spend hours and hours making it work. I'm not the kind that thinks that time is money, but it's not all that dishonest to think that way on occasion especially in areas related to work... and when you have a family and need to get the job done instead of futzing around.

I installed OfficeOrg (windows version) and suffered, whereas with my limited grey matter I was able to do stuff with Word, Excel and Acess all interconnected that made me feel like a Geek. It's brilliant and wonderful and I'll pay for it with dirty, filthy lucre instead of time and frustration.

But I'll keep trying and so thank you for the article and all the links.

Maybe Microsoft is Closer to the Catholic Church... It's got a human leader, (and not an Animal - a sacred Penguin) and a hierarchy and an orthodoxy as opposed to a thousand protestant sects. Maybe operating systems are one area in which Gigantism has a certain positive logic to it.

And //Begin-maybe// all those code martyrs stole time from their wives and children to putter with their "If this" "then thats" and (on closer scrutiny) weren't really all that generous and holy because they were having a ball. //End-maybe//

Danby Friday, March 13, 2009 at 8:09:00 PM CDT  


First, for most people moving from Windows XP to a recent Linux distro is easier than moving to Vista. Take a look at how much pain you have to go through every time MS comes up with another stupid idea in user interfaces (see the Office 2007 ribbon user interface). Moving from Office to OpenOffice was easier for me than moving to Office 2007.

I would recommend Linux Mint (see my post above for a link) if you want a distro that just works.

Second, probably 90% of the coding for Linux is done as part of a regular paid job, not on the coder's free time.

Third, operating systems and religions don't really compare. I doubt hierarchicalism, for example, is a positive good all by itself. No-one wants hierarchy in automotive design. It is a good merely in specific circumstances which call for hierarchy.

Bill Powell Friday, March 13, 2009 at 8:49:00 PM CDT  

IoshkaFutz -- good comment!

Actually, the most interesting part, for me, is about Microsoft being like the Catholic Church. Many free software folks are only too ready to agree with you. :) Lately I've been struck by how the modern corporation is rather a devilish parody of the Church, perhaps the most intricate parody that history as ever seen. But that's another article, too -- here I'll just mention that the differences outweigh the similarities.

Anyhow, you're quite right that free software is certainly not "free" in the sense of "requiring no time or effort." Anything worth doing takes time to learn. I do think the recent iterations of the programs I've mentioned compare favorably with their proprietary counterparts. But I really really don't want to be even tangentially snide about Microsoft software here, so—if you found Word/Excel/Access easy to use, for what you wanted to do, I'm sincerely happy for you. And I don't think there's anything wrong with paying money in exchange for saving time. That is rather a core concept of economics. My problem with Microsoft is their attitude to freedom. Major disadvantages of using their software include:

- All your most important data is encrypted in a proprietary format; i.e., you cannot access your own record of your own thoughts without their permission.

That's a big deal.

In practice, the first things free software people do with such data is figure out how to decode it, and they're generally successful. But surely this is a ridiculous necessity, a needless waste. As Goodman pointed out, Linux can talk to Windows, but not vice versa. Microsoft continues to pretend that most (all?) free software simply does not exist.

More importantly, there's a certain degradation in consenting to have your own work encrypted in this fashion in the first place. Most people don't even realize this is happening. And that's the problem. Even people that do know may think that this is all just "geek stuff" and doesn't really matter. Many English peasants probably didn't think literacy mattered, not really, but they found out the hard way when Parliament decided that if you didn't have a written deed, you didn't really own your land. The analogy is far from perfect, but in a world where so much important information about us is digitized, it's worth thinking about.

- Which brings me to reiterate that proprietary software restricts your freedom to study, tinker with, and change your tools. Even if you don't think you would ever want to do this, even though it takes time and effort to learn how to do this, the point is, it's wrong to claim you cannot do this. I don't care if someone wants to charge you money to use their easy software. I do care if they say you can't do anything with it except what they tell you.

As to programmers stealing time from their wife and kids; probably the ones getting paid to do it (and as Danby points out, that's quite a lot, though I'm not sure about 90%) have as much free time as anyone else with a day job. Again, as others have pointed out, free software is not as much a question of generosity or holiness as being mutually beneficial. It is economical; it works.

As for the hobby hackers; moderation is indeed essential, but can't they choose their hobbies? Some people spend a lot of time fishing. But imagine if after a guy went fishing, he sometimes came home with a slightly better hook. And then you could upload the improvement to share with whoever wanted it. Pretty neat. Rather like commenting on blogs, come to think of it. :)

Bill Powell Friday, March 13, 2009 at 9:01:00 PM CDT  

P. S. That being said, wives and kids are still more important, as you say. I happen to be a guy who can use that reminder.

And I don't want to be hypocritical about the relative importance of free software in our lives, when, for instance, I'm not exactly buying every last grocery from a local farm or small distributor yet. (Though I am trying.) One does have to pick one's battles.

Even just being aware of your file format, and saving your documents as RTF or plain text whenever possible, is pretty easy, and a good start. :)

John Médaille Friday, March 13, 2009 at 10:21:00 PM CDT  

I switched over to OpenOffice about 18 months ago, and I have been very satisfied. I much prefer it to Microsoft's Word, which gets increasingly tedious, and expensive. OO has an excellent footnote and bibliographic plug-in, Zotero, which has allowed me to get rid of the awful EndNote program. It is an important tool for research and scholarly writing.

I haven't gotten up the courage to try Linux, mainly because learning any new system is time consuming and because I have several Windows-specific programs which don't, as far as I know, have Linus substitutes.

Mr. Neutron Friday, March 13, 2009 at 11:54:00 PM CDT  

Back in the day (1.1.57-2.1.0 kernel releases) I was the maintainer of the token-ring network driver in Linux. Not because I got paid for it (I didn't) but because people were using it and I could do it. Hospitals were using it. Schools were using it. Libraries were using it. Government agencies were using it. And that was 10 years ago. How could you say no to something like that? I passed it on to people more capable than I when my son was born and I've never since regretted a second of the time I put into it.

Danby Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 12:53:00 AM CDT  

Mr Médaille,
What proprietary academic or business programs do you use? I am willing to bet that we can find you an open-source equivalent. That isn't true about everything. Open-source project management and accounting software, for instance, are seriously lacking in usability and features. Still, for most any other business, academic or scientific purpose, there are plenty of good tools.

Steven Luotto Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 7:20:00 AM CDT  

Salve Bill Powell, and Danby,

Thanks for answering. As I said, I'll keep trying. Linux came into my life (here in Rome, Italy) when my daughter studied math at the University and simply HAD to go Linux and not only Linux, but a certain and precise distribution of Linux (whose name I've forgotten).

That was a few years ago and Linux was definitely less user friendly so getting it installed and hand shaking with the printer, ADSL, scanner etc, required the services of my brilliant Brother-in-law (in arte Zio Bubu). He got it working in such a way that she could choose between Windows and Linux at the start up. It worked well enough (though the scanner, oh the scanner! was never properly baptized into the Open Source Religion despite many visits from still beloved High Priest Zio Bubu).

Me, I'm still a DOS guy, I do the bulk of my work (mostly translating) on a shareware (that became freeware) called VDE text editor, the invention of a College Professor from the University of Colorado, with a name and a last name and an address and a list of improvements and a group of pals who've added possibilities to his program over the years (as opposed to Anonymous Contributions From Das Volk). Now that was a work of love!

And since I like to walk and write, I do it on an HP200XL proto-PDA from the late 80s, early 90s, saving everything in TXT. I like the program so much that I am forever grateful to the Horned and Sulfur-reeking Bill Gates for keeping backwards compatibility. This text editor still runs on my recent acquisition that's so fast it can knock the socks off Superman (as well as accidentally erase 100 pages of text during an eye-blink).

I also still use WORD 5 Dos. I couldn't get them to work on the Linux. Mac is (was) famous for rendering all its early programs obsolete.

I don't really understand this propriety business you're talking about, I mean not with everything being convertible into anything else. If I save my alfanumerical spewage in Doc or Odt, how is it not mine? There's hardly a program that doesn't allow one to save in TXT or RTF so I'd have to go out of my way and think very hard about why I should feel that I'm somehow not the master of my own nonsense. Just because while I was tapping it in, the program had its own way of dancing with the machine?

When I started a million years ago on Wordstar with floppy disks (that were truly floppy), I certainly felt no injustice, only amazement, gratitude, excitement.

For my own purposes, I created editing macros. Once upon a time, creating them was still quite possible for a non- programmer. When I tried to obtain the same results in today's Word or OpenOffice Word, I found myself blocked. A couple were eminently possible through the RECORD MACRO function because they were just keyboard sequences without any Boolean stuff. Opening them, I saw that what used to take a couple of lines of code, now played out as entire pages of hi- tech object oriented mumbo-jumbo. Far far better, richer, more precise and opening-of-new-horizons, but requiring of Geekspertise. Again I say, blessings on the Horned and Sulfur reeking Gates for keeping backward compatibility. He converted my Word 5 macros into Word Basic macros and then converted those Word Basic macros into Visual Basic macros.

Curses on no one for making the writing of macros (programs for the programs) impossible to non-programmers. But whereas I could once create programs (for the programs), now I'm told that Open Source is much better. I'm sure it is, but not for me... I've been technologically neutered by bigger, better, and incredibly more complicated.

This is just grumbling, because I wouldn't want to drag down programs to my abysmal level. But Open Source is only better for the initiated, the experts. As far as I'm concerned Open Source is an Open Sore reminding me that I'm ancient history.

The old propriety stuff was far more open even though its inner workings might have been locked. Now it's entirely in the realm of experts... and I can only hope for them, that they too won't feel superannuated and helpless when Visual Basic is replaced with something far better, richer and opening-of-new horizons.

Back when I started, in the DOS days,I was so enthused with the potential of PC computers, that I proselytized and turned on at least twenty people. I laugh now that they considered me an expert. I could fix their problems over the phone, because I knew what their screen looked like. Today even with Windows it's nigh unto impossible, but in the Linux world with Buntu, Kabunto, Zabunto, Green Dragon, White Horse, Madrian, Balixtu, etc. etc.? Sorry, call a real expert!

The real issue of computers, to my mind, and in view of my own sins, are elsewhere: in bolstering the myth of progress, (that comparative of which the superlative has not been settled) in preferring argument with strangers to family members, to creating a world that has blurred the line of theft. Trust me, everything is Open Source, any song, movie, and eventually any book, can be stolen with the utmost ease.

If (heaven forbid) sharia justice ever became the norm, there'd hardly be a human being with two hands and two feet. And of course, there's the loss of privacy (Google knows you prefer boxer shorts to briefs). There is also a passive exceptance of evil. Hardly anyone remembers that viruses are the product of evil people, now our focus is entirely on whether Avast is better than Norton. Mac is "better" because it's less vulnerable. The truly evil are accepted as a matter of course, a reality.

And yet here we are, strangers, me signing in via Google, waltzing on code that very few can comprehend (whether open source or proprietary). And without the people and situations I'm grumbling about, I'd have never heard of Father McNabb, or - I'm ashamed to say - even of Chesteron or Belloc. I'd probably not have returned to the Catholic Church. Or been so fascinated by Distributism.

I knew something was wrong with Starbucks compared to my local bar/cafè... even though Starbucks was 1001 times richer. And I know that local culture where people still dance and sing their own songs is better than airport terminal culture of the Enlightenment. So if the minds of distributism tell me to go the way of the Penguin, I'll keep trying.

John Médaille Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 9:36:00 AM CDT  

Danby, the two programs that would be troublesome for me are Logos and Zipform. The later is a program for filling and tracking contracts. I believe it has an on-line version, so I could get around that, although I don't like storing my information with somebody else.

Logos is a textual and language research program that I use for biblical studies and Greek and Latin language research. I know there is a Mac version, but I doubt that there is a Linux implementation.

Bill Powell Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 9:58:00 AM CDT  

John -- for Logos, have a look at KBibleTime:

This is only for Linux (and maybe Mac?), but it's using underlying libraries called SWORD. And there's a Windows front-end to these libraries too.

Doesn't look as aesthetically pleasing, but might be worth playing with if you're on Windows.

We have to talk about ancient languages sometime! I've only gotten as far as half learning the Hebrew alphabet. :)

Bill Powell Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 10:24:00 AM CDT  

IoshkaFutz -- wow! We have way more in common than I could
have guessed.

From my perspective, you're already pretty deep in the free software mindset.

- you want to keep using the tools you choose (especially DOS)
- especially because you can customize them (write extra code for them)
- and you even prefer authoring in plain text! On a text editor!

These are major achievements, my friend.

Though you keep deprecating your computer skills, I think you're unjust to yourself. My idea of a computer illiterate is someone who blindly updates to the latest version of their OS without reflection, and saves their work in whatever format the program suggests. This seems to be most people, meaning that, unlike you, most people really _are_ at the mercy of Bill Gates for their backward compatibility (or would be, without free software people). And there's rarely _forward_ compatibility: your Word 5 Dos probably can't read a friend's Word Vista document, can it? And because Microsoft doesn't play nice with the rest of us, every new Microsoft format isn't "convertible" until a bunch of free software people do more work than it should take to make it so.

Anyhow, because you choose to work in text, your data really _is_ your own. Unfortunately, your tools are not: if Windows ever stops supporting DOS, not only will you not be able to use your favorite tools, it will be illegal for you or anyone else to try to get them to work on the new Windows. Then you might have to switch to free software, and use a DOS emulator. :)

As to Linux and hardware, yes, I think hardware can be (but needn't be) the most difficult part about Linux. Writing code to work with other people's hardware (especially when manufacturers provide no help or even obstruct you) is probably one of the most tedious parts of the whole business. Older hardware has a better chance of being supported; and when a Linux user goes to buy new hardware, he's well advised to check the web to see whether it's already supported. My own scanner, for instance, happens to work with absolutely no hassle. But I made the mistake of buying a USB drive which was horribly tedious to get to work -- if I'd checked first, I could just easily have spent the same amount on a similar model that worked fine. So -- I feel your pain. :)

Fortunately, as free software becomes more mainstream, manufacturers find it to their advantage to support it, so this problem is gradually disappearing. More devices are supported all the time, and in five or ten years, this might not even be an issue.

Anyhow, although the number of Linux distros can be bewildering, most of them are packaging the same programs. OpenOffice on Debian is the same as OpenOffice on ArchLinux.

Although my emphasis in this article was on the "GUI" programs, I actually spent a lot of my time on the command line interface (CLI), in the bash shell. This is very similar to DOS; you type a command, something happens, you type another command. There's a whole subculture of Linux people who work this way, and I imagine we have a lot in common with the DOS crowd. Writing macros (we call them scripts) for the bash shell is quite easy, too. So don't think that your preference for DOS makes you ancient history. If anything, it makes you prime material for a system administrator. :)

Anonymous,  Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 1:58:00 PM CDT  

Liberty is a good thing, and mises agrees, their site went 100% open source last month:

Steven Luotto Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 3:06:00 PM CDT  

Ciao Bill Powell,

Thanks again for answering. But really now, are you not putting Bill's intentions on trial... imagining him rendering ".txt" illegible? I can't hold him responsible for lack of forward compatibiliy. When Word 5 came out there was no docx. That's like blaming Ford in the 1920's for not imagining electronic fuel injection systems. As I said, he's respected backwards compatibility. All the converters are from Microsoft.

I think the religious and philosophically minded need to be far more worried about a Google than a Bill Gates (or rather a Bill Gates' Office Programs).

The way data is collected, what comes out in the first twenty to 100 in a search, how they analyze your searches to get your profile and then how they fine tune advertising to that profile... is a helluva lot scarier than the highly unlikely screnario of "what if Bill decides to make DOS (vanilla flavor txt) obsolete."

Maybe it's time for an Open Source Google in which a search is a search is a search and those in charge aren't doing anything whatsoever to get ones profile... or sway mass opinion or be in cahoots with Chinese Communism.

Information creation is one thing. I don't need all the bells and whistles and the bouncing paper clips, but if my next door neighbor enjoys them, I can't really hold it against him. But information and ideology management are another matter. Most regular people haven't ever paid Google a nickel and yet Google Inc. is fantastically wealthy and planning to move their information empire off shore. If Bill Gates deciding to make saving txt. files difficult seems like a bad scenario... what about Google in cahoots with this or that party or masonic lodge or Belzebub himself deciding to tweak mass opinion in this or that direction? Towards atheism, towards abortion, or, as most likely, towards whatever the highest bidder orders?

My sensation in all this is that the demonization of Bill Gates (who indeed is no saint) might be blinding us to more serious dangers. Microsoft creates products. One pays for them. Google offers a wonderful free service... and has gotten fabulously wealthy from peoples' curiosity... There's tons of power there, real social, political, moral and economic power, and most people don't have a clue. One can imagine plenty of "what-if" scenarios far more serious than easily solved compatibility issues.

Richard Aleman Saturday, March 14, 2009 at 5:13:00 PM CDT  

I for one would like to see us writing more content like this from our contributors with some grasp of computer tech.

Excellent article Bill!

Bill Powell Sunday, March 15, 2009 at 5:54:00 PM CDT  

IoshkaFutz -- thanks for another thoughtful comment. You're basically right about forward compatibility; some changes in file format are inevitable as the years go by, and this happens with free software too. I don't retract the point entirely, as I still think the dynamic is different when you _have_ to shell out hundreds of dollars to upgrade. But yeah, forward compatibility is mostly a weak argument. :) I should stick to my main objection, that your data shouldn't be saved in a proprietary format. Although you're too smart for this, I think most people who use Word save in a Word format, which is a problem. At least, that's my experience.

I don't think I've said anything to "demonize" Bill Gates, especially as a person. I simply think proprietary software is wrong, whether it's Mr. Gates doing it, or Mr. Jobs, or folks with a proprietary Unix. There are ways to make money off developing software that do not involve restricting people's freedom in this way.

Anyhow, having said all that -- I totally agree with you about Google! Google may run on Linux (I believe it does), but it's every bit as proprietary and secretive as Microsoft. For sure.

Steven Luotto Sunday, March 15, 2009 at 8:07:00 PM CDT  

Dear Bill Powell,

Thank you. I apologize for the "demonization" stuff which at least in my heart wasn't directed to you, but to "what's out there in the blogosphere."

I really appreciate all the links in your article and now look forward to my next attempt at making peace with the Penguin. I want to LEARN!!! And to make the transition smoothe, I'll start with VIM (on my Windows machine). This way when I switch to the Penguin, I'll have a powerful text editor I'm familiar with (and still excited about).

The only real operating system is DIOS... My re-intro (I was born a Catholic) was Chesterton... but oddly, when reading him every day (for a couple of years now), I'd skip the "distributism" part, figuring it only "quaint." Instead it is the key to solving and in most cases, transcending (like a healing balm) a world of problems. I really appreciate the good work of the Distributist Review and ChesterBelloc and others for assembling the knowledge.

Thanks again.

Anonymous,  Tuesday, March 17, 2009 at 9:05:00 PM CDT  

John Médaille - give Wine a try. It lets you run Windows programs on Linux.

Doesn't look like Logos will work, but Zipform probably should.

Anonymous,  Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 10:44:00 AM CDT  

Can't have a conversation like this without mentioning and paying respects to GNU! And here's Richard Stallman's polemic on why you should be calling it GNU/Linux ;)

Anonymous,  Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 6:06:00 AM CDT  

Well it's official - Microsoft is going to stop supporting Windows XP April 14th.

Good-Bye XP. Hello Windows 7

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