Sunday, October 6, 2013

Why I'm Not an Apple Fan (but it's okay that you are) PT 2

This is part 2 in a 3 part series. You can read part 1 here.

I recently posted an opinion piece about why I'm not an Apple fan. I think I'm taking a bit of a risk in publishing my opinion (which is somewhat unpopular among my circle), but in the interest of opening dialogue, I wanted to spark something. I know people who are devout Apple fans, and we can get into hours-long debates.

The Big Three

Before I get to that, I want to explain myself a bit. I'm not aligned against Apple specifically. I have no grudge against people who are Apple proponents. I will happily agree with many of their arguments supporting their opinion.

I'm also not a proponent of Microsoft. I haven't ever been. I have, for decades now, used their products, but always begrudgingly. I have no special love for Microsoft. I say this as I'm using a netbook running Windows 7 to write this post.

My use of Windows is mostly a result of their success at market penetration. Since the beginning of personal computing, Microsoft has managed to maintain a strong foothold, especially on the operating system front. Most people think of Mac and Windows as two sides of the same coin: if you don't want one, you must choose the other. And I suppose that for most people, that's true.

Image: WikiMedia Commons
However, there is a third option. Linux is a free, open-source operating system. It has been built by people who are not looking for any monetary reward for their efforts. It has been improved by people who believe in open-source software. It runs on more platforms than any other operating system. It's fast, it's powerful, it's versatile, and it's free. But it's not marketed. No one has any vested interest in convincing you that it's the best choice. Those who choose to use Linux do so because they have made the choice to migrate to a platform that allows users to create, improve, and deploy new ideas without restriction.

If all that sounds wonderful, then you might be wondering "Why doesn't everyone use Linux if it's so great?" The short answer is that it has a steep learning curve. Because it's different, people may be put off by the requirement that they learn a new way of operating a computer. And there are a lot of very smart people who use Linux, who may not have the most patience for "noobs." It is developer oriented, so installing software can appear complicated (many examples ask you to type "sudo git ..." in a command shell), but in reality, it's not too bad. Once you begin to get used to the way things are done in Linux (which is different from Windows or OSX), you might find that you prefer the way it works. And one of my favourite features of Linux is that you can run it from a USB drive without making any changes to your computer. It's like a test-drive with no risk! If you don't like it, just take the USB stick out and restart your computer, and everything will go back to the way it was before you started.

If that's beyond what you want to do,

don't fret. There are plenty of open-source software options that will run on Windows or OSX. I use Inkscape, Open Office, Audacity, and others. You may have noticed that I use images from Wikimedia Commons and Open Clip Art. These tools are amazingly powerful, and incredibly, they're free. Their creators have seen fit to allow others to use, modify and distribute their work with ideas (often with the only requirement being that you give them credit by listing them as a contributor). Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) shows up a lot in education, and for good reason.

Another interesting fact is that a lot of the internet runs on open-source software.

So in a way, we're all participating in open-source. Open-source software has opened the world's access to
knowledge. In my opinion, the old way of viewing information and ideas as proprietary and closed is outdated. Allowing and encouraging reuse and modification of ideas will be humanity's most profound achievement. The information age has changed the way many of us look at how knowledge can be shared and improved, and I believe that as we continue to grow, we will gradually change the way we live to reflect this emphasis on sharing.

A special thank you to all the open-source creators out there (especially contributors to Wikimedia Commons and Open Clip Art). I rely heavily on your work, and appreciate it greatly!