I spent a good chunk of the weekend — more time than I should have — installing an operating system on a laptop that hasn’t been usable in over a year. After a rocky experience running Arch, I decided to return to the comfortable embrace of Ubuntu.
I’ve been using desktop Linux on and off for twenty years. At some points, tinkering with Linux was basically my primary hobby (I’ve done LFS¹ and ran Gentoo for years), but anymore I barely want to be on a computer outside of work, let alone play sysadmin for fun.
That said, I feel that the experience of installing and using a user-friendly distro like Ubuntu is now no harder than installing and using Windows or OS X. But it’s interesting to think about what it’s taken to get here: compared to the state of Linux 20 years ago, many big companies are “supporting” OSS. Now Linux is easier to use and more capable, but have we wandered from the original (and revolutionary) ideals of Free Software?
Or is it the case that we (advocates of FOSS) missed the mark: we correctly recognized that Big Tech represented a threat to freedom, but were wrong to think we could hurt them by making all software free. Instead of selling software, Big Tech simply pivoted to hosting cloud services; in the current surveillance economy, they are collectively more powerful than ever.
The fact that these services rely so heavily on network infrastructure that was built by idealistic volunteers is a painful reminder that capital will give you anything you ask for — as long as they can do it in a way that lets them stay in control.
¹ Linux From Scratch