I’ve made the leap into a completely new operating system for my laptop, Ubuntu 8.04, and I am extremely happy with my decision. For those of you who don’t know about Ubuntu, as I didn’t until very recently, let me fill you in with a quick overview: Ubuntu is a completely free operating system which is offered as a platform for Linux, which is an open source/free software kernel for computing systems. It is just as powerful as Windows Vista or the Mac OS, except that there is a collaborative, open-source community behind it.
I grew up with computers, and I was what one would definitely call a computer nerd for a good portion of my developing life. My dad is an electrical engineer, and so he liked fiddling around with new gadgets and technology. He brought home our first computer, the Apple IIe, and I can remember sitting and watching the computer booting up off the floppy disks for 15 minutes, saying “please wait . . .”. I would play games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, or Oregon Trail. I also would make up my own little games or graphics in the BASIC language.
DOS was something that I could understand. I knew how to navigate in it. Windows 3.1 threw me for a loop at first, but eventually, I grew used to that as well, and learned how to configure it for my needs and know its shortcuts. During this time in my computer geekiness, which was now around middle school, I would spend hours on-line in chat rooms, learning how to type at super quick speeds, learning that I can be witty if I have time to type it out on a keyboard, and learning also that there are a lot of weird people on the internet (I almost had an affair with an older married woman). But then the next version of Windows came out, and I suddenly no longer felt engaged with my computer any longer. Windows shut me out. It was overly secretive and didn’t allow you to configure it and personalize it easily unless you delved into much more complicated and confusing languages and processes. I was also growing older at that point and had other interests and methods of relating to other people, and so my computer nerdness was put on a long-term hiatus. Since then, like most people, I’ve only used computers primarily to write emails, use the word processor, and surf the internet.
Now that I’ve switched to Ubuntu, however, some of my computer geekness has suddenly came back out of the closet. I am excited about messing around with my computer again, not simply using it for my normal computing tasks. I feel once more that I am in control, that I can personalize it and configure it however I want to, as long as I spent some time learning and exploring the new environment. I feel like I’m engaged with a community which is just as excited to explore new possibilities that are all oriented around the power of the individual, not simply the power of a corporation making money off of the individual by keeping its information secure.
There are other benefits, too: Ubuntu is simply faster and better organized, allowing for higher productivity. I had already been using the OpenOffice.org‘s suite of office programs, as I was unwilling to shell out the doe for the WIndows programs, and programs such as Mozilla’s Firefox have long been on my must-use program list for the same reason. The difference between Ubuntu and Windows is like the difference between Firefox and Internet Explorer: one is extremely quick, secure, and easy-to-use, the other is cumbersome, fraught with latent security issues, and overly programmed. Guess which one is which.
Ubuntu, Linux, and other open source and free software communities are all about computer geekiness and that excitement that spawned the computing revolution and internet sprawl in the first place. So I highly recommend switching to Ubuntu if you have any computer nerdiness lurking inside of you, waiting to come out.