GNU/Linux? But you don't LOOK like a geek...

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When I was last at uni (which I go back to every so often, just to prove to myself that I can’t sit through another degree), I found myself in a situation where I was sitting at a computer in the library of a public high school in Western Australia, trying to write a lesson plan (I was dabbling with the idea of being a high school teacher at the time). It was 40°C (104°F) outside, and inside wasn’t much better. I was sitting on an uncomfortably high plastic chair waiting... waiting... waiting... and that was just for the office suite to load on MS2000. One of my fellow post grad students was sitting at the terminal next to me. We had exchanged pleasantries and I knew he had an IT background, and the wait time was getting ridiculous, and so I said, as a way of passing the time, “I forgot how slow this whole windows business is". He looked at me, in a puzzled, suspicious way. “Why?", he enquired. “What do you use?" I could tell by the look on his face that he suspected that I was going to say something along the lines of “A quill and parchment, obviously" or “An abacus and letter fridge magnets". When I replied “Ubuntu", his eyebrows shot up and he looked at me like I had just grown a third head (and I don't even have two). Then he said something along the lines of “What? I... You... I would never have thought you were a Linux user."

I was quite pleased about that really. While I might have been the cheer squad for no stereotypes last week, they are alive and well in our nation’s psyche, and the fact that I don’t have the physical appearance of a geek chick is reassuring. In our conversations after that little revelation, we got back onto the topic of GNU/Linux. Why did I use it?

Okay. Confession time. While the thing that appealed to me initially about FLOSS was the political and philosophical tennets, the reason I began using it was because it was put on my computer for me. I didn’t have to do anything. I’ll admit, any modicum of computer knowledge had come from years of being around people who are into computers, and that’s it. Sure, I can talk the talk, but I never really walked the walk... I always had someone I could call to do the walking for me. I saw a great dividing line between me and them. I was a user. A consumer. Somebody whose needs were catered to by others. I never even THOUGHT about the OS, or that there were options... I just used whatever was in front of me and, if I am perfectly honest, that’s why I got into Ubuntu. SOMEONE PUT IT IN FRONT OF ME.

But then my new friend said “I don’t get it. I mean, all these people use Linux as a political statement. I don’t get what’s so bad about Microsoft. I use it. It’s fine." And that got me thinking. What had changed in me when Ubuntu got put in front of me? I hadn’t gone back to MS. And I could have... Ubuntu is on my PC, but my laptop was MS, I could have used that, but I actually transferred all the data from it onto my Ubuntu PC. So I must prefer it. And there are a couple of things that I can pinpoint immediately. Firstly, I like that Ubuntu isn’t buggy. I like that the load time is less. I like that even if a program crashed the whole system doesn’t go. I like that I don’t fear for the sanctity of my stuff because I’m in immenent danger of contracting a virus. I like it so much that it’s going to go on my laptop too.

I like that it’s the first thing in the history of my compter use that I feel like I have made choices with, instead of just used without thinking. I like that I can equate it’s use with a daily political act... and that I feel really, practically, and actively involved in the system I am using every day. What’s weird about that is the impression that everyone who uses GNU/Linux, or more specifically a flavour thereof, is a geek. But the fact that as a user I feel so empowered by Ubuntu (and I didn’t using Windows) makes me feel like this impression is flawed, particularly considering I really could have, at the time, installed Ubuntu on my own, no fuss. And that would have been my answer to my new friend if the MS programs had taken any longer to load.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Your story was very interesting in that I am perceived in the same light, even more so, although our professional backgrounds and experiences are quite different.

At age 59, as a consultant for "business" technology/hotel management systems, and of African descent (particularly as viewed and stereotyped in USA), I am certainly not considered a Geek qualifier, but have used and even consult primarily on GNU/Linux and BSD Unix to business, education and government departments, thereby required dressing for and interacting mostly in the "corporate" culture environment.

On several occasions I have utterly surprised many high school, college and technology types by my involvement and use of the "Freedom" OS with it's associated politics.

My reasons for use of GNU/Linux and Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) parallel most of yours, plus what I consider more productive, flexible and less externally controlled venture.

It always gives me great pleasure to not worry about malicious intrusions (I do protect my systems beyond standard configs), Microsoft unobstructed access to my computers, constant unexplained and unfixable crashes, and revel in the sheer power and elegence of software like the new KDE, Gnome, Gimp, OpenOffice suite and other modern FOSS applications.

Cheers to you.

W. Anderson
Hamilton, Bermuda
Ottawa, Ontario, canada

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

The problem here is, when anyone hears the word "Linux", they assume that there's gonna be nothing but command line. They retain that view of what the older generation of Linux distros represented, where "only geeks use it". (Even some PC enthusiasts use this excuse in those "Linux vs Windows" forum flame fests).

This has obviously changed in recent times, as "easy to use" distros (Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, etc), have started to raise interest for people (at least raise some sort of curiosity, that yes, there is an alternative that offers things that Microsoft does not). Granted, they aren't completely perfect yet, but they have established a stepping stone into the desktop market. It may not be a big step, but its an important one. At least they're very usable for those desktop folks who have general desktop needs. (email, web, video, music, etc).

I guess we have our own reasons for trying alternatives.

Mine were:

(1) When MS started talking about "Windows Genuine Advantage" (WGA) and implementing DRM-style technologies from WinXP onwards. This just scared me into looking elsewhere. (I'm still trying to understand what exactly does WGA offer in regards to "Advantage"! I don't get it.)

(2) As a geek and a self-taught newbie programmer, the more I looked into things, the more depressing things got, finding out how MS has cause much grief for many around the world. This motivated me into dropping MS based solutions where possible. (at least look for equivalent or alternative solutions).

(3) Every time something went wrong, Windows often noted some cryptic error message. (You know when you get that BSOD and you get a bunch of digits/letters as the error code? That irritated me because I couldn't really do something about it!). It doesn't tell me much as to what cause it or why...This is where I started appreciating what open-source offered. I like the fact that logs aren't too much of a problem to go through. The better part is when I can do something about a problem! (I used to feel a bit helpless and annoyed...Now I get satisfaction in I learning something new. I was able to do things myself and actually got a good idea of what was going on).

(4) Switching to Linux gave power back to me...The owner of the system. I've never actually read MS's "End-User License Agreement" (EULA)...But once I did, I realised it was something I don't agree with. (which pushed me into building my own PCs and looking for notebooks that don't come with Windows...Or at least ask the seller if they offered the option not to include it).

Anyway, its good to see another Aussie Linux User. (ALU) :)

Scott Carpenter's picture

Using GNU/Linux as a political statement... I'm totally up for that. It's such a great statement. To say that you believe in freedom and sharing. Isn't that what we were taught as kids and what we teach our own? And why not share something that costs us nothing but a bit of electricity to do so? It's going to be a great world, sooner or later, when this is the default.

Scott C.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

>"I don’t get it. I mean, all these people use Linux as a political statement. I don’t get what’s so bad about Microsoft. I use it. It’s fine."

It may be true that people use linux to make a statement, but that statement seems like a zealot talking about other zealots.

If access to your home network is needed, I can just as well set up OpenVPN or Cygwin/sshd on win32 - but for some reason I feel uneasy setting up a port forward to a windows client. Besides, my only windows machine is a game box and would hate to waste all those decrypting cycles at the expense of higher frame rates ;-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Ok here's the other story. I've been an avid LInux supporter for years ( and still am ) but then I got a notebook and all that changed. It is an Asus and as such there was no help from the manufacturer into getting things working under linux. That's fine since I've been usign linux for years changing distros and such and I was pretty used to dealing with problems. Only I decided to ditch the onboard sound and go for Echo Indigo. In theory there is a linux driver only in practice getting it to work on my brand new AMD64 notebook was a no-go. For one the pcmcia bus simply did not work and there was some lengthy fix which also did nothing in mu case. Turns out the dev team botched up something ( finally fixed after over and year ). I wasn't about to let my > $100 sound card collect dust so I was forced into using Windows. And the funny thing was that it was actually faster for most things. Configuration was faster, although this is very relative since you have to install each app separately and then configure it, and most system maintenance tasks take less time. ( keep in mind that for quite some time I used to make my living as a sys admin of various Windows labs and other computers ) Over the last 1 1/2 year I have actually relearned to live with Windows day in and day out. Sure I had to lear the meaning of "If it ain't broken don't fix it" and how much it applies to Windows. While you can do just about any customization often it takes way too long and the chance of messing things up is great. For the first 2 months I was constantly trying to make windows look like my linux desktop only to give realizing that the capabilities for customization of some parts of windows are just not there. All in all, with the help of some not so leagle for my personal use software ( SAV and several others ) and my moderate windows tweaking I have managed to survive as a fultime Windows user for quite some time now. And the funny thing is that I'm beginning to like it. All I used to do before was basic tasks and coding in VS. But latelly I don't even feel like switching over to my linux desktop. Yes Windows can't do things the way Linux can but it does pretty well for the most part. You do have to respect it's limitations though. And ... if I had to licence all the software that I use I'd go bankrupt ...
Anyway, just though I tell you about my experience going from Linux to Windows ( because I had to ).

eko_hermiyanto's picture

Windows technically is a good operating system. almost every proprietary software which able to be run on top of windows are sophisticated too. The real problem is if I use windows and various proprietary sofware on my machine, it is just too much money for me and give me many limitations. Then, if I can use free as in free market* operating system and the whole world of free software which are very high quality and sophisticated(just like Open, GNOME, and GNU Emacs) for gratis, why not?

In addition, I feel much safer by using free software. I am sure that there is no mallicious code exist on software I am using. Moreover, I can copy free software freely into my other machines and my family's. It's really great advantage of free software over proprietary software.

But yes, I am regretting so much I can not use free software all the time. At university and work I am forced to use proprietary software(I am writing this one with proprietary operating system, although I am using free web browser).

Thanks for you dear richard, gnu project, free software community and this beautiful magazine for make these all happen. :D

Note: Free software is free as in freedom. But there are many people confuse free software as in gratis software. But, perhaps if we refer free software as in free market, many people will notice it because free market refer into freedom and not gratis. But I do not know yet whether this is appropriate or not. Suggestion please?

Adriano34's picture
Submitted by Adriano34 on

Very nice Blog. Number one Topic. It may be true that people use linux to make a statement, but that statement seems like a zealot talking about other zealots. If access to your home network is needed, I can just as well set up OpenVPN or Cygwin/sshd on win32 - but for some reason I feel uneasy setting up a port forward to a windows client. Besides, my only windows machine is a game box and would hate to waste all those decrypting cycles at the expense of higher frame Sohbet rates Regards.

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Bridget Kulakauskas's picture


Bridget has a degree in Sociology and English and a keen interest in the social implications of technology. She has two websites: Illiterarty and The Top 10 Everything. She also handles accounts and administration for Free Software Magazine.