While I would not go so far as to say that I regard computers as an absolute necessity in life, I have to admit that if given a choice between giving up my computers and giving up food, my first instinct would be to ask how long you had in mind.
The Apple II was my true love, although the first computer in our house was the original IBM PC. Thus, I was intimate with Microsoft from the beginning, though I always had a cheater’s heart. I was enamored with Apple games such as Akallabeth, Castle Wolfenstein and Wizardry – yes, that’s right, I know my Mahalito from my Tiltowait – and my parents sent me off to college with the original Macintosh.
I was working at a computer graphics company when Windows 3.0 was released. We’d seen all of the previous versions, which were ugly, hard-to-use jokes, but I can still remember after we fired up 3.0 for the first time, a few of us looked at each other and nodded as we realized that Microsoft had finally done just enough to give DOS-heads a reason to migrate to a graphical user interface.
I’d already abandoned the MacOS by then, since great games like Wing Commander and the Ultima series required DOS VGA. And I’ve obediently upgraded Windows in step with the masses, from 3.11 to 95, 98 and finally, 2000. But no more.
Now, understand that Microsoft is not a monopoly. The fact that it does a very good job of hooking the technologically clueless makes it an astute competitor, not an antitrust violator. It is, nevertheless, an evil empire, and moreover, one that is antithetical to human freedom.
Whereas Microsoft once represented freedom of choice, it now does everything in its power to reduce one’s freedom to choose. It does not give one the ability to choose to update one’s software or not – you can update now or you can update later, but you VILL UPDATE, HEIN! Security holes and bugs abound, but Microsoft whispers soothing lies and insists that there’s nothing to worry about, drop $50 on Norton Anti-Virus and everything will be fine.
Even more disturbing are the routine violations of privacy that Microsoft abets and sometimes demands. Microsoft is paving the easy path, promising more ease-of-use, a calmer, happier computing experience, and all that you need to do in return is turn off your brain, hand over every detail of who you are, what you do and with whom you do it, then slide down the user-friendly interface to Hell.
One week ago, after wrestling with a nasty virus that took down my entire ISP, I’d had enough. It was the first virus I’d ever encountered despite never using anti-virus software, and it was the last straw as well.
It wasn’t just the virus, or the thrice-weekly crashes, or the forced upgrades or even the massive, bloated resource hog that Microsoft Office has become. It was the realization that Microsoft is building the Great Eye That Never Sleeps, which, in combination with your government identification number, will be used to track you, verify you and determine if you are a properly obedient little wage-serf. As Chuck D says, I rebel with a raised fist. And, I might add, a solitary finger.
Now determined to break out of the system or fry my machine trying, I sat down and fired up my dual-boot system on which I’d installed Red Hat Linux a few months ago in a previous spasm of irritation with a serial-crashing laptop running Windows 2000. This time, though, I chose Linux and I followed through. I mounted my hard drive. I got my wireless network up and running. I downloaded my favorite browser – Opera – as well as a few other needed sundries.
It wasn’t a piece of cake, but it honestly wasn’t hard and I was fully operational by the second day. In fact, I’m writing this column on OpenOffice.org 1.1.0 Writer, which reads and writes to all of my Word documents without a murmur of complaint. Goodbye, sweet Bill.
Four days into Linux, my conclusion is that the casual computer user will not be able to make the switch yet, but the power user can. And should.
I’ve chronicled my migration experience on my new daily blog Vox Popoli, and I encourage you to take a glance at it if you have any interest in breaking the chains of Microsoft and riding the Linux penguin to techno-liberty.
Follow me! Follow me to freedom!