jueves, 10 de junio de 2010

My Views on the Same Old Question...

As a GNU/Linux user, I am always confronted with the same old question..."Why do you use Linux? Isn't Windows--or MacOS better?"

I am not a hardcore Linux fan, a communist, or a computer guru. I am a plain, normal computer user whose first experience with those amazing and tantrum-prone machines was tied to Microsoft from the very beginning. Long, long time ago, when the dinosaurs were as tiny as insects, the young Megatotoro (yes! there actually was a time in which I was young!) took a course in which he learned DOS and BASIC. I guess today's kids don't have a clue about those names, but MS-DOS was what put Microsoft where it is today. Too bad Microsoft dropped DOS when it launched Windows XP...that made my old games fade away, but that's another story.

My second experience, many years later, was also with a Microsoft product. I needed to type an essay for my major and a very gentle secretary lent me her computer. She gave me a complete Windows 3.11 and MS Word course (a true All-in-One!!) Well, not quite. It was more like "This button is for copying, this for pasting, and this for cutting. You save your document this way and you open it this other way".

That 1-minute-intensive course was all what my formal computer training amounts to be. Had Microsoft Windows been hard to understand, I guess I wouldn't be able to do what I can do now. (I've gone quite a long way beyond copying and pasting!)

So...if Microsoft and Windows saw my first steps in the complex world of computers, why was I so ungrateful to abandon them and to embrace the "communist," rebellious, GNU/Linux movement?

I am an educator, and as such, part of my duty is to teach my students to write effectively. A person cannot write effectively if he or she lacks a critical vision of the world. Today's world is full of paradigms that the ones in power impose on those who they oppress. Paulo Freire was well aware of that when he proposed his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He argued that effective education must do away with those models of oppression in the search of freedom through a critical reading of the world.

Well, in the field of computers, I realized there was a reality that was being carefully disguised so that nobody could see it. It happened first with Windows XP and DOS. Microsoft dropped DOS to favor Windows NT as its base system. According to Microsoft, that move was made for the sake of stability for Windows NT proved far more stable than DOS.

That was true. Windows XP has been one of the most stable Windows systems ever. However, Microsoft pushed its users to a migration from whatever old system to XP without giving any possible room for choice. Many programs did not run on XP either, but Microsoft did not care about that. It was more a policy of "let's bring in the new and do away with the old" (if "the old" was still very usable and necessary for some, it was out of the question.)

I reluctantly migrated to XP because I really loved Windows ME. Why, yes, there are a few John Smiths who loved Windows Mistake Edition (as many called it)! I accepted the change as part of a natural selection process.

Then, Windows launched its Office 2007 version. I tried it, but didn't like it so much. I was hurt because they killed the cat (the office assistant), but that is beside the point. What really made me mad was the file format change. Microsoft's Office 2007 would use *OOOx (docx, pptx, xlsx). The new format was implemented without any consideration to the public. They argued that it all was for the benefit of the user: it made files smaller, safer, and more private. If they really cared so much for the user, why was it that these new files were not compatible with the old Office platform? Very subtly, they were telling the user "buy the new product". However, the change of extension was not smooth: many individuals and companies did not buy the new suite and that caused a total file chaos: "I cannot open the file you just sent" became a common statement and it still is an issue today. I am particularly enraged by the fact that some people just send their files without ever stopping to think that the receiver may be unable to open them. Is it hard to press one more button and choose the "compatibility mode" to prevent that? Aha! Many windows users use the software mindlessly. As human beings, disconnecting our minds to perform whatever action becomes dangerous.

Back to the incompatibility issue, Microsoft had to create patches and users were required to download them and install them. Again, if the end user was all what Microsoft kept caring about from the beginning, why weren't the patches ready from the start?

That opened my eyes, but there was more to come. The issue of incompatibility repeated itself with Windows Vista! That was just too much for me. The "natural selection" process I had accepted with XP was not natural; it was a very carefully disguised artificial creation. I understand that a company may be reluctant to interact with its competitors, but being incompatible with itself is outrageous! The users were just a flock that was being directed what to buy, how to act, and how to think (if thinking was allowed). My ethics as an educator was not compatible with this paradigm. I refused to stay in the flock and I refused to reproduce that paradigm of silent acceptance.

As human beings, we deserve some respect. Big companies do not treat us as human beings, but as flocks to be exploited and killed when we are no longer usable. I cannot go along with that. Windows, MacOs, Linux or whatever must be an issue of personal choice and not of imposition, either subtle or direct. Many people argue that Windows is better but how many of them have actually used another system? I don't mean watching it or testing it for a couple of times. I mean actually using another system for working or leisure during an extended period of time. I agree that Windows is simple, but is "simple" always a synonym of "better"?

Simplicity leads to dullness of the mind. That is exactly what educators and responsible students must beware of. Whoever stays in the realm of conformism because "it is better than complicating one's life going the extra mile" should think a bit more critically. That conformist attitude is the very killer of human reasoning and becomes the rope that oppressors prefer to keep their flocks from "going astray."

Now, how can people try anything different if it is practically impossible to find a computer without Windows pre-installed? Is that freedom? Is that software imposition a way to treat users with respect? That is saying "We know that you want Windows and nothing else, so here it comes with your computer." What about those who do not want it or who would like to test something different? They have to buy Windows anyway. That's a truly democratic behavior: forcing us to buy and now with no chances for a refund! That resembles a totalitarian regime!

I'm neither for communism nor for ravaging capitalism. Capitalists bash communist countries because of their "lack of individual freedom." Well, I see no difference in being denied your freedom and in making you think you are free when you are not. That is what big companies do to us and I do not want to be part of the system teaching that to my students.

This is just the ethical aspect. I have pragmatic reasons, too.

2 comentarios:

  1. I enjoyed this post because of two reasons. First, most people believe that Linux users are misfits or "GEEKS". Well, the ones I've run into don't even know how to write code and have no clue about what an algorithm is.
    Second, an educator has the obligation of developing critical thinking... and I'm not talking about students, but about the educator! After all, how can one teach others how to think critically about ICT's if one cannot step out from the technology paradigm?

  2. True. ICTs have become the newest source of oppression, but people seldom notice because they are totally covered by the mesmerizing waters of technology. Subtly, technology stopped serving us to become our master and some people are even willing to give up their lives for ICTs. I can't figure them out!