Apr 10, 2014

The Real Software Rebels

Rereading a book about the beginning of the computer revolution is very interesting. In this case it's Glenn Moody's "Rebel Code: Linux And The Open Source Revolution" from 2001. There you can read about the "rebel heroes" such as Linus Torvalds and Richard M. Stallman. But the real software rebels are the users, the early adopters, that using the software under complicated circumstances.

When I installed my first GNU/Linux-Distro, Slackware, looking at the terminal prompt, I knew it will be awesome. Later, the X11 and xvwm GUI was great. At that time, I didn't contribute anything. I was just using it. Wait a second. Using it? Well most of the time I was busy on keep things running, and to figure out how I could do something on that system, that was a "install" away in Windows. The software that was missing. But didn't we keep it running? Against all odds, the early users of GNU/Linux, kept using an OS that was used because it was there. And while we adored the leaders of the new software movement, away from the big money sucking companies, we totally missed the fact that WE were the revolution.

It took long to understand, that without support of the people that took this OS because it was different, the movement never would have been a movement. The fact that you can get a GNU/Linux distribution that is a one click install, coming with almost all the software you'll need, is not because a few men made an OS, it's because the people accepted it. It was 2003 when it was obvious that GNU/Linux is going to be a recognized competitor. In October 2004, Ubuntu released 4.10. And while the hardcore Linux-User, shook their head about this system that you could use just like that, it was inevitable that Ubuntu was going to be a success story.

The real push into mainstream was not made by Canonical, but by SuSE GmbH. The SuSE-Linux was remarkable in many ways, and made the system useful for many people. And again, they adopted it. The thing that made Ubuntu different was the huge community and the repositories where you could find and install software without compiling it. This was a key moment. Users want to use stuff. And Ubuntu made it so easy. In the coming years, I see one Windows installation going after another. Replaced by Ubuntu. Unfortunately at some point, Ubuntu went a wrong path with the integration of online shops and commercial elements which drove the original userbase away. Mostly to derivates of Ubuntu like Linux Mint. Again, the software applications offered by the repositories made the different imho.

Now the discussion if only a 100% free software GNU+Linux is the real deal, or if proprietary drivers, and programs installed afterwards is okay, shows that GNU+Linux has changed. For good or bad is only a matter of the standpoint of view. One thing is sure however, with the users that made this system interesting at all by just using it, there would have been no Ubuntu or Mint. If there were never users that demanded a GUI like Gnome or KDE, it wouldn't exist. And it never would have took off.
Is GNU+Linux on the peak? No. Not even near. Even if you count all the Android phones and embedded devices in. it will be great in the future. On your desktop computer and on your tablet...