Open Source Angst

As many of you may already know, I use Ubuntu as my primary operating system. I’ve been using it for about 6 and a half years, and I’ve been using other Linux operating systems since 2002. Linux, being a free, open source solution for computers, fits with my philosophy of technology and software. I also like the way Ubuntu works and the way Gnome looks and feels. I love how I can customize my computer to a really fine degree in so many ways.

But there’s a flip side to using Linux. Desktops and laptops are not generally manufactured for Linux use, so not all of the hardware will always work quite right with it. (The sound on my laptop has vanished, reappeared and vanished again with the regular Ubuntu updates. I’ve no idea why.) It’s easy to ask questions on various internet forums to get answers, but those answers are not always easy to implement if you’re not at least a semi-serious coder. And sometimes, there are no good answers to be found. (When the sound on my laptop first disappeared, I posted on the Ubuntu forums for help. No one was able to figure out why my sound wasn’t working and no offered solutions fixed the problem.) There are a number of free, open source games available for Linux, but playing the commercially available games my friends are often playing is generally problematic. There are other software programs and apps that I would love to use which aren’t available for or usable with Linux.

As much as I love using Linux, I’m starting to think that a more commercial OS would actually suit my purposes a bit more. It makes me sad to think that. I feel like I’m betraying my own principles. And I know there’s no OS that doesn’t have problems and frustrations. But I’m not willing to put in all of the work needed to keep Ubuntu running smoothly on my laptop and I’m tired of missing out on some of the games and apps I can’t use on my laptop.

I’m not completely sure if I’ll go over to the commercial OS dark side…but I’m thinking pretty seriously about it.

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Getting Gutsy

Right in schedule, the latest version of Ubuntu Linux, called “Gutsy Gibbon,” was released on Thursday. I upgraded last night, and it went more smoothly than any past upgrade has. So far I haven’t noticed any huge differences between this version and the last, but it’s running at least as well as the previous version did. And best of all, it was both free (like beer) and easy (not like kittens) to upgrade!

My Gooey Preferences

The other day at work, I needed to do some computer work in private, and my desk is anything but private. So I reserved one of our quiet study rooms, grabbed MPOW’s laptop, and sequestered myself away. Unfortunately, the laptop is getting on in years and is loaded with software, so everything I did, from loading the computer up to switching from one window to another, was excruciatingly, jawclenchingly slow. There was no way I’d actually get any work done with this slug of a machine, so I ran home, got my own laptop, and went back to the library to do my work.

And I got spoiled. Working on my personal laptop in the workplace really highlighted how much I can’t stand Windows and Microsoft programs. I don’t like the visual look and feel of Windows, I don’t like the way MS Word and Excel automatically assume the person using them is a complete moron, and I’m infuriated by the way Internet Explorer constantly resets certain bookmarks (such as for Free Hotmail and Microsoft Internet Radio, which I delete everytime I open IE) everytime I use it on a different machine. I…I just don’t like Microsoft products.

Give me GNOME any day of the week. Give me Open-Office.org and Firefox or IceWeasel. Give me a good Linux distro and open source software anytime, but please take my Windows away.

Open the Library

I recently upgraded my laptop’s operating system from Ubuntu‘s “Dapper Drake” release to the latest release, “Edgy Eft.” The upgrade went more smoothly than the last time I upgraded (from “Breezy Badger” to “Dapper Drake”), when I had quite a few problems. I’m not anywhere close to being a topnotch Linux guy, so when I have problems with my system, I jump onto the Ubuntu discussion forums and ask for help. I usually get a quick response to my questions, and the people who have given me help have always been patient with me and my bumbling computer ways. And if the forums aren’t enough, there’s also an Ubuntu wiki, IRC channels, mailing lists, and local community groups. There are also multiple blogs where I can get news about Ubuntu and its continual development. On top of all this, any Ubuntu user can contribute ideas for how Ubuntu develops, what features and products it will have, what changes will be made.

The Ubuntu community is an open community, where anyone can participate, get questions answered, give suggestions and requests, and see how decisions are made, with many, many access points for participation. How many libraries and library associations are like this?

Linux is an open source operating system. Not only can anyone participate in Linux communities, anyone can change the programming, tweak it, which is why there are so many different distributions. Firefox is open source, too. Anyone can make an extension or theme for Firefox. WordPress is also open source, and it’s “easy to hack” (as Maire Kruppa said at Internet Librarian). Anyone can make a plugin or theme for WordPress. To quote the WordPress site, “You are also free to do whatever you like with the WordPress code, extend it or modify in any way or use it for commercial projects without any licensing fees.” The communities for Linux, Firefox, and WordPress share and spread these hacks. They make it easy for anyone to share tweaks, programs, extensions, plugins, and themes they’ve developed. How many libraries and library associations do this with their products and services?

Ubuntu’s latest release came out a couple of weeks ago. The developers (and community) are already working on the next release (“Feisty Fawn”), which is scheduled to come out in 6 months. Firefox and WordPress also release frequent upgrades. These upgrades are free (as in speech and as in beer) to all users and are announced with fanfare, not just to their communities but to the world at large. When new releases come out, people in the communities are excited, eager to start using the upgrades, even when there are glitches and bugs. How many libraries and library associations can say this about their products and services?

What if…? What if libraries offered:

  • Frequent, free upgrades in services and products, promoted widely and supported by the community (of employees, volunteers, and users);
  • Open source services and products that are easy and fun to hack;
  • An open community (of employees, volunteers, and users) that is encouraged to participate in what the library is and what it’s becoming, that trusts and is trusted by the library;
  • An enthusiastic community (of employees, volunteers, and users), fostered by the library, that is excited and positive and involved in change in the library;
  • Every possible access point for members of the community to communicate with each other, exchange ideas, share problems and successes, ask questions and get answers.

Are there any good reasons why libraries aren’t doing this right this second?