Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters
mertz at gnosis.cx
Sat Dec 22 09:48:34 MST 2001
Les Schaffer <schaffer at optonline.net> wrote:
|i have my doubts that many of the comrades here will want to switch
|over to linux. having worked in linux for 7 years now...
I would chime in with certain others in encouraging Marxism-list members
to dump Windows, and probably use Linux instead.
But the reasons I do so are not primarily the specific technical issues.
I think there are much more important political reasons to avoid
Microsoft, and promote Free Software. In this sense, I am much in the
camp of Richard Stallman (RMS) and the Free Software Foundation (FSF).
You can read quite a bit of political stuff at <http://fsf.org>. The
general gist is that for FSF, software that promotes freedom is to be
preferred *even if* it means giving up specific technical advantages
that unfree "alternatives" have.
There are indeed technical advantages to using Linux. The chance of
being affected by viruses, worms, and other security holes are minimal,
where MS forces everyone into all sorts of exposures (both through
programming sloppiness and "features" that are all about MS *control* of
its users). In general, using Linux one is a lot less likely to
experience computer crashes and data losses. Moreover, machines run
faster, and lower-end machines are adequate under Linux than under
recent Windows versions.
But at the same time, Linux is written as a public, participatory
project by and for people who program computers. The result is a set of
biases in human-computer interfaces. Using Linux works a lot better for
people with a fairly sophisticated understanding of what their computers
do, and who have a degree of comfort doing things like editing
configuration files. The "newbie friendliness" has improved in the last
9 years I have used it, but Linux is still somewhat intimidating at
times (even for me, with say new applications/drivers/etc).
Microsoft is a big corporation, while Free Software is an ownerless
"primitive-communist" cooperative form of creation. Moreover, even as
big corporations go, Microsoft is a bad one. They hold a monopoly, and
frequently abuse that through bribes, kickbacks, outright violation of
laws, fraud against consumers and regulators, and lying to their
customers. MS is also a major US employer of forced prison labor
(packaging those boxes and CDs), which not -every- US company does. I
obviously don't think members of the marxism-list will buy into a
volunteerist notion of creating "good capitalism" through consumer
choice. But I still cannot help but feel a special distaste for the
worst "excesses" of corporations (like MS). Moreover, MS is also one of
the most active parties in the loss of privacy by technical means...
the new Passport, for example, is essentially a direct realization of a
_1984_ style centralization of all the information on its users
(although the info goes to the highest bidder, which may or may not be
the State, in this particular realized distopia).
But aside from the "bad corporation" criticism, there is something much
more fundamental, historical and structural in an avoidance of MS
products. I believe that the world "intellectual property" is
undergoing something a whole lot like the enclosure movements of the
16th-17th centuries in Europe. There are two simultaneous trends in
both the new and old enclousures. The "main" change in legal regime is
an inclusion of things that were previously held as "commons" into the
cycle of private property. In those prior days it was certain tracts of
land; now it is ideas of all sorts that were long held as self-evidently
the common intellectual heritage of humanity (derived cultural forms,
mathematics, chemical and physical principles, the genetics of seeds,
common words now trademarked, the physical appearance of objects and
images, and even plain copyrights now extended in perpetuity by the
"Mickey Mouse Protection Act"). The whole world of ideas is
increasingly enclosed in the legal framework of property exchange, with
whole branches of the police-military-judicial structure now devoted to
the forcible application of state-sanctioned violence against "pirates"
and "hackers" (now known as "terrrorists" under the PATRIOT, in the
At the same time as thought and idea are becoming privatized, there is a
huge wholesale transfer of control and "ownership" of those ideas from
the poor to the rich. Since ownership of those ideas is a juridical
"innovation", it is not quite right to describe them as "owned"
previously by the hoi poloi... but at least that was where effective
utilization and creative control existed. Now the cops deliver it to
Time-Warner and ADM.
In this new and scary world, using MS products is an effective and
active endorsement of the new regime. Using Free Software is a
resistance to it. I wouldn't even describe the FSF as a merely fabian
resistance. Just installing Linux on your computer is a personal
thing... but working for a world where the concept of ownership of lines
of code is an absurdity is a genuine radical political program.
There is actually a bit of a schism between two factions of the IP
corporations. There are those, like Disney and Roche, who just want to
shoot the folks who use "their" ideas (by, say, thinking about Mickey,
or swallowing a generic drug). And there are those like MS and Cable
companies who want to -control- the structure of everyday life through
the manipulation and ownership of information about "consumers" (by
monitoring keystrokes and purchases). These tendencies pull in slightly
different directions in a number of concrete contexts. But for all of
them, folks like the FSF are on the side of freedom, and opposed to
either sort of unfreedom.
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