I try to be a quiet zealot. But there are a few things I firmly believe in: the importance of historical awareness in the fight for social and material justice; the value of both knowledge and thinking; and the right of self-determination 1 which, paired with my background in tech of course makes me a GNU/Linux user. (Which here I will call Linux for ease of use, no slight to the GNU Project.)

So I take a break from my normally-scheduled writing—as if anything is scheduled or rigorous around here—to talk to you a bit about Linux. I don’t think this will become a regular thing (though I might add tutorials that I have trouble finding on the web, like iwlwifi driver issues or getting 拼音输入 working).

“Free” Beer, “Free” Speech

One of the things you often see in the FOSS community is people specifying “Free as in Beer, Free as in Speech.” This may sound somewhat silly, but it points to the two types of freedom that can be had with a product: (1) it can be free of charge, as in free beer or free lunch and; (2) it can be freely used, adapted, and altered, as in speech or non-copyrighted works.

For example, Google Email (Gmail) is free to use (“as in beer”) but is not free for you to adapt however you want (“speech”): Google owns the code, and they own Gmail. You are merely “borrowing” it (licensing). The same goes with Windows or MacOS: you do not own the OS, your computer, and you cannot do what you want with it because it is not legally yours. You “agreed” to all of these terms (and likely far worse) in that EULA that you thoroughly read with your lawyer when you installed or logged in for the first time.

The Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) community has a variety of positions on the necessity of the two types of freedom. Many argue that Facebook, despite being free of charge, is not a free service because the user is severely limited in how they may interact with the platform.


“Intellectual freedom requires intellectual work.”

H.G. Creel “Confucius: The Man and the Myth” 1949

With a free system, the user has more responsibility. You are no longer paying someone to take care of things for you: whether that be recovering files, changing values, or troubleshooting your software. But the less you have to “worry” about, the less control you have. Think about it like cooking for yourself vs. a very controlling restaurant. You can’t order “off the menu” at a restaurant, but you don’t have to do the cooking. Commercial OSes are like that.

In a FOSS system, you can cook anything you want, whenever you want. Pancakes and kimchi at 3am, pastries every 15 minutes. But you also have to do the work. Thankfully, the community has done a lot of the “buying the groceries” for you, and even a lot of the cooking!


In no particular order, I describe a few of the reasons why I prefer FOSS software, especially as other desktop OSes move towards Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, where you are the product as much as anything else. (For more comprehensive, and dry rants, simply do an internet search for “Windows 10 privacy concerns” or “Microsoft FUD anti-trust” or “Apple kills right to repair.”)


There are communities and answers for everything. Ubuntu has one of the largest userbases, and one of the most active forums for asking questions and getting help.

Most distros, especially ones best suited for newcomers, have fairly active internet communities.

These communities are volunteers, users, and people just like you, who answer questions and put in the time…because they want to. Very few are paid for their time, which gives the projects a very communitarian feel.

All users are contributors, stakeholders, and potential directors of the project.


Goes hand-in-hand with the second kind of “freedom” (speech) as above. If you want your data to be secure, if you don’t like the idea of being an uncompensated, exploited source of profit for massive shadowy corporations more than you already have to be: consider FOSS.

LibreOffice will never upload your documents to someone else’s computer for analysis and advertising purposes, will never hard-sell you CandyCrushTM, and is entirely under your control, if you learn how.

Security is a big concern: viruses and malware and ransomware. But there are also structural forms of security: where even though “malicious bad guys” can’t get access to your stuff, you have to trust the company that is holding it. Imagine if a bank wanted access to your safe deposit box, at any time, and they claimed they owned anything you put in there, but at least bad guys wouldn’t get it.

That’s basically the terms we face on commercial software solutions. User “data is the new oil” as it goes.


You can make the desktop (the following are all KDE WM) look like MacOS, or Windows, or neither!
For a ton more, check out this subreddit.


Despite it’s reputation, LInux is actually remarkably simple to use. Modern, graphical interfaces can be downloaded, installed, and set up complely by point-and-click, and can look like MacOS or Windows right out of the box.

Once the lurning curve is adjusted to (it exists! Linux is not just like the other OSes, but it is not more difficult), updating the system, downloading new software, and troubleshooting are much easier to do on Linux systems than on Windows or Mac.

Cons (Yes they exist)

Proprietary Software

Occasionally, even I have to fire up a Windows VM to open some piece of software (usually Adobe) for some task. If your job, or even a significant chunk of your hobbies, depends on Adobe, AutoDesk, or another proprietary ecosystem, Linux likely won’t work as a daily OS.

While AppImages can allow an “.EXE-like experience,” not many vendors offer it outside those that are already available in the package repositories.

And if you are hell-bent on using something like Word or gaming, you’re going to need a commercial OS. Steam runs on Linux, but a lot of other standalone games do not.

CLI Interface

Some people are put off by the command line: artv@orbvs:~$ and a blank window.

But once you learn a few simple commands, life is easy! You can even make aliases once, forget how to make aliases, and run those new commands instead.

For example, I update my system with the simple: sysupdate which is really the ill-advised hodgepodge of: sudo apt update; sudo apt upgrade which downloads new programs, and then asks if I want to proceed with installing.

Updating my entire system takes around 30 seconds from start (opening a terminal with Ctrl + Alt + T) to finish.

Snobbishness (“RTFM”)

There are a number of members in the community who feel the need (whether through malice or gross social incompetence) to put down “n00bs,” although nobody uses that anymore unironically, and flaunt their geek might. This is similar to any fandom, but it has gotten better!

The Linux community retains a lot of the early-days ethos of the internet and consumer technology more generally: it attracts DIY-types, and people who are already somewhat technically comfortable in another realm.

It can be daunting, and painful, to be told that your problems or concerns about this new thing you are learning are “because your’re too stupid to do it right” or whatever other troll you receive in comments.

How to prevent this? Never ask questions first, always always always look up your problems. Try a few search engines, click through StackOverflow, call your techie cousin.

In the end, however, a community is as good as it’s members, and the FOSS/Linux community is thankfully growing more diverse by the day.

Wrap Up

I’m not going to rehash all the arguments above, nor will I end with a “call to action” to throw off your digital chains and join the computing proletariat. But I will end with this: If you want to try Linux, but aren’t sure, you can download Kubuntu here and run it on a flashdrive on your computer to see.

Guide to livebooting a Linux USB

You may just find something you love.

The End of The Beginning (The Links Will Go On)

  1. Self-determination but not in the libertarian sense, rather in the sense of Donna Haraway and the xenofeminists: “If nature is unjust, change nature.” Xenofeminist Manifesto