Posted Dec 7, 2005 12:32 UTC (Wed) by rknop
In reply to: Alright, BUT.
Parent article: Linux in a binary world... a doomsday scenario
My idealism hasn't run out. I still try to buy and run things that work with free only drivers. But I'm getting increasingly tired trying to evangilize. "You keep saying Linux is so great," people tell me, "but it's so hard to get the computer working. What's great about that?" This is after they have to futz around downloading a bunch of binary drivers for their laptop. This is after installing Debian, only to find that they can't just upgrade the kernel, but have to go through a bunch of downloading again to make it all work. This is after finding out that some of the features just don't work. "Why don't you just run Windows?."
Or they're submitting a proposal, and it has to be in Word format, and OpenOffice.org is (for whatever reason) formatting it less efficiently so they get fewer words per page than they do with Word. The call comes to have a Windows machine available for all the students to use. (I say, sure, do what you want, but I will have nothing to do with it.)
And, society has become so jaded and cynical that any talk of "freedom" makes me sound like a silly crazed zealot. Never mind that every so often I've got a practical point that makes it clear that freedom is important. (E.g., last week in Chile, a couple of students weren't able to do the homework assignment they had thought they could do in IDL because the school wasn't letting external connections to the port that the license server was running on.) By and large, maintaining freedom nowadays seems, at least, to introduce more hassles than being tied to propreitary stuff, and I've not succeeded in making the long-term arguments about selling out your flexibility to proprietary vendors. I crow when I can about situations like this IDL situation, but too often the hassles seem to go the other way.
In the early days of Linux, it was often hard to get free drivers for Linux because Linux wasn't on anybody's radar. Of course, back then, you were a bit more likely to get specs on hardware than you are now, but it wasn't always true. (Remember when laptops didn't work with free X for a while because of the NeoMagic chipset?) Nowadays, it's getting harder to get free drivers for Linux because too many companies think that putting out binary drivers is a reasonable solution. I can't help but wonder if Linux is big enough now that the lkml people should start throwing their weight around, and explicitly disallow binary modules. That will break the hardware of companies that won't play at all with the free software communiyt. And, yes, it will be a pain for the people who have a laptop and say, "hey, I want to try Linux!" But for those who plan ahead, it will help publicize the fact that only some hardware really works with Linux.
I dunno. It's a pain in the butt and a thorny issue. And the fact that so many people in "technical" physics (I'm thinking Physics grad students here) are now coming in thinking they're computer literate because they use Windows IM and IE, and if they've programmed they've used MATLAB or IDL or something else proprietary on Windows, the pressure from the geeks is making it harder and harder for zealots like me to keep free software a seeming necessity.
I just wish one could argue for freedom out loud without sounding silly.
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