A news item today at PC World heralds some groundbreaking news in the way of GNU/Linux being preinstalled on Dell desktop and laptop computers. So when I wrote in the Open Source Reporter FAQ that (and I’m paraphrasing here) your Grandma wouldn’t be using Debian, perhaps I had spoken a wee bit too hastily.
This is not to say that the distro on the Dell machines will be Debian, unfortunately, but the PC World article does mention that “other Linux distributions were also suggested by users, and that Dell will look into possible certifications with other Linux brands across its product lines.” All of which means that users may not be locked into Novell SUSE, but that remains to be seen.
But whatever Dell should choose to put on their GNU/Linux boxes, the underlying fact remains that when a corporate giant like Dell — and who hasn’t used a Dell, either at work or at home (and possibly both)? — provides the option away from prepackaging solely the Redmond-based digital sludge masquerading as an operating system they’ve previously offered, you know Dell isn’t doing it out of the goodness of their corporate hearts.
The demand is there, and Dell knows it. For all the nasty things I have said about Dell in the past, most (if not all) of it deserved, I now have to hand it to Dell: Maybe they get it after all.
Arguably, and with all the fanfare the news warrants, if nothing else this signals that GNU/Linux has officially arrived as a mainstream operating system.
Further, given a choice between a bloated operating system like the Microsoft’s new “Vis-duh” and a more streamlined GNU/Linux operating system that frees up the computer workings for more important things, which would you use (especially on a lower-end machine)?
This is not to say that I’m embracing Dell. On the contrary: I know their products well, having used them in the many office environments in which I have worked over the past couple of decades. In my current job, I use a Dell as a copy editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel. So let me be frank (and children, you can leave the room now): Dell has always lived up to its reputation as manufacturing hardware that absolutely and unequivocally blows. The fact that Windows-on-Dell can easily be described as hell squared is not lost on many people.
Having said this both here and over the last 15 or so years, however, no one is more ready than I am to give Dell another shot in using a Dell box or laptop equipped with GNU/Linux; crossing my fingers all the while that their hardware dependability may have increased as well.
If anything, improved Dell hardware coupled with Linux could just break me from the habit of spitting on the ground every time anyone mentions the computer maker’s name.
Richard Stallman and others in the free software movement may not like my choice of words to describe his speech on Friday, Feb. 23. But to quote a large software conglomerate way north of here: Wow.
Tod Landis, the Technical Editor of Open Source Reporter, and I drove up to Berkeley from Santa Cruz to see Stallman speak (but not before picking up mutual friend, uber-geek and Web host operator without peer Cameron Spitzer on the way in San Jose), and Stallman did not disappoint. In fact, he was engaging, funny, passionate and thought-provoking during the course of the two hours in which he spoke.
More importantly, Stallman was convincing about the need to promote the free software philosophy and further the free software movement. Specifically, he touted the need for people to get involved not only with the Free Software Foundation, but also with some of the FSF’s projects, primarily their efforts around stopping DRMs and Bad Vista (both of which can be found on the FSF site).
Also, he explained how GNU was really a significant part of the operating system everyone calls “Linux,” and that because Linux is only the kernel and all the other aspects of the operating system were from GNU. Hence, it should rightfully called GNU/Linux instead of just “Linux.”
So noted, Professor Stallman: We at Open Source Reporter have made a note of it, and will refer to all operating systems as such in the future.
He also revealed what he uses on his computers (Blag), and stated that there were only three distros that provided fully free software: Blag, gNewSense and a third one that I didn’t get (Ulteo, maybe?).
As one of the crowd’s non-geeks (or as a geek apprentice, perhaps), my observation is that Stallman comes across as a very eloquent and very engaging in presenting his views to the audience. I understand his passion and urgency in promoting things like abolishing DRMs and calling Vis-duh and Microsoft on their individual and collective shortcomings. He effectively and convincingly lays out the reasons why free software and open source software are different, and how open source could stand to be more like free software.
Stallman’s “Saint Ignutius” schtick was very entertaining, and in ordaining the crowd into the Church of Emacs, he warned that as adherents we should “beware of Vi, Vi, Vi — the mark of the beast” (get out your geek-to-English dictionaries: Vi is another editor, and VI of course is the Roman numeral for six; hence six-six-six, ba-da-boom!).
The talk was attended by between 75-100 people, mostly Cal students with a few of us older folks in the audience.
I understand that the audio for this speech is supposed to be available on the Free Software Foundation’s Web site (http://www.fsf.org), but I haven’t found it yet. It would be good to give it a listen, because it touches firmly on the need for free software, and how we should go about promoting it.
I came away from this speech with a better understanding of free software, converted to the free software movement, and with a couple of items of worth — a FSF lapel pin and a Richard Stallman autograph on my FSF card.