Thursday, April 17, 2008

What I'm Doing Here

I've been working on this blog for a while and have been sharing it from time to time with friends, co-workers, and family members and I'm told kind of all around that much of what I'm writing is incomprehensible to them! At first this was kind of flattering, especially from one or two of my peers who were impressed by how much I've learned about this, but I really want people to understand, especially my friends and family. Of course I've been doing this for nearly 9 months now, and that was after learning a great deal in graduate courses that has given me some background. So I'm writing this post as a jargon-free clarification of what I'm doing and maybe I'll re-clarify why I'm doing it in a separate post.

When you use a computer, you are using its operating system (like Windows XP or Vista or Mac OS) and its applications (like Internet Explorer, Office, Safari, or iTunes). You may have variations on this. You might have Windows Vista or (God help you) Windows 98. You may only use Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer. You may use Quicken or Adobe Photoshop or Dreamweaver or some very specific application you need for work. All those product names are probably familiar, because so many people use them. Your eyes probably don't glaze over as you read them, at least.

Linux, like Windows or Mac OS, is also an operating system. It has a desktop, icons, and volume control. It looks like this:

I use a mouse, a keyboard, a printer, a scanner, and speakers. I type in plain English, not computer code. If you were to sit down at my computer, you would be able to get around and do whatever you normally would do with your current computer. With a little orientation, you would be surfing the web, using email, typing and printing letters, listening to CDs, or watching DVDs. You could also talk on the phone, chat, program a drum machine and lay down guitar, bass, and vocal tracks for your next pop album. You can download all your digital camera pictures and tinker with them. I think I've made the point.

What if I told you that you can have all of these benefits for free? Not one shiny dime have I spent on this project. Here's what I have on my computer:

  1. A brand spanking new operating system that is endlessly customizable to my whims and preferences. It NEVER crashes. I've never had to "Ctrl-Alt-Delete" to get out of something and I certainly don't have to restart after every software installation or update.
  2. A full-featured office suite that can open MS Office documents and save sharp, crystal clear PDF documents.
  3. A professional grade video editor (among several out there).
  4. A first-rate Internet browser, email client, and chat client.
  5. A drum machine and multi-track digital recorder.
  6. As many games as I'd ever have time to play and then some.
I could go on, but again, I think I've made the point. I didn't have to buy this great stuff, and you know what else? I can share it with you for free as well. We don't have to meet in some back alley, and we don't have to call a company and ask permission. No one will come lock us up for doing it. This is what is meant by "free" software. Pretty cool, huh?

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