Thoughts on “Linux Legalism”

Where does the line belong, between absolute strict adherence to the Pure and Venerated UNIX/Linux Way, and the practical but not-so-pure approach to a free operating system that simply works on your hardware, stays out of your way, and is elegant and easy to use?

How DARE you use a distro that has those non-free bits of code in it (without which your computer or video card, or sound card, etc wouldn’t work)! How DARE you install more than one web browser (even though one works for most sites but you need the other for one or two sites that won’t function in any other browser)! You know the Law: One application per task! Do One Thing and do it well! That is the Law of Linux!

Legalism nullifies the grace of God in Christianity. Obedience to the Law is the natural result of true conversion, not a prerequisite as in order to become a Christian. In the same way, perhaps, purity from non-free bits, one-app-per-task, etcetra, is a noble goal. But just as no one can become righteous by obeying the law of God, neither can hope to even use most computers, much less share the “gospel” of Linux with others, without enough non-free, impure, proprietary bits of code to make the darn thing turn on, display stuff, connect to the ‘net and do any useful stuff.

Oh, and then there’s the whole evil corporation thing, unreasoning hatred of Novelle, Red Hat, and Canonical for daring to make money on Linux!! Forget the GNU license that allows that. Forget the fact that development and quality and availability of usable Linux OSes would hardly be possible, much less widespread and wonderful, without some deep pockets to bring it to us ordinary users. Canonical, the makers of the Ubuntu family of distros (far and away the most popular and by far the easiest to install, configure, and use), seems to get the brunt of that hatred, for some reason, perhaps because of it’s popularity and the sheer number of spin-off distros that rely on Ubuntu, like Linux Mint, Linux Lite, Zorin, PopOS, and a zillion others. You don’t see that kind of multiplicity of spin-offs from Fedora (RedHat) or SUSE (Novelle). There’s a nice noble little distro called Trisquel which takes all the little non-free bits out of Ubuntu to make a “pure and holy” desktop distro that aims to be as easy to use as Ubuntu but pure as the wind-driven snow when it comes to the righteous UNIX/Linux Way. That’s awesome! So why isn’t Trisquel more popular? Because it doesn’t freaking work on most computers! Without at least some non-free firmware and software, most computers simply won’t run on a “pure, totally free” operating system.

So has Canonical made some mistakes along the way? Sure. But they learn, adapt, and move on. And eventually, even upstream distros take some lessons from Canonical. The Calameres installer, for example, looks and behaves a lot like Canonical’s Ubiquity installer that made Ubuntu so easy to install. Now even Debian Buster is using it! But they resisted for a lonnnnnnng time. “Ew! That’s Ubuntu stuff! Ewwww!” Snobs. Typical of Debian. But they have finally relented. Perhaps after Linus Torvaldes (the inventor of Linux) himself mentioned that even he couldn’t install Debian they decided to consider the idea…

So, anyway: As much as purity and perfection are to be strived for, don’t chase me (and countless others) away from a perfectly working OS and drive us back to Windows just to spite you! You gave me the gospel of Linux, and I believed and converted. Baptized in Ubuntu and life is good. Don’t tell me afterwards that now to be a “real” Linux user I have to abandon the distro I have come to rely on and struggle to get a computer working on Gentoo or Linux-From-Scratch. Just as legalism robs Christians of joy and authentic faith, so it is with Linux. So shut up and leave those Linux Mint / Ubuntu / Zorin / etc users alone.

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