Yesterday, Ubuntu failed to meet our expectations as an operating system for my Mac iBook. A little research showed that indeed the airport and dimmer capacities, among other features, are rendered useless under Ubuntu. As I use these features frequently, their absence was unacceptable. And embarrassingly, I have grown a soft spot in my heart for the beauty of the pop-up doc and the convenience of the “apple” key. Now that I know many of the codes by second nature, changing systems would take some time. (Although I have already converted from the Microsoft system.) It’s not quite an addiction, but something close to it. More like immigrants trying to assimilate. They’re not addicted to their own culture, they just know it innately. Each cell is full of memories and patterns that must be broken in the new surrounding.
Despite my minor love affair with the Mac and its beach ball, I have to admit that free software is definitely more people-friendly. After all, it was created by the people! For instance, one disk and no more than a few questions (like my time zone and name) installed Ubuntu. The terms of service were relatively straight forward and hardly intimidating. Mac installation, on the other hand, required me to read and agree to lengthy terms of service, fill in my name, address and other personal info for “registration”. And it took at least twice as long (at least in my memory) to install. Free software may suggest registering, but it does so in a non-invasive, you-can-still-install-the-software-even-if-you-don’t-register manner. I felt coerced to register by Apple.
Registering my Apple sparked an understanding of how the commercial system works: A company (Apple) creates a product (iBook) that they hope people will like, buy, and create profit for the company. They can’t just rest on hope, however because they’ve invested time, money, and ego into the product. So, they advertise to ensure sales. While advertising can and daily does work wonders for corporate profits, it doesn’t guarantee long-term success.
In comes information grabbing game. Or at least so goes my current theory. I find information grabbing intrusive and at times offensive. Your name and address is standard and bad enough, but my job? Am I married? My hobbies? (Apple didn’t necessarily ask me all these questions, but other companies have.) This info game is multi-fold. Warranty, customer-support, and product-improvement are the innocuous reasons behind the game. More insidious are profile advertising, click here to be on our mailing list, click here to join this contest or (as they do at the Department of Motor Vehicle registration) click here if you do not want to have your info sold. If selling products is the primary cash flow, using information is secondary by a hair.
This is one of many aspects which I appreciate about open source products. Personal information is a limited part of the game. In the corporate world, info-games are a way for a company to break that barrier between producer and consumer. Free-ware doesn’t have those boundaries. The consumer is producer. Moreover, privacy is protected for two reasons: People don’t want to give their info away, so they don’t coerce people to do that; second, there is not power-hungry hierarchical structure eager to collect that info in a free software system. If I am misled on any of these assumptions, let me know!
For now, I am straddling the two worlds: an apple operating system with as many open source software programs installed as is practical.