Thursday, March 18, 2010

Using Ubuntu Linux and Why It's Like Wikipedia

This is not exactly related to writing, except insofar as we need computers to write.  But computers are always on my mind, especially since I seem to go through them like candy.  In the last reincarnation of our computer, we switched to Ubuntu, a platform for Linux, an open-source operating system (i.e., an alternative to Microsoft Windows).

I've been using Ubuntu for, hmmm, coming onto a year now, is it?  I'm no techie by a longshot (that's the territory of my husband), but I like using the Ubuntu version of Linux very much here on the user's end.  Downloading software is easy and quick - graphics handling, word processing, and browser are the basics in our household - and the whole system pretty much does everything we need, with the occasional bit of troubleshooting. 

We've toasted a couple of computers this year, and Ubuntu has allowed us to access files that would most likely have been lost with that big-ol' proprietary MS Windows. 

And best of all, we have ease of mind about security issues.  Not that Linux isn't vulnerable - I'm sure it is, somewhere - but it's the lack of STRESS that we were after, and we got it.  Before the switch, my computer was being invaded at every turn, it seemed.  Since then...nothing.  Blessed peace.  And less bugginess all-round.

And now for a segue.  In a funny way, Ubuntu seems to me to be like Wikipedia.  You know, Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.  They both work through the law of averages.

People rail against Wikipedia because of its historical inaccuracy and its lack of certified experts.  "Why, anyone can write for Wikipedia!"  But the very thing that makes Wikipedia inaccurate is what makes it better than picking up a print encyclopedia.  It's a dynamic document that improves over time.

Through sheer numbers, Wikipedia averages toward being right, the more so as time goes on.  In its early stages, it was filled with spam and inaccuracies.  Now, not so much.

Same with an open source operating system like Linux / Ubuntu.  It was rockier terrain when it began, so I understand.  Now it's better.

That's because it's out there, a completely modifiable operating system that positively invites contributions.  There are more quality controls in place because there are more standards, more users, and more people engaged and vested in its success.

People care about it and work on it, either out of impassioned desire, curiosity or self-interest - all of which are at least as motivating as keeping your job, the bottom line for many paid professional software developers.  Thousands, maybe even millions of motivated creators means nearly as many people vested in quality.  Which means better quality as time goes on.

As you can see, I'm a big fan of open source.  It's what keeps the Internet going.  The law of averages - the tendency toward the normal curve, the bell curve - the irresistible triumph of probability - these are part of the new Internet model of quality maintenance that is slowly taking over the old "establishment" model governing traditional publications and services.  The old model, that of peer review and professional certifications, with its many filters defining who is qualified and entitled to contribute, while it professed to guarantee quality, in the end only guaranteed control.

The problem is that the Internet is growing at such a fast rate that that kind of rigid control is more inhibiting than it is enabling.  At least, at the moment.  Eventually, we'll need more clear-cut standards.  But for now, we're trying to set up shop in the Wild West, and we've got to hire ourselves a sheriff, some builders, some cooks and some ranchers - and all we need is for them to be willing, honest and competent.  Come one, come all.

Copyright Nerd Writer Mom

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