When I was a student I got deeply into GNU and Linux. This has been covered elsewhere on this blog, along with the story that as Apple made the best UNIX, and the lab had NeXT computers, I went down the path of Objective-C and OS X.
I now think that this was because, as an impressionable twenty-something-year-old, I thought that the most important part of the technology was, well, the technology. But I realise now that I want to have taken the other path, and now need to beat across toward it.
The other path I’m talking about is the one where I notice that it’s not programs like those in Debian that are so great, but the licences under which they are distributed. Much of the software in a GNU/Linux distribution is not so good. That makes it much like using software on every other platform. The difference is that I have the right-and hopefully, after a decade of practice, the ability-to do something about it in the case of free software.
I’m certain that GNU is not the best of all systems, though, because the focus has been on the right to make changes, not the capability of making changes. A quick review of the components I can remember in the installation on my MacBook shows that I’d need to understand at least nine different programming languages in order to be able to dive in and address bugs or missing features in the system, holistically speaking. If they’ve given me permission to change how my computer works, they haven’t made it easy.
But as someone who can change software and wants software to be less broken for me and for others, that permission is important. Next year I’ll be looking for more opportunities to work with free software and to make things less broken.