Becoming a Linux Sicko

The entire reason I’m on here - on a crosshosted Gemini and simple HTML blog - is that about three months ago I became a Linux sicko.

I was SORT OF a Linux sicko in middle school, or at least I tried to be. I read Wired magazine and owned a couple of issues of 2600, although I only understood like half of what I was reading. There was a family computer that I pretty much had free reign on, and there was a few months that I had Red Hat running on it - a copy I bought on CDs in a big box from a CompUSA. But I started getting into graphic design, used Macs during art summer camp, got one when I left home and exclusively lived and worked in a Mac ecosystem for the next seventeen years.

This worked for me, more or less, but cracks started showing maybe four years ago. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that OSX has gotten more moribund as the focus and marketing has shifted to iOS. More and more stuff stopped working for me, especially as Apple pretty much gave up on professional video (my job).

For the past five years or so I basically didn’t have a home PC - I had a 2013 MacBook that I had backed my music and photos to but I did any actual computing I needed on my work machine and read blogs, etc., on my phone. I never felt enormously constrained by OSX but whenever I wanted to start a new project (coding or music) I always thought, well, I’ll wait until I get a new computer.

When lockdown started I was sent home with a production machine which - because Apple has dropped QuickTime support - we hadn’t updated in several years. Another friend in video post-production had built a windows machine earlier in the year and had assured me that Windows was really usable now. And because of the technical constraints of what I do, all of my work except for QCing videos happened remotely - I was already screensharing with my work machine, so I didn’t need anything enormously powerful.

There was also the matter of how my work was occurring and how it intersected with my actual life. With two kids at home sitting around all day waiting for client approvals was really tough. Several times I would go to the playground with my oldest kid only to get an email that would send me home to make a simple change and reupload something.

So I grabbed a fairly cheap Lenovo Flex laptop, opened it up and instantly, viscerally hated Windows 10. A lot of my work is file management and I was astounded at how crude File Explorer was compared to Finder. For QC I needed to find a reasonable replacement for QuickTime 7, and I was really surprised to see very few options.

I was also feeling a weird sort of nostalgia, remembering being a teenager on that family computer and poking around with weird desktop applications and system preferences. Looking at Windows again I couldn’t help but feel like that kind of desktop computing had been abandoned - everything new seemed to be aimed at portables. It just wasn’t any FUN.

I was complaining about this to my wife and she said, “Well, you could always install Linux on it.” So I googled “linux finder like OS X” and paid $10 for elementaryOS and I was off to the races.

The first most intoxicating thing I realized was this was where the vitality of desktop computing that I was missing had relocated. There was an INCREDIBLE amount of experimentation and variety among Linux distributions and among different projects. Working with the command line - which I had only rarely done on Macs - has gotten a lot easier and dare I say enjoyable. And it really feels like the sky is the limit on what I can actually DO.

For the last few weeks I've embarked on a deeply futile little project - I would like, every day, for my computer to query my Bandcamp account and download any new music I have bought to my NAS. This is not, like, WILDLY difficult in any sense - I'm actually using code that someone else has written, I'm just figuring out bash scripting and autochron and very basic stuff. But the idea of writing this in the first place would never have occurred to me previous to installing Linux and seeing what amazing stuff other people were doing. At best I would have thought, man, I wish I could set it up so the computer would do this - not just do it myself!

Working in Linux and with more FOSS things has really opened up another world and group of interests for me - tonight I'm going to work on a silly little game in Pico-8. I can't overstate how much this has changed my life in a very short period of time. And maybe I'll sour on it or just use this machine to read the internet or whatever. But, if nothing else, this has really made me think about what I want to use a computer FOR.