Blithe Femme

Linux and Noncommercial Personal Expression

I’ve got a brain that loves to try new things, and this often gets me in trouble. As nice as “trying new things” sounds removed from all context or practical examples, what this means in the real world is spending a lot of money. Not a lot on a large scale (as I’m unemployed and my interests don’t bring me to fancy cars or anything like that), but a lot for what I have. I love playing games I never had before, I love using new and old keyboards, controllers, mice, and computers. I love having many forms of physical media: records, CDs, cassettes, etc. There’s nothing like having a new toy. Who I am gets to come out through the new I use it, how I decorate it, my preferences with how it feels or sounds or plays. The way I interact with the thing is so fun to explore, and so is sharing it with others.

But I live in the same world as everyone else. Thanks to capitalism, this urge of mine feeds into spending money and consuming goods. It sucks being limited by funds. It also sucks being hit with guilt over excessive consumption. So I go in cycles with how well I control this behavior. It’s difficult, but probably the most helpful thing in my attempt to get things under control has been free and open source software, particularly the many distributions of and software for GNU/Linux.

The community around Linux and other FOSS operating systems is, for a number of reasons, largely a technical one. It’s a whole lot of programmers and engineers and general nerds. I’ve ran Linux in some form since I was a kid entering middle school, and this was even more true at that time. But I’m not a technical user and never have been. I don’t develop any software or anything like that: I’m a regular desktop user, and the most I could say about my skill is that I’m capable of using the terminal for basic tasks.

I’m here not for technical reasons, but for ideological and personal ones. I spend most of my life on computers, so I like them to be fun. As a kid, what attracted me to Linux in the first place was the promise of the wobbly windows and 3D workspace cubes that compiz brought in that era. I still think really fondly of the cheesy desktop demo videos which were so popular back then. Here's a YouTube playlist of particularly dated and fun ones, lovingly compiled by a friend. I wanted their desktops and I also felt that tug toward using something new as I lusted over the polish of OSX that, being a child, I never really got to use. But then my brother showed me this software I could burn to a disc and put on my computer to open it up and let me try a billion different things. I could theme it however I liked and create exactly the layout I wanted. So I slapped on an OSX theme (surely missing all of the directions beyond just applying the GTK theme), a dock, and all the compiz effects I could without overloading my poor Presario c500.

Screenshot of a silly compiz demo from around the end of the era.  It was a different time.

It was a different time.

I’m not sure what distribution I tried first, but Fedora and Puppy were the ones I spent the most time with in those early years. Though even saying those were on top is misrepresenting things a bit: as long as I’ve been a Linux user, I’ve been a distro hopper. Unlike some who end up in distro hopping hell, this habit of mine usually has nothing to do with being dissatisfied with the operating system I already have installed. I hop because I want to see something new, because I want to see different things my computer can be or do.

A new Linux install gives the anticipation of a unique fresh start in much the same way unboxing a new toy does, but it’s free. I love starting up a beautiful installer and watching the slideshow telling me the values and features of what I’ve just burned (nowadays to a flash drive rather than CD or DVD, thank god) and booted from. There’s so many questions I ask myself: What software is included? What’s their package manager like? How have they configured the desktop environment? How is it themed? How well does it handle my hardware? How easily can I bend it to my will? How are they funded, and how does that show up in the final product? Should I recommend this to my friends? Can I show this off as the peak of what Linux can be, or does it fall into old pitfalls that should be left behind? Does it feel dry and businessy or vibrant and personal?

The questions go on and on, there’s always more to evaluate and experience. Always. Beyond switching distributions, there’s so many desktop customizations I can do, so many games I’ve never heard of in the repositories, so much stuff. So many things which give me the feeling of an unboxing or whatever but don’t pull me into the toxic emotionally-driven consumption of products which the alternatives encourage. With my thirst for new experiences, I could easily get sucked into being a forever-tourist or having a revolving door of new shiny things in front of me. While I won’t pretend I don’t give in sometimes and get a new toy, Linux keeps that at bay while also letting me indulge in those feelings in a healthy way. Currently I keep my distro hopping to one side machine so that I’m not constantly resetting my environment for work and play (for which I use Debian stable). There really is no downside, it’s just fun and satisfying.

Though it’s slightly contrary to my point here, I’ve written this blog post on an old IBM Thinkpad I recently picked up and put Debian 11 on to use as a dedicated writing machine. In my defense, the purchase was extremely cheap and the R52 is a machine from I feel less bad about giving it a good home than I would about buying something new.

♡2021 by Blithe Femme. Copying is an act of love. Please copy.

#open source #linux #foss #customization #gnu #compiz #free software

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