My Linux Story from Rute Correia

Making the switch to open source as a non-programmer

Making the switch to open source as a non-programmer
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"Dad, I killed Windows, but I just realized I still need it. Can you help me?"

"No, you broke it, you fix it."

This was sometime around 2008. I wasn't even 20 years old. I didn't know how to code (apart from basic HTML stuff), nor did I have any particular tech skills. However, I was part of a community radio station that was embedded in an open source culture. After a full year as a member of that community, I decided it was time to fully convert and decided to install a Linux-based OS on my first ever laptop.

My friends (and engineers-in-the-making) at Radio Zero were split between the recommended distributions, with some leaning towards Debian and others towards Ubuntu. After carefully listening to pros and cons and asking many times about whether I'd be able to actually work with any of them, I decided to go with Ubuntu.

I was determined to install an open source OS on my computer regardless of my Dad's* warnings about possible compatibility issues. Despite not being a programmer, or anything even remotely related, I was incredibly excited about what Linux had to offer. The promise of an operating system that was designed and developed with accessibility for all in mind, that you can tweak and improve as you please, and that is developed by and for the community sounded like a dream coming true. On top of all this, it was free. So, what was there not to like?

Tackling hurdles

My first experience was amazing: everything worked, sometimes in an even swifter way than on Windows. I was over the moon! Sadly, my MP3 player (a Sony Walkman NW-1000) needed a very specific proprietary software that had no open source equivalent at the time, and I was forced to find a way into dual-boot. This was the first time I experienced the unfairness of proprietary software. Why could I not use my MP3 player with whatever system I chose to use?! It was the eye-opener I needed to fully embrace open source.

From that point on, I decided that I'd pick open source alternatives whenever I could, even when using Windows. 7-Zip, Mozilla Firefox, GIMP, Clementine, and Calibre are some of the first applications I install in any laptop I get my hands on. Every so often, I still kill Windows whenever I feel like I don't need it anymore.

This concern has spread out to hardware as well, and I can proudly say that most of my gadgets run on open source software.

Lights ahead

Coming from a media background—a field where proprietary file extensions and things such as DRM are a daily struggle—I have first-hand experience in some of the (in)compatibility issues that one still finds when using open source. For instance, while GIMP is my favourite tool for image editing and it can open Adobe's Photoshop file extension *.psd, it can't read layers of text as text. And please do not get me started on the limitations of buying digital goods such as books and music. Remember those times when you would buy a CD and could only play it in three different devices? Exactly. In more practical examples, as I am now finishing a Master of Arts degree in Radio Production and Management, compatibility with the computers at the university is a personal priority for me. Software such as Adobe Audition or SADiE (the recommended DAWs at Uni) does not run on Linux, which forces me to have a laptop with Windows, but I keep my Ubuntu machine on the side. It's still my favorite.

There is still a lot for programmers to do in terms of open source compatibilities, and there's a lot of educational work to be done, particularly outside the tech sphere. However, things are better now than they were in 2008. Increasingly, the community is also stronger than ever, with some of the initial enemies becoming powerful allies to the cause—hello, Microsoft.

Eight years after my first big step into open source, I am glad I chose this path. A path that celebrates and embraces its own community, providing answers and solutions to their problems instead of blaming it for its own limitations. Eight years my first step into open source, I remain as an active member of this community, producing and presenting a weekly podcast on free** music and free culture called White Market Podcast.

White Market Podcast started in 2008 about the same time I switched to Linux. It is now transforming into a syndication platform, providing libre content that can be freely used by community radio stations around the world.

*Dad Correia has been working with IT systems for nearly three decades; he has been employed in one of the top IT companies in the world for more than ten years now.

**You know the gig: "Free as in freedom of speech, not as free beer". Although in most cases, the music I pick is actually both.

About the author

Rute Correia - From Portugal, now in the UK. Between radio, music and video games, her CV includes giant world players and small initiatives. She doesn't code, but advocates for open source and libre content. She is very much into Creative Commons and other community-driven things. She's been producing and presenting a podcast about free music and free culture, White Market Podcast, since 2008.