Moving to Freedom, .Org(on)

Run, Freedom, Run!

Boxers running free - Roscoe, Morgan, and Toni

Several years ago I saw the unfortunately titled musical Urinetown at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.

I loved it. It was funny. The songs were good. One of my favorites is Run, Freedom, Run! Other good ones include Mr. Cladwell and Don’t be the Bunny, but it’s Freedom that inspires me to write about one of the things that I’m trying to do in my life and chronicle on this web site: make the move from the Microsoft Windows operating system to GNU/Linux, and in general to move from proprietary software to free software.

After a couple of opening verses in the song, there is this spoken part:

Tiny Tom: I’m frightened!

Bobby: As well you should be. Freedom is scary. It’s a blast of
cool wind that burns your face to wake you up.

Tiny Tom: Literally?!

Bobby: Yes.

The song appeals to me because… I’m frightened. Freedom is scary. Even if I want that blast of cool free software wind, I’m gripped by fear, uncertainty, and doubt about my ability (or at least my commitment) to master the new environment. I employ FUD tactics against myself. I’m comfortable working in Windows. I have a lot of applications and data tied to Windows and classify myself as competent at maintaining my Windows machines. It works for me. I’m generally happy and productive using Windows.

If Windows is so great, why do I want to move to using Linux? Because Windows isn’t that great, for a variety of reasons, and because Linux is free. “Free as in free speech, not free beer.” I’ve been wanting to use Linux on my home machines ever since about 1999, but haven’t gotten very far. I’ve been unwilling to invest the time and effort to overcome the learning curve. To migrate all my stuff.

See, I like my digital stuff. I save a lot of things and compile a lot of data and I like to think that I’ll have it for years to come. The thing is, I don’t trust proprietary vendors to make that happen as much as I do the free software community. A lot of vendors of proprietary software are perfectly happy to let some code rot and die rather than release it when they’re no longer willing to support it. Or they’re happy to make changes that render old versions incompatible. All along they hold you and your data and your way of working hostage and can make all kinds of outrageous ransom demands. I think this is less likely to happen with popular programs in the free software world. So I’ve started taking a longer view. Yes, I have a lot invested in the Microsoft world at the moment, but with any luck I’ll be playing with computers for another 50 years or so. Even if it takes me five years to complete the move, I’ll still have many years of software freedom to enjoy.

The ideals of the free software movement get me fired up. An essay like Stallman’s “Why Software Should Be Free” gives me something to believe in. But isn’t software just a tool? Is the particular kind of software that runs on our machines really something that we need to believe in as an ideology? Yes! Of course! (In my opinion!) Software is a big part of our world and is going to become an ever larger part of our lives. I think we need software freedom if we’re going to maintain any kind of personal freedom.

So then what? I will try to make this move. There are a lot of challenges for me personally to make the time for it and be flexible about learning new ways to do things, and I have to trust that during this long process the free software movement won’t be derailed by software patents or proprietary hardware drivers and whatnot that prevent us from using free software.

The Moving to Freedom blog combines this desire for freedom with my inclination to write. Maybe if I enjoy writing about the process I’ll have an incentive to keep trying and not give up. Maybe I can help others in a similar situation, either by sharing technical advice on the move or simply offering moral encouragement. Demonstrating that it can be done. I know I’d like to read more about people in similar situations.

And so…

That freedom sun
Will shine someday
‘Til then you better run
Run-a, run-a, run
Freedom, run away!

…although I’m not sure what they’re getting at in the song with “freedom” being linked to “running away.” I think there’s a joke there that I’m not getting. Fortunately that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it and using it as an excuse to talk about my project.