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The Effects of a Monopoly

  • January 9, 2002
  • By Dennis E. Powell

I've undertaken a little project with no idea how it will turn out or even whether it will turn out. But it has a goal worth achieving.

My idea is to cook up how-to documentation for every major distribution, the purpose being to make current distributions friendlier to low-resources machines.

There are loads of people, organizations, even whole countries, who cannot go out and buy the latest whizbang hardware to run the latest whizbang software. And while there is no way in the world that anyone could deny that Linux development has been remarkable, there's also no denying that it has left many users who would by all rights turn to Linux far behind. We can argue endlessly about the meaning of "free" but Linux costs less than the alternatives, unless if you need a new computer to run it, in which case it ain't cheap.

Am I the only one who remembers when a 500mb drive was huge and 16 megs of memory was luxurious?

Dumps fill with 386s and 486s and VGA monitors. And as they do, talented people in poor schools, poor groups, poor nations lose the opportunity to capitalize on their talents because either they have no machines or the machines available to them run, what, DOS and Windows 3.1.

Even if they could afford to go out and get Microsoft's latest, they couldn't use it. The tragic irony is that they can afford to get the latest Linux -- but they mostly can't use that, either.

So what I hope to do is to sort out how to get the most stuff on the least machine, irrespective of the distribution involved, in a way that it can actually be used. Having poked at this for a few weeks, I've discovered that it's a bigger job than I thought.

And after nearly two years of writing this column, I've come to know that the people who read it include some pretty clever folks.

There's a company in Washington state that, in hope of weaseling out of a class-action lawsuit, has offered software to poor schools. I think we can do better than that. And I think our reason would be better: To provide the means for people to achieve useful skills and the dignity that accomplishment brings -- to bring to computing the philosophy expressed by the old line about the difference between giving a hungry man a fish and teaching him to fish.

This whole idea is embryonic, but I think that everyone in the Linux sphere, no matter his or her philosophical stripe, can agree it's worthwhile. I'm thinking that the documentation comes first, then perhaps a little pressure on distributors to better support low-end machines at install time, and perhaps one day a way to actually deliver machines to those who could use them. (See? I told you it's still embryonic.)

It would be good for Linux, because it would enlarge the user and developer base, and because it would remind us whence we came. And it would be, well, just good.

As I said, I've learned that the readers of this column are pretty bright and certainly enterprising. So your suggestions are welcome. If you have an idea about all this, drop me a note.

Right after you've written your comment in U.S. v. Microsoft and sent it to the DoJ.

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