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The Learned Helplessness of Windows - page 2

Where are the Pliers?

  • December 14, 2009
  • By Emery Fletcher

They fear and avoid the software equivalent of pliers, because they have a rudimentary understanding that such pliers have to be used in the right way on the right thing. The very way Linux is made, pliers have been carefully built into the system, always easily accessible to repair minor glitches. This can be deeply unsettling to someone accustomed to the Learned Helplessness of Windows.

Manufacturers make the sealed compressor of a refrigerator off limits to tinkerers like me. I respect that � it is probably easier, cheaper, and even more efficient to make it a unit rather than an assembly of replaceable parts. But Windows is a somewhat different story. Microsoft does its level best to make the OS a sealed unit, but I suspect their motive in doing so is to assure the system remains fully proprietary.

Let's push the analogy still further: even the refrigerator mechanic can't fix the compressor. He can replace it and recharge the system, but he too is forbidden to break the seal. Even most certified Windows technicians seldom go much beyond things like reinstalling the OS and restoring the programs, because there's no real way to alter the deepest core system without breaking it. Microsoft is all too aware of the fact that it would be dangerous to the survival of their system if powerful tools to alter it were widely available. The vast throngs who use their product seem to accept that � apparently they are just as happy to be spared the necessity of learning how to use pliers.

 

"Linux Is For Geeks", the refrain goes. Fighting words, to many people, and in many respects a gross overstatement. But anything resembling the efficient use of Linux is, if not for geeks, at least for people willing to learn how to use pliers, willing to make some minimal effort toward their own daily enjoyment and survival in the digital world.

It would certainly be possible to construct a sealed-up form of Linux with a fixed array of immutable programs, with an encrypted equivalent of sudo taught in deepest secrecy only to Sworn Master Techs, and marketed with a lifetime guarantee that nothing in it would ever be changed. With that assurance, some people would probably leap at the chance to use it for its stability and permanence, and they would be thrilled. Until, of course, the pesky outside world came up with something more modern � if only slightly � and then the stability would become an anchor holding them back as other systems, users, and businesses outran them in the rush toward the future.

That's why it makes no sense to complain that "Linux has too many distros". Linux is not monolithic. Some distros are built for endurance, others for flexibility. Ubuntu alone has both Long Term Support versions and six-month releases, all of which are updated whenever it's appropriate � no such thing as monthly Patch Tuesdays. Whenever they choose, Linux users can get out the pliers, tune up their version to the newest standards, and stay in the computing forefront. In many ways, Linux is not so much rushing toward the future as defining it.

So will Linux ever overtake Windows in market share? Not until the market learns to use pliers.

 

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