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Divestment - Operating Systems


"No ethical consumption under capitalism" is a pretty common rallying cry, and while I think it erases nuance it does have a good deal of truth to it. As long as you're consuming capitalist product, you're adding fuel for it to continue. Divestment is the surest way to remove yourself from that, and to begin to grow non-capitalist alternatives.

I've always shied away from corporate products, but only recently have I made some serious effort to properly reformat my life to truly divest. I wanted to write a series on my journey with that. Let's start with one of my earliest attempts at divestment: getting rid of Windows.

In high school I started experimenting with Linux, out of a general nerdy interest in something "alternative" I imagine. I tried quite a few distros (versions) on an old machine we had downstairs, and eventually I dual-booted Linux and Windows XP on my own computer, giving me access to both. I toyed around with Linux but I still used Windows primarily.

At the time (late '00s), Linux was certainly usable but lacking. For me (a teenager) the main issue was support for video games. It was basically unusable for such a purpose, unless you got lucky and got something to work under WINE (a Windows compatibility tool). I don't think Steam (the most popular game store on desktop) had Linux support yet.

In College I believe I switched entirely to Linux. Game support was better by then (early '10s) but not perfect. I made the dive knowing I would lose access to some games. Honestly it was often frustrating. I think I may have actually alternated between only Linux and dual-booting for a while.

For about the last 5 years I've exclusively used Linux on my laptop and desktop. In that time software support, especially game support has grown by leaps and bounds. Steam fully supports it, and has its own tool (proton) to make Windows games work on Linux. The vast majority of games do, with the notable exception of some of the more popular esports games, which use anti-cheat tools that don't allow Linux.

My current full-time job involves working with remote learners. I do all of my work entirely on my linux devices, with no issues. It's much preferable to the Chromebook (yuck) that I've been assigned and not used in months.

I won't say Linux is perfect, it requires a little more know-how. This definitely creates a barrier to entry. But everything about Linux is open knowledge, which means it's all there to learn. And in exchange: I don't have intrusive updates, I don't have spyware and ads, I don't have bloat and slowdown. My computer does what I want it to do.

My take-aways from this experience are:

If you are personally interested in learning about Linux, everyone will offer you different starting points. Linux is divided into distros, which all share the same core tools and are generally compatible (something that works on one works on the others as well), but have different philosophies with regards to user-friendliness/control, aesthetics/functional, and many more technical issues. I'll offer you three paths:

Linux Mint - This version strives to be usable by all people, right out of the box. If you're not interested in getting into the details of how your computer works, try this one.

Debian - This is the one I have been using for the last 5 years. It strikes a balance of mostly having everything you need out of the box, but still requiring some tweaking and configuring. I might recommend this to the more tech-inclined that doesn't feel the need for the full deep-dive.

Arch Linux - This is actually what I learned on. Arch is minimalist to a fault, requiring the user to configure damn near everything. There's excellent documentation, but you have to be willing to spend a week or two doing a crash course to get everything set up how you want it. The advantage is the learning, and having full control over nearly every detail. Arch is also all about having the newest updates of everything as soon as possible.

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