Learning how to do any meaningful work on your computer when you're starting from scratch takes awhile. The salespeople will lie to you, tell you, no, intuitive. But the number of buzzwords and acronyms, for instance, is astonishing. Even the My Space entries the kids put up may seem overwhelming. Google+ takes awhile to figure out, I don't care who you are. But gradually the details of the basics do start to emerge. For example, what the differences are between CD-R and the various types of read only discs, and CD-RW's, which are erasable, and DVDs; the difference between plain and rich text; and what HTML is and its real world uses. But soon you’ll figure out enough to be able to do everything you really want to do. I took to the computer on the premise that in the end something, if work, is going to be easier and simpler, or if play, “funner”.
But there is a lot else to understand. Some people don't like mystery in the things that they do. They may not be tinkerers, exactly, but they prefer to have some basic understanding of what is going on. One should know, for instance, how to download an application from the web and write it to disk. One should know how to take out the trash, and clean up the disk of junk files, many of which are invisible, and which are reluctant to get trashed. My curiosity swamped me with applications (apps), most of which I never use, though some are amazing and strange. What witchery can this one be? Emacs? Vim? If you really get into the chores you can climb (descend?—for the “root” seems to be at the top) the “directory tree” and become “a power user”.
|This is a simple Emacs window.|
|This is a little more complex. There are fifteen+ files instantly at hand.|
A power user is a geek. I personally like the sound of the word geek. It reminds me of the word teenybopper that used to be popular when I was a kid. I find myself more and more attracted to this world of geek-dom, although I don't wear the hood of my sweatshirt dragged up over my head. While I am dashing off a few lines of Apple script, for what reason?, why to get out of doing work, of course, I am hacking. A geek hacks, and that has about it a retirement from the real world. It is a philosophical inclination to escape the gritty and petty repetitions of existence. When you download that tarball, whose essence is to rid the world of having to perform ever again some obnoxious repetition, and you move the files into their load path, and launch the witchery with a shell script, you are being a geek.
Now this machine that you have inherited, which fell into your lap for next to nothing, didn’t come with the install disks. It's a little buggy, overloaded with this and that, but apparently no little Al-Quaeda gremlins in there; you just need to clean up the disk, delete some stuff, reinstall. Oh no! You have to buy the disks. Could go you a little piece of change. These things don't come from Microsoft and Apple for free. What? That piece of junk is not worth sixty bucks, or however much the disks cost. If you happen to have a kind hearted friend who's a power user, he can erase your befuddled disk and install an OS from his own machine. Also, there are operating systems out there that are free! They don't cost anything. You can download them off the web. They are also free in the sense that the source code is for the most part “open”. One, for example, is Ubuntu (which is Linux) and another is BSD (which is UNIX). There are several flavors of BSD, and so on; there are a lot of different Linux OSes. Some work better than others.
To the ordinary computer user who bought a new Macbook, for instance, switching to Linux or UNIX does not make much sense. Apple gives its users plenty of opportunity to download and use *NIX apps. But some people have two or three OSes on their machine, and they switch back and forth between them at will. If you do decide to learn how to install UNIX or Linux on your machine, the software comes free. There's a club sort of that you can donate money to. There's a newsletter and such like, a really feeling thing, a gang. We are Ubuntu men. Slackware users call themselves “Slackers”. Anyway, you don't have to pay sixty bucks to get an OS for your $25 junker. Cheaper in the long run, if you're an old retiree with no money. If you are clever and inventive, you can make on-line friends, too. These alternate OSes run across platforms. You can boot up with any old Dell or iBook that comes your way. If you use your computer to do serious work, it’s really worth the effort. And they come with files of source code for a clever fellow to study. Just think, no secrets! Any interested person can learn enough to get by. Learn a little and become a dangerous hacker and go to guy. Make that rebellious app obey your every whim!
I am happy to think that one day the world may be enlightened by a hacker who has happened to run across a freebie from the dump and who has bothered to learn how to use the web to serious purpose. An expensive machine loaded with expensive software may not get you there. In fact, a program you may have paid several hundred dollars for may not do what you want done any better than a freebie you could have downloaded off the web. Emacs, the holy mountain (at the summit of which lies the wizards' Holy Grail) of GNU (GNU "Ganew" is not UNIX or, I think, Gee, it’s not UNIX?), is free! Free in dollars and cents and free in the sense of source code being available to anybody to copy, change or etc. Emacs is a giant among apps. It is a magnificent app. In the computer world there is nothing like it. Whether you are a programmer, a web designer, a poet or just another hacker who likes to write, there’s something useful in it for you. And a version of it will run on anything! It may be a little extra work to learn how to use it, but it gets you away from the greed. The inventor, Richard Stallman, a hero of mine, gave it away. It has been many, many times copied, and so obviously copied it is embarrassing, and then sold by assorted thieves under a different name.
If you work on your computer, if you see it as a tool, and you want to get a lot of work done, don't settle on the commercial apps. They are mostly slow and limited in possibilities. It almost hurts to remember my experience with Microsoft Word. I kept thinking: this can't be right. It's okay if you want to write a few sentences here and there. But beyond that using Word hurts. Adobe Software is a senseless colossus that is unbelievable to me. I gave up on it after two weeks. Anyway, do you really want your documents to look like that?
Over the years everybody who is interested in software migrates toward the UNIX mountain. You can also enjoy the transitional stage. My personal brand of UNIX is laid over OS X. That way I get to use Apple hardware without major changes and revisions. Besides, sometimes the apps that come with OS X are well thought out and useful. But know this, friend, FreeBSD comes with a handbook over a thousand pages long, and it is chock full of detailed info. Have fun! I am.