Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Open Letter to Open Source enthusiasts

I have an Ubuntu OS, installed with:
  • VLC
  • lots of educational tools and games
  • Virtualbox
  • Kiwix - a program that reads offline wikipedia archives (ZIM files) without needing to unzip them
  • and a ton of small utilities. Like ffmpeg that I used to compress videos. And imagemagik. And pdfinfo.

I'm looking for an easy way to proliferate my OS to another machine.

Look at biology, evolution:
An organism mutates, adds something to itself a bit different than its predecessors. Then, when it reproduces, the changes are carried on to the next generation.
The offspring do not need to go back to a central repository to again install all the features their parents had. They simply inherit them. And then evolve further, and pass on the new stuff to their offspring.
And then, biology has mating. Two organisms can combine their features.

When I started using Linux / Ubuntu, I felt that this kind of biological-like proliferation ought to be the way OSS spreads.. organically.

I was disappointed that it wasn't.
And then people ask why open source, FOSS hasn't spread across the third world. Well, duh, if you build a system that needs connection to a central repository on the other side of the planet for every little thing, for whatever excuse, it's not going to spread - period. This is a centralized system. A dependent one. This was not what I expected of open source.

Preventing such a passing-on of programs from one machine to another just for the sake of keeping everything properly updated, is a pathetic excuse.

Suppose I updated everything on my machine today. Tomorrow I travel 300 kms to a village where they've brought in 100 PCs / netbooks from schools and panchayats all over the district. And there's no coverage for high-speed internet.
How stupid is it to expect that I should install a fresh copy of Ubuntu on each computer, then separately and manually install each and every one of 30+ apps on 100 machines?

Today, I can actually make a simple program to copy over GBs of software as well as content from a pen drive to a Windows machine in one double-click. With all the right shortcuts on the Desktop and in the Start Menu. Most of the educational and freeware apps in windows are inherently portable - they don't actually need an installation process. So, heretical as it sounds, Windows is more organic, proliferating and sustainable than Ubuntu.

I've seen some guides on the net to make custom Ubuntu distros. But what they assume is do-able, is a huge headache for a non-programmer. I can't even make head or tail of most of them. I couldn't understand Keyrix. I don't know how the heck to look for each and every dependency of each and every app. The apps themselves know what dependencies they have. We're on open source, dammit. If I have a machine with everything properly in it, why can't I just spread the same to 100 other computers that don't have internet connection, and easily? And even if we do make a customized distro, why do we need to format and install whole OS's rather than just putting the programs in like we can in Windows? Why does open source lock everything up and prevent itself from spreading?

So, do you think you can help here? Ease of use is key here : We can't expect people to follow a hundred weird-worded instructions on the command prompt.

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