As more tech products become impossible to repair ourselves, more people are demanding a change. Now a growing movement wants the right to repair the things we buy.
Changing the status quo is difficult. There’s a great deal of money to be had shortening the life of products and limiting our ability to extend usage by making repairs. But in the software world, there’s one big step you can take to stand up for your right to repair and gain a fair degree of freedom right now: install Linux. Here’s why.
1. Give Old PCs a New Lease on Life
Linux works better on old hardware. The longer a machine has been around, the more likely someone will have figured out how to get all the components working. So while that unused PC you’ve kept around for years may reject the latest version of Windows, it’s likely to welcome Linux.
There is no one single version of Linux that you can download and put on your machine. Instead, there are many Linux operating systems, known as “distributions,” that all do things slightly different from one another. Some of the more popular options may have reached a point where your machine doesn’t meet their system requirements, but there are numerous others that specifically target ancient hardware.
2. Repair Your Own Software
One advantage of free software is that you’re free to edit and fix programs yourself. This is actually considered a fundamental right.
But you will be able to fix some things. When there’s a visual defect in your interface, you can often make it go away by editing a text file. With enough searching, you can often find ways to change crummy icons, fix sound issues, or stop glitches without waiting for a developer to push out an update.
Honestly, you’re not going to fix most of the bugs you encounter yourself. Linux founder Linus Torvalds complains often of bugs or inefficient design that he isn’t able to fix on his own. But it’s great knowing you have the freedom to at least try without breaking some EULA and risking legal trouble.
3. Reuse and Recycle Code
In the free software world, apps rarely die. Old software may sit in repositories long abandoned, but you can still install them.
With the right skills, you can use the source code to create something new. Many well known open source projects began this way. MATE is a desktop environment born from the ashes of GNOME 2 after GNOME 3 launched. It’s now used in one of the more popular variants of Ubuntu, the most well-known desktop Linux operating system.
This is just one example of how you can reuse and recycle old code to make new software. This is the right to repair on display in the digital world.
4. Avoid Software Vendor Lock-In
Software vendor lock-in doesn’t merely trap you into using specific programs. It may lock you into buying specific hardware, too!
If the application your business relies on stops supporting your version of Windows of macOS, you have to update to a new release. If your computer can’t handle the transition, you’re pushed to toss it out and get a new one. What you buy will have to come with an OS that is the application supports.
Software vendor lock-in is one of the barriers preventing some professionals from using Linux. If you aren’t already locked in, try switching your workflow to free and open source programs. Then you’re all but guaranteed the ability to access the applications you need for the foreseeable future.
5. Build Your Own Gadgets
If you were to design a computer from scratch today, you wouldn’t write the operating system. More likely, you’d create something on top of Linux or one of the other free UNIX-like OSes. This is what Apple did with Mac OS X (and continue with macOS). It’s what Google has done with Chromebooks. Amazon uses Linux for the Kindle and its Fire tablets. Samsung is now sticking Linux inside of fridges.
When you’re deciding how to reuse materials to create a new device, do what everyone else is doing and use Linux. Doing so is easier and cheaper than ever. The Raspberry Pi costs as much as a fancy lunch for two, and the recommended operating system is Raspbian Jessie, a version of Linux.
6. Stay Up-to-Date
There comes a time in a Windows PC’s life where it’s time to upgrade to a version it wasn’t built for. The transition might go smoothly, but it often doesn’t. Whether the new system requirements are too high or drivers are no longer available, you’re left out of luck. Microsoft and the computer’s manufacturer would rather you buy a new PC with a new Windows license than invest in improving your experience.
With Linux, your machine is much less likely to become outdated overnight. While the version you’re running will stop receiving updates someday, upgrading to the next release is free. Not only that, the system requirements are usually the same. Linux operating systems have gradually started to depend on stronger hardware than before, but the transition has happened over a span of ten years, with the difference between individual releases being hardly noticeable.
If your computer does hit a point where it can’t handle the next release, you have the option to switch to a different distribution that will still allow you to run most of the same software. And you can speed up the experience by using lightweight alternatives to your favorite apps.
What Can Linux Help You Repair?
Linux isn’t like commercial operating systems. You don’t buy new hardware to get Linux — you put Linux on the hardware you already have. Whether the machine is old or new doesn’t matter, though Linux is much easier to install on old machines. While that’s not necessarily a good thing, it’s great if you’re trying to repair a machine you’ve owned for years!
Whether you’re advocating right to repair legislation, pushing right to repair programs, or want to repair more things yourself, Linux can be a big part of the solution. What do you think?
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