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Linux – the AK47 of the Computer World?

October 7, 2007

I picked up a book in the bargain bin a few months ago, “AK-47: The Weapon That Changed the Face of War”, because I thought that I had heard the author interviewed on WNYC. I don’t know if its the same book – it seems to be written more for in “Newsweek” than a “New Yorker”. (Such a snob I’ve become!)

I’m fascinated with the parallels with Linux, however – open-source (or at least unprotected IP), incremental development, a reputation for being ugly but indestructible. The AK-47 seems to have thrived over the years because it was simple and unbreakable enough to be used by a child, the lack of IP protection meant the design could modified according to local manufacturing processes.ak47

What does this mean for the future of the Linux Desktop? Putting aside the horrific legacy of the AK-47, what lessons could be learned? I think the future for Linux is really in the developing world, and Microsoft knows this (look at the battle over the OLPC). I think the future lies in ubiquity – situations when the user is not aware or does not care that they are using Linux. I think Linux could deliver the seamless, bulletproof experience that Windows and Mac claim if we started to think of the desktop more like an embedded application. Focused user environments with limited scope. Fast, cheap, and (in/out?) of control.

I guess the big question is whether this is a Linux that any of its current users would ever want to use?

I was in Istanbul recently, and when I went to check my email on the hotel computer, I was suprised to discover they were running Linux. It made sense – greater security, and all it really needed to do was surf the web. I asked my wife later (we’ve been having an extended…discussion…over switching the home computer to Linux recently) whether she had noticed that the hotel computer was not running Windows, and she hadn’t.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. tarp permalink
    October 8, 2007 2:06 pm

    This is a nice drawing, it’s ironic that a toy replica of an AK is so much more complicated than the real thing.

  2. March 1, 2010 8:07 am

    Interesting article – for about a year I’ve been trying to switch my architectural workspace to Linux (tested Blender for 3D modeling with some success, but failed to find a decent AutoCAD replacement). I think Linux will remain the general-purpose OS for web-surfing/email/multimedia on the one hand, and a very specialized tool for programmers and systems administrators on the other. I see its application in the visual/design fields pretty bleakly, since there are very few people here with reasonable programming skills, and free software relies on the engagement of end users. Though I must admit Blender, Inkscape and the GIMP don’t fit neatly into this theory.
    Still, the only real hope I see is in Adobe, Autodesk and so forth finally seeing the light and porting their software to Linux – that would be a partial solution in terms of freedom, but it would still give more maneuvering room than proprietary OSs.

    • severnclay permalink*
      March 1, 2010 2:58 pm

      WINE is getting surprisingly good these days – I’ve been running CATIA and Vectorworks on it. The problem, ironically enough, tends to be the license servers for products – I guess that’s where the cutting-edge technology is!

      That said, the things I miss the most are Autocad, Rhino and Adobe Acrobat. I could leave Autocad for Rhino alone, but PDF is so ubiquitous now and there are not enough good PDF authoring/editing tools in Linux (though I prefer the Ubuntu’s native PDF viewer to Adobe Acrobat Viewer).

      What I have learned is that Linux is happiest in an ecosystem of cross-platform, open-source software. Administration is a breeze, I love having a system that I know what is happening to it and I can control – the problems tend to happen when you introduce closed-source software or hardware to the mix.

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