BEYOND THE MAINSTREAM…FOR MY COMPUTER, AT LEAST.

In spite of my love of pencils and blank sheets of paper, I’m not a complete luddite and I’ve always embraced technology and the freedom that it offers. As a young composer working with cash-strapped dance companies who couldn’t afford a pit full of musicians, computer software, calledsequencers, enabled me to expand my musical ideas beyond what I could do on my own. Using a computer, I could compose and record layers upon layers of music and create a rich texture of sound.
What was clear then – and has been clear ever since – is that the technology is just a tool for the creation of ideas. Owning a computer and composition software didn’t automatically make one a good composer. It was just a means of transferring ideas from your imagination into reality.

I’ve always had that relationship with technology. It has, happily, always been a servant rather than a master, and I’ve never felt compelled to follow the latest trends and fads.

So, Windows 8? No thanks. I have a trusty notebook computer of advanced years that was finding Windows 7 a bit of a push, so rather than inflict it with another bloated operating system, I ventured into the world of Linux and have breathed a whole new life into it.

Linux is an open source operating system – basically it’s created by a community and distributed free – and there are various versions (or “distros” in linux-speak) to suit your needs and computer’s capabilities. I’ve installed Xubuntu and, not only is my notebook responding at breakneck speed, but

I’ve discovered a whole slew of open source programs that are almost as good as the highly priced commercial equivalents – Open Office or Libre Office instead of the Microsoft version, Firefox andChromium for web-browsers, Gimp as a reasonable replacement for Photoshop andBanshee/Rhythmbox/Clementine instead of iTunes.

More importantly, Linux can increase the lifetime of computers that can’t meet the demands of bigger operational systems. My brother has worked in Botswana setting up networks in schools using refurbished computers running on Linux. And I’m sure that Ireland isn’t alone in havingcharities that accept “old” computers and recycle them for use elsewhere.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also fallen in love with the ethos of Linux. Kindred spirits from around the globe, all from varied backgrounds who share a common goal to create an alternative to the mainstream.

Maybe in a way, it’s like the UoL distance learning experience. We’re learning in a different environment than full-time students in bricks-and-mortar universities, but even though we are spread around the world and distracted by jobs and day-to-day life, there is a common goal that unites us. Study-groups and discussion forums allow us to collaborate and share ideas: I’m in year two, but already have online buddies from around the world, with whom I’ve debated big issues and small trivialities about global politics.

Or maybe I’m stretching that metaphor too far? In any case, I’m enjoying using Linux and would recommend it to anyone who is disillusioned with the constant need to upgrade computers to catch up with demands of newly-launched operating systems, not to mention the cost of commercial software.