Open Source Musings


Lately, I've been spending an inordinate amount of time and mental energy dealing with various myths and misconceptions that others have embraced. In a number of areas. In a number of spaces. About a number of things.

And, to be honest, it's been getting tiring.

Case in point: an email I received a few weeks before writing this post, taking me to task for both using and advocating the use of elementary OS. The two main arguments that my correspondent put forward in that missive were that 1) users get locked into elementary OS, and 2) that users have to pay for not only the distro but also for the software that they install.

The content of that email reflects some of the FUD I read elsewhere on the web in 2022. At that time, some troubles between elementary OS's founders hit the online Linux press and blogosphere and, as can be expected, speculation was dialed up to 11. The contents of the email I received, and all that speculation, also illustrates a level of ignorance about the distribution in question.

The next several hundred words are my response to the person who emailed me and to others like them. And those words don't only apply to elementary OS.


You might remember a post I published in this space a while back about my adventures with Zorin OS. A throwaway comment in that post surprised me with the bit of attention that it garnered.

The comment? That I've never installed Linux in a dual boot setting. Ever. A few people got in touch asking me why. And, before you ask, those weren't snarky or accusatory comments. Which leads us into what you're reading at this moment.

So why have I never done a dual boot installation of Linux in all my years of using it? The answer is simple: I've never seen or had the need to do that.

When I started installing Linux on my computers (as opposed to when I bought laptops with Linux preinstalled on them), those computers usually ran Windows. Which I wanted to escape. So, I replaced Redmond's operating system with a better one. At least, one that was (and continues to be) better for me.

On the rare occasion that I needed to use a Windows application, I ran that application in a virtual machine or used CrossOver to run it. As time passed, so did any occasional need to run anything Windows on my computers.

On top of that, I've never had a need to dual boot between Linux distros. That's mainly because I'm not, and never have been, a distro hopper. I focus on using one Linux distribution and one Linux distribution only. For the most part, I'm loyal to that distro until I find a compelling reason or six to switch. Usually, there's a gap of years between those switches. So, I don't need to have, say, elementary OS and Arch Linux installed side-by-side on the same laptop. My inner geek doesn't need that much of a hug.

Maybe in my non-techie brain there's also a bit of a block about partitioning hard drives. I'm sure there's a corner of the lump of gray inside my head that worries about what could go wrong or whether or not dual booting will work. Yeah, I know ...

But in the end, I have no use case for dual booting. If I want to give a Linux distro a look, I'll run it using a bootable flash drive. Doing that is usually more than enough to get a good feel for that distribution and whether or not I want to use it.

Scott Nesbitt

#linux #opinion

You might remember a recent post, in which I discussed my new laptop. It's been a long while since I've written a post like that and, to be honest, I'd forgotten about the kind of reaction a post like that can provoke.

In this case, it was the (almost expected) I don't/can't understand why ..., I'd never use/buy ... comments that a handful of people so graciously sent me via email. Comments pretty much telling me that my choice was the wrong one. That my purchase was the wrong one. That I had better options. Alla that kind of thing.

Those kinds of comments demonstrate a very narrow way of thinking about technology. Those kinds of comments illustrate a very narrow understanding of how people use technology and what they need. Those kinds of comments are filtered through the needs and use cases of those making the comments.

Guess what? Those needs, those use cases aren't mine. They're not universal. Some people seem to find it difficult to believe, but different people use computers in different ways. Different people need and use different software. Different people need and use different devices. They do things differently from you. From me. From my correspondents.

Not everyone who uses a computer, who uses Linux and open source, is an uber techie. Not everyone is developing apps or software. Not everyone is gaming. Not everyone is plugging 17 devices into their laptops or desktops. Not everyone needs fast, powerful computers with massive hard drives, with 256 GB of RAM, with 16 hypercores, packing muscular GPUs, and like. A lot of people need something simple, but something which works. In my case, that's the StarLite.

And if some folks can't understand why anyone would use a computer like a StarLite, the problem doesn't lie with the computer or the person using it ...

Scott Nesbitt


For years, I've been saying or writing that you don't need to know how to use the command line to use Linux effectively. I've helped more than a few people over the years migrate to Linux, and none of them have cracked open a terminal window. Guess what? They're getting what they need to get done using graphical applications. And nothing else.

But here we are in 2022 and I'm still trying to break that myth. Over the years, and quite a few times in recent months, have tried to call me out over that. They've pointed to articles and blog posts written about the command line as proof to contrary. As proof that the command line is essential if you want to use Linux.

I don't deny that I use the command line — mainly to make some complicated tasks simple. That said, I'm definitely not a command line master. Far from it. I know just enough to be dangerous, to carry out a few tasks. At most, I spend 5% of my computing time in a terminal window.

That time isn't spent doing anything complex. So, what do I use the command line for? Here's most of what I do in a terminal window:

  • Read RSS feeds with newsboat.
  • Convert files using pandoc.
  • Publish a couple of websites using GitLab Pages.
  • Use three or four simple scripts (which I cobbled together through trial and a lot of error or which were written by people I know) to automate tasks — scripts like this one.

And not much more than that. Hardly the behaviour of a seasoned, hardened, deeply technical command line guru, is it?

Scott Nesbitt

#linux #cli #opinion

Linux has been around for 31 years. It's evolved, changed, and improved considerably over time. The Linux of today is a far cry from the Linux I first took a look at in the mid 1990s.

Compared to their early counterparts, the Linux distributions of today are (for the most part) easy to install, easy to set up, and easy to use. You don't have to compile your own software or kernel. You don't need to edit and tweak a raft of configuration files to get a system working. Unless you want to, that is.

Today, you can use just about Linux distribution out of the box. Or when you start up a computer that comes with one pre-installed. How times have changed.

Yet, in some circles, Linux still has reputation of being difficult. To install. To set up. To use. To understand. Especially for folks with few, if any, technical skills. There is, in certain corners online, a 1998 rather than a 2021 mindset around Linux. In those corners, the myth that Linux isn't ready for the ordinary computer user continues to survive.

And there's a feeling among some Linux devotees that making things too easy for users is antithetical to what Linux is about. That was brought home to me, again, in a recent discussion I had online with a few folks.

When mentioned that I use, and really enjoy using, elementary OS, one person in that conversation was more than a little shocked. Almost on cue, they trotted out the stock arguments against elementary and distros like it. That, among other things, elementary is too dumbed down (their words, not mine).

I was forced to reminded that person that I'm not, have never consider myself to be, and never will be a so-called power user. And while I agree that elementary OS isn't for everyone, it does have its audience.

What has always attracted me to it is the ethos behind elementary — even more so than that of Ubuntu and its variants. elementary is aimed at the ordinary computer user. It caters to their needs, to what they want and need to do. elementary OS isn't designed to be heavily tweaked or fiddled with. The collection of software is curated, but it focuses on what are (for most people) everyday tasks.

In the minds of some, by embracing elementary OS I'm trading away quite a bit in the way of customization for ease of use. I'm trading away what makes Linux special. That may be true, but a lot of those customization of which folks like that speak aren't really my thing. They're not of much interest to me. And, I'm sure, they're not of much interest to elementary's audience either.

As I keep pointing out, and probably will until the day I leave this life, is that not everyone uses a computer in the same way. Everyone's needs are different. There's no reason why there can't be Linux distributions for all users, regardless of their needs.

Scott Nesbitt

#linux #opinion

Recently I was culling some notes and I came across one from early 2008. A note that somehow escaped various attempts at pruning over the last 13+ years. A sign or just blind luck?

The note in question was about a post at a now-defunct blog about open source. One quote I extracted from that post pointed out something that I'd been saying for a (long) while:

There are some functionality that isn't available for the free options out there yet, but the actual portion of people that need that specific functionality is so small.

Believe it or not, most free and open source (FOSS) alternatives to commercial software are fine for most people. And they have been for a while.


(Note: This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, at and appears here via a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license.)

In 2016, I took down the shingle of my technology coaching business. Permanently. Or so I thought.

Over the last year or three, more than a few friends and acquaintances have pulled me back (in small ways) into the realm of coaching. How? With their desire to dump That Other Operating SystemTM and move to Linux.

This has been an interesting experience, in no small part because most of the people aren't at all technical. They know how to use a computer to do what they need to do. And they're interested in using Linux. Beyond that, they're not interested in delving deeper. They're not interested in becoming experts.

While bringing them to the Linux side of the computing world, I learned a few things about helping non-techies move to Linux. If someone asks you to help them make the jump to Linux, these eight tips can help you.


It's been fascinating, and at times scary, to watch how much of our computing has moved into the so-called cloud. Everything from spreadsheets to word processors, note taking tools and todo list managers, even our music now lives on someone else's computer.

What's so scary about all that? It can be a privacy nightmare, and we don't know what the people behind those online apps are doing with our personal information.

Open source makes it possible to find alternatives to many of those applications, to gain more control of your data, of what you use and how you use it. All that's possible through the miracle and magic of self hosting

Notice that I used the word possible a pair of times in the last paragraph. Not easy or even easier, but possible. Despite what what some people say, and more than a few have said it to me, self hosting open source web apps isn't all that easy.


Like many people who live and work in the free and open source software world, I keep hearing that every year is the year of Linux on the desktop. I've been hearing that for longer than I can remember. And each year, Linux doesn't come close to encroaching on the market share or mindshare of Mac OS or Windows.

That doesn't matter. At least not to me. For me, 1999 was the year of Linux on the desktop. My desktop. That was the was year I finally had it with Wind)ows. That was the year I first installed Linux, specifically Caldera OpenLinux, on a Pentium 300 I inherited from my wife. You can read the story about that in my interview with My Linux Rig if you're interested.

Linux worked well for me then, and only got better as the years passed. I've used over a dozen distributions and have test driven many, many more more. Linux has been running on every desktop and laptop computer I've owned since 1999, and I've doing all of my work in Linux since then. Contrary to what some people might say (and have said), I'm not missing anything.

Linux is ready for my desktop. It has been for over 20 years. In fact, Linux is my desktop. Period.

Whether or not Linux becomes mainstream isn't important to me. Linux just works for me. That's all that matters.

Scott Nesbitt

#linux #desktop #opinion

Kind of bored seeing all these proprietary operating systems and apps at All Things Open. If you're serious about Open Source, use it

I know Shaun, and I know how passionate he is about free and open source software. And I agree with his stance.

That said, when it comes to using open source software on closed platforms, I'm of two minds. As you might guess, those seemingly opposed and contradictory ideas are difficult for me to reconcile.

On one hand, I believe that if you intend to embrace open source you should do it wholeheartedly. That means running open source software on open source operating systems. That means taking the time to adapt to both. That means learning what you need and what you don't need. That means adapting to new user interfaces and to shortcuts and commands. All of that takes time, but the results are worth it.

On the other hand, I understand that open source can be intimidating for some people. They need to ease into it. That means gradually replacing their proprietary software with open source alternatives on Windows and MacOS. Later, they may want to move to Linux in the form of Ubuntu (or one of its variants), elementary OS, or Linux Mint. Or not.

While I'd love more people to fully embrace using open source software on open platforms, I also realize that it's not an option for everyone. At least, not in the short term. As wrote in another post in this space:

Getting more people using open source, and embracing the ideas and values behind it, is the right thing to do. It’s not easy, but it can be done with very little pain. Who knows: by showing people the open source way, we might get some of them to spread the word.

In the end, that benefits us all.

Scott Nesbitt

#opensource #opinion