I’m just geeking out about Ubuntu Linux here, which branch out to piracy, free culture, Bollywood, and alternative distribution systems using the Internet. I already didn’t know much about what I was going on about at the point of Linux, so this al might be a load of bull puckey. Or there might be some gems mixed in with the bull turds, you never know. But if you demand people only to write about things they know really well, go read something else. If, on the other hand, you want to help disabuse me of my mistaken notions and help me think this through better, feel free to read and comment.
Well, I finally got Synaptic Package Manager working. I have no idea how, but my hostname was erased from my hostname and hosts file, I think as part of the process that installed the otherwise wonderful EasyUbuntu package that fixed endless numbers of problems with my installation. Well, from the root directory I managed to edit the files and add in the missing info, as per advice I found on the forums.
There’s a sense in which using Linux is somewhat like being a pioneer on the prairie. It’s like roughing it on the electronic bush, or at least that’s the impression I get. Not that I’m roughing it with Ubuntu. For the most part, I still know very very little about Linux, but the little bit of work I’ve had to do at the command line to get this thng running properly has really driven home how really, I don’t know, piecemeal the whole thing is. It’s like the very old days, where you had to, you know, rip out of a piece of wall to put in a newfangled gas pipe, and then another piece of wall for the newfangled indoor plumbing. When these new things start behaving strangely, you can’t just sort of guess what’s wrong with them… you have to ride into town and consult with other people t see what the heck it might be. And it is might be, mind: whatever problems you’re experiencing may well express similar symptoms to others’, but be rooted in a rather different problem. So you ride back out of town, and check the septic tank, but it’s okay. You go back into town, someone says it’s mice in the walls, so you go home and check that, and it’s not mice, it’s a disconnected pipe. So you fix it.
And then something else starts creaking.
I’m not complaining, though. It may sound like I am, but I’m not. It’s kind of fun, actually, and I get now, a little bit, why Neal Stephenson was so emphatic about it in that (by his own description) dated essay of his, “In the Beginning was the Command Line”. You feel like you have your own hands in the guts of the computation you’re doing, as if you’re intervening directly in the processes by which your computer does what, if you stop and think about it for a moment, are some pretty amazing tasks. You can personalize, customize, and alter all kinds of things, as long as you’re willing to go back and fix the messes you create for yourself.
Granted, this is something that’s not going to be popular among any majority, and Koreans are no exception. The reason I think Ubuntu won’t catch on in Korea isn’t that I think more Koreans would prefer to have all the settings created for them, though I find that in general Korean internet communities very, very comfortable with just using web services with very little customization available. There’s a level on which I can even appreciate that, whether I encounter it in Korea or elsewhere: after all, if the content is the most important thing, who cares about layout?
Well, you see, I do. I want layout to be easy, I want to be able to work with it, to change it. Maybe I wont do it for months at a time, but I like to have the freedom.
But that’s not what I think would keep people in Korea from adopting Ubuntu or some other form of Linux as their main OS. It’s not the learning curve, since after all Ubuntu will probably, in a couple of releases, be even easier to install than Windows XP.
What I think will prevent people from switching to Linux here is that nobody else will do it. Now, wait a minute before you get on my case about this, let me explain myself.
- A lot of people like to be used to the platform they’re working on. For me, the switch to the Ubuntu desktop was almost no change at all. It’s a GUI, essentially like any other decent GUI, and the change wasn’t a big deal. I had more trouble switching to the Mac GUI, but only because some of the shortcut keys weren’t intuitive for me, that’s all. But I think a lot of people would express annoyance if a PC-Bang switched over to Ubuntu, simply because it’s unfamiliar, and that aura of unfamiliarity would turn people off before they even got started.
- Comfort and usefulness for the broadest base of users isn’t just an administrative issue in Korea: it’s an issue of profit. One of the biggest computer industries here is the public-use service provider, the PC-Bang, known in the West as the Internet Cafe. And unfortunately for Ubuntu, most of the use in these places is multi-user gaming, not basic internet and word processing. While Linux is amazingly stable, very smooth, and fast as all get-out, running games programmed for Windows under Win emulation is not only going to be slower, it’s going to be costly, as people will abandon the that PC-Bang for one that runs Windows games in their native environment. So there’s a market incentive not to change, one that doesn’t quite exist in North America right now.
- The last problem is standards. Firefox is the main browser in Ubuntu Linux, and while I think it’s wonderful — I get this awfully annoyed feeling whenever I’m in Internet Explorer and forced to open twenty little windows for my various tasks — there is the fact that a lot of people code pages to specifically work in IE; some of those pages, in addition, ONLY work in IE, under Windows. Lime tested out Firefox last night using the Naver page and services, and said that while Firefox in Ubuntu was better than Firefox under Windows — it loaded Naver’s services better — there were still problems with the way it handled the pages. I also noted that some of the feedback Firefox provided was less intuitive for her, though for me it wasn’t quite contra-intuitive (suggesting it was a particular user issue, not a general issue, or else suggesting that I’m a bigger GUI geek than she is). But while I find that a lot of Western service providers try to serve up web pages that work fine in any browser or platform, Korean ones simply tend to assume you’re going to be accessing their pages in IE. There are Flash sequences that don’t work no matter how many times you install a recent version of Flash; these flash sequences are the only way to access certain things. There are pages that load messed up, or don’t let you follow links, or that load with important links not displayed.
Perhaps I just haven’t optimised the way my installation of Ubuntu handles webpages, but I have a feeling the real issue is standards. These pages apparently work completely fine under IE running in Windows.
If you suddenly require people to emulate Windows to access the websites they care about, and make it harder for them to use the applications they want to run (games designed to run in Windows), you’ve suddenly destroyed most of the usefulness of an OS to that population. And games are a huge part of why computers are so popular in Korea, and Korean-specific web services (like Naver’s and Daum’s, which again, seem to work much more smoothly in IE) make up almost the bulk of the remainder of desktop computer use. So while Ubuntu is wonderful and cool to my mind, I can see why it has a very, very long way to go before it will make any inroads among regular users in Korea.
Or, and the real last reason:
- While I feel qualms about Windows, about pirating it and having to hack in the update function and all, and I’m not willing to buy it, and consider the fact that Ubuntu is both free and legal
an attraction, I think it’s safe to say that most younger Koreans don’t really make a strong distinction between legally free computer content, and illegally free computer content.
When I mentioned to students in my Media English class last night that I was compiling a list of sites where they could download free, legal English media content, they laughed and some of them repeated the word “legal” to me questioningly… not because they wondered what I meant, but because they wondered why I bothered to make the distinction.
The fact that you don’t have to steal Linux to run it free hardly matters when nobody you know has paid for his or her installation of Windows, either. It could hardly matter less, and sadly, I take this as a confirmation of Professor Lessig’s argument toward the end of Free Culture that if piracy becomes a normative behaviour, a common means of fighting back against increasingly oppressive media conglomerates and their insane crusade to control all content, then all societies involved in that mode of fighting back will emerge with a radically degraded sense of law, justice, and fair use.
To which I, as a content-creator myself, add: the rapacious destruction of fair use by greed conglomerates results in the resultant mutual destruction of concern for fair use by users; but are we naive enough to think that when the conglomerates are finally struck down by the multitudes of Davids and their P2P slings, those Davids will be happy to drop their slings and start paying a fair rate for the content and software that they choose to use?
I don’t think so. And so I think it will be that much harder for the establishment of whatI see as optimal, a cottage-industry of creative-commons content-providers made possible by all that computers open up to us. I think we’ve set that back many years by not electing to steal, instead of forcing the media conglomerates to barter with us, while, after all, we do have the upper hand. We could, after all, refuse to pay unfair rates, and we could just consume other media.
What we need is a major industry to embrace this, and to make money off it, and to be honest and forthcoming about it, for the others to take notice. An industry that isn’t completely tied up in the Western one, an industry that is already taking a loss on the long-term distribution through already-established rampant piracy. Say… Bollywood? (Maybe Ritu could confirm this, I don’t know.)
I am sure that Bollywood could put together a world-download film industry; a year after release, films go to downloadable status. Charge the ruppee equivalent of a buck per film downloaded, one-use-onlys (two bucks more for the right to download again at some point), high quality, and legal. They wouldn’t even have to compete with Hollywood; all they’d have to do was get filthy rich on it, and Hollywood would sit up and take notice. And best of all, they would simply be matching the pirate fees, since pirated DVDs usually cost a buck anyway. And no wasted plastic on the physical DVD, unless the user chose to back up the file. I mean, this is win-win, right?
And yes, I know that a massive number of people who use the pirated films don’t have PCs to download the movies. We don’t need to get everyone, just enough people to cut into the culture of piracy in an exemplary way. And I know that big, long downloads would be jeopardized somewhat with the commonality of powercuts in places like India and surrounding nations where Bollywood films aremost popular, but (a) we’re not just targeting people in India, but people in countries where such powercuts are unheard of, (b) it’d be possible to create an engine that allowed tracked, resumable downloads for those who aren’t able to keep their power running for long once the power cuts, and (c) remember that the rest of the cinema infrastructure is still in place: the big profits in the cinemas would continue, and whatever profits from production of the original for-sale DVDs would still be in place for the first year or so (which, I’d wager, is when the bulk of the profits would be in place). The added advantage to both consumer and seller would be the effect of the Long Tail (see also this Wired article), which made otherwise unavailable content available to potential buyers at a reasonable price on the one hand, and allowed copyright owners to continue to make profits, however relatively small, on content that otherwise would simply be completely unavailable and unprofitable.