Middle Kingdom

LinuxIt occurred to me the other day that personal computing is like episodes in the history of China. Well, kind of, if you half-close your eyes and squint at it a bit.

I mean, the Microsoft Windows world is a bit like an old, complicated Empire, with arcane ceremonies and rules of precedence, as in the Ming Dynasty. For commoners — ordinary computer users — everything is obscure and mysterious, but if you follow the right rituals, usually things work. If you are more highly placed in the Heavenly Imperial Court, you may be aware of strange things going on in the background: secret deals; minions with unaccountable powers; botched treaties; hidden doorways.

Apple Macintosh world is the Worker’s Paradise. Everyone is equal, but there is only one way to do anything: the Party Way. Hordes of young Mac users wear the red scarf and sing the party songs in unison. The Glorious Leader smiles from the huge banners. However, in reality, the Communist era inherited much from Imperial times. Unaccountability; illogical rituals; punishment of the innocent. The word “freedom” is not in the Newspeak dictionary.

Open Source world is an anarchy. More like the breakdown of the Empire at the end of the Qing Dynasty than the period of Warring States, although either parallel could be drawn. Various warlords control their own patches: Lord Ubuntu, the Duke of Fedora, Kingdom of Berkley, the Debian Socialist Democratic Republic. Citizens are OK if they stick with their masters, but it can be a hard life. Harder still if you abandon a warlord’s enclave and try to survive yourself in the wilderness. I compile my own kernels.

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