Technology for the Masses: Important Free Operating Systems
This is an article written to introduce three important secure, free and capable operating systems to the general public. It is written with a particular view to communities who live with a low financial income and to those who are interested in sustainable computing. It is highlighting thoughts around what software we use and the ethics of the software we use.
The truth is unnerving as we have already had our lives handed over to the big tech corporations which manage our lives. Computers and digital technologies extend the reach of people in terms of capabilities. Major issues sit with the fact that big tech and stock market based companies are not our friends; they lack the capacity to make moral decisions and as a result commit various environmental crimes, decrease choice through monopoly and exploit our behaviour through surveillance capitalism.
The operating systems which are introduced here are options for people to protect themselves from surveillance capitalism, upcycle old computers and generally create a smaller carbon footprint by eliminating the data collected on our virtual lives via telemetry processes. These are technologies suited for people who have a small data budget, who have thin internet connections and who are using common garden hardware.
This is written for beginners and involves following basic instructions at the end of which you will have a functioning computer of some kind using these operating systems. This shows three types (flavours) of Linux that can replace Microsoft Windows as an operating system or Apple Mac IOS. For those who want to get straight to the tools and skip the discussion you can use the menu to navigate to the following operating systems.
- Linux TAILS
- Linux LXLE
- Linux Mint
Over the years of working in and with communities I have learned from others and through hard experience that the dreams and wishes of the technology industry had acted largely as a surrogate for my own thoughts. Computers and digital technologies have been injected into nearly every area of our lives, and due to them being very useful tools culturally people have invited them in.
In discussions with academics and educators, and being invited to think through want sustainable computing means in practical terms I have come to question the fetishes of digital technology. The more that technology has been used to replace human beings doing jobs in the real world, the more we have come to normalise the failures of function which if a human being embodied, they would be sacked and replaced.
We are facing encultured habituation to such large scale monopolies that many of us do not even recognise that there is a problem at all. I would argue that many of the problems we are seeing are a direct result of corporate structures governed by stock market mechanisms which privilege making profit above all else. These companies are simply golems which are to a large part out of the control of the people who keep them running.
Having spent the gross part of my life in very low income neighbourhoods I have learned technology options which allow me to take what computer equipment other people throw away and get it to a useable state.
At a certain point with Ragged University I made the decision to dedicate the project to exploring methodologies of learning and producing which were accessible to people who do not have finance, or at least very scarce finance. Learning from the follies and successes of the field of International Development has been a vital part of the approach I am exploring. Finding digital technology options has been a vital part of the puzzle.
A key part of this approach has been choosing technologies that protect the individual from Surveillance Capitalism and from nefarious hackers. I think Virginia Eubanks is an important commentator who I have been following ever since hearing her presentation at an event which Peter Shukie and co brought together:
Why Big Tech Firms Use Linux
To give you a quick litmus on the quality of the Linux operating systems, the big tech companies tend to use Linux precisely because it is more secure, more customizable and because of this more powerful. The link to the following article will take you through an illustration of this:
Linux is Open Source, which means that anyone can examine the code used to make it up and as a result, it is transparent as to what information it uses and how. This transparency also contributes to the bug fixing of the products so they become more capable and secure than products which rely on relatively smaller groups of people working out what problems need to be fixed with a given product.
The Keepod Proof of Concept
The first introduction I want to make is that of the concept of turning a common garden USB into a hard drive with an operating system on it. I first learned of this through the Keepod initiative which recognised how to take redundant hardware and broken computers, and repurpose them so that communities had digital access. Here is a presentation from them:
Privacy: Linux TAILS
Now whilst Keepod is a worthy initiative, what I recommend and distribute to individuals and communities is the TAILS operating system. This is the same kind of idea except the TAILS operating system which bills itself as “Tails is a portable operating system that protects against surveillance and censorship”. TAILS stands for “The Amnesic Incognito Live System”:
Here is its website:
How to Create a Live USB
Here are the instructions for downloading it and creating a ‘Live USB’ – there are lots of how to videos, this is just one of many you can find by searching on Youtube for “create a live USB”:
I do lots of privacy work to protect the end user from corporate surveillance precisely because of Virginia Eubanks’ work and other well respected commentators. It is a great operating system which comes with a complete suite of production tools such as Libre Office (Microsoft office equivalent) and Audacity (audio production tool), so straight out of the box people have privacy and security hardened digital tools.
When the USB key is set up to be “persistent” it means that families and communities can plug their USB key into a given computer, produce work (i.e. a word document) and save it in their USB without leaving any trace on the laptop or desktop computer they have used to boot from. The only reason a laptop or desktop is required is to use the keyboard and screen; the computers do not need a hard drive even, the USB becomes the hard drive which people unplug and take away.
Upcycling Hardware: Linux LXLE
The next introduction I am going to make is that of Linux LXLE, a free and secure open source operating system which is designed to reverse redundancy of old computers and run on older hardware. It advertises itself through the strapline “Revive that old PC!”. It can be downloaded here:
Here is its website:
To put Linux LXLE (or any other type of linux operating system) onto a laptop or desktop, first you will need to download it to a computer. Next you will use a program called ‘Rufus’, which is free, to put an installation copy onto a USB which you will use to load onto the computer you want it on. It has all the production tools which people need straight out of the box. Here is a video on how to do this:
Replace Windows: Linux Mint
My last introduction is that of Linux Mint. This is a full featured Linux operating system which is probably the closest in appearance and function to Microsoft windows and Apple. Linux Mint is an alternative which is way way better than either Microsoft or Apple on privacy and it also uses less data – so very good for people who have a low data allowance or poor internet connection. It describes itself as ‘the friendly operating system’.
You can download it from here:
You can see a video on it here:
This information in this email is a basic starters. As far as I see it, Microsoft and Apple are without a moral compass and criminal in a number of counts. Did you know that the French government put a legal injunction on Microsoft telling it to stop spying on its citizens ? Yes, this did happen, so it is worth reading up on. Here is an article:
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Microsoft or Apple or Google (all big tech) are your friends. Like any company on the stock market they are out of control and turn on their employees, consumers and anyone else when it is convenient for them. A major business model is extracting as much information as possible about you and selling it to data brokers; once out there it shapes various things in your life like your credit record.
Take Home Thoughts
- The less data they collect, the smaller your carbon footprint
- The less data they collect, the faster your internet connection
- The open source community provide large open learning resources
- To find ‘how to’ videos, search for videos on Youtube (use an ad blocker)
- Spend the time it takes to drink something learning more
Report from UK Parliament on Surveillance Capitalism
This is the report produced by the UK Parliament which identified Big Tech companies as “behaving as Digital Gangsters”…