I heard this story on NPR today as I was driving home from Target, and it made me rather sad. Apparently, Russia has made it a policy as of late to raid groups that oppose its government and confiscate their computers, claiming that they are investigating whether or not the group is using pirated Microsoft Windows software. What bothered me was not that the Russian government is allegedly harassing those who disagree with it — which I do think is not cool — but that it can be considered a crime to use and share software needed to function in today’s world.
Most of you probably think this is no big deal. After all, if these people didn’t pay for the software, then they shouldn’t be allowed to use it. That’s the way our world works. But the problem is that this system puts too much power into the hands of too few corporations. If I have to use the internet to communicate with colleagues and type up documents in order to pass a class, and my only avenues to do so is to buy either a Windows PC or a Mac, then this gives Microsoft and Apple a lot of say so in aspects of my life that they really shouldn’t have any say in.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, you see, because I run Linux on all of my computers. Currently, I use openSUSE Linux, and while I won’t digress into the nitty gritty about what the various distributions of Linux are, feel free to read this blog post I wrote about openSUSE a while back.
Linux has changed the way I view computing. First of all, I’ve come to see computing not as a service we pay Microsoft or Apple to let us use but rather as a right needed to function in today’s world. Linux instills this ideal by being entirely open source. People are free to contribute to it, copy it, and alter it until their heart’s content. At the same time, most of the software designed to run on Linux can be installed for free, legally, on as many computers as you want. I currently run openSUSE on all of my computers, can type up whatever I want for class using OpenOffice, browse the web using Firefox, manage email using Thunderbird, and kill hours of free time playing the Battle for Wesnoth. I am providing these links because this software is also available for both Windows and Mac, so you should check them out, even if you’re not at all interested in installing a Linux distribution. In the meantime, if something goes wrong on my computer, I can repair or reinstall openSUSE without having to purchase another version or input a serial key. I merely have to redownload or reuse my previous installation CD. You see, I can do all the computing I need without having to pay Microsoft a dime or worry about the feds knocking down my door. I just wish more people were in the same boat.
And that is why the current raiding situation in Russia moves me so.