Back When Linux Was Fun

When are you ever going to grow up?! Act your age!

When you're a kid, all you want to do is grow up. When you get old enough to realize that being older isn't all it's cracked up to be, people invariably point out that you should start acting your age. I used to throw out the following argument as a retort. "But if I'm 24 now (later it was 30, 37, 42, and so on) and I act this way at 24, then by definition that's acting my age. Right?" I've been using that argument as long as people have been telling me to either grow up or act my age and it still doesn't work. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I'm supposed to have matured and become serious about things.

And so it is with Linux. It all started out in fun. I know. I've got Linus Torvalds' "Just for Fun" here on my bookshelf. Says so right there on the front cover. Fun. And it was fun. But as with anyone approaching adulthood, Linux was apparently not taking itself seriously enough. If Linux was to conquer the server room, the desktop, the mobile market, the real time processing world, etc, etc, then it had better clean up its act. Add a little polish. Get serious about business. And it did.

Linux is everywhere now. It's in your television set, your PVR, your thermostat, your phone . . . it's everywhere. Linux is the heart of the world's most powerful supercomputers. It's the engine that delivers most of the world's Internet searches. The biggest e-commerce sites run on Linux. Large mega-corporations rely on Linux and open source software to remain mega-corporations. The days of Linux is going to make it when it becomes a serious operating system have been with us for a while. In fact, Linux and open source software is so prevalent in the world that its impact far outweighs anything served up by even the great commercial closed software behemoths we all know and love. Make no mistake folks, Linux has already won the OS war, even if most people, trapped in the desktop world, are blissfully unaware of the fact.

This is a serious, totally grown up, operating system.

So why do I get these feelings of nostalgia? Why do I look at some of the lesser known projects out there, those that are often driven by a lone coder or two, with a warm fuzzy feeling as though that's where the real fun is? I'll give you an example. I recently discovered a program called Minitube, a native YouTube client written by one Flavio Tordini. This is one of those cool little projects that has fun written all over it, and like so many fun things in the Linux and open source world, it's really quite useful.

Minitube, a native YouTube client.

Using Minitube, you just type in one or more keywords and it pulls in a list of videos based on your search. No need for a Web browser and, get this, no need for Flash Player either. It's YouTube on the skinny and it feels a lot like watching television, in full high definition (1080p) no less. Videos play one after another in a stream. Jump ahead or go back. It's all frightfully easy.

Minitube is just one example but I could name hundreds off the top of my head. I love these little projects and while most of the attention is on the grown up side of Linux and open source software, I have a special fondness for those projects that are a little less 'mature'. I love what companies like Canonical have done to polish their Ubuntu Linux distributions into an operating system worthy of powering the computers that make business tick. In fact, I love the fact Ubuntu is a respected and grown up product. We've made it. This is the big time.

But I'm going to let you in on a secret.

If I ever stumble upon vast wealth (as one friends puts it, "Help me Lotto 6/49, you're my only hope! ") I'm going to find a bunch of these fun little projects and throw money at them. Then, when the software is all polished and grown up like, I'm going to move on to the next fun but somewhat immature project. I call it 'funding the FOSS fun'. Because being all grown up shouldn't mean the end of all the fun.

So, if it was up to you, what not-100% polished, really cool, and definitely kind of fun project would you throw money at? What package -- and I'm not talking about the KDE, GNOME, Firefox,, totally slick and mature projects here -- would you like other people to turn their attention to? What unsung heroes of fun FOSS need to be recognized so that we can put the pre-adult fun back into Linux? Leave a comment and let me know. We'll make a little list.

Now if you'll excuse me, my three year old wants to watch "Harry and His Bucket Full of Dinosaurs".

Until next time . . .


It's not Linux, nor is it you...

Your entry reminded me of the song from about a decade ago, "What's My Age Again?" :-)

I was feeling that way earlier this year -- very disillusioned, bored, etc. -- and very nearly bailed on Linux altogether. I had the same sense that I had in Windows, that it simply didn't matter whether I used it, gave feedback, contributed, or was happy or miserable. In a last-ditch attempt at not abandoning Linux, I gave up on the only distro I'd ever used (Ubuntu), moving instead to a longstanding distro that's friendlier, heavily community-driven, and not as well-known.

I hoped at best that it wouldn't give me as many problems as I had been experiencing for the previous year... I was floored to find that not only was it working a lot better, I was soon having fun again! I felt this neat sense of ownership and pride again, felt excited to see what others were working on & how I could help out, proudly happy to read interviews with "our" down-to-earth founder/leader, and so forth. I also have seen a LOT of people reporting similar experiences re: switching away to all different distros, so it's not just me.

Having fun isn't incompatible with being responsible; when I feel like it is for too long, it means that I'm depressed or something relevant in my life needs to be changed. Maybe that's the real problem for you, too... There are distros thriving enough to not need too much attention, but that still have a need/use for any talent willing to join the party -- Aurora (formerly Crunchbang) and SimplyMEPIS are two. One of the leaders for Aurora posted a pretty darn good blog entry as a call to action:

I agree

I agree with you that growing up is not fun at all
at last. linux has a lot of companies supporting
so these little person like you and me do not have any thing to care


I really just want to see GGPO (or something similar) for Linux. It's the only Windows app that I care about... it doesn't work right in WINE. The underlying emulator FBA works.. but the GGPO networking front-end doesn't.... I really wish it did. :(


One of these three:

I can't decide which project would benefit most from some cash.

DeVeDe is a nice project

Devede is a project that I came across that is excellent to use.

ubuntu is fun, NOT

Ubuntu Sucks. It is one of the horrible creatures that is ruining linux and it's fun. Turning it into a corporate pile of garbage. Another example of corporate mind set breaking the fun, traditions, and purpose of linux. I say put your money somewhere fun, and stop feeding bumtu's dictatorship mouth. Booo

MythTV! :)

lots to polish there.

vimperator brings back the fun

For me it is the firefox extension VIMPERATOR that is fun. It is the one piece of software I no longer can live without.

Fund the fun

Yes, FOSS is fun, great fun that deserves to be funded! I love Linux and I love any free and open source piece of software. When (well, and if) I win the lotto, I know which will be the first project I will fund. It is called ReactOS (just google it) - a free clone of the Windows operating system that develops slow, but stable. Its target audience are people who cannot move to something else for certain reasons.
I would also support other projects like Gimp, Krita, R, SciLab and others. It is amazing how mature these became in the last years without big corporations behind their back.
Viva Linux, viva FOSS!

What I would like to see

Thanks for the great article. I would like to see something wine-ish that allows any game to be installed on any distro. WINE is nice and all, but something about having a windows environment in my linux-topia scares the heebie-jeebies out of me. Not 100% sure, but I think I read somewhere that BSD is working on such a thing. My 2 Mhz.

Ubuntu is fun

Ubuntu is fun. I am not sure what the title of this post is talking about.

The SuSE login

Haven't used SuSE for ages, but one great thing that addes to using it was when you logged in. The login message was "Have a lot of fun!" and it was good to have that frequent reminder.

Great Article

Well written and very pointed.

Fun, As Was Your Article To Read

Well said, your point presented to the audience in "a letter to my friend" writing style that makes it as fun to read as what you would have us remember back when. Awesome. If only I could click my heels together and have all such articles focusing on computer technology transmogrify into delightful moments of playtimes long since passed, instead of boring autopsies and technobabble-laden descriptitude.

Thankfully, the world of Linux still has many children who won't give up the fun in the "now" for a promise of a "tomorrow". May we forever refuse to grow up as we grow older in this wondrous ever-ever land we know as Linux.


i think that way about computers in general. The exploratory excitement is gone now and all that is left is rote repetition and being hounded by the copyright&patent mafia.

the vast unexplored vista of cyberspace is dead, fenced into oblivion by .com's of all stripes.

Conkeror, et al

Conkeror, minno, sqeme, libmanos... these are projects that have a somewhat small audience, and will probably remain so, but they're very worth while.

The expanse of space surrounding Planet *buntu is getting busier and busier. As a result, achieving a stable orbit is particularly difficult when you're easily distracted. Consequently, Marcel Gagné's blog looks at pretty much anything and everything that orbits Planet *buntu. News, howtos, rumors, opinions, controversy, tech tips, helpful hints . . . you'll find it all here. Oh look! A shiny object!

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