I discovered Linux in 1994 and I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. It was free. It worked. I could learn and I could experiment on my own time and without it costing an arm and a leg.
For the life of me I couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t listen to me when I told them how wonderful it is. I could not understand why educational institutions wouldn’t adopt it. By the time that full office suites were available on Linux, in my mind, there were no more excuses for not adopting it. If the money spent on licenses was spent on training people to support Linux and the open source software that ran on it, Windows would not have had the opportunity to dominate as it does. In business or in education. I couldn’t be arsed to care about style, so Mac has never interested me and I have never really considered it 1.
But, I was considered the fanatic and the geek who likes doing things the difficult (geeky) way. I never learnt how not to sound like an evangelist. I never learnt to appreciate the importance of being able to boast about the amount of money you spent as a big shot in a company sitting around a table in some Japanese restaurant with your big shot peers. You couldn’t do that if all your software cost you nothing. Obviously you could have spent all that money on training your staff but that is not remotely as impressive as over specced hardware and the latest buggy version of software.
What drives the adoption of technology in educational institutions is somewhat of an enigma to me. It appears to be the corporate world rather than research, which might just explain the difficulties proponents of open source and FAIR principles have. It all seems to be exacerbated by the fact that the decision makers in charge of hardware and software adoption within universities are neither researchers, nor are they hardware- or software engineers. They use their Macs and Dells for Word and Excel and that is about it.
A month, or so, ago I attended an RSE meet-up and someone made the comment, during a talk, that Microsoft Windows is not suitable for research. I wanted to jump up, shout “YES!” and do the “I-told-you-so” dance, but nobody else seemed to take it seriously or realise the importance of that statement. So I just sat there, like a coward, too scared to voice my opinion, in fear of being sighed at, judged and laughed at again.
And today, I came across this article, “Open source is a hard requirement for reproducibility” by Bruno Rodrigues. I was a bit disappointed that I only just discovered it, considering that it was written about eight months ago. But, I took it as a sign. Perhaps I’m not the only one in the choir and if I start singing along then maybe soon our voices will be loud enough not to be boo-ed off the stage as being fanatic geeks - even if it is 20 years late.
To not make this post too long I’ll stop here and rather share a few of my own horror stories in future blog posts.
1 The only reason I started to think about using Mac now is because it now has Linux under the hood and the hardware appears to be more stable than the over priced Dell crap that the university forces us to use.