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For well over a month now, I’ve been using the Ubuntu distribution of Linux. An installation of Windows Vista had rendered an otherwise functioning laptop to the scrap heap, and the installation of Ubuntu proved conclusively that the hardware was fine. After giving a new lease of life to the laptop, I decided to continue with Ubuntu to see just how viable it is as an operating system for photographers seeking a platform for digital imaging.
Ubuntu is one of many Linux distributions available for free as a part of the open source community. Its name is an African word which means 'Humanity to others', or more fully, 'I am what I am because of who we all are'. It’s an appropriate name, as the Ubuntu distribution brings that very spirit to the software world.
The term ‘Open source’ was coined in the late 80’s to remove the ambiguity the English language offers around the word ‘free’. While the vast majority of open source software is available to use without payment, ‘free’ is actually a reference to ‘freedom’. Open source software uses a very different licence to that of conventional software. When you purchase software, you rarely own that software. Instead, what you are doing is paying for permission to use the software under the terms of an agreement you enter into with the software owner. Open source does away with that, allowing you to use the software any way you choose, even to the point of modifying the source code.
I could describe in detail how the installation was quick and simple, how a whole host of applications were bundled in the distribution, how it is fast and responsive, and over the course of seven weeks has been utterly reliable. I won’t, other than to say that it has been, and it just works. Until such time as your operating system misbehaves, it is something you should be blissfully unaware of. We don’t run operating systems, we run applications, and as photographers, we have various applications that we want, need and love. Ultimately, applications are where the Linux proposition stands or falls.
Forget Adobe Lightroom, discard Capture One, and don’t even think about Apple Aperture, all of which are just some of the applications unavailable on Linux. If you are prepared to pay (rare for Linux software) you can get Bible. There are other free RAW workflow applications available, and if you are prepared to make the time to learn how they work, you could find something that suits. (Some are also available on Windows and Macintosh platforms.) They may not be quite to the standard you are used to, but they work, and cost a whole lot less.
Very few photographers will have any interest in writing new or modifying existing source code but, in an age where our rights are eroded on an almost daily basis Linux breaths fresh air into the world of corporate and government suffocation.
For that singular reason alone, it deserves to succeed.