Learning Linux and Minimal Computing

I installed my first ever Linux operating system in January. I chose to install Linux Mint because I heard it was beginner friendly. The computer I chose to install it on was an cheap Acer laptop we bought last year as a gift for a family friend's daughter. With COVID, we were unable to give the laptop and I decided I would use it for my foray into Linux.

My main laptop is a 2017 Macbook Pro. My Acer Aspire can barely play 720p videos. I know there is an entire community dedicated to working with devices significantly less powerful than my Acer, however, as a newbie accustomed to using applications with heavy GUIs, I found this to be a fun challenge. With my Linux laptop, I wanted to become more familiar and comfortable with the command line. I was in for a really pleasant surprise as I learned of the world of terminal applications and the power of the command line. From text editing in Vim, to checking my email with Mutt, I rarely needed to leave my terminal to do tasks I required external applications to perform my entire life. I fell head-first into gemini and used the incredible Amfora gemini browser to effortlessly explore geminispace.

I also learned about tmux. Terminal panes are amazing and I can't imagine computing without them. I didn't realize how much screen real estate graphical buttons and interfaces used until I started switching to terminal-based applications. With tmux, I was able to comfortably open and use three terminal-based applications at once, all serving different functions. As I continue on this journey I only hope I can share my newfound love for minimal applications with others in my social circle.

I've barely skimmed the surface of available terminal applications and even less of the in-depth configurations possible for the ones I use. There are so many incredibly creative people producing content on platforms like TikTok, and I can't help but imagine those same people applying that creativity to customizing and creating terminal applications. With a lot of left-leaning individuals concerned about climate change, I would hope minimal computing would appeal to their waste reduction ideology. The idea that computers become obsolete after only a few years should be appalling to those concerned about the amount of waste we produce. Improving device longevity should be a cornerstone of sustainability advocacy in our increasingly digital world.

When I discuss my thoughts on minimal computing with friends and family, I am often met with resistance. I am told terminal applications, even Linux generally, are for niche users, and the average person isn't capable or willing to to utilize them. Though I agree that the average person isn't willing to utilize terminal applications and Linux, I disagree that they are incapable. Using the command line is less of an impenetrable monolith of inaccessibility, and more an ancient art ready to be rediscovered by the masses. We've grown accustomed to relinquishing control in an attempt to increase convenience. I believe we should stop and think about how much control is too much to hand over to corporations. We also have to consider that these corporations are in the business of exploiting and manipulating their user base with whatever control is handed to them. The beauty of Linux is that there is a Linux flavour for every user. I chose Linux Mint because it was friendly for newcomers, but there are plenty of distributions, like Ubuntu, that also cater to this group. There is also elementaryOS for those who want a more macOS feel. The idea is that Linux is only intimidating if you refuse to take the first step towards making the shift. There is a plethora of resources online to help new Linux users pick the best distribution for them, it is just a matter of taking the step to look.

Like everything in life, there is an eternal search for balance. Where is the fine-line between convenience and autonomy? When does that sacrifice of control grow too large? I can't say I have a good answer, but I believe the application pendulum is ready to swing away from bloated, centralized GUIs, and towards freer, minimal interfaces. I also believe there is no good reason to use Windows at all with the incredible variety of Linux distributions available. In order to get the pendulum swinging, I will do my part and continue learning all I can about the command line and terminal. As I continue down this path, I will share what I've learned and introduce those around me to the beauty and power of the bedrock of computing. If you're taking this journey as well, or if you've been on this path for years, I encourage you to share it with those in your circle. You never know what will click with someone, and after that, it's their journey to take and share with their circle.