Appliances: Revisited

In my last blog I discussed why I believe that appliances are a different beast from computers. In this post, I will proceed to contradict myself, because if we're going to get any good material about this topic we're going to have to make mistakes.

The idea of an appliance, but with user control. An ideal.

What's the problem with an Xbox 360? It plays great games, broad media center applications, and it works without fuss or effort. Naturally, repair options are terrible; both spare parts and the knowledge required pale in comparison to desktops. But the biggest issue? Control.

The computer industry is run by people who want control; they've had it for years. You want a CD? You better get it from them. You want a game? You connect to their servers, on their time frame, and in their hands. Your OS has bugs? You had better hope that patching those bugs is worth company time.

I write this blog because I believe that control should be in the hands of the user. GNU/Linux, huzzah. If anyone wants to read more about that, go read some Stallman essays; his intellectual monopoly on free software Kantian philosophy can barely be matched by a sophmore in college.

What makes minimalism different in GNU/Linux is because you're trying to achieve the pinnacle of an appliance while keeping the control in your own hands. The very fact that you were able to install an operating system and understand how it works in the briefest of levels: this matters, now. You found it and stuck with it because it was open and free and it worked for you.

Minimalism in Linux is about getting the appliance focus and effort, without the lack of control or repair options. Hardware control? Any desktop from a rummage sale can run Debian, and if a part stops working, the internet has a new piece for ten dollars. Software control? That's where we get somewhere.

Linux allows us to delete at our whim. Suddenly, it's not a handheld device manufacturer saying "you can't do that on our phone." This is me saying "I won't run a word processor on my computer because it's inefficient."

If you don't see the difference between "You can't run Flash because we won't let you; it's too inefficient" and "I won't run Flash because I won't install it; it's too inefficient" you've lost a grasp on what makes minimalism powerful: personalization. Minimalism is subjective and in many ways nebulous without personal interpretation.

Appliance-foisted minimalism is a path, but it's not the only one. That's not my minimalism. A picture of a clean iPhone no more proves that a user "gets it" than a picture of a refrigerator proves that a user of such "gets" how to pick a pretty fridge. Hopefully that's what's right for them and the many that choose that path, and to be fair, of all of the logical fallacies, argumentum ad populum was always my favorite.

Minimalism is finding our tools and stripping them down in our own way to meet our own needs. It's about keeping that focus and keeping that mindset that appliances bring, but removing the control from the hands of the companies and placing it back into the hands of consumers. Computers started with an open design and we've been tweaking ever since. To forgo the openness of the computer concept is to destroy the notion for a computer entirely.

Appliances are not evil. But a lack of control is not my path. And that's why this blog exists.

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