A Path to Eventual Computing Freedom Through Linux on Windows
As a tech enthusiast, I understand the importance of having control over my computing experience. I've seen how the industry has shifted away from user control, but I believe that Linux on Windows can help us reclaim our freedom. With the right tools, we can take advantage of Microsoft's inclusion of Linux to be more productive and regain the control we lost. MyKoz.AI is a great way to start the journey to eventual computing freedom.
Discovering My Path to Computing Freedom Through Linux on Windows
By Michael Levin
Saturday, August 26, 2023
Okay, so what you want to look and even “feel” for in tech to show you that you’ve slipped down an dangerous rabbit hole is things becoming mysterious to you and even out of your control. Is your phone or PC ever really off? Somewhere around the mid-2000’s as Microsoft was solving their problem with rampant virus and trojans, and also around when the iPhone was coming out, there was great change in the air. Things started working better and the public at large got quite happy about it. You no longer needed to be a geek just to keep your Windows PC running with recurring SpyBot and hard drive defrag runs. Things just started working well.
What happened? Another side-loaded operating system was slipped onto your machine called Minix. It’s a tiny remote-controlled version of Unix that’s always there running even when you PC is off, with its own whole network hardware and everything. It’s called IME for Intel Management Engine, and all Intel processors have had this backdoor built-in since about 2008. The funny thing is that Minix was the OS that students were taught Unix-like OSes on before Linux became so popular. So even though Linux won in the hearts and minds of people, the hardware manufacturers looking for a better way to butt into your hardware made Unix even more widely installed on consumer hardware.
Intel’s backdoor Unix OS IME is what handles your PC going to sleep and waking up so well. It’s not unique to Intel-based hardware. AMD and Apple both have their own versions. It’s what turns the hardwired on/off-button into more of a software request for turning on or off. In short, things started working better but were taken out of your control because of remote-maintenance of your devices by a patriarchal Microsoft and Apple. And Google too, now that Android is such a major computing platform. Probably better than anything else, this movement to remote-management of your hardware symbolizes that loss-of-control moment in tech. It was accompanied by BIOS being replaced by UEFI, so citizens don’t control their hardware “boot sequences” much for themselves either.
It’s quite had for an individual to oppose these market forces. It’s easier to just lean into it and get cool new hardware that just works. And it works so much better than it used to. Systems don’t get bogged-down over time quite as much as they used to. PCs are turned into zombies as part of zombie-nets less than they used to be. Or more accurately, the zombie-net is an official one belonging to the hardware manufacturers. But they have to stay more-or-less benign so it doesn’t cause a public outcry. Quietly snooping is the rule. And again, it’s best just to lean into it to get the best latest platforms at the best prices and stay compatible with games. Compatibility now means compatibly with PC-gaming now, right?
Small inroads have been made with non-Windows and non-Apple systems. Things like the Steam Engine that works on Linux. But just as the corruption of the Android platform shows us, it’s not that Linux is immune from these corporate overlording. It’s that they’re simply not used by enough people to bother. And as soon as they are, the rules change. The systems change. The mainstreamed Linux-based platforms get their own built-in versions of the Intel Management Engine.
So do we have any hope of free computing? And do we have any hope of understanding and controlling what’s going on in our own systems? Of course we do! But the real question is can an average citizen who doesn’t want to dedicate all their free time and excess capacity to fighting the mainstream ever practice free computing and enjoy deep understanding and control of what’s going on with their systems?
Yes! In 2012 the Raspberry Pi foundation helped reassert that type of control. Strip almost everything out of a computer but the bare essentials, and what’s left is that much easier to understand and control. It echoed what went on in the 1980s with the BBC Micro and Commodore 64, 8-bit systems that did quite a lot, became quite beloved, and many people understood down to the bare metal silicon. While few are ever going to go that retro, it does illuminate some interesting paths, if only you have the general tech skills to navigate such paths. Most don’t, but many could benefit from it.
I’m not advocating becoming any sort of old-school hacker or dedicating any more than say 25% of your free discretionary time to such skills. This is because it should also be able to take 25% of your professional time as well, because these old-school skills apply just as much to the professional world as they do personal computing.
Know what’s going on in your machine by being able to conveniently, and almost as a matter of automatic muscle memory, be able to peek and poke around all the textfiles comprising your system. And it is textfiles comprising your system, believe me. In those cases where it’s a “binary file” that’s been “compiled” for your system, it was once a textfile. Denying you access to those original textfiles is one of the big principles behind the free and open source software movement (FOSS). If you own and use a system, you should be able to open it up and look at how it works. That’s what the FOSS movement believes, and this is what vendors do not want you to be able to do. It’s tied to your right to repair. It’s tied to your right to upgrade. Europe and the EU takes these freedoms much more seriously than the United States.
So because the Internet and Web are so democratizing and inherently fighting these vendor desires to shut you out of the operations of systems, it’s necessary for the vendors to take control of the Internet and Web in unexpected ways that let them “wedge” their desires into the operation of FOSS resources. This is not merely to insert some control over FOSS but it is also for pure survival reasons because Linux for example has gained so much credibility in the Server and Cloud market space that failing to service developers by providing them the Linux tools they want and need (learned in school, have adopted for career, etc.) would lose platforms like Windows their credibility, and thus the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).
So the main tool of FOSS, the Linux free and open source operating system that took up the slack of Unix when Unix became embroiled in legal intellectual property battles, is now built into Windows 10 and 11. Or at least fairly good support for it is built in. And this provides the perfect gameplan for reducing you dependency on vendors, right while using the best of what they have to offer.
The loss of control through the mid-2000s registered with me. But I was happy enjoying the virus and trojan-free benefits of a new and more stable Windows along with the rest of the world. We hardly felt it happening and didn’t think it was necessarily so good for the vendors as we laughed at Windows Millennium, Windows Vista, Windows Metro and all those weird versions that felt like Microsoft was ending up with egg on their faces. With their revenue streams protected by locked-in corporate adoption and reliable (forced) upgrade cycles, Microsoft was free to focus on the important stuff.
All the really important stuff was happening under the surface with Windows NT’s innovations of “circles of protection” that allowed virtualisation to work so well to be rolled out as the underpinnings of all the Windows OSes. And with the advent of the Internet Management Engine (IME) and also the hardware-level support for virtualisation from Intel called hypervisor (AMD had their own version), everything sort of fell into place for Windows just becoming awesome, stable, extremely patriarchal and controlling, and all that stuff like Vista that we make fun of just a shell-game of skinning inconsequential graphical user interface details (GUI) the OS this way and that.
Happily, we have a path to freedom. It’s not a right away thing. But it is a plan-now sort of thing. You can plan now and start changing the way you work day-to-day to create the habits you need to hop from platform to platform, vendor-provided or not. If it’s a cobbled together home-computer from a Raspberry Pi (virtually free these days), then fine. You’ll be comfortable and productive. It’s a top of the line Alienware gaming machine, then also fine. You’ll be just as comfortable and productive.
That’s MyKoz.AI. It has a bit less to do with AI than its name might imply. It’s really a way of taking advantage of how Microsoft basically had to include Linux with Windows for credibility and viability as a machine modern developers might want. It even puts Windows ahead of Macs for development because Macs are based on Unix, and Unix is not really what the world works on anymore, except maybe for DNS-servers running BIND and the versions of IME Minix running on your PC right now which does you no good as a development platform because it’s so hidden away. That leaves Linux on Windows as the #1 path for folks looking for a path to eventual computing freedom.