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What Computer Operating System Would Socrates Use?
by Max Maxwell

Since no computer Operating System in existence provides us with the direct information and computational utility needed to bring us the wisdom of how to become more virtuous human beings, Socrates would not have an automatic favorite OS. However, there is a set of computer operating systems that are created in the kind of cooperative, non-profit, community spirit that Socrates would have appreciated and recognized. Socrates engaged in the same type of cooperative effort during his own philosophical search for truth. FOSS, or Free Open Source Software, is created in an open community of developers who desire to positively impact the public good by donating their time and knowledge to create free and very useful software. This built-in sense of good citizenship would have impressed Socrates. The civic-minded Free Open Source Software Community serves and enhances the public good by using the power of non-corporate, public cooperative efforts to produce quality software that can be distributed, used and modified at no cost. Just as Socrates believed that all ideas and forms of reasoning should be laid out in the open for the free examination of all, the Free Open Source Software community makes all of its' source code available to the public.

The Free Open Source Software community values the public discussion and scrutiny of technical issues pertaining to source code, opposes the intrusion of commercial interests resulting in proprietary source code and advocates that all persons have complete freedom to use, examine and modify existing FOSS code for their own purposes. Socrates, who focused more generally on ideas than on source code, also believed in the free and public discussion of ideas. He also objected to the impositions of commercial interests in which sophists would sell their proprietary knowledge at exorbitant prices. Socrates was also an advocate of people freely using and modifying ideas to serve their own lives. This kind of free experimentation with public ideas characterized Socrates' own life.

Socrates could have made a lot of money for his teaching services if he ran it exclusively as a for-profit business. He was popular with many of the educated elite of his time and had a wealthy and ready clientele that would have paid him very well. However, he chose instead to give away most of his services for free to whomever was willing to answer questions. He considered this type of free participation in the public creation, examination and modification of ideas to be his duty as a citizen of a democracy. I have no doubt that the historical Socrates, after being struck completely spellbound for two days at the very idea of thinking machines, would have wholeheartedly endorsed FOSS. Free Open Source Software is created in the same kind of open community spirit that Socrates knew to be at the heart of all good citizenship.  Both FOSS and the Socratic Method run on the same spirit of community and service to the public good.

The Socratic Method as practiced by Socrates, except for the total lack of computer hardware and source code, was actually a good example of an Open Source community. If ideas can be seen for a moment as the software of the human mind, all ideas were discussed and developed in the open. Nobody in the community was forbidden to make a contribution. Nor was anyone allowed to claim a priority stake in a new idea for the sake of profiting materially. This practice of free and open philosophical inquiry was conducted by Socrates in the context of a full Athenian democracy (as opposed to the political structure of a partially democratic republic such as in the U.S.). In a full democracy, every citizen is required to make a contribution to the development, maintenance and running of their government. For the citizen of a democracy, to fail to take part in the governance of your country is to fail to be a good citizen. Modern FOSS communities, with their open and participatory structure, may be the closest thing to full democracy in the west. Socrates would have recognized FOSS as being created within the same cooperative structures and community spirit with which he conducted his own lifestyle of philosophical inquiry.

During our current economic downturn, it is good to know that computer users do not have to pay for new software or pay to upgrade existing software. With Free Open Source Software, not only can you save yourself a lot of money, but you can participate in community projects that have more of the spirit of good citizenship built into them than all of the for-profit software in the world combined.

Recommended FOSS Operating System*: For the average user, the best choice to try a FOSS operating system is likely to be a version of Linux called Ubuntu. Ubuntu is FOSS and comes with other Free Open Source Software for office work, photo manipulation, email, internet and more. Ubuntu is one of the easiest versions of Linux to install and use. You can try Ubuntu without touching anything on your current operating system by downloading the live CD file, burning the file to a CD and running Ubuntu off the CD. Download Live CD  When you put the CD in you will get a boot menu. To use the live CD option choose, "Try Ubuntu without change to your computer." The live CD also has installation options if you decide to switch from windows.

Perhaps the safest and most user friendly option to actually install Ubuntu on your hard drive is through WUBI. WUBI installs Ubuntu into a Windows folder as if it were merely an application and allows Windows to remain on your system. The result is that you can boot into either operating system. This is a good way to try Ubuntu beyond the live CD experience. For the love of Wisdom, always backup all of your data before attempting to install an OS!!!

Good Reasons to try Ubuntu Linux:

1. Its Free and all upgrades are free! It also comes with lots of other free software!

2. It runs excellently on older computers. You can resurrect an old computer with a new OS and it can actually run better than when it was new! This also means you can get more mileage off your current machine without worrying about it getting clobbered by the next resource devouring and financially costly release of Windows. You can also buy much cheaper new machines and run them with an OS that actually works very well on lower spec machines! (as opposed to Vista just claiming it works on low specs) In some cases, an older machine running Ubuntu will outperform a new machine running Windows Vista!

3. Faster, more secure and more stable than Windows. Runs better and is MUCH less prone to viruses.

4. It is easy to install, learn and use!

5. Socrates loves Free Open Source Software!

Bad Reasons to Just Stay with Windows:

1. Ubuntu is a funny name.

2. I do not wish to learn anything new. (Socrates disapproves of this!)

3. Open source is hacker stuff. I do not want to do anything illegal. (Such ideas are just false. Open Source Software is not only perfectly legal, but demonstrates the very best public citizenship of any software development model in existence.)

4. I do not use my computer for much, just checking email, surfing the web and a few letters. (You are exactly the kind of person for whom Linux based operating systems work very well, once it is installed properly.)

5. I do not want to do any work to test a good idea. (Socrates frowns on this!)

Other Free Open Source Software

If you are keeping your current operating system, then there are other Free Open Source Software packages that run on your OS! Below is a list of software programs with their Free Open Source Software equivalent.

Proprietary Software                            Free Open Source Software
Microsoft Office Open Office (Win, Mac, Linux)
Photoshop Gimp (Win, Mac, Linux)
Internet Explorer FireFox - vastly superior, more secure and with 1000's of plugins to customize your browsing. (Win, Mac, Linux)
Messenger Software: AIM, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, Groupwise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, QQ, SILC, SIMPLE, Sametime, XMPP, Yahoo!, Zephyr All can be replaced with Pidgin
(Win, Mac, linux)
Adobe Acrobat PDFCreator (Win)
Programming tools: Notepad++ - (Win) is a source code editor that can syntactically highlight the code from various programming and scripting languages. Supported languages : C, C++, Java, C#, XML, HTML, PHP, CSS, makefile, ASCII art (.nfo), doxygen, ini file, batch file, Javascript, ASP, VB/VBS, SQL, Objective-C, RC resource file, Pascal, Perl, Python, Lua, TeX, TCL, Assembler, Ruby, Lisp, Scheme, Properties, Diff, Smalltalk, Postscript, VHDL, Ada, Caml, AutoIt, KiXtart, Matlab, Verilog, Haskell, InnoSetup,
CMake, YAML.

Python (Win, Mac, Linux)
Open Source programming platform:

You can find Open Source alternatives for many software packages described at:



*DISCLAIMER: I am not saying Socrates would recommend Ubuntu, just FOSS generally. Also, work on your own computer at your own risk. This website is not responsible for any damages, loss of value, personal injury, philosophical confusion or crazy ideas you might get while trying to alter your computer or testing new software!


Copyright 2008 Kenneth Maxwell
All Rights Reserved.