Unix Songs

Unix Songs

UNIX is the only major industrialised Western society not to have a Conservative Party, unless you count South Africa. There is no-one to stand athwart interface changes, yelling "STOP!"

Year by year, fewer and fewer of the interfaces and behaviours which have been expected on UNIX/Linux systems still obtain.

They had no right to take away sort +n

They had no right to take away tail +n

They had no right to make everything depend on DBus

They had no right to make the resolver library multithreaded, preventing you from interrupting ping with ^C.

Don't even get me started on replacements for SVR4's init, as I'm still waiting for them to stabilise. Or Mozilla. For fuck's sake, when did we lose the ability to display unrendered content in the browser window without "View Source"? For how many years were telnet:// URLs only available in, get this!, Internet Explorer, while fake security concerns held up the unconflation of MIME types and URL schemes in Firefox? When did the keyboard focus stop being in the browser window after a page loaded, such that I could use the arrow keys to scroll the page without having to click on it first? I know it's an accessiblity feature, but do I look disabled? When did all the keybindings change to resemble those I never learnt by never using Windows? It's just too much. No I will not file a fucking ticket.

Ubuntu even managed to break olvwm, a window manager which has had no new features since the Clinton Administration, such that it could not display a single window. They forgot to break olwm, so I fell back to that instead. Take that, Progress Cowboys! A graphical environment with so few dependencies it consumes practically negative disk space. Both window managers use the config file I have not had to update in fifteen years.

This crap is really not making the world a better place for anyone, unless you count Mark Shuttleworth (who is South African).

If SunOS 4 was good enough for Jesus Christ, it should be good enough for Canonical's user base.

Backwards compatibility on Linux is being broken in order to minimise the switching costs for users migrating from Windows, and of course this only enrages an entirely different sort of purist, the jaunty Free Software minstrels, with their merry musical celebrations of the honour and derring-do of the hacker of old ...

I refer of course to the Free Software Song, one of the most oppressive of all the works of human creativity, or at least of Richard Stallman's. This song shares -- see what I did there? ... The song shares the peculiar property, that observers cannot determine whether the author is incompetent, deliberately hoaxing or downright sadistic, with such pinnacles of accomplishment as Steve Mauldin's rendition of "O Holy Night" and the GNU Project's all new and backwardly-incompatible GRUB2, "a bootloader stamping on a human face, forever".

The Free Software Song really is totally awful. It is both parasite and curse on actual, legitimate music. Stallman is a hero who managed to keep UNIX the same for about a decade, yet he has a tragic flaw. Here he is, perpetrating the Free Software Song. There is no other word for it. And check out those other guys with him - possibly accomplices, or just nervously singing along in case of reprisals? That could have been you, or your kids.

What is bad about this song is not the tune. The tune is a decoy, calculated only to provoke. It's not the singing, as that's fixable. It's not even exactly the lyrics, disgrace a MacGonagall though they would. What's wrong is that the song isn't really about free software. It's about copyleft in software, and not all free software is copyleft, not even all of Richard Stallman's software. And of course, there's copyleft in non-software goods. What the lyrics do get right is a sort of smug moral superiority.

No, no, no, the celebration of Free Software in song needs to be a celebration of smug superiority, both intellectual and moral. There is a difference - I have it written down somewhere. Seriously: different computer systems appeal to people of different levels of intelligence. We should expect, ceteris paribus, brighter users to use software for clever people, and the low-watt gurglers to slum it with Windows, or VMS or whatever. At least, that is what Apple's marketing department wants the latte set to think.

Free Software is for people who want to be able to do things for themselves because they get a mental kick out of it. It's for someone who is simply above hacking in BASIC and Java. For someone who actually wants to type at that command line, because once you know how, it's easier. For someone who's prepared to put in the mental effort to do things properly, if it'll be worth the payoff, or maybe even if it's not. For someone who's expressed so much of quantum mechanics in terms of the lambda calculus that he's in danger of literally disappearing up his own arse, at least if George Berkeley was correct.

To these people, the enemy is not Proprietary Software, but Wrongness. PHP is Wrong. MySQL is wrong. Whatever those Microsoft server-side scripting languages are called, they are probably wrong too. HyperCard? Very Wrong. Not providing a programmatic interface? Heresy. Using the wrong amount of indirection? Very very wrong. Fuck, even using the wrong amount of indentation is wrong! Interface slickness above functionality? The ultimate sin. Unclean! Unclean!

And we know how it happens - the Vichy technologists at Apple, having finished ensuring there's DRM on MIDI files of mediaeval church music, are coming down off a coke high and the guy in the black turtleneck without the goatee is like "Let's change the number of buttons this thing has, to ... the square-root of minus one!". Awesome! High five!

And so begins another user expectation, which five years later will get inflicted on me via apt-get. All the little pesky UI quirks of Operating Systems that are simply different will end up in Linux where I don't want them. When ^A selects all text, rather than moving me to the beginning of the line, it's another resented unconsenting concession to the great unwashed. Screw sharing. I do not want to have to share my user interface with people who want to use a different one. There are whole asscircuses going bankrupt, because all their assclowns are off randomly transposing stuff between operating systems (or indeed legal systems, if you're unlucky enough to live in the EU).

Ultimately, if it's a choice between proper UNIX with an infidel hipster frontend, and the OS on which the common man does his daily toil, I know which I'd choose.

And so I've written a song, about the true spirit of Free Software.

To the tune of "Oh I'd rather be at Oxford than St John's" / "She'll be coming 'round the mountain"

Oh I'd rather dual-boot Windows than use Macs
Yes I'd rather dual-boot Windows than use Macs
It just hit me in a sudden
Where's the sodding right mouse button?
Oh I'd rather dual-boot Windows than use Macs

And I'd rather hack in Perl than PHP
Yes I'd rather hack in Perl than PHP
Not for code I'd trust my life on
After all for that there's Python
So I'd rather hack in Perl than PHP

And I don't know why I use MySQL
No I don't know why I use MySQL
I could use Postgres and do it right
Or even SQLite
No I don't know why I use MySQL

And I must admit Mozilla's slightly shit
Yes I must admit Mozilla's slightly shit
If I wanted Windows in the home
I'd apt-get install Gnome
Yes I must admit Mozilla's slightly shit

So I'd rather dual-boot Windows than use Macs
Yes I'd rather dual-boot Windows than use Macs
If they'd make the middle fucking button
Fucking paste what I've been cuttin'
Yes I'd rather dual-boot Windows than use Macs

In the same fit of pique, I also had time to parody "There'll Always Be a Menzies", to the tune of "There'll Always Be an England". If you're not up on obscure Australian political trivia, well, that's your own fault.

There'll always be a formmail
While there's a PHP
'Cause they've been passing inputs through
Since 1993