Ever read a story so depressing, so utterly devoid of happiness, that you wonder why on Earth any fool would take the time to write it down? Just solid sadness beginning to end.
This, right here, is one of those stories.
This dismal little tale also makes use of what is quite possibly the most over-used (and over-rated) plot device in the history of mankind: the butterfly effect. You know: the notion that a simple little thing can have extreme consequences. A butterfly flaps its wings in Sheboygan, and two days later, a hurricane hits Walla Walla. Because—the butterfly effect. Just a dreadful crutch used by hack writers to move forward a story when they can’t come up with any original ideas.
On the bright side, this is a story about Linux. So, it’s got that going for it.
Now that I’ve properly sold you on this little yarn, let’s begin.
On Aug. 25, 1991, two critical events took place:
- Cheers won its 4th Emmy award for Outstanding Comedy Series (because, come on, it’s Cheers) and
- Linus Torvalds announced the creation of his new operating system kernel to the world—the kernel we now know as Linux.
The Linux kernel would some time later gain a mascot: a penguin we lovingly call Tux. Over the years, Linus has joked that he chose the penguin to be the official mascot because he was once bitten by a penguin, thus infecting him, in his words, “with a little-known disease called penguinitis. Penguinitis makes you stay awake at nights just thinking about penguins and feeling great love towards them."
Is that story true? Let’s assume for the sake of this story, whose premise could use all the help it can get, that it is totally, 100 percent, for-realsies true.
What if (I think some of you are seeing where this is going) our strapping, young Finnish man was never bitten by a penguin? What if he never contracted penguinitis? And what if—WHAT IF—penguinitis also causes an overwhelming desire to build your own operating system. Without contracting this disease, Linus never even had the notion of building the Linux kernel in the first place.
In fact, he got bored of engineering altogether. He changed majors and became a dental hygienist—for cats.
Linux simply…never was.
What would our world look like without Linux?
What would the world look like right now—all these years later—if Linux were never created? What would our daily lives look like? What actual, real-world impact would the simple act of a penguin not biting a Finnish man have on the lives of people on the other side of the world?
Well, as luck would have it [ahem], we happened to gain access to a (totally real) set of posts from the FriendFace account of a man living in an alternate universe that bears a striking resemblance to the one we just described. I present those to you now—unedited. You’re welcome.
Perhaps the existence of a single, free software video game—in this case, Tux Racer—is not the most critical of differences between that universe and our own. But it is a difference just the same. And it haunts alternate-universe-Bryan’s dreams.
In the pre-Linux days, Windows and macOS weren’t exactly known for their stability—with the “Sorry, a system error occurred” bomb and the dreaded “Blue Screen of Death” occurring often enough to drive users of those systems to the brink of near madness. What if they never had to compete with stable systems? What if the trend of intense instability continued and spread?
Horrifying, I say. Horrifying.
Right about now you’re probably noticing something that has far-reaching consequences to the happiness of us as humans: In this Linux-free, alternate universe, Comic Sans is the default font. Everywhere.
Seriously. Activating systems, like Windows, has gotten out of hand in our world. Could you imaging how much worse it could be?
Also, apparently Richard Stallman’s message of the “Four Freedoms” never really took off in that other universe, leaving Richard without steady employment. Times are tough over there.
I know what you’re thinking: “They have hashtags in this universe?” The answer is yes. Hashtags are invented in every possible universe. It is known across all of time and space as #TheConstant.
Also, “If It’s Not Closed, I’m Opposed” is rather catchy. Other popular hashtags in this universe include “#OpenShmopen” and “#FreedomIsFreedumb”.
I’d like to take this moment to have a conversation with you. I will be providing your words. It’s just easier that way.
You: “Hold on a cotton-pickin’ second. Are you telling me that if Linus doesn’t get bitten by a penguin, streaming TV wouldn’t work well enough to watch a single show, email would be replaced by a Microsoft invention called Pass-A-Note—whose server would just take time-outs—computers would need to be activated multiple times per day, the internet would fail, and people would shun open source entirely? All because there’s no Linux?”
Me: “Seems that way.”
You: “Isn’t that a bit of a stretch?”
Me: “Probably. But, hey, prove me wrong. I would also like to point out that these FriendFace posts end at lunch time. Could you imagine what the afternoon has in store?”
So, there you have it. The most compelling case, provided by social media posts from an alternate universe, for why being bitten by flightless birds is a good idea.
Also, thanks for the last 25 years, Linux. You made this universe a lot less crummy than that other, stupid universe.