The 3 year old (in industry terms, obsolete) netbook I’ve been writing most of these screeds on has been acting up of late, a trait common to it’s Windoze operating system. So it was time to try a Linux install, and I braced myself for hours and maybe even days in command line hell. Now Linux is an industrial strength operating system, an unrecognized brother of Unix that thanks to some sloppy intellectual property management by old AT&T is now free to all and has been adapted to run on everything from cell phones to mainframes. I did my first Linux install about 15 years ago to salvage an early “netbook” that could barely choke on windows, and it was a several weeks long process to get it more or less functional… well at least more functional than Windoze. Over the years I’ve install later linux distributions on aging PCs and even an iMac, and with each install it got easier.

So having prepared for battle, I picked “easy-peasy” linux and surf over to their website. What, no pages and pages of geeky manuals? Just clicked on the download button and waited for the slow small town library internet to download it via wi-fi. That was painless, so clicked on the next box to download an app to load the Linux onto a USB memory stick, and then a third button I clicked on to complete the job. Linux neatly boots up in all it’s traditional command line glory, followed closely by the GUI with Firefox and dozens of other familiar “faces”. Dang, it can’t be this easy, gotta get wifi and a bunch of other stuff working. Couple clicks takes care of that, a few more minutes and I’ve got FaceBook and my e-mail configured. Get home and in similar fashion the system recognizes my cell modem and that works too. A free operating system that works better than overpriced dysfunctional Windoze… What’s not to like?

Now open source has been such a success in software that “hardware” is going open source too. Yup, all over the world gearheads are collaboratively making better and often cheaper parts of machines, wheeled or otherwise. One of the best examples are the airheads, where gearheads are keeping decades old BMWs alive and running better than ever with freely given knowledge, loaned tools, and affordable reproductions and brand new and improved replacements for original parts and tools. Heck, there’s several “groupsourced” projects to design and build entire vehicles as we speak. Meanwhile, in grimy old industrial buildings, a whole new generation of gearheads have created the “maker” movement, building everything from amusing gadgets to functional works of CNC machined art. Like a choir in a death camp, the human spirit will always rise above any challenge!

On the other side, doing their best to hold back this revolution of hackers, software and mechanical, are Microsoft, your cell phone company, the assembled might of much of the automakers, and their lawyers. Want a service manual for that shiny new car, for five years down the road when it’s out of warranty and you can’t afford a new one for ten? ‘Twas just shopping for a service manual for a Chevy Cruze, closest thing I found was the set of four going for near $500 on Amazon. My ’98 Ranger’s 3 manuals run about $300, and I can’t even find a source for a 2013. Even VW’s printer, who’s happily supplied us with a comprehensive factory manual for about $100, list no manuals for anything newer than a 2010. Worse yet are the new “online” manual services, typically priced so high only  dealers can afford them and probably downright discontinued after a decade or so. The manual for my 2007 BMW F800S was never available in print, only on CD and only readable on Windoze… Let’s see, Windoze probably has less than five years to live, and in five years the only thing that will probably play CDs is reading devices for the blind… Thus any late model BMW is on borrowed time, likely to be buried in the back of the garage come the first major malfunction once the CD manuals and their playback devices die. And why buy a new Cruze diesel now, when Haynes may not even cover the diesel engine in their increasingly thin manuals?

Clearly, the auto and motorcycle industry is following the same business model that worked so well for Micro$oft… Until Linux came along, Apple woke from their sleep, and a downsized knockoff of Linux called Android took up residence in most of our smartphones. After a major recession cut half their volume in half, the automakers figured that if they could just deny us the knowledge to fix old cars, we’d have to buy new ones from them. They forgot that most of us can’t afford new cars anyway, and the major beneficiaries of this half brained business plan will be mass transit… After GM sold off their bus and locomotive building operations! As the saying goes… “Bankrupting your customers is not a sustainable business plan”. Clearly much of the auto industry, and GM especially, didn’t learn much from their near death experience.

Sure, I can afford a new car and bike every few years so I no longer have to face the hell of an expensive repair that I can’t make myself thanks to the manufacturers locking down of repair manuals and parts. But it’s the principle of the thing, and unless I can buy reasonably priced manuals and parts along with the vehicle, no sale. With three airheads, a but ten year old VW diesel, and a good set of tools, I’m good…