Why Linux is Good for RSI Sufferers

Linux was born on 25th August 1991 when Linus Torvalds announced that he had created a new operating system on an online forum. The Linux that came out of that initial project was a kernel or the central part of a computer operating system, which communicates between the software and the hardware. Torvalds' original version was extremely limited and only ran on the specific hard disk drive that he owned, although it was easy enough for the technically minded to add the details for their hard disk into the source code and recompile the system. The fact that Torvalds provided the source code placed Linux as part of the then burgeoning free software movement, indeed he cites as the central point of its success the adoption of that movement's General Protection Licence. That license was at the heart of the GNU project that was building a free operating system. They were planning on making it into a complete operating system with a kernel called Hurd. The progress of Hurd was too slow and the combination of Linux and the GNU tools became what is sometimes referred to as the GNU/Linux operating system. Linux as a server system now powers the vast majority of the world's websites and without the free software to serve up pages the web might not have grown to the size that it has today. Linux as a kernel has also found a home in other operating systems, most notably in Android, which powers more smartphones than any other software system.

Back in the pioneering days of the 1990s Linux users would joke about looking forward to world domination, which seemed unlikely in a world dominated by Microsoft Windows. Linux has already achieved world domination or more accurately world wide web domination. Linux is dominant in the world of web hosting, but Torvalds' original vision was to develop a system for his desktop, not web servers or smartphones. Linux has had very limited success in the world of the desktop, by which I mean the computers on workers desks and that people have at home. This is primarily because computers come with either Windows or MacOS or ChromeOS (another Linux derivative) installed. Few people are like me and buy a Windows computer with the intention of wiping it to install Linux. Some users install Linux because their computer is no longer compatible with Windows 10 or most Apple software no longer runs on Power PC Macs. Others might get frustrated that Windows makes their laptop fan blow constantly and have used a live usb Linux distribution and discovered that a change of operating system to Linux will solve that problem. I have launched this website to help another group of people: repetitive strain injury sufferers. Linux will not help with RSI conditions caused by posture, but it can help with conditions caused by keyboard or mouse use. There are some solutions offered by Microsoft and Apple, such as sticky keys (no need to hold shift when typing a captial letter) or mousekeys (moving the mouse with the number pad on the keyboard). Those commercial systems are also much better at voice to text systems, which avoid the need to use a keyboard, but the main failing for RSI sufferers with Windows or MacOS is that Microsoft and Apple decide how the user interacts with the system and how much they want the user to be able to reconfigure that system. The main advantage of Linux for RSI sufferers is that Linux is just a kernel (the part of the operating system that communicates between the computer hardware and the software) and users can choose what software to install incuding what desktop environment to use. That means that Linux allows you to swap out a mouse-centric desktop environment for one that can be configured to reduce the mouse or keyboard interactions that trigger your RSI pain. our sip linux is designed to show you how to configure a Linux system to help RSI sufferers keep using their computers.

In the Linux world there is a confusing distinction between desktop environments and window managers. A user cannot interact with a graphical install without a window manager, but the most prominent setups for Linux distributions are desktop environments that include a manager, indeed some desktop environments allow a different window manager to be used. A comparision between Microsoft Windows and a Linux system running X Windows will be useful here. Windows was originally a graphical system that sat on top of Microsoft DOS, but over time Windows became the total system. X Windows remains an optional graphical layer on top of the Linux console, although most users use Linux as if it was a similar system. Both Windows and X Windows have terminal emulators that operate within the graphcal environment but function as if the user is working in DOS or a Linux console. For RSI sufferers whose pain is triggered by over use of the mouse working in DOS or the Linux console is better and the same can be said of Windows Shell or a Linux terminal emulator, because they are primarily keyboard driven. This is less true of Windows Shell because the surrounding Windows system is still very mouse centric. The same is true of some Linux desktop environments such as KDE, Gnome, or Enlightenment, but in Linux using them is a choice because X Windows remains distinct from the underlying system. Linux users cannot completely avoid the mouse because web browsing is such a key part of modern computer use, but it is possible to limit mouse use by switching to a different window manager. It is also possible to limit mouse use and the more painful aspects of apps, which is where our sip linux can aid Windows and Mac users as most Linux software has been ported to those more monolithic operating systems.

Linux is a help to RSI sufferers because Linux is just a kernel and so users can choice a different graphical user interface, unlike in Microsoft Windows or Apple MacOS. This website will explore the best options for alternative window managers or desktop environments and how to configure them to help keep RSI pain to a minimum. It will also look at what apps allow the appropriate levels of configuration to limit RSI pain when using them. Ironically the software that Linux geeks most joke about inducing RSI is also the one that can be best configured to avoid triggering the pain: GNU Emacs (which I currently using to write this web page). I will also discuss more general ways to lessen RSI pain, such as using Caps Lock rather than shift to type capital letters. Most of these solutions do not require the use of Linux, but there are greater advantages to using it than persevering with Windows or MacOS.


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