Individual Citizen Republic Project ™: THE SYSTEM (x-devian), 2003

x-devian is part of an installation promoting the fictive operating
system x-devian, which is a conceptual repackaging of Ubuntu’s latest
desktop version of the Linux distribution Debian. However, while
the installation distributes an actual piece of free software, it does
not simply distribute the source code and functionalities of x-devian
so much as the cultural vocabulary, discourses, and ideas of free
software—in particular, free software operating systems. Judging by
the “front end” of the installation, x-devian looks like standard
commercial proprietary software. Presented in a setting that resembles
a stand at a fair and with a design appropriated from Apple’s Mac
OSX Panther operating system, it epitomizes the image of a desirable
consumer product in the field of technology. In a poster covering an
entire wall, a larger-than-life hand holds out a disk with the logo of
the operating system written on it, suggesting that x-devian is a gift—
or, perhaps, an offer—from the gods of the IT industry. Thus, the setting
encourages the user to be in awe of the wonders of the operating
system and accept the gift as a unique opportunity to be included in
the next technological “evolution of the species.”
However, behind this seductive surface, the “back end” of the installation
tells a different story, one in which the wonders of x-devian
are not the creation of the IT industry but of free software culture.
In a darkened space resembling a cave or secret lab, the installation
discloses the true content of the system and how it is really involved
with economics of a rather different kind; namely, those of free software.
Through a diversity of material related to free software culture,
this part of the installation not only presents x-devian as an operating
system supporting creative practices that resist prepackaged product
thinking but also explore hacks, continuous speculation, and processes
of experimentation.
Rather than emphasizing the disconnect between the front and
back end of the x-devian, the installation suggests that the development
of an aesthetics or even poetics of free software is inherent to
an understanding and development of its unique form of progressive
resistance. The significance and capabilities of free software need to
be developed not only on the code level but also on the cultural level
and must be communicated in new imaginary and visionary ways
that trump the myths of proprietary software.


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