Why Linux is Best for RSI Sufferers

Linux vs Other Operating Systems

This website was originally intended to focus on Linux, which has been my main operating system for decades, but I decided that it was more important to write a website focused on RSI sufferers and to broaden the articles to address MacOS and Windows operating systems as well. Linux is the least popular of these three operating systems, not least because it does not come pre-installed in many computers. Only once in my time using Linux over the past three decades have I seen a computer for sale on a British high street that had Linux pre-installed. That was a temporary solution to the low resourced Acer One netbook coming out just as Microsoft stopped shipping the last lightweight version of their operating system. Microsoft relented and allowed Windows XP to be installed on netbooks. Indeed, I passed up my one opportunity to buy a high street Linux computer as I did not like the look of the version of Linux on the Acer One and bought the slightly more expensive Windows XP version instead. That anecdote makes clear that while I am a long term user and advocate of Linux that I am open-minded about other operating systems, indeed that Windows XP netbook was bought to replace an Apple iBook, in the days when an iBook was a laptop rather than Apple's version of an e-book. Nonetheless, I maintain that for RSI sufferers a Linux system is the best, because the core Linux principles of user choice and large repositories of approved software mean that Linux can be altered more easily to assist RSI sufferers, without the security risks involved with downloading Windows, and to a lesser extent of danger, MacOS applications.

Linux Freedom of Choice

The most popular Linux graphical environment is Gnome, but Linux allows the user to choose any other graphical environment. This is because Linux is a console (or non-graphical operating system) that most people use via a graphical user interface (or GUI), which they interact with via a window manager. Microsoft Windows used to be similar and prior to Windows XP (released in 1992, the year Linux was born) versions of Windows were GUIs that sat on top of MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System). The freedom to choose a different GUI means that RSI sufferers can dramatically alter how Linux operates simply by loading a different window manager. Depending on which Window Manager is chosen the user may have the opportunity to make a lot of other alterations that reduce pain inducing situations in their use of Linux. A more radical option is that an RSI sufferer can choose to run Linux without a GUI and stick to the console, which means that mouse (a source of much RSI pain) is not required.

This element of choice is very important for RSI sufferers because there are such a wide range of types of RSI. For example, some RSI sufferers find it painful to hold more than one key down at a time, but the majority of Linux window managers only allow keyboard shortcuts that require a modifier key (e.g., Alt or Control) to be held down at the same time as another key. Someone suffering this type of RSI would be advised to avoid console mode (where the Control key is very important) and to use the Fluxbox, Openbox, or BSPWM window managers, which all allow keys to be typed one at a time for window manager commands. It is common for RSI pain to be triggered by using the mouse and those suffering that type of pain could choose to use the console or a tiling window manager, both of which can be run entirely from the keyboard. Yet if a use also finds typing more than one key at a time

RSI Solution

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 capital 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 including 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.

Window Managers

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 comparison 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 graphical 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 choose 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.