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Archive for February, 2010

just work

February 27, 2010 Leave a comment

When strip away all pretensions, we’re all essentially just users when it comes to computers, regardless of whether it’s writing software or posting in blogs that we use the computer for. At the end of the day we’re all users and we all, at least one some level, want for it to just work.
And unfortunately this is where a lot of software fails us. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all, other times it does things we least expect it to do and it’s very frustrating. For instance MS changed something in the networking configuration of their most recent operating systems, Vista, Win7, Win Server 2008. They’re very good at coming up with fancy names, but the point is that as a result of these changes, nowadays when you hook up a machine running one of these fancy new OS’s to an existing network consisting of Win2k and XP machines and you go into Network, expecting to see those other computers there, you see nothing, apart maybe from that lone WinVista laptop your boss bought just the other day and forgot to tell you about. Then you have to go into the Network and Sharing Centre, where you’re confronted by the question about whether your network is public or private and then you try to turn on network discovery but it won’t turn on, so you go online and search for info on why it’s not working because Win Help just tells you to turn on Network Discovery, and finally you come across some obscure forum frequented primarily by Indian IT professionals where you find that for network discovery to work several services have to be running, which are either started manually or disabled by default. And at this point you can’t help but wonder why does everything have to be made so complicated and counter-intuitive, while can’t MS configure their systems out of the box in such a way that when you connect the cable, they just see the other computers on the network without you having to waste half a day jumping through hoops that shouldn’t even be there.
And I mean OK, I can sort of understand this sort of thing when it’s a free Linux distro, after all you don’t have to pay for it plus tweaking it is part of the appeal; some of those distros are like boxes of software toys for the ultimate hobbyist, but Windows, people pay for it, so isn’t it supposed to “just work”
And before you go singing praises of Mac OS X, from what little I’ve seen of it, it doesn’t always “just work” either.
Well, it’s an imperfect world, perhaps I expect too much from it.

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too much choice can sometimes be a bad thing

February 24, 2010 3 comments

If you talk to techies, perhaps 9 out of ten will tell you that Linux is a much better operating system than Windows; they will usually mention how it’s more secure than Windows, how it’s based on the venerable Unix line of operating systems which were designed with multi-tasking in mind from the very start, some might mention how in Linux you can do everything from the command line (although few mere mortals will be sold on this point).

Anyway, in recent years Linux has generated enough buzz for IT lay people to begin to take a more active interest in it, which means that more and more ordinary users are being tempted to try Linux. And it’s usually at this stage that they run into their first obstacle; when we say Windows it’s plain and clear that what we mean is usually the latest incarnation of MS Windows, currently it’s Windows 7, yes a couple of years ago after the not-too-successful release of Vista, people made distinctions between XP (good) and Vista (bad), but still in the Windows World our choice is always very limited, you can choose between an older version and the latest version and that’s about it. Not so with Linux, the first fact of life a potential Linux user has to come to grips with in the Linux world is that Linux is essentially a blanket term for a large number of operating systems, the so called distros (distributions). Two most prominent families in this plethora of Linuxes are Red Hat and Debian, they differ in how they handle the installation and removal of software, which in practical terms means that software writers have to package their products differently for Debian and RH based distros. But there are also other distros that aren’t based on either of the two major branches.

Well, on the one hand, such abundance of choice is a good thing, theoretically depending on what you want to do on your computer, you can choose a Linux distro that best suits your purposes and of course since Linux is open source, an aspiring techie may tell you that if you want real Linux hard core, you must get the source code, make changes there to really customize the system for your needs and then get it compiled for your specific hardware configuration. I suspect, however, that few of the people who praise Linux for its ability to be compiled from the freely available source code, have actually gone through the processes. Well anyway, whether it’s a purely theoretical notion, obviously some people find that it’s good to know it’s there. And it may come in handy, I’ve heard at least one story about a company that re-compiled their server Linux from  altered source code because it lacked some feature they desperately needed and it helped in that situation.

But, about about people like us, i.e. mere mortals, who primarily use computers for things other than compiling operating systems from source code. You know,  things like surfing the net, watching movies, or listening to music. The abundance of choice in the Linux world can be quite intimidating to the uninitiated. I suspect there must be quite a few people out there who’ve been toying with the idea of switching to Linux for some time and who’ve plowed through dozens of articles comparing various distros only to be left undecided about which one is best for them.  After all it’s not like each distro tries to target a specific audience, essentially they all offer the same basic set of features. Ok, if you have an old PC that you want to use as a router in your home network then it’s probably going to be easier to choose a distro, but if you just want a replacement for Windows… well then probably any one of the main stream distros will do just fine.

Now, it occurred to me recently that all this infinity of options one is confounded by when it comes to switching to Linux may in fact be one of the things holding Linux back from being adopted by larger numbers of people. In general it’s good when to have options about what sort of operating system you want to have on your computer, but it seems like there is a threshold number of options beyond which the majority of people simply stop caring about the whole thing. In Windows the key word is compatibility; first and foremost whatever hardware you have, these days this even includes macs, you can be rest assured that Windows will run on it. And second it’s software compatibility, if you find some software on the net and it says it’s windows compatible you just download and install it, but with Linux, you first have to make sure it comes in the right packaging, then if it has a GUI you have to check it will run under the Windows manager you have on your system and so on and so forth, of course there’s always the option of getting the source code and re-compiling it for your version of Linux but that’s a bit too much bother for most of us.

Well, to sum it up,  some advice, if you’re thinking of switching to something other than Windows, and other than mac, and all you want is a decent desktop system, I would suggest you go with Ubuntu, it’s the distro I had the least problems with, and that you can get up and running even if you’re neither a programmer nor a system administrator. They say Mandriva is pretty good too, back when it was called Mandrake I checked it out and it was ok, although I had a win modem which I was never able to configure to work under it. Shame. Otherwise it was  a decent distro.

Categories: IT

my beef with Apple

February 16, 2010 5 comments

My beef with Apple is the amount of hype they create around their products. And all this hype wouldn’t be much of a problem if it was all true, but you buy into it and you go out and buy an Apple device, say an iPod, only to find it’s hopelessly mediocre when it comes to specs.

I remember the time the first gen iPod was rolled out, a guy from Canada I knew at the time told me about it and you could see he was practically on the verge of ejaculating in his pants over it. It had not even come out yet, he’d not handled it but he was already dying to buy one.  And the funny thing is that some Asian companies were already making HDD players with much better specs than the iPod at the time, iRiver anyone? All Apple had to offer was a slick look.

The third gen iPods had one thing I wanted though, they came with the largest capacity on the market so I splurged and bought one.  Well as has always been the case with me and Apple, I was underwhelmed. To my utter astonishment I found that if I just copied audio files onto my iPod as if it were an external HDD, the iPod’s software refused to see them. I had to use iTunes.  I had a rather large collection of audio books in mp3 at the time, the majority of which I had yet to listen to, so I wasn’t in the least interested in buying anything from the iTunes store. All my audio books were neatly arranged on my computer’s hard drive, with each one in its separate folder. To my dismay when I tried drag-and-dropping folders with audio files into iTunes, it didn’t create play-lists or anything of the kind automatically, all the files just got dumped into one long list. Bummer. I eventually ended up having to manually create a play-list for each audio book I wanted on my iPod before drag-and-dropping the actual audio files in there. Major lossage of time.

I later learned about rockbox, so essentially to make a half decent mp3 player out of an iPod, you have to wipe Apple’s proprietary software and install something else. Otherwise it’s just a device for buying stuff from iTunes.

And then there’s the issue of shamelessly slandering the competition. Thus if you look at this page http://www.apple.com/getamac/whymac/, you may get the impression that on other computers (read Win PC’s) you have to spend hours configuring the devices you hook up to them while a mac just works. Nothing could be farther from the truth, after all Window’s offered the plug and play capability for over a decade now and on top of that, Windows is made to support a far larger range of devices than MacOS.

Honestly I think Macs could get a bigger market share if they didn’t boast so much. Because of all the bragging people are led to expect miracles from Macs and then when you sit at one and start running into problems each time you try something the Mac OS designers didn’t expect/want you to do, you feel somehow cheated.

And then there’s Mac fans, I know a couple, some of them are ok people but there’s those who keep blindly repeating Apple’s claims about ‘other computers’ never even bothering to check that since the mid 1990’s Windows has advanced by leaps and bounds and even some Linux distro’s are practically on a par with Mac OS X in terms of usability.  In fact it sometimes feels like some of these people are followers of some weird cult.  But that’s probably only to be expected if you lure customers in by teaching them mantras about how bad all other computers are and how infinitely superior every device your company makes is.

Well, I don’t want to be in a sect

Categories: IT

iPad

February 1, 2010 3 comments

Apple has announced a new product, as usual it was done with great aplomb, it’s ground breaking, paradigm shifting, mind boggling, the lot. Unfortunately a closer look at the specs reveals that it’s essentially a useless piece of junk. It tries to fill a non-existent niche. It’s much larger than the I-phone, but it offers extremely limited functionality. It has no web camera, no USB port, no nothing basically. And the thing that really killed me about it is that it doesn’t support multitasking. It’s like Steve Jobs decided to take us back to the 20th century and give us a glorified version of DOS. Sure it has GUI and the device has a touch screen and all, but if you wanted to listen to some music while editing an email – forgedaboudid. I mean I sure hope I’m mistaken and the review I read got it wrong but if it really has no support for multitasking then coupled with all the other features it’s lacking the iPad is just a glorified e-book reader.
Ah, and another thing, Apple’s also removed Flash support from it, saying Flash is a security risk, well maybe it’s a security risk but it’s a technology a lot of people have come to depend on, there are gazzillions of movies and TV series published on the Internet in flv, so what good is a device that won’t be able to play them?
Badly done, Apple. I don’t know how much longer they’ll be able to keep exploiting the cool factor of their products, but I’m afraid they’re going to run out of morons pretty soon.
It has to be said, though that one lousy product is unlikely to sink a company like Apple, after all they’ve got the iPhone, an ultimate cash cow that’s even allowed them to ride out the recent recession with sky-rocketing profits, and I think it’s probably going to last them for a few years longer, so they can afford a flop or two when it comes to new products.
On the other hand slate PC’s running Windows 7 look rather promising. After all they basically offer the same set of features as your usual PC or laptop but in a different form factor. So they may still have a chance.

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