Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hooray (William) Henry (Gates) (III)

So Microsoft says it will now comply with an EU ruling forcing it to disclose information on its technology to competitors.

Did I mention I'm actually David Ben Gurion?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Well, the seemingly impossible has happened. I attended an interview today at Xtreme Information - they do press monitoring - and walked out with the job! I can't tell you how good it feels to have a job again. It's like suddenly waking up from a bad dream in which you are an invisible alien, and finding you're still human.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"Damn you! Damn you all to Hell!"

It's a bank holiday today in Britain, or at least in England. I'm not sure why, but with Ben Hur on Channel 4 and Planet of the Apes on Five, maybe it's Charlton Heston Day?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thought for Today

If religion is so bad, and secularism so good, why does secularism result in fanatical intolerance of the type displayed by the Secular Humanist Society in the following:

In George Orwell's 1984, it was stated, "Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past." Who is going to control the present-fundamentalism or freedom?
It may be comforting to these people to equate "religion" with "fundamentalism" and secularism with "freedom", but REAL freedom involves allowing people to profess their beliefs, and to act on those beliefs, without interference or intolerance. It certainly cannot be denied that a lot of "religious" people have been involved in violence, and as the article from which that quote was taken says, Hitler was NOT an atheist - but Stalin was, at least for a time, a confirmed atheist, and Communism itself is predicated on the idea that there is no God. Not only that, but just as anyone who believes in God has to confront the problem of evil, so anyone who believes that religion should be banned "because it leads to violence" needs to explain why they do not therefore advocate the banning of politics, or soccer, or cigarettes.

There is nothing wrong with atheism, but it will never "catch on" with religious people unless atheists can show that they really ARE "more ethical" than the religious (not to mention, unless they can prove there is no God; what we have to date is not proof; like the belief in the existence of God, it is no more than opinion.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bah, humbug

Not only did we have another discussion among my programming friends about religion (do I go to shul to discuss Linux?), I wake up this morning to find Wikipedia's "featured article" is about Windows NT.

Bah, humbug!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Better Late than Never

Yesterday marked my first visit to a synagogue. I have been thinking of converting to Judaism for about 3 years but, for various reasons, didn't take the plunge until now.

Not exactly what I was expecting. Most literature on Reform Judaism tends to concentrate on the American Reform movement, which is more "liberal" (less observant) than the Reform Movement in the UK. So I turn up and about half the service is in Hebrew (of which I know about half a word...). It's ok, though, because "philosophically" I'm more inclined to American Conservative Judaism, which is more observant than American Reform and less than Orthodox (everywhere).

I felt right at home, not least because everyone was very friendly.

Looking forward not only to next Shabbat's services, but also to the High Holidays services (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), which are in September.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

SBO's (Statements of Bleeding Obviousness)

A headline by the BBC on our former, dearly-departed* Prime Minister Tony Blair states that the "[presumably Iraq] War was Blair's hardest choice."

Well, phew! Thank goodness! I'd hate** to think that his most difficult choice in ten years as PM was, oh, I don't know, deciding what flavour of toothpaste to use. (Though I notice he never had much difficulty choosing between throwing away [other] people's civil liberties and, ooh, not.) Because, you know, when a policy decision could result throwing away thousands of our young people's lives, I'd kinda sorta hope he might take that just a little bit seriously.

*I don't mean what you think I mean. Think again.
**Actually, I do enjoy thinking the worst of politicians, cynical bastard that I am. And they're always so eager to prove me right to do so. (Bless their little cotton socks.)

Friday, June 29, 2007

All hail...

/. reports that in the wake of Dell (and now possibly HP) choosing to supply Ubuntu as an option on on their consumer PC's, Microsoft is to start selling PC hardware (loaded with Windows, of course) in India.

All hail the PS/3.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Linspire

The CEO of Linspire, Kevin Carmony, has posted on his blog today about the effect that the "split" between those distros cozying up to Microsoft and those staying well clear. Whilst he also posts a lot of FUD about those on the other side "not respecting the IP of others", I find I actually agree with him to a point: The split, like the others between KDE and GNOME, or rpm versus deb, etc., in the long run means nothing at all.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Time for a Quickie

A friend of mine, Andrew Ball, has a geek blog. Andy is a British expat currently living in Illinois, so I only know him online.

Why is it people whom you often only know by their voices (like radio presenters) or through writing (like Andy), never, ever look the way you visualize them in your head?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What's Greek for "Spoke too Soon"?

Well, it would be nice to be able to ruminate some more over the utility of a CV in Ancient Greek; unfortunately when trying to upload my CV in good old (but not Old) English yesterday, Monster simply would not coöperate. I shall have to try again today at some point.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

It's (Ancient) Greek to Me

OK, so I've subscribed to Monster (again), which brings up the interesting question, "Why on Earth would you submit a CV in Ancient Greek (or the extinct Semitic language Akkadian)?"

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Not Driving. Me Crazy.

I really need to learn to drive - it's a requirement that's cropping up in many a job application I'm seeing. Unfortunately the running costs of a car in Britain these days mean that I probably won't be able to afford the use of a car until I actually get a job. And then there's the question of getting modifications like left-footed accelerators.

Well, poop.

I Suck At This

Ever stayed in a room when someone else is hoovering? Well, I can't stand it.

Asperger's and Lunch

It may be a totally unscientific diagnosis, but among the symptoms of Asperger's I can say I probably suffer from in Wikipedia's article on the subject are:
  • Narrow interests or preoccupation with a subject to the exclusion of other activities - Hmm, I wonder what those might be;
  • Peculiarities in speech or language - for hysterical raisins;
  • Socially...inappropriate behaviour - I speak out of turn a lot;
  • Problems with nonverbal communication - What do you mean, you were only joking?;
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements - As easy as falling off a log.
Of course some of these might be written off as mere eccentricities (except that, as a friend notes, I'm not rich), or as side effects of spina bifida, of which I appear to have a mild form of the most serious type (if that makes sense). Taken together, however, it's all very suggestive.

Ironically, considering I've only recently found out about Asperger's, I've had to conciously work on many of the symptoms (as further described in the Wikipedia article) most of my life. I can particularly remember periods when I have found it extremely difficult to keep eye-contact - particularly with people who have domineering personalities. At such times I talk to people whilst staring at the floor - which must make it particularly difficult for people to understand me, as I also appear to clutter.

No doubt it's as a result of building up a defence that I now have what other people might well be justified in naming a domineering personality.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Brief Insight into My Personal Life

It's becoming increasingly (indeed, I would say blindingly) obvious that I have mild Asperger's syndrome.

More on this later.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Python

Yes, after a long absence, the programming language Python makes a welcome return to this blog.

Python is controversial in the programming community for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most well-known is its its use of compulsory indentation when writing code blocks.

If this feature has been driving you crazy, I personally encourage you to persevere. You get used to it after a while, and nicely-formatted code, as with nicely-formatted writing, is much easier to handle than textthatsallbuncheduptogether.

Just my €0.02

Time for a New Theme

As you'll see I've modified the template for the blog. As I'm no good at visual design I just used one of the pre-designed templates, but I think you'll agree, it suits the blog much more than the previous design.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Time for a Short One

Lisp may stand for List Processing, but it's really tree processing

(http://www.defmacro.org/ramblings/lisp.html)

Something tells me that a language called "Treep" would get even less traction than a language called "Lisp".

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Too Clever By 'Alf, My Old Son

Working thru the book "Accelerated C++" by Koenig and Moo, kindly lent to me by a friend, I came across this seemingly intractable problem:

Write a program that will keep track of grades for several students at once. The program could keep two vectors in sync: The first should hold the student's names, and the second the final grades that can be computed as input is read. For now, you should assume a fixed number of homework grades. We'll see in $4.1.3/56 how to handle a variable number of grades intermixed with student names.


Now, since the "grade" is computed by taking the sum of a ratio of homework to finals to midterm exam grades, I had been thinking I should store each in a vector, which (contrary to the probspec) would necessitate not two but five vectors.

Turns out the sentence you should assume a fixed number of homework grades is maximally important, so don't go storing all the grades in a vector until you've computed the total grade.

Call it an object lesson in not being too clever by 'alf.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Wittypedia

The Wikipedia page on quartiles has this (among other things) to say about them:
A quartile is also an extremely annoying word if repeated more than five times in three minutes.

This sort of thing may diminish its value as an encyclopedia, but it sure as hell makes it funny.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance?

For a long time, I used 'vi' as my editor in Linux, since I used to only make small edits to files, vi's key "combinations" are quick to type and mnemonic (yes, really!), and vi itself starts up like greased lightning.

Having recently started to make an effort to learn Lisp, i switched to EMACS, as there's a (text-based) IDE for the language which runs on top of Emacs, called the Superior Lisp Interaction mode for Emacs (or SLIME). So I decided to switch to Emacs as my main text editor - for programming, at least.

And I just caught myself using 'vi' to add a python-editing mode to Emacs...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Aw! What a Cute Little Rantlet!

Amazing how much computer books cost, even second-hand.

Yes, I know - you can find lots of information on the web - but sometimes all I want to do is sit down, away from the computer, to read something. I don't mind if that something is about computers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Return of the Jewdi

(Yes, I know, terrible pun, but especially given the title of the last one, it fits).

The BBC reports (video link) that the first synagogue in more than half a century has now opened in Estonia. Call it a great victory for freedom in the only European country ever proclaimed "judenfrei" (free of Jews) by the Nazis.

Up yours, Hitler.

The Empire Strikes Back...At Itself

Not long ago, in a galaxy distressingly close to this one...

Microsoft did make comments that "Linux violates MS patents", and threatened to sue.

Then they did make a deal with Novell to share each other's "Intellectual Property", to "improve interoperability between Linux and Windows" (which, verily, everyone in the Linux world had been doing since the Dawn of Linux anyway) and threatened to sue the customers of any distribution but Novell (SuSE) Linux, because, they quoth, Linux violateth their software patents. And Novell were sore amazed, and said "No it doth not". And everyone laughed as the God of Closed Source made mincemeat of the erstwhile God of Networking.

And it came to pass that Microsoft did offer to make a similar deal with Redhat, who told them Where To Go Today(TM) (and tomorrow).

And it so happened that in Boston, of Massachusetts, the Free Software Foundation did decide to write a clause into the next version of their favourite licence, the GPL, to obviate the patent rights of anyone who contributed code to GPL-licensed software (oh, and get rid of DRM on the side). But the God of Open Source Operating Systems rebelled, and told people he Did Not Like GPL3 and Would Not Use It in his Holy Operating System, because DRM should be defeated on pragmatic grounds, not through licensing.

So, for the first time in living memory, the God of Free Software did relent, and spake thus, saying "Thou shalt make changes that shall please Linus, of Torvalds, and we shall once more be One Big Happy Linux Family". And so Eben, of Moglen, did make these changes, and lo! The God of OSOS saw that it was good(ish). And the Linux developers did speak unto customers, saying, "Oh, ye of little faith! Can ye not see that Microsoft have not the proof of their claims, and that until ye do, we shall call them on it, naming their pronouncements FUD?"

And Microsoft did cry out, saying "No! It can't be true". But the Linux developers spake again, saying unto Microsoft "Oh, ye of little faith! Can ye not see that ye have not the proof of thy claims, and that until ye do, we shall call ye on it, naming thy pronouncements FUD?"

And seeing that their Holy Customers were aggrieved, and that Dell did promise to keep on selling the previous version of their One True Operating System, and even preinstall Linux, and that Michael Dell forsook Windows for Linux on his laptop, Microsoft did relent, and spake thus, saying "Oh, well, we still have proof that Linux violates 10 score patents, (which we will show you not)," and "oh, btw, we're not really going to sue anyone who uses Linux, of which we have proof that it violates 10 score patents (which we will show you not)".

And Microsoft customers cried out, saying "Yay! Verily we can use any distribution of Linux we like, without fear of being sued. LiveCD, LiveCD, wherefore art thou, LiveCD?"

And the Late Developer smiled, and spake unto himself, saying, "Perhaps Ye Olde Bigge Blue did call, and spake unto Microsoft, saying 'Show ye your patents, that ye believe Linux doth violate, or verily, we shall sue thy ass to Kingdom Come for these patent violations, and these, and these, and shall go publicke on them'".

And he further said unto himself, "I wonder how long it will be before Microsoft decides they aren't going to sue anyone at all for infringement of their mythical patents?"

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Sarkozy Wins in France

Nicolas Sarkozy, the presidential candidate for France's right wing, has won the election. He now promises to "govern for all" of his countrymen.

Anyone care to remind me of the last rightwing presidential candidate to say that?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Election Blues

It's been a bad day for Labour as the polls report significant losses. I didn't vote as I don't think the LibDems have made suffcient progress under Menzies Campbell to allow me to vote for them this time; in fact if anything they have gone backwards.

What was surprising was the surge in support for the Tories, who have no policies. Tories with policies are bad enough; Tories without them are even more incomprehensible. Whether this will mean they win the next election is debatable - I suspect people will be less willing to give Labour a bloody nose if they have to choose between it and a party with no ideas, but time will tell.

One thing is clear, though: The day we get a Tory government is the day I emigrate.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Dell Disappointment

Damn. After all the hoopla surrounding preinstalled Linux on Dells, it turns out that they will not be preloading Ubuntu Linux on PC's sold in the UK anytime soon. This robs me of my chance to get hold of one and review it, although due to "circumstances beyond my control" that wouldn't have been possible for another month or so anyway.

Oh well. I guess I shall just have to buy one from one of the independent vendors instead.

Even one of our Members of Parliament commented recently that we live in "rip-off Britain". Maybe when Toshiba, HP or Lenovo start selling systems with Linux preinstalled we shall start to see an end to that trend in desktop computing.

Until then, I'd be interested to know of anyone's experiences with laptops from Linux Emporium.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fulfilling a Promise: Closed Minds, a Response

Making good on my promise to write a reply to the article "Linux Winds of Change", linked to in this posts title, here's the response:

I should just say at the outset that I was planning to write this in the context of comparing what Penguin Pete, who is referenced in the ITWire article above, wrote about Ubuntu (indeed, he's the person who appears to have sparked the entry). But that post appears to have disappeared - bad idea, Pete, as it leaves you open to accusations of intellectual dishonesty.

Anyway.

Stan Beer starts out his article by noting that there are "some very closed minds" in the article. Big deal. As I noted in my comment to him at the end of the article (in which the promise to write a response can be seen), every community has its closed minds, and to my mind, it's pretty disrespectful of Stan to start out with this, as I'm sure that in the minds of some of his readers, the equation Linux = closedmind is now indelible.

He also makes the assertion that Ubuntu is the cause of "a growing rift between some old guard stalwarts and the stewards of the increasingly popular Ubuntu distribution." Now, I can see how that might appear to be the case if you're a newbie to the Linux scene (as it appears to me that Stan is, judging from some of his comments as you'll see later. However, it is of course possible that this is not the case). But the reality, Stan, (and in using your first name I'm not in the slightest trying to get personal), is that there have always been "rifts" between distro users: between Slackware and Debian, or Debian and Gentoo, or Redhat and Mandriva, or Mandriva and SuSE, and every other possible combination in between (not to mention many others). It's part of the reason why there are so many Linux distros. And it stems from the fact that computing is a very personal thing: as the most complex man-made systems I can think of, it stands to reason that computers can be configured in an endless variety of ways, and that there is no guarantee that Person A's configuration will suit any of Persons B through Z. That's a point I'm kinda sorta gonna come back to, too.

Next, he makes the claim that
According to Penguin Pete and an apparently not inconsiderable band of Linux stalwarts, Linux is not and never will be an operating system designed to suit disillusioned Windows users. They reckon Linux was designed to be a replacement for Unix not Windows.
Well, that's true - it was. But it's been my assertion for nigh on ten years now that given an open mind, Windows users can easily get used to Linux (or at least "GUI-Linux" in whatever form. It may be the case that KDE and/or GNOME is more Windows-like than, say, fluxbox, or that having a desktop environment like those two helps users to acclimatize to Linux without having to "jump in at the deep" end, but as I'm writing right now I'm using UDE, the Unix Desktop Environment, which, it's true, is still more of a window manager (the thing that puts borders round windows) than a full blown desktop environment (with panels, clocks, status bars and goodness knows what else), but it's a faster and more comfortable environment for me than KDE. Many Unix users hold the opinion that Linux is better designed, because look at the evolution of the system - it now is beginning to be seen as a worthy rival to MacOS and especially to Vista, whereas ten years ago it was a system (allegedly) for nerds and geeks. And yet, as Stan and Penguin Pete obliquely point out, the geeks can continue to use Linux for Geeks, with Slackware instead of Ubuntu and UDE or fvwm or fluxbox instead of KDE/GNOME, and no-one can take that away from them. And if any of those DE's or window managers stops being developed, a new team of people who want to use it can take over from the original developers and continue its evolution: such events have occured countless times in the free software world, whereas with proprietary software, time and again you see that those systems that are tied to losing companies or institutions or architectures (Commodore with the Amiga, Multics by GEC/MIT, ITS for the PDP-10) vanish without a trace.

I should just mention that one charge I do remember Penguin Pete making is that Ubuntu has a very small amount of packages, and it's this that makes it "not Linux". I agree with Stan here that PP is in error, not because (as Stan puts it) it's still a Linux kernel (after all, OS X has a Mach/BSD kernel, but it takes the kind of chutzpah or doublethink only found in Cupertino to claim that standard OS X, with its proprietary Aqua interface, hidden standard Unix directories, and NeXT-like layout, is anything like Unix to its users) but because there are thousands of distros out there that only offer "a restricted set of packages". Slackware no longer ships GNOME, Arch includes none of the stuff usually shoved in /usr/doc, Gnewsense - or however it's spelt) doesn't include non-free packages, etc. Plus the fact that if you don't like GNOME, there's not only Ubuntu but Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and soon Fluxbuntu. And if you don't like *buntu at all, you can move to any other distro you do like. If Ubuntu suddenly becomes proprietary and starts including stuff that other distros can't (*cough*Novell*cough*), then I'll say it's not Linux - but given that Mark Shuttleworth apparently plans to make a totally-free (as in freedom) Ubuntu variant, I'd say Canonical are moving farther away from that goal, if anything, not closer.

Stan does, however, say that there is a "raging argument" between "elitists" and "evangelists" in the Linux community, and it's here that he goes off the mark. If my personal dislike of Ubuntu makes me "elitist", then so be it, but I doubt you can make a coherent argument that I'm not a Linux evangelist (just ask my local LUG...;-) ). So the "elitists" and the "evangelists" can be one and the same person - and often are. Added to that, it's just another example of the "wars" that have been going on between people who see Linux developing in different ways. But most of us, I think, know that we either hang together, or hang separately.

But my strongest problem with his article rests on these three paragraphs:

As an IT journalist, I'm used to calling things as I see them from a user perspective. If I write a negative article about a Microsoft product, pointing out for instance the steep learning curve and equally steep price of Office 2007, it provokes as much response as a ping pong ball bouncing off elephant hide. If I write an article pointing to a deficiency that I see in a Linux distro, such as not being able to get wireless input devices to work, it provokes outrage (except from a considerable number of users who experience the same problem).

The difference is that Linux zealots and evangelists come from a rarified clubby atmosphere of forums and user groups, where dirty washing doesn't get aired and laundered in public. Thus, they are often thin-skinned and tend to take things personally.

After a couple of my recent articles, one or two well meaning Linux evangelists informed me that as a journalist with many readers I had a responsibility not to air my technical problems related to Ubuntu publicly because I might scare prospective users away. Instead, I should submit polite requests to the Ubuntu forum in private to get my answers. One can imagine the response Microsoft would get if they tried to tell journalists not to write about their issues with Windows publicly!
I really don't know where you're getting this from, Stan, because as we all know, and you yourself admit, pretty much the only "Windows evangelists" are the ones who are paid to astroturf. (That doesn't mean, however, that they are the only closed minds - as Penguin Pete points out in another of his rants, try getting a person raised only Visual Basic, or more broadly the Windows programming environment, to see the merits of Unix programming; or rather don't, as beating your head against the Great Wall of China would be more pleasurable.) He's also perhaps guilty of not paying attention when he says that criticism of Linux "provokes outrage". It's not criticism of Linux that provokes outrage at all: It's an inability or unwillingness to make use of the resources available to you, such as posting on mailinglists to solve the problem. Or a readiness to blame Linux for problems beyond its control: Linux developers always have, and hopefully always will, go to extraordinary lengths to support dodgy hardware with reverse-engineered drivers where no open drivers or specs are available, and when a piece of hardware is not supported by Windows (usually because the manufacturer hasn't bothered to update a driver for an old product to make it work in a new version of Windows), the manufacturer is blamed. But despite the fact that Linux supports more hardware out of the box than either of the other big three OSes, and that it's much easier to deal with fully-supported hardware in Linux than in Windows, when a problem comes up with hardware in Linux, non-Linux people almost universally blame Linux. Please, please, please, if you have a device that doesn't work in Linux, make it known to the manufacturer so that they have a reason to port the driver to Linux.

I also have a problem with his assertion that Linux users are "thin-skinned", and as a result don't "air dirty washing". I guess he's never been to a LUG, or been involved in, or a spectator to, a mailinglist flamewar, or even read about one in the papers, because just in the last year or so I can think of at least two memes in the tech press about "The Death of" Gentoo or Debian, both of which were caused by very public, some might say very nasty, flamewars in which plenty of soiled knickers (if you'll forgive the expression) were put on public display. In fact his assertion is almost directly counter to everyone else's assertion. It's well-known that the computer geek crowd, of which the hardcore Stan seems so keen to vilify, is a supposed hotbed of "autism spectrum disorders" such as Asperger's and ADD, for sufferers of which the message is much more important than how it's expressed. As a self-diagnosed borderline aspie, and more of a wannabe than a geek, I can tell you that I have on more than one occasion been offended by the directness and seeming rudeness (which turns out to simply be a lack of patience for what many ASD-sufferers would see as "bowing and scraping") on the part of this or that geek in such-and-such a situation.

So the main message I have for Stan Beer is: Cool it; there always has been room in the Linux community for UNIX weenies and Windows refugees - and hopefully there always will be. Just remember that if I am now one of the former, I was at one time one of the latter.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Eat Humble Pie, You Arrogant Ass!

Some time ago I posted a rant about Ubuntu, in which I stated that they still hadn't fixed a bug in one of the X Window video drivers that has been in Debian for four years.

Except it appears that Arch Linux hasn't fixed it either, so it looks like my rant against Ubuntu/Debian is unwarranted, on that score.

I don't for one minute expect that my rant will make an iota of difference to the majority of the Ubuntu/Debian community, but all the same, my apologies to them for this blunder.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sling out the Spam

Since I've recently had a spate of comment spam, I'm going to restrict comment posting a little, again. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Personal Appeal

I hope she won't mind me doing this, but I'm going to ask in public that if anyone has any information on the welfare of Danni Matzk (dannimatzk.co.uk), could they please they get in touch? Her online community of friends is worried...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Ignore if you don't like Rants

Over on pthree.org there's a rant about users who threaten "Linux sucks, I'm going back to Windows". Now, I'm not going to add to the myriad reasons why we should or shouldn't care; point out that to me, Linux is easier than Windows, or that you don't have to use the commandline; or try to explain to these people that Linux is a different operating system, with an obligatory <collective gasp of horror from the audience>.

No, I'm not. What I am going to say is this: According to last month's Computer Shopper (which, confusingly as they all seem to do these days, is actually dated either this month or next - I don't recall), the next version of Windows is going to do two unthinkable things:

  1. Drop backwards compatibility. Yes, that's right, all your old DOS games and spreadsheets (which already won't run on Windows 64-bit), Windows 95 tax programs, Windows 2000 office programs - won't run. Well, they will - but in a virtual machine, like "Classic Mac" programs on PowerPC OS X. Yet again, Microsoft have decided to do something right, ten years later than everyone else. (Assuming the next version of Windows is out in 2009-2010, which is a reasonable assumption given that (a) they have announced they are going to start releasing a new version every two years and (b) they're always late.) Of course, as with that implementation of "proper security" that is pleased to call itself User Access Control, there's no guarantee that, having actually given into the principle, they will make the effort to understand it.
  2. Change the interface.
Yes, that's right, the people who have spent billions getting their minions to convince the millions that there is a "One Microsoft Way"* are going to change the way the masses do computing.

Or are they? See, the masses don't like change. They put up with viruses, spyware, adware, crashes**, and other bugs (such as DRM. Yes, William Henry, it's a bug.) that would make a Linux user's life, plagued as it is with driver issues, seem joyful by comparison. (Hmm, that actually sounds familiar--Ed.) They are, of course, safe in the knowledge that Uncle Bill will look after them, and they won't have to worry about things like, um, whether that new game they just installed is sending encrypted information to the NSA on which movies they've watched this week.

So what will they do if Uncle Bill, in his Infinite Wisdom, tries to change the interface? Robs them, as Computer Shopper says, of their Start button, taskbar, menus, and all the other interface goodies that have sustained their monopoly^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hmulti-billion-dollar successful business for 12 years? If all that suddenly...goes away?

There are two possible scenarios. The most depressing (and, you have to admit, likely) scenario is that people will just accept that Uncle Bill Knows Best (or maybe Uncle Steve - though I predict that two weeks in the company and care of old Stevo without the watchful eye of Uncle Gates around to keep him in check will have the MS stockholders screaming for Bill to come back faster than you can say "Michael Dell regains position as CEO of the former No. 1 PC vendor and starts preloading Linux") and take the time to get used to the interface.

But there is another scenario. Both MacOS and Linux (under the guise of KDE or GNOME) are both similar enough to the old menus-and-start-bar interface to make people feel welcome if they are forced to choose between them and a new, start-button-and-menu-free interface. And Dell preloading Linux (with, they say, as many free software drivers as possible) could just start a trend for people to actually, y'know, develop drivers for Linux (it'll be all over the morning papers)... Despite the fact that the pundits keep pushing people to embrace Apple - and the consumer may well do so - I've noticed that the pundits also keep pushing Vista...but the masses are having none of it. (When a Windows, nay Microsoft, supporter comes up to you and says, "I've noticed that a lot of people are saying they don't like Vista", forgetting of course that you told them this very thing a month ago, you know there's something going on that magazines like Computer Shopper, apparently, can't afford to report on.)

And as for the world switching to Macs, I'm going to incur the wrath of the Apple user community by pointing out three things I (and apparently the market) don't like about Macs:
  1. Unless you can make do with the iLife suite, once you get your Shiny New Mac home you are still going to have to (a) shell out for Microsoft Office (in which case you might as well have bought a PC in the first place) or iWorks (which isn't as full-featured as MS Office); or (b) download NeoOffice, which last I heard was behind OpenOffice in the feature stakes. If you want to run Windows games you will have to...use Boot Camp and/or Parallels (and buy a copy of Windows... in which case you might as well have bought a PC in the first place, because with those you get it "free").
  2. Yes, you can run Photoshop, but good look finding a pirated copy of it for OS X. And if you are going to pay for it, you might as well have gotten a PC, because then you can run all those other Windows applications too. Without buying a Mac.
  3. Macs are still overpriced. No, they are. On this side of the pond, at least, they haven't come down one bit since Macs started using stock PC parts for everything but the kitchen sink (read: the boot code). Now, you may say that you would spend the same to buy a Dell...but then if so, why not just buy a Dell...with which you get Windows (or soon, Linux) and for which there are a whole heck of a lot more "iLife" style applications than.... just iLife.*** Not only that, but you don't have to spend the same to buy a Dell.
  4. (Following on from the last point.) Macs are only from one supplier. What do you do if Apple don't honour the warranty, give you bum service or go belly up? Hmm. Buy a PC? Yes, a Dell might cost as much...if you get the same spec. But you can get a laptop from Dell for £399. In the US, you can get a Mac laptop from $1099 (about £550), but in the UK, prices start from £749 (as of 13:00 on 8 April). Or you can go to Dell, or Fujitsu, or Lenovo, or any one of a million PC suppliers, and get a PC. (Oh, and the Apple ads claim you never have to upgrade your Mac. That's great. Until your version of Mac OS doesn't support your model anymore and so, on top of paying for another copy of the OS at the full retail price, you get to purchase a whole new Mac!).
  5. Macs don't include proper keyboards. Now, I'll admit that one's definition of a "proper keyboard" may vary; an old-time UNIX hacker isn't about to find one to his liking on any PC; but then an OTUH knows how to use xkeycaps to swap the Caps Lock and Control keys, put Esc in the right place and do the same for the console. On UK Macs, the " key is way over there on the @ key (or was it the # key), which, for US readers, is beside L, with " over 2 as God, or at least Winston Churchill, intended. Now, the reason I rat on Apple for this is not because I hate Apple, or Americans, but because not only does every PC manufacturer I've ever seen do this right, but Commodore also did this right, and they made toys.
  6. The New Mac Pros look like cheese graters. Yes, I know, that may sound silly coming from someone who uses a PC with a case that looks like something the cat threw up, but the point is that case was cheap. If I'm going to buy something expensive because of its looks, then it has to look good. And the new Macs don't. The Cube looked great, despite its bad rep. So did the PowerMac G4. But the new Mac Pros (and the last generation of G5's)? Open sandwich, anyone?
Yes, OK, that's six things - I can count to ten, at least.

Perhaps though, the best thing about it for Linux is that it is all coming together at a time when people are already starting to switch to Linux for its own sake. The computer press keep coming out with articles saying Linux is no longer only for geeks, and those sections of the press which until now have done their best to ignore it are having to sit up and take notice. The future's bright, but not necessarily orange. Or apple.

*Yes, I know. i: It's ironic. ii. I feel your pain.
**Yes, Windows still crashes. Sometimes right in the middle of reinstalling all your drivers, because you have had to reinstall Windows because it won't boot. Aargh.
***This may be starting to sound like I'm pushing Windows. Actually, I'm not. I just hear far more rubbish about how "Linux is hard to use" from Mac users than from Windows users, as if I didn't get enough already. So a Mac user is probably an order of magnitude less likely to run Linux anyway, than a Windows user.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Doin' the Distro Shuffle

My three-year old love affair with Gentoo Linux has come to an end. On Sunday I emerge sync'ed and started an upgrade, only to find that a bunch of packages would not compile. By the time I had finished I couldn't even boot the thing because depscan.sh would not work, and no amount of emerging could coax it back. I decided it was time to say goodbye, and started looking around for a few other distros.

My first distribution (apart from tentative tries with Redhat) was Mandrake Linux, and I often miss it despite the fact that I remember it as being buggy, patronising, and having a childish set of icons (do you never forget your first distro?). So I downloaded and tried Mandriva One, which has a positively horrible orange default theme, and when I tried to install it it got 3/4 of the way through and then just stopped. I think I'm cured of my Mandrake nostalgia :-(.

The next distribution I tried was Arch Linux, and I'm writing from it right now. It's really fast - faster than my Gentoo installation - and of course installing with its binary-based package manager, pacman, is a lot faster than emerging. The first time I installed (from the 'net) I was a bit picky about what got installed, but I must have been too picky, because the second time I installed (choosing to install everything from the full CD image), fonts came up antialiased. Hurrah! It's not one for you if you hate the commandline (the installation program is a text-based ncurses interface program, it comes up in text mode by default, and there is no default graphical system configuration program - though these days the one that comes with KDE is a lot more useful than it used to be - it now understands GRUB, for example), but if you can cope with the fact that it's text based, it's actually one of the easier installs out there. It's probably not as easy as Slackware, because you have to edit rc.conf and make sure the initrd has options to install a non-us keymap and boot from raid and lvm if you need them, but it has sensible defaults so with those provisos, you should be able to fix any "mistakes" (such as not adding kdm to the list of daemons to load on boot) from a running machine.

One minor problem I did have with it was that when I set my resolution to 1280x1024, X started up with one or two inches off the right of the screen blank - easily fixed by using my monitor's controls to shift the display to the right and enlarge it a bit. (I tried using xvidtune but for some reason X would ignore the Modeline part of the config file). One thing I love about Arch is that it allowed me to install the root partition onto an LVM, just like I had with Gentoo - all I had to do was reformat /, /usr, /var, and /opt, and we're off! I have /home, and several directories under it, on separate partitions, and it's amazing seeing (almost) all your configurations come up the way you had 'em on another distro.

I have a spare hard disk on which I'm going to install Slackware 11 and/or Debian, but for now it looks like I may well stay with Arch.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

End of an Era! :-(

Last night marked the first showing on British television of the last Stargate: SG-1 episode ever. I'm sad - I've really enjoyed this show and it doesn't feel at all like it has been with us for ten years. On the bright side, the producers seem to have done their best to make the episode "meaningful", in contrast to the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise which was - how can I put this delicately? - crap. I wish the cast and crew of SG-1 success in whatever they choose to do next. It's been a great ride, guys.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Stop lying about your age, young man!

Yes, that's right - I've updated the description at the side to show my real age (as of 23 January , this year).

Thanks to Brian Ronald of my local LUG for pointing that out.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Slow News Day, Indeed

Slashdot reports (via Wired, and others) that the US State of New Mexico is rebelling, in an attempt to secede^H^H^H^H^H^H - sorry, wrong century - in an attempt to pass a law to have Pluto declared a planet once again, on the basis that it "passes overhead through New Mexico's excellent night skies".

Umm, ok.

Role Reversal?

So, the BBC has reported that the Tories want the Government to use open source software.

Anyone want to bet how long it will take them to go back on that commitment once they get into power?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Wikipedia Re-re-re-visited?

It appears that I (along with some others) have become involved in a Wikipedia edit war as a result of the attempts of one persistent Wikipedia editor, (conveniently hiding his or her identity behind an anonymous IP address), who despite multiple and repeated protests against the use of a term, and a request for mediation, is simply taking no heed of (what would appear to be) the wishes of the majority of those involved in the issue.

I suppose that illustrates (better than anything on Conservapedia ever could) one of the weaknesses of Wikipedia. Nevertheless, I don't think it's insurmountable - other open source projects don't seem to suffer horribly from this disease, and if you can have an argument over the size of the Death Star in Star Wars, then I'm sure you can have one over what indentation style to use in Linux code.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

When is a Tragedy not a Tragedy?

Slashdot reports that Scott Adams, the creator of the 'Dilbert' cartoons, has given up his campaign to get Bill Gates elected President of the United States.

Oh dear.

Update: Perhaps in an attempt to salvage some glimmer of humour from his despair, one Slashdotter wrote:

"You're giving up on Mr. Gates's presidential aspirations.

Cancel or Allow?"

"I now declare the candidate for the Conservative Party duly elected, my Lords"

So, it finally happened. The House of Commons has voted in favour of a one-hundred-percent elected upper house. And it only took 96 years. Somewhat disappointingly, however, the Commons was not voting on a Bill to introduce an Act of Parliament, but merely to winnow out the umpteen different proposals (including 80% and 50% elected). A lot can change even during the normal process of drafting and passing a bill, so let's just hope it stays that way.

Oh, and I DO hope they change the name - what's the point of calling it "the House of Lords" if you are not in it by virtue of being one? The obvious choice would be "Senate", but there are lots of other options: Japan's upper House for example is called the "House of Councillors", whilst the Netherlands has a First Chamber and a Second Chamber. (Somewhat counterintuitively however, it's the First Chamber that counts as the Senate.)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Down with Harry Potter!

As you will see from the latest link I posted (currently at the top in "Favourite Links"), there are concerns that JK Rowling, in failing to mention Christianity in her Harry Potter books, is promoting paganism.

As I have no intention Christianity of following this disturbing trend, I shall in future endeavour to mention Christianity (or Jesus - but heaven forfend, not C-th-l-cism!) at least once in all future articles Christianity.

I thankyou for your indulgence Christianity in this matter.

Jesus!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Fascistojingopedia

A new site has just been launched to challenge the "liberal" bias of Wikipedia: Conservapedia. This family-friendly, moral site aims to provide a forum for right-wing American conservatives to set the facts straight. Among its many delights are:
  • A section on rules for editing called The Conservapedia Commandments. Whilst Wikipedia has something similar, its approach is somewhat different. For example, number 1 on the list of these "Commandments" is "Everything you post must be true and verifiable". No problem with that, you might say; but then we get to rule 4 (and I quote): "When referencing dates based on the approximate birth of Jesus, give appropriate credit for the basis of the date (B.C. or A.D.). "BCE" and "CE" are unacceptable substitutes because they deny the historical basis." I should add that I have no problem with Christians or Christianity as such, but I think not allowing for the possibility that Jesus was not "historical" - especially given the lack of hard evidence outside the New Testament, such as records from those compulsive record-keepers, the Romans - is hardly an indication of no bias.
  • Conservapedia encourages the use of American spellings "wherever possible". Whilst Wikipedia has similar rules regarding consistency and appropriateness of spelling - for example, as far as possible each article within itself must stick to either British or American spelling, and British spellings are preferred for articles on Britain - isn't it a bit fascist to insist on American spellings? On second thoughts, that wasn't a question. And given that only right-wing Americans are going to be publishing to this dustbin - er, site - anyway, why insist on them?
  • On the front page today is a statement that "A Conservapedia contributor helps defeat mandatory vaccination." I'm sure all parents (I'm not one) will be gladdened to hear that Conservapedia is putting its weight to making sure the infant mortality rate creeps up again.
Then of course there's this little problem with the definition of the word "liberal". Dictionary.reference.com lists the first four definitions of the word as:
  1. favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
  2. (often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
  3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
  4. favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
The 7th definition of the word on dictionary.reference.com is: "free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners."

Note also this entry from Merriam Webster (yes, that's right, an evil "liberal" "anti-American" is quoting an American site as evidence of his own point of view!):

"2 a: marked by generosity: openhanded liberal giver
b: given or provided in a generous and openhanded way: liberal meal
c: ample, full

"3 obsolete lacking moral restraint"

(Note the "obsolete".)

Dictionary.reference.com has an entry for a definition of "color" and lists the spelling "colour" as "chiefly British", so one can be reasonably certain it's an American site. Despite this, and regardless of using Dictionary.reference.com as a source, Conservapedia has this to say about the word "liberal":

"Liberal" today means the disfavoring of individual responsibility in favor of collectivism or egalitarianism. Liberals tend to prefer equality in result rather than increased opportunities....Liberals typically align themselves with the Democratic Party in the United States, and the Labour Party in Great Britain....* An alternative definition of liberal is anything that is not conservative."

*This part is especially juicy, given the existence of the, y'know, Liberal Democratic Party in Britain and Tony Blair (of Labour)'s support for Bush.

Disclaimer: I have (and will continue to) contribute to Wikipedia.

But not to Conservapedia.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Unfashionable is the New Fashionable

El País of Spain reports that sales of train-sets in the United States have risen 40% in the last two years, according to one of America's largest train-set manufacturers, Lionel.

Is this surprising? Not really. Conservatives have been predicting the end of the printed book since the advent of the Internet, and it hasn't happened yet; most famously and laughably, the vaunted "paperless office," which first saw mainstream exposure in the 1970's, seems as far away from us as ever - perhaps more so; the wide availability of programs like Word and OpenOffice, and the amount of information on the Internet, mean that we may well be printing more "casual" material than ever before. (Although arguably, we might be much further along the road to the paperless office now if Xerox had been able to capitalize on its inventions at PARC instead of becoming known for "inventing good ideas for everyone else".)

Perhaps most notably, the Internet has enabled hobbies which at one time would have seemed on the level of "trainspotting" to most people, to gain notoriety and new fans. It's interesting, also, that these interests tend to converge: I recently subscribed to a conlang mailinglist - devoted to discussion of languages invented for international communication, like Esperanto; testing the expression of logic or language universals, like Lojban; or for pure pleasure, like Tolkien's Quenya and Sindarin. Imagine my surprise, then, when one of the (female!) members of the list mentioned that she found a notebook unsuitable for writing down conlang ideas, and would much prefer a practical, Linux-based PDA solution for those odd moments when she's away from her desk and has a brainwave.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Colour Me Brown (and Unimpressed), Part 2

What a kerfuffle, so far.

OK, so I eventually got booted into Ubuntu. Having determined that no amount of fiddling around with the GNOME theme manager was going to make me happier, I set my mind to the task of installing kubuntu-desktop, which installs a full KDE desktop environment. This brought me oh-so-close to the point of having no free space on the partition, - but when I attempted to deinstall ubuntu-desktop to free up space, Synaptic informed me that some critical functions depend on it! (I don't remember the exact wording.) So, not wanting to spend YET another god-knows-how-long on fixing something that shouldn't be broken in the first place, I left ubuntu-desktop alone.

On booting into (what for all intents and purposes was now) Kubuntu, I found that there were quite a lot of things I didn't like - and some I couldn't change, such as the horrid layout of the control panel that Kubuntu-desktop installs by default. I then realized that my desktop resolution was paltry, so I attempted to rectify the situation but couldn't get the distribution to display above 800x600 in 16-bit colour (even after using, contrary to Ubuntu's settings, both the fglrx driver, and the same X driver (r128) as my Gentoo box uses, which gives me 24-bit colour at a resolution of 1400x1050).

I eventually decided to try running X without having an /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, and see how that worked out. X's hardware detection must be pretty good these days, because it finally gave me a working X display at a decent resolution (albeit that the KDE Monitor Control Panel now complains that "something" is missing. No matter, as I doubt I want to spend any time trying to change it again.)

As you may know, Ubuntu is based on Debian GNU/Linux. A few years ago, when I tried Debian, one of the things I disliked about it was that although it gave me a decent resolution with my ATI graphics card, the display was lined - that is, it looks as if you have put some fine mesh on top of the screen. Naturally, this makes it difficult to read text on the screen, and I'm none too sure that given prolonged use it won't damage my monitor. Imagine my surprise when, after deleting /etc/X11/xorg.conf, I came up with a display which, as I said, was at a decent resolution, but still displayed those annoying lines! Why is a distribution which purports, to all intents and purposes, to be "Debian for desktops", and which uses a mixture of stable and unstable packages still plagued with this annoying problem, years later? More importantly, why is the r128 driver which works so well for me in Gentoo not worth my time in Ubuntu?

OK, so anyway. The next thing I decided to do was play a last.fm stream in Amarok. I've had trouble with Amarok in Gentoo before, but at this point that is ancient history. It's my favourite music player on any platform and it works like an absolute charm. As in Gentoo, so in Ubuntu? Oh, no. No sound came out of any stream I could get my hands on, and since the version of lvm that I had installed didn't seem to want to play along (of which perhaps more later) I couldn't access my logical volume of music to see if any of that played. Attempting to play music from a CD in KsCD, too, produced a sound that was more like that of an old vinyl that had been abused on a 40-year old cheapo Decca than the "perfect" sound you're supposed to get from a CD. Sigh.

Although Ubuntu is by no means the only distro I have had problems like this with, nor is this by any means the first time I have had run-ins with it (though I have to admit that this attempt was far more successful than the rest), what befuddles me is this: Ubuntu is supposed to be perfect for beginners. I've yet to sample Ubuntu's various (free) support channels, so I may well get sorted with a little bit of help - but I wonder who, on being told that there's-this-new-operating-system-out-that's-out-called-Linux-and-yes-it's-supposed-to-be-scary-but-it-isn't really-isn't-and-anyway-there's-this-new-distro-out-called-Ubuntu-that's-Linux-for-human-beings is going to want to fiddle about with getting his X server (if he even knows what that is) and will know where to start getting music working? I could probably do this all on my own given the time and inclination - but I have eight years' Linux experience and I don't mind learning how to do these computery things. If Ubuntu is "for human beings" and has these problems, is the Linux beginner supposed to conclude that any other Linux distro is going to be even MORE of a pain? Because trust me, dear reader, most of them aren't.

I understand what Mark Shuttleworth is trying to do and I applaud it. I'm also grateful that the publicity seems to be bringing more and more people to Linux; I just worry that it is being massively oversold. And "being massively oversold" is what drove me crazy about Windows, after all.

That may seem a bit of a cheek coming from a Gentoo fan but consider: Not only does Gentoo warn you all over that it's hard, it also has by far and away the best manuals, documentation, and user community I have ever seen for a Linux distro (with the possible exception of old versions of SUSE, whose manuals I haven't had the pleasure of reading). Some people may wonder about the wisdom of compiling all your software, but Gentoo doesn't hide this aspect of itself from you: it does what it says on the tin.

I'm not going to abandon Ubuntu just yet and I want to see how easily these problems can be resolved. But I think my points about how this is just too much for a beginner still stand.

Colour Me Brown (and Unimpressed), Part 1

In the course of a discussion/flamewar with folks on a mailinglist over Gentoo vs. just-about-every-other-distro, I made a commitment that I would try Ubuntu over the next few weeks and see what I thought about it.

I would like to point out before I start that I'm not a Gentoo bigot - I've tried many distros in the past and some of my favourites include Slackware, SUSE, and FreeBSD (not strictly a Linux distro, but close enough!). Unfortunately, I can't of course use SuSE anymore due to my stance on the MS/Novell deal. Oh well. I also have fond memories of Mandrake, as it was then, the first distro I had any luck with. It seems to have fallen out of favour since then, but back in those days it was probably THE distro for a beginner.

Having heard that Ubuntu takes "only 30 minutes to install", I started the install late last night. I found myself still at the computer at 5 am! Older and wiser...(!)

However, it didn't take long before I ran into problems. The first was that Ubuntu refused to install the /boot files in a partition that was XFS formatted - but not until I had already set the partitions up! So I went back and tried to partition the space I had set up into three partitions - one each for /boot, / and swap. I gave the / partition 3GB of space - 50% more than the install program recommended - and the recommended 256MB of swap. Everything seemed fine until I rebooted and tried to login, selecting drive 2 from the BIOS screen. Grub loaded, but couldn't find a valid partition and file to boot from. So I rebooted and tried again.

This time, after settings up as before I noticed that the installation program, in its wisdom, had decided that the 4GB partition should become the swap partition, and that 1/2GB, contrary to the instructions, was quite enough for /, thankyou very much. So I attempted to rectify the situation by giving the system 1.5GB swap - three times the amount of memory in this machine.

This time, everything seemed to go well. The system installed, I rebooted and chose the second disk to boot from. Still no joy. It turns out that Ubuntu had gotten the GRUB configuration hopelessly confused. No matter, just drop down to the GRUB commandline and set the correct parameters.


(cont. in Part 2)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Gates Calls Jobs Liar: Pot Cites Kettle Regarding Hue

Newsweek has published an interview with Bill Gates in which he accuses Steve Jobs of lying about Vista in his latest Mac adverts.

Now, notwithstanding the content of these ads, whatever they may be (I haven't seen them so I can't comment), it does strike me that there is a certain amount of hubris/chutzpah/irony in the idea of Bill Gates accusing others of "lying".

For the past I don't know how long, successive Windows releases have been bandied about as "the easiest to use, most secure operating system ever" (that's operating system, mind you, not Windows. Despite this, they have been roundly trounced every time by one of MacOS, Linux, or both - and to anyone who knows the history of non-PC computing before Windows95, it can hardly be a surprise that Windows95, like much if not everything else Microsoft have come up with, is hardly "innovation". Microsoft apologists will counter that everyone in the software business copies everyone else, and I'll grant them that's true. That does not mean, however, that those who copy are being "innovative" anymore than I am being "innovative" in posting in English. (A technology blog written in Quenya might be innovative, but it would be understandable to very few.)

I'm also one of those Linux users who has been using the OS long enough to remember not only when Microsoft pretended to like Linux, but when it was actively making it known that it considered it "carcinogenic"and its users "Communists".

As one Texan blogger might have pointed out, it's interesting that a "Communist" OS is doing so well that Microsoft are having to support it.

So Bill, please watch whom you call a liar, and the rest of you, dear readers, please watch out whom you believe.

Jeff

PS. Yes, as the eagle-eyed of you will have spotted, I did indeed "innovate" the title of this blog straight from a Microsoft/Linux-related article on The Register.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bless me, Father, for I have mistyped

In my last entry, I wrote that "The n-series is a series of desktop workstations which are sold with "no OS" (actually with a clone of DOS called FreeDOS), which is currently the closest mainstream vendors will get to selling you an OS with Linux (or any flavour of BSD) on it."

I did of course mean that it's currently the closest mainstream vendors will go to selling
consumer PC's with Linux on it - and it's a business desktop!

Sorry for the confusion.

The Two Greatest Barriers to Linux Adoption

There's a meme (which given what the majority of them seem to be about, I prefer to use in the sense of "urban legend") going around that one of the greatest barriers to Linux adoption is the lack of decent tax software.

But the problem with that theory is that most tax software which is only available for Windows (such as those of Intuit, Inc. and its nearest competitor, Peachtree) is geared towards the US or, at best, the US and Canada. The other piece of software whose name I see bandied about most when people refer to "barriers to Linux adoption" is Photoshop, despite the fact that many users of The GIMP feel it is just as easy to do most if not all of what you can do in Photoshop, with the open source graphics program. The problem, of course, is simply that The GIMP's interface is different to that of Photoshop.

So far, government agencies in Extremadura (Spain), Munich, Norway and even Massachusetts have seen the benefits of going over to Linux or at least FOSS software. And despite rants like this, a recent report showed that only a minority of software sold even in the US is closed-source.

In 2002, a report by Infoworld claimed that the UK "was in talks with Microsoft over a single contract to supply its Office and Windows software to the country's 497,600 public servants." That makes UK government one of the biggest users of Microsoft worldwide - indeed it would be nice to be able to give you a link to the site on which I once read that HMG is the world's biggest single user of Microsoft software outside of the US. Without getting into the politics of the fact that public agencies really shouldn't be using proprietary, closed formats from a single vendor, the foregoing facts make it clear that:

The Two Greatest Barriers to Linux Adoption are the US and the UK.

In fact, try doing a search on "n-series" on Dell's US and UK websites: The n-series is a series of desktop workstations which are sold with "no OS" (actually with a clone of DOS called FreeDOS), which is currently the closest mainstream vendors will get to selling you an OS with Linux (or any flavour of BSD) on it. They are available in the US, but not in the UK. So the UK actually gets first place in the list of "barriers to Linux adoption".

This is brought into even sharper relief when you realise that China is about to ship thousands of PC's, of its own design, with a Chinese-designed processor, running Linux - presumably the Chinese government's own distribution, Red Flag Linux - to customers around the country.

Whilst China is hardly the kind of place I would usually be praising (check out for instance the Guardian's recent piece on why the current cosying up to China by Western businesses is a misinformed sham for business reasons, never mind ethical ones) anyone who knows anything about China will realise that it probably has more of a chance to promote and encourage the use of Linux than any other single country in the world. Add to that the One Laptop per Child initiative, which aims to distribute milllions of low-cost PC's running to children around the world, and you realise that without significant uptake in Linux in the next few decades, the US and UK are in serious danger of becoming the closest thing to the world's only Microsoft-only Gulags.

More on this subject, the reasons why, and the reasons why this is bad, in my next entry.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Better Late than Never?

The BBC reports that Bush is set to reveal his Iraq policy.

Only four years late, then. I suppose he thinks he deserves some applause?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Define Irony"

In the film Con Air, one of my favourite lines is when the character Garland Greene says:

"Define Irony: Bunch of idiots dancing in a plane to a song made famous by a band who died in a plane crash".

The song in question, of course, is Sweet Home Alabama, and the band is Lynyrd Skynyrd.

But today I think I've found a new (sadly, real life) definition: The extreme-nationalist far right members of the European Parliament have formed a new transnational caucus: The suitably-Orwellian Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty Party, which includes a former British member of the UK Independence Party, a group dedicated to the UK's withdrawal from the European Union.

So, to recast: Define Irony: Bunch of idiots forming a European political party dedicated to the destruction of the European Union.