I simply cannot understand it. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I know all of the explanations. I have been in the role of the preacher who spreads these explanations to some of my friends. Yet in reality I am still baffled by it myself. What am I talking about? Why do people still use Windows? Before you send me hate email/comments, hear me out.
A very close friend of mine had an issue. He needed to use a web application which provided a service necessary to get some work related tasks done. It simply was not working. Despite his hardest efforts, he could not turn that around. Although he is a very smart and capable person, he does not posses technical knowledge on this particular area of expertise. Like so many other people confronted with issues utilizing their PC’s, I completely understood and offered to diagnose the problem.
His lovely web app, needed to install an Active X control in order to work. It doesn’t offer any alternative. I personally don’t like to install these things, except the really necessary ones, like the ones from Microsoft. Yet I don’t know why they don’t come out of the box to begin with, but that’s another story. He insisted that he trusted the source and he needed the info on this web app, so I installed the control and proceeded to reload the page.
Then a lovely error message stated that the application only runs in Internet Explorer 6.0 (he was running 7.0). Ay-ay-ay! Their own crap doesn’t support their previous crap. Let’s step back for a moment. One thing is to make your own, non-standard-complaint crap. But to make your new non-standard-compliant crap which is not compatible with your last non-standard-compliant crap? Are you really trying to give us a great big collective headache? Was that one too many ‘crap’s? Great, I Google instructions on how to downgrade the browser.
This took me to the Microsoft support site, which forced me to installed the lovely Windows Genuine Advantage (and other updates). I have read all the horrors this introduces, but again, my friend was in a pinch and I was here to help him. I installed, and restarted the machine. According to WGA I had a valid and legal license, no problems there. I sighed in relief, confirmed the install of the rest of the updates and restarted the machine.
When the machine booted up again, half of it’s functionality had been disabled. I could not access my network, or the internet. I could not access the system hardware configuration. So much for being confirmed BY THE SOURCE that I have a valid license. The owner was basically locked out of the machine and OS he paid with HIS MONEY for his use. I tried to troubleshoot the problem, but without the assistance of my Google to look up any occurrences of similar issues, I had little options.
Luckily there was not a lot of important data on the machine. After a while he finds his Windows install disk (again, paid for with a valid license). I format the drive to get rid of all that gunk and reinstall Windows. After about an hour, I have a clean machine, which is running a bit smoother (simply because it still has no apps and a lot less DLL’s to load) and is ready to go. I load up the site again, reinstall the Active X control and give it a whirl. Instead of seeing results, I get another error message. This time, he wants me to install Service Pack 2. Now this is one of the old disks which doesn’t even have SP1.
I go to the Windows Update site, select all the updates and direct it to download and install. Keep in mind this is a fresh, untampered with machine. After the process was completed, at least half of the updates weren’t installed! Log files, explanatory error messages, troubleshooting options? Ha! In your dreams! I had to iterate over the process 3 times in order to get everything installed. After the fourth reboot, finally SP2 appears as an option in Windows Update. Downloading and installing SP2 alone consumed more than an hour. Not to mention a period of about 10-20 minutes where the SP2 installer simply became unresponsive. I had no idea if it had crashed or hit a snag. I didn’t kill the process in fear that it would render the machine useless… again.
We haven’t had the time to go back to the site and see it’s next complaint, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised other issues have to be resolved before being able to utilize the service.
Do you know when was the last time I encountered a problem like this utilizing applications and operating systems that are built on open standards? NEVER! It doesn’t happen! There is no obscurity, and therefore, all the processes necessary to get the service you require to work is much smoother. Since it is widely known how the protocols work, everyone can support it, regardless of what your OS or client application is.
If I could leave one message to the 10 people that take 5 minutes of their day to read this it would be this: The alternatives to Windows are better! Really! Stop being afraid! You will thank me if you at least try to make the switch. I have been happy ever since. The sad thing is that I have a very very very small, yet loyal fan base with one or two strays every once in a while. 8 of the 10 readers are already using an alternative. I already know this for a fact. If I could only convince the ninth guy to switch, then maybe… just maybe I would have accomplished something worthwhile with my day.
Something very interesting happened recently. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs attended an interview. They discussed many topics, ranging from the current state of their projects, how they viewed the other person and company, and their position on the near future and evolution of the industry, amongst other topics. We even learned that they have been secretly married for the past decade. There have to be dozens, if not hundreds of mainstream media venues and blogs talking about this event, so I wont go into detail. If you want to know more always remember: Google is your friend.
This reminded me of “Pirates of Silicon Valey”, which is a top movie for any nerd, and yet I have not seen it. I took it upon myself to utilize the occasion and watch the land mark film, since these two behemoths will probably not rejoin any time soon to offer me inspiration, or for any other reason. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie it tells the tale of the surge of Apple and Microsoft, although that’s not really important right now.
I was very surprised at how Steve Jobs was portrayed in the movie. He’s eccentric to say the least, and some of the things he did were unreasonable to say the least. I don’t really know how much of the movie is fact and how much is fiction. Again, unimportant detail. The one thing that really caught my eye was the passion that the character of Steve had in the whole movie. This passion has also characterized Jobs himself in the few press conferences and communications I have seen in the recent past. I’m guessing it may be more fact than fiction. He took risks, he stuck with them. He is today one of the most successful and charismatic men in the industry. He has an almost cult like following that will defend him at any cost. A real Cinderella story, if I’ve ever heard one.
This reminds me of one of the many failed attempts I have had in this short but interesting life. Like many others I quit the day job in order to pursue a start up company. As for school, I had already dropped out a couple of years ago at that point, so don’t even bother questioning that. I got together with a couple of my friends and started working on software that we identified that was needed in the market. Software that was inexistent in the market for the most part, and if not, fundamentally flawed.
I was the self appointed software architect. I would dream up most of the designs, and try to plan the stuff to the best of my ability. This does not mean by any extent of the imagination that I had the credentials, experience or know-how to actually do an adequate job. I simply was the guy in the role. I designed a couple of applications, and swiftly started working on them. I was full of life, full of passion. I was glad I had escaped the corporate shackles. I was living my life, my way on my terms. In the end, everything would be alright, or so I told my wife (at that time still girlfriend), every day.
The idea of doing your own thing was very appealing to me. My current day job, considering the market, didn’t have a too bad salary. Yet it got to a point where it was a simple repetition of outlined steps. It quickly became very redundant and boring. To make matters worse, corporate politics, company oversights and bad management made my experience there a whole lot worse. I was escaping all of this. I was going to do what I wanted to do, AND GET PAID TO DO IT. If you add to that family and friends, you’re set! What else do you really need to be happy? Aaahh… the eternal unanswerable question.
Yet the dude (that’s my cute nickname for God) is not without a perverse sense of sarcasm. My planning skills, as I have mentioned before were not stellar. Therefore implementation time was becoming more and more extended due to unforeseen complexities. Discussions turned into fights. People started pointing at my code, ridiculing it. Saying I was a fanboy of a particular technology or a particular construct of a language. I did my best to keep my cool and keep working. After all, our survival was at stake. I had alredy quit my day job, and a couple of the other guys were on their way to do the same.
Then an defining day arrived. One of the guys popped. I don’t know why. I have several theories. Maybe he felt unimportant. Maybe he felt ignored. Maybe he felt that his contributions were not taking into serious consideration. Who knows? Up to this day I still haven’t asked him. He sent a very beautiful email insulting everyone in the group and their mother. The group was already in a tense state. This was just adding a tank of propane, bathed in gasoline, to the fire. Keep in mind I had invested a lot of my creativity and time to the group’s objectives. Hell, the current code base was at least 80% all my own handwritten code. All the designs were mine. Never the less, I promptly quit, wished everyone good luck and started to look for potential job opportunities. I was simply too frustrated and didn’t want to put up with it anymore.
I know have another job, at another corporation. This one seems to be much more friendlier, flexible and comfortable to work with. They try to keep bureaucracy to a necessary minimum and make their employees comfortable. This is a world of change in comparison to the old job. Yet I still feel the same sense as before. I am repeating the same steps over and over again. I am doing a job that in the end will not positively influence someones life. I am simply there, because justification is necessary.
Steve Job’s character (in the movie) in the beginning said that their objective was nothing mediocre, but to make a dent in the universe. He was out to make a difference. He was out to change everyone’s life. I had that kind of passion once. Probably not to the extent of Mr. Jobs, but definitely something palely comparable. I think it’s still lurking down there somewhere. Yet I have lost hope. Not in the group, but in myself. To actually get a start up going takes a lot of hard work. To do it while maintaining a day job, going to school or having other major responsibilities makes it near impossible. Yet there was a day where I laughed in the face of this feat. That day is long gone. I miss being fearless. I miss working to reach objectives I truly believed in, not just for the next paycheck.
Now, making a dent in the universe is pretty big deal. While there are some talented few that are meant to lead, most of us have no choice but to follow. I wanted to be a leader. Apparently I did not have the chops to make it happen, or maybe I gave up too soon. Who knows? Can I still turn it around? Or will I just be another sheep gladly following the herder, reminiscing of a short period of time in my life where I made my own rules, before it all crumbled down to the ground?
We’ve all seen Microsoft’s latest frenzy. They are accusing Linux, Open Office and other open source software of a massive patent infringement. “The numbers and locations of the alleged violations break down as follows: 42 violations within the Linux kernel itself, 65 within the “Linux GUI,” though the article doesn’t specify whether these infringements apply to one GUI or apply equally to all the Linux desktop environments. OpenOffice allegedly violates an additional 45 patents, e-mail programs infringe on another 15 patents, and an unspecified array of “other” OSS programs violate a further 68 patents.”, according to Ars Technica (view link above for complete article).
It’s too late for me to try to turn this post into news, this is relatively old. Yet this begs to ask a couple of questions:
Why are they not specifying the patents that are in breach? We know that Microsoft has patented everything from the Recycle Bin to the Double Click (yes Microsoft, I said “Recycle Bin”, sue me!). It almost seems like something out of science fiction that they were awarded these patents, but what’s done is done. Is that they know their patent claims are so ridiculous that no one would take them seriously? Is it that, even though I’m sure there are infringements, 235 is just a pretty number and they haven’t actually made the necessary research?
Why wait until this moment? These infringements are nothing new. What is so lovely of this time of year to bring it up? Was their legal team slacking and got assigned some new homework?
Why just make an announcement but take no real legal action? No official suits have been presented in court. Who will be sued? The Linux foundation? Open source companies? End users?
To find the answers to these questions one must analyze the recent history of Linux and some insight might just pop up.
First you have the lovely deal between Microsoft and Novell. According to the B.S. Steve Ballmer and Ronald Hovsepian the plan was to “their companies planned to work together to improve interoperability and increase the viability of enterprise virtualization technology”. What they tried to undertone in the announcement, but everyone focused on anyway, was “As part of the deal, the two companies created a controversial patent indemnification pact: both companies agreed not to sue each other’s customers”. Or more importantly, Microsoft would not sue Novell and it’s users. Novell made a pact with the Devil to avoid patent hell.
This has several implications. Microsoft is saying that while open source software is evil and a detriment to the industry, Novell has been awarded a “get out of jail free” card. This two sided blade continues to emphasize what they’ve said about open source all along. They also clearly reinforced their intentions of going after Linux users in the future. If not, why would this deal be important? At the very least scare Linux vendors into similar agreements.
Then you have the top U.S. desktop computer maker deciding to sell computers with Ubuntu Linux pre-installed. When a vendor like system76 it really doesn’t worry Microsoft. Hell, even Lenovo did it. But when the top computer seller in America makes this move, it will have serious repercussions. It all started with a project called IdeaStorm. It was a digg clone that Dell customers would use to tell the company what they wished for in new hardware, what they were unhappy about, how they could better their products and services. The folks at Dell were amazed when they got hundreds of thousands of petitions for open source office suite alternatives, firefox set as the default browser, and ship Linux preinstalled. Dell has had a recent history of very bad press. Ranging from the laptop battery scandal, to poor service for paying customers. Actually going through could be a way for them to get a bit of good publicity.
Now, I doubt this will be a best seller. They will probably sell some tens of thousands of computers with Linux. Let’s hope I’m mistaken and the number jumps to six figures. Microsoft is not worried that this will curb Vista sales. That won’t happen in a very, very long time. But it will raise awareness of Linux in the everyday mortals who don’t know better. It’s effect will be measured in the future, not the present.
You also need to take into context all of the litigation that has been in the press recently over online media trading. I’m not going to go into that right now. I actually wrote an article on it recently, not that it wasn’t an over covered subject anyway. Basically “free music” or “free movies” are being portrayed as evil. While they are convenient to you, they are adding to the collapse of the media industry as a whole. Your favorite artists will all be forced to stop producing media and get day jobs. The complete entertainment industry faces demise. Or at least that’s what they want you to think. But the important thing is that a concept is being induced into people’s minds. Something that isn’t a new concept, but is getting more traction these days: free is evil.
Of course they are referring to free as in beer (free of charge), as opposed to free as in speech (you are granted the liberty to remix and redistribute). There is a very fine distinction. Most products in the OSS spectrum are free as in beer, but the few that have a price tag attached to them don’t get their freedom revoked. Yet, as anyone working in advertising will probably suggest, since both concepts are expressed with the same word it’s easy to add your own little twists on top of the already massive ignorance and confusion.
Is Microsoft just using these patent infringement allegations to further shed shadow over the Linux community? I think so. There really is no plan to sue anyone. They just need to do something to hurt Linux on the public relations front. They have been getting too much light recently. This has to be stopped before the snowflake rolls into an avalanche! You know what Microsoft? This may just be a classic case of too little, too late.