Apple and Mac OS X Computers Linux Windows

Software freedom does affect the end user

As a follow-up to an older post of mine (“Open Source for Non-Programmers”), I wanted to post a little bit about arbitrary limitations in software.

Thank God even Apple is now leaving behind DRM in its iTunes Music Store (Amazon has been doing so for quite a while with its MP3 store). While the music pirates were still out there pirating, my well-intentioned and law-abiding Windows- and Mac-using friends were constantly frustrated that this computer wasn’t authorized or this song wouldn’t play on that device. DRM was an artificial restriction on how many computers or devices could play a purchased song, and it wasn’t stopping music piracy. It was hurting the people who were trying to play by the rules.

Now the tech news is reporting that Microsoft (in attempt to phase out Windows XP) will release a crippled version of Windows 7 on netbooks that allows you to run only three applications at a time. So if you’re running Firefox, Thunderbird, and Pidgin already, and then you want to open up OpenOffice to write an essay for class, you have to close Firefox first (or Thunderbird or Pidgin). Will DropBox count as an app? Will ScreenPrint32? Will other tray apps? Who knows? This is a nuisance and nothing else. It is a cheap ploy to take advantage of users’ Windows addictions and coerce them into upgrading to the full version of Windows 7.

Of course, as with what happened in the case of DRM, this limitation will be an annoyance to Microsoft’s loyal customers, and it will do nothing to stop pirates. Some Windows customers will buy a netbook with crippled Windows 7 and get frustrated and just install an old copy of Windows XP on it. Others will pirate the full version of Windows 7 and install that without paying for an upgrade. And still others will get frustrated with Windows altogether and go to Android or Ubuntu Linux. (Relatively few people will actually pay for an upgrade.)

When enough people flock to Linux on netbooks, Microsoft will be forced to pull Windows XP off the shelf yet again to stave off the competition.

Linux distros have their limitations, but they aren’t arbitrarily imposed on you by the Linux developers. The limitations all come from proprietary software and hardware vendors. Know why your Broadcom wireless card won’t work on Linux? Broadcom won’t port a driver to Linux or release the driver specs to Linux developers can incorporate it into the Linux kernel. Know why there’s no Adobe Creative Suite for Linux? Adobe doesn’t think there’s enough demand for it to warrant making a port, so it won’t make one for Linux.

Want to know why you can’t run more than three apps at a time in Windows 7 on netbooks? Microsoft won’t let you unless you pay for an upgrade. That’s right. You can’t blame it on some outside vendor. Microsoft, the maker of Windows 7, is saying “We don’t care about the end user or a good user experience. We want to offer you a crippled product in the hopes you’ll pay for the full product.” This is like a car salesperson offering you a discounted car with no front wheel. To get the fourth wheel you have to pay extra. Some discount.

Software freedom isn’t just about hackers wearing out their eyes staring at screens and typing into terminals. It isn’t just about programming and getting into arguments about which text editor is better than the other. Software freedom affects end users too. Because Linux offers freedom (not just free cost), if a distro ever tried to limit you to running only three apps at a time, another distro would just take that limit right off. Or someone would create a script to break that limitation.

There are short-term freedoms and long-term freedoms. The short-term freedom to run Windows-only programs will lead to the curtailing of long-term freedoms to not be limited by what Microsoft says you can and can’t do with the software you’ve purchased.

Computers Linux

Not that hopeful ARM will save Linux on netbooks

With the recent 96% Microsoft netbook fiasco (i.e., poor excuses for tech journalism, as usual), I see a lot of smug comments from the Linux community about the upcoming ARM-powered Linux netbooks.

The argument goes something like this:

Yeah, Windows may dominate the netbooks now, but Linux will come back. Windows doesn’t run on ARM yet, and the ARM-powered netbooks will be cheap and have long battery life. If they sell netbooks for US$200 with a 15-hour battery life, then who would pick a more expensive Windows option with less battery life?

I would love Linux to succeed on netbooks, but look what has happened already? Let’s review, shall we? First, the One Laptop Per Child project introduced the idea of a very low-cost laptop for children in developing countries. Then the Classmate PC came out as a rival. Both Microsoft and Apple tried to edge their operating systems on to the OLPC laptop. What happened? Well, not only is the Sugar interface on the X0 rubbish, but OLPC even started entertaining putting Windows on its laptops, despite its earlier refusals in objection to the use of proprietary software.

Then there were all these rumors about Asus coming out with a $200 very small laptop. People got all excited. $200? Really? Wow! What happened? The Eee PC. It was a big hit! Was it $200? No. It was $400. And it had a 4 GB SSD drive. Later, they came out with a $300 version with a 2 GB SSD drive. At first people marveled at these small things and even praised the Linux interface (with very large icons) as something anyone could use. Then they realized it was some crippled version of Xandros and promptly started to replace Xandros en masse with Windows or Ubuntu (or some other Linux distribution).

Other vendors started jumping on the bandwagon, because they didn’t want to lose out in this new netbook market, so Acer, MSI, Sylvania, and HP all ended up coming out with their own versions. The prices either got higher or stayed the same (but with better specs).

And then Windows XP started appearing. Unfortunately, if you want people to actually start using Linux, preinstallation is not enough. First of all, that preinstalled version has to be preconfigured, too, and thoroughly tested. Then it has to be properly marketed. It also should be a proper Linux distribution and not a crippled one (no Linpus Lite, no customized Xandros).

Pretty soon, Linux became synonymous with enormous cartoony icons and lack of easy software installation. Windows won. That, and a few FUD stories thrown in about return rates being higher for Linux netbooks (even though that was for only MSI, not Dell or Asus), and Microsoft has basically won the battle.

And my suspicion is that it’ll win the war, too. The real problem is that OEMs are not invested in seeing Linux succeeding. If Linux is a cheap option that will get them some revenue, OEMs will use Linux. But if Windows will get them even more revenue, they’ll use Windows. And a lot of Linux users aren’t helping, either. This whole mentality of “Well, if the Windows option is better, so I’ll just buy that and install Linux myself on it” will just limit future Linux options, as executives at OEMs will just say “We tried to offer a Linux option, but even the Linux users will just buy Windows and install Linux over it themselves. What’s the point?”

Will ARM be $200? We don’t know that. Will ARM have amazing battery life that the Windows netbooks won’t compare to? We also don’t know that. Some of the more recent Windows Eee PCs boast up to 9.5 hours of battery life.

Call me cynical. Call me pessimistic. But I see ARM either falling through the cracks or Android falling through the cracks, or ARM netbooks being marketed badly or overpriced or configured badly. I will be extremely surprised if Ubuntu shows up on an ARM-powered netbook that’s US$189 with a 15-hour battery life, a comfortable keyboard, a large hard drive, a slick look, and no “We recommend Windows for home computing” at the top of the vendor page. The vendors will keep recommending Windows, and Microsoft will keep pushing Windows 7. And it’ll bring out its ARM smears and Android smears. Microsoft will go down fighting or not go down at all. I have to confess, at this point, I’m very tempted to just throw in the towel and get a Windows netbook and install Linux myself on it, even though that’ll just add to Microsoft’s bottom line and its boasts about the demise of the Linux netbook.

You vendors, you’d better come out with some cool Linux netbook soon… and don’t let Apple steal this new market away the way it did with portable audio players and the iPod.

Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Windows and Linux on netbooks… what stays on?

Right now, there’s a lot of debate among computing enthusiasts about whether Microsoft’s claim of 96% sales on netbooks is true… or meaningful. I tend to believe the percentages, but I don’t think it means what Microsoft seems to imply it means (“We’re better. People prefer us”). I do believe Windows users would rather stick with something familiar than switch to something else, especially if the two are around the same price. I also believe the Linux options on netbooks were badly marketed (and in many cases, badly implemented). It certainly doesn’t help that when you go to HP’s or Dell’s websites and try to order a Linux netbook, you’ll be told HP recommends Windows for everyday computing or Dell recommends Windows Vista Home Premium. Are you really going to tell me sales would have been the same if both the Linux and Windows pages said HP recommends Linux for everyday computing or Dell recommends Ubuntu Linux? Microsoft pays those OEMs money or cuts them deals to have those phrases plastered all over the sites, and with good reason.

Let’s see. I’m a consumer. I can go with Windows, which I’m already familiar with and which Dell recommends, or I can go with… U… bun… tu? which Dell doesn’t appear to recommend? And when I pick the Ubuntu option, Dell says I can “upgrade” to Windows (Windows is clearly better, since it’s an upgrade)? I think I’ll go with Windows. Of course. Why wouldn’t I?

So, yes, I can believe the 96%, but it doesn’t mean consumers were offered a fair choice and decided they liked Windows better and that Linux sucks. It means Microsoft strong-armed its way into the netbook marketplace, just as it always did with other markets. It’s like if we have a race and I bring my fans to the stadium and kick your fans out. Then I jam a cleat into your shin, stick gum on the bottom of your running shoes, and bat your ears just as the gun goes off. Oh, and the officials running the track meet are on my payroll. After I “win” the race, I brag to everybody that you’re slow. It doesn’t mean I’m a faster runner than you. It means I’m a bully and a cheat.

I have to confess I’m even tempted to get a Windows netbook myself, even though I’ve promised myself I won’t buy any more Microsoft products, even if I’m just planning to install Linux right over it. Why? Look at the selection out there! I’ve checked NewEgg, Amazon, just about every vendor I can find, and the Linux selections keep getting slimmer and slimmer. And they also tend to be the older models. If I want to get the best netbook out there right now (in terms of hardware specifications and battery life), it’s about US$349 from Asus and runs Windows XP—it’s one of the newer Eee PCs. If I want to get the best Linux netbook available right now, it’s about US$500 from HP and doesn’t even have a third USB port or VGA out.

The most popular Linux netbook options out run Linpus Linux Lite (crippled Fedora) and a specialized (i.e., crippled) Xandros Linux. The Dell Mini 9 looks okay and gets decent reviews but doesn’t have a hard drive bigger than 16 GB. And the HP Mini Mie also looks great but is really expensive when spec’ed out and still hasn’t fully ironed out its Ubuntu implementation (even though their new interface for Ubuntu looks pretty).

Vendors, are you listening to me? If you can offer the following, I can guarantee you your Linux sales will be gangbusters:

  • Stop recommending Windows on your Linux netbook pages.
  • Offer a Linux netbook under US$400 with 7 or 8 hours of battery life, an actual hard drive with a lot of space, 3 USB ports, a 92%-95%-sized keyboard, and VGA out.
  • Use a Ubuntu variant but make sure the interface is useful and the video playback isn’t choppy

As long as the Linux options are crippled (either on the hardware or software fronts), then, yes, people will keep buying Windows netbooks. Some people may buy the Windows netbooks just to install Linux on them, but if Windows is either the only option, the cheapest option, the option with the best hardware features, or all three of the above, then Windows will continue to outsell Linux on the netbook front.

I’ll close with some excerpts from Amazon reviews:

Asus doesn’t offer the 1000HA with Linux. I don’t know what they’re thinking here. I’m forced to buy yet another Windows license that will never be used

I loaded Ubuntu Linux 8.10 to have a dual-boot system and I must say it runs Linux very well — no problems on the Linux side.

I bought this Windows XP model, just because there is no Linux equivalent of Eee PC 1000HA on sale(Asus, are you listening?).

Installed Easy Peasy linux, based… right out of the box. I did manage to hose windows xp, which is fine, since I’m not interested in running it

Linux was actually faster, and easier to set up (more plug and play, and no questions to answer). It started up each time much faster

I was primarily looking for a netbook with some form of linux installed on it, but I liked the size and battery life of this one so I went ahead and bought it.

I love my Eee PC 701. At some point I want to upgrade it, and I hope at that time there’ll be some decent Linux options out there.


Making sense of an abundance of choice

When I was a child, I chose among thousands of movies, thousands of musicians, thousands of comic books to find the ones I liked and wanted to spend money on. At no point was I ever confused about what I wanted to consume. When I became an adult, I was confronted with a simple choice between two things, and I was baffled. PPO? HMO? What’s the difference? What do I want? How do I know what I want?

When it comes to choice, it doesn’t really matter how many choices you have. It matters more what information you have on those choices and how you can break them down. I have no idea how many universities and post-secondary schools there are in the world. I’m going to guess there are thousands, if not tens of thousands. Certainly there are at least hundreds. Sure, I felt a little overwhelmed when I had to decide what colleges (that’s what we Americans call post-secondary school) to apply to. But I never felt paralyzed by that choice. I loved that choice. I loved investigating my options.

So what’s the difference between choosing an HMO or PPO and choosing a college? Why did one (a choice between two things) get me confused and frustrated and another (a choice among hundreds if not thousands of things) get me overwhelmed a little but mainly excited?

I’d attribute the difference to several factors:

  • With HMO and PPO, I had choices with very little comprehensible information. No brochure had easy-to-understand explanations of what the differences were between the two and what the pros and cons were. With colleges, I had lots of brochures explaining what’s good about each college, and many colleges has reputations as well beyond the brochures.
  • Despite theoretically having the choice of thousands of colleges, I could eliminate whole groups at once. I knew I was going to study within the US, so all international schools were out. In fact, I knew I wanted to study close to home, so that knocked out even most US schools. I also had an idea of the caliber of school I wanted and just by reputation alone I could eliminate even more schools. The abbreviations HMO and PPO are completely meaningless to me, though, and when I first started working, I knew nothing about them or their reputations. They might as well have been fjbalbga and pfnirqbjkb.
  • The search for a college is part of the American dream narrative. If you want upward mobility or stability, it’s expected you spend some time searching and researching. The HMO and PPO choice is a form someone in Human Resources shoves in your face and expects you to make a choice about either immediately or within the next day. I have never heard any HR person say, “The HMO and PPO choice is something you want to do a lot of research on. Make sure you take about nine months to really look into each. Then come back to me, and I’ll counsel you a bit on your choice.”

We see this over and over again with choices in everyday life. Whether you’re choosing a restaurant to eat at or choosing an airline to fly on, you have to make sense of the choices you’re given. In some situations, society encourages you to take your time researching options (buying a car, for example). In other situations, society encourages you to just make a choice immediately (cart or basket for the grocery store).

One of the main criticisms of consumer Linux (Linux for desktops, laptops, and netbooks; as opposed to Linux for servers or embedded Linux) is the abundance of choice. Too many distros. The choices are confusing. How would new users even know what version of Linux to start with?

And, unfortunately, like the HMO and PPO choice for me, Linux suffers from all of the following problems when it comes to choice:

  • A lack of centralized information to distinguish one distro from another
  • A lack of easily apparent (to newcomers, anyway) groupings of distros so that large groups of distros can be easily eliminated as possibilities
  • A culture of choice in operating systems (since Windows and Mac don’t offer much choice, people aren’t used to spending time researching what operating system to use)

Unfortunately, a lot of people who have problems with the choices in Linux distros decide to cure the headache by cutting off the head. They want all the choices taken away. Have only one Linux distro. Unify Linux. Not only is this solution completely antithetical to the philosophies of Linux (which tend to involve freedom and choice), but it’s also completely unnecessary. If you’re overwhelmed by how many restaurants there are to eat at, you don’t suggest all the restaurants close down and combine into one restaurant. What do you do instead? You read restaurant reviews, get recommendations from friends, and try some out.

And that is the solution. When I first started looking into Linux, I had no idea what to start with. I went to and that was no help. I went to DistroWatch and that was no help. All I got were lists of different versions of Linux, long lists. Nothing pointed me in a direction.

It wasn’t around when I first started looking into Linux, but the Linux Distro Chooser quiz is a good start to helping new users get less confused about the choices. Ultimately, though, we’ve just got to get people moving more to preinstallation. Most people don’t care or even know what operating system is on their cell phones or DVRs. And, frankly, most people don’t care what operating system is on their computers, as long as the computer does what they want it to do.

This current culture of find a distro, download it, burn it, boot from it, repartition your drive, install the Linux distro is so power user. It is not average user. It is not the future. Linux will get nowhere in the consumer space if everyone has to download and install and configure her own operating system. People generally don’t buy cars without the engine hooked up, and they also generally don’t buy computers without the operating system preinstalled.

Let’s start with the power users, though. Have them take the Linux Distro Chooser quiz. Or just give them a distro to start with (Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS, Fedora) and let them run from there. But let’s also realize that this is not a choice most people want to make. They will use… whatever comes with the computer.

Asus Eee PC Linux Ubuntu

Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) Beta First Impressions

As far as I can tell, jackalopes aren’t even real animals. I still remember the first time I got a jackalope postcard over ten years ago. Well, the Ubuntu folks have decided to name the next Ubuntu Linux release Jaunty Jackalope. I’ve used every single Ubuntu release since its second one (Hoary Hedgehog). That would be 5.04, 5.10, 6.06, 6.10, 7.04, 7.10, 8.04, and 8.10. Eight releases. And I can honestly say that Ubuntu 9.04 is the smoothest, most polished release I have ever seen from Ubuntu.

I installed Ubuntu 9.04 beta (yes, it is beta, so it not guaranteed to be bug-free) on my Eee PC 701 (which, only a year after I’ve purchased it, already feels like a netbook dinosaur), and I have only one complaint (which I’ve filed a bug report on).

At first glance, it looks pretty much like any of the recent releases, but some nice little touches are in there:

  • Boot up time and general responsiveness are significantly increased, even with still the Ext3 filesystem (I don’t want to risk Ext4 at this point).
  • When the package manager is interrupted, you’re told to use the command sudo dpkg –configure -a to fix it (instead of the incorrect previously given command dpkg –configure -a
  • Hotkeys, sound, touchpad tapping, and wireless all work out of the box with the Eee PC. No tweaking or special kernels necessary.
  • Time zone selection during installation actually is by time zone and not by city.
  • More themes are included.

I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head, but it just feels good. I wanted to file as many bugs as I could before final release. I could find only one bug to file so far, though.

Good job, Ubuntu folks!

Apple and Mac OS X Asus Eee PC Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Should Linux users hush up about Microsoft?

Someone linked to Good Linux Users Don’t Talk About Microsoft on the Ubuntu Forums. I started to type up a reply, and then it got so long that I figured it was more of a blog entry than a forum post. Besides, who wants to hear about our broken toilet flush, anyway?

Okay, let’s see. So “good Linux” users can’t bash Microsoft, but “bad Linux users” can be bashed as morons? Okay. I don’t really see how that works.

I do agree that if Linux users want others to use Linux (and not all Linux users say they do) they should focus more on what Linux can do than on what Windows can’t do. It’s the same for anything in life, really. You have more respect for a political candidate who says “I’m going to do this, this, and that good things” instead of “My opponent has done this, this, and that bad things.”

But it’s only natural for people to compare two competing alternatives, especially if most of the users of one alternative used to use (or still use) the dominant product. If almost every Toyota owner used to own a Honda, then you bet you’d hear a lot of Honda-bashing from Toyota owners.

I see this a lot with Mac users, too. There are some very vocal anti-Microsoft and anti-Windows Linux users online, but in person all the Linux users I know are pretty level-headed about things (use what works for you, I prefer Linux), and the most vocal anti-Microsoft and anti-Windows sentiment I hear in real (in-person) life is from Mac users who were former Windows users.

It’s the same trick that the bully from elementary school used to use. You put others down to make yourself feel better. Well, if you’re not 100% sure you like your new choice, you may feel tempted to put down your former choice to reassure yourself you made the right new choice. It’s like when people start reminiscing about their exes and then a friend says “Oh, he was such a jerk anyway. You’re so much better without him.” He may, in fact, have been a jerk, but why do you need such assurance that you’re doing better now? It’s because there’s a little part of you that wonders whether you should still be with him. And for every Linux or Mac user who does spend the bulk of her energy putting down Windows, I often wonder if that’s where it’s coming from.

I kind of see both sides of it. On the one hand, there are many deplorable things Microsoft does, and there are many things I don’t like about Windows. It doesn’t make sense to ignore corporate bullying practices, vendor lock-in, or bad default security practices. On the other hand, focusing your energy solely on what “the competition” is doing wrong isn’t a good “sell” for your own “product.” You should spend most of your energy talking about what Linux is good for.

This goes to a larger sociological issue when it comes to operating systems. You see a lot of dumb back-and-forth arguments about “Which is better, Mac or [understood to be Windows] PC?” or “Is Linux ready for the desktop?” Well, obviously no one’s going to come to a unanimous conclusion, because there is none. No one operating system can be everybody’s preference or suit everyone’s needs. And no one operating system needs to.

My wife can love her Mac OS X and that doesn’t bother me. I can love my Ubuntu and not bother others with it. And our friends can use Windows to their heart’s content, and I won’t bother them. As a matter of fact, even though I prefer Ubuntu, I use Windows at work every day, and I divide my home time almost equally between my wife’s Macbook Pro (with Mac OS X) and my own Eee PC (with Ubuntu). So I’m familiar with all three operating systems and can appreciate their respective pros and cons.

If someone says “Do you think Linux is ready for the desktop?” I would probably respond “I don’t think there’s a definite answer to that. It’s better to tell me what your computer habits and budget are, and then I can tell you whether a Mac, a Windows PC, or a Linux PC is best for you.”

The key is really being able to talk intelligently about what works for whom instead of trying to pit operating systems in a battle out of which only one winner can emerge.

Apple and Mac OS X Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

The antivirus paranoia culture

Recently, I’ve spent some time looking at the computer section of Yahoo! Answers, and it’s a fascinating place from a sociological perspective. If the questions and answers popular there are indicative of what common attitudes and practices are among Windows and Mac users, then this is how a typical user operates:

  • Install free antivirus software
  • Install Limewire and use it to download copyrighted songs and movies as well as software cracks.
  • Run as administrator all the time (no limited user account).
  • Get infected with a virus or rogue.
  • Ask for suggestions about a better antivirus.
  • Consider that maybe paid antivirus solutions may be more effective than free ones.
  • Consider that Frostwire may be safer than Limewire.
  • Switch antiviruses.
  • Switch P2P application.
  • Get infected again.
  • Try to remove the infection with MalwareBytes.
  • Spend hours trying to remove infections with various other programs.
  • Eventually give up and reformat entire drive without backing up files.
  • Continue cycle.

There also seems to be a popular misconception that Windows’ malware problem has to do primarily with its popularity and not any flaw in security (like running as administrator by default all the time). So when a trojan (which requires user stupidity, not a flaw in the security of the operating system) appears for Mac OS X, the Windows users on Yahoo! Answers say “Aha! See? Macs get viruses too. They’re no more secure than Windows” and the Mac users on Yahoo! Answers say “Oh, no. What antivirus should I use to protect my Mac? I thought Macs were immune to viruses.”

I hope you see the problem here. Antivirus software companies may not be so nefarious as to actually create viruses (though maybe they do—we don’t have any irrefutable evidence either way), but they have definitely created a culture of paranoia and not just healthy fear.

Most computer users are paralyzed when it comes to security. They have no concept whatsoever as to what makes a computer secure or insecure. They just think “If I run ‘the best’ antivirus software, I can do whatever I want and my computer will be safe.”

Yet, I’d be willing to bet that most of these people would be better at spotting a fake valet before handing over the keys to their cars and would know better than to actively seek out burglars to give out their bank ATM cards and PIN codes to.

What can we do to turn around this culture of paranoia and turn it into proper, healthy fear properly channeled through education and good practice?

I used to be part of this culture, back when I was an exclusive Windows user. I got malware of some kind and panicked. And I thought if I just got a “better” antivirus and changed from Internet Explorer to Firefox that my security would be so much better.

It wasn’t until I got more familiar with the worlds of Mac OS X and Ubuntu that I realized privilege separation matters. Yes, it’s theoretically conceivable that malware could infect a limited user account if it were designed that way, but if it did and was detected in a short amount of time, then it could be easily removed. Malware as it is now thrives because it digs deeply into the Windows system files so that booting into safe mode or trying to use system restore to get rid of it isn’t enough. If you use a limited user account, no system files will be affected, and if malware were ever designed to affect a limited user account, you could just delete that account and carry on.

More importantly, the paranoia comes from a total lack of understanding about how computers become infected with malware. They have the same understanding of computer diseases that “doctors” had about human diseases centuries ago. It’s a bad humor. It’s punishment for doing something evil. It’s not germs you actually have to come in contact with.

A lot of malware comes in not through software flaws but through user flaws. Social engineering is a great way to get malware installed because Microsoft, Apple, and Linux developers can do nothing about it through better programming. If you can trick the user into installing “the codec you need to watch this video” or “this pirated version of iWork” or “this cool new software,” then any kind of built-in security goes out the window.

Couldn’t these users who suffer from such paranoia and ignorance save themselves a lot of heartache if they did a few simple things?

  1. Use a limited user account in Windows
  2. Take ten minutes to read up on social engineering and how not to be a victim of it
  3. Back up personal files regularly
  4. Use Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image to image a working installation so a reinstall wouldn’t take so long
  5. Install system security updates

The way a lot of people run their computers, it’s like having rampant unprotected sex and then getting an HIV test every six months. That won’t stop HIV! Get a condom! Computers have condoms too, even though Microsoft doesn’t make them very easy to put on.

Apple and Mac OS X Computers Education Linux Ubuntu

The woman who dropped out of MATC after mistakenly buying a Ubuntu laptop from Dell

I know I’m probably the millionth person to comment on this (is millionth even a word?), but I have only two things to say.

1. To the anti-Linux folks and tech “journalists” who blame this on Linux not being “friendly” enough for new users or being for only those who want to tinker with their computers, how exactly would Ubuntu (or any Linux distro) have been friendlier or easier to use in this case? Does Ubuntu have any control over the fact that Verizon gives you the impression its software is necessary to set up an internet connection? Or that Verizon’s CD provides Windows-only software for it? Does Ubuntu have any control over the fact that Microsoft has made Microsoft Office closed source and not made a Linux version? Does Ubuntu have any control over MATC’s requirements misleading people into thinking they need Windows when Linux will do just fine? Did this woman really have to drop out of college because of the laptop?

2. To the supposedly pro-Linux folks who feel the need to harass this woman through Facebook or whatever, shame on you. Should she have known better to research what computer she was buying before plunking down $1100? Sure. Is she an idiot? No. She’s just an idiot when it comes to computers, and I know a lot of otherwise brilliant folks who are idiots when it comes to computers (I was a computer idiot only five years ago myself). There’s no need to send hate mail her way when the people really at fault are the “journalists” who don’t actually do any kind of investigative reporting and rely solely on catchy headlines and misinformation to gain readership and website hits.

A friend of mine recently went back to school for interior design and previously had been a Mac user. Surprise, surprise—she got herself a Windows computer, because she knew AutoCAD wouldn’t run on her iBook. Somehow, though, I can’t picture WKOW 27 running a news story on Mac OS X forcing her to drop out of college because it doesn’t run AutoCAD, even if she had stuck with her iBook.

Edit: Here’s an example of a Mac user on Yahoo! Answers who is having trouble with the .exe file to set up her Belkin wireless router. Anyone going to run a news story on it? Doubtful.

Computers Linux Ubuntu

Linux is a Windows operating system? HP…?

I’ve been fascinated by HP’s line of netbooks ever since I saw the phrase “92% keyboard,” but the reviews of the HP Mini-Note have been mixed, and the most recent reviews of the HP Mini MI indicate they’ve based it on Ubuntu but disabled the terminal. There’s probably a way to re-activate the terminal. Still, what’s the point of disabling it? Mac OS X has had a terminal for years. It doesn’t mean Mac users have to use the terminal. It’s just there for the people who want it.

In any case, I’m not actually in a position to buy a new netbook (my old Eee PC is less than a year old). I like to pretend, though, so I walked through the process of customizing the new HP Mini MI, and I came across this (click for a larger image with the full context):
Uh, that’s a Windows logo there, except they’re saying it’s Linux. It’s one thing to hide the typical Linux interface with a slick internet-media interface or even to disable the terminal, but tricking Windows users into thinking Linux is Windows? Even Mac has the weird split square smiley face or the Apple logo. Linux can’t even get a tux penguin or the Ubuntu logo?

“Progress” always has to happen in small steps at first, I guess.

Computers Linux Ubuntu

Confessions of a Linux user

One of the popular criticisms of Linux users is that Linux users can’t take criticism well. This criticism happens to be true. And I happen to have, at one point, been one of those Linux users who could not take criticism well.

Why can’t Linux users take criticism well? Why couldn’t I before? Does using Linux do something to your brain? Does it cause you to have kneejerk reactions?

Well, I think it does at first. I can speak only for myself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other Linux users had this happen to them, too. When I first “converted” to Linux from Windows, that’s exactly how I thought of myself—as a convert. I felt as if I’d seen the light. For decades, I’d been enslaved by Microsoft and now had finally seen the light in Linux. Praise Jesus! I wanted to share the “good news” with other Windows users. I wanted to tell them what they were missing. I was so enthusiastic for Linux that I couldn’t understand how anyone could level criticisms against it.

It was more than that, of course. Even after my new-convert zeal died down, I didn’t take criticism well because I knew many of the criticisms were not valid or constructive ones. If 95% of the criticisms people throw at you aren’t valid, it can be difficult to figure out which 5% are valid and give people credit for that little bit. In other words, you get in a defensive mode, the same way a dog who is used to being beaten will shy away from even an intended-to-be-loving touch.

Once the zeal went away and once the defensiveness cooled down, I started trying to deflect criticism into pragmatism. After all, what does it matter if I—a Linux user, not a Linux developer—hear your criticisms? How would I know how to fix things any more than you would?

A little bit of this I have retained, and I still will refer complainers to Brainstorm and Launchpad.

But I’ve stopped toeing the party line. It’s taken me three and a half years of Linux use to do so, but I’ve stopped. Yes, there are many things that are the fault of third-party vendors. Yes, there are many things that are out of the control of Linux developers. In the end, though, Linux developers are human—just like you and me. They make mistakes. That’s why some thing that used to work in an older release no longer works in the current release. That’s why that update broke your X server. That’s why that security vulnerability snuck in and took a while to get patched.

Linux isn’t perfect, not even for what is within the control of the Linux developers. And not all Linux developers are volunteers. Many are, and I appreciate their generosity of time and energy. But many are also paid. But they’re human, folks. They make mistakes. Is it okay for you to criticize? Sure. Criticize away.

I’ve had my fair share of problems with Linux. I’ve been a Ubuntu user for over three years, and I saw Ubuntu storing passwords in plain text (that has since been fixed). I’ve had all kinds of problems getting drives mounted and unmounted properly, and I’ve filed bug reports. Sometimes I get annoyed that they won’t fix bugs in the current release unless they’re security-related. That’s okay.

In the end, I don’t believe in conversion. I believe in using what works for you. If you believe Windows has fewer problems, then use Windows. If you believe Mac has fewer problems, use OS X. If you believe Linux has more problems than Windows and Mac but you just want to torture yourself, use Linux.

I happen to have experience with all three major platforms and have found problems with all three. I could level criticisms at all three. In the end, I choose Linux because I like it, warts and all. If you want to offer your criticisms, I won’t pretend I haven’t heard them all before, but I also won’t call you a troll or tell you that nothing is the fault of Linux developers. Use what works for you, and do your best to improve it with whatever’s within your power to do so.