Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Computer that does what I want it to... is that too much to ask?

The eerie coincidences between Eric and myself continue...

So, I'm in the middle of re-installing windows on my primary working laptop.

After about six months since my last re-install, it's simply non functional; to the point where yesterday I had two crashes within minutes, and lost 5 days worth of work to file corruption (I had to restore to my last backup, from last thursday).

I was telling my boss (as in my actual boss inasmuch as I have one, being an independent contractor; he's the guy who holds my contract) this:
"I'm on my ninth reboot at this point, and I havent even finished installing all the drivers yet, never mind the hard part; the applications. The first thing I had to do was fix all the broken, stupid, or "easy to use" settings that makes XP so bad; then I need to isntall my most basic working utilities set; then my Microsoft applications. I've been working on this since 9am, and it's going to take me the rest of the day to get to a minimally usable state; and probably three days of non-productiveness before I get everything fixed.

I hate windows. I would use Linux for all my work if I could. It's not that I'm an OS zealot, I jsut want a system that does WHAT I WANT, not what it thinks I want based on it's almost always incorrect decision matrix etc... etc... I want it to do it reliably, and I want to be able to fix it when it breaks. Is that too much to ask?"
Wonder of wonders, while I'm waiting for the MS drivers to download I've got firefox open to my blog reads, and jsut as I turn back to the hell box, what do I see but this:
"If you want a computer that lets you surf the web and check email, then you probably don't need anything other than Windows. If you want a computer because you are a competitive gamer, then you probably haven't got much choice but to use Windows. But, if you are somewhere in between those two groups, which covers a whole bunch of us, then you might want to reconsider whether Microsoft is the right choice for you, because Microsoft's goals are not yours.

Your goal is likely to be a computer that does things you want it to do and does them well. The key is the computer does what you want it to do. So, thinking about all of that, it seems clear to me that the reasons I think *nix is superior to Windows are also the reasons I think that many computer users should learn how to use Linux and open source software...

...So, what's the point of this? Most Windows power users that I know spend a tremendous amount of time making their Windows installation do things that Microsoft doesn't intend for it. For example, when I get a new laptop at work (and I have to use XP on it, for a variety of reasons), the very first thing I do is undo as much of the dumbing down of the user interface as I can. I get rid of the simplified control panel, change my settings to the "classic windows" desktop and start menu, and so on. Then I install a bunch of open source software, including GIMP, OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird. Then I boot up a Knoppix LiveCD and make sure I can use it on my laptop (in fact, I'm using Knoppix on my Dell Latitude D610 right now)."
Of course I saw this within minutes of stripping all the useless crap off of XP, installing GIMP, OpenOffice, Firefox, and Thunderbird.

Why do I run XP for my work PC, when my security work would be cleary better done with *nix (I'm a Kubuntu fan at the moment)?

There are exactly five reasons:

1. Groupware: The companies I contract with all use either Outlook or Notes for their scheduling,time tracking, task tracking etc... and the available open source clients have varying levels of non-functionality with these systems. This is non functionality I can't afford.

2. Microsoft Project: I HAVE to use it. I hate it. It's one of the worst project management programs that has ever been designed. EVERYONE USES IT; and worse, they make you use it.

3. Microsoft PowerPoint: Powepoint is actually a half decent app. There are open source solutions that work jsut as well, btu they don't always work the same way, with the same files; and again, this is incompatibility I can't afford

4. Microsoft Visio: Visio is THE standard for technical diagraming. Everyone uses it, everyone makes you use it; because again, there are non MS apps available (some of them MUCH better), but if I can't be 100% compatible with Visio, I have a MAJOR problem

5. Propietary remote access VPN tools: Much of my work is done remotely. Many companies have VPN infrastructure for remote users that REQUIRES propietary VPN clients. Hell most of the time these thigns barely even work with WINDOWS never mind anything else. Is it necessary that they be this way? Absolutely not. Are there functional open source alternatives, ABSOLUTELY, in fact they mostly work better. These programs are generally so bad, that installing two of them on the same PC will usually cause your networking to fail completely, and may jsut destroy your box utterly; requiring an excorcism and ritual cleansing.


Because sales reps tell them to mostly. Or purchasing managers. Because they are included "free" with other products. Because the manager only wants to use a single vendor...

...because of Network Effects basically.

And it's not going to change any time soon; so we're all jsut going to have to suffer through re-installing windows every few months.