Thursday, January 31, 2008

The user nature when looking at Linux

"Here we are, born to be kings, were the center of the universe........" How competitive we users are, always striving to have the best and slay all others as inferior. "I felt a disturbance in the force......" The carnage caused by opinions sharpened as weapons of persuasion or dissuasion. If we take a good look at ourselves, we can parallel our computer use with our politics or our religion. We are passionate and committed once we have made up our minds. The only problem is that we have been manipulated into believing our firm stand is necessary. Does changing your user reality make you feel insecure? Come on, it is not that serious a deal and the boundaries are fuzzy anyway. Marketing is used to create all sorts of urban legends and consequences. What will happen to you if you choose this way over that way is normal in focusing your attention and channeling you to pursue a certain product. It's about what is said and what is not. I never heard of Linux, it is not popular or successful so it can't be good, it is no good because I can't run brand x software on it, it doesn't have any good games, it's crap because it doesn't run on the hardware I have. Even worse than Linux naysayers are the fanboys. They are brutal. Let's see, Ugh discovers rock is good tool but when Gork wants to see it, or has a better tool, Ugh hits Gork with rock and discovers a new weapon. Well, if you as a computer user understand the common basic elements, you will have no trouble transversing the fuzzy boundaries and your opinions and loyalties remain intact.
1. There is no legal contract tying you to one product or another, just habit and preference.
2. The GUI or graphical user interface on Linux, MS Windows or Mac PC's have enough standardized and common elements on them that you can learn to use any of them with little effort. Which one isn't point and click with a mouse? OR can't be adjusted to your habits and preferences?
3. If you can produce a document in a certain format, it doesn't matter which program you use if it does the job. Some think MS Office is the "required standard", the same for "Photoshop". If you need it, you need it, but if you don't you can do it or close to it for less. No need to "borrow a copy" just to have it in case you actually use it. What is wrong with doing it for less anyway?
4. Familiarity with a software application is good but doesn't prevent you from learning or using other programs that do the same things. You have the ability to use more than 10% of your brain at any one time. Learning curves are not that steep in most applications because the apps must fit into the GUI's framework, which all have familiar elements.
5. New computing solutions are being developed even as we speak. All our temporary infatuations, habits and preferences will be changed with the next upgrade. The technology is still growing and changing, hopefully improving.

While I can get all worked up over the advantages and disadvantages of Linux, MS PC's or Mac's, I see that most of what a user wants is an attractive user interface and programs that get the job done. Each platform in their own right can do that. You as individual users have to weigh your wants and needs. If you run a business the stakes are a little higher of course. But the world is becoming more diversified and much of the world is choosing Linux because it can't afford the economics or the legal entanglements of MS or Mac's. Needs are being met by Linux and Open Source software and computer users are no longer a closed or captured market.
As a techie I have to be knowledgeable somewhat of Linux, MS PC's and Macs as I do get the chance to use them all and help many different kinds of users to do stuff on their systems. I also know that most folk aren't that mobile and only deal with a subset of my acquired experience. It is near impossible to be an expert on everything so I try to have good "mouse side manner". And I recommend trying Linux because I like it. Linux is good for "break glass" and rescue situations, for general everyday use and for feeling like I'm still part of that computer revolution.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The mystery of history and the dusty PC in the attic

I was in college in the 70's and missed Viet Nam because of a medical deferment. My older brother though signed up and went. When he came back he filled in all the stories I had heard about the war. He also brought back with him something else, tapes of the music of the times. Jimmy Hendrix, Steppenwolf and others. There weren't any real west coast hippies in Ohio that I knew but hearing the stories and the sounds put me there. Yeah, we had records but the tapes were magical, they put me there. I can't remember when I first got computer cravings, I was into architecture in school. When that was no longer a practical pursuit, I guess I caught the technology bug. We live in amazing times even when we aren't in the center of where it's happening. I read magazines and journals not comprehending what I was looking at. It became real when I got my first computer (a Sinclair 1000). Many guys/gals like me dreamed of what I might of been like to be on the ground floor of earth shaking happenings. The 60's and 70's came and went so fast if all you can remember is hippies and disco you had your eyes closed. I just watched the movie "The Pirates of Silicon Valley". According to it, personal computing ultimately owes it's existence to Jobs and Gates. They weren't the originators but they did in huge part make computers personal and popular. They stand out today because their companies are big and in the forefront. But they don't tell the whole story as I have said before. Many, many users regard Jobs and Gates as iconic figures that overshadow their respective lives and characters. How they got there is no longer important because we just use the products of their companies. So if we criticize them we are sort of attacking their products creditability and such. Well, it is in fact good to inquire into the history of things. To know the circumstances from which things are born. Not for the technology itself, but the attitudes of peoples that caused opportunities to be taken or missed. The noise of the foreground focus often obscures the stuff going on the background. With the stage set, the stuff in the foreground happens because some seize the moment. If you were too young to remember or weren't born yet, I speak as an older guy, you have missed a lot of what has made today possible. If you only know part of the story then you will forever be short in your access to all the opportunities before you. This is why I say that if you know the truth, you should tell the Linux story, how it fits into the times to where it is today. I just saw "Pirates of Silicon Valley", and it is very eye opening as far as an example of American entrepreneurial spirit breaking the old notions and boundaries and developing into a mirror image of both their founders and the very entities they were repelling from. Absolutely nothing is said about Unix finding its way onto personal computers in the way of Linux. The development and growth of Linux was out of their scope though probably not out of their sight, after all Linux was born on the new thing called the Internet. I also just read one of many sites, , about the GUI. Many vocal users claim the superiority of Macs or MS Windows interfaces. You should look into the GUI history, the series of deals and misdeeds that took place to develop what we have today is not a glamorous one. For one vendor to claim a legal leg up is as stupid as claiming rights to turkey quills as the first ink pen. Sorry, to borrow or steal or appropriate or copy is just business to some. Who stole first, who drew first blood all happened before most of us were even aware of computers. Mr. Gates even insisted that computer hobbyist protect their ideas from being stolen. He, to this day still insist on rights of propriety and leasing the use of technology to other companies and to users. If you know these beginnings, you can understand the how and why of MS products and their relationship to users today. You can also ask the question of how can there be a Linux today if it didn't come about the same way that Microsoft and Apple came about? What was the source and the motivation that drove it because it wasn't market forces. Yet, Linux survives and flourishes, in spite of not being a commercial success. And you can ask if Linux is such a hot operating system, why am I just finding out about it, I grew up with computers?
In college you find out that the world is larger than even the media can expose. Things happen in your world, things happen elsewhere at the same time. The media shows you one thing and not another because it's not news worthy or something. Or the company that controls the media is in cohoots with someone paying for you not to know,'s the perception. Linux is for geeks and former IBM techies. How about Linus Torvalds not being American, how good can that be? You know the Edison/Tesla thing I keep bringing up. Well, I had an inkling that computers didn't need MS software to run because I read about it. One day I stumbled on a book (Power Linux) with a CD of LST Linux in the back in a local library years ago. I can't remember installing it but I must have tried. I do remember downloading Slackware Linux onto floppies. Then my first significant install was Red Hat Linux. I dual-booted with MS Win95, it was a total mess. I did a 5 year stint as an electrical draftsman at a NASA facility. There it was confirmed that computers can be designed to run without the aid of MS software. And that PC's could be run with Linux and that Linux was adequate on the desktop for most if not all of my computing needs. Engineers at NASA were still skeptical about Linux on the desktop and I heard all the typical user excuses for not using it from not looking right to not enough games. Getting back to the GUI, a touchy subject among users, it is such a subjective thing to pit one GUI against another. Sort of like comparing ink pens. Look, feel, and polish have all been expounded on. But GUI's improve with all the criticism in tow. Most of what we call a GUI is standardized down to point and click. If you point to it and click it, it's suppose to work and that is that. Most don't really care what the operating system actually is, as long as the point and click works. Most have bought into the pitch that one companies point and click is more natural than another or that you can only understand one style of point and click in your life. Also if you change from one point and click system to another, the learning curve is so high/costly. Gee, that says a lot about the confidence companies have in folks who grew up programming buttons on the microwave, TV remote, VCR and cell phones.
"Once you know it you can't change" has been the mantra of software vendors for years now. It is a marketing tool that says only our stuff fits you, forever.
I think I have said enough for now. Look into computing history and find out the how and why of things, it is interesting and it might change how you feel about things you accept as common place today. The larger lessons of ethical behaviors and outcomes of things and events all color the stuff going on today. Life did not begin with us, we stand on shoulders, take part in, mesh with and continue a pattern of in a time we pass through. Some of us make a difference and some are un-noticed but once we are here we experience and are a part of the story. To get the chance to tell the story is cool but to hear the same event from a number of sources is to hear the story in "HD".

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Linux user education from an old guy

What an interesting afternoon I had today as I reflected on the Linux story. I wish I was a part of all that but I didn't live in the computer mecca "Silicon Valley". Anyway, it's kind of cool to look at how things came about. There is a movie out called "The Pirates of Silicon Valley", which I haven't seen yet, that tells the story of Jobs and Gates of Apple and Microsoft. I don't know how true to life it is but it perpetuates the myth that there is basically two names associated with personal computers. There is another story that remains to be told in the ears of the general public. PC history is lopsided without telling about Linus Torvalds, Linux and the folks who invented the open source movement. I can hear the groans in the background, I'm a user not a programmer, I don't need to know this, that's boring, that's nothing new. I can tell you that part of my great excitement years ago was being even remotely part of the PC's use and development. I read "Byte Magazine" early on and couldn't wait to buy my first PC, a Sinclair 1000 with a Zilog Z80 processor and later a PC clone with an Intel 286. I'm not going to list all the stuff I read so you can catch up. But if you are into "You Tube", there are some movies that are enlightening. Look up "The Linux Code", "Revolution OS" and "The Free Software Movement" videos. They are fairly long movies but they explain the mysteries behind Linux and Open Source Software and Silicon Valley. You can see that the typical entrepreneur moxie of Jobs and Gates is not the only way to have success in the computer world. And I can tell you first hand that we need to consider different new ways to deal with things in life and technology. This is good for a techie like me because I can put myself in the timeline and begin to comprehend how we got here today. If you are a real glutton for history go to and search out the operating system timeline. PC history is at least as interesting as political history. Now about that Edison and Tesla story........

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Friendly fire behind Linux lines, there is only one Linux

I don't know if this happens in Microsoft or Mac camps but among the ranks of Linux users there are lots of skirmishes. There are distro wars, gui wars, package format wars, and driver/codec wars. Are they really wars or just hotly contested debates? If you try something and it works or you like it, you become a fanboy and if it doesn't that thing is scum and users who use it are idiots. Well, there are extremes of opinion and temperament in any arena. Choice in Linux fuels lots of outspokenness because we are so smart and our choices are good enough for everyone, right? We all secretly desire there to be only one Linux that meets everybody's computing needs. One Linux, does that mean one distro, one gui, one package format, etc? Does having multiples of these elements mean we can't decide on one? In reality there is only one Linux and choice is it's nature. Maybe some adventurous programmer should create a program that creates a list of all the possible combinations of the main Linux elements outside of language. You would realize many distros, one Linux.
I like Xfce, one of four Linux desktop suites (Xfce, KDE, Gnome, CDE), so I am looking at a few distros that feature the Xfce desktop. There is Xubuntu, Wolvix, Mint, Goblinx, ZenWalk, Dream Linux and a couple more. Xfce makes them all exactly alike in look and feel. There are different options, tools, utilities and media codecs. If I wanted to I could make them all the same, but that is not the point. A distro is some "preselected" choices packaged together to give you something to start from. From a programming point of view there might be elements that can't be shared between distros but I'm keeping it simple. Should Linux be about the best one choice in any aspect? What is the best GUI depends on who you ask. The same is true for other aspects and elements. If you look at cars it is the same. A car has all the elements that make it a "car". You can choose a make, model, color, engine, accessories, etc. How would the car improve if it weren't for race cars and concept cars and feedback from you driving your everyday car? OK, there are company cars. Yeah, maybe it is more advantageous for businesses to have one platform that is easy to support and secure. But should that be the standard for everyone. What if you need more power or less? Hey, lets write a program where you input all your hardware specs, your user prefs and your application desires and it spits out an ISO image of the Linux of your design. Neither users or Linux are that simple to accommodate each other.
Hey folks, stop shooting, there is only one Linux.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Hey. what's going on?" with Linux and the world?

Being one to unbashfully (is that a word?) suggest the use of Linux, I notice a lot friends with older PC's who still can't let go of Microsoft in spite of their equipment not being supported any longer. The older PC's still work but have low total memory, smaller hard drives, cheap video cards and slower processors. People install newer/larger hard drives, DVD players and all sorts of USB plugins. If you can't upgrade the flash ROM, add device drivers/codecs or if you don't have an original copy of Microsoft OS (can't get online updates), you are stuck with a doorstop. Aren't you? Conventional wisdom (a marketing ploy) says, if you can't find the treasure, dig deeper in the same hole or buy a new (same brand) computer. I guess I need specifics to make the point. A friend has an older PC running WinXP with only 64MB of memory. It's amazing it ran. I give it a 256MB memory upgrade and increase the page memory, it runs better, yet still not top shelf. It has a DVD player for which I can't find a reasonable driver and a cheap video card. The PC was not made for WinXP so it coughs and chokes when demanded to perform. As a techie friend, do I continue to recommend endless upgrades or abandoning this PC for a new one. A new one wins, but what to do with the old one, it still works? "Going to give it to my parents to use (just for email and internet)." And they inherit all the problems that come with it. Hummmmm.... Well, I suggest they give Linux a try of course. "But we need to have Microsoft to be compatible with other........" If you buy a new PC, most likely it will have Microsoft on it, but in reality you don't need Microsoft on past or present hardware. You only have to be concerned with file formats being compatible. I only suggest people try Linux because it is so easy to try it. If it does not work for you, that is fine, you are not betraying Microsoft by trying. You can try Linux without installing it, without Linux affecting your computer at all. It is called a live-CD Linux version. It runs from the CD. You can save settings and user files to a jump drive or to a shared MS Windows folder. And if you like it you have the option to install totally replacing MS Windows or by creating a special partition on your hard drive for it. Then using an operating system selector, you can choose either OS when you turn on the computer. Popping a CD in to try is akin to AOL's CD in every book, magazine and mailbox campaign, only not so pushy. You have the option to try or not. The most popular way of getting Linux is to download it off the internet for free and burn it to a CD. You could also order CD's at very low cost. What is in a name? Since Linux comes under so many names you need to educate yourself as to what are the choices. list all the most popular "distributions" of Linux. It lists them by the most talked about, not the most used. Then, list all the live-cd's with links to their descriptions and download sites. The different distributions of Linux are all Linux but target different types of users preferences. I recommend Xubuntu and Wolvix which I myself use, of course. They are good for lower hardware requirements. Dream Linux, Mepis, Knoppix, and Puppy Linux are all great portable and versatile Linuxes. A Linux distribution comes with a GUI desktop or two, and a selection of user software applications so you don't have to install anything extra to be able to do useful computing. With the live-CD, you have to be happy with the choices on the CD. When or if you install it on your hard drive, you can then add or delete the applications you want. With a live-CD and a jump drive you can move "your OS, apps and user files" to any compatible computer, then remove them without a trace. Some live-CD versions come with tools to let you design a new live-CD with the stuff you want on it. Is there a caveat? Yes, Linux will not run your Microsoft applications out of the box. You would need a virtual machine software like Virtualbox or something called Crossover Office or Wine to do the job. Mileage may vary as success is not a sure thing. Linux application equivalents to Microsoft applications is found at and . Here there are links to descriptions of Linux softwares which are as good or better than MS stuff. If they fit the need, you have found a winner, if not maybe Linux is not for you.

Now that I said my unbashful Linux promotion we can look at other stuff.
We are approaching in computers, all avenues at once. From very green low power but highly functional laptops to light dimming during power up desktops. To get one machine that does it all is increasing impossible because we keep creating new extensions for every device. Look at USB external disk storage and video cards that handle computation intensive 3-d gaming and digital broadcast video, then cellphones and PDA's. Multi-function and cross-function consumer products have blurred the vision of typical buyers everywhere. I watched in a movie a bank robbery taking place, when the crooks said empty your pockets, it took ten minutes to unload all the devices people had. Computers once relegated to the study or den are now in the bedroom, living room and kitchen. Some of us are 24/7 connected to digital entertainment and/or digital work. I hope we do not forget our humanity in all this digital immersion. I hope we do not overlook the plight of those who do not have digital access to the mediums of exchange, be it money (credit) or information. Technology can make a people powerful but not always wiser. A good humanity is still highly valued in a world prone to selfishness and greediness while sharing supposedly scarce resources to meet our needs. We have said electrons moving at the speed of light is the holy grail and blood moves too slowly, even hindering the speed of our reason. We only look at each other when we need to and we don't regard each other so well. We need to be reminded that when we switch off the lights we can turn them on again, but when we turn off a human being, they are dead. We should appreciate life while we are on.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

technology that embraces more than one generation

I think I read about some car manufacturers wanting to design a car to better suit seniors. Seeing that there is a ground swell of baby-boomers who aren't going away so fast, they can't be ignored as a market. What about computers? Are computers the kind of thing that only targets the younger folk. I was thinking of that movie "Babe" with the little pig. In the movie the pig's owner's son buys them a Fax machine and tries to get them to use it. It might as well have been a paper shredder or a door stop.
My mother in law for instance, grew up with the telephone and dealing face to face. Today she has a hard time with the push buttons on the telephone and even though she still drives it is hard to get around to deal face to face. Companies that have necessary services for seniors, (insurance, utilities, other billing services) have found the postal service inefficient and now rely on the phone or web sites for doing business. My mother in law, in spite of being a former teacher and who is still sharp enough to learn new tricks, can not use a computer keyboard.
There are stuff today to help older folks but they are still not designed specifically for seniors. Will new technology adapt itself for aging senior use? Can you envision a keyboard for feeble hands or voice control that can deal with a weakening voice? Fax machines, a business staple, never made a hit in the average home. Sure we can magnify text and pictures on a screen and do email with ease but that little, tight, awkward keyboard is a problem that begs a solution. I am getting older also, still impressed with how many functions the Swiss can put in a pocket watch, but PDA's and cell phones are like poking a calculator with a bear paw (wookie paw). Access to information, the flow of business and the need to reach out to friends and family does not diminish with age. We need to rethink technology to embrace more than one generation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Another question from the Linux realm

People are really funny, but I guess it depends on who you are talking about. For years we have been mesmerized by bigness. Big cars, huge trucks, big homes, when we got to put our body in it we want room to spare. Or we want everyone to know how well we are doing. With consumer electronics we thought big was cool for a while. You know, big case with that tiny circuit board on the inside. To this day we struggle with the size that matters. Here's the picture, a company (Microsoft) we all know and love makes software for computers. And without wavering, they over the years have required users to upgrade or buy new computers with every new version of that software. You, and it's been explained are supposedly driven by bigness, must have this bigger better hardware and bigger better software. Only there are three little problems. 1. The present hardware hasn't worn out before the new software comes. 2. Your computing habits haven't changed in the face of all the "new features". And 3. You can't always justify the cost of newness (or its' associated bigness) when it is not needed. Unfortunately, we are somewhat driven by fear of being behind, not being up to date. So, like the good consumers we are we go out and buy the big (normal) computer setup and the compatible software. This includes laptops, which brings me to the thing I am talking about. This group invents a small laptop for the One Laptop Per Child project. It's smaller than a traditional laptop in all respects. This laptop is small in size and capacity (sort of like my old stuff) yet, it is new, cheap too, and does all the stuff the big ones do. Kids are loving it. But wait, it doesn't do MS Windows Vista, it's too big, won't fit. Microsoft belts out, "it's not fair to design and sale a computer that can't run MS Windows".
Then this other company makes a small laptop, Asustek's eeePC and they have got Microsoft scrambling to trim down MS Windows of some sort to fit on it. Unfair they cry, how dare you make a computer we can't put our stuff on. So my question is, is there a law that says any computer that is bought or sold in America must be able to run some version of Microsoft software to be fair? Oh, did I mention these little PC's can run Linux just fine? Hey, Apple owns Mac's, don't we own PC's? No Bill, a marketing strategy does not give you ownership or squatter's rights. Computers don't have to be able to run MS Windows at all.
Wow, Linux will run on the older hardware Microsoft doesn't support any more and on some of the new stuff coming out that Microsoft can't. Linux does not stifle new computer designs or limit consumer choice. Linux this, and Linux that and Linux.............

Nagging questions on Netscape's demise

There are in the Linux life some nagging questions that bother me. Then one nagging question generates another. Well, this concerns Netscape, the web browser of choice for many years. After a long courageous battle with Microsoft, Netscape is finally giving up the ghost. Why should I care? You know, in college while learning about HTML (hypertext markup language), we also talked about internet standards. One of the first things a web page designer needs to consider is that there is more than one web browser in the world and to design web pages with that in view. My complaint stems from the fact that web designers, especially for government info sites (local, state, and federal) have ignored this wisdom and embraced Microsoft web tools almost exclusively. It has been proved time and time again that MS Internet Explorer is not the most secure browser and definitely not the only browser in popular use. I can not recall ever having problems using Netscape to web surf and gov info sites all seemed to function just fine. Microsoft is always adding stuff to it's Internet Explorer, not just to make it better, but to make it indispensable. Netscape was keeping up, but somehow they lost. They spun off a little project that became Firefox. Firefox is wonderful but, does not work well with those web pages optimized for MS Internet Explorer viewing. This raises the question, what is it that was in Netscape that is not in Firefox to be able to work with those web pages? And, why the government doesn't support open access to information a little better? The last Netscape browser will probably become a vintage wine, graciously remembered while fading into obscurity. I am hoping Firefox and other browsers find the secret sauce that opens any web page.
There are other questions and I will ask them when they bother me enough.
You'll hear more about this.

Monday, January 14, 2008

confessions of a Linux fanboy

I have to admit 10 years ago curiosity got the best of me, I peered beyond the veil and was afflicted. I was enduring the blue screens of death in Win95 and waiting the dawning of Win98se. In a library there was a book (Power Linux) and in the back of it a CD. A free OS called LST Linux. Not having the skills, I can't recall ever installing it on my computer but I must have tried. Then I ran across Slackware which confused me at the time and then Red Hat which was probably my first real install. I've also tried Mandrake/Mandriva, PCLinuxOS, Puppy, DSL, Fedora, Mepis, Knoppix and a couple more. I now use Xubuntu 7.10 and Wolvix 1.1.0. What got me was that PC's could run on this other software and a free one at that. I didn't know about it's origin other than it wasn't Gates or Jobs. There are lots of details but I'm not writing my memoirs here. Now here we are today and what I see is a playful bickering between a mock Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. You know those commercials and ads where Gates and Jobs are representing the only two computer worlds competing for user bucks and loyalty. The inept business guy vs the hip and confident non-business guy. Of course they paint a particular picture in the minds of viewers but you must realize the scope here. They have played and are playing the same game they have played since the beginning of the "personal computer an American invention" story.
Mean while in another part of the world Linux was conceived by Linus Torvalds. Comparing notes, you realize that Torvalds was an outsider, never appearing in the same room as Jobs and Gates, even though computer technology had spread across the globe through university's. I am talking about the myth of the personal computer story that everybody assumes is true. It stars Jobs and Gates as American techno icons who started out in an actual garage and today manage huge American enterprises. As inspiring as their stories are, there remains to be told another story. Maybe, perhaps, and that is if Torvalds consents to being an icon, representing the world of Linux he started, we might know the truth not of a parallel universe, but of an inclusion in the context that goes beyond America. Sort of like the Edison/Tesla thing that our history never really explains clearly. Today Linux is a "global enterprise" but not the product of one company. And today, Linux can do on the personal computer what the other operating systems and applications can do. I know it is hard for some to embrace another point of view after being entrenched in what you know or think you know. Microsoft I know, Apple I understand, but what is Linux, where did it come from, what makes it so special, will it run my Microsoft or Apple stuff??????????
So, so many questions that frustrate a fanboy like me.

What is the Linux fanboy life like? Well, it's like telling a secret and no one around you cares or believes you. It's explaining normal stuff and being called fanatical for it. It's getting lame excuses for not looking at it and not using it. It is finding that denial and ignorance are bliss states cherished by other OS users. And if it ain't broke, don't fix it or replace it with something else. It's concluding that most Microsoft fanboys and Apple fanboys don't know they are fanboys until in the presents of Linux fanboys. Then everybody appreciates to the max the choices they made and defends them.
Yet, and there are a few, who like me are curious about stuff in a wider world. These realize that the choices on the shelf are a subset of a larger selection. Imagine, a CD in a library book changed the course of my computing history. Today, some books, magazines have live-CD versions of Linux and you can still download CD images of Linux. The live-CD versions run from the CD without installing on your computer but you have the option to install. You can copy the live-CD to a bootable jump drive and you can with some live-CD versions, create a new CD image, adding or removing the stuff you choose. These things are unheard of in the MS Windows or Apple world. I know that Linux will not satisfy everyone but if you never try it, you'll never know. To some it's hardware, to some it's applications, to some it's look and feel or it's too much like or unlike MS Windows. Some say that there is too much choice, that Linux can't settle on one desktop or version. Linux is about pools of parts that work together. In each pool of parts there are choices. These choices allow Linux to be fitted to a range of hardware and fitted to the range of users. There is no one size fits all that is easy to produce, market and sale. People have put together different groupings of Linux parts called distributions, that target users by language, or desktop preference or package management system or by other preferences. Finding a good fit is not always a speedy thing. Talking to people who have successfully used it helps. Looking for info on the web is the way to go except that some people who have issues with Linux are very vocal. In any case, user groups and user forums give the best info. I don't want to say try it you'll like it because you might not, but if you do you'll be a Linux fanboy before to long.

Friday, January 11, 2008

diversifying PC's for different interest groups

What we are looking at today is that the production model of "one size fits all" is no longer working with knowledgeable PC consumers. There was such an effort to build PC's that fit the broadest swath of users. A shifting consumer sweet spot can spell trouble for any manufacturer geared up to sell one design for all its customers. Let's see, we have business users and gamers, students, home users and then "special interests" like servers and multi-media centers. Up till now we have had computers that can be converted to satisfy almost any customer. But look what has happened. Gamers spun off into high power graphics, students demand laptops, home users are torn between "personal computers" and media centers. Now we are seeing the need for security centered business machines. It is hard to protect data from theft or systems from intrusion when there are ports and portable devices that use them. I appreciate the USB port and my jump drive, but when I go to do a tech job at a bank, I have to leave it at home. I can see the security problem but I wonder why companies don't build a more secure business machine. Please, build a more secure business machine. Today, the PS/2 port is disappearing and USB will connect besides the keyboard and mouse, memory sticks, hard drives, and whatever. Maybe there should be ways to lockout ports or recognize certain hardware plugged into a USB port so that IT people can secure it. In any case it should be noticed that business PC's have some vital requirements that aren't a priority in other uses. I don't think we need to return to dumb terminals connected to a mainframe but we do need to harden the defenses to protect a company's data. It's obvious that the business PC model is not the basic model to be converted into anything non-business users want. One machine for the masses no longer works. You should be able to buy a more secure computer with the same ease you buy a gaming machine or a media center or a general use home computer. It is a hardware solution as much as a software solution. And there is money to be made.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Are personal computers really personal?

Ever wonder why they call it a personal computer when vendors use every means possible to get you hooked to their product line, support systems and associated software? Is it customer loyalty or vendor dependence? The original thought might have been that if they got their product on your hard drive, they owned your loyalty/dependence. After all you only need one operating system on your computer and it will only run its compatible applications, right? This loyalty/dependence thing is built into some OS's. The rarely read user agreement says you can not install this copy of the OS on more than one machine. And some OS vendors stopped handing out install CD's with pre-installed PC's to curve our tendency to put the one OS we've bought on every machine we own. The who owns the hard drive metaphor extends down into the design of the OS. But still, you put the OS on the hard drive and it determines the destiny of the computer's usage. To name names, MS windows is made with one hard drive in mind. MS windows when installed, configures itself for the machine that it is on. Since hard drives are not usually swapped between two computers, MS windows doesn't have to be concerned with reconfiguring itself to multiple computers. It is meant for one machine, which is why you must buy a new copy of the MS window's OS for each machine. This whole scheme guarantees a customer's loyalty/dependence and a cash flow.
In one way Linux is not any different, once you switch to Linux you use Linux compatible applications and such, but developments in Linux and in PC's are changing the landscape. Linux has been redesigned to run from a CD. While there are still hard drive install versions out there, to be able to run from a CD is a great thing. You could pop what is called a "live-CD" of Linux into any compatible PC, reboot and run Linux. That same Linux disk on any compatible PC. It will not disturb your precious MS windows installation on your hard drive in the least. You could partition a little disk drive space for Linux user files or use a flash drive. Which brings me to the second thing. The flash drive or jump drive is a very popular and a necessary replacement to floppy disks. The one I have is only 128MB (still a lot of floppy disks) and they come as big as 32GB. While I still have a hard time filling up a 20 gig hard drive to have up to 32 gig on a portable memory stick is insane, yet practical. But the cost needs to come down. Right now, 4 to 8 gig jump drives are reasonable. OK, we have live-CD Linux and large jump drives, so what?
With live-CD Linux, you have to be satisfied with the applications that are on it. Some live-CD versions give you tools to design a new ISO image, adding or deleting the applications you want. Then you make a new live-CD. If your PC can boot from a USB device, you can copy your live-CD Linux ISO onto the jump drive. The trick of live-CD's is that they can be run on any compatible computer. To put the live-CD on a bootable jump drive makes it even more portable. You can move "your" OS and the applications and files to any computer. Check the forums for details. What does this do? First it breaks the he who occupies the disk drive owns the user's computer metaphor so you could do away with the hard drive altogether or use it just for user files. You could tryout many Linux versions without having burnt CD's laying all over the place or being forced to buy a DVD burner as some iso's are really big (over 700MB). You could separate your OS from your data so that when you upgrade or change your OS you don't have to backup your data that usually is on the same disk as the OS. Also in the event that your OS crashes or becomes corrupted (not an on going problem with Linux), your data is intact because it is not on the same disk. There are other possibilities but I haven't discovered them yet. As you can tell I am really excited about what this will do to personal computing. Gamers enjoy all kinds of high power demanding cutting edge technology. Jump drives are very low power static memory devices and live-CD Linux is free to download. This is technology that has filtered down to "the rest of us".
Questions remain, can you do a regular Linux install to a jump drive and will the computer regard the install the same as on a hard drive? If so then can MS windows (any flavor) be installed on a jump drive to be used on any computer? Does MS windows have a portable nature? I don't think so but in any event it violates the user agreement. There are issues with jump drives in secure environments like businesses and banks, but home users are free to plug-n-play. Data encryption and access permission codes will become normal in business. You might be scanned for carrying a concealed jump drive. I'm spiraling off into the darkside of the force so I'll stop it here. Have fun with your jump drive!!!1

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

the user preception of technology

I've made the statement that the perception of technology can be manipulated to attract the user and to benefit the company. Marketing and advertising is the game. In America the mystique of big and powerful cars is persistent in the face of scarce energy, tight budgets and carefully adjusted speed limits. From junkers to luxury cars we still embrace the ability to take-off, pass up and command attention. We are determined to have it that way with our computers also. We want it to be able to do all that we ask or think. And with all the multi-media choices these days we want to have at least the possibility of doing it. Desktop gaming machines have become the mark of cutting-edge technology. High power video, audio and system function all tweaked to perfection. Even laptops are now doing the game thing with fast response LCD video displays, graphics chipsets, sound and system memory. We see it, we may not need it, but boy do we want it. We want the room lights to flicker when we boot up. We want power. My first machine had a 250 watt power supply, some top end gaming machines draw 600 watts and up. When you add all the beefed up memory, video and audio cards, the PC takes on the persona of a hotrod, souped up to the edge. Believe me, there are people who actually use all that stoked hardware. I am a bit surprised that laptops have took off like they did, but notice that they have also been absorbed by the power persona. The user's mission in life is to get the most for his money. Bang for the buck is always tempered by the actual quality of the product. There are quality issues in computer products like in anything else. Name brands are no real guarantee of quality. With computers it is best to ask other users what their experience is with products. There are lots of user reviews on the web.
Perception, well if you only get your info from TV, your choice is a Microsoft powered computer or an Apple. It would never dawn on you that Linux is available. People who have only known and used Microsoft products rarely realize that there are other softwares that do the same thing in the same formats. Then, what you see in the stores is what you tend to buy because it is right in front of you.
I don't think any of this is going to change. Marketing and advertisements are targeted to focus your desire and narrow your choice to buy a product. If you had more info, you might choose differently.
Perception also means that the products themselves are designed to match your needs or desires. Gaming machines look different from business machines because they have a different focus. Sometimes machines that are optimized to do certain things don't do other things so well. You could also buy a machine that is way more than what you would use it for. For instance a gaming machine with ultrafast 3d graphics, 4 gig of high speed RAM and a whopping 600 gig hard drive and all you do is send emails and search the web. We just have to weigh all the values to make a good choice.
What are my choices? I think brand named hardware is good if you can get what you want. Some good deals can be had. But I like to be able to pick all the parts I want and piece a PC together. I get satisfaction out of putting it together and seeing it work and I don't get hidden and added extras that vendors tend to include, like demo, trial, and promotional softwares. It's a bang for the buck kind of thing with me. I still have WinXP but mostly use Linux and open source software.

Monday, January 07, 2008

progress in the code war

Two things have become obvious to me, user demand effects technology change and the perception of technology is subject to be manipulated by marketing and advertisements. I am popping for the jump drive these days and they are becoming as popular as bottled water. But the real story is that static ram is becoming practical and cost effective. I am always amazed by our ability to leave the industrial revolution behind and say,"look mom, no moving parts!" A couple of things are happening in the code wars. First, attached to jump drives is the USB bus. USB is becoming or is the bus/port of choice, You can attach almost anything by USB these days. USB to being upgraded to make it even faster. Other ports are disappearing. Kiss parallel, serial and PS/2, goodbye. Second, if USB is the consumer connection of choice, what will happen to the IDE bus or even the SATA bus? Will internal disk drives now standard become optional equipment? Will static ram appear on the motherboard in lieu of a hard drive? Of course DVD/CD devices probably won't disappear but their interface connections might change. It is funny how we normally look to the extremist for tech advances, like gaming innovations filtering down into our family computer. Game machines have promoted and exploited power, capacity and capability. People are starting to not believe that bigger is always better chant. We are seeing folks doing more with less. PDA's and cell phones are a good example of this. If you don't need it, why waste the bucks, the energy? It's about essential data being portable and not having to carry all that we own on our backs and not needing to fire up a flight simulator to send an email.
As with jump drive technology changing what we call a computer, you also have to mention how folks are using iPod type devices. Audio files are so big and iPod devices so small, yet they have a lot of capacity. To put a kink in this whole product area, you notice that there is not one popular portable personal recording device on the market save those tiny business cassette tape machines. You'd think that by now some enterprizing person or group would add recording ability to an iPod device. To be able to personally and conveniently record audio stuff is greatly missed. I know, the copyright thing has something to do with this. Well, the exciting part is that technology changes right before your eyes. Over the span of your lifetime look what has come and gone. Scary but cool!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

code warrior strikes back

I read an interesting article in Nov 2007 PC World magazine that talked about the hassles of getting recovery discs made. In the article a person asked a store sales person could he do it himself and was told no. Then the sales person said he could have the store service do it or have the manufacturer of the PC do it. Of course this was all wrong but you get the point. In the war to protect their assets, certain software vendors are refusing to give out installation discs along with PC's that have a preinstalled operating system. Instead they devised a not so easy to use recovery procedure with special software to do the job. Some vendors put the operating system installation files in a partition on the same drive you install all your software on. If all works well, you can with some luck restore your computer. But if the hard drive is damaged or corrupted beyond booting, you are screwed.
A while back I tried to go through the recovery disk procedure. I followed all the instructions and produced a stack of 14 CD's. Well, my day of anguish came and I had to recover my system. Needless to say the CD's were useless, recorded on but blank. I don't know what happened but recovery did not happen. I tried to reinstall from the partition of installation files stored on the same hard drive. I could not get to them. Curiously my vendor brand PC did not have that little chrome sticker on it that says I could have my OS reinstalled for free because I was the certified owner. So I whipped out my original software vendor's installation CD's of another OS and installed it my self. This recovery stuff and backup software involves special formats and or file compression, why? After you install or you want to backup, what files are copied or is all of it backed up? Here's my solution but you have to invest a little cash. Buy a couple of 4 or 8GB jump drives to use for system software backups and don't waste endless CD's. Snap shot your backup to the jump drive. If you need to make a new snapshot down the road you don't have to waste CD's. Then copy that partition of installation files from off that hard drive you have your OS installed on to another jump drive. That way you will still have it if the drive fails. Then delete the words "backup CD's" from your vocabulary. I also recommend not putting your OS on the same drive as your data if you can help it. Vendors are trying to help but help gets compromised in the need for sales.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

code warrior's life of moving data on a jump drive

Of course it is just a point of view but everyday we seek an advantage to make life better, more entertaining or more interesting, etc. The ability to carry information with you to be used in a real time situation is everyone's dream. Portable computers, PDA's, cell phones and iPod type devices all make information more portable and accessible. I want to focus on the jump drive or flash drive. Trying to use a stack of floppy's or fumble with those little square flash cards found on cameras can't compare with the convenience of a jump drive. The one I have is only 128MB but you can get 32GB jump drives. Though the cost is a bit stiff compared to rotating disk drives, they're usefulness makes them indispensable. If you are like me and tend to drift away from the major software vendors' products and embrace open source and freeware and Linux, you have the option of escaping limitations of size, cost and user rights. I don't think MS Windows of any version is all that portable, I tried this with a swappable hard drive and was not impressed. Seems the registry has to gather new information about the new computer, reconfigure itself to the new settings and I don't think it works so well. Linux on the other hand seems to do what's needed to recognize the hardware at hand. And the live-CD versions of Linux especially are portable. MS Windows also has a size problem that grows with every version requiring more RAM and disk space. MS Windows has been designed with the hard drive in mind, the expectation of pre-installation, the boot sector's location at the beginning of the drive and lack of accommodating other operating systems on the same computer. Linux is use to being booted from any disk partition and both the program size and system requirements are smaller. It even accommodates other operating systems on the same computer. Putting Linux on a jump drive is the same as using the live CD, it just works. Anyway you could put the OS on the bootable jump drive and use it on any computer that can boot from a USB device. I would save my data on another jump drive or on the disk drive, isolating it from the OS. If something goes wrong with the OS, I can still get to my data by plugging in a different jump drive with a fresh OS. There are many possibilities. Sell me a jump drive with the OS and applications on it so I can just plug it in and go. Of course if the jump drive becomes a read only device, we are half screwed. Will this make the Hard drive go away, no, we could not throw away a hard drives cost effectiveness and capacity, especially for storing media files which is the going thing these days. But personally I have old small hard drives that I have never filled and the drive on my new machine is huge compared to my use. I find I do not collect as many files as computer designers thought I would. I've paid a lot for unused capacity and little flexibility. Jump drives along with live-CD Linux, gives me the ability to move "my" OS, desktop, applications and data to any machine that will work with it. Is there a caveat to this ? Sure it is the matter of security and access. But I am sure somebody will devise a scheme to mess it all up trying to fix it.

How are you faring in the code war?

In the world of political turmoil, after the sticks and stones have been exhausted and the respective armies retreat from the obvious show of force. Behind the scenes of stand off negotiations there exist an information oneupmanship we termed a cold war. It is just as fierce as a weapons war and yes there are casualties. That is a consequence of human nature to vie for power, control or to just survive. This thought to use information to manipulate outcomes is also a part of our culture. History bears witness to our concern of who knows what and what they do with that information. Society is based on the relationships of persons who use specific knowledge to produce and offer goods and services. We have even certified certain ones to apply knowledge to help us get on with life. Doctors, lawyers and educators, etc. This is all surface stuff. Behind the scenes is the real struggle a kind of "code war". We are constantly engaged in a battle of control issues. Who has the right to access, who has the right to add or delete, who has the right to use, and even own information. This spans the whole world of information from entertainment to personal info. I use music for an example. I grew up with phonograph records and collected them like many. When tape recording devices became a consumer product the question arose did we have the right to make personal copies of copyrighted material for our own use. The recording device made it possible to open a closed market. Ones who were making the music lost control of their material and was being bought and sold and traded without their consent or compensation. We went from reel to reel, to 8 track, to cassettes, and consumers had the freedom of access and use. Then the world changed because of CD's. You had to have a special machine to record CD's and it was not as portable as cassette players were. There were no consumer portable CD recording devices to my knowledge. Now music makers could control their market again until CD recording devices became popular in computers. Today we use CD's and DVD's like potato chips. We also have iPod and cell phones with flash memory technology which are the new recording media. It is so logical that a skirmish erupted because now the data itself is the medium of the information. We fight over data streams, access, control, and ownership again. This is the main engagement of many, many people. A code war over who has info and who shouldn't. It is what drives the economy, makes and breaks lives. We fight this code war on many levels, but what ever level it effects us all. When you look at computer software, most of us thought that if we bought it we owned it, we could do with it what we want. The user agreement, which we never read says that we have only bought the right to use it within the limits set forth by its makers. Users even thought they could freely make a backup copy so that if the original media becomes worn, the original copy becomes corrupted, they could still possess it. Some companies stopped providing original software on disks and sale you preinstalled software. If something goes wrong with the software in your possession, you must jump through hoops to get a new copy. I won't go into why formats change and upgrades and other things. It is hard to pin down the motives companies use to market their stuff other than to make money. Not really a bad thing but it's you who takes the hit.
Is there a compromise in all this code war stuff? The world is a very large expanse, there is room for a lot of solutions, but humans have such a narrow focus, it is called what is real to me and what I understand to be the truth or reality. We cap that off by asking is what I believe, what you believe? or by insisting you believe what I believe. We take sides, arm ourselves and go to battle, standing up for our perceptions, our convictions and we don't always care about casualties. Curious thing about cold wars or code wars, we don't always know that we are evolved or engaged in it. Looking at larger pictures or history helps but often makes you feel powerless. Being too strong or being too exact can be devastating if we are proved wrong or the current of the age is against us. Sorry for the philosophy trek. Seems with every new technology there are more questions to the point we don't recognize ourselves anymore. Either we humans have a virus or some other malignant code in our DNA. I see symptoms in people all over the globe and it is the same disease. We are all looking for a string of code that will make us or take us to where we think we should be. We try to fill our moments or strive for something sustaining a lifetime, even looking for a legacy. Is it in the code we have access to or is there code others are hiding from us? We search our bodies, probe the mind and attempt to ascertain what is the spirit. Looking for the string of code that makes it all comprehendable. The whole world is mad with people wanting/needing a string of code that will answer all the questions, solve all the problems and settle all the disputes. We know it is out there, in there, somewhere, it exists. If we think we have a part of it, we fight as if we have all of it and even would force others to drop what they know, take up what we know. Be assimilated or eliminated some have even said. The battle over this string of code pervades all of our psychology and everything we touch on earth and no one is exempt, excluded. And some would say, there is no code, but what drives us to seek knowledge if none exists?
Computers are at the center of the code war. They help us to acquire, sort and use information more than in any previous generations. Yet computers are not the code. The needs of man existed long before any technology, look at history. Is there some element that needs to be added to man or some thought that needs to be realized by man or what? Man is looking for a string of code, that is a fact of life.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Next-step technology you know, techno-evolution

I am all for company's displaying future products. Cars and computers are very similar in that they are user dependent. So company's will entice you with prototypes and visions. The real mystery is how do we get there? We are still waiting for a Jetson's future with flying cars and picture phones. By the way, you could solve the video phone problem is by designing an avatar double to stand in for you when your appearance is not up to snuff. Flying cars, the logistics are just too over whelming. But in all, the art of projecting eventualities is kind of fun. Technology seems to mirror the companies that produce them. First they make parts, then assemblies, then integrate it all together, then new stuff comes out and we start all over again. Company's specialize, collaborate, merge, then split off. Watching the big picture is hopeful but exasperating because you the user must endure the changes. You might take the risk to be the first on your block to get that big screen TV only to be burnt because some waited and got one better and cheaper. Ah, but you where first! Or you won't give up the old technology because it still works just fine, thank you. User casualties are just part of the gadget life, we survive it, sort of.
The tech magazines have all made their year end ratings of past products and predictions about what's coming. Projections tend to be a couple of years off and companies aren't so quick to reveal what's next. What is the next step is what the user buys. Sitting at my computer I can't see so clearly but aren't game boxes becoming more like desktop PC's or what? The fight is to get some sort of PC into the living room. So far the game box is there. When will they put a video broadcast tuner card in it? The game machine already plays audio CD's and has great sound, an iPod port is coming. The game machine has even been hacked to run PC operating systems. Talk about a fight over the remote. Maybe the tablet PC will turn into a portable/personal tablet media thingy and pull media streams from your home media server so you won't have to fight over the big screen. The big thing will be very short range wireless or proximity networks, wires will vanish. The modules will recognize each other because they are in the same realm or room. Even the media, when stacked on the module will be connected, doing away with slots and drawers. It can happen. Even though software written today only uses one processor at a time, we have multi-core cpu's made the standard. Two, four, even eight core cpu's are here. The idea to divvy up the processor workload of one program among multiple cpu's is being given up for running more than one program at a time. Sort of multi-channel computing. That we can do, we just need more bus and more memory. Look for rotating memory disks to disappear because solid-state is here. First put the OS and Apps on one beefy jump drive and your personal files on another. Come on how much space do you really use on that big hard drive anyway. Two 8 gig flash drives could handle all of my day to day stuff. It would also make for a very green low power PC. If I need to, I could get a humongous network attached storage drive (SATA, USB, or Ethernet) to handle other stuff. People are already wearing their computers, they just don't have the utility belt format or video goggles. You can get a little screen that does Internet/phone/audio/camera/calculator/watch/GPS, all it needs is remote car start and remote video control and you'll have it all. Well I will end it here, but you can see that things can happen just around the corner or can be had today. You just have to stretch your view a little. If you have the skills you can do it today, now.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

the perfect Linux machine

I was dreaming of the ultimate PC which is something we all engage in from time to time. Turns out that this machine is the sum of all the cool things I encountered in my history with computers and some projections. The main problem to realizing the ultimate PC, even the ultimate Linux PC is that technology does not stand still. By the time you settle on specific hardware, the technology has moved on already. The other problems involves the influence of software vendors upon the hardware manufacturers and targeting the requirements of various user groups, like home users, business and gamers. Building a machine that has the potential to shift priorities, change options while fending off obsolescence is a big chore. This is why there are so many hardware configurations.
Firstly I am not a gamer, so I believe that most gaming hardware can be added in a slot. Lots of memory and high-rev video and sound cards are out there. If I could add anything to today's computer to make it into an ultimate species is to put in a bootable flash drive just for the operating system. With USB ports being upgraded, it would be faster than rotating disks and allow both users and software vendors to change their stuff when they need/had/wanted to. The idea comes from the old days of dual floppy's, one for the operating system and one for data. The gaming machines like the Atari and Commodore had ports you plugged a software card into. With say a 8 gig flash drive you could put the OS and the Apps on it and isolate your data on the hard drive, safe from system crashes. Another thing I would do is make swappable hard drives standard like on servers and multimedia PC's. Even when you have only one drive, to be able to take a backup of your personal data and put it whole in a safe deposit box somewhere else is a good thing. I favor a smallish system a compromise between the desktop tower and the laptop. The big tower is an energy pig, demanding its slots be filled with options but the laptop has limited extendability. The thin desktop is very cool and with the functions built onto the motherboard, save the video card, it is ready for any desktop. I do like multiple built in media drives and slots for all sorts of memory cards. Networked storage systems that are OS transparent is the way to go. My data and media files do not need to be victimized by another OS. Some software vendors want you to have a "home server" to manage your stuff and sell you a vendor approved access control/management program (a server OS) when a simple network storage device is just fine for most of us. The ultimate Linux PC would be an open PC, able to accommodate. With Apple's OSX series running on Intel machines you get the idea that a vendor specific key is all that separates it from Linux or Microsoft OS's. We grew up with vendor locks in the old days and it was never pretty. Special ROM's, dongles on the parallel port, and activation codes, all to protect their turf by making hardware and software vendor specific. I guess I am running a theme here, transparency of data and OS transparency in my machine. With it all up for grabs, who knows what the tech world will develop into. But in any case users will benefit or be assimilated.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Is it apparent we want it transparent?

Just sitting here thinking about the competition between various computer companies and the amount of control they have over users. I am talking about the power to draw you into using their products at the expense of other choices. Apple has long been the propriety carrot on a stick with flashy offerings, the cost, your loyalty. What disturbed me was I was powering up an assortment of older machines I have, one being an Apple desktop. The only cord I had for it was a power cord, the rest of the cables were Apple's own and not PC standard cords. They control the hardware and the software and you buy into that system. With PC's it is better because Microsoft does not own the hardware side. But still Microsoft seems to have some leverage with hardware manufactures to accommodate its products and marginalize its competition. Of course we all know that software makers aggressively market their wares to convince us of the advantage of using their products. When you look at it from the users side, all we want is a workable and pleasant look and feel and ease of access to our files. You can see why users get anxious when a software company decides to change how it looks and also changes the file formats. Look at the audio world and the changes we had to endure. Eight track tapes were supplanted by cassettes and then by CD's. We really had to scramble to change our players and our songs to the new media. Now we have iPod like devices with flash memory. Today even cars makers are offering these digital audio devices and CD's are disappearing.
What's the point? Transparency is the point. I want access to my data and audio files regardless of the brand or type of equipment I have to use. We want open access but this runs contrary to the ideas of competition and marketing that companys engage in to get us to use their products. Vendor lock is not a bad thing to a company because it ensures a certain amount of bucks coming in. Offer a better solution and people will flock to the new product. When a conglomerate of vendors graces us with an industry standard, it is a kind of defeat to them because they have lost some leverage, some advantage in the market place. Demanding transparency is a users way of saying I still have a degree of control over the data I own and you vendors have to consider me in your product. Transparency suggests that it shouldn't matter which operating system I use or hardware, I still want access to my files. To be able to move data between an Apple, Microsoft and a Linux computer with little or no conversion defeats the idea of competition or technical advantage that one product might have over another. What if you could just move your data to another system and it didn't matter the company or the equipment or the software? Companys would have to find new ways to make money. A user wants to own the computer, the software and the data. Companys want to sell you new equipment, lease rights to use the software and allow you to access your data in a certain format. No we shouldn't consider users and vendors at odds, we should realize a kind of synergy that fuels a dynamic involvement. Today we fight toward a fair balance on all fronts but in reality we want transparency, a kind of digital freedom of movement.