A Linux switcher’s upcoming tale of tragedy

Just read an article commenting on the professor who switched one of his labs to Ubuntu Linux; this is something to keep your eye on, as I’m positive within a year if you check back we’ll find the lab has been switched back to proprietary software.

Many times people invoke the principles of free software as a good reason to switch from proprietary solutions, not realizing that paid professionals do indeed take the time to make higher quality, more usable desktop and workstation software. The reputation UNIX gained (and which Linux is now trying to usurp) for utmost reliability and rock solid stability come from the fact that it was developed by giant corporations who paid their programmers a great deal of money.

Having spent years in the open source world of Linux myself, I can say with some authority that most people who equate the usability of the current Linux desktop with MacOS X or Windows do so because they lack a fundamental understanding of what usability really means, and this is chiefly because they’ve spent all their time using Linux to the exclusion of all else for ideological reasons.

This is not to say Linux won’t ever be at the same standard of quality as its proprietary counterparts; but before it can be, its developers and its current user base have to be more objective, open-minded and willing to do the non-glamorous work of fixing bugs instead of introducing new features and improving usability.

Running Windows on a Mac the right way

I came across this forum thread in my daily browsing; it details an effort under way to enable virtualization in the open source Qemu emulator using MacOS X as the host operating system.

What does this mean? Instead of having to dual boot, this will allow Windows and other Intel based operating systems to run at nearly native speeds within MacOS X itself. This is especially useful for those who still need Windows for those one or two oddball applications they may need to use at work (IT departments are famous for cooking up their own little proprietary things) or in some other setting. I myself keep Virtual PC on my PowerBook in case I want to test out Windows networking while I’m on a service call.

But what about applications that require higher performance? A virtual machine won’t have the ability to run in accelerated graphics mode, which means no 3D gaming or other very high-performance time sensitive apps (3D acceleration may become possible in the future – it all depends on whether someone gets started on it). Like I said before, if you’re that into gaming and there’s no Mac version, buy or build a PC. It’s the simplest most practical solution.

If you’re doing other high-performance computing which requires Windows, well, why are you doing that? 😛

Afghan on trial for being Christian

This BBC article should make everyone think for a bit about religious tolerance and what it really means. Human beings have lived on this planet for 10,000 years, and one would expect that we’d have gotten past such primitive behaviours by now.

“We will invite him again because the religion of Islam is one of tolerance. We will ask him if he has changed his mind. If so we will forgive him,” the trial Judge is quoted as saying in the article. However the court system in Afghanistan follows Sharia law, the laws set down by the Islamic faith. Under this law, if a man converts from Islam to Christianity, he is to be put to death.

Welcome to 2006 ladies and gentlemen.

Advocacy gone wrong

I read an article yesterday advocating desktop Linux, and immediately had issues with the credibility of it.

The fact that it bears the word ‘pwns’ in its title is the first sign of trouble, but I decided I’d try and see if the author had valid points to make. A few problems.

The article begins with the usual fact that Linux is more secure and less vulnerable to attack than Windows, as proven by several studies and contests. I won’t argue this as it’s clearly true. Where the author almost immediately goes wrong though is making the complaint that to bring a Windows system to a secure state requires “six extra hours to tweak every registry setting, install antivirus, spyware/adware software, set up email scanning, and all that,” in his words.

I must ask the question, how long does it take to configure a Linux system to even function as a desktop operating system? The author partially answers the question himself in the next point. “With Linux, you may have to actually invest some time up front to get stuff to play nicely,” he relates.

This is just the start of a directionless rant on how great Linux is and how much Windows sucks. I couldn’t determine who the target audience was supposed to be, or for what main purpose the author was advocating the use of Linux (although one assumes it’s for use as a desktop operating system, as per the name of the website).

I gave this some thought after having read the article and came to a couple of interesting conclusions.

First, the article shows a lack of understanding of the issues surrounding the design of a desktop OS. The operating system has to be designed for use by its intended audience, you can’t expect the audience to break out a UNIX manual to figure out how to turn up the sound volume or install a webcam driver (and no, you can’t make the excuse that it would be pre-configured by a technician. What if Jimmy or Sally bought a webcam or a printer on their own?).

Second, it’s this lack of understanding of the requirements of a desktop OS that permeate the open source community and currently prevent it from achieving success on the desktop. But this isn’t just a point I came up with on my own, it’s a well-known issue. The Linux world needs one desktop environment, one development environment, and one way of doing everything. It needs to get past the idea that every developer has the right to go his own way and play in the same sandbox as everyone else. The community only hurts itself.

An article in the Economist, referenced by slashdot points this out. Only those open source projects with a sense of direction ever produce anything worthwhile. People who work as a team and have common goals, and who are more interested in realising an end result than having their own personal preferences satisfied.

Corporate involvement with the Linux desktop (Novell, RedHat, IBM) are beginning to fix these problems, and that’s a good sign. Hopefully the rest of the open source community (and people like the author of the “pwns” article) see the light and help out instead of continuing to hurt their own cause.

Windows now bootable on Intel Macs

In the past couple of days the news that Microsoft Windows XP has been made installable on Macintosh computers has been generating a great deal of excitement. In the comments section of every article I’ve read I see at least half the readership asking why this is such a great thing. I’m also asking that question.

When you can buy a Dell computer for $299 and run Windows on it, or build a Windows based gaming system for less than you’d pay for a Mac, why would you buy the Mac only to run Windows on it in an unsupported configuration? Even if you did need to run Windows it would be more cost effective and sensible in the long run to maintain a separate system for legacy Windows applications requiring high-performance. Don’t gamers enjoy building and enhancing their own computers anyway? A self-built computer is far more tweakable than a Mac, which is finely tuned to work only within the parameters in which it was built.

Or wait a bit and run Windows within a virtual machine. It’s highly likely Microsoft will release an Intel version of Virtual PC for Mac, which will allow the user to run Windows at full speed (less perhaps graphics acceleration, but maybe this too is possible) within the context of MacOS X.

Which brings us to MacOS X itself. Practically the point of the entire exercise. The operating system designed for the computer on which it runs. The computer in turn designed to run the operating system as well as it can. And the selection of software that lets someone using it not have a need for anything else. I think this is something that’s not getting nearly enough attention. The beauty of the whole thing is the operating system. The user interface. The way all applications fit together almost perfectly, even though they come from many different vendors. It would be sad to see people forget about this uniqueness.

Except for games. Go buy an XBox 360. Or, you know, build a PC. Everybody’s doing it!

Brad’s first blog entry

My first blog entry using iWeb, from Apple’s iLife ‘06 suite. I’ve made a few attempts at blogs before, but they’ve usually been rarely updated.

This is also my first web page made on a Macintosh in seven years, since I originally created my website (which is now http://www.brad-x.com/) on a Power Macintosh 6100/66. Since that time I’ve been experimenting with Linux and FreeBSD on PC compatibles (originally because I didn’t have the cash to get a Mac capable of running OS X).

The learning experience was invaluable. However, it is good to be back. More updates to come.