Monthly Archives: March 2008

Comparing TV sets and PCs!?

Whats the difference betweena tv set and a PCs? You know you can buy a tv and then maybe use it 6-7 years without being forced to do any updates or replace it, unless you want something better, bigger, whatever. I came to this question why tv sets are so different when it comes to rhythms. I have no insight in industry development cycles but here is what I assume:

  • A tv set may be developed in about one year from the first ideas to production?
  • A company might release new models every two months. As only new models get media attention?
  • Nonetheless an average customer may only buy a new set each 3 or 4 years.
  • A tv has limited functionality and maybe technology doesnt progress so fast any more

Now about PCs:

  • May be the development also needs a year or so?
  • release cycle is the same?
  • There is a difference and this is the operating system. This is not part of the production cycle. Operating systems are constantly developed and released, there are security fixes, small improvements, new functionalities and also major releases
  • The customer expects new hardware to ‘just work’ with his new PC.
  • The customer is forced to update the software for the system to be still secure enough.
  • Doing this fundamentally changes the computers basics.

One reason why PCs are so much more open for changes is that they are less mature and also are used in much broader ways. So like via the internet there come new technologies which did not exist two years ago. So if a PC would not change it would soon not be uptodate.

But I also like to question if this really makes that much sense? Why are PCs more open to attack? Frankly because theire inwards are often open to the world via the internet. But doesnt that mean that much of the operating system and software that is used just does things wrong?

I really think a PC should be secure by default without anybody needing to fix things. How could this be accomplished? Well first and foremost my simple reducing the size of the operating system, because every line of code you spare means statistically reducing the possibility of brokenness!

PCs need to be task oriented, which could  also mean that some things wont just work without patching or extending the system. But a restrain can benefit the functionality. The years of development of the PC have shown that it can do a lot of things now, already. I think maybe its time to shift the development and deployment strategy. Currently all OSes include auto- or semiautomatic updates via the internet. This doesnt always makes a computer  work better or more secure. So why not rather work on a secure and working basis and then make a thought trough strategic deployment?

Today there exist two kind of operating systems – the free once and the proprietary once.  The later are oriented in marketing – so customer orientated but not necessary pro security – and innovation is something for visibility or for customer lock in.

Free operating systems are developer orientated, or orientated to those who make deployments – if they mix with the developer group. So people who make deployments but cannot connect to the developers have a problem. There are distributors that try to moderate but at the same time make money. They hire developers and take money from customers. Other distributions like Debian dont actually have a distributor company. All in all its not the developers that directly connect to the users, although the potential is there, but mostly the geeky user fraction is connecting – so free operating systems become geeky.

All operating systems have a problem giving the customers or users what they want or need. Because they tend to oversee the real problems. They are more busy fixing stuff and getting the next release out than actually solving the problems of the customers. And the distributor companies are more busy in earning money , so they rather care that they earn some cash – and fixing problem is rather the point of promising, not fixing (which are two totally distinct actions).

I believe that a good marketing means to solve the problems of customers/users – so that is the real task, which I think proprietary operating systems currently often do better, while never satisfying. So they keep customers as happy and hungry as they need them. Quenching the hunger is something that is not on the target list of anybody, really.

Sometimes you find exceptional developers who indeed primarily think of the users problems, which is easier the more technical the stuff is or the more the user and developer base mix. The hardest thing is to deliver a product where developers are very distinct from the user base. Part of solution could be to indeed teach users to use the tools (operating system) the way it was meant to be used. So this again is an argument against the “just works”.

Some products dont need teaching. Like cars. People learn driving cars – and the manufacturers job is to just sell it. If somebody can not drive the manufacturer or car salesman wont teach him or her.

I believe that teaching has to be part of using an operating system, as you provide a product that is not as transparent as a car or a tv set. If you wont teach them, people wont use it. Especially if they are quiet familiar with one operating system and you like them to switch. Unless they are already lost and frustrated you wont get them to change.

But teaching is not enough. Another important thing is that you need to listen to the users! So the developers need to understand the feedback and act if necessary. This doesnt mean that you do what the users tell you. Somebody needs to understand the real needs. I have seen developers acting with the word of pragmatism as they were thinking that they will just do what people want. But this doesnt provide the vision. The developers (as a general term of people who workn on the distribution) need to understand the needs an plan on how they can satisfy the needs of the users. They also have to know that  a few loud users do not make a majority of the user base. There are no easy ways to get a operating system that is good. You will always loose some users, because you cant always make the right decisions for everybody.

Another interesting topic is on how to actually make decisions and move on. There is also no easy answer. The best thing one can do is to start with a vision and then work on getting there. So every decision that is made should be checked on what effects it will have. You need to comply on some common standards that make up some rules – and which means that people can rely on these points for at least as the vision that developers are working on, if you cant provide the solution now or soon.

One danger that I see many operating systems have a problem with is that they focus too much on the technical things. So they indeed think that if they talk about this, that it matters. But the thing is that the technical stuff is rather a stream of changes one needs to deal with. The decisions and selections are more important than the features. Features and news are willingly marketed and somehow developers are expecting the user base to be anxious to whats coming. Actually most wont be. The people often are more worried if their data is secure and overall if they can work as they are used to. I dont want to suggest that change is bad – I just like to say it doenst really matter that much – its not the number one issue for most users. People are happy if the computer and the software works better, als long as this doesnt mean that some core functionality is going away. Asit turns out often developers dont care that much about data losses as they are just too excited about the latest and greatest stuff.

So communication is important. Maintain a common understanding of the problems and of the decisions that are to be made. It should be transparent on how things are secided. And a users needs to be able to foresee the future. So he likes to get a released on a promised date – and he likes the operating to behave as expected. People accept changes if they are well though through and explained in detail. This is best accomplished with open discussions. Of course I am talking about free operating systems here, mainly.

How should an ideal operating system behave? It should keep what it promises. So  if you arent there yet dont make stable releases that are aint just it! its ok to make alphas and betas – butdont suggest to use them if it will let down your users.  Below the line you as a developer are responsible for the quality of the software you release. Always think that loosing data can have a fatal effect. Like:

  • Somebody looses data and then looses a big customer or….
  • looses his job…
  • an important action can not be executed – like the computer is used to organize food deliveries and with the data loss it means people could die because things take more time…
  • medical data gets lost and also somebody looses his live.
  • Maybe the software is used in a mission in space and the mission fails dew to software failure,

Developers tend to forget about that computer are used EVERYWHERE. Indeeda computer can mean the difference between live and death today. So an attitude of “please use our OS, but if it fails dont blame us” is not acceptable. Not always are consequences so fatal. But what do you want to suggest? Do you want people to use your OS really on every circumstance or do you just want it to be used by geeks who just want to play?

So if you suggest that your software “just works” you should make sure that it does. Strangely though my impression is that “just works” almost always means “always fails”, while more conservative software more oftenly “just works” without it being marketed in  that way (rather by the “security” feature).

I hope to have inspired at least some developers and makers to rethink the way they do software and operating systems and maybe give users some impression of what they should demand and expect.  Sure this is also true for those who select operating systems and deploy it. they should choose those operating systems that meet the criterias that are important for their users. You may think that what I say is trivial, but I think often OSes are chosen by what they know best themselves or what is latest, or where they get the most share of the end price. So sometimes some Linuxes from big companies may sell better because they are more expensive and so the merchant can easily add an amount of money  that fits the price of the end product. So he does not necessarily makes a quality choice.

To summarize – the choices are not easy – everybody can make a mistake – whats important is that you LEARN from your mistakes – so if some operating systems had led you down, leave them! Dont go back to them or to OSes and distributions which are similar to them. If you dont do this… you have been warned.  😉 This is true for every part of what I just wrote.

And as the final closing: Still dont let others or yourself steal you the fun on working with computers. If you be careful in some points you can have fun and experimenting is fun, too – which is nice if you are not on a production system or you are a carefree individual.



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Janelle Monae

Really somebody to watch. But be careful… fasten your seat belts!

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Ubuntu investigated

I have taken a deeper look into Ubuntu. Those are some things I find weird:

  1. Firefox is the default browser. I think this is ugly, but anyway… if you try to install Epiphany the problem is you can only install Epiphany without the extensiosn via the graphical installer. As this is the suggested method this means that most users wont ever be able to have adblocking and other cool extensions that come by default with the browser. Its really funny, because I know a lot of people who dont like Epiphany because it doesnt have all those nasty little extensions – but they dont see how elegant it is. Its potentially VERY fast and gives you a whole lot of good extensions that dont exploit your system. On Firefox you never know what you get when you install random extensions from the web. Actually their plugin system fails to be as secure as it needs to be. I have seen people with about 50 plugins that are partly incompatible. People dont think. If you allow people to install all kind of crap, they will do so – and then it doesnt make much difference if the core would be secure. As long as the browser doesnt give me some core and secure plugins it doesnt really provide me the needed functionality. Thats why I am really advocating Epiphany. Konqueror might have been some similar advantages, but I havent looked at it that much.
  2. One of the most important feature for users like me who came from the Mac was that the upper right corner in GNOME also had the application switcher menu. Ubuntu chose to replace it with the “Leave” button (to log off, shutdown, restart). So this had two disadvantages: a) One of the most important menus is gone and b) People levae the desktop instead of switching – also this makes the GNOME desktop work very different on Ubuntu than on standard GNOME, VERY fatal. I suggest to change that.
  3. the small trash on the lower right is just too small to be used effectively . When shall I use that one? Why should the desktop only contain icons of the user? I agree that the common desktop concept has a problem which is mostly this: The desktop can only be seen fully when the user hasnt any applications open. But OTOH a small trash is very hard to use especially for children, old people or people with disabilities.
  4. There are no icons on the default desktop. Which leaves the user to only use the menu. Why is the desktop user switcher on my default? I would think that 99% of all desktops are only used by one user – and as space is valuable this applet wastes space.
  5. There is no system tools sub menu. Where is gconf-editor? Not only did the gconf-editor make it hard to find some settings, now Ubuntu also hides the editor and makes it even harder to tweak settings. Um, why?
  6. Still my Ralink RT61 wireless connection drops all the time  (without NM realizing this). This is extremely annoying this happens with WEP as well as with WPA. On Foresight Linux this only happened with WEP.
  7. The messages NM posts to the log are not very informative compared to Foresight so I cant really help debugging. Has anybody disabled some debugging in the Ubuntu package?
  8. Synaptic opens too much windows and is complicated to use. It also doesnt help the user to install the right packages. It tries to help, but it also lacks a lot of packages.I think PackageKit looks much more promising and I hope Ubuntu will pick this in the future.

I will keep testing Ubuntu in this notebook, because we will have an install event at the end of march. And there is really no alternative to use Debian and Ubuntu. Foreisght? Sorry, you still havent enought localization support and also many things dont work, like you can only scan images in one resolution (FL-825). Fedora? Sorry but as long as the community policy is not going to change that is not up for discussion? Gentoo? Nope, not for newbies!  OpenSuse? That might be an alternative, but nobody  know would like to help installing that 🙂

I think for a local LUG there is no other option than the combination Debian & Ubuntu für install fests. There could be many others but all I have looked at so far decided to make things harder.  “PClinuxOS” might make some sense. I have seen it installed and it has a nice configuration center. But it also had weir weirdnesses. But I could imagine to install and test it at least.

Remember: If we help installing we want people to be able to ask others or come back to us. So we wont pick any esoteric Linux, even if it would be better. Unlessthe majority in a LUG is convinced that this is the best.

My big hope was that Foresight would rise, would have good hardware support (scanners, cameras) and localisation by now. But all my core points werent worked on. I am still sad about this fact, especially because I think I will never love Ubuntu. Ubuntu is just like the big elephant you cant ignore. 😉 And this means also that it really doesnt matter if ots providing good software. I think if it brings people to Linux it is good. People can then switch later if they want. People will think its good as it is trendy. So the marketing still works.

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Just got an idea of what makes upcoming applications important – its about “verification” and trust. Just like the nice video about the older term “trusted computing. Everything that is happening in the web are actions or interactions. Exchange of informations, tasks, savong of data, recalling of information. We need to trust our storage media or the information pathways. We also need to verify that our data is intact, so that we will not experience a data loss or that the data will be manipulated and become inconsistent.

This is not a mere technical issue but also political. We need to verify who we can trust, be it humans, companies or the government. Like with the new basic right of confidentiality and integrity of data, that was created in Germany by a high court.

I think that if we develop this basic right further it may be essential for every interaction in the formerly called called cyberspace – which is an extension of our ego and natural life.

Our situation is that we can not verify. But if we cant, we can not trust, which again means that we act and interact without a confident feeling. Which is like in a totalitarian state. Our privacy gets stolen and our own and personal integrity is hurt.

Its not that we are in danger, but that this situation is here for a long time. And humanity has experienced similar attacks long before the computer was invented. It is about control, about power. Those who control the pathways control the people and what they think.

What we need to accomplish is to regain control for each individual on every action and interaction. This would give the power back to where it belongs. Control of information outside an indivual about the same individual shouldnt be accepted at all.

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Funky Radio Station WeFunk

As I saw my favourite radio station has done a video to their 500th show I thought I should make a hint . The mostly play Funk and old school hip hop.
Its stationed in Montreal, Canada

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