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Welcome to the pre-Post-PC era

March 9, 2012 21 comments

Joe Brockmeier wrote an insightful piece on ReadWrite entitled “What We Lose in a Post-PC World” that starts off with this: “Tim Cook, Ray Ozzie, and a host of others have proclaimed that we’re in a “post-PC world.” Well, not quite yet, but you can see it from here.”

You can see it all right, with the Hubble. It’s that far off in the distance.

I agree with most of that Joe writes, incidentally. In fact, I agree with all of what Joe writes, except for the “see it from here” thing (I’m assuming he didn’t use a telescope, space-borne or otherwise). There are things that you can do with your post-PC apparatus, like surf the web, watch videos and all those important digital experiences. But bear in mind that you’re not going to be using Blender on your Android tablet anytime soon.

So while we wait for Hallmark to make up cards heralding the Post-PC era, allow me an introduction of a new placeholder era: the pre-Post-PC era. In the pre-Post-PC era, discussions we’re now having involve the how and what you can — and can’t — do with new technology like tablets and smartphones, followed by heated discussion about the same, punctuated by name-calling, general flaming and hurt feelings around issues of disagreement at which time parties go to neutral corners and take a 10-count before coming back into the proverbial ring and discussing the issue with cooler heads.

Meanwhile, technology marches on and as evening falls on the pre-Post-PC era — which might be called the post-pre-Post-PC era by purists, opening another argumentative can of worms as a sideshow — Blender developers will actually get an Android version for tablets up and running, just proving the point that you can do it, but ignoring the important question around why you would make software to run on something that’s not built for the job.

“Because they can,” they might say, and that’s a valid answer.

One more prognostication: Sailing through the Post-PC era, there will be a post-Post-PC era, after the advent of the pre-post-Post-PC era, where people will start thinking, “You know, I had a laptop (or desktop . . . or both) once where I didn’t have to strain my eyes on such a small screen, and where I actually got stuff done rather than just wasting time.” Or something like that.

At that time, the post-Post-PC era will allow everyone to realize what most of us already know: That what’s nebulously referred to as post-PC hardware works in tandem with, not as a substitute to, the hardware like laptops and desktops that already exist.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

An appeal to reason

March 7, 2012 13 comments

A little over an hour ago, I was giving the final read on what was originally this blog item, under a different title and with a metric ton or two of humor, cutting criticism and the high quality of commentary that you’d expect from this blog. It was in derisive and cutting response to what Mark Shuttleworth considers “innovation” as outlined in this morning’s ZDNet blog item by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.

Having the ability to use the English language to slice and dice the ridiculous with the accuracy of a Benihana chef with a complete set of Ginsu knives — whether it’s an idea or a person or both — is both a blessing and a curse. The Mark served up some pretty meaty fastballs right in my wheelhouse — a baseball metaphor now that we’re in spring training — and if he puts them where I can hit them, they’re gone. And I tattooed them, right into the next time zone.

But reading the blog item over again before deleting it, I felt like Bill O’Reilly. That alone forced me to take a shower and rewrite this blog item.

In any case, rather than put you through an eye-rolling, arm-waving rant on this screen about how The Mark’s vision of reality differs from — well — reality (to say nothing of his uncanny knack for hyperbole and a penchant for exaggeration, followed by responses to criticism that redefine ad hominem), I’m just going to appeal to reason and let the reader decide.

Quoting Shuttleworth from the ZDNet blog: “Yes, we are moving beyond the desktop, but we are also innovating to make the desktop itself, better.”

No, you’re not, Mark. Here’s why.

Unity: This is a one-size-fits-all solution to a situation that requires a wide range of flexibility, unless of course you don’t consider the user interface for a tablet any different than that of a 17-inch monitor, and everything between. How this can even be remotely considered innovation when, for all intents and purposes, it’s a round peg trying to go into different shaped holes?

Wait for the improvement? No, thanks. I tried Unity for an entire day, and I wanted to like it. I spent a couple of hours tweaking it, reading wikis (thanks, Google) and getting it to where it would best work for me. But it got to a point where its functionality failed on so many levels, in large part to a UI that was not suited to my hardware. I wanted very badly to say something nice about it — “Um . . . it’s a nice color” — but I even couldn’t do that. Unity is a digital cowpie, and no matter how many improvements you make to a cowpie, it’s still a cowpie.

As a result, I’m glad to use Xubuntu on one of the lab’s machines, which is the one distro in the ‘buntu universe that shines.

HUD: Head-Up Display — no, I’m not going to ask “head-up” what? Nope, I’m not going there. Having tried this (HUD, that is, not . . . um, never mind), I can’t see how this is an improvement: I have to type the name of a program I want in order to get the program I want. Couldn’t I do this — oh, I don’t know — from the command line? And if so, doesn’t this make HUD a GUI for the command line?

A more important question: This is innovation? The only way this is innovation is that Canonical had this ill-advised, counterproductive concept of doing things this way before anyone else did. Being the first to do something counterproductive is not innovation; arguably, it’s regression.

If you like Unity and it works for you, use it. Like HUD? Same thing. I have no problem with people using what they want — that’s a key to using Free/Open Source Software — and you should be glad that FOSS provides a wide range of choices on many levels, including the user interface.

But innovation? No, that’s not a good word for what Canonical is doing with Unity and HUD. Or at least it’s not a word that describes it.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

Counting to four

March 1, 2012 8 comments

The recent FOSS hubbub-in-a-teapot has Linus Torvalds ranting about security — again (remember the “masturbating monkeys”?). The rant deals with having to use root passwords on OpenSUSE for basic daily usage, which Linus find a bit much and says so with inspired prose.

Arguably, he has a point, or several. How he makes it, though, is a bit over-the-top.

Pot, meet kettle. I have a reputation for being quick on the proverbial draw when it comes to things that annoy me — to the point where my Santa Cruz Sentinel colleague Tony Solis has made a chart designating the “Larry Threat Level” on any particular newsroom day. And if you permit me a Captain Obvious moment, writing when you’re furious is not the best thing to do. I’ve had to backpedal on more than one occasion because the white-hot prose that flew from the keyboard here sounded great in the fury of anger, but later it paled in comparison.

So I don’t mind so much that Linus went off like a Roman candle about this incident. What I do mind a bit — and I think it’s way beneath him, no matter how annoyed he is — is this line from his “venting,” as he puts it: “So here’s a plea: if you have anything to do with security in a distro, and think that my kids (replace ‘my kids’ with ‘sales people on the road’ if you think your main customers are businesses) need to have the root password to access some wireless network, or to be able to print out a paper, or to change the date-and-time settings, please just kill yourself now. The world will be a better place.”

Calling security-obsessed programmers “masturbating monkeys” is one thing. Suggesting suicide for something that, at best, is an annoyance that can easily be fixed is akin to spraying down someone with automatic gunfire after they kick you in the shin.

Truth in advertising: I have a stake in this, sort of. Years ago, a friend of mine had a spouse who commited suicide. On a variety of levels, it was extremely traumatic for family and friends, and it’s not something you fix from the command line or by writing better code. It’s permanent.

When things annoy me — which is more often than I’d like — I go walk in the woods. Fortunately for me, I live within walking distance of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, where I go to put things in perspective; 200-foot trees can do that. Linus, I know redwoods are native to northwestern Oregon, so a walk among the trees might be good idea before hitting the keyboard to vent. Or dive, since I know you’re a scuba diver (the Pacific is not far from Portland, if I remember correctly).

So Linus, and everyone else, it’s also good to take Mark Twain’s advice: “When angry count four; when very angry, swear.”

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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Eliminate DRM!

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