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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!

Stop the presses

February 24, 2012 6 comments

It consistently awes me, sometimes to tears, to see how consistently wrong some Free/Open Source Software commentators are about things like the current state of the desktop. To hear some of them tell it, it’s a hand-wringing, brow-furrowing situation in which the fate of the entire paradigm rests in the delicate balance.

Let me explain this in simple terms: It’s not. If anything, it’s an invitation to a front-row seat to witness digital Darwinism at its finest.

So stop acting like this is a crisis. It’s not.

Unity is a dog — it’s a textbook case of incredibly bad judgment by The Mark to make a cookie-cutter, all-in-one user interface across a wide range of different hardware. But that’s all it is. Is it the death knell of the desktop? Hardly. It’s not even the death knell of Ubuntu.

The same with GNOME 3: Arguably a bad move, but not one that is forcing GNOME to fold up the tents and go the way of the Studebaker or the hula hoop.

KDE thriving? In my opinion, it is. That’s a good thing, and they have weathered some bad times recently to come out stronger and with a good product for those so inclined to use it.

Xfce making progress at GNOME’s expense? Tough if you’re a GNOME guy or gal, but not bad in the grand scheme of things. Xfce has always been a good desktop environment which is finally getting the recognition it deserves — it will be interesting to see how they take advantage of this (and good luck, guys and gals).

There is even more attention now toward window managers like Openbox and Fluxbox, as the current desktop environment “crisis” ushers in a sort of renaissance for window managers that gives users a new look at a facet of Linux that is not often discussed.

The bottom line is that’s what it’s all about: choice. Choice is good. Having choices is a virtue, not a vice. It’s simple: Get that and you get FOSS.

[Note to the Linux Foundation: You may think that events@linuxfoundation.org works, but I'm still getting bouncing e-mails across a wide variety of machines using various e-mail programs on FOSS and non-FOSS platforms. Tell you what: I'll just print out my blog from yesterday and mail it to you. Watch your mailbox.]

(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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