Responded to a computer ministry service call today. The Win7 box was suffering from three types of advertising malware, one of which hijacked some function in the Google Toolbar and caused intermittent Net access problems.
Do you know you can tell a lot about someone from what kind of malware they get on their computers? I assure you, the way the malware acts tells you all you need to know about someone’s surfing habits. This particular client had some generic drive-by installs. Some of the computers I work on are loaded with serious nasty stuff from surfing porn sites. Even video and music download sites have their own signature malware. But I mind my own business.
Honestly folks, use some common sense. The first rule of computer vice: Don’t run Windows on the Internet. At the very least, learn how to use virtual machines so you can delete the system that got trashed by malware and viruses. Then you can still keep your real system pretty clean, so long as you scan everything you download. VMWare is free, but each Windows virtual machine is still subject to licensing unless you know how to get around that issue.
Yes, I do know, but I don’t have room to post all the various tricks and details here on my blog. Most of them aren’t naughty tricks, just industry insider knowledge, taking advantage of what Windows and the big computer manufacturers already have set up. For Win7, it’s all about SLIC, certificates, the built-in utility called “slmgr” and generic manufacturer keys. Also, you can find basic generic retail ISO images provided by MS. They still require activation, and any cracking or hacking you do can be obtained separately. Try places like MyDigitalLife Forums. If you are restoring a system that came with Win7, this is all totally legit and is the only use I have for it.
As things get uglier with various governments using different tricks to control how we use the Net, it’s a good idea to decide soon just how important it is for you. If you gotta have the Net, it’s time to get serious about learning as much as you can. Ask me questions any time. It’s not like the world is coming to an end, but we shall all likely have to make some big adjustments soon.
I still get people asking me if I am somehow trying to prepare for Apocalypse or something — not at all. For example, my workouts at the gym are therapeutic, not aimed at developing or training for anything. Major body movements, not too many sets, high repetitions (12-20 per set), not too much rest time between exercises — this generally prevents arthritis from flaring up while maximizing whatever it is you already have. I’m big enough, thank you. I’m simply obeying what I feel certain is God’s command for me.
The late crop blackberries for this summer are now ripening and they are delicious. I have all the jam I need, but I still can’t resist stopping to pick a handful on my long bike rides. These days I have to use a fully upright position. My shoulders and elbows can’t take the pressure of riding head-down the way most serious cyclists do.
However, my human intuition says, to the degree we are likely to have trouble here in the US, it will be tied to financial and banking stuff. While there are any number of plans to provoke riots and implement martial law or other forms of oppression, I suspect the real pain and sorrow is tied to banking. A few insiders insist the coming January looks really nasty, but I can’t tell you what they know or don’t know.
Spent something close to 10 hours on a single computer this past week.
The issue at hand was a collection of Trojans and related malware. In the mess, I was unable to salvage anything from the file system. Even booting from a LiveCD did not offer much access to the files the client lost. We couldn’t even access the factory recovery partition. None of the standard Win7 tools were sufficient to recover things. So what we had was a major corruption of the file system itself, because everything reports that the harddrive was just peachy itself.
It all broke down when I had to use Windows Defender Offline. For once Vipre Rescue didn’t do it for me. The problem came when Defender removed Alureon.J and the file system finally tanked.
In the process I discovered someone had in the past installed a VNC application so he could fix the computer remotely, but he passed away and the thing was still there. Inevitably, those things prevent updates. I don’t doubt the guy was careful enough to secure the connection properly, but they always seem to prevent a system updating. Once it was uninstalled, the sucker tried to suddenly update everything.
It seemed the infection vector was a Linksys E900 wifi router one of the client’s family members installed. This relative didn’t live there, just wanted it for his convenience when he visited. He used the “Wifi Protected Setup” protocol, which is about as secure as stripping naked in a bad neighborhood in broad daylight. The client’s computer was “protected” by McAfee. Win7 even told her to remove the wifi router, but she thought it was just complaining about nothing.
The system stopped booting, so I first ran the Bootup Repair routine and got back in far enough to begin cleaning up. We got one tool to remove one pair of nasties, but we never could get her preferred Trend Micro Titanium to install because Alureon blocked it. So I tried Microsoft Security Essentials and it installed, and then recommended it’s Offline cleanup tool. But removing Alureon took a bite out of the file system and it simply could not recover with the tools available to me.
So we “nuked it from orbit” by reinstalling from scratch with a DVD I had. The client lost all their files.
Lessons learned: McAfee isn’t any good. VNC might be a good way for secure remote assistance, but if you aren’t careful, it can block updates. Malware can come through a badly configured router. One of the system error messages I got indicated the router was acting as a file system and fed into the damage. I didn’t pursue fixing the router, just removed it. Always keep your own copies of the OS installer you deal with, because a corrupt file system can ruin the factory provided recovery partition.
Teach folks how to use Windows Backup and a good external drive; they should come bundled with a new computer. Unfortunately, most of the backup software on external disks really suck. They are highly annoying and want to dominate what little time you have for using a computer. You need to be able to unplug it so viruses don’t infest your backups, too, and most of them whine if they aren’t plugged in 24/7. But Windows’ own backup tools are a bit hard to learn for average users, so most folks don’t mess with it.
Nobody has to tell me I could have done better, but I can’t afford some of the nifty tools other folks use. I work for donations, which sometimes means for free. I’m not a serious technician, just someone down the road ahead of most folks. Still, I put more effort into it than almost every computer shop I’ve seen. Windows 7 has some very good tools built in and I rather like working on it, but some things can’t be fixed that easily. I still think Linux works better, but this is a very bad time to learn it because no sane people are involved in interface development. XFCE is the most sane, and it’s still too radical and too limited to easily replace Windows in most people’s minds. I use it, but I don’t recommend it to your average home user. Taming the other graphical interfaces is simply way too much work because the defaults are user-hostile.
Meanwhile, I keep praying ReactOS gets good enough for general use, because common computer users are used to that, and it’s time they got a break.
I’m testing the use of Corel Lightening for posting to my blog. I have no idea how this will look and I’m almost certain I’ll have to edit things before it’s right. Okay, it didn’t post any text at all, just the title. I had to copy the contents over. Busted!
I still have my Linux laptop because it’s not a productivity tool. I use it for network diagnostics and fixing other people’s computers. You can’t get serious writing tools for Linux. The latest version of LibreOffice actually breaks my Word documents, automatically adding formatting that I can’t remove or correct when I open them in Word. The defaults are not at all sane, and correcting them is an arcane science. If you need to jump back and forth between the two office suites, I recommend you stay with the 3.x series or use the other development branch, which is still called OpenOffice.
Linux is still the superior OS for networking and security. It all depends on what you need most.
Meanwhile, I notice a lot of grammar assistance hammers too hard and long on passive voice. Look, it’s part of the English grammar and usage. Sometimes it is the only way to correctly put across that subtle shade of meaning. Yes, most people use it way too much, particularly British journalists, but it’s not inherently wrong. You can overdo the active voice, too. Oh, and for most people, MS Office 97 is still the superior grammar checking tool. It’s actually more intelligent than the later versions of MS Office.
For quite some time now our mobile home park management have been coming by on Monday mornings to carry away junk that we can’t fit into the trash carts. So we finally get it all ready and out on the curb. Nobody has seen maintenance all day. What I have seen are scavengers picking through the stuff. They can have it.
This is not a fiction series. I needed a way to signal to readers the prophetic approach to computer technology or any other means to the end of God’s Message. It could as easily be about the various cutting tools I use for firewood, or my bicycle, etc.
Background: There are four competing desktop interfaces dominating the field in Linux right now. KDE 4 is all the worst of KDE 3 but not nearly so useful. It’s got a jillion settings possible and no sane defaults. Nothing about it is designed for ordinary people trying to get work done. The developers are part of the majority who despise common ordinary computer users. GNOME 3 hates them in the opposite way, by taking away every possible option and hiding basic functions behind the most bizarre keystroke and mouse combinations. Ubuntu’s version, called Unity, is just as bad. LXDE reminds me of the worst days during the development of GNOME way back when. So far as I know, it’s the only current desktop capable of crashing catastrophically and biting holes in your file system on its way down.
So that leaves us with XFCE. It’s a little short on features, but it’s workable for most situations.
But the folks at OpenSUSE can ruin anything. They make XFCE look just like LXDE and I don’t know of any way to simply remove the idiotic SUSE defaults and let XFCE do what it does best. Then there’s a thousand little things like Lynx. Those of us who love Lynx know how to make it do what we want. SUSE has done their best to remove critical features, like disabling the option to use an LSS file to set color options. Stupid. If we don’t want it, we know exactly how to cut it out, so stop making arrogant and bad decisions for us, developers. There are good points with SUSE, but they are overwhelmed by inexcusable anti-user decisions.
After choking on this for awhile, I decided to try Scientific Linux 6 again on the laptop, but stayed with the 32-bit version this time. Everything worked as I hoped, adding a couple of extra package repositories (ATrpms and EPEL) to get the stuff RHEL doesn’t offer on the basic system. It works they way I work. Unless you have more than 4GB of RAM or run server operations, you don’t need the 64-bit version. I’ve got Word 97 working beautifully under Wine and there is some hope someone I know will come up with a version of WordPerfect that runs with it. Right now, about the only versions reliable at all are 7 (NT enabled) through about 11 under Wine.
Mint with MATE is tolerable. However, far too many of what should be MATE applications are still pulled from GNOME 3 and those suffer the basic arrogance of GNOME developers. Also, way too much depends on the anti-user decisions made upstream by Ubuntu. Probably the most hateful thing is the convoluted path to adding backports available from various PPAs (Personal Package Archives, where some enterprising packager keeps up with some particular package or related group of packages and upgrades them on various versions of Ubuntu). So if you really have to have the latest version of something, you can’t easily build it yourself the Debian way, and there is no simple, user-friendly method of adding the extra goodies. Even SUSE gets this part right, with their one-click install.
Other distros describe themselves in ways that tell me they have no interest in my needs. Those most likely to be user friendly are frankly few if you understand “user” as not exactly a techie or fanboy. So for now I still cannot recommend any Linux distro to non-techie users. If you are willing to learn, it will most certainly give you more options than Windows in terms of control over your system. However, Windows remains much easier and more reliable in the sense of fewer hassles getting things the way you probably like them. However, after Windows 7, it’s apparently going downhill fast. You may want to consider whether you wish to face what’s coming. If you feel the need to jump, I still recommend RHEL and clones (CentOS, Stella and Scientific Linux). Maybe somewhere in the near future, someone will wake up and realize there are an awful lot of users who refuse to use a cellphone interface on their systems because they have work to do.
The mission comes first in all things.
I still use Linux. There is only one real reason anyone would choose Linux over Windows: control. MS will never yield the level of control we users would like. The nifty little secrets are out there on the Net, but it often requires arcane knowledge to work through some of the truly Orwellian obfuscations for items many Linux users do routinely. The reason is simple: MS makes money by delivering you, the user, to their business partners. They retain this power to make money because they allow some governments complete and open access through back doors to the system. That criminals also find and use those back doors is simply the cost of doing business. Unfortunately, the cost is usually born by you, the user.
The only reason to keep using Windows is the wealth of tools for which Linux and Open Source do not offer a replacement. So you like LibreOffice? Fine, but they do not have a valid grammar checker and the interface will always have serious glitches not present in any other office suite. That’s because people who really love Open Source will tolerate those glitches and the developers ignore everyone else. Sometimes it’s just a careless UI design and layout. You have to run through an extra three or four actions to get the same results as you would with, say MS Office (any version).
So here’s the deal: Which new features added to MS Office since Office 97 do you use? I don’t use any of them, either. Some of the defaults have actually gotten annoying. Did you know you can run some of those older versions on Linux using Wine? That’s a sort of emulator, allowing you to get a sometimes workable replication of Windows for some software. At various times using different versions of Wine, I’ve run Office 97, 2000 and 2003. I’m willing to bet one of those will serve most of your needs. Later versions do sometimes work, as well, but really grab a lot of system resources in the process. You can get copies of the older versions cheap or free, if you know who to ask.
So the real issue comes down to which system offers the least painful options. I’ve been playing with Linux Mint because they offer releases with long term support. It’s a step in the right direction, in part because they understand the real need for keeping the older style UIs. So you can use MATE, which is the current version of GNOME 2, so to speak. Or you can use Cinnamon, which is GNOME 3 made somewhat sane. I prefer the former. At any rate, I’ve got Word 2000 working on it and that’s good enough for my grammar checking needs.
However, I still can’t recommend Mint to Windows users unless you have the time to do some serious homework. It still is too much like Ubuntu where far too many defaults are not aimed at the most common user needs. Too often those defaults are really hard to change. Mint folks aren’t nearly so forthcoming on offering simple fixes as I have seen with Ubuntu. There are some Mint users posting their fixes on blogs and such, but too often they are aimed at elitist ends. That is, it’s one elitist Linux user helping another elitist, while nobody bothers to help those of us with more common user needs. Far too many things which should rightly be almost automated are made intentionally obscure and difficult. You have to manually update FlashPlayer, for example. That’s not simple and I’ve yet to find simple directions for it; I can do it the hard way, but I don’t recommend it.
Unless you really need the latest and greatest, I still recommend Scientific Linux/CentOS 6 for most users as the shortest and least painful path to migration. I’ve already written that up (see the links on this page regarding RHEL). You can get Wine and it will run at least one version of MS Office. There is a provision for most of the arcane hardware drivers somewhere in the system which supports the users of RHEL and clones. There is often a way to get some of the latest and greatest when you really must have it. Best of all, it is exceptionally secure, more so than most types of Linux, because the security stuff is turned on by default and quite sane. I will probably keep it on my laptop.
Feel free to ask my advice.
This will be a crappy post because I’m feeling crappy. This is my annual mid-winter allergy season. I’m running a low-grade fever, just enough to have that icky feeling on my skin. My sinuses feel like the Russian Army has been marching around inside in their bare feet. So far, no blockage because I keep doing a saline flush of them. That the flushing brings no real relief from the headache is proof it’s an allergy, because cleaning with a mild antibiotic has no effect, aside from flushing the mucus.
One of my computer ministry clients tried to upgrade Ubuntu 10.04 to 12.04. Disaster. I’ve never had trouble with it, but Ubuntu lied and said it would be easy and everything was fine. They aren’t techies, and we should not expect them to know better. Even though I got it to work as well as it was going to under Ubuntu, they couldn’t figure it out. The new cellphone interface is user-hateful on desktops. The machine in question is too old for Win7, so I put XP on it. That was the original OS. I believe only one other client may still be running Linux.
I’m watching Linux in the rearview mirror, sprinting off in the wrong direction. (I’m no longer allowing people to defend it here, so don’t try. Linux has its place, but not on the desktop.)
At any rate, the client in question is petty happy with the tweaked version of XP I put on the machine.
Meanwhile, I’ve decided to fold my OT History study into the Ancient Truth series. I’ve gotten through the Period of Judges (37 out of 103 lessons).
And the world here is going crazy and you won’t see it on the news.
I had forgotten how sharp an old “safety razor” could be. I also forgot how much they hurt. The blades are very cheap, if you can find them.
I found a copy of Corel WordPerfect Office X5 Standard someone had returned to the vendor. The key had been de-registered, but since the box was open and it was the older version (X6 has been out for awhile), they cut the price. A lot. It was the very most I could get for the money from a selection of 50+ possibilities. It was approximately $35 (US) with shipping, when it retails around $250, ordered through Amazon. We’ll see if it turns out so well, since shipping could take a week or two.
I’ve been spending a lot of time playing with Virtual Machines on my computer. Microsoft’s Virtual PC is good for XP and almost nothing else. You can install other operating systems, and they have it rigged for really old Linux and Unix packages. But it’s about worthless. I tested the free VMware Player. It’s pretty hard with things like Win98, because the folks at VMware don’t tell you the whole story. On the other hand, older Linux distros work really well.
I got Ubuntu 8.04 installed automatically, all neatly scripted. It’s a good way to run WordPerfect 8 for Linux. When I tried Ubuntu 10.04, none of the GUI got installed. Fortunately, once I figured out what was wrong, I knew how to finish out the install and get things running. I really do prefer to use Linux on the Internet; it’s much more secure. Also, there are a lot more dirty tricks I can use which are very difficult or simply not possible on Windows. In essence, Linux is closer to the real standards of the Internet, the original ideas of complete freedom, common standards, etc. At the same time, Linux people tend to ignore all the DRM and other restrictions on media the commercial giants use, the same giants who keep trying to break all those old rules.
Also, viruses are wholly unlikely on Linux, even as a virtual computer inside a Windows box. Linux still sucks for anything else, including the new GUIs. That Ubuntu 10.04 was the last good GUI release, so supported or not, I’m not running anything newer.
I confess I drooled over some new type mountain bikes with 29″ wheels. I’m praying I can save up for one; they start around $200 for the cheap junk, and decent starts at around $300.
It’s not likely I’ll get much writing done during the Christmas holidays. There are some other projects I’ve had on hold while I finished working on Paul’s Letters. Would you believe it? Within 12 hours of publishing it on Smashwords, it already had 25 downloads. Meanwhile, the book which started it all — The Mind of Christ — is still getting a few each week. It was at 85+ this morning.
Okay, I’ve wasted enough of your time.
If I can get the Senior Editor’s attention, this article will be posted at Open for Business in the next day or so. My readers here get to see it first.
I remember my first encounter with a computer was in high school calculus, an Olivetti Programma 101. It was actually part of our curriculum to program the arithmetic steps for summations. A decade later, I was learning DOS on a military computer. Not the underlying technology; I became the training guru for our Enable office suite. I also wrote all the automation scripts in Enable for the forms we had to process. I still use a copy of Enable O/A on my XP laptop.
I also wrote a lot of other instructional material in the military because my superiors said I had a knack for it. Then I got hurt and left the military. Back home, I started writing a book, but the pile of papers quickly grew out of control. When I got a battered old DOS machine, the writing became more serious. As better computers fell into my paltry price range, I found distracting all the newness of Windows and graphical office suites. Going back to college a second time, I encountered WordPerfect in the computer lab and fell in love. I still run a copy of WP 6.1 on my XP laptop; nothing compares to Grammatik, but I can’t afford the more recent versions.
At some point, I discovered Linux. I can recall the thrill of getting my mouse to work when I stumbled across a RedHat 5.0 book with the disks in the back. I always thought Another Level was a great desktop, if lacking the highly integrated functions of Windows. I surfed with Netscape Navigator 3.06 for several months before I discovered updates. Nor can I forget buying Applix 4, then the thrill of getting my hands on the retail box of WordPerfect 8 for Linux. Despite the occasional crash with it on RedHat 6.3, I thought it was wonderful. Applix 5 was cool, too. I still have the boxed sets for WP8, Applix 5, and RH 6.3, but no hardware old enough to run any of it. Then I became really unhappy with font rendering, and it was a major issue over the next few years. Xfree86 4.x came as a real relief.
I was still working on that book, but progress was slow because I was eternally distracted with usability issues. I knew it could be better, and the Open Source community kept promising it would be better. I kept believing.
Meanwhile, I got involved in volunteer computer assistance work. Not so much tech support but I focused on user training. I could fix hardware and software issues, but I spent the vast majority of my time helping people understand what computers could and couldn’t do. I always took the line people were the reason computers existed, not the other way around. I’m not into the joy of computing so much as how it makes some jobs quicker and simpler. Computers have always been just a tool. For someone aspiring to write and teach, it was my best and most important tool, but never more than just a tool.
Over the years, I’ve discovered far, far too many of those most capable with computers were the least capable with people. In the commercial software world, you don’t have to care about the customer, only convince them you do. When it comes to dollars, you have to respond to user input to some degree or lose those dollars. There are people in management and marketing who understand this, and won’t hire developers who don’t at least work toward producing software they can sell to the consumer. In Open Source, the roles are reversed. The coders are demigods and those who serve as management and marketing are dependent, and much closer.
Meanwhile, the user is totally left out in the cold by both types of software production.
I understand the sociology of the software market, how it can both lead and respond to business at the same time. I understand the necessity of both standardization and competition, and how people as a whole get used to whatever dominates the markets they work. It’s no mystery to me Microsoft seems to tolerate a certain measure of piracy simply because it keeps them dominant. It’s basically free advertising at the grass roots level. Just because you have a better idea in terms of how computers themselves work does not mean it’s better in terms of how people work.
You see, users seem to think support is important. They’ll sacrifice some things to get that. It won’t matter how pure and elegant the technology is if they can’t get help with things they don’t understand. That is pretty much my whole mission in volunteer work. It’s always a compromise; I help the user negotiate the possibilities. For example, commercial software companies often provide fixes it seems they never bothered to advertise. Open Source seldom offers fixes to the stuff that gets your attention, only full replacements — “fixed in the next release.” That is anti-user. Too often, that replacement comes with too much relearning of new habits, or a whole range of new breakage. While that’s true to some degree from both sources, Open Source seems almost hostile to user input on the issues.
Very few Open Source project managers understand the concept of stability of a product and fixing the good features already included. Once users incorporate software into their work routine, they don’t want significant changes. They aren’t computer technicians, and cannot be techies if they are to accomplish anything else. It’s enough work just getting used to computers as part of the routine; computers cannot become the whole routine. Wholesale replacement had better be far better than the previous stuff, and not any significantly different in how it works. Users don’t care what constitutes techie habits. They want technology harnessed to their habits. They’ll compromise, but frequent wholesale changes is not compromise, it’s user abuse.
Open Source is the worst about that sort of abuse. Too often intermediaries (distributions) have full replacement control serving entirely different agendas from both the developers and users. Getting the projects to talk to distros is nearly impossible, except when they both agree you have to replace everything. In addition, it’s not just backward compatibility, but there are the maddening complications of getting a new version without having to change everything else. I can replace something the size of Nano editor without much trouble, and older libraries compile newer versions for quite some time moving forward, but the whole desktop? Moreover, the entire system of Linux software provision shifts constantly with vast numbers of players, so that trying to keep track of it is impossible if I am to have any time left for helping people, which is the whole point.
Right now, the very most stable distributions aim only at the corporate server market, not the user desktop. Why do you think people still keep trying to run MS Office 97 on their newer versions of Windows? What they use most needs to change least once it does a respectable job of meeting their needs. It’s the same reason MS Security Essentials is now a dominant anti-malware product; it’s the least intrusive while getting the job done. You simply cannot make high security a priority if it’s too much work. If you want people to use the stuff, keep it within their attention channels. Otherwise, stop pretending the world needs what you have.
It’s bad enough the commercial world is loaded with anti-user behavior. For some years, I’ve used the free email service offered by GMX.net, based in Germany. Excellent stuff and support is great, if you don’t mind chatting with them in German (I don’t mind). I’ve only needed support twice over the years. So why does their UK/US branch, GMX.com, stink so badly? You can get a free account, but the service can be very unreliable, and support response is almost non-existent. They seem to have taken a cue from Yahoo on this, but without the advantage of being so popular and not nearly so usable. There are others; Sega seems to hate their customers, and Sony Entertainment tried to defend their rootkit ploy. Yes, the gods of commerce too often want that total control which intrudes deep into the user’s personal life. Still, if it gives them what they want, people will use it.
The accountability for commercial software comes in the transaction of sales. The consumer has leverage. Accountability in Open Source depends entirely on the random character development of the folks who write the code. The user has no leverage. You count yourself lucky if the worst you get from someone is, “Write the code yourself. I don’t care what you want.” If we could write our own code, we’d have no use for your project, Sir. The problem comes when the common trend of development departs significantly from user need and expectation. Even when Open Source developers decide to listen, too often they leave themselves open only to those who already love the same things. It’s almost incestuous in that sense, because common users find the whole system utterly closed to them. The developers and fanboys are in their own world. The barriers to entrance are excessively high, and the insiders become prickly when users aren’t willing to invest that much. Insiders don’t understand that we’d like to use our computers, not have sex with them.
Therefore, we have a very large community deluded into thinking they can sell Open Source on what they value, as if the world should only rightly value the same things. Open Source developers seem to expect reprogramming users should be as easy as computers. It doesn’t work that way, and the arrogant snippy comments on places like Slashdot demonstrate why there will never be a Year of the Linux Desktop. Demanding every Internet user get a “net user’s license”? It defines the elitist snobbery that makes Macheads look reasonable and friendly.
Telling me I should be bowing-and-scraping grateful because it’s given away freely, and the source code is open for inspection, doesn’t mean much if I can’t use it. Have you ever heard of Google? They try to straddle the line dividing Open Source and commercial profit. If the service or software they offer free is a pain to use, their advertising share goes down. While Open Source typically is not ad supported, most ordinary users really don’t see the difference. Google has something to lose, but Open Source is by nature wholly unresponsive. Sometimes you can get the developer to respond to a genuine bug report, and I’m grateful for those projects. Some of the project managers actually like people, and it’s why they do what they do. Timothy Pearson’s Trinity Desktop Project merits honorable mention on that score. The good guys are always woefully under-supported.
I’m very grateful for VLC, FFmpeg (which I use on the Windows CLI), GIMP, Notepad++, Cygwin for my CLI fix, Vim, The Sword Project, and many other heroes of Open Source. Each project includes folks who respond, either by fixing things, describing workarounds, or reasonable explanations for things. They are accountable, either directly or through their fan base, which works just as well.
So I still use some Open Source software, but I gave up on Linux. When KDE 4 came out, and the developers refused to listen, I started losing interest. When GNOME 3 came out and the developers became hostile to user input, I gave up. XFCE? That’s where I got that snobbish quote above about “code it yourself.” Minimum expectations of computer users require a fully integrated desktop experience, but none of the other desktops on offer comes even close to that level of integration. There are fans for just about every window manager and desktop, but those people have in common almost nothing with ordinary users. For a brief period, I could sell people on Linux, but that was at the end of KDE 3 and GNOME 2, when it seemed developers realized they had to compete for their place on the user’s desktop. That has gone now.
I don’t care if all the new kids on the block are all about the smartphone interface. There are millions of us yet needing to get work done, not simply consume a stream of bytes as entertainment. Windows 8 could easily become the next ME/Vista debacle so long as there are people who do work on their computers.
I’ve spent countless hours with clients and while you can play amateur analyst all you like about what makes people tick, real people will change if what you offer is actually better for their needs. A significant portion of my clients switched to Ubuntu 10.04, but they refuse to use 12.04. Current Linux offerings are no better on any of the measures users notice, and are steadily getting worse. It has nothing to do with what the developers and fanboys think is good stuff; real users want what they want. I don’t try to tell my clients what they want. I do my best to listen and give them what they ask for, including many things I think are utterly stupid. They are in the driver’s seat; it’s their hardware, time and money. I don’t sell Linux any more.
For myself, I finished the book but outgrew it. Instead, I’ve written several more and published them. My budget is nearly zero most of the time; my hardware is nearly all donated, and the software I use came with the hardware or someone gave it to me. I’m using a significant amount of abandonware, lovingly maintained for download by fans from yesteryear. After testing an awful lot of different software and different methods, I discovered for my own use things haven’t gotten that much better since WordPerfect 6 for Windows. Yes, display and interface have improved with later releases, but actual function for writing is not any better, certainly not quicker and simpler. However, my publisher insists on Word format, so I use OpenOffice as the last step in processing books for submission. LibreOffice is not the same as OpenOffice in terms of my experience, nor the same as the commercial offerings. I did rather enjoy the predecessor, Star Office, and still keep a copy of 5.1 and 5.2. Libre is not easier for me, requires way too much work getting it customized for my needs, and offers display problems that distract me and seem only to get worse with each release — ghosts, misalignments, freezing elements, etc. I don’t have them in Apache-OpenOffice.
Abiword is coming along nicely, might get there in a few more years, and Calligra Suite shows promise. If someone ever makes Kmail so it’s not buggier than all other mail clients in existence, and it’s possible to use it on Windows, I’d love to switch. The concept is marvelous. I’m keeping an eye on that stuff, but I don’t really expect much, because the entire KDE project has been the buggiest nightmare ever to intrude on my dreams. From what I can see, the distance between new features and debugging grows exponentially. Jumping to GNOME 2 from KDE 3 was a real let down, but it was the least painful alternative. Now, all the Linux alternatives are too painful.
I’m through testing Linux. If anyone ever builds something like INX and keeps it relatively current, I’ll make sure I can run that on at least one computer I own. I’m sick of what the graphical desktop has become on Linux, a sentiment I’ve long shared with at least a few dozen people with whom I’ve chatted. Unfortunately, it seems none of us is a developer. Again, there’s always the gap between Open Source users and developers. And I don’t have time to build it up from Debian or anything else; I have work to do.
Sure, I’d be glad to review newer versions of the commercial productivity software I use, but I can’t afford them. I’ll stick with what does the job for me, and I have an awful lot of stuff I need to write.
Accountability is the eternal question; it can be addressed from many angles.
My faith asserts we are all accountable to God. If there is one thing I will seek verbally in holding your feet to the fire, this is it. Even to the point I would rather deemphasize talk about God Himself if that would get you to listen, I want to press this issue. Go ahead and ignore my religious expression. If there is anything about which I would even approach being an activist, it is in promoting moral accountability.
Naturally, we’ll argue about how to derive the ground of understanding what is and isn’t morality, but I dare say most people know when something they see lacks accountability. I’ve moaned about it missing from the Open Source software community, and Linux in particular. I invested many good years Linux, promoting it myself. Frankly I feel very much betrayed, because Linux is not what I was promised by those who promoted it, and for all I can tell, they were supported by the very people who give us what Linux is. What remains is a significant collection of projects in Open Source are not simply unaccountable to users, but range between elitist dismissal of user input, all the way to very open hostility to user input. There is no sense of “customer service” because the Open Source way makes the developer god, unaccountable to anyone else.
“Code it yourself, the source is open,” they say. If we could code it ourselves, we would have no need of your projects. But we do need them, and you refuse to provide what we need. Instead, you let people lie on your behalf and we invest our time and energy, and it comes up short. So now I tell people, “Windows is bad, and Mac is worse, but you are more likely to find something you can use when you stick with the established commercial stuff.” Naturally, I do use some Open Source software, but I run it on Windows, because there are a few projects which seem to hold themselves accountable to the users. Sadly, those projects are not pivotal in whatever Linux is when you try to use it. I go so far as to say my God is angry with this abusive attitude from the people who make Linux a viable alternative, because they are making it less viable, being in many ways far worse to the user than Microsoft and Apple and all their snotty, smirky selling of users to the highest bidder. In the process, MS and Mac at least do respond just a little to loss of reputation and money. The leverage is small with the big corporations, but with Open Source, it’s just about zero.
This is not about what software I recommend, but I’ll offer this much: Opera and Chrome browsers (Opera especially for email), GIMP photo editing, gVim for text and HTML markup, Cygwin for CLI software, and VLC Media Player, FFMPEG for media conversion, PySol and jShisen for games, and the rest depends on what you seek. Some of those do require dedication to learning them, because they aren’t easy, but they work exceptionally well, offering a level of control which makes me comfortable. They do it for me.
But the church can be even worse about accountability, and that’s why I spend more time with my Savior outside the institutional religious organizations than inside. They have become unaccountable on the very most important things I face every day in my faith. In what God demands of me they want no part. So I am accountable in warning you to be aware most churches will in one way or another abuse your trust; they certainly have abused mine. While a great many Christian people tend to be rather nice, and they try to do what they sense is good and right, when you raise certain issues their souls slam shut, and no amount of facts and spiritual persuasion can help them understand they are clinging to something not at all in Scripture. The details are elsewhere on this blog, but if you need my response to specifics, ask.
I rather expect rejection of accountability from government. People who like having power over others are not good people. Good people don’t want power over others, and accept it only with the greatest reluctance. Good people try to avoid having to exercise power they hold legitimately, because they have a powerful sense of moral accountability, and the burden is weighty, indeed. But we look at the world around us with holy cynicism and don’t expect much, even as we make the clarion call to consider better things. But it’s an old saw: We expect sinners to sin.
It’s when someone claims the moral high ground we are most rightly skeptical.
You won’t catch me claiming that ground. I will confess a desire to stand there, to live there, but I don’t pretend I own it. What I do have is my experience with things, and that’s all I can offer. Yes, I will claim I am standing in a place where I do reap some serious benefits of moral probity, however limited it might be. I recognize a certain Law binding on my behavior and I see the blessings of that Law in my life. Hey, it might work for you. Maybe just a sliver is all you can use, but that’s okay with me. I can only assert how it works for me, and even to the shedding of blood I’ll cling to that.
Yet time and time again, it always seems to boil down to accountability. Answer that one great moral demand, and it seems a lot of crap dries up and blows away.
Pardon me while I walk my talk.
I have to eat my words. The previous post in this space was about the joys of Cygwin, a POSIX emulator which made it possible to run something like Linux on your Windows machine. Except it suffers the same limitations of all Open Source projects.
That is, it’s developer centered. You see, most commercial software development pretends to meet the customer’s needs. It often does, because people tend to buy the software that keeps these companies running, and not buy the stuff they don’t like too well. But at least the customer does get some of what they seek, even if there’s a near monopoly which so colors their thinking on the matter, they tend to avoid getting too wild in their demands. In the process, the developer has to do what the managers tell them, regardless what developers may think is best. In Open Source, no one tells the developer what to do.
Not even the user. There is seldom even the slightest pretense of meeting user’s needs, and too often open hostility to even hearing from users. That’s the way of Open Source, though you still get the same lying sales pitch by way of the fanboys that you would from paid advertising executives who work for the commercial software firms.
A couple of months ago I was quite happy with CentOS 6 on my laptop, but then there came an error in the file system. It was fixed easily enough, but my research indicated this was a well known flaw in the Linux kernel at the time Red Hat selected their sources, and which CentOS has no choice but to use, as a derivative. The flaw has to do with hibernate mode on laptops.
Given that and some other stuff in the background of my life, I simply restored my Win7 installation from backup. Well, things in the background have changed again, as well as losing my interest in the graphical Internet. Windows does text mode poorly at best. Even when the tools are ported (if they are) it’s not the same. I need that text mode stuff now, and I can’t get it from Cygwin or other porting mechanisms.
So I’m fixing to try Xubuntu 12.04. Not the best of all worlds, but probably tolerable. If that fails, I’ll find something else. Or maybe I’ll just post a goodbye message tomorrow and leave it at that.
Seriously. I’m not a happy camper, and I’m getting really tired of what I can do with what I can afford when it comes to computers and the Internet. All OSes suck.
Update: As of this update six weeks later, I’ve been using Xubuntu 12.04 and it’s okay. It required a bit of doing to chase down a decent theme and the old Trench window decorations, but it’s all tolerable.