Archive for the 'Linux' Category

Look! I am Making All Things New

For the last couple of years I’ve been helping my parents to learn to use computers. Mostly very common and well-known things: GMail, Picasa, seraching Google, reading news websites, talking on Skype, the Russian social network Odnoklassniki, and not much more than that.

One of the most curious things that I found in my experiences with them is that emails and popups about new features are completely unhelpful to them. They always call me when they get them and ask me what to do now. It is awkward, because basically the emails tell them what to do, but instead of reading them and learning, they are reading them aloud to me:

— “It says: ‘Now you can find your friends more easily by typing their names in the search box’—so what do I do now?”

— “I don’t know… When you want to find somebody, type their names in the search box maybe?”

I am not saying that my parents are stupid; they aren’t. I am saying that these emails are not helpful. They appear to arrive from the helpful people in Google or Odnoklassniki, but the fact is that every time it happens, my parents are confused.

This makes me wonder: Is the effectiveness of these emails and popups and callouts researched? What are they good for? I don’t find them useful, because I actually like to find out things by myself; that’s my idea of user-friendliness: if it’s not self-explanatory, it is not user-friendly. My parents don’t find them useful, because they ask me what do the have to do. So is it useful for anybody?


PS 1: I know that Odnoklassniki is awful. They insisted.

PS 2: I know that Skype is not Free Software and that it doesn’t respect people’s privacy. Give me something properly Free that actually works. For what it’s worth, I did teach both of my parents to use Firefox and they hate other browsers, and on my mother’s laptop I installed Fedora, so except Skype, her online experience is almost completely Free.

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Mobile Phones Suck

All mobile phones suck.

Mobile phones that need non-standard chargers suck.

Mobile phones with boot-up time of more than 10 seconds suck.

Mobile phones with touch screens that use the numeric keypad to enter text suck.

Mobile phones with touch screens in which it is hard in any way to use the numeric keypad for interactive voice response suck.

Mobile phones in which it is hard to change the volume of the speaker or of the ringer suck.

Mobile phones in which it is impossible to copy and paste text from anywhere to anywhere suck.

Mobile phones the software of which cannot be updated suck.

Mobile phones on which i cannot install my own fonts suck.

Mobile phones that need special software to be installed on a computer in order to get the ability to copy files to and from them suck.

Mobile phones that can be synchronized only with particular contact management software suck.

Mobile phones that don’t completely support reading and writing in any language in which it is possible to write in a modern GNU/Linux desktop computer suck.

Mobile phones that claim to be able to browse the Internet, but can’t be used to view a Wikipedia page without complaining about full memory suck.

Mobile phones that claim to be able to browse the Internet, but can’t be used to edit a Wikipedia page suck.

Mobile phones that claim to be able to play music, but cannot sort numbered album tracks suck.

Mobile phones that claim to be able to play music, but cannot play OGG or FLAC files suck.

Mobile phones that claim to be able to play music, but cannot display track names in any language suck.

Mobile phones that are hard to switch to vibration mode suck.

Finally, mobile phones that have any non-free software on them suck.

Advocacy for the Uncool: SVN vs. git and Cygwin vs. the World

There are two Free Software packages that many Free Software people love to hate: Cygwin and Subversion.


Cygwin is a Unix-like environment on Windows. It gives the user a shell, and it’s possible to install there Perl, Python, Ruby, GNU make, gcc, vim and many other familiar tools from the GNU world. It’s even possible to run X windows using it.

I mostly use it for running Perl on Windows. There are two other major versions of Perl for Windows: ActiveState and Strawberry. Every now and then i try using them and i get immediately frustrated: from my experience, Cygwin is much more stable and predictable. Failure to install a CPAN module on Cygwin is much more rare than on ActiveState and Strawberry. Maybe i install the wrong modules, but for modules that i need Cygwin did the job better.

Cygwin is not without problems. But all too often it does the job more readily than ActiveState, Strawberry and GNU/Linux. Nevertheless, Free Software people tend to call me names, when i tell them that i use Cygwin. “You should expect problems when you run an emulator instead of running real Linux!”, they say. Well, what do you know – sometimes, i have to run Windows, that’s a fact of life, and there are stupid problems with Linux, too.


Another stupid holy war in the Free Software community is Git vs. Subversion (SVN in short). Both are source code management (SCM) systems. The “cool” Free Software people say that git is better, because it git lets you create your own repositories, because git is faster, because git is easier.

I can see the principal advantage in having a local repository, which is the way git works. I can work offline and make as many commits as i like. In SVN i need to go online for every commit. But that, in practice, is the only disadvantage that SVN has. People say that SVN sucks at branching and merging. They like to quote Linus Torvalds: “Did you ever try to merge using SVN? Did you enjoy the experience?” Well, i have news for them: I tried branching and merging using Perforce, Mercurial, ClearCase, SVN and git – and i didn’t enjoy the experience in any of them. So git also sucks at branching and merging, but the difference is that with git i lost data, too. Every single time i tried to branch and merge using git, i cursed the hell out of it, copied the files i wanted to change to a backup directory, deleted the repository, recreated it, and did the merge manually. Every single time.

Besides, every time i try to use git, i feel like a fucking scientologist, forced to look up every single word in the help files: how the hell am i supposed to remember the difference between “pull” and “fetch” or between “branch”, “clone” and “checkout”? To understand what “fetch” is, i need to understand what the fuck “head”, “tag”, “object” and “ref” are. Go on and tell me that i should sit down and learn git properly, but i didn’t have to sit down and learn SVN. It just worked without forcing me to understand things.

Call me stupid and old-fashioned, but SVN didn’t give me a headache. Ever.


So, cool kids, go on, keep being cool, keep telling people that Cygwin and SVN suck. But every now and then do a reality check, please. You find it fun to use git? Great. Just don’t force it on other people.

To the developers of Cygwin and SVN i want to say: Thank you. You deserve far more appreciation than you get.

EMEA

Toshiba website. To fulfill your identification, please enter your gene sequence (with control digit).

Toshiba website. To fulfill your identification, please enter your gene sequence (with control digit).

Hadar bought a Toshiba laptop a year ago. Approximately. I don’t know exactly when. Why would i want to know such a useless thing? For warranty? Thank God, no. The laptop works, although Windows Vista makes it work about 20 times slower than it is supposed to, which doesn’t stop Toshiba from recommending it.

No, i am supposed to want to know the date that i purchased this laptop in order to log in to the Toshiba website. Why would i want to log in to the Toshiba website? That i don’t know, actually, but they sent me an email asking me to renew my membership, and i’m nice, so i usually do things that people ask from me if i don’t have to bother too much.

So anyway, this website asks me for the user name. OK, i enter my usual amire80 and my usual password and it doesn’t work. So i enter my second option, amir_e_a, and it doesn’t work. So i enter my email amir.aharoni@gmail.com as the user name, which is actually a reasonable thing to use as a user name. But it doesn’t work.

So i looked at the email, where i saw the string amir.aharoni@gmail.com_IL somewhere. So i tried that as the user name and it didn’t work. I didn’t give up and entered it as the user name in the password reminder form. And it worked.

And then it asked me for the date when i purchased the laptop with that serial number (see the image).

How could it be stupider? I mean, this question is a bit less ridiculous than my mother’s last name, but how the fuck am i supposed to remember the exact date when i purchased? Do you actually expect me to dig up the receipt to find that date? Asking me for the serial number would be reasonable—i can look it up on the laptop itself. But the date?

And oh—does it mean that anyone can enter any email address, schlep an “_IL” (or “_US” or “_RU” or “_IQ”) at the end and find out whether that email’s owner has a Toshiba laptop, and its serial number, too? That’s a direct violation of their privacy policy.

Now, check out this part of their email. Read this slowly: “If you don’t activate your profile for our personalised website experience we will delete it after one month. That also means you will not receive any alerts anymore. We would like to make you aware that with this process you do not withdraw from your permission to allow Toshiba to contact you.”

What idiot wrote that? That same idiot that put “EMEA” on that website. “EMEA” means “Europe, Middle East and Africa”. It’s a term commonly used in marketing departments. It is supposed to be internal. I am a customer, Toshiba; i am not supposed to give a damn about how you run your marketing department.

And Ubuntu doesn’t work so well on that laptop, too. (Although when it does work, it works 20 times faster than Windows Vista.)

No more Toshiba laptops, then.

Market Share

At the infamous Bug #1 discussion, someone compared Microsoft developers’ priorities to Linux developers’ priorities. Although this discussion is very boring lately, i felt compelled to reply and said that Microsoft’s only priority has always been getting Microsoft products to all computer users in the world.

And today i read an interview by the Mozilla evangelist Christopher Blizzard, who says: “That might sound strange, but we are not that concerned about market share. […] I’d like to make sure more fundamentally that the web is healthy.”

Free Software people are determined to make the world a better place and treat questions of market share in a “if you build it, they will come” manner.

Silver

Microsoft want to compete with Adobe and make a product called Silverlight that seems to do quite the same thing that Flash does. I have not idea why would they want to do such a thing, but who am i to judge.

When they first announced it, they said that it would work on both Windows and Mac. Both.

Apparently they changed mind and announced intentions to support Linux, too. Are they finally doing the right thing or is another trick?

It’s decreed the people rule

What do you know – my little campaign for free-as-in-freedom hardware bears its first fruits.

I sent a few messages similar to the one that i posted here recently to forums concerning Linux, gNewSense, Ubuntu etc. I have also posted a few comments* to the post on Mark Shuttleworth’s blog, where he announces the first developer release of Gobuntu, the “radically free” version of Ubuntu.

Surprisingly Mark himself replied to me in the comments of Bug #1. That’s nice, but not too notable on a global level.

But today something bigger happened: Mark announced that he sets up an initiative to pressure laptop manufacturers into building the perfect free-as-in-freedom GNU/Linux latpop – one that can be used with only purely Free Software drivers. He didn’t mention me by name, but i really don’t need this.

So there you go: One of the good things about Free Software projects is the openness of the development and the project management.

Most Free Software projects have open access to their mailing lists and bug tracking tools. Every user of the program can, nearly anonymously, enter a bug or a feature request into the database (Bugzilla, RT, Launchpad, SF.net etc.) and then track its investigation and fix.

It is not a requirement of any license; it just makes sense! For most users this is even more important than being able to read or modify the source code. Even a reply like “Duplicate bug” or “Works for me” is far better than nothing.

I’ve never seen anything like this in the proprietary software world.

Sure – you can send an email with a bug report to Microsoft, Oracle, CA, HP etc., but it is unlikely that you will know where did it go, unless you have a personal service agreement. It’s just “fire and forget”. And you surely won’t get a personal reply from Mr. Gates.

Yet in the Free Software community the user has the full power to influence the project planning of the core development team.

So – thank you, Mark, for this initiative.


* Some people that read them badly misundestood what i was trying to say. I have made some mistakes too; i really should have known that being sarcastic in writing is much harder and more dangerous than when speaking in person. Joshua Gay, Andrew Fenn, if you are reading this – please accept my apologies again for any misunderstandings.


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