Tag Archives: computers

Computers and Me: Microsoft Windows

Previously on Computer and Me:

It’s probably inevitable that I’d have to go over Windows, but for a while, thinking about what I’d write next, I was starting to think I should skip it. Even though the Twenty Sided post on the history of Windows is what got me started on this, honestly, what’s there to say? Windows. Yeah.

I grew up with an Amiga. Some friends had PCs and sometimes I’d go over to their house and watch them play games. It wasn’t until nearly the end of highschool where I started to think that maybe DOS-based games were getting better than my Amiga games, but gaming was never a huge priority for me. I wanted to make my computer do cool things.

I didn’t know anybody who was doing cool things with DOS or Windows.

Maybe I was just hanging around with the wrong people.

I was using Windows more and more during co-op terms through university. Even though I’d never owned a Windows machine, I didn’t have much of a problem doing Windows IT support. It just all seemed so… uninspiring.

Of course, I ended up running Windows as my primary operating system anyway. There wasn’t really anything else.

At work, right now, I’m using Microsoft’s .NET framework to build hooks into Microsoft’s developer tools on Microsoft Windows. I get plenty of Microsoft at work. I’ve been coming to the conclusion again that I don’t particularly need it at home.

Windows just doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t make me particularly angry or offended, either. Not anymore, at least. It’s just kind of there. It’s the quintessential boring, consumer computing platform. It’ll do pretty much anything you need it to do, even if it doesn’t do any of it particularly well. You can use it to do things or make things, but don’t expect it to be easy or fun. And if you do put any effort into it, don’t expect to be thanked for it. Someone else has probably already half-assed something that’s good enough anyway.

I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m happy with the breadth of my computing experience, and if I want to challenge myself, I’m going to have to start looking deeper into a particular platform. Going deep into Windows doesn’t seem worthwhile to me. The rewards just aren’t there, either personally or even professionally. I don’t even think becoming a shit-hot Windows coder will even land me the sort of job I’d want. You’d think, given that it’s by far the most widespread desktop platform on the planet, I’d be committing professional suicide, but I don’t think it matters that much.

I have to keep using Windows at work, but I think I’m going to leave it there. I’m comfortable and proficient in it, but if I’m going to do things for fun in my spare time, I’d rather do them elsewhere.

Computers and Me: Apple Macintosh

Previously on Computer and Me:

I was going to do these things chronologically (more or less), but it all kind of weaves together, so there’s no reason not to jump around.

Part of what prompted this series (besides needing filler for NaBloPoMo), was my rediscovering a page I wrote ten years ago about why I was using the computer I was using. I concluded with a defiant proclamation that I’d get my parents to get my sister a Mac for school.

They did, too. They got her one of the early PowerMacs running System 7.

That was fine enough, I suppose. After a few years, though, she got annoyed she couldn’t read MS Word documents or play the games her friends were playing. Honestly, though, if she got a PC, it’s not like she would’ve upgraded the hardware or Windows or any of the things she’d have to do to do those things anyway. But I got in trouble anyway for subjecting her to a deviant computing platform.

I was probably more happy with it than she was. It was a little bit more capable than my Amiga at the time. When she and I were both home one summer (me on co-op), I ended up commandeering her computer to do things like watch videos of anime openings and playing games like Exile. Whatever I could download on her super-fast 56k modem.

She eventually got rid of that machine and ended up getting a PC at Future Shop. And when it came time to pick a successor to my Amiga, I never even considered getting a Mac.

I knew about Max OS X, though. It was a flashy, new operating system built on an open source BSD base. Unlike my sister’s Mac, it had a command line. While I was mucking around in the dreary Windows world, it was gaining converts and cachet. You could do more and more stuff with it. Firefox was ported to it and it finally had a decent browser. It started looking like a viable platform.

I was curious. I wanted to see what was going on here. Plus, I kinda wanted a laptop for wireless networking, and I knew PC laptops sucked for that. (This was four years ago. They did. Seriously). Mac laptops were supposed to be really good, so I decided to get my feet wet.

I went to a Mac sales demo at the university. I really, really wanted the 12″ aluminum Powerbook, but the sales guy said that, with it’s plastic case, the 12″ iBook had better wireless reception. I caught wind that a G4 iBook was coming out, and I was sold.

And I’ve had it for four years. It’s what I’m writing this on right now.

I love my little iBook. There are a few little quirks that bug me sometimes, like jerky Flash animation and video, a jumpy track pad, and the lack of a one-handed Page Down key. And I love Mac OS X, too.

I think if you wanted to spend all your time in the Mac universe, you’d be just fine. Actually, you’d be fantastic. Everything works really well together. Not just Apple stuff, either. Third party application developers on the Mac are fantastic. Quicksilver has changed the way I think about computer user interfaces. Attempts to clone it on Windows or Linux are (for now, at least) only pale imitations. If every computer I ever used had Quicksilver and Exposé, I’d be so happy. It’s already ingrained in muscle memory. It eliminates so much command line and window fiddling.

There is trouble in paradise, though. Apple doesn’t play nice with others.

They do support things like Windows networking, but they by no means go out of their way to make it seamless. My Airport Express is a lovely little device for getting podcasts over to my stereo, but the hardware works with iTunes and only iTunes. My iPod is tied to iTunes. Data put into iTunes or iPhoto is never coming out again. The new iPods are even more restrictive. And then there’s the iPhone.

You know those Star Trek episodes where some hyper-intelligent alien comes along and sticks Kirk in some exquisitely beautiful paradise, where all his wants and needs are taken care of? But upon realizing this, he recoils and breaks out, giving a stirring speech about how it’s man’s nature to be free, to strive and to seek challenges, even though perfection could be handed to him?

That’s how the Mac and the whole Apple platform is starting to feel like for me.

I love the Mac. I really do. But the more I get into it, the more I feel like I’m being shackled to it with velvet handcuffs.

The handcuffs are starting to chafe.

Computers and Me: Amiga

I probably spend way too much time thinking about computers and computer-related stuff. And with the whole laptop thing, I’m maybe getting overly introspective about it.

It’s NaBloPoMo, so I figure I’m allowed to indulge my nerdier tendencies.

Shamus, over at Twenty Sided posted today about his personal experience with various versions of Windows and how Vista is pretty much the culmination of a long history of suck. Well, he doesn’t quite say that, but that’s the gist I’m choosing to take away. That got me thinking of a (cringe-inducing but I’m linking to it anyway) page I posted up on my home page a good decade ago (back when it was fashionable to have home pages) about my personal history with computers. I never liked it much, because I thought it came off as a bit defensive.

You see, all through high school and university, I had a Commodore Amiga. My grandfather bought me an Amiga 500 when I was 13, and I upgraded myself to an Amiga 1200 (with 40MB hard drive!) in my last year of high school. By the time I’d written that page in second year at UW, it was pretty clear that the Amiga was pretty much a dead platform. There was still a community out there on the Internet, thank God, and I was still able to get ahold of a few hardware upgrades when I had the spare cash, but the writing was on the wall.

But I loved my Amigas. Both of them. I kept using my A1200 pretty much till the end of university. Even after I graduated, got a job and bought my first PC, I kept using it. I even bought my Amiga a network card so they could talk to one another.

That didn’t last, though. The Amiga’s external 1GB hard drive died shortly thereafter. I was crushed. I had my whole life on there. (And it’s not like I could do back-ups. It was an Amiga. I couldn’t afford a SCSI tape drive. And I never got file sharing working well enough to get the data onto the PC’s hard drive. I was able to resurrect her briefly with a SCSI hard drive I salvaged from UW surplus, but I never really went back after the drive died.

That was pretty much the end of an era. I was officially a PC user. I’d given in, finally.

I hadn’t really meant to end up running Windows, though. It just kind of happened. When I bought the PC–a dual-processor Celeron 300 on an ABIT BP6 motherboard–I bought it fully intending it to be a Linux machine. And I would run SuSE on it, because SuSE (at the time) shipped with the UAE Amiga Emulator by default. But I could never get the hardware working properly, so I mostly ended up staying in a partition that had Windows 98 on it (thus entirely negating the point of having 1337, hacky dual-processor machine) which I’d only really installed to play games.

I just kinda gave in, and I’ve been running Windows ever since.

to be continued…

Bullets over Belleville

  • I spent the weekend in Ottawa for a friend’s wedding. That was pretty wonderful. I’m a big fan of weddings, and this was the first one I’d been to for friends (surprisingly, it’s taken this long). That’s so much cooler than extended family sorts of weddings. Not that I don’t like my family… Weddings are (at their best, anyways) parties, and parties with friends are quantitatively better.

  • After the wedding, I spent a couple days in Belleville setting up my parents with my sister’s old computer. Old, but still newer and better than theirs. Actually, my parents computer would still be serviceable, except I think the harddrive is toast.

  • So I missed the first couple days of the commuter challenge. I’m kind of annoyed that the metric they’re using for participation is kilometres. So because I bought a house 2.5km from work, even if I walk every day, I can’t hope to come close to matching the contribution of some dude who decides to take the bus in from his monster house in Cambridge one day (and never again, because that takes like two hours). So I’m a little perturbed. My dedication to the cause is obviously superior and I should be acknowledged and lauded for that fact! Because I’m awesome.

  • Dell’s Days of Deals are dangerous. I bought a new printer yesterday. My old one sucked, though, and the new one prints duplex and works fine with Linux and Mac OS X. I might give the old one to my sister or something.

  • Speaking of walking, I’m debating whether it’s possible to do most of my regular grocery shopping between the butcher, the baker and the international grocer which are all on my route home from work. The only problem is the butcher and baker both close around 6. Hm. More on this in a future non-bullet post.

  • Doctor Who on Sunday. 7pm my place, unless I hear a better idea.

Free Software!

A couple things appeared in my river of news this morning. I like to point out this sort of synchronicity when it happens.

First, Mike Gunderloy (who wrote Coder to Developer, which I liked despite it being somewhat Microsoft-centric), feels compelled to clarify his motivations for turning away from the Microsoft software ecosystem and start looking towards free and open software solutions for himself and his clients. He started a new blog (A Fresh Cup to do just that after years of writing The Daily Grind). I think I just made it sound boring, but honestly, it’s worth a read…

But it basically boils down to this: Microsoft itself is built on open intellectual property from the first three or four decades of computer science. The folks who invented computer programming for the most part didn’t worry about who owned what; algorithms and ideas and languages and interface improvements were freely shared, and everyone built on everyone else’s work. Now, if the Microsofts of the world have their way, we’ll end up with everything in fenced-off gardens: every piece of user interface, every algorithm, every data structure, will belong to someone, and will not be available for use unless you pay for it somehow. It will become literally impossible to legally write software without entering into a web of commercial cross-licensing agreements.

As if to prove his point, Steve Ballmer showed up on Boing Boing this morning to declare (without going into specifics) that Free and Open Software was in violation of some 235 Microsoft patents.

Microsoft depends on developers to, er, embrace and extend their platform. Microsoft may have thousands and thousands of developers working for them, but they can’t do everything. They need the goodwill of the people who are making the killer apps to do so on their platform. And these people aren’t stupid. They can see what’s coming.

But I see Microsoft leading the charge into a world where the independent software developer ceases to exist, because it will not be possible to develop software without an intellectual property lawyer at your elbow. And I don’t want to live in that world. As a result, I choose to cut off what tiny bit I can of the fuel that keeps Microsoft going: the licensing dollars I pay for Microsoft software, and those that my clients pay for deploying the software that I write, as well as my own implied moral support for the company’s policies. It’s not a whole lot, probably not more than a few million bucks over the remaining course of my career, but it’s something. [LINK]