Deliver us from Microsoft

Column “Dork Talk” published on Saturday February 2nd 2008 in The Guardian
“Deliver us from Microsoft” – The Guardian headline

Stephen Fry introduces the open source platform that will see off Windows.

In recent weeks I have banged on about Open Source, expending two articles on Firefox alone. Open Source applications make their code available to everyone. Disagreements and rabid balkanisation within the Open Source community aside, for our purposes the term might as well refer to free software whose licence allows you to share the source code, alter it, use it, do with it what you will.

The two great pillars of Open Source are the GNU project and Linux. I shan’t burden you with too much detail, I’ll just make the outrageous claim that your computer will be running some descendant of those two within the next five years and that your life will be better and happier as a result.

I am writing this article on a kind of mini John the Baptist, a system that prepares the way of the software saviour whose coming will deliver the 90% of world computer users who suffer under Windows from the expensive, clumsy, costly, ugly, pricey toils of Microsoft.

The Asus EEE PC perched on my knee combines GNU software with a Linux kernel powered by an Intel Celeron Mobile Processor to produce a very extraordinary little laptop. It weighs less than a kilogram, starts up from cold in about 12 seconds and shuts down in five. It has no internal hard disk and no CD drive. It offers 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage and a seven-inch display; wireless, dial-out modem and ethernet adaptors are available for networking and internet connections, three USB ports, mini-jack sockets for headphones and microphone, a VGA out, an SD card slot and a built-in webcam. All for about £200 – less than the price of a show, dinner and taxi for two in London’s West End.

When you press the EEE’s power button, the lightning speed and quietness of boot-up tell you that you are in the hands of a solid state flash drive: no vulnerable moving parts and buzzing platters here. Within seconds a tabbed screen will appear on your display: the tabs are labelled Internet, Work, Learn, Play, Settings and Favourites. A click on each reveals a page containing bright, clear icons that relate to 40 separate applications and half a dozen or so selected web links. The applications include Skype, Firefox, Thunderbird (the Mozilla mail client) and OpenOffice.org, an Open Source suite of applications that allows you to create and edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents. One of the pre-installed web links is to Google Docs, which lets you do the same MS Office compatible work online. This combination of “server side” applications and Open Source software is, rightly, scaring the heck out of Microsoft which is in danger of relying, in a few years’ time, on its excellent Xbox games console for income and kudos, its domination of personal computing a rapidly diminishing memory. Well, I’m allowed to dream.

The EEE is far from perfect: system software claims two-thirds of its meagre 4GB of storage, the keyboard is sub-par, the trackpad worse; it seems a shame to boast a built-in webcam and a full field of IM clients, yet be incapable of videochat; the OS, a customised version of Linux, part Debian, part Asus’s own creation, makes downloading outside the bundled software updater uncertain. But these defects are minor compared with the machine’s astounding value and functionality – and to the future trends in computing it heralds.

This is a computer designed as an introductory machine for children or adults, as well as a simple cheap do-it-all machine along the “One Laptop Per Child” model but which is also absolutely ideal as a truly cheap, portable, resilient device to slam into a backpack or briefcase. Everything you could want is there in free, Open Source form. It does not pretend to cater for the power user but, while file management is basic for the average person, tuxheads (Linux experts) can go straight to terminal mode and do their stuff. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, this is a wonderful little friend who does all we need straight out of the box. And it is only the beginning…

© Stephen Fry 2008

This blog was posted in Guardian column

186 comments on “Deliver us from Microsoft”

  1. Susan P. says:

    Mike, I went to the url provided on the leaflet to which the rewards card was attached. That was not written. I did a quick exploration on a couple of site links but I was in a hurry and just made the call. I have no idea why you are seeing that and I did not and I doubt they would have corrected the site wording between my call and your accessing the site. I would have no motivation to say the site didn’t provide adequate info in that spot if it did.

  2. Susan P. says:

    rademisto..I asked myself a similar question re the potential hijacking however, as you’re the only one to date to have taken up the question, it’s perhaps not a hijacking, more we’ve popped through the back door to make a quick cuppa in his kitchen? :-) I looked at it the other way, I think it better we show we can have some discussion rather than people just posting “when will we get a new topic”. I suspect if Stephen was up for a new topic he would have delivered one. I never take the view that posts are read as such by the author but often I’ve been pleasantly surprised. All things considering I doubt at the moment he could spare the time to read down this far and something about him suggests he’s not a petty man.

    I suffer the “if only I’s” as well as the should. Blasted nuisance really.

    Ok, I was thinking later that I probably would archive the NASA site. I write questions for a couple of kids shows here on and off (freelance) and the NASA site is just fabulous in terms of providing information for children and adults and at a very readily absorbed level.

    I have seen some wonderful art and photographic sites – not all are great to navigate but generally the presentation of the work is profoundly good. Yet, no particular site name jumps out in my head.

    The question re history is interesting in that, of course, we’re now seeing much contemporary movement to return and rewrite history books – or at least to amend and adapt. That is the case with certain Australian history and its coverage of both Aboriginal history and colonialism and I believe Canada has faced similar reviews.

    Are there www ‘defining’ moments that could be captured as well as sites? If www is the growing adult, what was the baby? In other words, what would have been captured to represent the birth and first weeks of life? If we could capture this, is anything else that important giving the ever growing and changing nature of the web? Potential further layers for your conundrum.

  3. rademisto says:

    Susan P.. I like the idea of the NASA site, as you say there is much there for all ages. I have been thinking that I would love to have some sort of archived record of linguistics, prosody, dialect, discourse, all the nuances of speech that seem to be disappearing so very quickly now that travel, be it geographically local or distant to a person’s primary dwelling, is so much easier. The relative cost and difficulty (in a very broad sense of the word) is minor nowadays, thus the traditional country dialects in the UK are being diluted and before long they will cease to exist.

    Recently, I watched an interesting documentary in which the voices and varying dialects of WWII soldiers were recorded onto (shellac??) records. The recordings had been made by Nazi researchers making use of a captive group of subjects, but the records were clear some 70 years later and the information priceless.

    Creative works will always pull my strings, because I believe that creative ideas are ephemeral unlike the breakthroughs in science and technology, which given enough monkeys and enough time, one of them would work the answer out.

    There is already an archiving of the Web currently happening (as in every minute bots are crawling sites for precious archive material) at http://www.archive.org/index.php This is one site I quite like. It is in San Francisco for a start – my second home- and has links with UC Cal Berkley, a great University for thinkers IMO. The site has some very interesting links and records, it has free/open source materials and is well worth a look.

    You mentioned the www birth and development. I think Mr Fry started to touch on that in his blessay where he talked about Time Berners Lee. I managed to get my fingers on a second hand copy of Tim BL’s book and the first few chapters look at the picture early on. It would certainly be of great importance to document and archive moments from the ‘birth’ and ‘milestones’ of the subject (or would it be better called ‘object’?) we call now the www. Twenty years ago, I might have looked at you askance, wondering if you were using some new, hip swearword on me if you had uttered, “doubleyou, doubleyou, doubleyou”!!

    Finally, history. I hope I did not appear as if I was frowning upon latter day changes in historical records. I think that we should put right what has previously been covered by cosmetics for the sake of aesthetics for the ruling majority, usually white middle class people. You mentioned Aboriginal history, and I thought that was an excellent example. Likewise in Sweden, the Sami people who have a rich cultural history, yet have been spurned by their more socially acceptable ( because more adhering to WMC values) relatives, in Sweden. On a visit to Sweden a while back, I was quite upset to see that the Sami exhibition in the city museum had been pushed into a dark basement, without much light, and a small sign only, indicating that part of the overall cultural exhibition. By contrast, in Scotland, UK, the Pictish and Celt ancestry and links are seen as positive attributes, and draw many visitors.

    Goodness! I have strayed well off the point here! I need to sleep.

  4. robertas says:

    Did anyone else find the podcast? :)

  5. rademisto says:

    No! Is there one? Where is it?

  6. rademisto says:

    Ah ha! Need my spectacles! Silly old me. It is staring at me on the top. Oops, duh!

  7. robertas says:

    Its ok Rademisto, I also thought I was seeing things… :) Isnt it great?

  8. rademisto says:

    Robertas, Indeed it is fabulous! (OK the hyperbole might be a tad OTT).

    Thank you for putting me onto that!! You have made me a very pleased ‘Rad’ indeed!

    Now, I can download to my iPod and lull myself to sleep with the delicious voice of Mr Fry! :)

    I loved the way the pictures kept changing in the ITunes artwork square to accompany Mr Fry’s podcast. I also like the informality of it all. I love spontaneity and the ad hoc talks that erudite figures sometimes indulge in. There is something very special about them – quite unique.

  9. Susan P. says:

    I have never listened to a podcast before. Do I have to download it onto something? My IPod is out of action at the moment. I guess I should experiment but I’ve got limited time right now. It would also be good to open a new blog sheet for us to comment on the podcasts.

  10. Susan P. says:

    Lordy..I actually did it and am listening now. I really like the very natural approach but I cannot see any artwork. Not that this is important to me but I would like to know how you can see that.

  11. Susan P. says:

    That was a delightful listen. I have a physical issue myself. You have to adapt everything and I mean from (and I’m not being tacky deliberately) wiping yourself on the toilet to being able to get into a building. I try and recall what is was like before and then recoil from the memory. Too bitter-sweet but, to have it ‘easy’ would seem miraculously wonderful. But like Stephen I then consider all the people who have it far worse than I do. That in a way is an intellectual construct through – our pain or fear or realisations about our own physicality et al is an emotional/spirit issue. I think they are two different planes.

    This aside, in listening to the wildlife and show elements I was reminded of moving from a regional centre where I lived for 25 years back into a major cityscape. I’ve forgone cows and sheep but here I have a magpie. He has learned not to walk through the balcony doors but if I’ve not spotted him, he rapidly wipes his beak on the metal door runner so I can hear him and get him a little something to eat. I feel incredibly thrilled when he warbles and even falls asleep perched out there on a chair – all fluffed up and relaxed. I could probably coax him eventually on to my arm but I don’t try because I won’t be here that long and I don’t want him to depend too much on my presence. Still, it’s lovely amid ones own ‘issues’ to connect with an animal of some sort and to feel their beauty.

  12. Susan P. says:

    rademisto..Just briefly.. I was given a copy of a letter from Sapper X home to his family in Australia. He had been stationed in Asia in WW2 and in his letter he was describing a waterfall and surroundings near their camp. He brought each element so to life. It was a marvelous read.

    I cried at the ending of the last episode of Black Adder 4. There was something about those characters coming out of the trenches; the boyish innocence of Laurie’s character and the gutted acceptance of Atkinson’s etc.. it really hit me with incredible sadness. It was marvelously done and written to evoke that reaction.

  13. rademisto says:

    Susan P: I too have only a few minutes to spare, alas, but enough to try and help you with a couple of your problems.
    You asked about the artwork that you could not see on Stephen’s podgram. I am assuming that you have iTunes installed. All you need to do here is to go into iTunes, look along the header options and you will see a tab called ‘View’. Click on ‘View’ to open it and you will see a list of options. You should see, “Show Artwork” near the top of that list. All you need to do then, is click on this to select it. Then you will have the art work in the bottom left hand corner of the iTunes screen as you listen.

    This is one way of seeing the artwork. There are other options, but As time is scarce, I will leave those for the moment.

    If you want to comment on My Fry’s (Stephen – darn, I never know what to call him, should I be respectful and polite, or friendly and chummy??) you can. There is a comments section specifically set up for this purpose on the Stephen Fry Web site Forum. (www.stephenfry.com/forum).

    I am not so sure that I will comment there, as I have a general dislike of forums having tried all sorts in the past (ballet, opera, music, depression, philosophy, cycling, etc) and it all ending as they disintegrate into sticky gloops. But, each to his own.

  14. Susan P. says:

    rademisto. It is later in my day (almost 5pm). Thank you very much for this. I, of course, immediately went and followed your clear directions and crikey! there it was. (I rarely say crikey but I had an Australiana moment) ;-) I would prefer not to use the forum. In part it’s because I work part-time in a forum so it’s the last format I feel like seeing again. I don’t perceive there is any issue per se in an occasional comment here although I may run the matter by a form admin person as a matter of courtesy.

  15. robertas says:

    Susan it was my first podcast as well :) As I said I am technically challenged, but a combination of Mr. Fry and my brother is forcing me to get on with a program…

    And Rademisto thanks for explaining how to see the artwork, this technically challenged blond appreciates it… :) I dont know if I’ll comment in the forum either because I grew accustomed to interacting with people here…

    I agree it was a delight to hear, but I really do wish no matter how inconvenient it is that Mr. Fry would take time to concentrate on getting better… in my family we had a fair share of broken bones and meniscus operations (dad is a veteran athlete, while mum just had a dodgy knee) and my mum had an accident when I was about 4, she was in hospital for 40-something days, they didnt know if she was ever going to walk again… her pelvis and legs were broken and her spleen was removed… she had 5 weeks of grueling physio and all these years later she is fit as a fiddle… well apart from her tennis elbow (dont ask :)…

    I asked her about it and she says the worst part was when the bone starts mend back her interpretation is that it feels like someone is pinching you hard on the inside … but if she didnt stick with it all those years ago, I do wonder would she recuperate the way she did…
    So I would really love it if Mr. Fry would for once ignore everything else and just concentrate on getting better…. and at the risk of sounding bloody new agey :), I do believe sometimes things happen to force us to slow down when we are unwilling to do so of our own accord…

  16. Susan P. says:

    robertas.. You know, I felt this wee little panic when I initially was faced with the podcast. It reminded me of being back in 5th class and not being able to understand a word the teacher was asking us to spell. I felt this rising panic until another child leant over and said the word in a different way – the way I knew the word. I could immediately jot it down correctly. It was such a relief. I can recall that feeling of relief quite clearly. It’s funny, I stressed more about that in many ways than I did getting a postgraduate degree. I felt relieved and supported with rademisto told me the way to say the word. :-)

    In the podcast Stephen offers his point of view re work to live vs live to work. He made it quite clear he does the latter because that’s best fit for him. I am a little similar. What I’m saying is, it’s very easy, for ALL the right motivations, to press a life attitude on to someone and to ignore what they are saying they need. I suggest that if he honestly felt the need to ignore everyone and everything he would. Now, this said, I don’t know too many people (unless they are absymally selfish) who don’t do more than they should at times. Who DO feel the tug of obligation – he mentions this in the ‘cast’, however, he wants to get back to the US and I say, pack those undies, take a clean hankie, don’t sit on strange toilet seats, insert a pain killer into an orifice and send us a postcard!
    ;-)

  17. Susan P. says:

    Fellow bloggers, may I ask a favour of one of you? How does one test memory on a Mac? Now, I will explain the issue firstly however. I am using a forum and answering questions – NOT tech based. After about 40min activity I get a site error message drop-down when I go to open a blank response frame. This is a blessed nuisance as I have to quite FF and reopen it and then go back into the site etc. Now, obviously I have asked for help with this tech problem. The developers suggest this happens to them a lot BUT they have a load of plug-ins. I was told to a) not use a load of tabs (I don’t)
    b) disconnect plug-ins if I have a lot (I don’t) and c) test memory as I go in and say after 30min.

    What this will do I do not know, but, I asked for them to tell me how to do it and I received a basic “we won’t waste the developer’s time..go google it”.

    I am very unhappy with this response but that is another issue. I believe to test memory I go into applications, but when I looked through I could not really understand terribly well. Some of you are great at giving simple step-by-step instructions and I would be grateful if you could oblige me. However, in addition, is this really going to potentially resolve this problem? So what if I have used a ton of memory as opposed to a little?

  18. SteveH says:

    Goodness what a kerfuffle. As soon as someone mentions microsoft and, or alternative we have partisans rushing to the barricades of cyberspace ready to defend their faith. The thing is most of the contributions miss the point of the Asus EEE. It is an affordable machine that is sub £200. The significance for education is tremendous. Current “Ultra Mobile PCs” come in at £700 or so, the price of a decent notebook. To equip a school of 200 pupils would cost £140,000 at that price, and even allowing for E-Learning Foundation support and parental contributions it is a lot of money. Schools I know of are currently doing this at a parental cost of about £20 per month. However if you cost at £200 then it becomes £40,000. Do the maths regarding affordability. As to use, it does everything basic that you need in the classroom. OK it won’t do messenger, but then the “new age plumbers” who run networks won’t allow that anyway. Imagine children able to use their computer when they need to rather than waiting for their “time” as timetabled. That’s real Power Computing.

  19. jmangee says:

    That little computer sounds really cool. It’s light, compact, and fast. It sounds really comvienient. The storage is the only thing. 4gb is not nearly enough for what I would use it for. It’s a great step towards a better laptop.

  20. rademisto says:

    Susan P. – I wonder whether the developers who told you to “test memory as you go in and at 30 mins or so” meant the following? (Easy, peezy instructions because I am not sure how geeky you are). Oh, and just add that it is entirely possible that your forum people gave you answers like that because they didn’t know the answer to your question themselves, but hey, I’m not a geek or nerd, I am merely a nit who enjoys a fiddle! And, I don’t see how your memory can change during a FF session, unless they mean your own brains shrivelling in disgust at some of the more ridiculous nonsense seen on some of the forums these days,…… but, I digress, no, the memory in your computer, they might mean the virtual memory, which I suppose could ‘vanish’ if your computer didn’t have sufficient memory in the first place for the load put on it by using FF….which I am about to tell you how to check…..here:-

    Go into the desktop by clicking on your Apple keyboard, the key F11. Then, highlight (click on it) the hard drive (grey thingy, usually top right, says “Macintosh HD” below it).

    Then, press the Apple key plus the ‘i’ alphabet symbol (click: apple i) and you should have a pop-up on your screen of “Macintosh HD Info” a nice vertical in grey on my screen, which contains the infor about memory that you need.

    In here look for “General” (title) then under that “Capacity” and “Available”.

    “Capacity” gives you the total amount of GB memory that you have in your Mac and “Availability” gives you the amount you have to play with at the moment, or in other words, the amount that is there for swapping files, holding onto files etc. when you are off Googling, forumming, Internetting, game-ing etc.

    You should have at least 10% of the Capacity of your Mac memory in Availability.

    If you have this amount or more, you should, I believe, be fine. I am unsure what they mean by checking your memory at 30 mins. If you follow my instructions at 30mins in, the capacity and availability should not have changed.

    Of course, there may be something else that is causing FF to freeze – maybe it is the version of FF you are using- check your version, maybe uninstall and reinstall (always worth a try I find).

    You may get some more replies if uber geeks read my reply and want to correct me. It is usually the way ;)

  21. Susan P. says:

    Rad, it was .most. kind of you to assist. In the interim since I posted, someone had suggested I go into utilities and check the virtual memory. Well, I did that and I looked and used the forum and looked and used the forum and looked, and there were only minor changes to that. I felt it told me nothing. I felt I was faffing about to be honest. I stopped using the site for any longer than 30min as it was only if I had extensively used the site and had perhaps idled for a while and then tried to re-use it that I have the problems. But there is some ‘gecko’ drop down error message I receive 99 of 100 times this happens and I have sent screen captures of this. I get nothing then in terms of assistance aside from this ultra vague memory issue.

    My FF updates automatically and I am disinclined to drop it out and then reinstall – I would get it wrong and would need to ask the offspring. I almost never have this problem unless in that particular forum. I am tending to resolve by spending more limited times in there although today I had forgotten I was in, was doing other things elsewhere, went to respond to a forum issue (back in the site) and bada bing, the gecko message. I just get fed up.

  22. Susan P. says:

    Admin people..I must ask, why did you close off the Podgram commentary section? I emailed twice and asked why I could not log into and use the forum; no reply. Someone else in the podgram commentary section made the same point. It appears number one that our usernames and passwords are not transferable. But, when I attempted to register for the forum (Ok, I admit I don’t want to use the forum but I went through the exercise) I was unsuccessful. Anyway, perhaps it would be nice to know why a commentary section here gets cut off so that individual bloggers do not fret that their words may have led to some inadvertent upset. If its load or perceived that the comments are becoming too repetitive fine; but the forum is fairly clonish wouldn’t you say? I’m not trying to be rude – I’m genuinely curious about the cut off. By the way, one of the reasons I am most reluctant to use the forums are those huge images people place in each of their posts. I deplore one liners that are surrounded by such huge image allowances. Bah humbug! ;-)

    Producer’s note, Andrew here -

    Thanks Susan and others for your comments

    In relation to Blog comments – we haven’t cut off anyone deliberately. Some comments are “waiting to be approved” because we must manually approve all new registrants and their comments. If we didn’t, we’d have about 10,000 comments by spammers offering their usual wares. Occasionally people’s genuine comments get caught. Within the Forum, some peoples comments don’t get through because the anti spammer stops them at registration point due too an email address might look too much like that of a spambots. The new registrant usually emails us and we sort it out for them.

    Overall we agree that there should be site-wide universal username and passwords and amalgamating membership is our priority. I will let you know as we progress.

    Thanks again for raising this issue.

  23. Susan P. says:

    Hi Andrew, thanks for your time and response. Re the Podgram commentary, that has actually been cut off entirely though vis this message: “Both comments and pings are currently closed.” so I was wondering why because this isn’t just comments waiting for approval. You literally cannot comment. If it’s an issue to do say with a swag of problematic posts having been sent through and admin had to draw a line and prevent further swamping; that I understand.

    Thank you for looking into the universal issue. I DO know the demands of admin and moderation; particularly on a site with many members. I look after six and a half thousand on a site, alone and part-time. At least there I don’t do any tech work thank goodness (otherwise I would drown!). But the key to sanity is actually not working too much over your contracted time. It’s rarely appreciated when you do. ;-)

  24. SweetFA says:

    OpenOffice is great, if it was truly illegal i think Microsoft’s team of fancy awyers would have put a stop to it years ago. Isn’t it based on the old StarOffice anyway?

    I’d recommend anyone with an EEE to have a go with the special EEE version of the XUbuntu linux operating system available here:
    http://wiki.eeeuser.com/ubuntu:eeexubuntu:home

    You just boot it up from a USB Flash Disk or a USB CD/DVD drive if you have one, and if you like it you can install it over the Xandros or whatever it is called that boots up normally on an EEE.

    I wasn’t going to replace Xandros originally but sadly i changed a few settings following (i thought correctly) a how-to on the net which was supposed to make it better (Fluxbox whatever that is) and the thing wouldn’t boot into Xandros anymore it just kept getting stuck and rebooting so i had to put on a replacement.

    Anyway Xubuntu is much better and the wiki is very helpful about how to customise it, well worth a go if you’ve got the confidence (and time) to do it.

    Xubuntu is the popular and user-friendly Ubuntu “distribution” of Linux but using the faster Xfce desktop instead of Gnome (apparently).

    Anyway it’s a much better OS than the EEE’s Xandros, easier to install applications for a start, and you can have pretty backgrounds and things.
    The only drawback is it takes about a minute to boot up rather than 15 seconds but like the once-great man sang “These things take time”.

    I’ve only been using Linux just over a week on my main PC so it isn’t like i’m some sort of Linux expert either, the instructions to install it were very clear.

  25. newmo says:

    I was pleased to see Stephen Fry’s endorsement – I’m using an Asus now with the “Easy” Linux system and it’s great. I was watching a BBC iPlayer stream of an interview with Fry, did some browsing when listening and registered for this site.

    It is great and it is a new type of computing experience but the irony is that it will probably become well-known as an XP device. OEMs like Dell give the option for installing XP if you really want it but Asus is going to be shipping devices that only run XP (the next version is apparently XP only – no Linux option) and will add to XP’s longevityI guess.

    However Linux got in there first with this new dawn and they are bound to benefit.(Its really not like a laptop but its not a portable “device” either – try it and you’ll see. I’m sure you’ll be using something similar soon – an Open Source version is probably better adapted/more adaptable to the new hardware in my opinion.

  26. rademisto says:

    SweetFA – now that you have had a bit longer than a week to try the Linux out on your PC and the Xubuntu on your EEEPC, what are your thoughts on them compared to Microsoft?

    Sadly, although I would have loved to install Ubuntu on my redundant PC in the corner, my experience of Ubuntu has been that installing it is a bit like playing a Vegas slot machine. I really liked Ubuntu, but had to abandon any hope of installing it and use it as a software-type program, by running it on a disc every time I wanted to use it. Linux was better, but the learning curve was made steeper by this user being of the type that prefers to play and fiddle first, look and read the instructions second!

    In the end I purchased a MacMini and converted the PC into a Mac desktop machine, and very glad I did too. Blissful familiarity of the Mac OS and the joy of watching it install perfectly without any hiccups or problems or a hung computer, was so pleasant. I cannot rely on other operating systems in the same way as I can with Apple Mac OS. But maybe I have just been fortunate?

    I am not brave enough to try installing anything on my EEEPC. I like it as it is. It does what I want it to do and more importantly, what I bought it to do and that is fine.

    As they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

  27. Quijote says:

    I welcome a return to minimalistic PC usage. My favourite Apple application is MacJournal. I press “F7″ and I have a black screen with big green letters and all the cluttered distractions are gone.

    So much of the “PC” experience is flab – huge applications distracting us from simply recording dates, reading articles, typing up a comment or some opinion and browsing web sites. I get my Eee into the console as often as I can and try to re-capture the days when I owned some processing power and it stimulated me – trying to get through text based games!

    I feel fossilised but underneath extremely pretty graphics and endless options – something is missing! The Eee gets chucked (literally!) into my bag – and I even find the inclination to work away when I am out walking with the dog! Sad! My small digital camera, the tiny Eee and my old beaten-up solid-state radio are the perfect travelling companions.

    I just hope Asus and others do not lose sight and forget the strengths which have made this machine appeal to the “homebrew” type of PC user, like me. Already the price, size and OS are starting to go a bit more “mainstream” – can the machine survive it’s own success and board-room interference?

  28. r0bis says:

    The very reason why I bought EeePC was – it has Linux. And it is small, light and quiet. I have wished for ages to be able to have reliable linux (as terminal at least) on my Palm device. EeePC’s size and weight of a book feels fabulous. Only thing that I do not like so far – it heats up less than a laptop but heat is felt more.

    Another device I have come accross and enjoy greatly – lbook (hanlin) reader for e-books – takes your rtf, text, html, fb2 files with fantastic quality (pdfs, doc, chms with quirks, but still OK and more are coming). Now available for EU. http://www.lbook.com.ua and runs linux; significantly cheaper than similar gadgets from Sony etc and just like with EeePC – huge potential for future improvement in software by the community. There is already a project called Openinkpot to customise it. I would rather advise this device for sequential reading (stories, poetry) rather than search reading (tech manuals etc) as it at present does not have good input and screen refresh is slow (e-ink). On the other hand reading quality is just as from paper, brilliant. I am waiting for someone to write a driver enabling keyboard attachment via USB.

    I very much agree to Stephen Fry’s inspired comment that even when small devices improve he will be happy to have EeePC device as first of its kind. I feel the same way. I believe the personal computing future in many important ways is with devices running linux.

    As for Microsoft – well, things change, don’t they? It cannot be _the system_ forever. It is the system that was pirated most extensively during time of Win 3.11 and I think Msoft was quite pleased about this enlargement of OS user base since then it was only possible to legalise that and continue buying licenses thereafter. It also was a cheaper and less hardware choosy system than Apple. Now Linux looks to be in a somewhat similar position – except it is not necessary to pirate it.

    People learn all the time and it is quite possible that more will come to like Linux. As regards Windows I remember a saying that goes something like …it is not possible to fool all the people all the time (and here I refer to M$ marketing hype). Apple made an extremely sensible choice of adopting UNIX and I think with time more people will be aware that Linux essentially is the same as this “ultra-elegant” system – but with more freedom and at no cost.

    Have a nice future :)

  29. kallack says:

    As an IT specialist who has had to work with Microsoft products for much of my working life, dare I suggest that it’s not so much that Windows is a poor product (though it’s got more holes than a swiss cheese), not so much that Linux is a great products (though I believe the inherent design is better) but that Microsoft are manipulative and greedy.

    Asking you to throw away your OEM license because you have upgraded the processor, main board or disk IS greedy.
    Forcing manufacturers to supply only VISTA with new PCs in order to build up a base of users to put pressure on the rest of us to upgrade when we don’t need to IS greedy
    Making large organizations opt in to a bulk licensing agreement which costs as much in three years as buying the software outright – and bring out new versions every four years IS greedy.
    Marketing to make people think they will somehow get more functionality if they upgrade IS greedy.
    Engaging is unfair practices (even though fined heavily) in order to crush the competition IS greedy.

    Let’s face it – Windows and Linux are ONLY operating systems – it’s the applications that you really want.

    Linux and Open Source score because you can have a stable, long lasting operating system for many years AND 90% of the applications you need – FOR FREE. (I seem to have 99% of the applications I need for free – but I don’t need Photoshop (as someone else was saying).

    If you think that Photoshop is a killer application that you just MUST have, then buy it – but should you also have buy £100 worth of operating system on which to run it? Adobe produce lots of stuff for Linux – they could easily produce ALL their software for Linux as well – but they choose not to – I wonder why that is? Could it be GREED?

    People often seem to end up with Microsoft software because the tail wags the dog. It’s the power of marketing that makes you think it’s Windows you want and it’s the one thing (some say the only thing) that Microsoft is good at.

    If you want a certain specific application then the vendors of that application (and Microsoft if it’s a Windows only product) have you by the short and curlies – quite rightly – so pay through the nose and stop whining.

    The open source environment is not greedy, it helps creativity and diversity and it gives most people almost all the functionality they will ever want. It will never be as good at marketing as Microsoft. Someone once said that ‘no one ever lost money by underestimating the British public’. Microsoft live on this premise and I do hope that eventually that the market will achieve some balance – when people realise how much they are exploited.

    I’ll get back to my eeepc and Mandriva Linux now I’ve got the webcam to work!

    Kevin

  30. raid517 says:

    You are the God of all geeks Stephen and we love you!

  31. amauryaa says:

    Dear Stephen,
    I agree with you on the fact that Linux and the open source community is going to have a bigger impact on the computer industry (just look at Microsoft putting XP on new eee pc!) but, don’t you see the 2 different trends at the moment, Linux vs Microsoft or Symbian/Android vs iPhone. Do you think really that open source is going to quickly get more power over very closed OS. You can see the success of the App Store from Apple for its new version of the iPhone OS and even though some people are going to pwned their iPhone, I doubt it will be a big amount.
    Don’t you think that what people want is fast and easy use of computer. And of course Windows is going that direction. The eee pc goes that direction as well as the mac, but see that the eee pc UI is not like a PC, and doesn’t not allow much customisation. Though, my girlfriend who bought the eee pc, loves it, because it is quick to load and easy to use (unlike windows).
    Don’t you think that a system like mac OS X is what is going to happen to the PC world? A mixed of Unix and the Apple savoir-faire for user friendly UI?

  32. layna says:

    I bought an eee off of eBay last week – lots of them on there, as some people just can’t get the hang of that little keyboard.

    I love it. The things I do the most – read, email, surf – it does beautifully. I have the teeny tiny 2GB version, but that only means I can double its memory with the thumb drive on my keychain.

    The best thing about it, really, is that it leaves room in my lap for the pug.

  33. mictester says:

    It’s really funny how the “software engineer” vested interests try to suggest that GNU/Linux will never supplant the Microsoft rubbish. These people make copious amounts of money trying to repair and patch Microsoft’s appallingly broken rubbish-ware.

    Microsoft have no viable product, and are unlikely to have in the next few years. “Vista” is just a re-spin of XP with added eye-candy and DRM. It STILL uses the fundamentally broken NT kernel that was thrown together to “get something working” in 1991.

    “Windows 7″ – their next attempt at world domination – is just vapourware at the moment. MS are in such dire need of real programmers that they are BUYING IN a kernel. No doubt “Windows 7″ will be outrageously expensive, require more hardware than anyone actually has (much to the continued delight of the hardware manufacturers), and still have all the restrictions and problems fundamental to MS’ closed-source rubbish.

    It’s good to see prominent people promoting FOSS. It’s not going to take long to persuade the thinking public that they shouldn’t squander their money with MS!

  34. GeoffWilson says:

    The next five years?

    I disagree, for a few reasons. Firstly, Linux still has serious problems in terms of user friendliness. I love it, but I’m a geek. Secondly, Windows has a huge advantage in DirectX, which is one of the things Microsoft has gotten right – if you exclude DX10( which actually is pretty nice, but more of a bridge between 9 and 11 than anything substantial – certainly very little the end-user would notice ). Especially since OpenGL3 has been introduced to as much public loathing as the Millenium Dome. I know die hard OpenGL programmers who have installed Windows, in spite of their hatred for it, as a dual-boot for when OpenGL3 kicks in purely so they can use DirectX instead. That’s how big a problem alternative systems have with OpenGL right now. This combined with the fact that for a mere 60 quid MS will provide you with an API to write games for your 360 console, which even as an avid hater of the .NET platform I must concede is exceptionally nice( and curiously easy ) to play around with.

    This doesn’t mean much to the average home user, sure. But lots of people play games and Windows is vastly more viable a gaming platform than any Unix/OGL variant.

    I also kind of disagree with the OS rants of the MAC users here. Apple operating systems are hugely proprietary. The only really OS systems are linux based – which again, brings a user friendly issue – they are so OS that they refuse to include proprietary drivers for hardware( ATI/NVIDIA chipsets being the most notable ). This also ties into gaming again. Basically, any fledgling newbie has to find their graphics driver and install it manually – this isn’t as hard as it used to be, but it’s still not as simple as running a file and clicking “next” a few times.

    I guess my opinion is pretty much. I love using Unix based systems. But I very much prefer the DirectX API to the straggling mess that is OpenGL2 and with the current temperature surrounding OpenGL3 I suspect that, at the very least, indie/basement OS graphics applications are going to become more prevalant on Windows systems.

    The rest is really down to choice. You don’t have to install Microsoft Office, or any other closed source software. The internet is full of open-source Windows applications. The difference is in distribution I think. Most Linux variants have in-built distribution systems and package managers – Windows does not.

  35. JARM_Amusements says:

    I don’t think at teh end of the day, peoples choice of operating system will come down to which one is actually “the best”. Betamax video recorders were considered to be technically superior to VHS and we all know who won that battle. People will choose operating system on various factors such as affordability, familiarity, convenience and open source software has a heck of a way to go to catch up with windows on anything but affordability.

    Dislike it as you will, but most people are familiar with windows, they use it at work, in schools even on a range of smartphones and pda’s, I have just bought my 10 year old daughter a laptop and it came preinstalled with Vista, which she is quite happy to use as both my desktops run it and the PC’s she is learning on at school all run XP so this system is one she can use straight out of the box.

    Linux for all its potential isn’t going to supplant Windows until our kids begin learning on it at school and our employers decide to switch to it at work. The one advantage of Linux is price, but microsoft can always cut prices to the bone, and sheer sales volumes will keep it in profit.

    Then again I could be wrong, and Lord Lucan could come riding down Kensington high street brandishing his new Sinclair PC with Linux preinstalled!

  36. nonoyesyes says:

    Top’O the marnin to ya!
    I thought the entire article and all the replies a very worthy read…
    And at 3.30am with a sudden rude awakening [due to Sydney's unfairly HOT weather at the moment] it was timely to be able to come on over and pull up a chair and begin studying this very interesting news…
    I’ve downloaded and played around with Firefox (Mozella), Avant, Internet Explorer 8 (and then deleted it and returned to IE7), Google Chrome (and then deleted it) and finally went back to the usual.
    Sometimes, computers and me, we just don’t get along!
    I want `instant’ and I get long, tedious lags….. Enough to turn you grey while you wait…. and wait….!
    So, I thought the article was most interesting indeed…
    Thanks for sharing!
    [I would say 'goodnight' but I fear the heat and humidity will keep me wide awake for some time to come]
    Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Read Stephen’s previous blogs

AUDIO BOOK

Available from Apple iTunes Store.

Audio Book Link

The Dongle of Donald Trefusis

Dongle of Donald Trefusis

The new audio series of Professor Donald Trefusis.