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. NeilHoskins says:

    I’d just quickly like to point-out a failing in the English language that appears to cause some confusion. Unusually, we have one word, “free”, where the French have two, “libre” and “gratuit”. Open source is consequently sometimes referred-to as “software libre”. This is very, very different from “free software” as in “free beer” as in “biere gratuit”.

  2. BluePatch says:

    “Look, are Microsoft and Windows really that dreadful?”

    Um, probably. History may eventually provide the answer. I’ll stick my neck out and predict the Microsoftware will be seen as caught up in a cycle of bloatware and has been since Word fitted on a single 360K. As did WordStar, VisiCalc. Even dBase ll wasn’t that big. But Word today on XP or Vista would need over 300 floppy disks to store. Then there Excel, Access, Outlook, Office in general. Were probably looking at 2000 floppy disks. And all the REALLY important stuff fits on the first. And that was the operating system. I can’t imagine what the standard Vista needs are, Gigwise.

    It isn’t rocket science to to suspect a classic – maybe the ultimate – case of diminishing returns.

    One could probably do 99% of what you need to 99% of the time on something around 2-5% of an normal Windows storage needs. And if you could dump their “must have” file formats, perhaps even better.

    Something like the EEE could actually deal MS a mortal blow. Even if ASUS went broke tomorrow, they have set a precedent. A definate turning point. MS didn’t take a long hard look at the EEE. They looked a a picture, read the specs and it was all over in about 10 seconds. “Get on the phone to Asus. Now!”

  3. Reid says:

    I feel compelled to point out that Skype is not open source. Not even a little bit. Closest Skype-like open source app would be one of http://gizmoproject.com or http://openwengo.com

  4. gizmos says:

    I’ve got a little technology blog and a slightly embarassing Stephen Fry-related tale to tell here: http://www.blogstoday.co.uk/gizmos.blog

  5. backspaces says:

    BTW: The dialup modem is NOT available. Apparently they wanted the capability but for some reason they couldn’t deliver. Possibly because they were undecided on how to market accessories. This is sad, because in many places mobility is important, WiFi is not available. Also the Linux world simply cannot support all the peripherals and their drivers that the windows world can, thus unfortunately causing lots of EeePC users putting XP on their systems. Sigh!

    — Owen

  6. fred2 says:

    gratus ut in vinum; non libertas ut in orationis libertam?

    or something like that.

  7. Hyeraim says:

    I am probably the last to point out that the little Asus Eee isn’t meant as a full ranged desktop computer thing, and to cut the costs even more they settled for a Linux based operating system. It will do what it promises, but nobody is denying (like Apple does) you from installing another operating system on that little notebook sized thingy. It’s not meant to be a fully fledged desktop/laptop system.

    I would suggest either Ubuntu Live-CD, or for for those who want even more space for their own content, Damn Small Linux, which takes only 50 megabytes and does everything you need from such a small handheld little thing, and more.

  8. bookwench says:

    I tried Linux. It broke my laptop so that it wouldn’t fully boot, but hung just after the bios bit. Fortunately, as it was Linux, I was able to make it work with the power of the root command; I got into the OS and was able to fix it better. It then hung before the bios bit. I was able to fix it further so that it hung just after the screen came online; Linux is amazing in how it lets you modify the OS even when the OS isn’t actually working. Then I fixed it so well the screen wouldn’t even come online fully, it just blinked between some lines and dead screen and refused to respond to keyboard commands. I now have a lovely laptop-sized paperweight which is Linux enabled.

    I know, I could put in a boot disk…. but I’m scared to try. It gets worse every time I fix it; if it gets any further broken it’ll be on fire…

  9. rademisto says:

    I have to do the bi-annual relatives round soon and as an Internet addict, I am not at all keen to take my MacBook on the very long bus and train journeys due south. When comparing how I would feel if some %£@&**(@% stole my Mac, with all the important data on it, and the cost to replace, with how I might feel if same wotsit filched an Asus EEPc , there is no question in my mind, apart from which store has current stock, preferably not in girly pink.

    The only thing it misses? A sim card. But, I suppose I would then have to hold the 7in Asus up near my mouth, in a rather peculiar manner.

  10. breadbox says:

    Oh dear. I discover that one of my favourite actors, who I saw in Footlights as a naive fresher at Cambridge so many years ago, a man I have watched with admiration and amazement for years, an individual I look up to as a success, well known and wealthy,….

    is an open source bigot just like me. And he has a blog. With articles about open source.

    Oh joy!

    N.

  11. bdonegan says:

    Those people who feel their jobs are threatened by Open Source software should take time to read ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’ by Eric Raymond, which gives an excellent outline of why proprietary software is harmful and why it is not necessary to be directly paid for the product in order to turn a profit.

    Also, I am a Software Engineer. I use Linux (Ubuntu) at home on a low-end laptop. At work I am forced to use Windows XP on a blisteringly fast development machine. Daily I am frustrated by the inability of Windows to function, even with this glut of resources. I never have problems with Ubuntu at home though.

  12. BPD.female.alone says:

    My feelings are with you, we share similar luck :) Can you direct me to your documentary on manic depression, via the web? I wish to view it again, but my brain cells departed at an early age, so i can not remember where i first saw it.
    Love to your bones.
    xxx

  13. Steve Howard says:

    ‘Dark Phoenix’ said: “Yeah, by setting computing back 20 years or so. Things Microsoft is tacking onto Windows now were staple components of the original UNIX, created in 1970.”

    This is a wonderfully empty statement, with no justification provided. I’d love for you to give examples of this.

    IMHO computing in every flavour has marched on so far from the 70s, that any comparison is silly. But please, do justify your statement, as I really do appreciate the education.

  14. Steve Howard says:

    ‘NeilHoskins’

    I think we could easily use ‘free’ (don’t pay for it) and ‘liberated’ (not tied by license). There’s plenty of other synonyms to liberated that we could use if we wanted to -= but I don’t see any drive for creating such a distinction in the open source community. If there was one, the distinction would already have been made …

    The less-savvy computer user thinks open source = free (as in beer) and no amount of waffle by the open source community is going to fix that in a hurry. Mostly because open source software usually *is* free! It’s the *support* for that software that costs …

    Speaking of which. The less-than savvy among the proponents of Linux tell us that it is a cheaper because it is free. They either don’t know, or ignore the fact, that the cost of retraining staff (most of whom, IMHO, are shockingly illeterate in computer terms) to use a new OS and new software is prohibitive for most companies, as is the cost of a Linux system admin v’s a Windows system admin (a 2:1 ratio last I looked) :-)

  15. I just got an EEE and it’s great (black, 4gb model). I’ve only got it for those low-intensity things like email and feed reading on the go, but it’s ideal for that. I’m not worried about it clunking around in my bag or if something was to go wrong with it. It’s just convenient. I had been waiting on Apple’s “ultra-portable” but unfortunately, due to the footprint, the Air isn’t one.

    Of course, the EEE for me because I will have a beast of a machine at home (replacing my current 15″ laptop) as a main desktop and I’m supplied with a lovely desktop at work.

    In case you’ve not come across it, there’s a cut down version of Ubuntu especially for the EEE (http://code.google.com/p/eee-ubuntu-support/). I haven’t tried it yet (hope to soon), but I think it’ll be better for users who do want to do a bit more with their machine.

  16. robertas says:

    The latest installment of Stephen Fry Appreciation Monday, if you miss the Guardian column, you are in for a little treat :)

    http://www.couchslobs.com/2008/02/11/285/

  17. Mike says:

    I’m amused by BluePatch’s comments. Presumably if he sat around in the primordial soup watching amino acids and the like complexify, he would have called all that evolution bloated. And several billion years later, that these primate things are still just consuming energy and producing new genes, just less efficiently than before.

    Software-wise we’re standing on similar shores, with a long way to go. If you want to go splashing around in the shallow end of the cyber-gene-pool then off you go, but I don’t imagine you’d get much of what everyone takes for granted today with a stack of floppy discs on a computer using a chip less powerful than the one in your average microwave oven. Talk about a failure of the imagination!

    I see friends kidding themselves that they’ve skimmed some bloat off their software installations and then they download a few hundred GB of music, video and photographs. Some of it isn’t even pornographic. Consider that all the files for Windows and Office take up the same amount of disc space as a few episodes of a laugh-tracked sitcom. Relative to the 1TB of hard disk space on my new desktop computer, it’s almost negligible. In a few years, you’ll probably have more than that on your keychain. And there will still be people rattling on that Windows takes up 0.0001% more diskspace than absolutely necessary and why won’t those kids get off their front lawn.

    Have any of you checked out how much of your brains, your genetic code, or your vastly overweight masses are under-utilised, or padded out with supporting tissue, junk DNA and fat? Your average PC is positively svelte in comparison m’dears…

  18. lyverbyrd says:

    I am also typing this entry on my lovely little eeepc. They are so hard to get hold of at the moment, but so worth the effort. It does everything that I need when I’m on the road (I’m an IT trainer) and doesn’t make my dislocated shoulder dislocate even further as my bulky laptop does.

    This little machine has limitations, have no doubt about it; but it does what it’s supposed to, and as it is unhampered by Windows, its performance is great.

    I’m in

  19. dale kaup says:

    Curious how people are putting Linux down saying it’s various distributions will never displace Windows. Has anyone thought of how hard it is currently for Windows (Vista) to displace Windows (XP)? It just goes to show how hard it is to unseat a huge installed base of a familiar highly usable OS. Also in order to shift large numbers of people away from such an installed base the new product has to be MUCH better as in CDs compared to LPs or 95 as compared to 3.11 or XP as compared to ME (devil spawn).

    Dale
    Ubuntu 7.10

  20. BluePatch says:

    Mike said “I’m amused by BluePatch’s comments. Presumably if he sat around in the primordial soup watching amino acids and the like complexify, he would have called all that evolution bloated. And several billion years later, that these primate things are still just consuming energy and producing new genes, just less efficiently than before.”

    I don’t buy the analogy. Whilst it is true that evolution is a slow unconscious process built on successful bits of code (and lots of redundant pieces too), software creation is a conscious effort. More like intelligent design. Well it should be.

    Come to think of it maybe you’re right. There’s lots of genuine junk code in MS – that’s the stuff that is never really used at all.

    BP

  21. NeilHoskins says:

    Free beer is, of course, possible if you have a Nokia N95.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khFkQAJO1pM
    (iBling fanboys watch and weep)

  22. BPD.female.alone says:

    You really dont want to get me started on my Nokia N95. What a pile of :) GPS i’m sure stands for Greater Problems Still. It advertised well but when it comes to full functioning forget it. My web keeps starting up on its own and we all know how expensive it is surfing the web on these “things”.
    Yours
    Me.

  23. Mike says:

    BluePatch wrote “There’s lots of genuine junk code in MS – that’s the stuff that is never really used at all.” – clear examples would make a better case.

  24. BluePatch says:

    Mike: I just assumed that if, for example, most of the real important stuff ion Word takes up less that half a meg, then 100-200 meg is diminishing returns. I think it a reasonable assumption. Of course you are free to prove me wrong. Just what is that important (ie everyone must have it) that uses all those megs?

    BP

  25. Mike says:

    If you’re just making ridiculously naive statements about how software functions map to bits on disk, there’s nothing I have to “prove”.

    “half a meg” is the size of a low quality version of a single song track or a medium-resolution photograph. Highly specialized software I wrote 20yrs ago which output on a text-based screen was roughly that size. A word-processor is orders of magnitude more complex, and so “half a meg” is roughly comparable to the size of the code for spell-checking (not counting the code for displaying squiggles on the screen or lists of suggestions).

  26. BluePatch says:

    Mike: Alright already. I think bloatware exists. You don’t. Let’s leave it there before we both bore everyone else to death.

    Cheers and safe travelling.

    BP

  27. Mike says:

    BP: That’s another naive mischaracterisation. You seem to define bloatware as anything bigger than what ran on a computer 15-20 years ago, with a ratio of “1/2 meg” useful to “100-200 meg” being not so. In your started numerical terms, that’s “99.5% of software is bloat.” As Wolfgang Pauli put it, “It’s not even wrong”.

  28. lsblogs says:

    drop me a email if you want to rank for google.co.uk pages, which your not at the mo, its a easy fix.

  29. Susan P. says:

    Hmm..Fry & Laurie doing an ‘aussie’ sketch and saying ‘ass’ and not ‘arse’ is perhaps mischaractersiation. :)

    I do not pretend to know very much on this topic so, of course, I run the risk now of being seen as the proverbial in the woodpile and being heckled..however..doesn’t the term bloatware have two (or more) meanings? So that some people describe it as BluePatch has and others describe it as the enhancements that can be added onto a base application that a number of users find problematic and claim the application has become less serviceable and fast compared to the original? (Apologies for lengthy awkward sentence)

    Creeping featuritis is one novel idiom I have seen related to this topic.

    I have to say that I see bloatware as something I put on when my weight burgeons..but that’s another topic. ;-)

  30. rademisto says:

    These things, these Asus EEEPc’s, they’re an early April Fool aren’t they? I mean, you can’t buy one, you can’t even talk to a store that advertises stocking them because the ruddy ‘phone line has been disconnected, if you email them, you receive no reply, if you look at the Web Store-Front, many of those old computer shopper’s favourites, show an unhappy message suggesting that they are fed-up with the game.

    They are as elusive as a delicate French truffle, although at the moment, I am beginning to favour the mushroom.

    I wonder how long it will be before another company copies Asus with something very similar, then those of us unlucky enough to miss out this time, will be able to have a choice – which may not be a bad thing. My hands are now firmly in my pockets!

    Any chance of a little more bloggery soonish? A few words to say you are still alive and not regretting losing your bet that you could arm wrestle a mannatee?

  31. AxmxZ says:

    Been a while since the last blog post. How’s the arm and the documentary? Hope they’re both knitting together nicely.

  32. stu531 says:

    Smashing article.

    I’m lucky enough to have an eee having scoured my local area, including our ToysRUs. A toy? The eee? Never. It’s great. Handy. And fast. It’s really good. However, one of the first things I did was pop XP on it.

    Now I take SF’s point about Microsoft. Ultimately, I hope that Open Source wins the day, and I realise I’ve hardly done my part towards this. But, XP does me well, and at least it is configurable. On top of that I want to play a number of games. Linux doesn’t have the gaming platform – yet, much as I’d like that to be the case.

    I almost visualise a horizontal barometer. On the left is Linux; it’s created by enthusiasts for the good of all, the genuine good. Not many games, but tons of free stuff that works pretty well. In the centre is Microsoft. It’s huge and created Windows. It’s reasonably good willed, but has done some quite nasty things like embedding media player and IE to push out the smaller boys. Now, on the right is Apple. Has a host of devotees, but has the ultimate in lock-in: only trust yourselves. I just bought an iPod Touch, and Apple wants me to shell out £13 for a service pack with a couple of tweaks. For Linux, this would be free from day one; even MS wouldn’t dare.

    There are different levels of evils in the computer world; sometimes limbo wins the day.

  33. Susan P. says:

    One of us could compose a brief piece to catalyse further discussion here. I’m good on the social ethnographic side of things and many others are great on the tech side of things. We could pick a topic and then muse about it here and show Stephen that we can be troopers alongside him and are willing to let him rest and carry the torch ourselves for a short time. As a relative newcomer I would leave a topic choice to others more familiar. How about it? Even a debate style statement can be useful. For some reason I recalled an interesting debate that was run her on Oz vis: Australia is the arts end of the world. Can’t we arrive at something similar?

  34. AxmxZ says:

    I don’t think I could provide a good jumping-off point for any discussion right now. Unless people here are up for discussing the difference in declension between Finnish and Karelian nouns…

  35. Susan P. says:

    I did have to laugh. I have just driven back from a shopping centre speaking to myself in what we would call here “westie” english which is more a pronunciation issue. However, in terms of language and computing must we have most applications that come out underlining all words you don’t write in american english spelling? I am sure to be corrected on this but I find virtually every system I use online defaulting to US speak. (No offence to US readers intended).

  36. Mike says:

    Susan – you need to make sure that your application knows that you want British or Australian English etc. Microsoft Office has supported these for 15+ years (if you look in the right place on the hard drive you’ll in fact see that the Australian English file is bigger than the US/UK file). but if you have your computer set up with US English settings, it will honour those. Likewise Firefox has downloadable dictionaries for its inline spellchecker. It’s worth checking your browser to see what its preferred language settings might be.

  37. Susan P. says:

    Mike, thank you for your time. You’re absolutely correct of course and mea culpa for not being more specific. I am thinking more of business sites etc. For example, I conduct social/business research for a business on their site. Now, the original site (from which the one to which I now refer was borne) was admittedly US but I almost invariably find that in moving to the Australian marketplace, the US spelling pattern is held. When I have asked about this I am told it’s not fixable because of original programming orientation. Would you, with greater knowledge than I, guffaw at that kind of comment if said to you or, is it accurate?

    I pose this because, despite being the Baldrick of computing, on and off I know I’m being told a porky about some thing presented to me as ‘fact”.

    By the way, Australian English has the same spelling as British English. We just have another layer of colloquialism. (Tho, many are more caricatures that you would rarely hear on the street these days e.g. “come the raw prawn”).

  38. Mike says:

    Susan – I don’t know what sites you’re talking about, but again if your browser tells the site that it likes US English best (“en-us”) then that is what is what it will most likely deal you even if it is more globally aware. Again, if it’s just relying on the browser to do the spell-checking and you haven’t installed an “en-au” lexicon, then it is probably best if it falls back to the US one you may have installed.

    In general that sort “not fixable” statement is eminently guffawable. Someone is being lazy and telling you porkies.

    Being of ancient convict stock, I’m quite familiar with Australian English. The main difference is that Australia has more-or-less made the “ise” prescriptive everywhere where UK lexicons & authorities like Fowler prefer “-ize” for words of certain etymologies. This is not a US vs UK thing despite views on the street to the contrary , but that perception has undoubtedly tipped the scales in Australia.

  39. Susan P. says:

    Hello Mike, as they are member only sites it wasn’t worth outlining them but I will look into that. The site sections I research are really just forum based applications of one type or another however.

    I am reminded of the ABC site where you register your rewards card. The associated info present does not actually give you adequate information to initially register. I wound up ringing the customer service line and was told by the person who answered that she has to address the same question all day long. Wouldn’t you think the ABC would just go back and provide an accurate explanation of ‘what to do’ on the site itself? I never understand this form of illogical response.

    I didn’t know about the English – ize. In just exploring this I see it noted that most British papers etc don’t use it and have deferred to the ‘french’ (as it was described) – ise and this has led to the misconception that the -ize is purely American.

    I do indeed observe (now) your Aussie roots. Healthy looking Malmut! On another topic entirely, I watched a doco the other day about a British gent who lives with captive wolves. Fascinating, if not mildly disturbing. Great research work going on however.

  40. Mike says:

    Susan – you are best to take it up with the site, since I have no idea which country’s ABC you are talking about. I hate to bring it up a third time, but it could be your browser settings…

    Also: suggest running “malmut” through the spell-checker too! ;-)

  41. Susan P. says:

    Oh Lord, you say potato and I say spuds. LOL Fair enough. I would drop into canine type submissive pose if I had the mind to – but I don’t. ;-) Please pat your Malamute for me and sooth its chagrined brow. (But there are sites that say Malmut m’lud!)

    No, re the ABC (how long have you been out of Aussie!). The site is the one at fault here. If you’re not told to put the same entry in username and password how would one know this on initial registration unless told. Or, is this that “I” word I keep hearing back..Intuitive. Intuitive my Aunt Fanny! :-)

  42. JonathanCR says:

    Both “-ize” and “-ise” are perfectly acceptable in British English, although one must always bear in mind that there are some words (such as “circumcise” or “advise”) which have to take “-ise” even if you’re using “-ize” for the others. So if you’re not too sure about spelling you’d be better off using “-ise”, because you don’t have to memorise any exceptions.

  43. rademisto says:

    Funny old thing, spelling. I believe it used to be taught in schools from a young age. Must have been a passing fad, methinks.

    I never trust online dictionaries or spellcheckers, much as I don’t trust a fair amount of the information I find as I trawl through the Web. For the former, I tend to use a large paperback dictionary that I keep at my side and for the latter, I look for trusted sites, trusted scholars and academics or know-all types (geeks, nerds, anoraks, boffins, etc.).

    Not entirely reliable, but as close as , dammit.

    Typo’s, tpyos and topys still cause some errors!

  44. Mike says:

    Susan – this is where tech support people tear their hair out, trying to find out exactly what a user’s problem might be. Since you gave a US context US, but then you spoke about Australia it wasn’t clear whether you are talking about the American Broadcasting Company( abc.go.com) or Australian Broadcasting Corporation (www.abc.net.au). Inferring the latter, one would look at hundreds of links on the home page and still not have any clue about which part of the site you’re looking at. It might be “intuitive” to you but it takes a bit of hunting to then progress to determine that you might be talking about shop.abc.net.au. I looked at the Rewards registration and the instructions (www.accumulate.com.au/abc) do very clearly say to put in the same entry for username and password.

  45. Susan P. says:

    Mike, I take your critique on board. Potentially ethnocentric of me. I disagree however that the registration on the ABC shop page was clear. If it was clear and easily findable (the explanation should be there next to the user name and password fields) then the call centre would perhaps not claim to be overwhelmed with calls on the matter. Yes, I DO understand why helpdesk people go insane because that is one role (in the general sense) I take alongside my research role on sites. I don’t do tech work but site content or process assistance. However, many sites simply do not provide clear directions and (I underscore this) do not take into account how people react to information and learn. I see large corporations spending hundreds of thousands on site tech development with nothing spent on understanding how people use a space and respond to information (et al) both individually and within a community. I think this a particular issue for branding and marketing but this is a major topic unto itself.

    Rademisto, excellent point. I find very very few ‘clients’ know how to judge the scholarship of claimed ‘research’ online. They certainly rarely know how to suspend judgment about what they read and how to play devil’s advocate with information.

    I was musing yesterday on another topic and that is archiving of online material. It’s interesting that online et al was supposed to assist in the drawing back of paper consumption and yet, research published a year or so ago claimed an increase stemming from people not trusting back-ups etc and feeling they needed to retain paper copies.

    I had a blog last year and decided to wipe the first 3 months of it. Certain people I knew were aghast and asked if I had kept a copy. No. I couldn’t see the sense in doing this. The blog served an interest at the time and then my interests shifted. But individuals could not accept I had ‘erased history’.

    I have wondered what the criteria is for national libraries (like the Australian National Library) deciding to archive particular sites.

    This led me to muse on a variation of the question: If I could save and archive 3 sites only from the www, what would they be?

    My mind goes blank on this one. I’ve seen some darned fine sites (that to me are creative and moving art works) but not sure I’d save any of them per se.

    But the concept of allowing the space to continually change and not hanging on to ‘moments of conception’ (via archiving) is of interest to me.

  46. Mike says:

    Hmm: Well right next to the name & password fields is:

    ” If you have not registered before in this website, you will not have a password. Re-enter your Reward Card Number in the password field to continue.”

    The “not registered” is called out in very shiny bold characters.

  47. nick1austin says:

    @ JulesLt : “[For what it’s worth, MS have experimented with an entirely new research OS, called Singularity, which is worth reading up on, and proof to those that MS do invent things]”

    Singularity is yet another implementation of old ideas. There are no new ideas or concepts there that I didn’t learn at university lectures 30 years ago.

  48. rademisto says:

    Susan P, Interesting thought about allowing the www to continually change.

    It is an interesting tunmbleweed to keep rolling around in my mind. (Such as these conundrums are to me).

    Presumably history is still important as a subject? Yet if we allow a space to constantly change without establishing and noting (by an archive) a date of conception, then do we lose the concept of history?

    For me it is a little like Google cache. A site can be gone from the usual Google search people are used to carrying out, but still be present in the cache unless the site’s author makes changes to the original page, in which case the cache disappears.

    Choosing 3 sites to archive would indeed be difficult. I think one of mine would have to be photographs. Even before digital photography, people who were unfortunate enough to lose all their belongings in a fire, flood, or theft, would mention photographs as the first item that was irreplaceable and most treasured to them. Thus rating photographic memories as a priority.

    However, if the archiving you mention means transposing Internet records (including imagery) onto cellulose, there is an irony; the image data is probably safer online than on paper! Since my two hard drive crashes that wiped out all my data (without external drive back-up – yes, it was very, painful, and yeas, I have learned my lesson) I have kept a blog for the sole reason that I can keep a section ‘private’ unpublished and store my photos there in the www.

    Ho hum! Très amusant.

    Any more thoughts about your three to archive?

    (Oh, and by the way, do you think dear Mr Fry with his poorly arm, minds the hijacking of his blog reply column with these unrelated thoughts?. I would really hate to cause him any upset. I doubt that he reads the lower echelons of the blog replies, but in case he does, I hope the broken arm and sad spirits recover soon. People with psychological drive often need to release themselves fro the tyranny of the ‘shoulds’. I know, the ‘shoulds’ almost killed me).

  49. viza says:

    welcome to the dark, erm um light side! Yea that’s it…
    If you are feeling adventurous you may just want to compile the whole OS. Gentoo(www.gentoo.org) is a really cool way to do this.

    That way you can compile in video4linux support into kernel. I’d pop the HD out of it and use a clean one so you can get work done when you aren’t tinkering 8) Just put the gentoo drive in when you want to tinker and swap the one that came with it back in to get real work done. You’ll also learn at a pretty deep level what goes into building this operating system we like to call Linux

    Gentoo is great fun, but it really helps to be installing it next to another PC so you can follow the steps without needing to use links or other textmode browser. Be prepared to do a LOT of tinkering to get what you want. Of course the advantage is you can get exactly what you want. Once you are booting you can do the stuff from anywhere.

    Do a stage 1 install from tarball and you’ll be impressed with the performance you can squeeze out when compiling an OS from a pile of text files :P

    I’d find out what options your kernel has now and start from there when building a customized one.

    -Viz

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