Thursday, August 24, 2006

EBKAC: Windows 2, Linux 0

Do you remember when Coca Cola changed its formula in the 1980s and released "New Coke"? The new product was a disaster and served to renew the consuming public's lust and devotion to "Classic Coke." I've since heard, and have no trouble believing, that this was a calculated move on the part of Coca Cola. For this reason I now believe that Microsoft is, in fact, the creator of Linux.

It makes perfect sense. There's been growing disillusionment with MS for years, and its reputation for bringing to market unfinished products and letting its users do the Q/A that Microsoft should be doing, is set in stone. So, one day Bill Gates assembled his team of gargoyles and put the question before them, "We can either begin creating quality products or we can simply frighten the computing public into never leaving us. Which will it be?" Since Microsoft is incapable of creating products that work as advertised, Gates and his team of gargoyles decided to make an alternative operating system to Windows, and called it Linux (because computer names that have an "x" in them are somehow viewed as oldschool and aboveboard).

So, the Microsoft Intelligence Unit located some rube in Finland named Linus Torvald, who seemed capable of only shrugging and smiling during interviews, and made his the improbable face behind "Linux." Linux was then released, with a cover story that is truly a 180-degree diversion from the Microsoft story -- it's all open source, developers from around the world worked on this because of their passion for computing, not for money, blah blah blah. And thus Linux and its various "flavors" came into being.

"Hey man," I hear a granola-intense voice call out from the balcony, "what about all the people who are using Linux? Are you saying they all work for Microsoft?"

Not at all. I have no doubt there are computer users who have actually gotten some vintage of Linux to work on their machines. I once had a girlfriend who's father's car had some weird glitch to the engine where if you drove a little too fast or a little too slowly, some valve would close, rendering the car immobile. The valve could only be opened with a pen or screwdriver and then the car would suddenly work again. My girlfriend's dad explained the whole thing to me, once, and it made absolutely no sense. He was already reluctant to lend his car to his daughter, and this weirdism with the vehicle put us off entirely asking. Yet he drove the car with no trouble.

I'm an experienced computer user. I started this week with a perfectly serviceable and fully functioning desktop computer -- and a strange, now unaccountable, desire to try switch to Linux. After attempting to install Linux on this desktop computer, I now end this week with a completely smoked desktop, and an unworkable strain of Linux sort of installed on it. Clearly, magic was needed. I do not possess magic. I hardly possess anything approaching luck. Now I have a Dell paperweight on my desk, and have to connect my virginal laptop computer to the Web in order to write this blog.

Years ago I worked at a software company where the techs had a term for what I've just experienced with this foray into Linux: EBKAC. It stands for "error between keyboard and chair." Meaning, the problem is with the user, not the software.

Maybe I will market my own open source, granola-smelling operating system and called it "EBKAC for Human Beings, Man".

Monday, August 21, 2006

Windows vs. Linux -- Windows 1, Linux 0

The Internet itself has put the lie to the old saying, "Eight hundred monkeys typing on eight hundred typewriters for eight hundred years would inevitably produce the works of Shakespeare." No, we just have faster Web connections courtesy of pornography.

And now Linux, specifically its flavor Ubuntu, has put the lie to "eight hundred programmers typing on eight hundred keyboards..." They can't seem to make an install process that won't lead a user to a psychotic breakdown.

The background:

I hate computers. I love writing, but I hate cajoling and jerry-rigging and going through the Five Stages of Grief everyday with my desktop PC just so I can blog and write books. This, however, is what I must do. Because I use Microsoft Windows as my operating system. There was a time in the 1990s when I was an Apple user, but after calling the 800 Helpline number for Apple Canada and getting a recorded message saying the number is unlisted by request of its owner, I switched to Windows. And I've been sorry ever since.

So, after some investigation and much coveting of Apple's new line of computers, I learned that Linux might be the answer for me. Particularly, I had heard very promising things about Ubuntu, one of the many flavors of Linux. Tonight I attempted to install Ubuntu -- with no success.

What went wrong? What did I have trouble with? I have no goddamned idea.

I went to the Ubuntu Web site and downloaded the installation disc to a CD on my machine. I then restarted my PC, hit F12 very quickly, and made my computer boot up with the Ubuntu CD. When the slick, vacant Ubuntu desktop appeared after a few minutes, there was absolutely no instruction on what the user was to do next. Not being an idiot, I double-clicked the "install" icon figuring that was how one installed the operating system. After double-clicking the icon, my pointer turned into some kind of circular zoetrope-type thing that I guessed was Linux's version of the Windows hourglass or Apple's wristwatch, which signaled the program was working. Well, my CD-ROM whirred like a champ, and shit-all seemed to occur on my screen. Eventually the circle-time-passing-indicator disappeared. Just when I thought about restarting my machine, a box slowly assembled on my screen, which turned out to be the Ubuntu install interface. It staggered along, finally asking me to select the default language for the operating system. I did so and clicked the Forward button. Again, nothing seemed to happen. After leaving the room and coming back half an hour later there was the second of six screens staring out at my office -- choose my location on planet earth so Linux could better serve me. It just hung there, never fully loading. I left it go for an hour. It never loaded.

For all the dramatic crowing about "open source" applications, I'm uncertain that I see the point.

After two more increasingly frustrating tries, I finally restarted my machine and let it boot up in Windows. After slugging away with Linux for the better part of three hours, my Windows applications seem lightning fast.

Which leads me to the nightmare question -- Are Microsoft products actually superior? They can't be. I've had too many problems with them, too many crashes. Microsoft treats its customers like unpaid quality assurance testers, notorously shipping products way too early, and thus having to issue patch after patch after goddamned patch. All the while peoples' machines are getting smoked by viruses sneaking in through vulnerabilities everyone but Microsoft technicians seem able to find.

And don't even get me started on the abomination that is Internet Explorer.

But what the hell is up with Linux? I'm grossly disheartened by the experience this evening. I've seen Linus Torvald on 60 Minutes and have read every scrap of Linus and open source propaganda I could get my hands on. After programmers around the world have worked on this operating system for years this is the best they can create?

At this point, an electric typewriter is starting to look very appealing to me. At least it has that oldschool Zen about it.