Friday, October 24, 2008


Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century

It was a cold day in October as Holmes and I went to visit the computer museum. The streets were rather crowded with automobiles and we were glad to remove from this somewhat hazardous environment. Although we considered ourselves Victorian gentleman it had become obvious to both of us that we needed to become familiar with these new devices. As we looked about us the museum seemed a stark clinical place with very little charm. The walls and floor were white with computers lined up against both sides. There was a time-piece visible as we came in which had a red digital LED display, common in this era.

Holmes keen eyes quickly took in the surroundings and remarked "Well Watson, how do you like the 21st century so far?".

I was feeling out of place and had a slight headache. "It seems to me that the world has become very noisy Holmes. Was it really necessary to come here?"

"We must fully avail our minds with the technology of the times, Watson. Our purpose here is to find a suitable computing device for us both. You can be sure that the criminals of this era have already done so. But since computer technology changes so quickly it is not in the hardware we should concentrate on, but the software."

"Software Holmes? I'm not even sure what the term means! I gather that these devices here that resemble typewriters are the hardware, but what is meant by software?"

Holmes began typing on one of the units, a somewhat out of date machine called an 'Amiga 4000'. There were various cables and plugs, one of which disappeared into the wall.

"It is a bit like cooking Watson. Think of the recipes your wife kept in the kitchen. A list of instructions to prepare a meal. Although it is more sophisticated than that as there are different kinds of software. In this case we are interested in operating systems."

"Why operating systems Holmes?"

Holmes folded his arms and formed a judicial pose.

"Well you see hardware is transitory, due to the rapid improvements in technology. If we were to choose this machine here we would be at a dead-end. It's operating system is no longer maintained and improved upon, so despite the fact that it was an excellent computer in it's day, it is not a good choice in the long run. We need an operating system that is actively maintained and there are three choices which come to mind."

I looked around spotted three devices which were separated from all the others.

"Do these ones here represent your final choices Holmes?"

"Yes, indeed" Holmes remarked as he walked over to me. "These three computers have actively maintained software and represent the best of what is available. There was a fourth one which I briefly considered called 'Macintosh' but I discounted it on the basis of cost. These three computers have generic hardware and are all identical save for the operating system on each."

Holmes gestured to the computer on the left.

"This one has Windows XP, a fairly modern incarnation of the series. It is the most commonly used OS and has the advantage of being fairly easy to use. It's main disadvantage is that it is a closed system and the user can not modify except in a very limited fashion and also the user must pay a significant price to legally use it."

Holmes pointed to the computer on the right.

"On this one we have BSD which stands for Berkeley Software Distribution. It's advantage is in it's security. It is very difficult to attack it from the outside. It is also an open system which is freely downloadable. Thus a dedicated user can modify and make improvements to their taste. It's main disadvantage is the lack of applications for it which makes for a rather boring desktop, nevertheless it makes an excellent server."

Holmes sat down to the computer in the centre position.

"Finally we have the Linux operating system which has many programs to choose from, has no cost to download and can be tailored to the taste of the user. It has most of the advantages of the other two and has an actively growing user base and most importantly a good variety of applications. While other systems have fallen by the wayside over the years this one, much like it's mascot the penguin, continues to endure in a harsh environment. This is the system we must now learn Watson."

I looked over to my companion with rather bleary eyes and commented "Surely not now Holmes. I'm feeling rather weary and in the need of some sustenance."

Holmes rubbed his hands together and said "I know just what you need Old Boy: Fish and Chips!"

I groaned "Please Holmes, not Fishbone Alley again! I'll never live down that interpretation of myself!"

Holmes grin broadened. "Surely such a dire fate can be avoided Watson. I'll get Mrs. Hudson to make us some shepherd's pie."

Somewhat mollified I allowed Holmes to lead the way back to Baker's street. Even though I still felt uncertain of my ability to learn computers, given sufficient time and Holmes' help surely I would become competent at least.


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