Tuesday, January 20, 2015
The time has come to talk about a different kind of pollution. I'm not talking about the pollution that is created by manufacturing computers. This time I'm talking about pollution of the mind.
Mind pollution has permeated the internet. Computer articles are mostly written from the point of view of a person who uses Microsoft products. The assumption is that everyone uses Microsoft Windows and Windows software. To be fair there are a few OSX and Linux articles. Heaven help you if you use something really unusual like Plan 9 or HaikuOS. I can only assume those folks have a lot of patience and a strong will.
When I was in high school Microsoft Windows did not exist and we just used what was available at the time which was a Commodore PET. For the folks too young to remember a Commodore PET was an 8-bit computer with a 6502 CPU and 32 kilobytes of memory. This was in the early 1980's. So my perspective is different. Moving from one computer ecosystem to another is relatively easy since I've done it so often. I naturally think in more abstract terms such as "software presentation program" rather than thinking of "PowerPoint".
Back then no one would have thought of using a specific software package for word-processing. You either used a dedicated machine that only did word processing or you went to the computer store to find some software that would run on the computer you owned. Since everything was so new no one had any preconceptions about which software package was the "best". One usually went along with what their schools used, e.g. if your school happened to use a Commodore computer you probably would have bought a Commodore computer.
Even in the mid-90s when people were running to the mall to buy Windows 95 the computer articles on the net didn't have the overbearing assumption that you owned a Windows box and now you type "format c: /s" or "ipconfig" (it was ifconfig in the Unix world since 1982). Or my personal favourite "Get your friends off XP" which initially sounds good until you realize the article is about installing Windows 8.1 on your computer.
That's not to say there aren't articles about Linux and BSD, there's lots of them. And even with articles about Firefox there's enough similarities between the Windows and Linux versions that one can often extract useful information from them. I suppose one could still complain about the assumption that everyone uses Firefox.
It's really all about mind share. You might think "Microsoft doesn't control me" but what about the computing masses? What about the schools and the governments and the banks? We should have platform independence and people should be able to do their online activities with the platform of their choice. The media should NOT assume that all their viewers use Microsoft software because that is certainly not the case.
Mostly I can use my Linux and BSD machines to do everything I want to do. There are a few edge cases where it takes quite a lot of effort to do certain things, but for the most part there are no serious problems. Once one walks into a computer store it reaffirms that you're in the Windows World. There are Microsoft stores now but I haven't bothered checking them out as there's just nothing there for me.
I'd like to think that with the internet we have bypassed rigid and inflexible thinking as people are free to tap into any part of the web. Still, it behooves journalists and teachers to write about computer topics in a platform independent way to the greatest possible degree. If one must write about things which are platform dependent they should at least make it immediately clear that their article is platform dependent in the article's title. It is the general concepts and the broad interchange of information that is the most important thing.
Friday, January 2, 2015
BSD Community is Too Insular
First of all let me say I really like BSD. I enjoy studying it's history which extends back to 1978 when it was a mere add-on to Bell Labs Unix version 6. The longest uptime I've ever had on a computer was with OpenBSD. It's a fine piece of work.
On the other hand when I look at the BSD community I see a less than friendly environment. It is rather like a gated community where you need to be invited in. Often when one goes to BSD forums one gets some mysterious error message and no access. IRC channels related to BSD are also invite only.
When I re-entered the Linux community in 2003 there was a strong feeling I was less than welcome. As an old Xenix user I thought I would be treated well enough, instead I was barely tolerated. Eventually I felt I was accepted, at least to a certain degree (I also developed a tougher skin). Some of the rudeness seemed to be part and parcel to being online. Manners on the internet have never been very good, but lately things have really deteriorated.
In the case of the BSD community things really do need some improvement. While in the Linux world it's true that people are treated with faint rudeness and a certain amount of condescension, it's still preferable to being utterly locked out of the BSD community. One wonders what rites of initiation are necessary to be accepted into the BSD world and if it's worth the trouble.
I consider the various BSDs to be closer to the original Bell Labs Unix. In some ways I prefer the BSD way of doing things. It's good that we have a varied ecosystem of software. Nevertheless the BSD community really needs to try to become more welcoming to newcomers. This is also true of the Linux community to a lesser degree.
The original programmers of Bell Labs Unix were undoubtedly writing an operating system for other programmers. Programmers are not the friendliest group of people in the world and sometimes this can be very discouraging for young people who are getting used to Unix type operating systems for the first time. An extra effort needs to be made for the BSD and Linux communities to be more welcoming and less insular.
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