Chrome to get Android applications

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Its being reported that the Chrome OS is set to get Android applications in the coming months.

This news probably has many people excited, firstly the non-tech folk who have a Chrome OS device and have looked in envy to the Play Store, whilst being on “show” for all Chrome OS users, doesn’t offer (at present) any compatibility.  It will also have the tech “experts” excited, who don’t actually own or use a Chromebook and see this as another string to the bow of Google’s offering over the evil empires of Microsoft and Apple.

Let’s get a few things clarified.  I’ve been using a Chromebook exclusively for the past four months so when it comes to added features and applications, I think I’m rather qualified to make comment.

Is this Android addition good news for Chromebook users? Well that depends on how you define “good”.  I’ve often commented about the pointless addition of the Play Store on the default ChromeOS install, because whilst you can use it to “instruct” an install on any of your other devices, every title in the Android catalogue is completely useless to the ChromeOS user – they won’t run.

Android devices, be it a tablet or Smart Phone have a touch screen.  The majority of ChromeOS books out there don’t, so the first barrier to running Android applications is presented.  Whilst many Android apps will happily run without the need of a touch screen, there are many which form an integral part of the app itself and its this lack of touchscreen which probably presents the biggest problem for ChromeOS, either operation of an app would need to be controlled by mouse/trackpad or Chromebooks will as a standard feature need to be touch screen devices.  We also need to take into consideration screen resolution of the ChromeOS devices, but lets return to how Google intends on bringing the Play Store to ChromeOS.

Its not coming.  Simple.  The Play Store is not coming to ChromeOS anymore than the Playstation Store is coming to the Xbox.  What is happening here (with the help of a runtime) is that Google is bringing over select applications to ChromeOS, presumably tested and optimized for Chromebook users.

So in this first “wave” of applications what can we expect?  It’s reported that the following applications are to be the first:

Duolingo – A language learning application

Evernote – Text editor/note taker/basic word processor

Sight Words – An education title for children, helping their reading skills.

Vine – Video editor

And here is where I believe, the news about the Play Store begins to lose more of its shine.

A language learning package? Is there not enough facility for people to learn languages?  What about the Chrome Store? Doesn’t that already have packages?

Evernote? The main selling point for many (including myself) of the Chromebook was the integration with Google services.  I use Google Docs, I bought the Chromebook to use Google Docs and in anycase there are already many alternatives available for the Chromebook, you’ve a selection of hundreds of text editors, note takers and there’s even a web-based version of Openoffice, if you use ChromeOS and are desperate to use something other than Google’s own offering.

Education packages are ten a penny on the store already and Vine? What of WeVideo? There’s nothing new offered here other than an alternative to a plethora of titles already doing the same thing.  The fact that they are Android apps executing with a new runtime is moot to the vast majority of users who use their Chromebooks for productivity sparing little thought or care for what is going on under the hood.

So no, the Play Store news is not exciting and rather than worrying about Play Store migration of titles that I don’t think ChromeOS users need, would it not be better to first focus on the Chrome Store itself and clean it up a little, there’s alot of junk apps on there which need Googles attention.  On the Chrome Store right now theres packages that offer themselves as ChromeOS apps, only for it to transpire that they are infact Windows binaries only. – Yes I know people will use Chrome on a Windows machine, but since Google knows I use a Chromebook, could it not filter those results from the Chrome Store when its presented to fellow Chromebook users?  Or even better, remove them from the store altogether. They are NOT ChromeOS apps, they are an entry in the Chrome Store which links to a Windows binary.

I won’t mention the spam on the store either, but suffice to say even a seasoned user like myself has been suckered into watching adverts on the basis of a misleading “app”.

I’m struggling to see the benefit in Google making this move.  If people want Android then they would have bought an Android device.  It’s should be quite clear what the ChromeOS offers and that, is the selling point to the many people who have bought a Chromebook.

I’ve been a supporter and advocate of ChromeOS since I had this device but I’m not going to give praise to Google when it seems to want to bring applications from Android that already exist (by way of alternatives) on the Chromestore – especially when Google has so much more work to do on making the Chromestore a more pleasant experience for those already established ChromeOS users.  In addition there are still MANY simple, basic features missing from the ChromeOS itself which Google, in my opinion has no excuse to have missed out.  The trackpad is one.  I dislike them, so do others, if you want to disable it in favour of the mouse, theres no one click option – you have to drop into the CLI (protected by a series of keypresses) and disable it there! It’s beggars belief that such a simple feature would require users (many of which have no CLI knowledge) to step up their computing knowledge just to turn off the trackpad.

Google, get the ChromeOS house in order first.


Chromebook – What it is and what it isn’t.

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Tech advice from "experts" who don't have experience in what they are talking about can give costly advice.
Tech advice from “experts” who don’t have experience in what they are talking about can give costly advice.

I think readers will recall mention I made a while back of a little known area called (Usenet/newsgroups) and how it’s time as a serious discussion group is over.

I was prompted to write this article as at one time Usenet was the place where technology experts could be expected to post and engage in discussion.  The time has long since past, but there are tech “experts” still commenting, unfortunately some of these comments are not only wrong but misleading too.  I used to think the misunderstanding of what a Chromebook is was limited to those with no interest in tech.  Who could blame them? They just want to buy a device and get on with things.  So when posters in Usenet and in particular a Linux advocacy group cant grasp a Chromebook and end up providing misleading or misinformed information about them, I thought would spell out to everyone what a Chromebook is.

I should also add though that other “experts” around the web commenting about Chromebooks also seem confused and there seems to be a common theme here with “experts” that if the technology is vaguely familiar, then they can make opinions on it and it will be right.  They are wrong.  I’ve been using and posting with one exclusively for the last 2+ months.  I tried a number of models before settling on the HP14″ (for the larger screen) so I think I am qualified to give an opinion on the pros and con’s of a Chromebook – especially since all my work and computer usage has been with one over the last few months.

This is the best “warts and all” appraisal of a Chromebook I can make without taking it into pages and losing the interest of most readers.

If I make a recommendation of technology (any tech) to someone I make it very clear what that tech is, what it can do, what it can’t.  Unlike some people who will promote a tech blindly missing out important facets or worse, intentionally doing so, I prefer to make it very clear to people before hand and if you fit the criteria for a Chromebook with your online choices, then you will find no better device than a Chromebook.

People who read my tweets and articles will know that I love my Chromebook.  I’ve been very productive with it and I believe I am over the two month mark of having used it exclusively.  Is it possible to live your online work/life with a Chromebook.  Yes it is and very well – with a few caveats that we must cover now:

‘Here be Google Services’

Not dragons, Google services.  If you don’t use them or don’t ever intend to then a Chromebook is not for you.  There’s a little giveaway on the case of the device that displays the Google logo, but in case you miss that.  Do not buy it.

This device has been designed for those who do use Google services and what a great device it is too.  Everything is integrated in a way that you can’t get from your browser and probably the most immediate stand-out feature is that your file manager treats your local storage and Google drive in the same way, you can effortlessly pass files between the two.  There are of course other advantages to the Google integration here, but then we need to clear up some things first.

“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” – What you can’t do.

I’m trying to decide what items to put in this list, so if there’s something here you don’t understand then just move on its not going to be an issue for you.

Want to play music CD’s? Well there’s no internal drive to do that.  Want to plug one in? – You still won’t be able to play that dusty copy of Cliff Richard.

Want to watch a dvd? Same again you can’t.  “But what if..” NO you can’t.

BluRay? – After no CD and DVD? – you’ve got to be kidding. NO, you can’t.

How about Java? No. You can’t.

Want to play WMV files? You can’t. – There’s a list of unsupported formats, I merely picked one for the purposes of this article and it would be worth your while checking first, especially if you facilitate some of the rare “exotic” codecs/file formats.  I don’t include them all and it may be in future there are work arounds, so its best to stay up to date.  One such example is .flv which does have a offline app but it is not included in the default ChromeOS setup.

I would add that if you think ChromeOS is the same as Android and your purchase is because you want an android type gaming device with a keyboard, then you will be disappointed.  There is a Chrome store, there are games, but you are not going to get the diversity or well known titles that you’ll see on the Android app store.  The Chromebook is a device for surfing and working.  Thats not to say there are not games – some of which you will have played on a Android device, but if your sole desire for the Chromebook is gaming, I’d say look at a “traditional” laptop instead and if it’s Android you want…..get an Android device.

The confusion some people have with the Chrome store and Play Store isn’t helped by the fact that the Play Store is included by default when you powerup your Chromebook.  Quite why its here is a bit of a mystery because you can’t play any of the titles.   The only thing I can think of is that you can use the Play Store on your Chromebook to install apps to other Android devices you may have.  Those who use Google services will know you register all your devices with them.

What you will get from a Chromebook

If like me you are a heavy user of Google – for example I use gDocs, hangouts, googledrive, email et al) and you have no need of the above, then you are in for a very good experience with all the services you use daily tied into your operating system much better than a tab in a browser.

You’ll also get some great deals (at time of writing)  Google is giving 100gb free drive space to Chromebook owners – there’s other freebies too dependent on where you live in the world.

The Chromebook boots very quickly.  Of course you’ll see differences between models (I’m running an HP14) but I think its fair to say that if you take out the time to enter your Google password, you are looking at about 10 seconds from the machine being cold to being online (the majority of time taken up by handshaking with your router) – power off is pretty instant too.

If you think your Chrome browser on whatever desktop you run gives you an idea of what the ChromeOS is like then you are wrong.  The experience on a Chromebook is vastly superior – and rightfully so, it was designed for this purpose.

Are Chromebooks cheap tech?

I’ll surprise people and say no.  Chromebooks come in at a nice price because they strip away the things which you don’t need (large internal storage, dvd drive etc) if you need these things you are not going to buy one, but by taking them away it means the Chromebook comes in at a lower price than a traditional laptop.  That doesn’t make it cheap, just fairly priced and for the first time I’ve made a purchase of tech where I haven’t paid for things I didn’t want.

You would be ill advised to buy a Chromebook and change it into something else.  I’ve seen posts about installing Linux and plugging in external hardrives etc, but then after you’ve done this, you are better off just going for a traditional laptop in the first place.  Ive quite a few USB ports on my Chromebook and I could fill them up with external devices, but then my compact Chromebook then turns into a bulky knobbly thing just asking for a careless person to damage one of the USB ports.

I understand that there are people with concerns about their privacy and data.  This is not just aimed at Google either and for those people the Chromebook is unsuitable.  With 10gig of internal storage its designed to use the Google drive so you are better advised to get a cheap laptop which will have no links to Google, a larger internal storage and you’ll be able to play DVD etc on it.  You’ll also have function keys, something which are missing from a Chromebook (although with a few key-presses you can get the functionality of them)

A Chromebook is only a replacement for a traditional laptop if you understand that its designed for Google services and outside of the Google ecosystem the Chromebook is not a cheap way to get a laptop experience unless you don’t want all the things that I’ve listed it can’t do.  Want a laptop that just surfs the web but don’t want Google services? Yes, the Chromebook could accommodate that, but again, if that’s your only requirement then I suggest you first look at other alternatives than to a product integrated with Google.

I hope those that feel they can tell people about Chromebook without actually knowing about them can now understand what a Chromebook is and I also hope those that were thinking of buying one are clearer as to if it will meet their needs.

Personally I’m still on my Chromebook and still love it to bits.

Oliver, pester power and in-app purchases

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One time or in-app purchases, either can be fine, but a combination of both?
One time or in-app purchases, either can be fine, but a combination of both?

Imagine if you will, a scene akin to something from the movie Oliver.

A young lad approaches his Dad.  Hands cupping a mobile phone in front of him.  His eyes are wide and pleading.  He speaks, but rather than “Please sir can I have some more” in an Oliveresque type scene, it’s

“Please Dad can I have some more gems for my game”

Every word spoken perfectly, a polite tone, not too much volume and a pause for another attack on his Dad’s conscience with his wide, pleading eyes….

I take the phone from my son, in an almost ceremonial way, we’ve performed this routine so many times in the past, similar to how the Olympic torch is passed at an event to the official managing it.  I, with my debit cards stored in the phone am the one who can make my lad either happy or sad in the few seconds its takes to decide to make the purchase.

I look at the price and frown.  I’m pretending to consider the purchase when in reality there is no choice.  My son knows this, but its an accepted part of proceedings that he pretends to wait upon the decision I’m making, a decision he knows has already gone his way. It’s around $16/£10 and in a few button presses I’m a little lighter financially and my son has scuttled off with the phone to spend in not many more seconds the purchase I’ve just made.

Does that make me a soft parent for giving into my son who has quickly learned how to tug at my heart strings in order to get what he wants?

He doesn’t try this trick with my wife and she is the enforcer of rules when it comes to how long he can play on these games before he has to do something else.

"Please sir, can I have some more gems for Candy Crunch?"
“Please sir, can I have some more gems for Candy Crunch?”

This though, is not pester power.  Pester power is a perpetually looped exchange of “Dad can I have more gems” and me responding “no not today”.

I am a victim of a new technique, a technique which I’m sure is passed around by children at school as the latest agreed method to get what they want out of their parents.  If the Government has documents on the currently agreed methods of teaching, children have their own documents about psychologically attacking their parents.

This probably makes me weak willed, but with a sophisticated attack like this, I have no chance.

It makes me wonder how much money is made by the developers this way.  How many Dad’s around the country are falling victim to the same technique? Who knows, but one thing is for sure in-app purchases have certainly been accepted by the younger generation and by the time they reach my age, I think it will be fully entrenched in society, with physical media being regarded as unnecessary and a waste of space.

We can be sure that when my lad reaches my age, internet speeds will be off the scale compared to that of today and local/cloud storage will be so huge that today will seem an unthinkable way to live.

I’m not against in-app purchases

With being involved in technology, I’m not one to resist change: transition from the BBS to the internet, running software off audiotape to cloud storage no issues at all.  Even in-app purchases I’ve no problem, except for a worrying trend I’m beginning to notice.  I move with the times and whilst I’m not against in-app purchases, there is a huge caveat to that.

If we look at FIFA 14 for a minute (and this is not the only title like this) I paid, I believe $67/£40 for the PS3 version.  Very good game too, until you start playing one of the game modes which has additional purchases you can make.

You often hear developers say that the game is quite playable without making additional purchases and the only drawback will be that it will take you longer to reach your goals.  I would dispute that in the case of FIFA 14.  For the early stages of this game mode, the game plays fine, with a low difficulty setting you can have a good game, however as you progress, the game becomes exponentially more difficult to the point where in the previous game you won the match 2-0 and in this one you are losing 6-0.  Computer players pass the ball with ease whilst yours merely thrash about, fall over or get red cards, the opponents goal becomes an impossible target surrounded by a seemingly impenetrable force field that would make Captain Kirk jealous.

Now some may say I just happen to be hopeless with FIFA 14 and there may be an element of truth there, but in my opinion, the jump in difficulty is just too quick and too steep to be just my lack of skill and if I put a suspicious head on for a moment, I’d say that I’ve hit the point where the developers want me to make further purchases.

In-app purchases are fine when they are added to a “free” (or as they are becoming known freemium) title because when/if the game becomes unplayable, you have the choice to continue or move onto something else.  When you’ve spent around £40 on the title originally, things are not so simple.

I think we need to be voicing our concerns now about these methods.  In-app purchases or an upfront cost.  I don’t think it should be both and we need to be sending out a clear message to developers who do this.

I will not be buying the World Cup version of FIFA because I feel I’m being taken for a fool with FIFA 14.  I hope FIFA 15 will be addressing these issues (I’ve read others with similar complaints) and moving on from FIFA/EA, I hope other developers take note that this is not acceptable.

Regardless of campaigns and websites fighting against in-app/virtual purchases, they are here, they are staying and we are too far “down the line” to go back to old methods.  Remember when mp3’s were first hitting the market? Look at the nay-sayers then.  Now ask yourself, if someone is playing a music track, is it more likely to be streamed/mp3 etc or on a CD?

We are also now branching more into the cloud (as home users) and again, physical media is going and “virtual storage” is coming in.  It’s unavoidable, and the few who hang on to local storage will find these items harder and more expensive to get hold of as time progresses.  Forget privacy and security of data for a minute, that’s another topic, the wind has changed direction and there is nothing people can do about, mainly because the mainstream buying public do not care.  The market is controlled by the majority and its that buying majority that has (rightly or wrongly) complete apathy to the medium in which their goods services are supplied.

The purpose of this article though is more to highlight that whilst in-app purchases, cloud computing and SAAS are in their early days (relatively) we need to legislate or agree a set of terms for which the developers to operate under.  There’s no reason why Google for example could not step in here and enforce rules on the developers in its market-place to abide by, if government are unwilling or unable to do so.

To end on a lighter note, I think in respect of certain developers, this Spinal Tap track is spot on.


Google Glass – Why I’m not interested.

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A short rant for today.

I’m fed up with Google Glass.  Not the endless reviews mind you, I’m fed up with the people not on the Google payroll who insist on pushing it on every user they come across.  These fanboys/girls are so besotted with their latest toy, all reason seems to fly out of the window to the point where they cannot fathom anyone not as excited as they are.

I’ve had a go on one of these devices and I’m impressed with the technology.  It’s one heck of an achievement, but just like in the 90’s when I had a go on the VR helmet/ride which emulated hang-gliding, I don’t want to own one.

So you can have the time constantly displayed in the corner of your vision? I’ve got another device which may amaze you, its called a watch and I only have to turn my wrist towards my eyes to see it.  Can you imagine having one of those days where you’re bored and time seems to lag, only to be reminded of how slowly the time is going in the corner of your vision?  Or what about your alerts? Can anyone envisage needing to instantly “see” your latest email?  People can’t reach into their pockets and look at their smartphone/tablet?  Personally I would like the choice and if I don’t want to read the latest message to me I can leave it in my pocket.  Maybe for Google Glass users, the idea of dipping into their pocket is too much effort?

The biggest problem I have with Google Glass is the fact that if you meet any of its users, you potentially have a camera in your face.  If you went around your local town pointing your phones camera at everyone, how would you think people would feel? and you know very soon, we will see in the news someone abusing the features of Google Glass.

Its reported that Google Glass advocates are coming to your town and that was the catalyst for writing this article.  I am quite happy for Google Glass users to love their devices, however I don’t want them ranting on at me about it and I certainly don’t want their camera’s pointed at me.

There’s something very strange about Google Glass “advocates” and its something akin to Justin Beiber fans.

Hopefully the novelty of Google Glass will wear off, or at-least be limited to their own forums and fan pages.

For the record, I am not a Google “hater” (its one of the ways a Google Glass Advocate rationalizes someone not interested in their toy) infact quite the opposite, I’m currently writing this on a Chromebook and am a very heavy user of many Google services – Doc’s, Drive, Groups, G+, Google, Gmail.  I was also an early adopter of the ill fated GoogleWave and certainly no “hater” of Google products and my smartphones are Android, as are the tablets that I use.

Linux Distro’s, FOSS and the advocates behind them – Some food for thought?

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Since 2008 when OpenBytes was created as a platform to highlight the benefits of GNU/Linux and FOSS itself, little did I know that even though I’ve always kept a foot in the door for the new user (and certainly not gone down the “all or nothing” route some advocates have taken) I too was guilty of forgetting that a “simple to use Distro” is maybe simple to anyone who has had more than a small interest in computers, but the vast majority of people who use their computers have no interest in what’s going on under the hood.   They have no interest in source code (if they even know what it is) and do not see the advantages of FOSS because in their computing lifetime they will not see any benefit to them.  Of course you can argue that even if the end-user is unaware of what FOSS is, they are still unknowingly, gaining benefits of updates, forks or whatever in the future.

I would hope people read the whole (if somewhat long) article because these are my conclusions of many years advocating FOSS and Linux, talking to (and forming good friendships) with the people involved.  I think you will find, if you look back over my years of views that my opinions documented here are no different from those in 2008.  Is this a closure article now my writing interests are diversifying? No, not at all.  For those that don’t know, I’m currently awaiting a release date for my novel and I’m still focused on technology and FOSS, I merely now have less time to dedicate to a subject which is very dear to me.  Over the years I’ve met many advocates of free software, some good and some rather bad.  Bad for many reasons but I do notice a large amount of self claimed “advocates” who have no online presence (except for their posts in forums) who would have you believe in an all or nothing approach and if you can look past their hypocritical (and sometimes vulgar) opinions, I find these people as harmful to would be new Linux and FOSS users as the ones who do anything they can to prevent people using it.

This article has been inspired somewhat by a group of people who for many years (for reasons unknown) have targeted Linux newsgroups and forums with the sole purpose of disrupting the advocacy that occurs.  These “people” will use any means necessary in order to do that and looking at the amount of posts they make all day every day, one has to conclude that either they have a financial interest in free software being hobbled in the eyes of the mainstream, or worse, they merely have nothing else to do but post all day.  One chap in particular who I believe falls into the later category has recently (on top of thousands of words in posts daily) taken to making videos to highlight these “major issues” with Linux.  Now just what an allegedly married man with kids and a computer business is thinking of spending so much time in this way is anyone’s guess but it did help to inspire this article.

Let me give an example of this “man’s” work.  Recently he took to posting a video showing that using KDE and Dolphin file manager, if you put a file to trash then replaced it back to where it came from (in that example the desktop) you couldn’t edit it because of its privileges been changed to read only.  Having not had a need in the past myself this came as a surprise, so I tried it on one of my rig’s.  XFCE DE and PCManFM.  The issue was not emulated and the read/write privileges for that file remained intact, however this example proves two things.  Firstly the depth some people will go to in order to discredit free software and two, for the casual user of tech, did you even understand what I meant by all this?

Who is Linux aimed at?

Most distro’s would boast that they are aimed at new user and expert alike.  Now there are many types of Linux user – the seasoned expert, the casual “know enough” user and the brand spanking new non tech interested user who merely wants to do whatever they do on the computer without having to think about whats running underneath.

Most distro’s hit two of those groups well.  The expert doesn’t need any assistance at all and the casual user has usually dabbled enough to know exactly what they need to do.  The brand new user is a completely different kettle of fish so to speak and this is where Linux fails.

Lets look at Peppermint which is a distro I think very highly of.  Installation was very simple, however it was very simple to someone who has installed Linux before and been presented with less user-friendly options.  Think of one of your non-tech interested friends who use computers regularly – that might even be you reading this article now.  What’s a proprietary driver? Peppermint for example makes it very easy to install these, but if you are not interested in computing, would you know what this meant?  – This is but one example where advocacy and Linux distro’s need to take ownership and realize that if they are to appeal to the mainstream user, these things must be clear, simple and to the point, otherwise it’s another facet of Linux which is a barrier to a new user adopting it.

Whilst the example of file permissions video is an extreme example of a business owner (allegedly) who seems to have more free time than business, it does highlight another issue of Linux – conformity.  I am unclear as to if his discovery is a bug, or maybe some well-intentioned feature, but if indeed it is a feature which the mainstream user wanted, it’s a barrier straight away.

But Linux choice is great?

Absolutely.  I like the fact that I can use KDE on my higher spec’d machine and XFCE where resources are limited – And see? There we go again, advocacy of choice – baffling to anyone wanting to try a different OS for a better experience.  Lets give another example.  I had a friend who wanted to try Linux – mainly because they had been told the experience would be faster than the one they were experiencing currently.  They had performed a little research themselves beforehand and discovered that Linux is sometimes called Ubuntu, sometimes Mint, maybe Sabayon – You get the idea.  Now if the concept of  “flavours” of Linux is not baffling enough, you then have mention of DE’s, file managers and all manner of choices. – All this is great for people who know what this stuff is, but I’d suggest that about 90% of the desktop users have no interest in these things and merely want their computer to perform a task, they may want a faster experience or a more secure one, but as to what is going on underneath, whether the software is proprietary or not, is of no concern.  The majority of users have one computing requirement: “It does what I want it to as quickly as possible and no problems”.  Anything less than this from an OS that is different from the one they’ve used for years and they will go running back to that which they previously used – better the devil you know.

Ethical Software

Proprietary drivers are a good example.  Lets forget about gaming, but on all the rigs I’ve run and installed Linux on, the better performance comes from using proprietary drivers.  Sorry if that offends some people.  Sorry if that’s “evil”, but its the fact.  In fact my experience of the free drivers has been a hit and miss affair.  Whilst I advocate free software, I’m not prepared to gloss over the fact that (certainly on all the set-ups I’ve used) proprietary drivers have performed better.  Now you tell me, if you were to introduce Linux and free software to your Windows using neighbour, would they be interested in listening to a talk on free software and then not having proprietary software in favour of “ethical” software?  I’m sorry – The mainstream are not interested.  Who cares? It’s software? – To be fair to their apathy towards software ethics there are more important things in this world to have a conscience about and even for me, an advocate and user of free software, the “evils” and the “ethics” of free software are well down the list of important issues in the world.

Richard Stallman – A help or hindrance?

There are fewer people who have done more to promote the benefits of free software than Richard Stallman.  Anyone who has followed Mr Stallmans work over the years will see that not only does he have a firm opinion but also sticks with what he says and lives his computing life exactly to his viewpoints with software – that in itself is something worthy of much praise and I hope in the future, he plays a very large part in the computing history books.  But in his dedications I certainly think there are flaws, not flaws in what he says, more flaws in what is expected by him.

In my view, the very last person to appeal to the mainstream non-tech interested user is Mr Stallman. This is not because he is rude or aggressive in his delivery, nor is he aloof or patronizing, its more his unswerving view towards everything which he regards as “ethical”.  For users of free software, Mr Stallman is interesting and provides much food for thought.  For a new user, I would guess he’s baffling, restrictive and certainly not promoting a desirable alternative to say Windows or Mac.  Let me explain.

If we agree that around 90% of the computer using populus have no tech interest, I think we can also say that the vast majority of those non-tech interested also like “fluff” – the bells and whistles that are provided on a new machine when they first switch it on.  Proprietary drivers running in the background, a few proprietary games.  I think you can imagine the type of system they will be running.

Now lets consider what RMS would “approve of” this is rather difficult for me since through the hours of footage I’ve seen of Mr Stallman, he seems more geared around what you shouldn’t use.  But lets imagine something which Mr Stallman would approve of, now imagine presenting that to your Windows using neighbour who doesn’t care about software ethics (or having source code to anything) once you imagine that, I would hope you can see the problem.

The Linux and FOSS world seem to me to be intrinsically linked together in a sort of “all or nothing” type world.  I argue that the reverse should be true.  Why not use Linux yet use proprietary software?  Why not say have a proprietary Operating System and use free software? – If I go to an open air music festival it doesn’t mean I want to wear flowers in my hair and live in a caravan near to Stonehenge.

So what is my answer?

Firstly I think that Linux advocacy needs to be directed at the new user who knows absolutely nothing and has no real interest.  Anyone who does know and you’re merely preaching to the converted.  It’s all well and good RMS talking about software ethics, but the only people he is reaching out to in my opinion are the ones who are already in the know and have made their own decisions.

I think the mainstream distro’s have a responsibility (even with their simple to use installation) to explain and take the users through the steps – the proprietary drivers being an example.  Maybe even have a two option installer, one for the total beginner and one for people whom are comfortable or already know?

I think we also need to speak softly in the ear of the “all or nothing” folk who preach the ethics of free software.  These people whilst get the favour and ear of those in the know do nothing to show the mainstream the value of coming over to Linux.  The aim should be to introduce new users slowly, not throw them in the digital deep and see if they sink.  People (believe it or not) can make up their own mind on where they stand on proprietary, after they have moved from a Windows or Mac machine to Linux.

Hypocrisy? – The Linux gaming and other questions.

Open source gaming can offer many hours of entertainment.  I have reviewed and played many RPG’s which are open source and they have been great.  But when considering the value of open source software, gaming should not be used as an example and I don’t think open source gaming will ever get mainstream penetration for the reasons I list below:

Most of the “popular” open source games are WIP’s.  Whilst the source is open for everyone, how many people have the skills to benefit from it? and why would a hardcore gamer (or a user whom gaming plays a large part in) want’s to play a game whose code (and game is in a state of flux).  People don’t go out and get Grand Theft Auto 5 with a promise “Don’t worry you’ll be able to ride motorcycles in the next version” or “We’ve got someone working on some great features, I know your gun doesn’t shoot straight, but next version we’ll have that sorted”.  Sure, proprietary gaming does have updates, there are sometimes massive problems with proprietary gaming, but as a rule, when you get the latest Grand Theft Auto or similar you get a complete game thats ready to go.  Todays gamer wants it now.  They want it complete.  Open Source gaming does not offer this and even if it did, if we take the popular Alien Arena (FPS) and put it on the PS3 against proprietary alternatives, would it be given a look in? I’d say no.

Many that call themselves open source advocates would disagree with me and list games which are open source and popular and I’ll agree, there are popular games but with todays gamers, can we honestly say Tux Racer offers something more than the experience they would get with say Mario Kart? Is there any benefit Tux Racer has being open source which would appeal or entice the mainstream gamer? I’d say no.  Sorry – the game has a team of dedicated hard-working contributors, the game itself is fun, but it in no way compares to a proprietary equivalent at all.  Want to argue? Try showing Tux Racer to your WII owning neighbour who plays Mario Kart, see what they say.

Now we come to the hypocrisy of some advocates of free software.  Free software is great? Open source is great? Well I’d agree and one of the most popular examples of free software is the emulator.  Retro computing from yesteryear that’s open source. Good idea? Well of course it is.  Emulators are being used in many Linux distro’s and in fact Puppy Arcade dedicates itself to emulating a plethora of old systems that you’ve heard of (and some that you havent).  The trouble is for the open source world is that whilst the popular emulators are open-source, the software which they are designed to run isnt.  A fact which gets conveniently overlooked by some.  It also highlights my point that if open source gaming is so great, how is it that emulators are far more popular and the software being run is proprietary?

The Raspberry PI has been hailed by many as a great piece of kit (and it is, without doubt) but even the PI is running (in some cases) proprietary software with use of emulators.  If your emulator is open source does that discount the “evil” proprietary? I’d say in the case of many of the FOSS advocates it does since they remain very quiet.  I’d expect a boycott of emulators (for the reasons stated above) from them, but instead we don’t get it. (Maybe they are too busy playing SNES Super Mario?)

The market share of Desktop Linux is always up on debate – and I care not for the actual figure.  For the purposes of this article, lets just say it’s between 1-10% (please don’t debate this figure it’s merely for illustration purposes of the point) and I think the contributing factor to the share remaining quite small is that the unrelenting “all or nothing” view pushed by some of the more vocal advocates.

“But open source software is better for the user because  there are no back doors people know exactly what the program is doing!”  Rubbish.  Let me take a current example to highlight this.  But lets firstly remove this myth.  Whilst yes, having the source available enables any back doors to be identified, for the majority of users how do you know that the software your package manager has installed is the same as the source? and even if it is, would you be able to trawl through the code and identify a back-door? I’d suggest the vast majority of open source users (even the experts) would have neither the time or expertise to do that.  It’s ok if you are running a simple little Python script to identify anything untoward, but a binary with thousands of pages of accompanying code? Best of luck.  The other myth about back doors (as current news shows) is that its nothing to do with the software you are running on your machine.  For example, if my Google Mail is being looked at by a government agency, the fact I use Linux and FOSS has no effect on that what so ever.  If my Google drive is being examined, do you think it even factors in that I use FOSS? Of course not.  In addition, if someone wanted to monitor my online activities, then with a court order this could be done at an ISP level. The fact I run Linux or FOSS software again would have no bearing.

In closing

There will never be (in my opinion) a world where there is only open source software and unless the consumer (and that’s a key word here) demands it, there will be no dramatic shift (certainly in the gaming market) towards it.  You only have to look at the most popular BitTorrent client on Windows – it’s not open source, its proprietary, now with the plethora of choice even on Windows for the BT client, why is it that the one which is proprietary is the popular one? It’s because the mainstream don’t care.  You won’t convince them.  So if Linux is to gain further adoption on the desktop (which itself is seeing a decline) then you need to cut back on your “ethics” and consider the “market” in which you are introducing it.  You don’t need to tell me about the benefits and ethics of FOSS.  You probably don’t need to tell most of the people who are reading this (as we already know).  But above all, you certainly don’t want to be preaching it to uninterested potential new users.  You’ll drive them away and back into the arms of a welcoming proprietary environment, that doesn’t baffle them or preach ethics and merely presents them with what they want.


All change at Microsoft? – Or admitting defeat?

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Poor Microsoft, having to release its software on other platforms because only a few are buying theirs.....
Poor Microsoft, having to release its software on other platforms….

Three pieces of news from Microsoft today, which signal to me a change in the companies view of itself and maybe now realizes that as well as having no foothold on the popular markets of today such as smartphones, net services and search, see’s itself more providing software for others in its future.

First up is that on July the 1st there are to be big changes at Microsoft.  Now we could speculate, but I think the time has long since past where Microsoft will regain its former “glory” and now can only sit back and watch itself being ridiculed and its market share in a plethora of services, software and tech be eaten away by competition.

The changes are reportedly being overseen almost solely by Ballmer, with an end goal of changing Microsoft into a “devices and services company”

Source: Independent

And if Ballmer has a hand in these “changes” then I expect them to be out of touch and beneficial to the competition and choice.  And because its Ballmer, we’ll probably get a chuckle out of them too.  Microsoft will be a considerably smaller software only company in the not too distant future – mark my words.  I suppose Microsoft will always have the portfolio of patents in which to fleece money from others – that is until such time as the issue of software patents is handled correctly.

There’s the news that Xbox games are coming to both iPhone and “smartphones” it must really hurt Microsoft just to have to say the “Google” word – especially now that it will be relying on Google’s customer base to buy Microsoft wares.

Through a licensing deal, Klab will bring Microsoft’s Xbox and Windows-based computer games to the iPhone and smartphones using Google Inc’s Android operating system, according to the Nikkei


Bing is due to release “Bing for schools” which allegedly is an ad free and adult free search engine.  Wow…. and suggests that Microsoft really wants to try and save its future by at least indoctrinating the young with their search engine (after all the latest form factors which the younger generation are using certainly do not have the Microsoft name on them).

“We see the program as something we can build alongside teachers, parents, and visionaries to create the best possible search experience for our children….”

Source: Cnet

So really its just going to be a search engine where only approved sites (and I assume approved by humans not bots) will be listed.  Of course how Microsoft would police those approved sites in order to prevent any “accidents” as a result of a comment or link from them is anyone’s guess and the fact that a young person may find a “safe” site as a result of Bing but then link onto something unsuitable, sort of defeats the whole object of the exercise.  Talking of the whole object of the exercise, I think in Bing for Schools its more a case of trying to indoctrinate young people into at least one Microsoft product before they go into employment using Android and Apple products and saying the word “Google”.

Contact points:

Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights on

ANDROID: Steel Commanders – SciFi card battling!

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Gamevil have released their new card game for Android on the Google Play Store.  This science fiction based collectable card game has a more adult slant than their previous success “Monster Warlord” and provides a more customizable experience for choosing your cards for battle.  With Monster Warlord being one of Gamevil’s popular titles, there can be no avoiding comparisons between that and Steel Commanders.

Your standard quest screen.  There's nice special effects for your battles too.
Your standard quest screen. There’s nice special effects for your battles too.

There are three factions to choose from at the beginning of the game – Agartha, Troy or Pacifica, each with their own benefits and there’s even customization of your own leadership, with bonuses to be had on attacks etc as well as being able to distribute points to your quest energy and battle energy (or defence).  Steel Commanders lets you link your profile with either your Gamevil account or Facebook. I chose the later and found my profile pic nicely displayed alongside my profile stats.

The game plays very much like Monster Warlord, in that you have quests to complete (with quest energy required to complete them) and the ability to attack other players, form alliances.  It also has “invasions” which are thrown into your gameplay and allow you to take on boss type characters.

The game is presented very well.  Your cards get experience for the battles they participate in and you can upgrade your cards by combining them with others.

Steel Commanders is very polished in its presentation, it allows for more depth than the comparative title of Monster Warlord and its also a freemium release meaning that you can spend as much or as little on the title as you want.

A side-note here for the many people who complain about freemium, a friend of mine is also playing the Gamevil release Monster Warlord and has not spent any money on it.  I on the other-hand have, yet my friend is further in the game and far more powerful a character, which goes to show either freemium gives you choices in how you play, or I’m absolutely rubbish at Monster Warlord – take your pick!

The artwork in Steel Commanders is very good and you’d be forgiven for drawing more than one similarity to Warhammer 40,000.

The added depth of being able to customize your attack and defence squad, as well as upgrade and gain experience with individual cards, make this a game of more depth than Monster Warlord and maybe for this reason aimed at the older player.

Possibly the depth of this game (especially those new to the card battling genre) may be a little overwhelmed at first.  The tutorial for new players seems to stop abruptly, leaving you to get on with things with very little assistance.  This is not so much a problem if you keep with the game for a few hours and the mechanics of the game reveal themselves to you.

There’s special effects to make the battles far more interesting than the rather generic battles you see on Monster Warlord, however this doesn’t always work in the favour of Steel Commander as its not as simple to merely have a quick play without all the “fluff”.

Yours stats and the game mechanics work very similar to Monster Warlord although there is far more customization to this game.
Yours stats and the game mechanics work very similar to Monster Warlord although there is far more customization to this game.

There’s been a few server errors (yes Steel Commander, like Monster Warlord needs a permanent connection) but that’s probably down to the title being new and the server dealing with the influx of users.

All being said, this is a great title which is sure to reveal more “gems” as time progresses, since its not as established as Monster Warlord, the online help, tips and communities are yet to find their feet.  If you jump on-board now you may well have an advantage when Steel Commanders gets established.  I think Gamevil have another hit on their hands in the coming weeks

Now, when is Monster Warlord Dungeons coming?

Contact points:

Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights on