Misc news: Updates, WII U sales, NX predictions, Weather and the tech baffled.

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I’ve a video arriving shortly with an incredibly interesting interview with Michael Horn, which I’ve put much attention into, its an important interview for me and I’m sure you’ll be impressed at how insightful and intelligent Michael is as well as the information which he has to offer being incredibly relevant to today.

I’ve watched the UK news on the figurative periphery these last few weeks and although I am in the North East of England for the Christmas period this year hoping for a peaceful and relaxing time, I see that even in the NE, its not completely avoided the storms which have hit the country.

A rambling on modern technology and the baffled.

My neighbour has a skill, the ability to break things.  If you gave him a calculator, he’d be able to identify a set of buttons that could crash the thing,  so it comes as no surprise that his purchase of an Android box would end in tears….mine that is.

Whilst we march into this digital revolution of everything being sold with a “smart” moniker; smartphone, smart TV etc, the list perhaps shows that whilst technology may be cheaper and easier to use, there is still a market to help those who when faced with a tech issue, have the ability to break even the most fool proof systems and the one thing that certainly can’t have the “smart” title is the average user.

518873630_c_294_220What part of “If anything goes wrong, leave it and give me a call” is difficult to understand?  Well in the case of my neighbour, the answer is all of it, because when a problem occurred with his Android Box (his net connection went down due to a fault at the local exchange) he started to press buttons.  Quite how he managed in his blind fumbling to reach the menu that reset the box to its factory settings, wiping everything that had been set up on his box, is anyone’s guess.

Suffice to say, my neighbour presented himself to me shortly afterwards, baffled and clutching a vanilla install Android box, to which yet again, I found myself going through the laborious task of getting it back to the way he wanted it.  Since this isn’t a business of mine and I do it out of kindness, I really hope there is such a thing as karma, because if there is, I’m due for a Bill Gates payout.  I have a confession too, when another neighbour presented similar issues to me, dealing with packages I have not used (but could have found out) I referred them to someone who repairs them for a living.

Have you ever tried to explain to the tech baffled that HD space and memory (RAM) are two separate things?  My advice is don’t bother trying, somewhere in recent times one tech hapless individual has declared to another tech hapless individual that the two are the same and its gone viral to all the other tech hapless individuals on the planet and it doesn’t stop there.  I recall with fondness trying to get one of these individuals to understand that a bootable linux USB stick was not a “computer” and could not be plugged into anything to perform as such.

This episode of tech deja vu got me thinking (as similar incidents occur with many people in my life), is that there some people (probably in their millions) who should have no involvement in technology at all.  Cast your eye over at the net result of the average person discovering computing.  We have Facebook drama’s, malware so simple in its deception yet millions falling victim.  Scams a plenty which would have any reasonably intelligent person saying “you’ve got to be kidding” yet millions of people giving out their details (or worse) for the promise of the good life in a random email by a person with a made up name.  Oh and you have the government and its associated agencies, baffled at the fact that people who have been learning with technology all their lives in education and as a hobby, are infinitely more advanced with it than they are.

Whilst its great there’s so many people using and interested in something which for a long time was considered “geeky”, is it not time we returned to the 80’s where the only people using computers and online were the ones who knew what they were doing?  I’d quite happily trade the world wide webs average user, for a quieter experience and be labelled a geek.

wii-u-top1Its time for the WII U!

I think customer loyalty is and always has been a transient thing in the tech world – If it wasn’t, after the NES took the world by storm in the 80’s we’d all be Nintendo owners now.  The market today sees people switching between console platforms (or having all) rather than in the 80’s and 90’s where people generally picked a “side” and stuck with it.

This Xmas (and the sales leading up to it) have, from my observations noticed that many retailers are selling out of the WII U (or at least showing very good sales) now its being bundled at a reduced price.  I checked Argos in the UK for an indicator of what was happening and whilst they still had consoles in stock, it seems the games like Mario Maker were sold out in all the stores that I looked at.  Maybe this is an indicator that there’s many a WII U under the Xmas tree?

I don’t personally think this is in any way indicative of a sway from PS4 or Xbox One, but more that at the lower price, it offers something a little different and good value and its now viable to own as a “as well as” console.

So what’s different about the WII U? Well there is no argument that the specs of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One are significantly higher than that of the WII U, but Nintendo offer something which is quite a draw – No subscription costs for online gaming for starters.  Secondly you have that controller/screen which makes 2 player games on one console all the better (no split screen needed).  You’ve also got the ability to move out of the room your console is in and play your games in another room (via the screen controller).

That’s not to mention the exclusives such as the much loved Mario series and Splatoon.

So whilst Nintendo might not be pleased with shifting consoles at a lower cost, as far as the users are concerned, this is great news, now, its not unreasonable to have two consoles to ensure you get the best possible gaming experience in the home, where the ideal choice (in my view) would be a PS4 and a WII U.

As a parent, I like the Nintendo market better too.  The games (generally) are far more suitable for younger players and often promote more creativity from the user.

I think Nintendo has an opportunity here to maybe make up for lost time and ensure that the titles planned for 2016 hit the market on time.

NX Rumour mill – my views.

I think over the last few years my predictions in the tech world speak for themselves as being accurate and on that note, here’s some more.  The NX will not be a handheld console.  I think Nintendo has seen that the “handheld” war has been won between Apple and Android devices and there’s no inclination or need on behalf of the users to move to another platform.  The NX may well have features enabling crossover between devices (tablet/phone -> NX) but a handheld? No.  It won’t happen.

As for release date, I don’t think it will be early 2016.  I think a summer release (at the earliest is reasonable) with a Xmas 2016 more likely.

No DVD/BluRay drive?  Yes, I can believe this, although I’d expect a huge HD as standard, I’m thinking 1/2tb.  And if Nintendo are going to release this without some innovative new piece of tech (such as the WII when it had it’s release) then its going to have to be considerably more powerful than the PS4.  The price will have to be considered too.  Look at the staying power of the PS3 and the popularity of the PS4.  I think this will be a major hurdle for a new console to overcome unless it is seriously over-spec’d compared to the market or priced at such a silly price, it makes no sense not to jump in.

The more I consider the 2016 release date, the more I doubt it.  Since in my view the 2016 came from reliable sources I’ll give my opinion pertaining to that rumour.  If I was to give my own view, I’d say Nintendo should not be considering this release until at least 2017.  Lets give the PS4 and Xbox One to hit the limits of their tech in games.  I’m not seeing this happening yet and just like on the PS3, even now, produces some titles way above that which was expected it could handle.

Give people time to want a new console, not thrust an alternative onto an established market, otherwise what will happen is that the new console won’t sell and when the established market goes for the upgrade they will again be looking at PS5 or Xbox Two which will most likely have better specs than the NX.  Maybe the biggest problem Nintendo have is that they are out of sync with the rest of the market (in terms of new console releases).  The NX may be better spec’d than the PS4, but when PS4 owners are asking for a new console, I’d be surprised if the NX matched up to the future specs of a PS5.  “Out of sync” in my view is Nintendo’s biggest issue here.


Royal babies, Mojang to be bought & when the best is not the always “the best”

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Breaking news – Kate Middleton has morning sickness…..

The UK as a rule is very quick to jump on a “welfare state” bandwagon when the public feels someone is getting an easy ride.  Thankfully I’ve never needed welfare/benefits at any point in my life, but I fully support the facility to be there for those in need.  The press make a very good job of demonizing those on benefits and whilst there are a minority of cases where there has been abuse/fraud of the system, the vast majority of people don’t get the “easy life” that is promoted in the press and certainly are not in that position by choice.  Talking of the easy life though, there’s one family who every tax payer in the UK already pay a lot of money for.  There’s one family who not only get the best in life – an almost private health care service from the NHS, get driven around, have their own security and will never want for anything in their lives.  Who? The Royal Family of course.

Now lets just stop any difference of opinion right now.  You think the Royal Family earn their keep with tourism et al? Check out the costs to look after the Royal Family (and its extended family) for one month.  If the Royal Family pays for itself (allegedly) why not privatise them? Let them fund themselves, after-all if they make so much money for the UK it should be easy.  Thats the best of both worlds, the UK keeps its Monarchy without the burden to the tax-payer.

I digress, the news I’m commenting on today is the impending new arrival of Kate and William.  One could almost be forgiven that morning sickness in pregnant ladies didn’t exist before Kate had it.  And maybe it doesn’t? Maybe out of all the pregnant ladies around the world feeling sick in the morning are mere pretenders to the one true case of morning sickness in Kate – afterall she is getting Doctors to her home.  I remember back to when my wife had morning sickness, she was told to get on with it.  She certainly didn’t have a doctor “treating” her at our home.  But then as I say, maybe Kate has the only “real” case on the planet.

I wonder, do you think you would get the same service from the NHS should you find yourself in a similar situation? No. I wouldn’t think so.  Maybe your sickness is not really morning sickness as Kate has the only real case, or maybe its just you are not as “important”?

The new addition to the Royal Family is not just another mouth for the tax-payer to feed, it will be the beginning of a further extension to the families demands for money.  Consider that if the child gets married, we now have an obligation to another family for protection, further swelling the size of the financial burden.  How far out does the tax-payers “duty of care” stretch with the Royal Family? I’d say very far and its tentacles will reach far and wide into the pocket of those in the UK especially when you consider the “special arrangements” for members of its extended family.

So please, don’t expect me to be “over the moon” with the announcement of more cost to tax-payers and please if you are a Royal supporter, don’t dare comment negatively about those on benefits – you are happy to fund the mammoth cost of the Royal Family.

Personally, I think people needing help from state benefits are far more deserving of my money than a Royal Family.

Microsoft mines for gold with Mojang

News has been announced that Microsoft is buying Mojang.

For those that don’t know, Mojang is behind the incredibly successful Minecraft game which is available on just about every platform.  Its spawned a massive line of franchise, including toys and there’s no doubt that the simple premise in the game which is akin to digital lego is a massive hit with consumers.

"Mojang and Microsoft sitting in a tree...." - Will the purchase of Mojang by Microsoft end happily?
“Mojang and Microsoft sitting in a tree….” – Will the purchase of Mojang by Microsoft end happily?

Regardless of your views on Microsoft, this probably has to be one of the best decisions its made.  There is a massive amount of mileage still left in Minecraft and having managed to tap into its customers creative side, the life of the game and its associated wares is exponentially increased.

So whilst we all probably agree that it is a good move for Microsoft, the question that arises out of this from many on the net is “where will this leave the PlayStation versions?”

There seems to be a belief by some that Microsoft will stop updates et al on the PlayStation and competing devices in order to further the Xbox title and so make the console more desirable.  I’d say this is wrong.  If we were talking about Microsoft of yesteryear then I think there would have been a possibility, but today Microsoft does not have the same hold over the consumer.  Let me cite some examples:

When Microsoft purchased Skype, they could have cut support for Linux completely. They didn’t.  When Microsoft had Halo franchise on the Xbox did that prevent PS3 sales (and now PS4) overtaking their consoles? No.

Consumers these days have transient loyalties in technology.  If they didn’t then the WII sales would have ensured people jumped on the WIIU.  The PlayStation wouldn’t have floored the N64 all those years ago and the Megadrive would have ensured a top selling Dreamcast.  No.  Today Microsoft can’t exercise its remaining power in the same way and after making the massive purchase of Mojang, its going to want to reap as much reward out of it as possible.  If you look to the PC version, its not a Windows title per say, its Java code, so you can run it on pretty much any modern device.

Of course there will be some who will suggest this purchase is bad.  But for me, as Minecraft was never an open source title in the first-place, I don’t see the issue with Microsoft holding the strings instead of any other proprietary firm.  My opinions on FOSS and proprietary in gaming remain unchanged.

The move though does say much for Microsoft.  Yet again we are seeing Microsoft taking on the success of others rather than its own innovation – its just lucky that Microsoft was able to dominate the market years ago and have a war-chest of cash in order to make these types of purchases.

When “the best” is not always “the best”

“You get what you pay for.”,  “Buy the best you can afford”, “False economy” – All pieces of advice when buying technology, under the view that if you buy the best you get the best results.  This is not always true and I found this out myself.

My wife was going shopping and I had decided that now was the time I should get myself a new digital camera.  Quality in camera, I’m told, is important for taking perfect shots.  She knows about as much about camera’s as I do, but certainly knows that a cheap camera of unknown brand is not going to have the quality of say a Canon or Nikon or any of the others.  With that in mind though, she knows my photography past.

Years ago, I jumped on the tech bandwagon and purchased one of the early digital camera’s.  I think it was a 2mp Fuji.  Point and snap.  I had some limited success with my photography too, but what I did was to snap the photo “normally” then use PSP or similar to get some fancy effects.

So my wife returns from the shops and says the words that fill me with dread: “Your’e going to be pleased, I’ve got a really good deal, the man in the shop said it was the best camera they have”  My brain works overtime as I imagine a 4 digit number spining like a fruit machine before settling on a large sum.  There’s only one type of good deal available on the highstreet and its one where the vendor is the beneficiary.  And it was a good deal, if you are a professional photographer and have the first clue whats going on.  Maybe someone who snaps photo’s for celebrity magazines would think the price I paid was good.  I, do not.  I’ve owned cars when I was young that cost less than this.

One of my shots from the other evening.  In my defence it was under artificial lighting and at the far end of its x30 optical zoom.
One of my shots from the other evening. In my defence it was under artificial lighting and at the far end of its x30 optical zoom.

But I have got the very best! where you may have a point and click camera, I have one who’s back is stuffed with so many buttons and dials that it resembles the cockpit of a space shuttle rather than a camera.  And can I use the damn thing? No.

“Helpfully” the instruction manual is a PDF document to download and adding insult to injury whilst it tells me how to do something with the camera, it gives me no clue as to what that feature is…..its all f-stops and ISO’s.  Why do I want to change the ISO when I don’t know what that means in photography terms in the first place?  Yes, I know there is Google, but I just want to take pictures, not engage in a full on photography course.

I feel like a farmyard chicken, who instead of being built a wire fence to protect him from foxes, has been given a semi-automatic rifle by the farmer and told (in chicken talk) to “get on with it”.

So I switch it onto auto mode and it sort of works, although I am sure I took better pictures with my old camera….and it just goes to show you, you don’t always get what you pay for.  I’m thinking that the unbranded £30 digital camera would probably have been a more sound investment.

Musing: Microsoft to offer its software on Linux – A theoretical consideration.

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Microsoft has a new CEO, Microsoft doesn't have as much a hold on tech as it did.  What would happen if it moved its flagship product to Linux?
Microsoft has a new CEO, Microsoft doesn’t have as much a hold on tech as it did. What would happen if it moved its flagship product to Linux?

This musing comes as a result of a topic brought up over on Usenet.

The crux of this article is around a fictitious headline of:


Take a few seconds to consider how you would feel, then maybe be kind enough to hear my view.

So it’s great? Microsoft’s flagship product now available to those who in the past had only LO, Abiword etc to chose from.  Now you can run natively on your Linux box that which Windows users have been for years.

Bad idea? Yes completely, here’s why.  Let me just add before someone mentions it, yes I know Microsoft produces code for the Kernel.  Have I an issue? No, because in that respect it is as part of a team of developers who all have various quality checks and testing – kernel devs don’t mindlessly accept all code and say “cheers mate” as they paste it in with a text editor.  The process I’d suggest is more complex and even if Microsoft wanted to (which I’m sure it wouldn’t) there’s little chance of anything “naughty” going on there.  So for me, Microsoft contributions are welcomed, if with a little surprise at myself saying that.

Microsoft moving its products to Linux? Different matter.  I should say that my feelings about Microsoft having its product on Linux would be similar with any large corp, Adobe or anyone else.  This article isn’t so much a critical piece on Microsoft in that respect because this is only a theoretical question and to my knowledge Microsoft have not discussed or made moves to bring say Office to Desktop Linux.

Microsoft, like any large corp can afford losses much easier than most.  They can sell or provide at a loss for a long period in order to recoup the amount later.  Bill Gates (to use an example) was quoted as saying:

About 3 million computers get sold every year in China, but people don’t pay for the software. Someday they will, though. As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They’ll get sort of addicted, and then we’ll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade.

And to be fair, large corps can have long term strategies where small ones cannot. Its smaller ones that we are going to consider.  I’m not going to use the name of a real Linux distro because its unfair to second guess what they would do, so for the purposes here, lets say the most popular distro is Really Good Goblin Linux (or RGGL)

So RGGL gets in its flashy app store Microsoft Office.  Do you think its beyond the realms of possibility that Microsoft would want people (and the store) to favour its product?  I think its very reasonable.  Large firms don’t make money by giving it to competition.  Large firms don’t give a swift handshake and a “Jolly good show” to a competitor when they lose a sale.  So could it be reasonably considered that Microsoft could offer the Distro maker incentives for sales of their product over the other alternatives in the store? A sort of commission? I’d say yes.

Is that fair? Well its possible, if Microsoft spend money on development, bring it to Linux, they are going to want a return.  They are not going to say “Before you buy our product, check out Libre Office first”.  How could Libre Office compete with a Microsoft marketing machine on Linux?  What if Microsoft gave it away with a view to charge later?  When we look to the past allegations against Microsoft, that doesn’t seem too unrealistic.

And we know Microsoft deals in huge amounts of money, we know that Microsoft can and does market aggressively.  So here is our RGGL and their app store.  Here is Microsoft with their investment and wallet full of money.  What do you think will happen?  I’m not necessarily suggesting anything underhanded, I’m suggesting business – big business from a firm who in the past has been to court and been accused of quite a few dodgy practices.  It may not happen, but I think its reasonable to suggest and certainly cause enough for concern for me to say that out of choice I’d not like to see Office on Linux.

We don’t have to cast our minds back far when Canonical and Amazon news was released.   Now whilst then it wasn’t anything like Microsoft bringing Office to Linux, we can see that when you have partnerships, people can get upset.

One of the general arguments for Office on Linux is that it would bring more users to desktop Linux.  I’d say no because peoples need (either imagined or real) for Windows is far more than just Microsoft products, products which they would be needing to look at using Wine as an alternative.  Wine is excellent but for a new Linux user straight from Windows trying Wine to get other binaries working? I’d say that’s not ideal and I don’t think on the strength of Microsoft’s Office suite alone you’d get users moving from Windows to Linux.

And what of the Linux users now? What of the FOSS advocates? Will they warm to the idea? Would they be buying the Microsoft products that until now have not been native to Linux?  I’d say no in the main, I’d say the Microsoft of the past and the fact its a proprietary office suite would stop purchase.

So would this be bad for Microsoft? Well I thnk so.  If I think Windows users have more than Office in their Windows needs in the main, then I can’t see either home or business turning around and saying “Right, pack the bags, Office is on Linux, we’re leaving”

Moving outside of Microsoft and looking at the general picture, we need get away from the circle of proprietary file formats.  We have fantastic packages here promoting the use of open formats and providing a great end user experience.  Libre Office and what its dev team provides to millions of people around the planet is outstanding and its not there to keep you in any ecosystem, its merely providing great software and accessibility for all. This is but one example – but its relevant to the subject at hand.

We are slowly moving towards less of a locally based application ecosystem.  In the cloud, software as a service, web based – all words thrown about and used to show that we are moving away from the idea of having apps and working “traditionally”.  There are users with concerns here and unfortunately for those they will ultimately end up wherever the mainstream masses decide.   And the mainstream masses in my view have very little concern.  If they did then all the allegations about Facebook et al would have seen a mass exodus overnight. – This further reinforces that this musing is merely theoretical and in the future it will be all about services rather than OS’s for users and its this reason why I think Microsoft’s future plans will not be looking at other platforms for their software, but rather web-based services/apps that can be sold to anyone with a browser.

If you believe that Office coming to Linux would be a good thing, I’d love for you to have your say.  Maybe there is facet of this view missing? Maybe you can offer another outcome to my views about Office on Linux? – This article was written on the back of some disagreement in Usenet.

As always though, thanks for reading.

Venting in an old fashioned blog rant

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Its time for a rant and a collection of annoyances from over the past few days.

They say its better to express it rather than bottle it up, so if I can entertain you at the same time then that will be an added bonus.

My first annoyance from this week is Youtube. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to sit through a forced 30 second commercial.  The main offender here seems to be Microsoft pushing its new console.  I’m fed up with it.  Sales for the Xbox One must be really dire.  Youtube has become somewhere far less appealing to me, I now find myself frequenting its treasure trove of goodies far less.  I suppose that’s no bad thing.  I should be getting on with work instead.

The professional troll.  Ever since vile people found they could make money on television, there are pretenders popping up all over Twitter.  Hiding behind their computer screens and an ethos of “It’s free speech, if you don’t like it don’t read it” they spread their abuse around the web in the hope that someone will give them a job. (Thats my theory anyway).  These bastions of bile have not yet realized that we do have freedom of speech, just with that freedom comes a little personal responsibility.  As adults I think we accept that actions have consequences, but these cowardly trolls who seek to upset people under the guise of faux “campaign” can’t grasp that its possible to put your opinion over without insulting complete strangers.

I’ve already ranted about Google Glass.  Its now been seen on Prince Charles, which I assume is some sort of endorsement.  For me a recommendation about tech from the Prince is akin to a recommendation for an antiperspirant deodorant by Steve Ballmer.  Google glass fan boys/girls can be a funny lot (and sometimes quite aggressive in their advocacy) there’s a good name for them which I saw on the net “Glasshole”

Here’s one thing that made me chuckle:

Microsoft has launched a buyback program to try to get MacBook Air owners to part with their laptops and replace them with new Surface Pro 3 devices.

Source: Computer World

Really? Trade in a Mac for Microsoft’s offering? That’s like swapping a Lotus for a pedal cycle.  At least it shows Microsoft is getting a sense of humour.

I feel better after that.  Thank you for your time.

Web round up – Microsoft, Google and phones!

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Some of these subjects I’ll be covering in a solo broadcast of Techbytes (which I lovingly refer to as Techbits) since my co-host and I are having issues in the meeting of minds as I’m using a Chromebook at the minute and it has limited broadcast choice.  We hope to return to normality asap.

Microsoft seems to have dumped its Kinect, or at least removed it from Xbox One bundles and subsequently reduced the price.  Desperation by Microsoft? Well since the PS4 has the better specification in my view, its still not offering value for money and I think Microsoft have got problems.  Not problems like the poorly received WIIU, but I get the impression the Xbox One has been received in a similar way and this is certainly not what Microsoft had planned.  There’s doom and gloom on the subject of Kinect at the moment, however we may see a surge in use on other platforms.  There’s quite a few developers who have taken an interest in using the Kinect in innovative ways, so maybe instead of acting as a device to sell more Xbox One’s, it will be a sucess in its own right.  Who knows? Who cares? And I’ve little sympathy or love of Microsoft who’s products I’ve been burned by (metaphorically) and who’s business practices have been highlighted time and again.

Talking of business practices, Google have a bit of a problem on their hands with the EU ruling allowing people to remove themselves from search results.  Is this good? Well no, because as we have seen already, there’s been a sex offender who wants Google to forget him. I personally think all sex offenders should be named, shamed and put permanently on the internet for all to see.  It may act as a deterrent to these individuals and if it doesn’t, at least it warns others of these “people” in society.  Remove them from search results? No way.  There’s also apparently an MP who has made the request of Google and I think I can guess who (after seeing numerous news reports of his conviction at the time).  If I’m right, I’ll be helping getting the results “remembered” again on my Twitter/Site, if he manages to disappear.

Going back to Microsoft, there’s a new report that Whatsapp has been removed from its Windows Phone Store….bad news for all 4 Windows Phone users…..joking aside, at time of writing it seems that no reasons have been given for the removal.

Google maps has apparently updated its cycle routes….great, that’s all we need – to encourage more cyclists.

And that’s my round up for today.  I plan to get a TechBits episode released this weekend so I hope to see you there!

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.


Google Drive – Price dropped, more woes for Microsoft?

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I’ve often written about Google services and pay for extra storage on my Google Drive (100gb).  This morning I recieved an email to inform me that the price has now been dropped which means I’m now paying $1.99 for my 100gb.  That equates to about £1.20 a month for me.

Techcrunch reports:

Google’s new prices significantly undercut those of many of its competitors in this space. Dropbox, for example, charges $9.99 a month for 100GB. Paid plans for Microsoft’s OneDrive, which offers 7GB of free storage, start at $25 per year for 50GB of storage and 100GB costs $50. Google, as far as I’m aware, does not offer any discounts for pre-paying for an annual plan.


So yet again we see Microsoft on the back foot.  Recently Microsoft reduced the price of the Xbox One to match the PS4, the difficulty here though is that the PS4 in my view is vastly higher specification than its lesser XboxOne cousin.

It'll be a long time before Microsoft sinks, but when it does, don't expect it to go down quietly.
It’ll be a long time before Microsoft sinks, but when it does, don’t expect it to go down quietly.

When we look at the mainstream consumer, the desktop is being replaced with tablets and mobile devices, both of which Microsoft has very little claim to.  Consoles are increasingly the one-stop shop for gaming and entertainment and worse still, if sales are correct, even Nintendo managed to outsell Microsoft last month in this department.

Perhaps the smartest decision Steve Ballmer ever made was to get out when he did.

Is Microsoft a sinking ship? Well with its war-chest of cash it will take a long while.  What I do think though is Microsoft is a spiteful bully and if it does go down it will bring as many others down with it as it can.