Anyone else out there sick of "Us versus Them"?

Well? No, I am not talking about politics, war, or religion (though I guess I could be). I am talking about the software/technology business. There are days the whole business just annoys the crap out of me. Let me step back a bit…

I was just on Google Reader, reviewing my various RSS feeds – specifically my Digg feed. I know I should stay away from that feed, but I just cannot seem to – it is like watching Fox News, or listening to clips from Howard Stern, even though I know something in there is going annoy me, bug me, disgust me or otherwise create negative feelings, I just cannot resist looking.

What typically ticks me off on Digg is a post (usually more than one) on the following ongoing us-versus-them arguments:

  1. Linux versus Windows
  2. Mac OSX versus Windows
  3. Open Source versus Microsoft
  4. Open Source versus any commercial software
  5. ODF versus Open XML
  6. Java vs C++ vs .NET versus any other language
  7. Dynamic languages versus any other languages
  8. Web Applications versus Desktop Applications
  9. And many many more

At any given time on Digg, on blogs, and in the “regular” press, you can find lots and lots of people blathering on about these subjects. Sometimes, you can even find me blathering on about them. Most of these posts are characterized by the following:

  1. They are poorly written, grammatically incorrect, etc.
  2. They are very emotional, and often hate-filled (and occasionally filled with colourful metaphors)
  3. They are low on factual information
  4. They imply (or more often, openly state) that anyone who disagrees with the post is so completely stupid that they do not deserve to live

Here are a few examples: So you think that Microsoft’s Open Office XML is ‘Teh Shiznitz’?, Virtualize Windows on Linux? Microsoft Says No Way!, Surprise: Microsoft not so ‘open’ after all?, Is the era of Microsoft Ending?, and a lot of the VistaSucks blog.

There are days that I feel if I hear/read/see one more of these stories, I am going to trash my computer, tie my belongings in a kerchief on the end of a stick and become a hobo. In a more productive vein, I would like to suggest the following guidelines:

  1. Use whatever OS you like. If you like Linux, use Linux. If you like Windows, use that. Same for OSX. Heck use CPM if you want.
  2. If you are a programmer, use whatever language you want, or which makes sense for a given project. If your employer will not let you use the language you like, stop whining and get a new job.
  3. If you like MS Office, use it. Same for OpenOffice or StarOffice.
  4. If Web Applications make sense for you, use them. If you like desktop apps, use them.
  5. Whatever you use for whatever you do, please shut up about it, and stop trying to convert everyone in the world to your point of view!

Am I getting too old for this?

So it is the weekend, and my brain is tired from being on vacation all week (I read even more when I am on vacation than when I am at work – that is why I take vacation, to catch up on my reading!). Looking at a lot of stuff I am following lately, much of it relates to social networking, web 2.0, mashable content, etc. – much the same as everyone else in this business I guess.

There is also a significant amount of press related to age, and this being a young person’s game.

You know, the idea that no one who is not in their 20s or younger should be starting a Web 2.0 business, and people in their 40s are completely out of it.

Now, I personally do not buy this for a minute (probably because I am in my 40s). I do start wondering, however, whether I really grasp all of this stuff. I get a lot of it, but some of it is just beyond me. I have already talked about Second Life, and I still am not convinced that it is meaningful. There are Twitter and Pownce. These I just do not get. I do not need to know that much about anything anyone is doing. Mashups I get, and I wholeheartedly agree with the idea, but I do not think I get them on that deeply intuitive level.

So, I ask the question. Am I getting too old for this?

Open XML versus ODF, Part III

Well, since I did not receive any pointers to more analyses from my last post, I went searching on my own (doing the work myself always being a last resort!) I have found a number of articles which were very informative and seemed well put together. I am still reading and re-reading some of them, so my opinions my changed, but they all seem to be at least thoughtful analyses.

ODF/OOXML technical white paper has a fairly detailed analysis, though from the outset the author admits that the underlying philosophy of the paper is

“We are of the view that the format appears to be designed by Microsoft for Microsoft products, and to inter-operate with the Microsoft environment. Little thought appears to have been exercised regarding interoperability with non-Microsoft environments or compliance with established vendor-neutral standards [11].”

This seems to be an underlying theme of most of the articles – to start with the purpose of showing “why ODF is good and Open XML is bad”, as opposed to being purely unbiased form the start. This paper appears to be relatively fair in its analysis, however.

I also stumbled across a number of articles related to errors in the spreadsheet formula portion of the OOXML documentation, such as Microsoft OOXML spec ‘dangerously flawed’. While I would agree that these flaws (if they exist – I have not searched for them, but I beleive they do) are important, you do not through out a proposed standard because of flaws like this, you fix them and move on. I would be relatively surprised if a 6000-page document did not contain any errors. I would see this as an argument against fast-tracking standardization, but not for throwing the Open XML specification out altogether.

Then there are the documents presented on http://www.noooxml.org/arguments. While I am sure there are some great documents on this site, for my purposes I excluded them from the outset, since the site is obviously biased. For similar reasons, I did not go searching around Microsoft’s web site, or Microsoft Blog’s for information supporting Open XML.

The wiki at http://www.grokdoc.net/index.php/EOOXML_objections maintains a substantial list of concerns with the Open XML specification. There are concerns in there with which I agree, and others with which I do not. It, also, starts from the premise that “Open XML is bad”, and so is not really an unbiased analysis.

One thing that struck me as interesting, is that outside of the purely Microsoft sphere of influence (the Microsoft web site, Microsoft blogs, etc.), I came across no information presented from a Microsoft perspective, or analyzing why Open XML is better or as-good-as ODF. It seems the Microsoft camp is focusing purely on “we would like to get this specification standardized”, rather than attacking the alternative.

This leads to the question, isn’t that the correct approach? Let the Open XML specification be standardized (with identified “real” problems fixed, and let Darwinism decide which format survives?  (I can hear the Open Source community crying already!)

But, isn’t that what having alternatives is all about?

Linux sucks – especially Ubuntu

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I like to play with Linux periodically just to keep current (actually, I like to play with almost all technologies, but there is just never enough time). I have also done quite a bit of development on Linux for server applications, though I must admit it has been a number of years.

This past weekend, it was time to rebuild my laptop, which I do every few months because I have a tendency to install a lot of trials and betas and other stuff that just generally polutes my system. Since I was reinstalling anyway, I decided it would be fun to use Ubuntu as my main OS, and do all my other stuff (i.e. Windows) through virtual machines. So, I downloaded Ubuntu Desktop 7.04, burned it out to a CD, booted up and away I went. For about 30 seconds. Then the installer from the disk crashed and burned. I tried it several different times, playing with suggestions I got from forums and stuff. No luck – it appears the installer did not like the X1400 video card in my Dell laptop (all pretty standard stuff). I could probably continue to play with this, and I am pretty sure I would find some way to get it installed. Or, i could use a different Linux distribution. That would defeat the point, however, as what I was really trying to check out was whether the current hype about Linux being ready to make the move to the desktop is real.

This brings me to the title of this post. Do I think Linux sucks? No, I think Linux is great. Do I think Ubuntu especially sucks? Not at all, though I did not really get a chance to find out.

As I read various blogs (Linux blogs, Microsoft blogs with comments from Linux zealots, Open Source blogs, etc.), I frequently see comments of the type “Microsoft sucks, and everything they build is crap, because I tried to install “product X” on “machine Y” and it didn’t work.” This type of broad generalization seems to be endemic in the open source and Linux communities, primarily when talking about anything Microsoft. Sure, I have run into problems installing and using stuff from Microsoft. I have also run into problems installing and using products from pretty much every software vendor I have run into in the last 20 years. It is an unfortunate fact of life (though I do not believe it has to be this way).

As much as I love open source software, including Linux, fanatics in the open source community have really been getting on my nerves lately (it is much the same way I feel about golf – I love golf, but golfers annoy the heck out of me).

So, by the logic of the open source world, am I justified in saying “Linux sucks – especially Ubuntu”?

Second Life: What’s the Big Deal?

Ok, so I have been thinking about this post for a long time. There is a constant stream of hype around Second Life and the opportunities which abound in that world. It is very hard to look anywhere on the web without someone raving about Second Life. Am I the only person in the world who just does not get it? I understand the concept – I mean I have spent time over the years in various online collaborative environments, ranging from IRC, text-based MUDs, web-based chat rooms, IM (hey, I had a 5-digit ICQ number), helped build a voice over IP conferencing system, and wasted ridiculous amounts of time in online games like Ultima Online and World of Warcraft. I have often thought about the integration of collaborative goals with the immersive environments like WoW. I think there are definitely possibilities, and the success of Second Life seems to be proof of that.

My problem with Second Life is with the implementation, not the idea. I have been on Second Life quite a bit in different spurts over the last year, having spent I think enough time there to get a good feeling for how it works. To be really blunt, I found the graphics in it to be really clunky and laggy, and not visually compelling at all (as one of my kids said, “so last millennium”). The interaction with the virtual world is very frustrating (largely due to the lag, I would guess). I wonder how much of the draw of users to this world is driven from the hype OUTSIDE of Second Life, and not by anything inside, because I saw nothing inside to bring me back.

Maybe if someone were to create a better implementation, with the graphics most people have come to expect, without the lag, I might come to believe in the model. Until then, all I see is hype driving yet another wave with little behind it.

I have a lesser problem with the idea of trying to replicate the real world in a virtual environment in order to improve collaboration. I think it is a far better idea to create immersive environment which does not imitate reality, and which takes advantage of this to enable collaboration.

Am I the only person who thinks that the emperor has no clothes?

A Quick Update

I have been unable to post the last couple of weeks as I have been tied up with a bunch of stuff for work (don’t you hate it when work gets in the way of blogging?). Anyway, I have a couple of posts which I have been working on which I hope to post this weekend – one is a followup to my previous post New Product Ideas – How hard can it be?, and will talk about some thoughts I have on actually generating and selecting new product ideas. The other is just some ramblings I have on Bubble 2.0 – questioning whether we (the tech world) and the whole “Web 2.0” community are blowing another bubble, complete with silly valuations, ridiculous buyouts, and not much real business sense. I have not finished writing it yet, so I do not know what my conclusion will be – you will find out when I do (or the other way around).

One of the saddest things I have seen in a long time…

I just finished reading Death threats against bloggers are NOT “protected speech” (why I cancelled my ETech presentations), having been led there from Taking the week off. Before I get to expressing an opinion about this, I just want to express my support for those who have been the victim of these attacks.

The kind of abusive, sociopathic behaviour demonstrated in the posts they are talking about really makes me sick. I have only been following the blog world for a little while, but I have been participating in and watching online interactions since the early 90s – including IRC, then ICQ, various more mainstream chat environments, and multiplayer games. Watching verbal abuse in chat rooms. Watching anti-social, racist, sexist, and just generally unacceptable behaviour is games like Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, and Halo, not to mention Saint’s Row (note that I am NOT criticizing these games per se – I am commenting on the behaviour of people in these games where they can hide behind thier characters).

It has always boggled my mind how many people abandon all civility and rational behaviour as soon as they think they believe they are protected by anonymity.

It has at times made me question human nature. Are these people representative of the world at large? Would they act this way in the “real” world if the thought they could get away with it?

I guess that last point is what scares me the most. It makes me wonder how much of “civilization” really is just a thin veneer – given the right (or wrong) circumstances, would much of the population resort to this kind of behaviour if there were no consequences, like we’ve seen in all those “post-apocolyptic” science fiction movies?

I would like to hope not – but this kind of stuff scares me.