Interesting traffic trends…

I had a noticeable spike in my blog traffic this week – interesting since I did not post much. As interesting as the spike, however, was that almost all of the extra traffic came from Fort Worth, Texas, and most of it was looking at old posts and my about page.

Somebody’s watching….

DesktopLinux.com takes a swipe at Vista to promote Linux

Looking at DesktopLinux.com takes a swipe at Vista to promote Linux, and the referenced article, I wholeheartedly agree with Loren on this, though I do not seem to have the willpower to resist commenting on this stuff. I have said it before, and I will say it again – the Linux community has to shut up about Vista, and about Microsoft in general. It hurts them, more than helping them. The kind of drivel in the DesktopLinux.com post just makes Linux evangelists sound like babbling morons. It really hurts any chance Linux has of being taken seriously.

It is also interesting to see the Linux community so excited by how much progress they are making on the desktop – as reflected by the number of diggs a statistic like Linux bypasses Windows 98 in use. Wow – Linux is outperforming a no-longer-supported OS. And they are up to 1.34%. And Windows XP only has 83%! Even the much hated Windows Vista has more than twice the desktop presence of Linux.

Face it folks, at the moment, Linux is nothing but a novelty on the desktop. In the real world, it is meaningless. Hopefully, in the future, it will become a real contender. But please, until it does, stop pretending.

Is Vista as bad as they say?

Over the last few months (or the last year or more), it has become extremely fashionable to beat up on Vista. Heck, it is a great way to generate hits on you site or blog, maybe get Dugg, whether you have anything useful to say or not. I am talking about posts like this, or this, or this whole blog.

Personally, I run Vista on several machines, and have few problems which were not related to the failure of third parties to provide updated drivers, or updated versions of software for Vista (sometimes makes me wonder if there has been a conspiracy on the part of other vendors to purposely sabotage Vista – but it is more likely just not bothering to provide what customers pay for). I also still run XP on a couple of boxes, and Win2K3. On my main development box, I also run a number of operating systems in VMWare, including WinXP, Win 2K3, Fedora, Ubuntu, and several “minimalist” Linux distros for playing around with.

An unfortunate fact of life is that all operating systems available right now suck, at least in some aspect or another. Linux suffers from many driver limitations (though this is getting better), and a wannabe user interface that spends far too much time trying to look like Windows, while missing the point of usability altogether. Windows (all versions) suffer from security issues, and from performance and stability issues inherent in trying to be all things to all people. I will not comment on Mac OSX, because I have not run it. It is also kind of irrelevant, since I cannot run it unless I buy Apple’s hardware.

Vista has its own usability issues. Some that are pointed out are valid. The UAC implementation is moronic. The UI path you have to follow to connect to a wireless network is annoying. Here is one I discovered today – disk defragmentation. When you defragment you hard drive you get this useful dialog:

defrag

Isn’t that helpful? No progress indication. No estimated time to completion. Just a statement that it could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Gee, thanks.

The problem is, this kind of thing is not just a problem in Vista, or Windows in general. It is pervasive in all operating systems, and almost all software written to run on them. Most software is filled with minor little usability gaps like this.

So stop beating up on Vista (unless you need the traffic), and start thinking about how to make the whole situation better.

Apple’s Mac Set to Soar?

I am always amazed (and somewhat amused) to listen to the press and many bloggers pound on Microsoft, and hold up Apple as this golden idol of alternatives. Don’t get me wrong, I love Macs – I have ever since I started using and programming them back in the late 80s. I even liked the Newton. And the new iMacs – damn I want one.

But there are a few points of the Microsoft is evil/apple is great discussion that I find deeply amusing and ironic:

  1. Apple, with Steve Jobs, handed the desktop market to Microsoft on a platter. The Mac UI in the early eighties was way beyond anything Microsoft would produce until Windows 95. With that lead, Apple could have taken over the desktop. However, through the closed, anti-clone, “we must maintain the purity of the platform” view they had through the eighties, they gave that advantage away. Even though DOS was crap in terms of usability, and Windows was graphical crap, the availability of cheap clones and many, many hardware choices, the PC won out. Once again, inferior technoogy won because the people behind the better technology acted stupidly. (Note that Steve Jobs continued this stupidity with more great technology with Next).
  2. Apple has always been the ultimate “closed platform”. Standards rarely come into play. If you want to develop on the Mac (at least anything useful) you use our tools. Until recently, even all of the hardware has been non-standard. If Microsft were anywhere near as closed as Apple, the Justice Department would have shut them down. Heck, on many Apple devices, you are not even allowed to change your own battery, or add an industry standard memory card.
  3. Apple has rarely created technology which benefited (from a tech community sense) anyone but Apple. Consider Microsoft’s Tablet PC platform. Microsoft could have “gone it alone” on the Tablet, as Apple would have (and probably will). Instead, Microsoft defined the specification for a Tablet PC, and left it to hardware vendors and startups to build the hardware, and IVSs to build the application, thus creating a sub-industry benefiting many businesses beyond Microsoft. Compare to Apple and the launch of the iPhone.

Again, I love Apple, and I think they have some of the best design people in the world. But I do not fool myself into believing that they are in business for anyone’s benefit but their own.

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?

I do not see Microsoft going down just yet

It seems there a few almost guaranteed ways to bring some hits to your tech blog, and maybe even get it dugg:

  1. Say something really, really smart about things that people really want to read about
  2. Say something very controversial about something people love or hate
  3. Declare Microsoft dead

(of course, I always go for approach #1 😉 )

I was reading yet another post over on ZDNet (Is the era of Microsoft ending?) declaring that Microsoft is dead, or soon will be. I do not really see much data that supports anything in the post, and the post itself certainly does not provide any. Microsoft still has pretty good numbers, a fair amount of cash, and some market share to play with. And in many of their primary business units, they have minimal realistic competition. And in areas in which they are late to the table (search, online advertising, etc.), while they are certainly not dominant, they are not out of the game, either.

Will Microsoft reign supreme forever, as it has for much of the last 10-20 years? Maybe, maybe not. Like most businesses, if they fail to adapt to new technologies, new circumstances,  and new competition, they will not be successful. If they do it enough, they will whither and die. Even now Microsoft is going through major transitions, as Gates begins to step away from operations. A transition like this is difficult for any company.

I will repeat what I said above – if they fail to adapt, they will die.

However, I do not see a lot of signs of this happenning right now. yes, there are areas where they have slipped up. The only business that never screws up is one that never tries anything new (and that business is already screwed from the start).

It will definitely be interesting to see where the computer industry is 20 years from now, but I would be very surprised not to see Microsoft alive and well, and extremely viable long after many of us have stopped worrying about it.

Computing Infrastructure as a Utility

Just read Nirvanix To Challenge Amazon S3. I have been playing with Amazon’s web services for a number of months now, and I am impressed with some of what is there, and Nirvanix looks to be in a positions to challenge the same space. I find it interesting to look at some of the “success stories” on Amazon’s web site, reflecting to the potential for web startups to avoid large initial investments in infrastructure. Even in a well funded startup, it would make sense to focus resources on core IP, as opposed to buying infrastructure.

In my opinion, this is a more fundamental shift than many trends receiving a great deal more hype. Previous ASP hosted models, and more current SaaS models are less fundamental than this. To have a computing infrastructure that performs like a utility opens up many new possibilities.

Now I just have to figure out what they are 🙂

Usability Rant – Searching the Web for Documents, and saving them locally

I spent much of the morning (as I frequently do on weekends) doing research on a topic which has caught my interest through the week. I use a number of sources – sometimes just a web search, often a more targeted search like ACM’s or IEEE’s digital libraries. Usually, I do not read the documents I find right away. I like to search, find a significant number of interesting papers, and then I transfer the documents to my Tablet where I can read them, mark them up, and take notes.

This morning I was searching one of the digital libraries (I will not say which one, because I do not think my issue is with a specific library, as much as with the whole web), and saving the documents out to a sub-folder in my Documents folder under Windows Vista. So, the sequence of actions was like this:

  1. Perform a keyword search on the topic of interest
  2. Start looking at the list of hits presented 10 at a time (like almost all web search – I have already talked about how much I hate this model)
  3. I click on the available PDF to view it, which opens another browser window (Rant #1: I cannot right-click and save this document because the link does not point at the actual PDF, but to some sort of delivery system).
  4. In the new window, I am asked to authenticate myself for this content, even though I have already authenticated when signing in to the document library site (this is Rant #2).
  5. Having re-authenticated, I finally get to see the document (in the latest Abobe Reader UI – which I am not too fond of either – maybe it will grow on me).
  6. I click the button to save a copy of this PDF, and a File Save dialog pops up. (Rant #3: Every time I go to save, it defaults to my Documents folder, as opposed to remembering where I saved the last dozen or so documents. Rant #4: Where ever the focus is in the File Save dialog, it is NOT in the list of documents and folders – so I start spinning my mouse wheel to scroll down and find the folder it should have defaulted to in the first place, only to notice nothing is moving, so I have to click in the list box, and then start scrolling. Rant #5: Wouldn’t be nice to have a button somewhere, similar to the Save and Save As buttons, but which allowed you to “Save this to the last place I saved stuff and where I have been saving stuff for an hour”, in one click?) 
  7. About once every 5 or 6 saves, for some reason it DOES remember what folder I was saving to, which is a good thing, but because it is not consistent, it further interrupts the rhythm of my work. (this is Rant #6)
  8. Periodically as I am going through the search results (in that annoying “10 at a time” list), I will click to view a document and once again be prompted to authenticate, presumably because my session has expired or something. (Rant #7: This should not happen. I have not been away from my keyboard, and I have not paused my work in anyway. The session time-out should detect that I have been active all this time, and should reset. I should not have to repeatedly re-authenticate.)

Admittedly, these are all minor issues. Individually, they would seem not even worth talking about. Together, however, they destroy the overall experience of what I am doing. The destroy my train of thought. They force me to break out of thinking about WHAT I am doing, and think about HOW I am doing it. They waste my time, a fraction of a second at a time. And they annoy the crap out of me!

The sad thing is that this is not an isolated experience. This is the norm, rather than the exception. The computers and software upon which we have come to depend, and which are supposed to make our lives easier, on a frequent and consistent basis, rudely interrupt us with stupid questions and inconsistent behaviour.

There is constant talk in the technology world about “the next big thing”. I, personally, would be thrilled if the “next big thing” were a concerted effort by the technology community to make the current big thing WORK PROPERLY!

Another interesting article on an Electric Vehicle

Zero Motorcycles cranks out whisper quiet electric bike – Engadget

 This is another interesting concept. Unfortunately, I have a problem with the whole concept of electric cars – at least with ones with batteries which need to be charged from the electric power grid. In terms of a solution to our energy problems, or to global warming, these really make no sense whatsoever. All they are doing is moving the problem from one place (vehicles) to another place (the power grid), where the environmental impact is potentially as bad or worse. If even a small percentage of our vehicles were switched to electric, the impact on the power grid would be enormous.

While I admire the idea behind this effort, I believe the environmental advantages are largely illusory.