Is the web threatening other forms of media?

Yes, big time. I even suspect that within our lifetime, TV, radio, newspaper and magazine as we conceive them will be superceded by a web equivalent. But why do people keep mourning over this logical change? My theory is that they have mistakenly associated the service with its media. From a different perspective, if you come to think of it, what’s coming is just a change in the mean of delivery, not service. Paper, TV, radio are only physical mediums over which a service can be provided, and as a matter of fact, they are all interchangeable, albeit with many practical limitations: TV could be broadcasted on paper, where every page is a frame, newspapers could be carved on rock and so on. Thankfully, these services have all found a media that best represent the experience they want to convey, but to me TV on paper would still be TV ( in which case the word my need to be changed); simply because TV is script, strory, and images, newspaper is litterature and journalism and radio is music and discussion. In the future, the web might very well replace all those medias, but script, images, literature, journalism and discussions will always exist.

Apples and PCs

On very rare cases one can safely predict the outcome of an open discussion, but sometimes, it is just too obvious. While there are many examples of this around the Interweb, two situations come to my mind. First, the fallacious debates that arise from any music video on YouTube, that always end up in insults, and second, the age old Mac vs. PC debate, on which this post will develop a bit.

Apple computers are overpriced products, there is no doubt about it, but I would go and affirm they are not grossly overpriced as many people like to suggest. Back when Macs were functioning on the PowerPC platform the story was a bit different but with Apple’s recent switch to x86, the fact that you can now build your own hackintosh for a fraction of the price (this is not legal however) and that the hardware contained in PCs and Macs is now identical from a compatibility point of view has given the PC proponents a lot more ammunition to throw at the Mac fans. I completely concede that if you look at a computer from a purely hardware aspect, you are much better off buying a bare bone deal of similar specifications and slapping a Linux distro on it, or a Windows PC if this is your cup of tea (it ends up being more expensive). In other words, when you look at the guts of Mac, you can get the same PC for a fraction of the price.

Also, the operating system you are choosing will definitely have an effect on the final cost of the system and it makes the comparison that much harder. With Linux, its quite simple: free. With Windows, it depends. If you buy a bunch of hardware and a windows license, you will end up paying between 200$ and 500$ depending on the flavor you choose. On the other hand, if you buy a computer from the big manufactures (Dell, Acer, HP and company) the license will end up being around 40$! This figure might not be accurate, but I remember reading it somewhere. In fact, this price discrepancy is so great that I recall Microsoft getting slapped on the hand by an important European court of law for that dishonest practice. With Apple’s OS X, I do not know the exact price but I suppose it sits somewhere inside the boxed windows license price bracket. Mind you, any subsequent upgrade will cost you only 30 US$ so this is definitely something to consider. Now, whether OS X or a more luxurious Windows version is worth paying that much for is very debatable, but for me, it ends being a matter of whether you want the added luxury or not. Linux is also a worthy choice, but given the fact that is does not have as much market penetration as the two others, it is never an obvious choice. From my experience, Linux users that are not computer enthusiast very often had it pushed onto them (like I did with my sister).

To many, the hardware similarity seems to close the case if we take the software out of the equation but there is something else that is very often overlooked : quality; two computers with the same hardware specs are not necessarily equivalent when they face the harsh physical environment we live in. This is the reason why military grade electronical parts are considerably more expensive than their commercial equivalent. Now, if you look at the actual internals of a Mac, you will clearly notice that there are much more passive electrical components than an equivalent cheap off the shelf part and that they are generally of better overall quality. While this will not make an equivalent PC as pricey, it has to be considered. So, how does this translate to the user? Lesser likeliness to fail or break; that’s it. Whether this added reliability is worth the price is another question, but it goes without saying that some people are willing to put down the money for it. Segundo, the materials and the construction of the computer are actually better. Most Apple products are made of very good quality plastics or even metal and the whole is assembled with plenty screws and very tight mechanical tolerances. It definably makes a difference in the quality of a product, when you hold an Apple device, it feels sturdy and can take a beating and still works. Cheaper devices, especially laptops, crack and bend when you manipulate them. I use a simple test to assess the build quality of a laptop: I take it by one extremity and gently shake it; if it feels like I am about to break or bend something, its probably low quality stuff. That’s not all, the speakers sound good (for a portable computer), the lcd screen (a screen that can correctly replicate colors is worth a significant premium), the aluminum construction, the thickness, the back lit keyboard, the multi-touch mouse pad, the tray-less DVD drive, the LEDs on the battery, the Mag-Safe connector, etc.

See? Its no all about hardware and all these little things add up to a pricier computer in the end. Do not get me wrong, you still pay for the brand, but not as much as PC proponents might believe. Some individuals are all about specs and will deny any claim of superior quality, good for them. On my part, I like the tool that use the most to be reliable and pleasing to the senses; even a year after my switch, I still look at my MacBook Pro (not the sexier new version) with a sense of satisfaction. Plus, I expect my laptop to last me a few years if not more, and the prospect for this to happen is good as I am certain the population of Apple computers that reach a venerable age is much bigger than the rest.

Case closed? No, but I still hope that one day, we can call coexist in peace and get rid of those persons that think they are better than the rest because the purchase cheap stuff…

I do not agree

Whenever, I get in a new affectation, there is always a bunch of waivers and agreements to sign. They usually concern information systems or building security procedures, and exist just for the sake of putting the burden of responsibility on me in case I screw up or commit an infraction. I do not know about other administrative entities, but they are omnipresent where I work, and everybody that is about to spend his Monday to Friday here has to sign a few; its just part of the process. Now, these papers always end up with a statement in the form of ” I certify that I understand…” or “I am in full agreement with the policy…” after which there is a signature block that, when filled, turns the text into some sort of contract. For software, an End User License Agreement (EULA) is pretty much the same thing. Now, what if I tell the person handing me the next waiver that I do not agree and will not sign… With a software’s EULA, it just stops the installer but with an organisation, I wonder what will happen.

I guess its just like replying that your life sucks when someone asks you howdy, people just do not expect this to happen…

It’s coming…

While getting my oil change at Mr. Lube, I was thrilled to see that they were using Ubuntu for their customer service computer. I asked the employee if he liked it and he replied to me that the system was brand new and that he had a bit of difficulty adjusting to it, but other than that, he had no complaints about the OS.

Good job Mr. Lube.

My move to open-source

A bit more than a year, I realized that if I wanted to ever get in business, I had to come clean with my questionable software licensing practices. Back then, I was operating solely on Windows XP Pro and many other programs that were not acquired in the most legal of ways. Such practices being obviously very risky for anyone making a living out of working computers, I was faced with the decision of either changing everything and shift to a mostly open-source and free software suite or keep the software I was currently using but purchase licenses. I decided to take the harder but cheaper route.

I do not currently run a business, so I guess I could have kept my old habits for a few more years. However, the rationale for making the switch so early is that it takes a fair amount of time to become proficient with a certain program and learning to use one while running a business that depends on it at the same time is quite risky. This is the reason I did it well in advance so that I would not have to bother about server downtime because I am a noob with the Linux command line.

Do not get me wrong, I still need and use Windows XP (for which I have a license). The difference now is that it is in the form in a virtual machine that is only booted up when I need to do some testing on that platform. As for the windows Vista wave, I have completely missed it although it did get to do its share of damage from a distance. My relatives no longer come and ask me to fix their Vista because they have figured out I am in a different boat; that’s fine with me. As a matter of fact, I will most likely miss the Windows 7 wave as well, I’ll surely give it a try before the release candidate trial expires but I doubt very much it will convince me to let go of my *nixes and switch back to M$. The only thing that I use on a day to day basis that I had to pay a fair chunk of money for is Mac OS X. About a year ago, I had heard so many people professing the merits of this OS so I had to see for myself if it was worth all the hype. It turns out those people were right, OS X is well worth its price and at the same time, it made my switch to open-source considerably easier due to it being a Unix.

While I will debate a bit more about the merits of open-source in a different post, I will try enumerating all the programs that I had to get rid of or refrain from using as well as their replacement in order to make that switch to (almost) open-source. Here it goes.