Archive for January, 2007

Death to the vacation program

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

The vacation program is used to make sure that people who send you mail while you’re on vacation or otherwise out of the office for extended periods of time get a reply telling them not to expect to hear from you for a while. I personally have *never* liked the vacation program, because people misuse it and you wind up getting 25 emails every time someone sends *one* mail to a list, for example.

I would also like to submit that the vacation program has reached the end of its useful life, since the world has, by now, become sufficiently connected that you can check your mail no matter what corner of the world you happen to be in. Furthermore, knowing that one *can* check their email, many if not most people *will* check their mail. Effects this behavior has on one’s ability to have truly recuperative downtime are beyond the scope of this rant.

As a case in point, this happened to me less than an hour before writing this:

Someone in my office sent email to me to alert me to something that he himself had received email about (from one of our monitoring systems), and to ask if I could please check on it. Ok, no problem. I check on it and reply, at about the same time someone else also replies to the mailing list a bunch of us are on. In response to those, we each received two vacation emails, and then “real” emails from the initiator of the email thread, who, in spite of being “out of the office”, is able to receive monitor alerts via email, pass the information on via email, and carry on entire email conversations.

This is partially tongue-in-cheek, of course. I understand that the vacation program is probably still useful to somebody somewhere. But for someone who works in technology, has a blackberry and couldn’t go 24 hours without checking mail if their life depended on it?

Apple, Laptops, and the outlook for Linux on the desktop

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

I should make a disclaimer here that I’m professing no real knowledge here. I’m speculating. And partly, I’m playing devil’s advocate.

Apple, so far as I can tell, is going pretty much nowhere in terms of server deployments. Oh, they make servers, it’s just that I don’t see them really going very far. However, with the continuing growth in the laptop market, and Apple’s success therein, I can’t help but wonder what all of this means for the Linux desktop market.

Oh sure, there’s always the *enterprise* desktop market… I guess. The Linux community has been saying, emphatically, for years that Linux is “ready”, for some definition of “ready”, and for certain use cases. Unfortunately, it hasn’t caught on. Why do you think that is?

Well, part of the reason might be inertia, and a general unwillingness to change in any direction regardless of platform. But its hubris not to consider that maybe Linux just isn’t ready. And probably a part of what makes it “not ready” in the eyes of a lot of enterprises is the lack of a cohesive Linux offering that can be installed on *all* of their desktops *and* laptops and whatever else and “just work”. In my opinion it’s the laptop, not the desktop PC hardware, that’s killing Linux on the desktop. Going forward, “desktop” and “laptop” will become *more* synonymous, not less.

We still have a long way to go in the Linux world to making Linux a corporate contender for any enterprise that has any kind of mobile workforce. Linux on laptops is still terrible compared to either OS X or even Windows (which is pretty bad itself). Laptop hardware compatibility with Linux is absolutely terrible. I work in an area where I see dozens of different laptop models. People around here are constantly buying the latest cool gadgets and laptops and trying to get Linux to run on them. 99% of the time there’s a decent bit of pain involved. In rare instances, there’s something that could be called real success, but these aren’t people who need, say, Cisco VPN compatibility, or Exchange calendar sharing, or hardcore 3D accelleration. Good thing they don’t. In most cases they are thrilled if their built-in wireless will work and they can actually start X. Most haven’t even tried putting their laptop to sleep under Linux, and I’ve *never* seen someone do it successfully on any laptop, ever.

The only place to point the finger for these issues is at the hardware vendors, but whatever – point the finger all you want – these vendors haven’t found a way to make money with Linux, and we’ve been waiting for them and pointing fingers at them for years. The only people who *care* who is at fault are the people who are already convinced of the merits of Linux and are already using it…. exactly the people that *don’t* matter. The people who *do* matter – the masses and corporate PHBs who make large purchasing decisions could care less whose fault it is. They’ll never get to that question. They’ll get right up to “it doesn’t work”, and that’s it. Game over. There’s no investigation beyond that. Game called on account of lack of interest. They don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Don’t go giving corporate decision makers all kinds of credit. They don’t have to wear a tie to work because they make mind-numbingly difficult technology decisions. They just made the decisions that haven’t yet gotten them fired. That’s how they got there.

In case you missed it, there’s some good news here. The good news is that, while Linux *is* plagued with usability issues, those issues are no more foreboding than they are on any other platform. The Linux interface, overall, is not scary anymore. Most of those who say it’s scary have never seen Linux, or haven’t seen it in years, and they can safely be ignored. You’d be shocked at what people think is *still* wrong with Linux. The masses still think you need to do everything from the command line and are shocked when they see a graphic displayed on a Linux desktop. :-/

Anyway, this good news offers little hope as the corporate workforce becomes more mobile, and shows no real signs of slowing down. Let’s face it, if they *wanted* a Linux solution to this, they’d’ve paid for one by now. Apparently, what they’re dealing with now is “good enough”, or at least it’s better than, say, going after the laptop makers, the video card makers, the VPN hardware makers, the soundcard makers, the wireless card makers…. If you had to choose your battles, you might consider this one unwinnable. I don’t think I’d blame you. There are other battles.

So, really, what we should be saying is “Linux is as ready as we can make it for whatever anyone wants to use it for. The rest is up to the hardware vendors.”

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Mark my words: success will come when corporations can look to Linux to be the go-to platform for laptops *and* desktops. These have to be a given. People in the enterprise are increasingly using *both* to get their work done, in addition to the occasional handheld device or tablet PC. Mobility will be the buzzword not only for 2007, but probably 2008 and ’09 as well. And Linux’s rocky history with laptops doesn’t leave me hopeful for the future of Linux on the desktop.

Blogger out of beta…. and into alpha

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

So blogger is no longer in beta. In launching their first non-beta version, however, Blogger has actually broken several things, several peoples’ blogs, and generally made a huge mess of things.

After being prompted by shiny-clicky things to upgrade to the new version of Blogger, a great many bloggers were greeted with error pages, wrong pages, blogs with the wrong profile displayed, blogs they couldn’t log into, blogs with missing or broken “new and improved” features, and in some cases, worse.

A friend of mine is on a “team blog”, where all of the authors are anonymous. Unfortunately for one of the authors, since he happened to be the first one to use the blog after the new blogger rollout, he happily clicked on all of the prompts to upgrade the blog, and then realized that things had gone horribly wrong. Two things, specifically, went bad:

1. The profile on his personal blog was replaced with the anonymous blog’s profile, and
2. He was now the permanent, unremovable owner of the team blog that he did not ever want his name affiliated with.

Sweet. So this guy was actually fearing for his job until he figured out how to remove the profile from all of the blogs he belonged to completely. He was never warned that clicking to upgrade could cause various sorts of failures, and he was never told that he would now be the permanent owner of the blog until he searched the help later trying to assess the damage that was done.

For my own blog, you’ll notice that my theme has changed. It changed, in fact, about 10 times over the past two weeks, because I was trying to figure out why the long-awaited “labels” feature was only half-working on my site. Turns out that it’s because the blogger folks did a half-ass job, and labels are only supported in a half-ass way by blogger unless your blog is published at blogspot.com. Namely, while I can label each post, I cannot present my readers with a list of available labels for them to use. Before you ask, the answer to your question is “yes, every other blog you can think of has done this, properly, forever”.

The big irony here, of course, is that I chose to use blogger in part because it made it easy to publish a blog at my own URL without having to maintain blogging software on my site myself. Now, it turns out that my blog is a second-class citizen because I decided to take advantage of that feature. What’s more, the blogger help on the issue of labels being unavailable says that it’s not likely that a sidebar labels menu will ever be available to blogs being published remotely.

Sweet. Thanks.

Resolutions

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

I kind of resolved not to make any real resolutions this year. Part of this is because my dark side sometimes gets the sense that my fate is sealed, so why bother? The other part is just that, with me, resolutions are generally things I think up on the first day of the year and forget by the third day of the year. I’m more of a ‘take it day by day’ kind of person. So the only idea for a resolution that I had this year was to make *daily* and *weekly* resolutions.

For example, I recently quit smoking (yes, again) and I know that every morning when I wake up I have to resolve not to smoke for yet another whole day. Another example is from last week, when I made it my goal to get a project to a point where others could do something with it, which I did – 5 minutes before leaving on the last day of the week – but I did it. The point is, I do a whole lot better, and am a lot more productive, when I take the first hour of my day and set goals for myself to accomplish. This idea doesn’t scale much past a week though, so to make a resolution beyond a week is, to me, just kidding yourself.

Ever try to follow through on a monthly goal? I’ve never made it past a weekly one. Oh sure, I’ve had long term projects and accomplished them over the period of many months, but I never looked at it that as a monthly goal, really. That’s senseless. I break them down and accomplish the weekly goals that lead to the end goal.

Let’s face it, making a resolution that you’re supposed to stick to for 365 days is just downright intimidating. I can’t believe anyone ever sticks to them. I never have. That’s a large feat when looked at from afar. For my brain, it’s better if I break things down into smaller tasks.

TUX shutting down

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

I’ve worked for various publishing houses in various capacities. Sure, I write a lot, but I also like to get into the back-end operations when I can. I think publishing is a lot of fun in general. It’s also very challenging.

So there’s this company (SSC) that woke up one day and said “Let’s start a magazine for new Linux users”. Great. They had a plan. They would go to print with a very popular writer who is great at dealing with new users at the healm. Then something happened.

I dunno if accountants started making all the decisions, or if evil committees were involved, or what, but the whole plan just completely got thrown out the window. The popular writer was replaced with some guy. Ok, well, not ‘some guy’, but to Linux newbies he was just ‘some guy’.

The popular writer was Marcel Gagne, who has written books for newbies, written articles for newbies, and basically devoted much of his technical writing to helping out people who are new to Linux – and indeed, inviting and luring new users to the platform. As a sysadmin, I don’t care for Marcel’s content much, but it’s *good* content for newbies, and this guy has done more to help new Linux users than anyone else I can think of in the area of writing. I was *looking forward* to writing for and with Marcel.

Marcel was replaced first with a clown who was a terrible editor, and not someone who should be in charge of communicating with large groups. I don’t recall his name. He once sent out truly inappropriate links to alleged ‘inspirational’ content to get the creative juices flowing. He was probably a cheap replacement, though. He didn’t last long. The next guy was actually a great guy to work with, and I’m sorry that he wasn’t able to keep things going, because I liked working with him. His name was Tony.

Anyway, with the cost of running the magazine and generating content down to almost $0, it’s time to tackle distribution. Of course, the magazine’s purpose is to lure in new users, and to help users who have recently switched or tried Linux. What better way to distribute the magazine than in a format that newbies are almost certain to never find! “Yes! That’s it! We’ll distribute it in PDF format only, and then do zero marketing except on sites where total geeks already go! They’ll NEVER find it!”.

It was a total disaster, and now, TUX magazine is no more.  I am appalled, but not shocked. I’m sorry for the really nice people I worked with at TUX Magazine, but then I’m sure they probably saw the writing on the wall. These people were not, themselves, newbies.

Back to work!

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

Happy new year, all. Now back to work!

Ok, so before I went back to work, I read my buddy’s blog (http://onefreevoice.com), and he started a Technorati Profile, which I didn’t know existed. I went to check it out, and created a profile myself.
Technorati Profile

Ok. NOW back to work :-)