Why Use Linux?

Joey Sneddon over at OMG! Ubuntu! asked and answered the question of why someone would use LInux over Windows or macOS. His three-word answer leans a little close to zealotry, but is completely understandable. In my case, I've been 100% Linux on all of my computers for quite some time1 and rarely see the need to go back to either. While I can readily admit there are some applications that I miss from when I used to use macOS on a daily basis, going back to Apple's operating system is not something i'm prepared to do. Microsoft has made a lot of efforts to integrate Linux with Windows 10 but, even with the Linux subsystem functionality and Redmond's insistence that they love Linux, I cannot bring myself to allow any version of Windows to run bare metal on any of my machines. Like Joey, my reason can be boiled down to a three word answer: I trust Linux.

There are a lot of benefits of using Windows or macOS on a day to day basis. There's generally more commercial software available, faster driver updates, and better support for battery-related features. That said, I don't trust these systems. Same goes for Android. I simply do not feel it's in my best interest to put any data of value on a system that seems forever tethered to its creator, sending and receiving data as unobtrusively as possible in the background2. Linux distributions, as a rule, do not do this3.

Given the sort of data that I work with on a day to day basis and the trust people have put in me to not leak, lose, or share their data with anyone else, I need to completely trust my computers. Linux makes it easier for me to ensure that my systems are secure and non-communicative with unauthorized external resources.

There are undoubtedly a number of people who will disagree with me, and that's fine. While there are thousands of different distributions available to meet just about any need or criteria, the vast majority of people will be happiest on one of the two main commercial operating systems. This, too, is fine. It's not my job nor intention to convert anyone to Linux or provide the days or weeks of support that would be required while a person acclimated to the different system. Linux works for me. Specifically Ubuntu Linux. If someone reading this prefers something else, then it's better to continue using that software. At the end of the day, how we use our computers is a personal choice.

  1. This is despite the unenforceable expectation that everyone at the day job is using Windows 10 with the various tracking and "security" tools installed … including all the Apple devices.

  2. iOS also shares information back to Apple, albeit to a lesser degree. While I'm not keen on data leaving my possession without explicit permission, I generally know precisely what information is being sent to iCloud and can modify my behaviour enough to maintain some semblance of verifiable control.

  3. The online "outrage" that surrounded Canonical's attempt to collect system information after a successful installation was seriously disingenuous. While there is the option to send anonymous system data to Canonical, it was an opt in function that would show you the entire message so that you could determine whether it could be shared or not. After a little more than a year, it turns out that the majority of people installing Ubuntu Desktop send the data to Canonical

Five Years Since the Switch

Five years ago today I made the switch from Windows to OS X and, while I've not stuck with Apple's preferred OS on my hardware for the entire duration, the move has been incredibly illuminating. It's been said on numerous occasions on this site, but the first computer I could call my own was an ancient off-brand 8088 back in 1994. It was on that machine that I learned how to program in Turbo Pascal and Watcom though a pair of books that were instrumental to my understanding of software development. From 1994 through to 2012 the core ideas in those books were used over and over and over again across thousands of projects, evolving as the field developed new processes and techniques. Core to the understanding, though, was that software should be written for the lowest-grade of hardware whenever possible. We can't assume everyone has the latest and greatest computer on their desk, nor should we make people suffer for our own impatience at finding the most efficient means to solve a problem. While I still very much stick to this core idea as much as possible, the platform switch in 2012 brought about a slightly different area of focus when designing digital solutions, and it's one I'm still actively learning about today.

For the first eighteen years, my primary goal was to create great software that would solve the problem at hand as efficiently as possible. The interface that people would see was often an afterthought, though I always tried to make the various elements line up and look good. After using iOS for a bit and seeing just how important interface design can be, I started to take it much more seriously.

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works.
— Steve Jobs

While watching parts of Apple's big hardware release a few weeks back, they played an audio snippet with the above quote from the late Steve Jobs. A lot of people have heard this quote, but I wonder how many people think about it.

At the day job I've been working on a project for almost two years1 where I've tried very hard to think more about how the software is supposed to work rather than how "tight" the code is or slick the interface might be. When designing new functions and features, I try to collect as much information as I can from the people who will wind up using that part of the system because, at the end of the day, they are my customer. The software is used by people across the organization with very different sets of goals so, sometimes, the best solution is to write two or more interfaces that draw from the same source of data, but display the information differently. Sure, everything would work if I were to just make a single, unified view that people could then selectively ignore. But I want the software to actually work … so I ask questions. Lots of them.

Despite working with software for almost a quarter century, I still feel there is a lot left to learn. Every platform has taught me something valuable that is just as relevant today as it was days, weeks, months, or years ago when I would heavily lean on them. DOS taught me the importance of efficiency. Windows taught me the importance of object oriented coding. PalmOS taught me the importance of resource management. Linux taught me the importance of community building. iOS/OS X taught me the importance of designing tools rather than solutions. The web taught me the importance of picking a standard2 and sticking to it. The next area I expect to work in will involve a great deal of voice interaction, and I look forward to the evolution in thinking that move will bring.

  1. it's really hard to believe this much time has passed already

  2. there's an XKCD joke in here …

What's the Alternative?

John Gordon recently wrote a short blog post explaining that he can no longer recommend people make the switch from Windows to macOS when shopping around for a new computer. The reasons he cites are quite valid, from Apple's recent abandoning sprees on software, hardware, and business sense, to the high cost of entry for machines that have arguably mid-range specs. While I can agree that the average person may not be willing to invest a grand or two in hardware before investing even more money in applications that may or may not work as the operating system evolves year over year, it's important to ask one question: what's the alternative?

After months of investigation, I settled on picking up a 2015-era MacBook Pro and replacing OS X — as it was known at the time — with Ubuntu. I've been happy with this decision for the most part and have even gone so far as to contribute updates to drivers that allow people to get better performance out of their Bluetooth radio. I chose the MacBook Pro not because I wanted a quick way to jump back to the safe confines of Apple's ecosystem, but because the alternatives were just not worth the money.

When it comes to buying a computer, a person really needs to consider how they'll be using the machine. Will it be something you're looking at for more than an hour or two a day? Then it simply cannot have a low-resolution screen. Will it be something you'll type on a lot? Then the keyboard needs to match your hands just right. Will it be something you'll carry from place to place? Then it had better have a really good battery, or be light enough that carrying the ridiculously bulky charging adapter is slightly more bearable. Then there's the problem of the hideously awful touchpads that seem to exist on every notebook not designed in Cupertino and manufactured in China. I spent months looking for a good-quality notebook that met these 4 criteria and a few other details and always came away disappointed.

You can have a good keyboard or a good screen, not both. You can have decent expandability or good battery life, not both. You can have a fast processor or a thin formfactor, not both. Buying just about any product will require a person to prioritise certain features, but one expects the decision to be less painful the higher up you go in the product line.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 came very close to what I was looking for in terms of hardware, but was limited by 8GB of RAM and a keyboard that just didn't feel very good. Lenovo's T450s was also close, as it allowed for hardware swapping along with a mostly-acceptable battery life and decently-comfortable keyboard, but was limited by the screen's awful pixellation and colour fade.

As a person who looks at a glowing screen for 10+ hours a day and interacts with the keyboard almost exclusively1, any machine that cannot offer both solid typing and crisp text2 simply cannot become a tool I rely on.

So what are the options?

Dell does have some decent machines, yes. The screen's aren't all that great, and the keyboards feel cheap, but they'll do. The same can be said for HP, Lenovo, Mouse, and System76. Nothing from any Japanese manufacturer is even worth mentioning anymore, as it's all lowest-quality-highest-price plastic crap. Even Sony, once the pinnacle of amazing-screens everywhere, is barely worth a cursory glance at an electronics shop. Try as I might, there just hasn't been a compelling notebook from any manufacturer in the last five years — if not longer — that comes anywhere near what a MacBook Pro can offer in terms of screen quality, keyboard usability, battery longevity, and overall build quality. Yes, a person needs to resign themselves to the fact that the unit is ultimately a non-upgradeable appliance, but it's still the best-made appliance out there. And, if you're willing to go with a store model to save a few hundred dollars, you'll wind up paying the same as you would for a top-of-the-line HP or Dell that comes with an infuriating touchpad that you leave disabled 90% of the time.

When people ask me for advice on what computer they should buy next, I still ask the basic questions. What's the main purpose? How long will it be used for every day3? Who will be the main person using it? And then I make a recommendation. Sometimes it's for a tablet. Sometimes it's for a notebook. And in those instances where somebody is looking for a decent quality notebook, I'll recommend either a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro … which then has its operating system replaced with whatever the buyer is most comfortable with soon after getting it home.

Ideal? Maybe not. But it's better than the alternatives.

  1. I have not used a mouse in over five years, and I have no plans on ever going back to those horrible things.

  2. Crisp Japanese text. Roman characters are tolerable with awful pixellation some of the time, but it's brutal when trying to read complex kanji consisting of 12 or more strokes.

  3. then multiply this number by at least two

Indistinguishable from Magic

Earlier today Matt Gemmell wrote an impassioned article on his website where he decried the current state of Apple's software and how it makes very expensive electronics horribly frustrating to use, and even harder to justify buying. The post has been taken down1 but, in the short time that it was available, people from across the planet wanted to weigh in with their opinions about how "Apple is doomed", offer technical support, or otherwise openly mock this person who has clearly invested a great deal of time, money, and effort into this wholly artificial realm we refer to as the Apple Ecosystem. Like Mr. Gemmell, I have also invested a great deal into Apple's hardware and software over the years. I came in just as it seemed that everything Apple touched turned to gold, and I left when my rose-coloured glasses eroded, revealing that Apple's world was just as incomplete and prone to error as any other platform a person might choose.

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology …

One of the many things I like about modern hardware is just how sleek everything has become. Smooth lines with seamless transitions between metal and glass abound. Processors thousands of times faster than anything we might have used while growing up can now be found in a wristwatch. Batteries can go on and on. And the screen resolutions available today are really nothing short of breathtaking. Our modern consumer electronics today are light years ahead of what we could have imagined 15 years ago. Looking at the sorts of complaints people have with our current range of devices, I wonder if this isn't the actual problem that we're facing: we've benefitted so much from so little in such a short amount of time that we don't realize just how much "more" we're expecting from electronics manufacturers, and these vendors are simply unable to keep up with our laundry list of expectations.

It's Time We Slow Down

When I first entered the world of Apple software, I was pretty fortunate. The iPod Touch, though a marvel of engineering, was a relatively simple device running simple software and performing simple tasks. The first version of OS X I used was 10.6 Snow Leopard, arguably one of the most refined versions of the operating system given that there were zero new features and a slew of fixes that resulted in standing ovations at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference all those years ago. Coming from Windows, the Apple world just felt so much more cohesive because updates rolled out at a slower pace than those from Microsoft. With more time between releases, new updates and features could be more thoroughly tested and refined, meaning that the majority of the bugs reported from people would — ideally — be more of an edge case than the rule. This is clearly not the case anymore, and not a week goes by where a semi-popular web personality doesn't lament Apple's declining software quality or lack of cloud infrastructure skill.

One might suggest that people who aren't happy with Apple should move to another ecosystem that is more in line with their values, but this isn't always realistic. One cannot simply swap out Google for Apple or Oracle for Microsoft. These sorts of migrations often take a great deal of time, planning, and money. More than this, people shouldn't be expected to always vote with their wallets. Moving from one platform to another 10 is not a feat that can be completed in a weekend nor is it an effective way to send a message. At the end of the day, the best way to send a message is to openly communicate, and I say it's time people stop demanding so much pseudo-innovation from their electronics and instead ask companies to slow down and release their hardware and software products when they're ready and not a minute before.

Traditional computers such as desktops and notebooks do not need to be replaced every year, so companies should focus on building machines to last 5+ years. Cell phones do not need to be replaced every year, either, so why push out an update that appears to be little more than an incremental update over last year's model but with a substantial price tag? Tablets and watches are in the same boat. Heck, just about every electronic device we use on a regular basis could likely switch to release a new model every three years with minor revisions to accommodate problems during the intervening months. Many people will undoubtedly disagree, but today's hardware is good enough for the vast majority of what we want to do. Why must we continually push the envelope?

With a slower hardware release cycle, software developers will have more time to focus on the less-tangible aspects of our systems and strive to make improvements. Some new things could certainly be introduced during this time, but this in-between time would really be the time for the devices to be polished and refined while people also become more accustomed to using the tools they already have.

The amount of change that we've all seen in the last fifteen years has been nothing short of amazing, and this change has resulted in some phenomenal effects on societies around the world. By slowing down we won't diminish anything that's happened thus far and we stand to gain greater benefits if the functional lifespan of our difficult-to-recycle electronics is extended thanks to a slower release schedule. Will this hurt the bottom line for a number of people who are already wealthy? No doubt. But we cannot expect our tools to continue their evolution at such a breakneck speed. We're seeing the faults and cracks in our systems already, but it's not too late to do something about it.

A three year hardware release cycle with a longer software cycle would go a long way to changing our perceptions of modern electronics from being the occasionally frustrating objects they are to devices indistinguishable from magic.

  1. Though intrepid investigators may have some luck in finding a cached version of his article, titled A Declining Trajectory.

Hater's Gotta Hate

One of the common potential consequences people face whenever they post an opinion online is exposing themselves to a great deal of vitriolic feedback. This happens to us all quite a bit, but I am sometimes absolutely dumbfounded by how much someone can shout, holler, and scream about something that has absolutely nothing to do with them. Earlier this last week I received a lovely comment from someone who believes I'm stupidly giving money to Apple and saying everything they do is great, and yesterday I received a very, very, very long email telling me just how stupid I am for switching from Windows to OS X. Although these emails typically receive a one-way trip to the trash bin, I thought it would be interesting to answer this one here, as a fake reply address was provided through the contact form1.

So here's the gist of the message:

Two years ago you loved Windows and hated Mac. Now you love Mac and hate Windows. What the hell is wrong with you? How could you give in to the marking machine? You paid the Apple tax, and now Steve Jobs has even more money to lord over the people of China. If you loved HP so much, why didn't you buy another one? You used a netbook for years, so why not just upgrade to a newer model. I would have cost you a lot less, and you'd be able to do whatever you want with the hardware.

Ah, hate mail. So much to say, so little time.

The hater does make a point, though. Two years ago I did enjoy using Windows and despised anything with a fruity logo on it2. That changed after using an iPod Touch for a while, though. Things just worked, and I didn't need to reboot the device twice a day in order to be productive on it. That, and the keyboard actually worked better than any other on-screen keyboard I had seen or used up until that point. A few months later I gave OS X Snow Leopard a go in a Virtual Machine. I didn't like it at first but, after a few hours, I did see the allure of the system. Over the course of the next two years the idea that a Mac computer would be a better investment than a Windows-based machine solidified as I saw such a horrible amount of churn coming out of companies like Dell, Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Samsung, and even my beloved HP that it became impossible to like anything these other companies were putting out. It was all the same cheap, ugly, plastic, WXGA crap that I had rejected in 2003 when I bought a really nice Hewlett Packard machine3

I'm assuming the hater who sent the message has either read some of my older posts or has been a semi-consistent reader over the last few years, so they've more than likely seen the string of posts that were made where I was actually talking about my desire to get a new machine. Getting a Mac was not an overnight decision. A year of research passed before the decision was made to abandon Windows-based computers. Both this blog and my Twitter history4 proves the point. But I would really like to take a closer examination of one particular point made by the hater: the Apple Tax statement.

Transitional Costs

It's true that we can buy a Windows-based PC for as little as 40,000円 here in Japan. As of this writing, an investment of 40,000円 will get you a notebook with a 15.6" screen at 1366x768, a 500GB hard disk, an Intel Core i3 processor, a BluRay Reader/DVD Burner combination drive, Windows 7, and a host of pre-installed crapware that would never survive more than 30 seconds in my house. For many people this would be good enough. A computer is a computer is a computer, after all. I would be able to copy my existing data over in the very same format, install the same applications I've been using for years, and get everything up and running in less than an hour. I should know … I've done this many, many times after reformatting a computer for whatever reason. Tack on another 8,000円, and I'll have an extended warranty that'll give me upwards of 5 years of protection with the very real possibility of receiving a new "equivalent" PC in a few years should anything really bad happen to the device.

It's function with a chance of win! What's not to like? As for the software I'd install, there's Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, Office 2010 Professional, phpDesigner, a bunch of O&O utilities5, and a handful of utilities that allow me to develop software for desktops or the web. Total cost of the software? 138,900円 as of this writing. It would be stupid to throw away this software investment!

Or would it?

My MacBook Air was bought used for 72,000円. From there I have spent a grand total of 11,450円 on development software and 8,350円 on other applications such as the Mountain Lion update, Koku6, and a few other little programs that make me a little more productive. Grand total of the transition from Windows to Mac? 91,800円. This is by no means a small amount of money for me, and it took years to save it. Would I have really been that much better off buying a Windows-based machine? In order to answer that, we need to look at the next item on the agenda: portability.

Size Matters

One of the biggest considerations I was making when researching which computer I should invest the money into was portability. As a person who earns a living doing what I do7, I need to carry around a lot of paper. Really … a lot of paper. Textbooks. Student worksheets. Handouts. You name it. When I go to client offices around this part of Japan, the amount of paperwork I lug around can weigh as much as 4kg. That might not sound like a lot but, when you're carrying it for upwards of five hours, it takes its toll on your back. I've had two hernias in the last five years and there is a constant reminder from the bottom two discs in my spine that I shouldn't be carrying too much. I've lost as much weight as I possibly can8, so the next bit of weight to be lost has to be from the stuff I carry. The Acer netbook that was forever by my side weighed 1.3kg, and that was a bit much some days. I needed something that was about the same, or lighter. Also, because I spend a great deal of time on the train, there needed to be some excellent battery life with the device. The netbook was good for 20 minutes on a good day, and less than 5 if there was anything plugged in to a USB port. It's not hard to see why Noteworthy took so darn long to come to market.

So I did some research. A lot of research. Which Windows-based notebooks would offer the portability that I wanted with a 12.1~13.3" screen that had a resolution higher than WXGA9, a Core i5 processor, and at least 5 hours of battery life. The keyboard is also quite important, but the number one issue for me was screen. I look at text all day long. I write software at every opportunity, and IDEs take up a lot of screen real estate. If I am constantly displaying and hiding side panels, then the screen is just too small. I don't want to have floating things slide into view with a mouse hover. I don't want to have my work environment crammed into a tiny space, either. So screen resolution is the only way to get around this problem.

Another important factor for the screen is colour calibration. For a long time my website had a bunch of mis-matched colour elements because I could not see the difference on my screens. A great example of this would be the profile image on my site, which I've included here. Can you see the difference between the left and right screen shots?

On my Acer, there was no difference at all. Even though I am colour blind, having accurate colour matching is important.

So what does this mean? Well, it means that I would have to get one of the better Windows-powered notebooks manufactured by Sony, Toshiba, or HP. None of the others come even close to offering a rich colour gamut on their machines.

Alright, now we're FINALLY getting somewhere. I've just listed three manufacturers. So let's take a look at the other elements.

An example of a thin, light, and long-lasting Sony notebook with a great screen that photo professionals online swear by would be the Z-Series VPCZ139FJ/S. Last September this model sold for 225,000円. That's quite a bit over my budget. How about a 2011 model? I can't seem to find them anywhere … nobody is selling last year's models, and eBay or Yahoo! Auctions is a little too shady for my tastes10.

How about a thin, light, long-lasting Toshiba notebook? The R-731 has everything I could ever ask for … except the screen resolutions. This is supposed to be the best machine out there, but it ships with a non-upgradable 1366x768 resolution. Have you seen or used Visual Studio on a system with a 1366x768 resolution? No? Then you would never understand why I can't use them without wanting to pull my hair out after 15 minutes. Regardless, what's the sticker price? 149,800円 to start? That's a bit over budget as well. I really want to keep the cost of a machine under 100,000円. How about last year's models? There were a few on Kakaku.com, a popular discount website here in Japan, but the starting price was 98,000円 for a basic machine. That's a bit pricey for a unit that ships with a screen I'd be pissed off about before even starting the thing up for the first time.

No … let's look at something from HP. Although I've been sadly disappointed by their advertising campaigns featuring the idiot idol group, AKB48, they have made some of my favourite computers to date. So, something thin, light, with great battery, and a wonderful screen, in a  13.3" form factor? The Envy lines have always caught my attention, but they start at 14.5", and the screens since 2010 have all been limited to 1366x768. These units, however, do ship for as little as 82,000円. Now we're getting somewhere! But WXGA resolutions on a 14.5" screen? That would piss me off even more than it would on a nice, slim Toshiba. I don't want to see pixels. Go ahead and laugh, but I want to see the difference between ば and ぱ without squinting at the screen or zooming in. English speakers may get slightly annoyed when they can't tell if a capital 'I' is an 'i' or an 'l', but it gets 100x worse when you're looking at Japanese words like 看護婦さん or 履歴書 and all you see are black splotches and unintelligible lines.

I can already hear so many haters telling me "don't read Japanese on it, stupid."

Alas the Envy lines were out of the question. How about one of the better business-class notebooks?


There wasn't a single business or professional-class notebook that offers what I was looking for with a sticker price less than 280,000円. The workstation-class machines do offer the resolutions I am looking for, but not in anything smaller than 15.4" and in a heavy, albeit attractive, magnesium-alloy-wrapped shell.

Of course then there's the problem of writing software for iOS, a mobile platform that has millions of people who will gladly drop 85円 on a disposable application, on a Windows machine. Virtual machines only go so far, and there is way too much hassle involved with OS updates.

So let's review. In order for me to have a computer with a decent battery, a decent screen resolution, and a decent weight, either I can spend over 225,000円 for a Sony Z-13, or I can get a decent battery and weight in a Toshiba R-731 for 149,800円 at the expense of the screen resolution, or I can get none of the above for 0円 because computer hardware manufacturers have been pushed to breaking point by the millions of consumers who scoff at spending more than 80,000円 for a quality computer because a computer is a computer is a computer, and that pink one over there is just 39,000円 brand new.

I'm quite happy with the fact that I could spend as little as 91,800円 for a previous-generation model computer and all the software required to turn it into my primary development machine. I'm so happy, in fact, that I would do it again in a heartbeat if given the opportunity to turn back time and do it all again. So there we go. If spending less for something clearly good enough makes me an idiot fanboy, then so be it. One thing is clear, though; this decision was 100% mine and the people who don't agree with it should really find some other travesty of justice to rally against.

The Netbook Killed Windows?

Paul Thurrott recently wrote about Windows 8's sales figures over the holiday season and the numbers are quite interesting. Shoppers are voting with their dollars about which products should play a role in their lives and, oddly enough, Microsoft's role is shrinking faster than ever before. Mr. Thurrott goes on to posit his theory about why Windows machines aren't flying off the shelves like they used to, claiming that the lowly netbook has completely changed buyers' expectations of what a computer should cost. I completely agree.

As someone who used a netbook heavily for years I can tell you that these little devices, while not the most powerful computers in the world, could certainly perform the most common tasks required. In my case, I forced a non-upgradable Acer AspireOne to do everything from writing simple blog posts to photo editing to writing desktop applications in Microsoft's Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate environment. That little netbook would overheat like you wouldn't believe in the summer, prompting me to put ice packs under the case while using it lest it lock up in the middle of my work and force me to take a break for half an hour while it cooled off. It wasn't pretty, but that's where the first two versions of Noteworthy were coded, as well as half of the current release. Heck, I'm willing to bet good money that I used that netbook harder than any other person in a first-world nation pushed theirs1.

So back to Mr. Thurrott's article.

He says that the 20-million Windows 7 licenses that Microsoft sold every month were mostly comprised of the low-end netbook-type hardware, which includes the big-ass 15.6" machines with crap resolutions, slow hard drives, and entry-level processors. Here's how he puts it:

See, that 20 million figure—which I believe to have been massaged from a bookkeeping standpoint—was unfairly bolstered by sales of low-cost PCs, primarily netbooks. And that’s the clue we see in the NPD statement above. It says that the average selling price of notebooks “rose only $2 to $420.” The average selling price of Windows-based PC notebooks is barely above $400. Do you know what the ASP is for Apple’s Macbook line? It’s $1419. A full $1000 more than that of a typical Windows notebook. $1000!

It’s not pat to say that the Windows PC market went for volume over quality, because it did: Many of those 20 million Windows 7 licenses each month—too many, I think—went to machines that are basically throwaway, plastic crap. Netbooks didn’t just rejuvenate the market just as Windows 7 appeared, they also destroyed it from within: Now consumers expect to pay next to nothing for a Windows PC. Most of them simply refuse to pay for more expensive Windows PCs.

And because consumers refuse to pay for the most expensive Windows PCs, people will likely not see the benefits of using Windows 8 the way it was meant to be used; with fingers.

While reading this article, visions of shoppers like my wife filled my head. In the case of Mrs. Irwin, she doesn't see the value of a more expensive or a more capable computer. She doesn't see the need for screens with higher resolutions or sharper screens, or fonts that don't look like shit. A computer is a computer is a computer. My parents are much the same way. My sisters are much the same way. And this is fine … for them. But it's not good for Microsoft. They need people to want to pay the higher prices for the better hardware with the touch screens. They need people to want to use gestures to navigate through the screens. Windows 8 was designed for fingers, not the mouse!

Yet many people will not use the software this way.

Whenever I go to an electronics store I try the newer Windows machines, looking for one that doesn't frustrate me2. I've yet to find one. A lot of the computers on display at shops like Sofmap and Bic Camera come in one of two flavours: incredibly cheap, and incredibly pricey. The incredibly cheap machines don't have touch or, if they do, it's less than optimal. The incredibly pricey units cost far more than most Apple devices and are responsive to the touch, but are far too expensive for the average person. It's true that Windows 8 is still a relatively new operating system and the hardware vendors need time to catch up and make adequate systems that take advantage of the new software, but does Microsoft have enough time for this? Does Ballmer?

The netbook was introduced to the computing world half a decade ago with a great deal of fanfare. Technology had finally come far enough that just about anybody could have a small, potent little computer in their purse or office bag without destroying their spine, and these things were practically given away. Signing up for a wireless data plan or an ISP would give you the option of receiving one of these machines for as little as 1円. One Yen! Who in their right mind would pay 100,000円 for a decent machine that would last five to seven years when you can just toss away the 1円 machine and get a new one every year or two?

Like Thurrott states, the netbook didn't just rejuvenate the ailing PC market; it destroyed it. The average selling price of PCs plummeted to such an extent that sales of quality machines were no longer sustainable. People wanted cheaper devices that could be disposed of like cell phones after a contract, and that's just what they got.

People like my wife and sisters will never pay more for a touch-based computer just because it's running Windows. Not in a million years. This is going to be a tough nut for Microsoft to crack, and I highly doubt the current executive team will be the ones to do it.

Better With a Mouse

Today I had the opportunity to play with Windows 8 at the local Sofmap for a full 30 minutes. Displays were set up in two locations for people to get a little hands-on time with Microsoft's newest operating system, one with tablets and the other with desktops. There are quite a few differences between Windows 8 and the previous versions as well as a lot of familiarity. That said, after half an hour with the heavily-marketed product I came away with a single conclusion: it's better with a mouse.

The tablets are, to be completely honest, a complete waste of money. I tested products from Fujitsu, Sony, Acer, and Toshiba. They all had the exact same specifications and the exact same shortfalls. The touches were not always registered1. The interactions were not always consistent2. Accessing the "charms" required two or more attempts. Typing required some patience3.

The desktops, however, did not have any of the downsides of Windows 8 RT … Windows RT 8 … Windows RT … fuck it: the slates. They were as quick and responsive as you would expect from a full-powered quad-core Core i5 with 8GB RAM and SSD. Applications loaded quickly. The mouse made all of the interactions with the new interface decent enough to get used to within a few minutes4. Would I be able to use this myself? Most certainly I could. Would I recommend this for my wife or my parents? Absolutely not. There are just too many "hidden" things that people will never find, and too many areas that are actually more confusing than previous versions of Windows.

One thing that I did like a lot about this whole experience is that it reminded me a great deal of Windows 98 in the era of IE4. The fourth version of Microsoft's web browser was poised to completely change the way we interacted with computers and with the Internet itself. It actually did, too … as most of our computers became horribly unstable after installing IE4 on the Windows 98 previews and even Windows 95. The Active Desktop concept required just way more power than most computers had available at the time, but a lot of it seems to be in play today with Windows 8. This alone would make me consider test-driving the operating system for a while on a nicely specked-out desktop computer.

But not a laptop, and never a slate.

There's just one little thing that I can't quite forgive Microsoft for: language support.

Once again, if you buy Windows 8, you have to choose which language you want. Japanese. English. Swahili. Canadian English. It's a freaking joke. Windows is the ONLY operating system in the world where people not only have to think about what version they want to install on their computer5, but what language or languages we need to use. There are language packs available for download, yes, but many of these simply tack on support, rather than fully integrating it.

Alas … it won't be my problem. A memo from IT has made it very clear that Windows 8 has been banned from the organization. It's not permitted on the corporate network. Period. This is the first time I've heard of such a thing considering how Linux and OS X are not used within the organization but are perfectly acceptable on personal devices.

Moving On

I understand that this is the first release of the new operating system, and there are a lot of new things to get accustomed to. I also understand that I am not the target demographic for this new operating system. That said, as someone who has been a steadfast user of Windows for over 15 years, I think I can safely say that I am glad I left the Windows world behind. I don't understand what the big picture for Microsoft's applications should be, anymore. I don't see any consistency in Microsoft's own products to emulate or work into my own Windows programming projects. I don't even see the value of the Windows RT tablets … which are supposed to somehow change the way organizations do things6.

I am not the target market, anymore. I'm moving on.

The Precursor to BSoD

My computer is about to freeze and throw a Blue Screen of Death. I can feel it. I can sense it. Oh, and Chrome Crashed. This is how it always begins:

From here I get this whenever I try to launch an application. Any application:

Seems that msvcrt.dll is the culprit, but this really only happens when I'm in the middle of work. The wife still doesn't think I need a new computer so, until I get another little bit of cash saved up for a MacBook Air with 8GB RAM, I'll use this computer with a pair of frozen ice pads underneath …

Six Blue Screens in 14 Hours

This is getting to be unbearable. I can be a very patient person when people around me work with me to make the most of what's available, but I cannot keep dealing with systems that are simply not up to the task of doing the very work they are hired to do. Since 9 PM last night I have had six Blue Screens of Death in Windows 7 Ultimate1 and have lost several hours due to system checks, consistency checks, and reboot times.

There is only one solution to this problem, Windows, and it's called firing your ass from a cannon into the Sun with extreme prejudice.

Windows Phone Ahead of Android?

Apparently Au sells iPads now … if the commercials are to be believed. So, curious about how much a new iPad with data package might set me back on Au, I went to their site and found something truly amazing. A first of firsts, and perhaps the only example on the Internet of such a thing; a Windows Phone advertisement wedged between the iPhone and a myriad of Android devices.

This year I've seen a grand total of three people using a Windows Phone phone phone phone. Two of them were yellow, one of them pink, and the people holding them were all over the age of 50. That said, if Au is willing to put this tiny sliver of an advertisement next to the iPhone, then perhaps Microsoft's promotional dollars will be well spent.

I wouldn't hold my breath, though.