Grooming Linux for Market Share

I’m not really sure where this article would fit.  I guess it could be considered a rant.  It could also be considered humor.  It certainly won’t be technical.  Stay tuned…

I’ve long believed in the “Third Way“.  You do too, most likely.  I’m sure you have used the phrase “The truth is in the middle”.  In this case I’m using it figuratively.  When you have two dominant schools of thought with fans on either side, rabidly baring teeth and growling, they are both wrong and they are both right.

With Computers, specifically Home Computers, no matter what you do you are both wrong and you are right.

In the beginning there was the tinkerer.  The tinkerer built machines of a handful of electronic parts, plugged it in, and hopefully it wouldn’t explode.  If it didn’t explode you would end up with an Apple.

Coming later there was a plan.  The plan was to grab everything that you had sitting around, make a big pile of it all, rearrange it into something useful.  Since all the parts worked, you had something that would be an IBM PC.

The Apple was known as the “Walled Garden“.  They had a theory that as long as you stay in the Walled Garden, all will be well and no naughty things will get you.  Live there and they will take care of you improving things along the way.  There are benefits, and as long as you like what they are doing, the gardeners would keep you happy.  

But the Walled Garden has it’s problems.  It tends towards a stifled experience since you are limited to how the Gardeners want you to act within the Garden.  Don’t bring in outside Beverages or you may kill the flowers.

Sure, it’s an analogy but I’m on a roll here… walk with me, I need to go to the store and get some butter and some milk.

Outside of the Walled Garden is a more “Open Approach”.  When IBM built the original PC they wanted to make it open.  They sold it with two Operating Systems and it was up to you to chose what you wanted.  Eventually that solidified and the market determined we’d all use DOS and creativity allowed a new business to be created.

But as time went on, some folks decided that DOS wasn’t the best way and they decided a more open Walled Garden would be made.  Windows was created as well as it’s sister OS/2.  OS/2 was better at the time but due to it’s not being marketed well, it failed.  There was also a nasty little argument and sibling rivalry happened to kill the old way of doing things. 

Now Microsoft’s Windows is on around 86% of the computers, Apple’s OSX is on around 6%.

Hold on you say, that isn’t 100%, what’s going on here?  Sure, there are still some DOS machines around, some folks refuse to change, and there are even some of those early weird operating systems around.  Together that’s still only around 2%.

So there is a third way – remember that?

The other 6% of the market is something that “BROADLY” could be called Linux.  That is inexact, there are a lot of smaller Linux-Like operating systems that are out there but they are the vast minority of the 6%.  They include proprietary things like Unix which all the hoards of Linux and BSD are designed to look like and some other truly interesting things but they don’t really hold significant market share.

That third way of Linux (And BSD and All The Rest – Lets use “Linux” as shorthand here since that’s generally how I say it) is the last Bastion of Creativity in the Operating System World.

Ok everything to this point has been “setting” in this little play.  

So you’ve decided to try out linux but which one?  There are hundreds of Linux-es out there that all can be tinkered with to suit what you want it to be.  Linux offers you the opportunity of freedom.  It is a Free Operating System.  It will run your old computer as well as your new one (as long as you have the right hardware).   It will run your Phone as easily as your laptop or your Mainframe (IBM went into Linux in a BIG way on those Mainframes).

Linux is also the best place for someone to tinker.  You could literally rewrite the entire system from scratch if you wanted to.  If you didn’t want it to be rewritten you could change every single aspect of what you’re doing.  It’s up to you.

It also has gotten so that it passes the Grandma Test.  Download a file, burn to a DVD and put it in any PC as well as most Macs and it will start and present you with a familiar desktop.

So what’s the problem?  Well it’s only got 6% of the market.  I have four machines here that run on Linux.  It’s a great way to make an old computer live again.  One of those machines was a Dumpster Dived computer that is around 12 years old and it runs faster than some of the faster machines I’ve seen today.  It just doesn’t run all of the software I need.

So how do you fix it?  Well here’s the thing, you have to depend on the Comic Book Guy.  The Comic Book Guy Effect is the Problem, not the Solution.  If you look like this guy then you’re the problem.

Ok, being catty is never a good way to discuss things, but if you’re a fan of The Simpsons, you’ll recognize what I’m talking about right off.  This guy spouts things like some article is “Clearly Superior” or “Worst Thing Ever” in a condescending tone, doesn’t look like he’s “left Mom’s Basement” in years, and needs some social skills.

You see if you are trying to tell the world that there’s something new and exciting, looking like this guy in the picture that I got from Wikipedia, does not help.

Yesterday I had to laugh at exactly this situation.  It was a beautiful sunny South Florida day.  90 Degrees, Brilliant Sun, warm with gentle breezes off the ocean.  I was hot in my white T Shirt and cargo shorts.  I went to the Fort Lauderdale CompUSA at 2PM on Sunday, September 18, 2011.

I wouldn’t be so judgmental if I didn’t see the “Clearly Superior” effect of bad marketing laid out in front of me so unselfconsciously.  You see, this is what is holding things back. 

I walked into the store and was looking wide eyed at some equipment that I wouldn’t mind having, while knowing that there’s a replacement coming to the stores in a couple weeks. 

Yeah I read too much for my own good, what of it? 

I saw going past me in a washed out grey streak the poster child for “Get out of your Mom’s Basement” followed by “Grizzly Adams”.  “Mom’s Basement” had a picture of Tux the Penguin, the Linux Mascot on the back of his washed out and formerly black T Shirt.  Tux makes me smile and I thought there goes someone who uses Linux. 

Then he turned around and I realized what the phrase “Unwashed Masses” truly meant.  You see in the 90F heat, this guy was dressed in that overly worn T shirt in black over black jeans.  Hot and sweaty and unshaven, “Mom’s Basement” needed a shower.  His compatriot was a similar character.  Looking like Grizzly Adams and needing some more Grooming, they made the perfect stereotype of the 2011 definition for:

Geek.

Ok, so there’s room for everyone at the table.  It’s a big buffet and everyone is welcome.  We NEED geeks.  These are the folks who solve the hard problems.  They will fix your PC and make it better.  Don’t ask them to explain what they did or you’re in trouble.

And that in a nutshell is what seems to be holding back Linux.  It CAN be difficult.  It IS being worked on so it passes the Grandma Test – remember that?  These Geeks are writing some amazing software that you will never think of but it makes the world go around.

However, would you hire them?  Would you want Grizzly Adams in your posh office whether or not he runs the computer in the back room?   Would you want to be the person to tell “Mom’s Basement” that like I overheard the 7th grade Gym Teacher say “Showers are Mandatory” when he boomed into the gym at Heritage Junior High oh so many years ago?

Most likely he’d end up back in Mom’s Basement writing some more amazing code that will get used somewhere, and make the Third Way a little more palatable to the general public.  

Why did this stick in my head so well?

Well as I stood looking at the prices on the Hard Drives for my laptop which were too high, I’ll look online later, I heard the two of them talk.  It was one condescending comment over “THOSE people who use (gasp) Mac or worse! Windows!” after another.

You see people use their computers for different reasons.   If you’re not actually doing graphics or writing the worlds next War and Peace, you can use anything you like.  You could write emails on a phone or an iPad or a desktop computer.   Grandma does not need a gamer’s rig of the latest barn burning hardware, she may be best off with an older laptop plugged into the TV so she can see it.  Dad may only want to get on Facebook or play a few online games and catch up on The Scores.  Dad’s going to be tougher to deal with because if that Dad doesn’t know what he wants, some person in a big box store is going to sell him more than he needs and make the store a bigger commission.

Computers are like shoes.  We all have different needs and different uses.  After a while our new shiny thing will stink just like the year old running shoes that you left on the back porch because you stepped on something rude that some fool didn’t pick up from Fido.

Being condescending and rude never works.  Especially if you’re making yourself out to be the Poster Child for the Third Way with Tux on your back.

So for now, I have some things to do on my Windows machine.  I wrote this on my 12 year old laptop that was discarded that runs Linux.  Later on I want to get onto the Mac OSX desktop and see if a file is there.  They’re all good, they all have their strengths and weaknesses…. and I even showered today too since I got out of Mom’s Basement years ago!

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Computer Procurement and One Single White Flower

Ok so say you listened.

You decided that you wanted to get a piece of hardware and make sure everything will work well together.  You put it all together and what if it actually does not work?

That’s the problem when “Standards” aren’t Standard.

You see, I ran into that problem yesterday.

Father John here in Wilton Manors and his partner Father Larry run a church, New Divine Mercy.  I help them out with their technology needs, and we have decided that they need a proper video camera and tripod to do some enhancements to their web page.  I put that page together, and there are videos on it, and we would like to add some more for a more personal touch.  

Yesterday we went shopping.  We got a great buy on a video camera, picked up an appropriate Class 10 memory chip, 16 GB of course, and a beautiful “professional grade” tripod.   I’m really quite amazed at the tripod, that thing is built like it is cut from a slab of granite.

Everything should just fall together and work, right?

It didn’t turn out that way.

The Tripod is perfect, the camera is wonderful.  They work together well.  I charged the internal battery on the camera and did a test movie.  It ran for 22 seconds and …

Stopped.

Scratching my head, I did it again.

The definition of insanity according to Benjamin Franklin is appropriate here:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

(I looked it up, the link is here, it isn’t Einstein)

I tried the video around 10 or so times tweaking various settings and got the same results so I decided to try something different.  I placed my own 8GB chip in the camera and try it over.

Success.   I got a 10 minute video of me walking around my back yard, filming my dog pee on the grass (she does this when on camera) and looking at the pretty flowers.  Ooooh.

So thinking that it was the chip that we got for the video camera, I placed it in my own still camera and we went for the 5pm Dog Walk around Wilton Manors.   I was snapping pictures all over the place, and using the “questionable” memory chip, got the result in this post.

What is going on is that the video camera does not recognize the new 16GB memory chip.  My own still camera does recognize the chip.  Both cameras recognize my smaller 8GB chip.  For now, the video camera has my chip and I have Father John’s larger chip but my intent is to pay the third visit to the computer store in two days and make a swap.

Seems that that memory chip should just be a bad memory.  As far as the video camera is concerned, it is.

Why I Didn’t Buy Anything at Office Depot

Retail stinks. 

You go into a typically oversized building with typically loud “Mood” music that puts you into a sullen mood, rubbing shoulders with people who are always looking at what you’re looking at, and you deal with people who are scraping by at the bottom of the Sales career ladder.

After all, why would someone choose to work in one of those places making a little over minimum wage and have to deal with the general public.  If they were truly GOOD at sales, they would be selling expensive items on commission and be driving a better car than you or I do.  Even in this lousy Republican Induced Great Depression, people NEED things. 

Monday Morning, Yesterday by my watch, I got into Kevin’s car and we drove over to Office Depot on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale.  New store, or at least newly redone, its one of those Big Box stores that we all love… or love to hate.  We were in there for about a half hour from start to finish and in a word I can easily describe the experience.

Indifferent.

I admit, it is a truly hard job to do Retail.  I did it for a while way back when I was in college.  It was fun for a while but it grew tired and I moved on.  I had the good luck to be able to do a job I wanted to do while I didn’t actually have to.   Working behind the counter of a Radio Shack in Delran NJ, I got to meet some wonderful people, the customers.  I enjoyed their quirks when they were pleasant, learned how to watch them when they weren’t and up to some no-good, and then I got to meet the people from The Home Office.  It gave me an appreciation for just how nasty some people can be and completely blew away any preconceptions I ever had about people from Texas being Nice.  Don’t believe it, in those days the Tandy Corporation had some of the meanest people you ever had the misfortune to know and I avoided those stores for years after I left as a result.

But this is today, and that was back in the day…

Office Depot wasn’t rude at all.  The Assistant Manager who was working the register was an amazingly nice person and helped us out with courtesy, respect and was genuinely helpful.

I went about my business as Kevin walked around looking for the goodies he needed.  I may not have intended to buy anything that day but I am one of those people who Recommend Purchases.  People look here, ask me directly and on email my opinion of products and if I like something I certainly will tell them. 

I am also very hard to hide in a store.   I am 6’4″ and 225 pounds – a wall of a man.  I walk into a building and almost always someone notices.  I guess it is the Big Guy Syndrome, but if you see someone fill a doorway you’ll pay attention.  I’m used to looking over things like displays and noticing whether they cleaned back “there” and where the back stock is.  If it’s there, I’ll find it.

I’m also a technology junkie.  If you are reading this and want me to do an impartial review send me the item and I’ll do so but be aware if it is junk I’ll say so.   There’s this one pair of Noise Canceling Headphones that I want and would really like a pair to review…

Ok, I didn’t think so – so enough “hinting”.  The Bose ones are mindbendingly effective but at $300, I’ll get the Sony MDR-NC7 instead and they’re only $29 new at that link.

But that was what I was looking at – AFTER I spent a solid 15 minutes poking and prodding laptop computers.  The majority of the day I sit with one and have people comment that I spend my day on Facebook.  The truth is that I don’t, Facebook is logged on, but it sits behind everything in the dust behind the endcap of what ever I am working on in the big box store of my computer.

Fifteen minutes standing in one aisle looking at laptops is a long time.

Fifteen minutes of being walked past by Office Depot uniform shirted employees trying to do their job is an even longer time. 

That’s the beef.  I usually strongly dislike being asked my opinion while IN a store or whether I need help but after about 5 minutes of someone standing in one place with a glazed over look of awe at the next newest shiny toy, you would think someone would say something…

They didn’t.  In fact one of those Office Depot Uniform Shirted Employees passed so close to me that their elbow brushed my shirt a-little-too roughly and all I got was a grunt – not excuse me just “unh” and the sound of shuffling feet moving quickly away.

I wasn’t dressed well, I looked more like a tourist with a t-shirt and cargo shorts on.   I wasn’t dressed like the third person in there was, in corporate drag of chinos and a polo shirt.  Maybe the employee, and I am being decidedly vague, thought “He’s not buying anything so I don’t have to care”. 

I don’t know but now I’m sitting here writing out a review as to why I will go to another store next time instead of looking at laptops at Office Depot.  Besides, there’s a CompUSA just up the block…

Kevin came back, went off to get more goodies so I wandered a little more… now at 15 minutes or more, I’m actively wandering through the store and had to do a dance to get out of the way of Yet-Another-Office-Depot-Uniform-Shirted-Employee with a grunt on their lips.  I DO tend to take up most of the aisle, after all, because I have a 48 inch chest so I try hard NOT to get into people’s ways, but don’t GRUNT!  That was twice. 

I was wondering whether I’d run into Charlotte and her Web after all that grunting!

I did find the headphones I was looking for.  Sony MDR-NC7.  They’re not terribly expensive at $49 at Office Depot – don’t get them there you can find them at Best Buy cheaper at $39, and they’re online new as of today at $29 and Refurbished for as low as $16. 

I stood there looking at the box on the shelf for a couple minutes not being grunted at and decided that if I was going to pry open my wallet, I’d wait for the next sale on the Refurbished one and do the shopping from my bouncy Poang chair.

Sorry Office Depot, I won’t recommend people shop at your stores.  Best Buy for Consumer goods since you can tire kick and actually talk to someone without having to be grunted at and hunt for them.  CompUSA for Computer goods for the same reason.  Both stores have some VERY helpful people and seem to know when to back off.  In Fort Lauderdale, Both stores seem fairly well balanced between Jack Russell Terrier Bouncy Helpful Sales People and Professional Detatchment – if you don’t need help thank them and they’ll leave you be. 

But Office Depot?  You need some help.

A Tale of Two CompUSAs

With apologies to Tolstoy, this is something a bit more mundane.

In my job as IT Manager, I have to do a lot of technical purchases. 

I’m that guy that Recommends, Acquires, Specifies, and Deploys computer hardware and software. I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer monitor looking at web pages looking at detailed descriptions, and telling others that “Hey, we need this”!

Once in a while I even get out of the office and visit the real world and see what the shops have to offer.

For computer hardware in South Florida there seems to be one main place to pick up that sort of item, CompUSA.   I find that unfortunate.  As my Economics teacher said in University, when a market is dominated by one seller and holds a Monopoly that market suffers from inefficiencies and higher prices. 

I find my Economics teacher to have been almost completely correct here in Ft Lauderdale in the case of Computer parts.  After all, if you can read this, you can also get to some of the competition and wait for it to show up at your front door.  Sometimes you can even save some money.

The thing is that in my position, if you need it now, you don’t want to wait for a week for it to get in from California or beyond.  So I would climb into my Jeep and drive to the nearest CompUSA.   If I were closer to it, I’d go to the Hialeah Tiger Direct/CompUSA outlet and despite the fact that the neighborhood is kind of scary, I’d geek out over the variety they have there. 

My choices here in Broward are the stores in Deerfield Beach and on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale.  Two stores with identical product lines, identical market (same county), and identical mother company in Tiger Direct.

The differences are pretty frightening.   My boss has flatly forbid me to go to the store in Deerfield Beach.  That particular CompUSA I would not send someone to on a bet.  Clean building that is under lit and dark and has a truly annoying guitar riff tape playing louder that I would prefer on a loop.  

How do I know that that tape is a loop?  Because one day I had to go into that store to price some items and needed help and ended up standing there for more than an hour.   Yes, I made the mistake to see just how long it was before someone would help me.   I had to almost tackle some guy to get him to promise me to bring back Someone Else to talk to me about the particular product in question.   Another half hour later, someone arrived.   That second person was quite helpful, and quite out of character for that store.  

If someone wants to study how to run a large store badly, I suggest you go to CompUSA and look around.  I can say that there was exactly one person there that had a clue about customer service that worked during the work day and the rest were trying to look busy and avoid any contact with people.

On the other hand, I have always been pleasantly surprised with the CompUSA Store on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale.  North of Sunrise Blvd, Near the Whole Foods… Yeah, That One.   They reopened that store and I have been in it a number of times since then.   It is very close to my house and when ever I go in there I am greeted, asked if I need help, and actually assisted by people who had some knowledge of their product.  More importantly, if I tell them “thanks, I’m OK” they back off. 

I had gone into the store most recently and had to pick up some converters for the new machines that I have to set up on 9 desks in my office, and was asked if there was anything else.   I had mentioned that I was looking for some memory to upgrade a laptop.   I told him the type and not thinking I forgot what the speed was.  The salesman caught that right off and told me I needed the speed of the memory. 

Basic Mistake, but the point is that after being in the CompUSA on Hillsborough in Deerfield and being ignored and treated like part of the furniture, and the CompUSA on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale where I was treated well even when not shopping for work, I have one suggestion…

Avoid the store in Hillsborough in Deerfield Beach, FL – My Boss Was Right.

Centon Datastick Pro Review – Bargain Basement Storage

In this case, low price means slow.   I bought this Centon Datastick Pro 16GB USB Flash Drive Memory stick at the CompUSA Store in Ft Lauderdale so it could take a VirtualPC image I have.   Its a development environment that is custom crafted to allow me to do all sorts of things that you would need to do in a software development office.  I would have put a direct link to the model stick but the page wouldn’t load in Firefox – always a good test for me personally whether to interact with a company or not.

First problem was that the stick was formatted FAT32 like the old Windows 98 Hard Drives.  The problem is that the environment image was 10.2GB of space.   Ok, not really a big deal, just logistics, right?   Newer versions of Windows use NTFS, and 10GB files are no problem there.   Had to reformat that little stick and now I have to remember to eject the stick under pain of death of data.   FAT32 you can just pull out of the USB slot but you really *should* eject it.

The second problem then hit me in the face.  Or rather rubbed itself slowly in my face.  I started the copy dinner time and thought that it would take maybe an hour, two tops…. BZZZT!  WRONG!   I’m writing this at 930AM the next morning and it has just finished copying.   So now I have this big ol’ copy of a Virtual PC image sitting on a stick that I can run like another computer and I’m wondering whether it was worth the effort.

The eventual start up time was 10 minutes, with 1 minute alone to play the default Windows XP start up sound.    It took over 20 minutes to get quiet enough to interact with it and shut it down.  I will copy it onto the host PC’s Drive in the future.  Running from my laptop with adequate memory it starts in 2 minutes and runs “well” enough for me.

The moral of the story is that if you need extra storage for important papers and pictures, recipes and music, a low end low cost USB Flash drive will be fine.   Store your papers on one, then drop it somewhere safe.

If you need one with high speed, don’t go low end.   Either spend some extra after doing your homework and finding a high speed drive, or get yourself an external Hard Disc with a real internal Disc that hooks up to USB and you’ll be fine.

Even CDs are faster than this little guy for big files.   I think I’ll put my E-Books on there.