No articles posted for 05/2013; five most recent entries shown.
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I'm reading Pirate Cinema at the moment, a Cory Doctorow novel aimed at young adults, with the thinly-veiled ulterior motive of discussing concepts of piracy, copyright and intellectual property with young people.
A great couple of paragraphs on page 130. The central character, a 16 year old lad from Bradford, has had his internet cut off for downloading and remixing old movies. As a result (in the near-future world in which this is set), his sister can't study, his mother can't claim invalidity benefit, and his father can't perform his job. He is thinking about anti-piracy propaganda:
We'd just laugh at these - the ancient, exquisitely preserved rock star we saw getting out of a limo crying poverty; the workers who claimed that we were taking food out of their kids' mouths by remixing videos or sharing music, when every kid I knew spent every penny he could find on music as well as downloading more for free.
But now I tried to imagine the men who bought and sold MPs like they were pop songs, who put laws into production like they were summer blockbusters, and got to specify exactly what they'd like the statute book to say about the people they didn't like. I realized that somewhere out there, there were gleaming office towers filled with posh, well-padded execs who went around in limos and black cabs, who lived in big houses and whose kids had all the money in the world, and these men had decided to ruin my family for the sake of a few extra pennies.
I just wanted to make a note of this, it conveys the divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots" very succinctly, and how a slight improvement in the way of life of the 1% can come at a very high price for the 99%.
I'm not even sure who this rant is aimed at - HP seem the most likely target, possibly Microsoft for their UEFI-based "Secure Boot" policy, and finally and most likely, UEFI itself for being bloody awkward.
I suspect that HP is the real problem here, though.
I bought a laptop on the high street, preinstalled with Windows 8. The plan was to install Debian GNU/Linux alongside the original Windows 8 install, for many reasons:
- Any problems in Debian could be compared against the "kosher" Windows install on the same hardware
- This is a decent-spec PC, so any Windows-only software that required a good spec could also be run on this PC
- I have paid for this OS, so I should be able to use it
- Warranty requires *this install* of Windows (even a reinstall of Windows would not be valid, apparently)
However, I have spent two evenings trying to get this setup working properly, and have been unable to make it work satisfactorily. The only way to boot Debian seems to be to press "F9" repeatedly before the UEFI kicks in, then choose "Notebook Hard Drive" (the 3rd of 4 options, and no, it's not a notebook), and finally see the Debian GRUB menu.
I do not have the time or inclination to detail this HP laptop's BIOS settings in full, other than to say that it will apparently ignore its settings, UEFI rules over all, and the "OS Boot Manager" rules over UEFI.
I have given up, and am currently installing Debian GNU/Linux on the entire hard disk, losing Windows, losing my warranty, and losing a point of reference to compare the OS's performance.
Yes, I'm sure that a proper dual-boot setup is possible even on this hardware, but I do not have the time to work it out. This really does feel like an attack on general-purpose computing, whereby a user is able to purchase a piece of hardware and be able to control what that machine does.
Just a brief note that I've written a new post at http://nixshell.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/track-memory-usage-on-solaris/.
Not totally complete, open for people to improve upon...
I've pretty much always used GNU/Linux on the desktop - I started University back in 1992 (twenty years ago!!) and first met, and fell in love, with Unix. Since leaving Uni in 1996, I've been an avid GNU/Linux user.
Once I had an employer which required me to use Windows XP for two years. I failed to write up my experiences at the time. Now, as an independent IT consultant, I regularly use Windows XP and Windows 7 (mainly to run PuTTY and log in to Unix and Linux servers). I've also owned personal laptops with came preinstalled with Vista and Windows 7 too. One of those has retained a dual-boot capability, in case the kids' homework projects absolutely requires Windows.
The whole Year of the Linux Desktop debate has always kind of passed me by; It's never really affected me personally - I'm still waiting for the incumbent Windows environment to catch up with what GNOME and other windowing systems could do in 2006, as well as for the Windows OS to become as traceable and inspectable as Unix and Linux systems have always been. Having multiple workspaces active at the same time, being able to easily and unobstructively switch between them, and to move windows (and tabs) between workspaces would be the first thing that I would fix if I was in charge of the Windows usability team.
One big thing on the Windows side of things has apparently been games - the number and quality of games available on Windows is far greater than that on GNU/Linux. As a simple soul who enjoys chess, mahjongg, and the like, that's never been too compelling an argument either, although I did enjoy playing both Portal and Portal 2, on the Steam platform. Apparently Valve are taking GNU/Linux seriously as a platform now, so that too helped to push me towards a recent decision.
I often read accounts from Windows users about their first experiences with GNU/Linux; here is my account of my first real experience of Windows gaming.
As a huge Formula 1 racing fan, I bought the Codemasters game "F1 2012" for Windows Vista and Windows 7. As I mentioned above, the kids' laptop can boot into Windows Vista, so I was looking forward to playing a game which is apparently far better than their "F1 2009" release which I have on the Nintendo Wii, and is a reasonable attempt though really quite a weak experience.
First I went to my local Tesco superstore, which had loads of Wii, XBox and PS3 games, but only the Top 10 PC games, which F1 2012 was apparently not in. The assistant told me that they don't stock many PC games these days. I don't know if that is representative, but I was surprised, as my impression was that the Wii had fallen behind, and XBox, PS3 and PC were the top gaming platforms.
I bought the game online - I believe that you can download Steam and order games that way, but I being the old far that I am, I ordered the DVD which finally arrived today.
I ran through the installer, which installed Steam first, then hung after creating and registering my Steam account. I killed that process and launched Steam, which showed a fancy "Library" of games, with links to various related items, and in general was far more polished than anything I've seen on GNU/Linux systems. Linux hackers tend to be more interested in getting the thing working and out into the hands of users, than about the level of polish which has clearly gone into the Steam presentation.
This felt pretty impressive, despite the crash already mentioned (and the reminder it brought that there is (AFAIK) no strace, no top, no vmstat or iostat, and basically no way to find out why the HDD light is flashing away but nothing appears to be happening)>
I clicked the "Play" button, the screen flickered as if changing resolution and stayed black for at least a minute. The HDD light flickered away again frantically. This PC has only got 3Gb RAM and 46GB of free disk space; I'm not totally au fait with Windows memory management principles but I believe that if short on memory it is quite happy to increase the pagefile and write virtual memory to disk, not massively different to how the Linux kernel (if not Unix) tends to approach virtual memory, so I was happy enough.
I was then disappointed to get a message that the Steam servers are overloaded - this was a Saturday afternoon, UK time, and Steam seems to be the largest Windows gaming environment, so I was disappointed, though I suspect this might be their busiest time - Europe and America are both online. I tried, retried, waited and tried again, but kept getting the same error message.
I don't have enough experience of Steam to know if there is a way to play the game without being online with the Steam servers - it seems unnecessary unless playing online against others, or for software license validation, but others online with more experience in this field than myself were all finding it problematic...
I went online, found a few forums, and eventually found To those that are receiving the Error 41 on Steam which had CodeMasters staff actively involved, telling users what they could do to help diagnose the problem. Finally! This felt familiar, developers and end-users working together to locate a bug. This is more like how the GNU/Linux community operates. But there's a jar (not dissimilar to how I find the Ubuntu forums, I must admit) because most of the participants are (occasionally quite abusively) demanding an immediate fix from the developers, who don't know what is causing the problem, and are asking users to send debug info. The difference in this model, is that it seems that the developers have caused this problem by not allowing the users to dig into the problem themselves, and now have thousands of users demanding a fix, when the developers themselves are apparently busy at a games developers' conference.
This is exactly why I normally avoid such environments; I love F1, and was swayed by strangers' reviews of the game, so I put my prejudice to one side and joined in the US/THEM environment that commercial software development entails, and was immediately bitten by an almost textbook example of the problem of this type of development model.
I am sure that this particular problem will be fixed soon (and it better had be fixed - I have paid money for this software to entertain me, so we have a simple and clear contract), but it's still a perfect example of why I avoid such software models for my own use.
I run my business on GNU/Linux systems, LibreOffice, bash, vi, sed, wget and the like. These are all robust systems, but they will of course have bugs from time to time. If I depend on these things and they develop faults, I can revert to an earlier version (apparently Patch #4 in this game caused the problems, but there seems no way to choose Patch #3 instead), I can fix the problem myself, or pay someone else to fix it.
That is far better than being forced to wait until the developer gets back from their conference, becomes available to look at the problem, work on a fix, test that it will work for everybody without causing any further problems, release the fix, and I get to install it. I don't necessarily care about a full fix - if I can fix the bug that's stopping me from filing my accounts, I couldn't care less about waiting for QA of NVidia version x.y.z and AMD version a.b.c graphics cards, I can fix the problem that I am experiencing and get on with using the software. It is inevitable that there are only a handful of developers who are actually in a position to debug and fix this problem; the development model means that it is practically and legally impossible to open this task out to the wider community, the people interested in actually seeing a fix for the problem. That, to me, is the fundamental flaw with the closed-source development model, particularly for mass-market software, but also for relatively niche software - website admins are some of the best people to work on the Apache web server, mail admins for Sendmail, GNU/Linux admins for GNU and the Linux kernel. Windows gamers do not get the opportunity to fix the problems with their games, solely because the development model does not allow the developers to share their code (and problems) with the wider community.
A problem shared is a problem halved. Share it with 1000 people and it's divided by 1000 (in practice, maybe 950 of them are unlikely to be able to help, so it's divided by 50). This game must have sold many many copies already, so the given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow principle applies.
I am glad that this problem I have experienced was only with a trivial game for entertainment; I shall return to my stable GNU/Linux and Unix environments for Getting Stuff Done.