Recently, I have delved into the Unix Haters' Handbook, which was originally published as a book in 1994, and later republished as a PDF. Since I am an avid Linux advocate in general, I wanted to do a little research into what is perceived to be the problem with Linux or Unix. It makes no pretense about being the anti-Unix rant that it is. In some respects, being an experienced Linux user and minor Unix/Linux/Minix/POSIX hacker (mind you, the more traditional sense of tinkerer, not the more recent media-fuelled misnotion of "cracker"), in several places I had to say, duh, of course that's what happened, that's the way it works. If you didn't want it to do that, you shouldn't have typed that. But nonetheless, I can understand the sentiments, and agree that UI, even with the advent of distributions like Ubuntu, has a ways to go. But it's certainly not as bad as that e-book says it is, a point that is conceded by the page pointing to its download.
Still...being a general Linux advocate and Microsoft Windows® bigot, my personal experience falls on the side that Windows® is more cryptic and hard to use than any "recent" Linux system. As one small example, Internet Explorer will show you a page full of "nonsense" (well, it's not total nonsense, it's trying to indicate that it can't do much, and things to ATTEMPT to remedy the issue), followed by the bits that actually matter, "Server not found or DNS error." Why, oh why, are you telling me something so useless? For starters, why do you tell me it's this or that, instead of it's this or it's that? Windows® to me is broken that way in many places, and I'm not quite sure why. My best hypothesis is laziness on Windows® programmers' part...both those who built the system and the majority of those who develop on that system. Why, oh why, do you not just output "connection refused" like all other sane networked apps? Or some NXDOMAIN-related message? Or a SERVFAIL-like message?
But I've digressed from what actually made me pick up keyboard and XTerm (as opposed to pen and paper) initially. In my Internet wanderings, I also found the LHB, or Linux Hater's Blog too. Again, I want to see what objections there are to Linux, and take an honest look at my far-preferred OS. I'm not as zealous as some Linux community member; I do indeed realize that despite many, many, many, MANY advances, there are some genuine issues that are not necessarily addressed, in some cases not for YEARS.
One of those issues for which I wish there was a very easy refutation is that Windows® is Windows. It is basically the same whether you get XP Home, XP Pro, or XP MCE (and that applies just about equally to anything else in the product line; Vista Ultimate, Windows 7, and all the rest of the lot). With Linux, there is Mint, there is Ubuntu, there is Fedora, there is Debian, there is Gentoo, there is Puppy, there is DSL, there is OpenSuSE...in short, I've just barely tickled let alone scratched the surface of the currently available distros. Although each of them has at their core a certain similarity, they are indeed not nearly as homogenous as the half dozen or so (for example) Windows 7 offerings.
Ordinarily, my very libertarian nature shouts out that choice is good, freedom is good, flexiblity is good. It all fosters competition and moulding exactly to what is going to make me feel the most comfortable/efficient/enjoyable/etc. But that totally ignores something that's equally undeniable: there is a paradox to being able to choose for example mwm, fluxbox, or metacity. I actually have the potential to enjoy myself less due to all this choice, for many reasons. Psychologist Barry Schwartz, while only a single source on the concepts, presents some fairly irrefutable points in his talk ( link to Jul 2005 video, a Google search for the same video, in case TED takes it down).
Finally...on to what made me do, as the Brits say, full stop, hold on, pause, go log onto the Web server and write this: Barry had a cartoon in the presentation whose graphical content, to be really honest, does not matter one wit. It is the caption of the speaker in the cartoon which I wish were not at all true but slams me square in the nose with a sledgehammer no matter which way I face.
Everything was better back when everything was worse.
What I want to say about that just might fill megabytes at my Web hosting company, so although this is a very touchy, passionate subject for me, I will just stop right there and say there are nearly countless examples of IMHO appallingly poor choices made for Web pages. And that swings right back to...
I actually briefly had hope that I might, without too, too much effort, be able to tame some of the stupidities with a tool like the Firefox add-on Platypus. I thought that the stupidly bouncing around Opinion Labs PoS could be tamed, even for sites like discovercard.com (which would be encrypted so things like Squid URL redirection won't work at all). But alas this is way too brittle; more often than not I revisit the site a couple months later and my Opinion Labs countermeasures are rendered utterly impotent.
For me, and I suspect many, many others, there was a certain "gloden age" in my computing experience, where, although certain things didn't work right or at all, NEARLY everything worked astonishingly well. The Sawfish WM actually worked, and did all the things I liked about it: focus follows pointer, interactive new window placement, the ability for apps to specify geometry so that interactive placement was the norm but not necessary, my Web browser worked, email was simple, plain, wordwrapped text and relatively free of spam, we had an IPv4 address as long as we were a customer of some particular ISPs (ServiceTech), terms of service pages were about 2 or 3 pages of understandable and reasonable text, Emacs (and other editors) by default worked in already-chosen foreground, background, inverse, and highlighted and didn't turn my console or window into a frakkin difficult to read Christmas tree, ls likewise (by default) was just text and did lexocographical (not dictionary or any other) sorting...I could go on and on about how things were just plain simpler in say around the Red Hat 8 or 9 days.
And don't get me wrong. Every once in a while I have discussions with people who maybe say something like they hate computers. My usual retort is something along the lines of, would you like to go back to the days when checks took sometimes 2 weeks to clear instead of the end of the next business day? I kind of pains me to say I'd kind of rather go back, at least in some ways. I would rather keep my ~10Mbit/s Internet connection and not go back to a V.90 modem. I'd rather have this 2.4 GHz P4 instead of my old 80486DX/4-100.
Again, I'm sorry if I cause anyone grief by writing this, but I see no end in sight to the poor choices being made by the computing industry in general. It is so, so, SO difficult to find sanity in this sea of insanity. Just switching banks or insurance companies is such a time-consuming process, only to be massively disappointed in one way or another after having invested sometimes hours of reasearch (which sometimes the stupidities cannot be discovered until AFTER you've bought the service or product). Rather than undertake the seemingly Herculean effort to find a new golden state of computing, realizing I am merely a whispering individual next to an operating commercial jetliner, I'll just humbly take myself out of the picture. I'm beginning to wonder which state will be less painful.