The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The new faces of Linux - Who Do I Yell At?


Rick Singerman doesn't much care about how his computer works. He simply wants it to work every time he turns it on. We've discussed this here as it has been discussed over and over in the Linux Community.

A computer is NOT an appliance. It is a maintainable machine that needs attention from time to time. Even Microsoft, with their tens of thousands of viruses and countless malware threats cannot get The Human Nature to understand:

A computer is NOT an appliance. It is a maintainable machine that needs attention from time to time.

Do we have that phrase obnoxiously burned into memory yet?

So Rick Singerman, being what he would refer to as a "typical home user", lived the typical Windows Experience. He resigned himself to doing steady backups and wiping his computer clean every six months to restore the speed and snappiness experienced by a new install. He got the maintenance religion after having to do these installs every 6 months. Since he downloaded programs constantly and installed/uninstalled applications daily, his system was subject to becoming unstable much sooner than the normal Windows install. Rick provides us with advice given to him by the local shop that did his computer repair for him:

"...Make sure you defrag the hard drive monthly, scan for viruses/spyware on a tri-weekly basis (if not more), run a registry cleaner at the very least monthly and do a disk cleanup at least once a week. We recommend you stay away from the free virus tools and use the ones that we recommend on our website. (I would guess a reseller fee here - h) Also be aware that there are programs we recommend that can automate many of these tasks for you and you can find them on our website as well. If you do not have the time we will be happy to set up a maintenance plan on a quarterly basis to do this for you."

I bet you would.

Rick came to us on the recommendation of someone we did a HeliOS Project install for. Visiting the home for his church outreach program, Rick noted the kids playing on the computer and mentioned how clear and attractive the presentation was. It was then he learned that there was an alternative way to run a computer.

When I came out to see him, he showed me the email from his repair shop, the one that sent him the email partially quoted above. I asked him to mentally add up the accumulated time all of this would take. When he did, he was visably surprised.

"Who has time to do all of that? It doesn't account for the hours I do spend when I have to reinstall."

Indeed, your world does from time to time sucketh.

Once we demonstrated a GNU/Linux live cd for him and showed him how he could run his "necessary" programs via Wine and VirtualBox, he was sold...and I mean on the spot. We used two 8 gig thumb drives to copy his music, pictures and documents then did a partition session and replaced his Windows Vista sytem with Mint Linux.

After 29 minutes, I announced that his install was done and that we would now boot into his new Linux Operating System.

His jaw dropped.

"That's it, we're done? How about the actual install? How long will it take to get all the drivers and codecs loaded?"

I just smiled and told him that the install was done, complete with all but a few codecs he might want such as flash. I told him that would take a grand total of about 5 minutes, maybe less. He was skeptical to say the least.

It only took about 20 minutes inside the system to remove any skepticism he had. I watched him as he "drove" his new system. He didn't say much, just made sounds of affirmation to himself as he explored and found things to his liking. I showed him how to use k3b, streamtuner, his file system and most importantly to him, his office suite. Rich writes technical bullitens for his company and spends vast amounts of time in either a rich text editor or a word processor. When those thing met his approval, our business was finished.

Rick saw our TV presentation before the Austin City Council Technology Commission and called to say that he had some computer equipment that I might want for The HeliOS Project. When I returned to his home to pick it up, he also had another surprise for me.

Sitting in his newly re-arranged den were 9 kids, ages ranging from 8 to 11. They were gathered around 5 different computers set up on a long banquet table against the far end of the room. Each one was arranged in neat work areas and the children were busy swapping "hey look-it here's" and "oh yeah, beat this score's" Rick fairly beamed as he watched me watch the kids.

"After we talked the last time, I decided that I could do what you do on a smaller scale. I got with the folks at my Church and some of them donated these machines to me. They come twice a week and just play games and learn how to use the system. What do you think?"

Well, all I could think of is how good a thing this was. It goes to show that anyone with a bit of caring and energy can do this just about anywhere. I spent the next three hours with Rick and different kids that wandered in and out. The doorbell rang often during that three hours. Many of the kids had parents in tow...which is good. Parents need to see where there kids are and who they are with. At peak, we had 17 kids total in this little den.

I spoke with Rick this morning and asked him how it was going and that I was going to mention his "project". He just laughed.

"I haven't done anything that most anyone would have done once they know the tools are available to him. I do have a question though. Who do I yell at?"

My silence was enough to let him know I had no clue what he was talking bout.

"Who do I go to to complain about all the time I've wasted with "that other system". Don't we have any legal recourse here? Ken, the hours we've collectively wasted maintaining something that should have never needed it..."

I explained to him about the EULA and advised him to read it...things would become clear as a bell then. I told him to just take his blood pressure medication prior to doing it. When I briefly outlined the way Microsoft and other proprietary software vendors had protected themselves he just shook his head.

Rick told me that I was not to make a big deal out of his efforts...that anyone with any compassion and a bit of spare time would do the same thing he did...it really wasn't a big deal.

I spoke with him a few minutes longer and then hung up the phone. I still searched for a kind way to tell him just how wrong his "anybody would do this" assessment was, but then again...why throw cold water on rolling success? Let a good person do what comes natural.

All-Righty Then









25 comments:

Gedece said...

Beautifull story. Yes, people like him are a light beacon in a sea of human flatness.

JohnMc said...

"A computer is NOT an appliance. It is a maintainable machine that needs attention from time to time."

Yo Dude! You must be from Mars and I am from Venus. We are getting very close to turning a PC into an appliance. Very close. But it does take a level of customization. Here's how it could be done --

-Motherboard with expanded BIOS FLASH memory module.
- Enhanced Splashtop boot environment.
- Thunderbird, Firefox, OOOfice delivered at the byte code level and burned to FLASH.
- User uses a USB stick or SD card for transient storage of their data.

There is nothing to infect, blow up, damage, spindle or mutilate on the 'appliance'. Something goes bonkgers you remove the stick and power recycle. All done in Linux. (fact it can only be done in linux at the current time.) Some people call this a kiosk mode. But what I am suggesting is a little more than that but not by much.

Now this would not be the machine for everybody of course. But for those in many environments it maybe all they need. By definition it is an appliance at that point. For everybody else that needs more, yep you need a full blown PC that requires occasional tweaks. Even Linux boxes need love from time to time.

Dr. Dog
Http://Tightwadtechnica.com

NoobixCube said...

Just thought I should add, Mint does come with Flash installed, off the disc. Depending on what version of Mint though, it might not be the latest version of Flash. Now, if only Adobe would hurry up and make a decent Linux Flash plugin, that doesn't crap out and leave me with grey boxes every time I turn my head a little.

Blog of helios said...

Even Linux boxes need love from time to time.


agreed, but nothing compared to:

"...Make sure you defrag the hard drive monthly, scan for viruses/spyware on a tri-weekly basis (if not more), run a registry cleaner at the very least monthly and do a disk cleanup at least once a week. We recommend you stay away from the free virus tools and use the ones that we recommend on our website. (I would guess a reseller fee here - h) Also be aware that there are programs we recommend that can automate many of these tasks for you and you can find them on our website as well. If you do not have the time we will be happy to set up a maintenance plan on a quarterly basis to do this for you."

I like your engineering of the "mom and dad" computer, it would make many of our lives easier...didn't they try that with the e-machines. I would however want to know that the manufacturer of such a machine was not in bed with Intel and the Trusted Computing Module. It would have to be someone not interested in back doors, restricting use and data formats...Intel has already shown their willingness to breach all the above with the TCM...we need to keep an eye on AMD to make sure someone doesn't get to them the same way.

h

Anonymous said...

"I still searched for a kind way to tell him just how wrong his "anybody would do this" assessment was."

Then you do know that people like you and him are just throw-backs from a different era. Your parents were probably survivors of The Depression. You were taught values and morals that most of that generation were taught. Now why didn't your generation teach it to this one? This adult generation spent their time on Haight-Ashbury smoking dope and sleeping with anything that had a pulse. Sometimes that prerequisite was pushed aside. People don't care helios, there is no payoff for them in doing what you do. Maybe you get warm fuzzies from doing it but others get hives just thinking of how much time would be wasted by doing so. You can't give kids computers on a cruise ship or while staying at a Tibetan Inn, learning how to make new age noise.

Good luck man, even throw-backs get lucky. Maybe your kind won't die in the next four years.

c8h10n4o22004 said...

Thanks for this, such a awesome story. I too have converted a few people in my days.

Jenni Clark - Austin said...

Helios, I too saw you on the Channel 6 Technology Commission presentation. I don't know what I expected, but it sure wasn't a pony-tailed biker-looking guy. Not that that's a bad thing, it just took me by surprise. You speak extremely well in public. I am envious. Do you have any more speaking engagements in the near future? I'd like to come.

Jenni

Anonymous said...

Helios, you brought to mind a question I've thought about a little and would like to have your input on.

Which distro of Linux do you think is the best to give to someone who has never even heard of Linux before? By process of elimination, I've come to be torn between Ubuntu and Linux Mint. Judging by your posts, I'm guessing that your answer would be Mint.

On the surface, I'd say that's probably best too, since Mint has a few extras added in already that a user would have to add themselves or go through an automated install to get in Ubuntu (codecs, etc.). I've never actually used Mint because I found Ubuntu first and am quite capable of adding in those extra bits myself, but could you offer some advice here?

Here's what leaves me on the fence about Ubuntu vs. Mint:

Ubuntu is apparently the largest presence in the desktop Linux world, and therefore will likely have the most mindshare (relative to Linux) and the most technical and software support available. I realize that Mint is based on Ubuntu, is said to use the same repositories as Ubuntu, and that help given for Ubuntu should be equally applicable to Mint.

But (again, speaking from inexperience here) it seems to me that a Mint user will always be reliant on Ubuntu-based help for support, and having not used Mint personally, I am hesitant to take the chance that a Mint recommendation might leave someone in a worse position than an Ubuntu recommendation. As for myself, I could probably deal with anything that came up, but I have in mind the types of people that think the little blue "e" actually is the internet.

Is there any real reason you can think of that might make Ubuntu a better choice for introducing Windows users to Linux than Mint? Or is there a distro even better than Mint for that purpose? As it stands, Mint appears to be the best option for out-of-the-box ease of use, but I am worried that I might be overlooking something here.

Blog of helios said...

I don't make it any secret that I prefer Linux Mint over any other distro. It's my opinion that Mint is Ubuntu the way Ubuntu should have been done in the first place. That being said, I also like the people that work on Mint because they give full credit for their success to the Ubuntu Community. There is no false humility there, just honest assessments of how things really are.

The talent at Mint though is stunning, all the way around from the guys that write the scripts that make Mint what it is to the Artists that give their time and obvious talents to the project.

Now let me throw you a nasty curve ball. I am gripping that pitch based on one astute observation made by you:

"...but I have in mind the types of people that think the little blue "e" actually is the internet."

LOi...they make me want to consume copious amounts of alcohol.

PCLinuxOS

Yep, PCLinuxOS. I make it no secret that I do not much care for some of the people in that community. Some of the moderators in their forums have the bedside manner of a drunken jack-booted thug. They have a history of being abusive to anyone critical of their distro as well. One moderator sent a child I sent there away in tears so I don't recommend using their forums much. I have not been there in years so that might have changed, but I do keep an eye on that release because it IS geared to the "left-click/right-click challenged". It is by far the easiest distro for the new user and specifically are a bit intimidated by the whole computer thing. Their Mandriva-like control panel is without a doubt the shining star of the distro and you can do stuff in there that most distros don't offer, however it does adequately warn the new user that if they don't know what they are doing, they should seek assistance.

THAT being said...

I realize that Ubuntu does or will have the New User MindShare when the time comes. However, they do tend to be a bit too religious in the Free Software vs proprietary software thing. Some of their "warnings" are heavy handed, especially the one that pops up about the video drivers. The way Mint simply puts the necessary codecs in their work tips me to their side of the ledger and ultimately it will keep a new user in Linux where Ubuntu's handling of the subject might be problematic for the New user.

So it boils down to what kind of new user we are dealing with. If it's the one that says the browser IS the internet, save yourself some headaches and steer them toward PCLinuxOS. If they have some compentency, I think Mint is the way to go for all the reasons stated above.

h

Blog of helios said...

"Just thought I should add, Mint does come with Flash installed, off the disc."

I wasn't clear about that. You are right, it does come pre-installed. We have had some real problems with it on the intel 845/945 chipsets. We've found it simpler to just uninstall it and reinstall it. That fixes it for some reason and never gives us a bother again. It's a fairly well-documented problem and we've found it to be the same in Ubuntu so the problem is not on Mint's end. Ubuntu has left some bugs in their releases for as long as three years so who knows when this one will get fixed.

h

Anonymous said...

Ken, you had me until you got to "too religious" and "heavy-handed." FOSS is all about free as in freedom, not free as in freeloader, and I think the way Ubuntu handles the non-free stuff is not heavy-handed at all, but gentle and appropriate. A little bit of education, then click a button. What's so heavy-handed about that? I look forward to the day when we can have a completely 100% Free Linux that does not need closed proprietary anything- no Nvidia, no Flash, no legally-nutso codecs. Just good clean FOSS code with no gotchas.

Heavy-handed is closed, proprietary software encumbered by insane EULAs, crazy expensive licensing, DRM, corporate spyware, the BSA, the Mafiaa, patents, and trademarks on everyday words.

Thanks, and bank to you, ponytailed biker hippie dude! ;)

Carla Schroder

James Dixon said...

> Which distro of Linux do you think is the best to give to someone who has never even heard of Linux before?

For a relatively new machine, I'll agree that Mint is probably the best. Both PCLinuxOS and Mepis now have new versions out, and they're both worth looking at.

However, for older machines, especially ones with less than 256 MB of memory, I'd recommend one of the Slackware derivatives. Zenwalk and VectorLinux are two good ones.

SVartalf said...

@JohnMc: The thing is, the moment you need to step outside the walled garden you end up with the same sort of mess you had before. Even with Linux, you periodically have to clean house as it were. The computer as an appliance is NOT a new notion, by the by- it's something that people have ran up the flagpole since the days of the TI99-4A and Timex Sinclair ZX80. Moreover, while the appliance solutions have their place, they're not all encompassing and as soon as you take on truly PC-like abilities, you open pandora's box again.

Purple library guy said...

Is PCLinuxOS really so much better than Mandriva itself?

Meanwhile, my respect to Mr. Singerman. Most people wouldn't do what he's done. *I* wouldn't. Too selfish, not energetic enough, not sociable enough. But I do admire those with the qualities I don't have.

Jason said...

"Even Linux boxes need love from time to time.

agreed, but nothing compared to:"

Yeah, and for most things you can use cron (w/ a GUI frontend even) and set it and forget it.

Anonymous said...

@ noobixcube
Opera's flash player is a little more reliable than some of the other ones in my experience

seriouslycgi said...

"I am envious. Do you have any more speaking engagements in the near future? I'd like to come.

Jenni"

LOL, a Helios GROUPIE!!!

stomfi said...

Good stuff Helios. I agree, the computer is not an appliance yet. It's just the same today as it was back in '84, before Microsoft took over the market and arrested development. Same WIMP colour interface.

At least we've got 19" multiple screens, high speed graphics hardware and 3 button optical mouse back out of the Microsoft innovation jail.

It will be an appliance when the interface is interactive voice, 3D and writing, and the CPU box is a network node looked after by a telco.

Blog of helios said...

@ Carla

and I think the way Ubuntu handles the non-free stuff is not heavy-handed at all,

No, you do not and that's because you understand the context of geekspeak. You are also intimately familiar with the philosophies and tenants of Free Software.

Millie Mudpucker isn't

To Millie Mudpucker, the word "restricted" is a vastly negative, authoritarian word...an imperritive actually that can be interchanged with forbidden at any given time. Sit down and do an Ubuntu install. It pops up some fairly assertive language about the "community" not being able to support the driver.

I see this every week at least twice and when we are side by side doing an install, I mentally issue an "O-Crap!) when I find out that there is an ATI or Nvidia card intalled. Last month I had a lady refuse to go forward with the install because she was decidedly uncomfortable with the word restricted coming up in her install three times in less than 5 minutes.

We have to think like someone who hasn't been tainted by the Kernel...what we love and understand scares the hell out of the uninitiated. To them, anything RESTRICTED on their computer is heavy handed.

Now, if you don't mind, I am going to have my mindless bimbo wax my Harley and I am going to go get me a couple new dew rags and braid my hair.

h

FelixTheCat said...

I don't know the full text of those warnings. If they had something in there such as, "Some people are uncomfortable with proprietary drivers for different reasons, but using these drivers will not invalidate your use," that may help.

Mas o menos.

Carla Schroder said...

hey Ken,

I hope the new bimbo works out better than the old bimbo. You sure go through them, I just can't keep track!

So the real issue is presentation-- the word "restricted" bothers some people. That's not being 'too religious', I'd say, but rather a problem of communication. If a particular word scares people, then the answer is to change the word. Not calling people 'too religious' and shying away from the issues of FOSS, freedom, and the problems with closed, proprietary software.

No, I'm not saying dump all this stuff on them right away (which I must disclaim because otherwise someone will claim that's what I am saying.) Freedom is the bedrock of FOSS, and new Linux users can surely understand that, just as they can understand a new operating system and applications.

Carla

NotZed said...

It's a pity that you complain about the problems of EULA's and proprietary software, yet you push for a little short-term convenience which relies on the same, with all of the same attendant issues.

i.e. hidden bugs, slow upgrades, even issues of sovereignty/imperialism e.g. why should I be forced to follow the USA's so-called `IP laws' if I do not live there?

On another note, a general purpose computer may not be an appliance, but using a GNU system is the closest anyone has gotten to it.

Blog of helios said...

yet you push for a little short-term convenience which relies on the same

I have no idea where you got that...I'm asking that few people that put words into the code for installation to lessen the severity of them. such as "Restricted". We talked to some of the dev teams two years ago about this from both Ubuntu and Fedora. One of the two and I won't say which, openly stated that their verbage was purposly constructed to steer people away from proprietary software. In a perfect world, I wholly agree, but then in a perfect world we wouldn't be having this discussion. the only reason (Carla...this BUT is for you) I brought up religion and politics is only based on the comments of this ranking Dev. They know full well the impact of their words and use them like a hammer. I am only calling for a better choice of words that can convey the same message. I don't personally use one byte (that I know of) of prop software but some people who want the full effect of their systems might. If they are being browbeat and frightened by words like RESTRICTED, that's not going to happen.

why should I be forced to follow the USA's so-called `IP laws' if I do not live there?

You should not and I would verily say unto them if I were you, "Kiss My Ass".

Bush pushed hard for the governments of Austrailia and the EU to adapt laws mirroring the nightmare that is DMCA...fortunately, they did not. Breach away my friend, if you are not living in this restrictive environment, then by all means, tell them to PUAR and have a nice day. I would if I were you and send them letters daily telling them so. Oh, and for the "Hopey-Changies" amonst us...The leadership in the Senate is looking to put some more teeth into that law...just a heads up.

Again, we are dealing with attitudes and semantics. As long as people perceive their machines as appliances, they are not going to take responsibility for them. Agreed...it is getting close to a maytag.

h

Blog of helios said...

However, for older machines, especially ones with less than 256 MB of memory, I'd recommend one of the Slackware derivatives

James, it's funny you should mention that. I have recently been "gifted" a slew of old PII 400 mega-hurts (to see them) whitebox machines. I really didn't have any choice, some of the stuff being donated was really good but it was an all or nothing deal.

At any rate, all these PII's worked well without having to do anything to them, some of them had been bought, set up, then taken down and stored for almost 8 years. Tried the usual suspects for low ram/chip machines (256). I am not a big Puppy or DSL fan...that to me is "survival Linux" and I don't much care for it. I knew from talking to the guys over there that a new lite version of Vector was coming out and bingo...it runs like a champ on these machines. So much that I have found a home for almost all of them as quick reference machines at a private school here in Austin.

They will mostly be used by teachers and staff for research and the like but the point is, there are 7 computers that were slated to end up in a landfill somewhere that are now not. That goes a long way to justify other distros's outside of the buntus...even the most spartan of the buntu derivatives wouldn't run on these museum pieces.

h

Anonymous said...

"A computer is NOT an appliance". Not yet. If it were, 80% of the current users would be quite happy. The problem is too many people want to turn it into an appliance so that the only real computer left is the server.