Pagan Agnostics

Pagan Agnostics

Summary: Does the PC empower the user? I don't think so - well, unless you wipe out Windows and install Linux or a BSD, then maybe.

TOPICS: Hardware, CXO

Last week's discussion sparked this, from "Pagan Jim", in reference to the idea that the user device should just be a display for information resources elsewhere on "the network":

Not liking that idea/concept at all to be frank....

Not big on "Cloud" either. What both concepts seem to make a computer device as little more than a dumb terminal and all the real power is in the hands of some other enterprise in some unknown location. To big brother for me and destroys the whole "personal" empowering part of owning a computer. It's basically the return of the pre PC day where all the power was in IBM's hand and all you had in front of you was a terminal to the main frame. In the end what's to stop these companies from treating us and charging us like the cable companies do today? We give them control they will use it over us.

To which I responded,

Control issue

I agree with you about the control (and implicitly the security issues) association with cloud computing -and also about one of the key problems with data processing: centralized control.

However, Unix enables enterprises to build systems that are centrally run, but locally managed - not something that's practical in either the zOS or Wintel worlds.

As I've said many times, Unix makes it possible to do IT right or wrong - most people choose wrong, largely because that's what data processing and wintel have taught them to do, but you don't have to do things their way.

and he said:

Maybe practical for the "enterprise" but NOT for the

individual which is my point. PC's are suppose to empower the individual not place them under the clouds thumb.

To which I responded:

That's an interesting question

Does the PC empower individuals?

I'd argue that it clearly does not at work where the DP mindset rules and users have no ability to influence what's on their PCs or how they're used.

For most (non programmer/hobbyists) I could argue that the home PC means:

1- no choice on network connectivity
2 -no choice on who to buy software from
3 -no choice on what the hw looks like (differs in brand name and minor details only: all made by the same people in the same places using the same parts)
4 -no choice on whether to buy upgrades (some minor choice on when)
5 -only one or two choices only for search, archiving, cloud services, other software

Doesn't sound too empowering to me.. ?

It is an interesting question. Obviously there are edge cases - even corporate PC use has produced some genuine personal success stories - but in the main I'd argue that the corporate PC has empowered some of the people selling it, but only at great cost to the people and businesses buying it.

The problem here, of course, is a lack of solid evidence: to my knowledge no one has seriously compared the organizational impact of multiple IT architectures and even just assessing the productivity consequences of user device choices has been taboo since the early ninties - when multiple journolist inspired consultancies declared user productivity questions uninteresting while chorusing in leg tingling excitement over NT's ability to outsell the Mac.

But we've had the PC for more than twenty years now and exactly none of the really empowering technology breakthroughs, from handhelds to web servers and open source, have come from the wintel community - so where's the evidence for PC empowerment?

Clearly, the wintel PC has been a huge financial success for a few sellers, but the overwhelming majority of corporate users will, if asked outside the boss's hearing, give it no more than a lukewarm endorsement as probably better than 70s alternatives like the System 34 or 327X terminal systems, but then characterize it as an unreliable, expensive, intrusive, and unwelcome mechanism for the exertion of management control over users.

At the same time, however, every larger business I've seen has at least a few people who enthusiastically embrace the PC - and will fight you to the death if you try to reduce the control the PC gives them over their jobs. These people seem to feel empowered by the PC - and some, I assume, legitimately so, but most, at least in my experience, are self deluded. What I see, in fact, is that the pretend geek in accounting who's spent much of his professional life defending some unauditable lotus or dbase contraption from IT and the aging but amiable support drone who's progressed from doing reboots and reloads to ordering reboots and reloads, have both embraced the Wintel tarbaby and become victims - losing life, change, and opportunities for personal growth to the PC in just the same way the people we addict to drugs or welfare do.

But maybe the PC has been kinder to the home user? Remember the Marlboro man ads? I imagine that somebody really did once ride off into the golden glow of a Shenandoah valley sunset while smoking one of those things, but a rather larger number have died coughing their lungs out. For many home users, that's the PC experience - scratch the average home user and you'll get an apology for having a PC that's failing, falling behind, or messed up. Why? because people generally believe this stuff works for others and so blame themselves for problems arising from poor design, poor execution, and an unrelenting upgrade cycle aimed at extracting maximum revenues from the customer.

For most people the bottom line on home PC use is that it's conventionally necessary, but the disjunct between the public hype on the wonderfulness of it all and the reality of a machine requiring continual attention, and always more money, to mostly do most of what it's supposed to most of the time doesn't leave many feeling empowered; it leaves them feeling trapped, insecure, and inadequate.

And then, of course, there's the empowering world of DIY wintel: "build your own box! save money while learning" - that's the cry, but it's as delusional as the idea that the FBI, NASA, and DoD can't keep their PCs updated and secure but joe average home user can. Thus the reality on DIY wintel is simple: what you can learn from plugging PC components together is how to plug them together - and what you can learn from the fact that a $39.95 blender from Walmart contains over $300 worth of parts is that you shouldn't believe websites offering Intel's W3540 processor for $59.95, including shipping and handling, are really sending you the same product Intel sells assemblers at $562,000 per thousand.

The usual counter to all this is that the PC is ubiquitous and usage therefore empowering because home PC use is essential to both career and academic success.

Logically, of course, something that's ubiquitous can't confer individual competitive advantage but this is, in reality, just a bullying tactic no different in kind from any other form of group pressure aimed at enforcing compliance with a perceived majority position - and correspondingly transparent to anyone willing to see the emperor naked.

Consider, for example, how this has played out over the last twenty-five or so years: all those 80s and 90s kids who struggled with MS-DOS, Windows 3.X, and then Windows 95 instead of BSD, SunView, and MacOS because PC skills were going to be foundational to their future success? are now trying to puzzle out smart phones and iPads running Unix based OSes, GUIs, and applications descended from BSD, SunView, and MacOS.

Today's MS-DOS sells as Windows 7, but it's just just more of the same: there's no long term advantage to working with any of this stuff at home or in school unless your competitors are forever restricted to Vista. Think of it this way: 7 is surely better than XP, but the enthusiastic response the people who keep Cuba's fleet of pre 59 Chevys going would surely give a 63 Belair is no reason to think it the right choice for winter commuting in Minnesota.

So what's the bottom line on PC empowerment? In an absolute sense it may be better than nothing, but the only part of the sales pitch surviving even the most cursory investigation is the idea that you can use it as an educational tool - either as the most expensive and least reliable "cloud client" there is, or by replacing Windows with a BSD or Linux so you can learn how OS and applications code really can and does work.

Right Jim?

Topics: Hardware, CXO

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  • RE: Pagan Agnostics

    Rofl. How cute, somebody decided to pay one of those Neo wanna bes from slashdot to spew verbal diarria about OSes.<br><br>When you say use Linux/unix and learn how apps can and do work, I am dumbfounded. My Windows 7 works just fine. Everyday, all day. Apps run as they are supposed to, the system functions as it's supposed to. I create apps on it, they run as expected. What do I get by switching to linux? I get to learn how fun it is to sit in my browser and make bitter manifestos about my OS all day, instead of doing fun things like playing my games like BF:BC2, Metro 2033, and so on.<br>Thanks, but no thanks. You can keep trying to rationalize it, fact is, despite the fact that it's a free download, nobody wants linux. If people wanted linux, OEMs would switch to it and lower their costs, since it's free. People would rather pay for Windows, yet this mammoth sized clue in your face gives you no idea about reality. You can rage all day about people not knowing any better, I've been programming computers since the early 90s, and I will tell you straight up I do not want Linux, I do not like Linux, and I absolutely hate you tiresome and libelous linux fanatics. I'm sure you'll act like you don't know what I'm talking about, but whatever. Anyways, I'm going to go have fun with my computer, and leave you to battle Agent Balmer with whiny diatribes that nobody takes serious.
    • RE: Pagan Agnostics

      @jamesrayg When Paul says "Learn how apps can and do work" I'm pretty sure he means you can view their source code.

      Yes, I know, there is open source software for Windows too, and you could do something similar with Windows (assuming you cared).

      In Paul's defence, if you did do this with Windows you can't actually look at when happens in the OS, or indeed examine how the compiler works (I'm assuming you're using Visual Studio). But I'd agree these are pretty esoteric activities EVEN for programmers.

      However, the rise of Linux is undeniable, just not happening "on the desktop". There are plenty of Linux (and Unix) systems around from cellphones to server clusters - and I'd be pretty surprised if you don't own ANYTHING that doesn't have some Unix-like OS in it.

      One argument you make about OEMs I can put to bed for you though. OEMs get preferential pricing if they buy Windows for EVERY PC they sell, you want to know why we've not seen a raft of Linux systems (whether you think they'd sell or not)? That's the reason.

      So I'm not going to tell you that you're wrong because you're running Windows - if you were then some of the time I'd be wrong too! But Linux is a great OS, and you might find you have more uses for it than you think, just probably not on your "main PC".
    • your post - "I do not like green eggs and ham, sam I am"

      @jamesrayg Try it! Try it and you will see! LoL

      Funny I use Windows just like my Xbox360, Wii andother set-tops I only use it for media streaming and playing PC games.

      I use a linux as my primary desktop, because it's what I chose to use. Period. If you have windows-only apps that you use then that is your choice, and that is just fine.

      >"...despite the fact that it's a free download, nobody wants linux. "

      then why all the hubbub? The more comments I read that are similar to yours I say the opposite... LoL!
    • Linux users write bitter manifestos?!

      @jamesrayg I work on corporate database systems, and one client after another is banishing Windows from its database server, some even evict Windows from the server room altogether.

      I remember when NT was hailed as the Unix killer. How gargantuan that hubris seems now.

      I used Windows since 3.0. I liked it. But I did have my frustrations with it, having to reinstall 2 or 3 times a year for reasons that still apparently elude even Microsoft, the anti-virus/anti-malware/update cycle, the upgrade treadmill. It all had me spending far too much time managing my system, and not enough using it, but, like everyone else, I just took it all in stride. And if you're going to tell me that you never had that experience, I'm going to tell you that you don't really use your computer, or at least not Windows. If you're going to tell me that it's something I did, I'm going to agree: I used it. That's all.

      A couple of years ago, I decided to see if I could live without Windows, and just use Ubuntu. It turned out that I could, and quite nicely. Well, except for a couple of clients whose IT departments deliberately rig their remote access to work only with IE, but I got around that by installing an old copy of XP in VirtualBox. And guess what I learned from that? I can keep a copy of a fully installed, configured, and updated XP on an SD card, and, if the one on my PC ever croaks (and it has), I just restore the backup, and continue working.

      How about that! Linux not only makes PCs better, it makes Windows better, too!
  • Both miss the point!

    The "cloud" doesn't need to mean what either of you think. If I want to I can run a computer in my own house that acts like an Internet cloud and then access that with a system that is a modern version of Jim's "dumb terminal". Unix or Windows I can do this.

    I don't NEED to give up control, if I wish to I can "be my own cloud". Clearly the cheapest way to do that is with something like Ubuntu Server, though if I'm happy buying my software from Microsoft (nothing actually wrong with that Jim) then I can use Windows.

    Pretty empowering stuff.

    Sure I might well just keep running with the "PC model" where I sit at the computer I'm using - but the "cloud model" does let us blend the best of the old "mainframe model" with the best of the "PC model".

    You don't even need to choose one constant model, if the computer you use as the "dumb terminal" is actually a PC (or Mac) than you can run local applications where that makes sense and remote applications where that makes sense.

    I even use "group processing" today - all the Macs (we have "non-Macs too") help compile code together - that's a feature in Xcode (you do have to switch it on on each system, it isn't the default).

    This isn't the incompatible clash of cultures it might at first appear.

    Paul, today's Windows 7 is as unlike MS-DOS as it's possible to be. More like VMS actually.
  • The computer is a bicycle for the mind.

    It was Jobs that thought of that, and he was dead right. The computer can assist you collect knowledge, and achieve ANYTHING. But this is regardless of whether its personally owned and controlled, or a company machine. I'm sure that if you think about what you're doing and use it intelligently, you could achieve things using little more than a text editor. So I don't really go with Murph's rant.
    • Along my line of thinking on the subject

      @peter_erskine@... <br><br>There are two kinds of empowerment when it comes to using personal computing devices. The first type is the control you have over the device itself. Here, vendor choice, OS control and app control are issues. The second type is the access to information and the ability to express view, reach like minded individuals and otherwise become an activist of sort, and not just a "dumb" individual who votes every four years or so.<br><br>Clearly, the first type of empowerment depends on HW/SW control, while the second one does not, at least not yet. Are there individuals who might use the former to try to control the latter? Probably. That is the danger we really have to watch out for. Net neutrality and fair use may be lurking in there somewhere.
    • If only

      the computer was as simple, elegant and efficient as the bicycle.

      My bicycles have always served me much more reliably that my computers. Fortunately it is impossible to buy a bicycle that runs either Windows or Unix; imagine trying to change gear or switch the lights on if it did!
  • The cloud doesn't mean you lose control

    Do people understand, that the cloud can be run on an isolated subnet?

    Do people understand that the cloud is cost effective?
    What is wrong with being cost effective?

    Do people realize that Thin Client terminals doesn't mean you lose control?

    If anything, a Thin Client can not only connect to an App, it can log out onto your Virtual Desktop, governed by a virtual machine.

    Thus, all the things you think you relinquish control over are still yours to control.

    Only these technologies do reduce cost and an Administrator can immediately fix your destop (VM) issue from his desk without coming on site to replace a 'moving part' because you are running solid-state Thin Client.

    That's the point. Cost-effective IT solutions.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Pagan Agnostics

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate

      That's what you and Rudy are all about. Call centers. Cost effective computing. A little more work and some speech synthesizers and you can eliminate the people all together.

      The rest of us want to use and enjoy computers and trying to disguise going back to IT department priests and dumb terminals by calling it a cloud and Sun-Rays is a joke.

      Seriously, do you and Rudy ever use a computer for anything but writing this drivel?

      It's all about control. Subtext is it's all about you controlling everything.

      Good luck with your installation when something pulls the plug on yout basket of eggs.
      • Actually you have it opposite


        Centralized CONTROL is what you, Murph, and Schmitz are all railing against (me too). Murph has argued that the "UNIX model" has centralized computing and user control.
        Roger Ramjet
    • I've said it before about clouds

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz

      In order to transfer your data into and out of the cloud, you should be using encryption. To do this, you need a public and private key (on both ends of the transaction). Whoever has access to the private key on EITHER end of the transfer can decrypt the data. If that sysadmin on the other end of the cloud is Peggy - your data is compromised. NOTHING you can do about it.
      Roger Ramjet
      • RE: Pagan Agnostics

        @Roger Ramjet Hey! You are giving us a good reason to buy Sparc machines, aren't you?
  • it's not control, it's about trust

    the idea of having someone take care of my porn inventory, or not getting a laugh or two of the nude pictures of my girlfriend (and perhaps saving them, or putting them on the web), the ability to see my account numbers if the IT person sees fit, the helpless feeling when files are lost, the RIAA looking for "HOT" mp3's on a central server with one warrant. <br>These are the issues, and the reason no one trusts BIG BROTHER with their personal data. It may be a cludge, but it's MY cludge, and you'll have to produce a warrant, and perhaps a judge to look at my data, thank you very much.<br>Encryption may be the answer, but we're not there yet, (just check out the new firefox addon). Not enough is being done to allay those fears, and to be honest, they may never be fully addressed.
    Cell phones that don't actually have my phone numbers stored are a good example. If the world blew up tomorrow, I'd want a way to keep computing. It's cars vs. mass transportation.<br>By the way the bold type makes blogging so much more forceful!
    sparkle farkle
    • Bold type

      @sparkle farkle

      Yes, but it appears it has left as sudden as it came. ;-)
    • Be Bold!

      @sparkle farkle

      [b]Make a bold statement![/b]
      Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • umm.. but...

      @sparkle farkle

      Are you seriously arguing that Windows gives you privacy?

      And in what way would your list of goals not be easier to meet (and more realistically achievable) with Linux or a BSD?
      • not windows

        but the personal computer detached from a central repository for storage. I use linux 90% of the time at this point. The only reason I use windows is the software (and hardware) issues that have not been dealt with by the linux community (I have for instance a presonus firebox audio interface which is difficult if not impossible to get running with linux, but it "just works" with windows.)

        I still (and will always) have misgivings about trusting my data completely to a cloud, although the idea of backing up there is cool if there was a better folder syncing tool.
        sparkle farkle
    • RE: Pagan Agnostics

      @sparkle farkle

      Not only can an unscrupulous admin look at YOUR data, but what happens when whoever owns the part of the cloud YOUR data happens to reside in saying, "you know, my expenses have gone up, I need to charge you more for storing and retrieving YOUR data". And then doubles or triples your fees. Thanks, but I can keep my data on an externasl device, as well as store it someplace I have no clue about by people/corporations I know little or nothing about.

      I've seen this in the real world. We stored 10's of thousands of boxes with a company. Ended the contract with this company. Then wanted thousands of dollars to release the indexes for these boxes. Fortunetly, the court said no they were NOT entitled to any extra fees.
  • ROFL - what a great batch of responses so far!

    Listen guys, in all seriousness, the point here is that the PC market is more of a captive market than a free market. To put it bluntly:

    1 - if you want to read/study other people's stuff (or run other people's apps etc) you're better off with a Sun Ray because it works more reliably, offers faster graphics, and costs less;

    2 - but if you want to learn coding and contribute to internet source materials and apps you're better off loading Linux or a BSD than running Windows.

    3 - since nothing that can be considered community empowering (e.g. open source, web services, etc) has come out of the wintel world in 25+ years - and everything IT that's now changing the way we live has come out of Unix/Mac work -

    where's the argument for considering the PC empowering?