Shifting Perception of Microsoft

I just finished reading an article about Microsoft’s antivirus offering. Due to my ongoing pain, exhaustion, and fuzzy-headedness, I will once again ask your forgiveness for my short, curt, and blunt sentences.

First, I’ve got a decent amount of experience as an end-user and as tech support with various antivirus (AV) products. I’m not a virus expert or a coder, but I know more than the average bear about viruses and their removal, as well as about different AV software. I’ve been following Microsoft’s offering and development for at least five years now.

Second, I recognize the various red flags that are put up about M$’s AV. “Do they purposely make their operating system insecure to sell additional security products?” “Won’t this make other security companies obsolete, putting them out of business? That sounds like monopoly behaviour.” Etc.

For expediency’s sake, I won’t go into a lot of detail about how M$ AV has fared in the past other than to say that it sucked. Windows Defender was piss-poor in beta and has improved, but I still don’t trust it. Combine this with my general distrust of Microsoft and their DRM, fierce anti-piracy, and privacy-invading systems and I think you’ve got an operating system best avoided if at all possible. That’s why I switched to Linux almost three years ago (following my beta testing of Vista) and now own a MacBook. I don’t like being treated like a criminal.

All that being said, there are a few new things on the M$ horizon. Windows 7 is simply a phenomenal operating system based on what I have seen so far. They keep telling me that it’s very similar to Vista under the hood, and maybe that’s true, but it just runs well. Way better than Vista. It makes me feel like they actually listened to customers rather than treating us poorly and assuming we’d happily pay to choke down whatever they deigned to throw to us. Over the last few years, they’ve relaxed their communications grip and allowed more blogging, more openness, and more honesty with the user community (and their relationship with developers has been good for quite some time). This leads to a more positive perception of them.

From what I read in the above-linked article, their AV is pretty solid now, and I think they have some good reasoning behind it. I dislike the idea of buying an insecure OS, but the more I learn about Windows development, the more I can accept its quirks and appreciate how they are working to correct the problem(s). I think they’re going about it the right way.

And to be perfectly honest, using Mac OS X, I’ve come to accept the dark side a bit more. I’m not so blindly hypocritical that I can’t realize the absurdity in bitching about M$ DRM and then accepting Apple with open arms. No one is more locked down than Apple. There’s a philosophical difference between the two, but the point stands: I am willing to accept certain restrictions because functionality and ease are superceding factors.

Vista wasn’t good enough to make up for its shortcomings. Windows 7 is, and when you bundle it with tight antispyware and antivirus software that makes it actually [more] secure out of the box like it’s supposed to be, that makes the operating system significantly more palatable.

Ever since they got trout-slapped in response to Vista, Microsoft has been working hard to clean up its act and woo users. Believe you me, I can be bought. Make me a shiny, solid, secure operating system and you might just get a user back.

Endnote:: The last sentence isn’t quite true. There’s an excellent chance I’ll run Windows 7 in a virtual machine at work to use Microsoft Outlook. I’ll keep Linux on my desktop and OS X on my MacBook. I do, and will, however have Windows 7 in Bootcamp on my Mac for gaming. There’s a decent chance I’ll even increase that partition by another 25gb come August to move World of Warcraft from the Mac to the Windows side, as I’m pretty sure it’ll perform better there. What I’m saying is, I don’t have Vista anywhere, nor will I. Windows 7 is acceptable, and Microsoft is whirming its way back onto my computers with their improved PR and OS.

Shutting down 404s

In my continual war against 404 errors (I’ve cut out over 200 so far!), I’m taking the next step and shutting down my old LiveJournal and Xanga accounts. At one point I had my blog cross-posting every entry to those sites so people could subscribe to my content however they wished, and I really meant well when I set this up. In retrospect, however, it was a terrible idea. Not only was I creating competition for myself on search engines, but I have also discovered that cross-posting potentially creates an SEO nightmare. Now I’ve got 101 broken links left, and a lot of those are incoming from LiveJournal and/or Xanga to pages I’ve moved or deleted in the last several years.

Therefore, I decided to shut down those last two blogs to cut down on the errors Google is perceiving (because no actual people, to my knowledge, come to my site through LJ or Xanga–it’s just search bots that are running into problems), and in the process I discovered yet again why I ditched them.

First, I made sure that I could comment on people’s blogs on those sites without accounts, because Xanga/LJ used to require you have an account on their blogging service to comment. Now that they allow anonymous or OpenID commenting, it’s not such a big deal, so there’s no harm done in shutting down the blogs. LJ was a snap, and it was shut down within a minute of logging in. Xanga, on the other hand, errored repeatedly. Whenever I tried to cancel the account, it went into a redirection loop that timed out the browser. Being the tech-savvy user I am, though, I thought I’d contact them to let the know of the issue. Clicking on “help,” I was taken to a search page with lots of articles and absolutely no way to actually contact Xanga Support.

When I searched “shutdown,” I was presented with this: ((I received this error both on Ubuntu 9.04 running Firefox and on Windows XP using IE7, so it’s not an OS/browser thing I also think this error is separate from the earlier redirection/loop one I experienced earlier.))

Xanga Error

Ah yes, the Xanga Crash. The unreliability of Xanga and LiveJournal is why I left them in the first place. Irony of ironies, it is also why I can’t cancel my account.

I’ll try again later, but at least the number of 404 – Not Found errors are on the decline. It hasn’t affected my pagerank in any noticeable manner, but it makes me feel better to know that I’m hunting down some of the bugs and broken links and getting those taken care of, one URL at a time.

Linux vs. OS X? Why are we even talking about this?

I read an article recently on ZDNet about 10 things Linux does better than OS X which was accurate, insightful, and altogether correct. It was also pretty damned irrelevant.

You don’t have to go far on the Internet to find what we like to call a “fanboi” or “zealot,” defending their chosen pile of software against all comers. I don’t know if it’s because people are insecure in their choices or because they are trying to convince themselves, but a lot of writers on the ‘net will take up arms if you choose to use a software package different than their chosen avatar. This is nowhere more prevalent than when it comes to operating systems.

To be fair, you don’t see many Microsoft Windows zealots because, let’s face it, there’s not much to defend there. They’ve got 80% or more of the personal computer market, and while their OS isn’t great, it gets the job done most of the time. Those who use it don’t really need to say anything to defend their software, they just have to point at the numbers.

But Apple and Linux certainly have their fans, of the mouth-foamy type, and it boggles my mind. I don’t particularly like Microsoft Windows, but I can see where it is sometimes necessary, and the same goes for the other operating systems. I love Linux and it’s a great OS, and I’m really enjoying using OS X on my MacBook.

An article like the above-linked 10 things Linux does better than OS X can be helpful when deciding which OS to run, but the problem is that articles and opinions like these are usually held to be normative. That is, they are trying to say, “Here are ten things that Linux does better than OS X, therefore Linux is better than OS X.” It’s absurd.

The truth of the matter is that different jobs call for different tools. If I was a construction worker, hitting a nail with OpenOffice.org would fail. If I was handling very sensitive data that needed to be kept secure, yeah Linux would be best. But if I needed to work with advanced spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel 2007, Microsoft Windows would be the only operating system for me.

Personally, I was looking for high battery life, a good writing program, and a lightweight notebook, which led me to the MacBook. I recognize that Linux has some superior characteristics, but not for what I needed. I don’t need the most secure operating system ever, it doesn’t affect my writing one way or the other if my OS is open source, and the abundance of software available for Linux doesn’t make a difference in this case. It didn’t have Scrivener, so it was out.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. You’ve got to use the right tool for the right job, so a better article might be, “Given X, here’s the best OS and here’s why.” That is, of course, if you can be bothered to wipe the foam away from your mouth and say something worthwhile.

Why I bought an Apple Macbook

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Looking back, I’m not sure why I was so anti-Mac once upon a time.

Oh wait, yes I am. Because they were expensive, not as functional, and didn’t bring enough to the table to justify the investment.

Enter the new Macbook

When I saw the video detailing the changes and updates in the body and design of the new Macbook, I salivated. The way they put the laptop together was very cool, and between hardware changes and the standard integration of OS X, it looked like it ran very well indeed. “If only it was around $1200 instead of $1800,” I said. “Then maybe I could justify such an extravagant piece of machinery.”

Then I looked at the page on Apple’s site and discovered that the base Book was sitting at $1299. That was almost reasonable, I thought, and I began considering it more seriously. I’ve been thinking about getting a new laptop for around two years now, and my old lappy was originally purchased in late 2003 or early 2004. It weighs around 6.8 pounds and currently gets around 30 minutes of battery life, so you might consider it more of a desktop replacement than a true mobile computer. I didn’t use it much anymore because it just wasn’t that useful for my purposes.

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Updated – Why Chrome Concerns Me

Google has recently announced their web browser, Google Chrome, and while a variety of bloggers and news sites have begun reporting on and hypothesizing about Google’s motivation and the browser’s functionality, nobody seems to have any negative concerns regarding Chrome other than its competition with Mozilla Firefox. Some have shared their concern that this will kill Firefox as well as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which is a fine concern to have, but one I think isn’t major. People who care more about privacy will look at Google’s continuous data mining and give Chrome a miss. Firefox will still be used, and it’s Open Source, so it’ll continue being developed (unless Google buys it…). But again, not my main issue.

My concern is where Google states that Chrome is more than a web browser. Rather, it’s “a modern platform for web pages and applications,” with the word application mentioned 5 times in three paragraphs there. While Mozilla Firefox uses Gecko as its application engine, Chrome will use Webkit (along with Safari and Konquerer), just as Google’s mobile operating system (Android) will use Webkit.

Application compatibility and development could certainly put a dent in Mozilla Firefox’s usage statistics, but more importantly, it sends up a red flag to me. I fear we’ll return to the lack of standardization that was a hallmark of the browser wars in the early to mid 90s. As webapps become more prevalent, I fear web developers will have to begin writing apps to be compatible with Gecko, Webkit, and Microsoft, and that’s simply ludicrous. We are finally achieving standardization when it comes to HTML, and with Javascript, PHP, and ASP we’ve got languages that are understood equally by all browsers.

With Google entering the browser wars and choosing Webkit, it appears that we are establishing a lack of standardization for the future, which bothers me. Moreover, as Google moves more towards web development, with their own web browser in place I fear that they will build something akin to Microsoft’s ActiveX, where their web applications will be even more advanced and powerful, but will require their web browser to achieve that full functionality. I am concerned that Chrome will encourage Google to create proprietary web applications.

Of course, they may stick to their creed of “Do No Evil,” and my concerns may be completely unfounded. But as Google gains more power and popularity, I wonder how far they can push the definition of “Good” before losing the favour of their users. Regardless, I’ll check out Chrome so I can support it, but I doubt I’ll be switching to it full time. I already give Google my email and contacts, but adding my browsing into that… I like to pretend to have at least a little bit of privacy.

Addendum:: Google Chrome is Open Source, as is Webkit, so it’s not like THE END OF THE WORLD if they develop stuff that’s Webkit-only. It would just make me a little sad, and be a step in the wrong direction, I would think. Unless Webkit became a standard (and I’m sure someone will make the argument that Mozilla could always switch from Gecko to Webkit), and no news or rumours have arisen yet that such a move is likely in the web development community… though with both Android and the iPhone using Webkit, it certainly wouldn’t be absurd for Webkit to become so prevalent it became a standard…

Regarding Privacy:: Another update, since I mentioned this earlier. Since I’m in meetings all day, I haven’t downloaded, installed, and tried Chrome yet, but CNet takes a closer look at the Terms of Service attached to Chrome. Of particular concern to me is:

By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content which you submit, post or display on or through, the services.

Since my own content is copylefted under Creative Commons, I don’t particularly like the idea of Google serving up my content in any sort of advertisement and potentially making money from it.

OOXML? Thank goodness for OO.o

For those of you who are interested, Novell has developed a translator for OOXML for OpenOffice.org. It works on both Windows and Linux.

I installed it this morning on OpenSUSE without any hassle. I was going to install Alien on my Ubuntu machine and try the converter, but it turns out there’s already a .deb package for the translator. I did a bit of research on licensing because I had assumed that the Novell translator stemmed from their deal with Microsoft, but it looks like the translator(s) are actually due to the BSD-licensed OpenXML / ODF Translator Project. It appears the one by Novell only works on their special version of OpenOffice.org (Novell is doing a lot of new work on OO.o now that they’ve decided not to put up with Sun’s delays), but the Ubuntu one will work if you run a Debian-based distro, and it looks like ODF Converter will do the trick for everyone else.

Update:: Looks like it’s only for .docx; they don’t yet have support in for Excel, etc., only for Word documents.