Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mac vs PC: The Misconception

During the last weeks of school, I was having a conversation with my fiancé's roommate, Crystal, about computer operating systems. Crystal is a graphic design major at ISU and uses a Mac. She started the main part of the conversation when she said that she likes her Mac and will never go back to a PC.

I responded by saying, "You mean that you will never go back to Windows, right?" And she said, "Yea, that's right. I will never go back to a PC." From there I started to get really serious as we kept repeating the same lines to each other..."you mean Windows"..."yea, a PC". I tried to explain to her the real meaning of the terms she was using, but I was not getting through. Finally, the conversation ended...unresolved. As I sat there wondering why I was not able to correct her vocabulary, a Mac commercial (from their popular Get a Mac campaign) started on the TV.

As everyone know, the commercial started with the famous line, "Hi, I'm a Mac. And I'm a PC." At this point, it became painfully obvious why Crystal and I were talking past each other. Apple themselves are using PC incorrectly and Crystal is just following their lead. Now, I also enjoy watching these Mac commercials, but it was not until this point that I even realized that they were using PC incorrectly.

PC stands for personal computer. The main entry on Wikipedia for Personal Computer defines the term as (and I am paraphrasing) "any computer the average person uses." Certainly any computer that you have in your home falls into this category. This is clearly not the meaning intended in the Get a Mac commercials since all Macintosh computers are included in this group. Rather, when Apple uses PC, it is referring to a IBM compatible PC in general and the IBM PC specifically. Now it is time for a history lesson.

In 1981, IBM released the IBM PC (model 5150). This computer was so popular, that it redefined the meaning of the previously existing term Personal Computer. Today, when speaking technically, a PC is any computer compatible with the hardware of this computer. There are two reasons why most of the computers of today are compatible with this IBM computer. As previously mention, the first is because this IBM PC was so popular. The second, and possibly the more important reason, is that this original IBM PC used an open architecture. That is, IBM freely released all of the information necessary to go and build the same system for yourself. And guess what? Many, many companies have...probably hundreds...including every company that you have probably heard of, other than Apple.

Instead of following everyone else or going out of business from vastly superior competition, Apple decided to stick with their proprietary architecture of the time and they are still in business today. However, have you ever wondered why a Macintosh is generally more expensive than an IBM compatible PC running Windows? It is not because the hardware is any better or more powerful. It is because Apple is the only one that knows how to make them which gives them an artificial monopoly. Although, some things have changed recently. In 2005, Apple began switching from PowerPC processors to x86 Intel processors. Since then, it is possible to get the Mac operating system to work on IBM compatible PCs.

Now, I have said everything above in hopes that my remaining sentences are as clear as day. Apple is a company. Microsoft is a company. Apple creates and sells the proprietary Macintosh computer architecture. Microsoft is not in the hardware business. Apple creates and sells the Mac operating system that traditionally only worked on the proprietary Macintosh architecture but now also works on the IBM PC compatible, Intel x86 open architecture (as well as two other architectures). Microsoft creates and sells the Windows operating system that works on the IBM PC compatible, Intel x86 open architecture.

The Get a Mac commercials are great. But in their attempts to be concise, they are confusing people. Apple does not care that the lines get blurred, but "Macintosh" is hardware, "Mac" is an operating system (software), and "Mac" can be short for "Macintosh". So when the Get a Mac commercials use the term "Mac" are they referring to the hardware or software?....probably both. However, when talking about a "PC", Windows is the most popular operating system, but Linux also works on a "PC", including my favorite Linux distribution, Ubuntu.

It would be more correct if the first line were, "Hi, I'm a Mac OS. And I'm a Windows," but it certainly does not sound as good.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Just What I was Expecting

When 8.10 Intrepid came out, I began the six month wait for 9.04 Jaunty. Of all of the new features, the the new notification system. Sure, it looks cool, but I had an actual use case the it would solve for me. When I download a file in Firefox, I have it automatically saved to the desktop and often switch workspaces (instead of minimizing my current collection of windows) to access the new file. However, when the file finishes downloading, Firefox uses its own notification system to alert me of that fact, and this notification system appears over top of the workspace switcher and is not click-through. One could argue the I should be using some key combination to swtich workspaces. This may be true, but it does not change the fact that the notification system in Firefox is wrong because it is not click-through and Ubuntu's notification system should be used instead anyway. Also, other users less technical than me might face the same use case as me but are not the type to memorize and use key combinations to accomplish their tasks.

Well, since Firefox is so amazing (because of its plugin framework), someone wrote this plugin to trigger the Ubuntu notification system whenever Firefox uses its own notification system. I learned about this plugin about a month ago, but (at the time) the compleation of a download also triggered Firefox's own notification. Then I read this blog post (that I found from Digg) that said that it was possible to turn off Firefox's notification system. I had previous assumed that this was possible, but I also thought that doing this would not allow the plugin to work either. Well, I was wrong, and it makes sense why I was wrong.

So, I was going to share the same informaiton that I read in that blog post about how to turn off Firefox's notification system, but while writting this blog post, I have discovered that the creators of that plugin must have also read it...because the plugin now shuts off Firefox's notifcation for you! So, in conclusion, just install the above plugin and you will have Ubuntu notifications (and only Ubuntu notifications) when Firefox finishes downloading a file.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Money and Open Source Software

There many benefits to open source software (OSS), but for most people, the main benefit is that fact that the software is free.

In this video entitled "Linux Sucks! (And what can be done to fix it)", Bryan Lunduke discusses areas in which OSS fails to deliver and also provides some possible ways to fix these problems. One of the problems identifed by Bryan was the lack of OSS applications of significant complexity. I agree with that assessment, but his soltion was to fund the development of these complicated applications. Initially, I was put off by this idea. I thought that it would be a bad idea to introduce money into the open source process.

However, I later realized that it is not required that OSS be free of cost in every way. In fact, there are existing examples for which the expenditure of money is required. The examples that I thought of are the first class distributions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Ubuntu as well as the Linux Kernel itself. These distributions have developers that are fully supported by Red Hat and Canonical respectively and several companies support Linux Kernel developers. Everyone would agree that these example of OSS have positively benefited from the involvement of money.

The reason that OSS is such a good idea is that the marginal cost of giving an OSS program to another user is practically nothing and the benefits of more people using the same program are positive. Goods with these characteris are called anti-rivalrous. However, the development cost of OSS still exists. The vast majority of OSS is developed without finacinal compensation, but it does not have to be that way. The video above caused me to think about the possibility of compensating OSS developers for their work.

I now believe that sufficently complicated OSS applications will not be created without paying the developers for their work. Traditionally, various companies have stepped up to supported the work of these developers, but anyone who will benefit from the work of an OSS developer should support them in their work.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Way We use the Internet is Changing: The Internet is Personal

The other day, I stepped back and looked at my Internet activity. As you may have noticed, the Internet is becoming personal.

Google became famous and powerful by indexing the (most of the) Internet so that you and I can effectively search it. However, more and more content is being created behind closed doors that require logins to access. I am not sure if this is good or bad. Of sites that I have bookmarked, the following require me to login (to do what I want):
  1. Gmail
  2. Google Reader
  3. Blogger
  4. Dropbox
  5. Pandora
  6. Launchpad
  7. Ubuntu Forums
  8. Ubuntu Brainstorm
  9. Wellsfargo
  10. Project Euler
  11. KGS Go Server
  12. Facebook
  14. Several things at ISU
  15. Several things at UWM
...and I only have 27 bookmarks total, so 56% of my bookmarks require a login. Furthermore, some of my bookmarks have, what I would consider, an optional or partial login (I do not have to login to do what I normally want to do or, in the case of Weather, is not specific to just me):
  1. Weather (enter my zip code)
  2. Digg
  3. Newegg
  4. Youtube
  5. Sensei's Library
If you include these five, then 74% of my bookmarks require a login.

Since I have posted almost all of my bookmarks anyway, here are the rest of my bookmarks:
  1. IP2Location
  2. Transmission Web Interface
  3. BibleGateway
  4. EidoGo - Kogo's Joseki
  5. TED
  6. dpaste
  7. TorrentFreak
Searching is far more important that it used to be. I will often give up trying to use a sites navigation or their own search capabilities and instead use Google's "site:" feature to search the site. However, since I frequent so many gated Internet communities, the content is already tailored to my preferences. That makes using the Internet easier for me but harder for the next person that wants to join the community. Why? Because the ability to search that gated community is restricted. It is more difficult for a newcomer to decide if this community is worth joining.

In conclusion, a personalized Internet is more difficult to search.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Large Asteroid May Hit Earth

In December 2004, a large asteroid was discovered that will come dangerously close to Earth. In April 13, 2029 (a Friday), this asteroid will be closer to Earth than our geosynchronous satellites. It will not hit Earth this time around, but there is enough uncertainty in our projections about the asteroid's orbit that there is a 1 in 45,000 chance that it will hit Earth during its next passing six years later on April 13, 2036 (a Sunday). Because of this asteroid's orbit, it was named Apophis, which is the Greek name for the evil Egyption god of darkness. Even if Apophis does not hit Earth in 2036, we still have to worry about it possibly hitting Earth every six or seven years when it again passes close to Earth.

If Apophis hits Earth, millions of people could be injured in its impact size of thousands of square kilometers. However, an impact would be unlikely to have a long-lasting global effect.

As usual, Wikipedia has extensive information about Apophis in general and its chances of hitting Earth.

I learned about this after watching this video with Neil Tyson. You can skip to chapter 3, where he begins talking about Apophis, and he finishes talking about Apophis when he moves onto another subject starting in chapter 8.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Inside the Cash Cab

In the US version of Cash Cab (Wikipedia page), a trivia game show on the Discovery Channel, I was wondering how real it is. I thought that because the host, Ben Bailey, has to read the questions that he was not really driving through New York City. However, when I searched the Internet for more information, I have become convinced that he really is driving through the city, but there are several other things about the show that seem to be fake.

Based on discussion with my cousin Matt and these few pages...
...I believe that they really are driving through the city, especially because there is a gray van that follows them the whole time. Then, when I saw that Ben Bailey has an ear bud in his left ear, I decided that his eyes really are paying close attention to the road and the guys in the trailing gray van are telling him what to say.

Something else that I wondered about was how they "screened contestants" before appearing on the show (as is claimed in the text shown for a brief moment at the end of the show) if they are surprising random taxi-goers. One of the above sites provided an answer. They find people for the show by farming them from local trivia events. They tell them that they are going to be on a reality show about where people want to go in New York. So, no random person that actually has somewhere to go ever has a chance to get on the Cash Cab. This makes sense because it will allow them to have contestants that do fairly well.

Finally, and this was especially saddening to me, the cash is not real. Instead, they mail you a check. This sounds really believable. They would need a paper trail.

Some of you may be saying, "Tyson, why can't you just enjoy the show?" cannot not.