Yesterday I woke up and, like every morning, I turned on my laptop, desktop computer and started the kettle for coffee before jumping into the shower. Yes, that's what I do every morning. Anyway, when I got back to my office my design and production computer (the big desktop machine that was originally built as a high end gaming machine right before I started writing seriously and had to tighten my budget about a year ago), was busy generating five or more pop ups a second.
It got worse. Despite the fact that I grabbed a suite of the best virus software I could find (much like the stuff that was already installed), and started a set of boot scans after a registry restoration the machine had somehow become too heavily infected to save the files or windows installation. The good news is that I had backups of most of the important files. The bad news is that I had to format the machine and reinstall all the software which took just over nine hours.
This isn't some pointless whining session, however, I have a point. I'm not the only one facing such an attack, there are a number of viruses and malware programs that open machines up to other trojan, spyware, virus and malware attacks. Once an infection like that takes root you either have to work like hell to correct the problem in a very timely manner or wipe everything out and start over. I've very rarely heard of this happening on an Apple computer or a Linux based system.
My production machine was running the latest version of Windows XP (Service pack 3 with all updates), Spybot Search and Destroy and Grisoft's AVG antivirus for protection. They were up to date and turned on. I'm also set up behind a hardware firewall and don't visit sites that are open to spreading malicious software. That didn't stop the virus attack. My point is that Microsoft and most other software companies on the globe have dropped the ball.
This is 2009.
We put humans on the moon forty years ago who survived the journey back but one of the biggest corporations on the planet can't release a completely stable, secure, intuitive software environment that the majority of three or more generations of adults can capably use. We should have computers that should wake up and ask what we want to do instead of boot up and show us a passive, blank screen that is easily invaded by windows naggnig us to log into ISP's, online communities, gaming software or even auctioning sites. I'm telling you that the security should be built in so well that we don't have to worry about it or even see it. When we turn the machine on it should tell us that we have messages from our favorite people on facebook, or that our auctions sold or that there's a video message from uncle Tom waiting.
I'm telling you that we shouldn't have to bend over backwards to install thousands of dollars worth of software to make it all happen only to watch a terrible operating system fail on its own and then be destroyed by viruses that said operating system shouldn't even be vulnerable to in the first place. We should bring the computer home from the store and it should verbally ask us; "Who are you? What are your two favourite colours? What social networks do you like; Facebook? Myspace? Or is there another you'd like me to add to the system? Do you want to use Skype to video conference with people? Do you have a friends list on MSN I can add to your system so you can tell everyone about your new computer?" When these questions are finished (which should be answered vocally, that keyboard is something we shouldn't have to touch unless we really want to), our computer should be ready to go. With a touchscreen interface and an automatic link to our cellphone, cable television, Internet and caller ID the computer could be that essential, almost invisible appliance we thought we'd be using sometime around, oh, 2009. It should also cost less thatn $1000.00 including a screen that is worthy of a living room entertainment system.
If you look at how much it costs to create the hardware, software and to distribute the technology that would be involved in this kind of system you're left wondering; why does it cost five times as much to get something that only does one fifth of what's mentioned above? Well, companies will tell you that research and development, advertising, legal fees, and other overhead factors are to blame. I'll grant that within their business models those things are very expensive, but if you keep reading a little you'll find that all those things are simply excuses when you come right down to it.
Independent programmers across the globe are all working in their spare time to make software that's in many way better than what Microsoft and even Apple have to offer. Linux is an open source operating system that welcomes users to program new software for and is absolutely free. My favourite distribution is Ubuntu, a variant of Linux that comes with Skype (a video and telephone communication program that uses the Internet), Open Office (everything I've written since 2007 has been written with this office package, which I enjoy more than Microsoft Office by far), Firefox, Google tools, a good paint program (The last distribution I installed came with Gimp), a chat client that can be used for multiple services (MSN, Yahoo, AIM and others), and everything else you'd expect from an operating system. Everything that a computer today needs to provide for a business person, student or creative individual.
Windows XP and Windows Vista come with a 30 day trial copy of office, a calculator program and a cheap paint program that doesn't even match what I've seen in public school classrooms. Out of the box the modern Windows computer is barely worthy of paperweight status until you add more software or connect to the Internet. Oh, and most manufacturers provide virus software that expires in 30 days, so you don't get any protection after that time. It's just long enough for the window of opportunity to bring the computer back to the store to close.
Back to Linux for a second before I move on. I've never seen a Linux installation fall prey to a virus. There are Linux servers that service thousands of customers a minute that have not been reset or shut down for any reason for over a decade. An eight year old computer that uses Ubuntu can do everything a brand new computer with Windows Vista installed can do except for play the latest games and you can buy said ancient computer at a yard sale for $50.00. Chances are that it won't randomy crash either, unlike Windows Vista.
This brings up my point and one really big question: What the hell are Microsoft and Apple doing that's keeping them from providing a better software package than anyone can download and install for free?
Last time I looked at what Apple had to offer (last week, actually), they had nothing that looked any better than what I could go get for a Linux Ubuntu installation right now for nothing, only the Apple version cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars just because of the logo and "careful market research and testing." I thought that big companies who spent big money on being "cutting edge" actually were ahead of the curve.
I was hoping that if we didn't get someone on Mars by now or have world hunger or the monetary and environmental management of the planet licked we'd at least have a computer that could do more than sit there and be a juicy target for viruses and malicious software by now. What are big companies like Microsoft and Apple doing other than producing shiny, barely innovative consumer products that are barely a hair ahead of what came out the year before? Nothing.
The IPhone should have happened 15 years ago, the technology existed in larger forms and the manufacturing processes were possible but no one was willing to foot the the bill for the cost back then. The truly intuitive interactive operating system should have made an appearance a decade ago and we should all have easy to use tablets that cost less than $300.00 right now. Not only that, but the one computer per classroom initiative should be old news in the third world, but since its conception almost twenty years ago it hasn't been accomplished anywhere, not even in India. We shouldn't be worried about hospitals that don't have the technology to diagnose and treat patients properly, it should already be there.
All those advancements are stuck on a slow track thanks largely to corporations who are more concerned with releasing the next new shiny gadget and turning a buck rather than making our lives better. Now they're in trouble because so many people bought into a culture of consumerism and borrowed to buy, buy and buy more. Well, that's come to an end in my home.
Here's what's happened on my production machine: I've installed Ubuntu. Now all the software on my computer is free, and it's amazing. It's easy to use, never crashes and guess what? No viruses. It's also faster than any windows installation I've ever seen. I don't have much extra money to speak of, but as soon as I do I'm going to donate to the people who were responsible for the software I'm using because every donation matters. I can relate to these people.
I used to work as a computer technician and build computers like hot rods in my spare time, but now I'm absolutely discusted with how short a distance we've come over so much time so I'm not buying anything unless I'm replacing something that's worn out.
No more tech toys for me unless they actually do something completely new, are absolutely innovative and simply nessisary. At this rate I won't be buying anything for many years, since the computers and software of the world haven't actually made a real, world changing advancements since the 1990's. The IPhone is just another carphone, texting is just another version of the telegram, the laptop is just a miniature home computer, and windows is, well, still crashing for no reason in particular.
The image at the top of this rant is created and provided by Marc Froment, my tablet using room mate.