How to win friends and influence users–a rant

Note:  This is a modified version of a post I made on the Linux Mint forums.

Most of those with ties to GNU/Linux want to see usage expand. Many are the reasons that folks make the switch, and rarely is it easy–folks must give up the familiar and take a step into the unknown to make the switch. This is never comfortable and boards such as this one exist to give these new (or potential) users a hand.

Choosing an OS is not just about choosing an OS–there is an entirely different ecosystem that is built around each OS and the entire ecosystem may have to be changed. Hardware peripherals may or may not work with the new ecosystem, familiar applications may have to be replaced with unfamiliar ones, procedures for getting stuff done may have to be replaced with new ones, in general switching OS’s is rarely as easy as inserting a CD and rebooting.

Many in the Windows world have outdated views of Linux–how often do we hear “it is too hard”, or “Linux is only for geeks”, or other such views that may have been true 5 years ago but are not true now. (Many in the GNU/Linux world promote these outdated stereotypes in an attempt to maintain their own [self-perceived] elite status–but that is another rant…)

Windows users have major investments in their computing ecosystem, monetary, temporal, emotional, etc… Rarely can you get them to give up this investment and embark on a new journey by running them down. Using terms like Windoze, Microshaft, M$, etc…is not the way to win converts. This sort of attitude only makes the Windows user more entrenched in their world, these attacks may not be meant as personal, the user of such terminology may not even be aware that they are attacks, but they do nothing to win over users and may even do harm.

Earlier I mentioned that many Windows users have outdated views of Linux, in the same way, many Linux users have outdated views of Windows. You can see this when they use terms like MICROS~1 (how long has it been since Windows used Dos naming conventions?) and talk of BSOD’s as if they are still common. The average Windows user is probably no less intelligent than the average Linux user, running down these users with outdated stereotypes that the user knows to be untrue is not doing anything to help win them over.

Some may say that they do not want to win over new users, they fear that if the masses adopt Linux it will become just like Windows or they fear that they may lose their (self-perceived) elite status. As for me, I want new users. When I switched to Linux I had to give up the Amazon MP3 store, Amazon movie rentals, and Movielink rentals. I would like access to these things, but I know it won’t happen until Linux reaches some critical mass. I don’t know what that critical mass is…if I had to make a guess, I would put it at 10% or better.

So I titled this rant, “How to win friends and influence users”, so I should give my take on how to make that happen. Respect. Nothing more, nothing less. People can be enabled to make different choices without running them down. Search any Linux forum for terms like “windoze” or “Microsoft Sucks” and you will see what I mean.  I have no way of knowing what motivates people to such behavior, but as a recent convert myself, I can guarantee you that this only serves to entrench Windows users with a bunker mentality. If you really want to win friends and influence users, try a little respect.
</rant>

Addendum: I am also guilty of this lack of respect, whether referring to Apple Fanboy or FOSS Zealot…I will try to do better this year…

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Will Vista be finished?

Only 12 more days until Vista is unleashed on the public. Will it be finished? If the average user experience is comparable to mine, MS is in deep doo doo. No amount of excuses and/or blame is going to be sufficient to keep MS out of hot water.

You know the spinning beach ball in the Mac? Well MS has implemented a similar feature. About half the time that I click on Computer or Documents or any explorer applet, the computer just stops–nothing happens. Click it again…nothing, click it again….nothing…. Huh? Click on control panel, let’s go see what error messages are being generated….BAM! Windows all pop open, every desperate click is turned into an open window. No rhyme, no reason…totally annoying.

Also, do you know anyone who does not use DIVX? I don’t. Still there is no DIVX codec for playback on Vista. If you install the old one, every time you navigate to a directory with a DIVX avi in it, the computer hangs. The “com surrogate” crashes repeatedly, you spend the next minutes trying to get a head of the error warnings.

All of the pretty eye candy in the world will not hide the fact that this is the buggiest Windows release since Win 95.

I just ordered a computer without an OS. Can I trust it to make Vista my primary OS? No way! The first thing I will do when the box arrives is put XP on it. XP for games and virtualization, Vista is too buggy for either. Next I will put Vista on a partition, I have hopes that I can at the least use it as a workstation (Dreamweaver, photoshop, Office…). Then finally I will put 64-bit Opensuse on it…my true workstation.

Sadly, I have been forced into the role of MS Apologist. But I don’t mind making excuses for beta software…hell, it is beta. But this is the final release of a $400 OS! Twelve days from now, the gloves come off and the excuses for this sad train wreck of an OS comes to an end. Come on MS, get it together. 5 years in the making….and this is the best you can do?

When Vista goes on sale in 12 days, I will do a clean install….I expect it to work…$400 is a lot of money! But I have no hope to match my expectations.

Too sad….

Not thinking it through….

Many are those who think that MS releasing many versions of Vista is bad.  Mostly FOSS zealots who claim to know so much about monopolies…these people wax meaningfully about the ins and outs of monopolies, but in reality they know nothing, they are simply taking their “feelings” about MS and pretending they are based in facts.  Their ignorance is glaring.

The many versions of Vista is MS being forced to differentiate its products.  This is due to health returning to the OS market.  MS still has a monopoly, but the choices show that it is no longer secure in that monopoly.

When you have a monopoly, you ship one product and people are forced to take it.  When you are a big fish in competition, you ship different models to compete for customers.  A one size fits all does not work in a competitive market.

So bring on the Vista versions, a much needed sign of life.  Linux is still slowly growing its mind share.  Suse is a kick-ass OS–now if the FOSS zealots don’t self-implode and destroy themselves, we will have competition.  Apple has much mind share.  If Jobs would stop with his smoke and mirror dog and pony show method of introducing products; sit down and offer a roadmap for OS X and its hardware, we could see some real gains.

Apple has a monopoly on Mac hardware, hence one product.  Linux is free and open with lots of competition hence many many versions.  I would suggest that the FOSS zealots read a little about the history and economics of monopolies so that they don’t come off as retarded…these folks are doing much more to slow linux adoption than the boys from Redmond are.

MS is doing all that it can to destroy its monopoly (WGA, DRM, price, etc…) it is only too bad that there is no one offering a viable alternative.

The only things maintaining MS’s monopoly is FOSS zealots and Steve Jobs.

I despise MS as much as most…but I will not be self deluded…

Microsoft Zune: Is it the iPod Killer?

Microsoft Zune – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

So MS is going to release its music player (in conjunction with Toshiba) in time for the xmas season. Many are those who predict a flop. However, if Jobs and company don’t take this seriously, they are missing the boat. Let’s back up…

MS always puts out crappy 1.0 products, with 2.0 they become competitive, and with 3.0 they are generally the best. NT 3 was the 1.0 launch, nothing to worry the competition. With NT 4 (2.0) MS became competitive, and with Win 2K (3.0) MS sealed the deal and ruled the corporate desktop.

The first Xbox was a joke, everyone laughed, particularly Sony. With the release of the Xbox 360 (2.0) folks quit laughing. I would guess with the future release of 3.0, Sony will be crying.

MS listens to its customers, they take feedback, they implement. You could never convince the apple fan base or the open source zealots that MS makes some great products. They would have you believe that MS just somehow got lucky. That they somehow created a monopoly and then abused it without making a good product. These people are not paying attention.

Apple could learn from the folks at MS. Give the users what they want. Quit cherry picking junk that looks good on stage but does not work in the real world.

So, in my estimation, Zune will launch, it will suck, people will laugh. Next year some time, Zune 2.0 will launch, and folks will take notice…they will say things like: “You know, in some ways Zune is as good as the iPod.” [This is also the point where Apple will sue them.] Then with the advent of Zune 3.0, MS will have the killer product that we all must have.

Apple needs to be nimble, they need to start listening to users, quit with the easy flashy garbabe and do some real innovation…is Steve Jobs and company up to it? Ask me that again xmas 2007.

My version 1.0 to 3.0 theory only holds in existing markets. MS doesn’t do quite so well when inventing new markets. Note the Media Center and Tablet. MS invented these markets and spent a lot developing them. I don’t think it is as clear that they can hold onto them…this is the chink in the MS armor that Apple needs to exploit as they finish the transition to the consumer electronic company that they seem intent on becoming. I for one wish them luck…

Is Microsoft Its Own Worse Enemy?

As regular readers know, I have a Linux home network. However, being a linux noob, I am scared to commit my data to linux. I recently replaced my OS X file server with an XP file server. To make the switch I had to re-format my mac external drives to windows NTFS. Basically I have two external drives (usb2/firewire combos), one has my data on it and one is for backups. I have about 150 GBs of critical data, so while my backup scheme is not foolproof–it is cost effective.

So I formatted and copied my data over, everything seemed to go fine…but when I mounted the partitions in Linux, I had problems. Permission problems.

Easy enough, from Windows, right click the share and choose properties/security, right? Nope! That only works in XP Pro, and I have home. A quick yahoo search showed that I needed to reboot in safe mode and the security tab would be available. And it was. And I solved the problem and happy computing returned.

So what’s the problem?

I’m sorry, but permissions are a pretty basic function, to make them virtually inaccessible is fairly inexcusable. Is Vista Home Premium going to be crippled in a similar fashion? Is the user going to be forced to buy Ultimate edition? I ask this because, of the 5 SKU’s that mainstream Vista is shipping, 2 are available only to businesses. For home users, there is home, home premium, and ultimate. Is the home user going to be forced to choose between paying hundreds of dollars for ultimate or using a crippled version that does not have the basic functionality that one expects from a computer?

The pundits like to speak of the possibility of MS becoming irrelevent…mostly due to web services. But I have a more basic view. It is my belief that MS is busy making itself irrelevent. From poorly implemented WGA to crippled software distribution, MS seems to be their own worse enemy. While Linux is close to being an alternative, it is not yet there. OS X, due to Apples’s business plan, will not grow to be a true competiter. The game is MS’s to lose, and they seem to be doing what they can to accomplish that. I have a firm belief that Vista will never achieve the market penetration that XP has. And the reason lies solidly at the feet of MS, for they are their own worse enemy.

A letter…

Following is a letter that I intend to send to Microsoft tomorrow:

July 29, 2006

“Genuine Microsoft Software” Team

Microsoft Corporation

One Microsoft Way

Redmond, WA 98052-6399

To whom it may concern,

Microsoft’s recent imposition of Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) has prevented me from obtaining my rightful updates to Windows XP. I have a 5 year old Sony Vaio that came with Windows XP Home. I recently “restored” the OS on this computer to prepare it for a less demanding task. When I tried to obtain updates I was given the message that my copy of Windows could not be authenticated and I should contact my “regional support tech”. Who is the regional support tech on a 5 year old computer?

I called MS Support and spoke to a series of kind people in Bangalore who could not help me. They sent me to a diagnostics page where an active x control refused to load. I spent 4 hours online with an unpatched 5 year old copy of Windows, obviously my computer was hacked and my brand new install was garbage. While they would not directly say so, the kind support staff hinted that this problem would go away with a new copy of XP.

The important consideration is that at no time did Microsoft software or support staff inform me that my copy of Windows was not genuine, it simply could not run. This bears repeating, my computer did not fail your test, your test refused to run on my ancient—but legal—XP installation. This is a Sony Vaio purchased from Fry’s Electronics, it simply is not possible that this is not a legal copy of Windows.

Windows is far and away my favorite operating system, however, if this is what the future portends; my 10 years as a loyal Microsoft customer are over. This arrogant and capricious implementation of hurtles to the lawful use of my computer force me to seek my software elsewhere.

Very sincerely,

John Trapp

My misadventures with MS Genuine (dis)Advantage

So MS has rolled out MS Genuine Advantage for XP. You evidently can’t access updates without it running. But what happens when it doesn’t work? Prepare to enter MS tech support hell.
I recently made that journey, here I will recount it in skelatal form.
I was restoring an old PC at work, a Sony computer that came with XP home. No Windows disks, just restore disks.
Mind you this is an old copy of XP…perhaps even pre SP1.
So I went through the restore process, about what you expect. I uninstalled all of the crapware that Sony included with the OS…5 years ago some of this software may have rose to the level of somewhat adequate. But now it is out dated crappy and old. Then I went to Windows update to start installing patches, service packs, etc…
The first few steps, although awkward are basically what I expect from the Redmond monopoly. Install something (what??) then reboot, return to Windows update and install updates to the update software. Reboot again. Return to Windows update where it informs me that I must prove my software is not pirated. Although offended, I clicked OK. I promptly got a window stating that my install could not be authenticated and that I should contact my regional support tech.
What? Who or what is my regional support tech on a 5 year old computer? So I called 1800-microsoft and started hitting the zero key until a person came on the line. I explained my problem, and she suggested that I visit microsoft.com/genuine/diag/ to resolve my issue. I kept her on the line while I keyed in the address. There was a checklist with like 5 things that this website checked, the last thing on the list was “loading active X” and it stalled at this point. The tech support person kept urging me to go to MS support online and deal with this issue. I refused, insisting that she help me deal with this. At this point I was getting perturbed. No one was stating that my software was not genuine. None of their tests showed that it was not genuine. I was being blocked from getting updates due to Microsoft’s poorly implemented check. For the record this is a Sony Vaio bought at Fry’s Electronics, it has the holographic sticker and the disks were sealed by Sony. I don’t think this is where the piracy occurs. So the tech support person said there was nothing else to do. While not saying so, this person seemed to suggest that the problem would be solved by buying a new copy of Windows. So I escalated the call. Before I move on to the escalation, I want to point out that this first person I dealt with did not know English. I had to constantly rephrase what I said to simplify it for her. She was evidently reading from a screen (assumably phonetics) and became flustered when I pointed out that she already said that and it was of no help.
So when I escalated I was transferred to a man who knew english. He immediatly started parroting the same things using the same words as the first person. He informed me that Microsoft’s servers were very slow and that it might take 24 hours or more for the active x control to load on my dsl line. WTF? He kept trying to get me off the phone, but would do nothing else to help me. Sorry, he said, there is nothing else to do. I badgered him for a while longer trying to resolve my issue. He then gave me MS’s corporate number and told me to call them.
Which I did. My call was answered by a friendly woman who told me that I was calling the wrong number. She directed me to call the previous number, I told her I did that and they could not/would not help me. I asked to be transferred to someone who could help, she told me that MS was a “unique and exciting company” and they did not transfer by department. I needed a person’s name to get transferred. Since I don’t I don’t know anyone at MS I told her to transfer me to Bill Gates. She refused. I told her to direct me to quality control, or public relations, or anyone. Nope, sorry. She then gave me a fax number which she said would get me expedited support.
I thanked her, hung up and sent a fax with all of the info she said it should contain. She said this would generate a response within 24 hours. I sent the fax, but she lied…I got no response.
So what do I do. Do I install a pirated version of Win 2k? Do I purchase a new copy of XP? Should I get excited about Vista?
In the meantime I abandoned Xandros on my main desktop and replaced it with OpenSuse 10.1. OS is not as stable or as fast, but I did get 3d acceleration to work.

More on value added

When MS released CTP Vista Beta 2, I jumped on it.  Boy it is much much buggier than XP was at this stage.

MS has put advertisements all through the OS!  WTF?  Is my OS shareware?  Who do I send a check to in order to get these ads turned off?  This is the exact same thing that turned me off about Apple’s OS X, ads everywhere, half the “features” don’t work unless you send Apple a yearly check.  This was enough for me to abandon the platform.  Now MS is moving in the same direction.  Once again, WTF?  Is OS X shareware?  Is Vista?  Will people continue to put up with this?  Well, I know the mac users will put up with it…they will even defend it…”I wanted those ads”….”I find it helpful”…whatever….  Will Windows users put up with it?  That remains to be seen…

I for one am installing Xandros when I get home from work tonight.  I will do my best to make it work.

MS Live Onecare Pricing

Microsoft Monitor had a recent post questioning if MS Onecare was predatory priced at 50$US for up to 3 computers.  From the crapware that comes on Dells, from what I see on store shelves, from what I get from reading ads, and from what others tell me, I get the impression that this market is currently owned by Symantec (Norton) and McAfee (S&M?).  And while none of their products compare perfectly with each other’s offerings, Onecare seems to be about half the price its big competitors.  From direct experience I know that Onecare is much less resource intensive.  And if you run the entire security suite from Symantec or McAfee your computer becomes slow, unresponsive, crashes, and prevents you from doing legitimate networking.  Basically, S&M turn XP into Win9x.

Folks like AVG, Avast, and others provide free anti-virus for home use.  Many others offer cheap antivirus for home use.  These stand alone and comparitively cheaper products are superior to the suites and other offerings of S&M.

I think MS is going to bat for its users.  Put a damper on the extortion made by S&M, while simultaneously setting them back to make room for less invasive offerings from others.  I just installed some new Dells at work, they both came pre-installed with McAffee Security Suite.  It made brand new fast computers seem like dogs.  They would not network, they were unresponsive, uninstalling this crapware solved the problem.  Imagine if I was a noob?  I would have thought that’s just the way computers are, I would have thought XP sucked, I would not have enjoyed my experience.  Between the two of them, S&M are crippling the experiences of millions of users.  I think this is the reason MS entered the fray.

I signed up for Onecare, 20$US as a beta tester.  I won’t renew.  Something still bugs me about paying a fee to a company to solve problems that their main product creates.

I still think MS’s entry to this arena is much needed.