[buug] Re: Jackpot!

Christopher Sullivan feedle at feedle.net
Tue Jul 11 18:23:02 PDT 2000

First off, apologies that I'm getting into this conversation late, but I
wanted to say a couple of things here, as somebody who's been around the
"personal computer" business since it involved assembing your own Apple I
or MITS Altair from parts.

On Fri, 7 Jul 2000, Rick Moen wrote:

> begin  Zeke Krahlin quotation:
> > They don't *care about the inner workings of any PC, no matter what OS
> > is being used. They just want to get the job done, and/or play games
> > and browse the web. They are either running their own small business
> > with the PC as somewhat useful...or run their computer for pure
> > pleasure. Some are disabled, on very low income, and are politially
> > astute enough to desire to boycott Micro$oft...but in need of some
> > help in going over to Linux.
> You have a point.  You make a decent case that there's a niche to fill,
> here.  I have no doubt that some books do it passably well, but that I
> just don't appreciate them on such terms.
> The fly in the ointment is that you're still using x86 hardware and
> doing it using a general-purpose operating system.  Both mean that
> efforts to hide complexity are somewhat doomed.  Worse, the lower 
> the price point, the worse the hardware complexity becomes.

Hear hear!  Nothing is more irritating than controller-less hardware like
WinModems and stupid printers.  The entire reason for this is to make the
hardware cheaper, and invariably, it ends up breaking even on Windows with
the right drivers.

But this is not a new phenomena.  Granted, it's reached crisis porportions
(just try buying, for example, a joystick that dosen't need some
[Windows-only] driver to work properly), but this is nothing new.

> Anyone trying to do simple, office/personal-productivity task-oriented
> computing on x86 can only go so far in ignoring the machine's details --
> because the hardware design is too unstandardised and sometimes
> downright defective.  So, I tell people, low-cost x86 computing _or_
> avoiding the need to become knowledgeable about hardware:  Pick one.
> You cannot have them both, not for long, or with any satisfaction.
> The smart move is to go for learning about hardware.

The problem with this formula is the reasoning behind why a lot of these
"newbies" are getting into "computers."  It's the same bunch who bought
Apple //e's and Commodore 64's late in those products' life.

They want to buy a computer not because of some actual "need", but more to
fulfill some weird "keeping up with the Jones'" kind of thought
process.  So, they go down to Circuit Circus (or insert your favorite
retail computer chain here), buy whatever is on the shelf, and in two
years it'll end up in the garage with the Chia Pet.

Unfortunately for us (us being the free *NIX "user" community), the hot
thing right now is Linux.

Thing is, just like the C-64 and Apple //e, the learning curve is very
steep.  Also, they are entering a world that is a lot more than just a
piece of software: it's an entire _CULTURE_, with it's own history and

The steepness in the learning curve, I dare say, is not the software
itself, but an entire culture that, as others more intelligent than I have
written about, runs counter to many of the concepts of how the world works
everywhere else.  We're talking about "The Gift Culture."

If I may be so bold, many newcomers have never dealt with such a strange
world before.  Some have, and those people are easy to spot.  But, your
typical SUV-driving yuppie has a hard time dealing with the fact that what
makes his new toy go is a piece of software written by (what amounts
to) volunteers that create not for financial reward, but for the love of
the Work (maybe with a side of Fame).

So when they post "Waaaaaaaaaah! It don't work" posts, it's because
they've spent their entire life in the Cathedral, where crying to the
great Confessinal of Customer Service (and paying a small penance,
sometimes) gets All Problems Solved.

The Cathedal and the Bazaar are not just constructs of software
development models.  Parallels can be drawn between these differing
marketplaces of ideas in other areas as well.

> If people say they want both (ignorance and low cost), I wish them good
> luck, but personall can't help them.  (I don't have the patience, and
> don't want to deal with their attitude.  I'd tell them to buy PowerMacs,
> except when they started whining about the price, I'd probably lose my
> cool, so it's better to just say bon voyage.)

The irony of it is, Macintosh computers are cheaper (price/performance
wise) than they have ever been.  This speaks more of Apple's lousy
marketing right now than of their attitude.

> That brings us to the second point, about Linux being a general-purpose
> computing environment:
> Have you ever heard annoying, whiney people ask (rhetorically) why
> computers should have to be so complex, when automobiles are simple
> by comparison?  The implication is that we should somehow feel ashamed
> to have thus failed the questioner in his reasonable requirement that 
> everything he wants to use be made simple for him.

Huzzah!  Ask these whiners what they want to do with the computer, and you
might get a few answers like "surf the net" and maybe an occasional "edit
Word documents" (read: use it as a fancy typewriter).  Almost without
question, just about every task could be performed by a machine the power
and performance of an i-opener.

> The questioner's error is in assuming that he needs a computer, just
> because he likes to browse the Web, process e-mail, play games, and
> write, store, & file things.  He assumes this requires a computer
> because that's all he knows about.


> On the horizon will be new "computing appliances", at much lower
> price points (maybe $200 or so) that have deliberately simplified
> functionality and are difficult or essentially impossible to mess up.
> Many of these will be based on embedded Linux.  Those are probably
> what your customers need, not general-purpose computers at all.

There a little more than on the horizon.  Such "computing
applicances" have been around for 10 years.  Unfortunately, they've been
failures every time.

I can name countless examples of "computing applicances" that have been
built.  Every single one was superior at what it did than a general
purpose computer.  Every single one failed.

Case study: about six years ago, Canon made a really nice word processing
machine that ran GEOS as it's operating system.  It had a real nice
paper-white display, included fax capabilities, had a thermal printer and
a Canon bubblejet printer, power saving mode, and even had some primitive
E-mail functionality.  It was a good deal at around $500.

Adray's, the electronics store I worked at in Southern California at the
time of their release in the mid 90's, had 28 of them in their liquidation
auction.  That's exactly two fewer than we had when I left them in 1995.

A number of electronics manufacturers have tried to make information
appliances, from sophisticated word processors (Brother's recent GEOS
based laptop even had a web browser), to internet devices like WebTV (not
exactly a rousing success by any traditional measure).  None have had any
level of mass-market success, even though most were perfect for the
application they were designed for.  

So, I think that we're doomed.  We're stuck with the whiners.  This is why
I personally think InstallFests at computer shows are not a really good
idea.  Perhaps an organized evangelical display, staffed with patient
members of the local Open Source community.  And then, quietly, invite
potential installees to the LinuxCabal (grin) for snacks and the _real_


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