Defining “easy to use” with GNU/Linux

Today, I had a brief conversation with a few adventurous undergraduates who have attempted to use GNU/Linux. They started out saying that GNU/Linux was not as easy to use as Windows 8. Now, given the usability disaster that is Windows 8, I had to wonder just what exactly these undergraduates meant by “easy to use.” I expressed my surprise, asking if they had been using GNU/Linux recently. While they reported that yes, they had been trying to use GNU/Linux in the last year or so.

Again, I was puzzled. So I asked “What do you mean by ‘easy to use?'” The response simultaneously dismayed and yet, did not surprise me:

“I have been trying to use Linux Mint, and whenever I log in, I can move my mouse around for about 3 minutes before it is no longer able to move around on the screen and only random keys on the keyboard work. And that’s on my homebrew PC. Maybe it is the hardware I have chosen, but it all works just fine under Windows.”

I commented that this sounded like a poor X configuration, and possibly a driver concern. To which it became clear that this student’s efforts to correct the problem were met with failure also.

Another chimed in with “I tried to install Linux on my computer, and after the install, my keyboard wouldn’t work properly at all,” Concluding “Making it easy to use means making it just work.”

While I could not ask additional follow-up questions due to time constraints, it is quite clear to me that the fact that most GNU/Linux distributions do not include every driver imaginable is part and parcel the problem. Once again, my dear FOSS advocates and users, the problem boils down to drivers.

And when we start to pull on the thread of drivers… the sweater quickly becomes unraveled as we have all faced the issue of sacrificing functional hardware for the sake of running GNU/Linux, or working with a philosophy that aligns closely with the Free Software Movement.

Goodbye KDEPIM

I have been using KDEPIM 4.3 to 4.9 for at least two years now, and I have been tolerating the many quirks and rough edges. After weathering many upgrades and “What the hell happened to my email?!” exclamations, it became quite evident that even with the stable PostgreSQL backend for Akonadi, my time with KDEPIM should now end.

I use KDEPIM on two systems, Debian and Kubuntu. The Debian system is much more stable, as maintainers there refuse to switch past KDEPIM 4.4.11. Kubuntu, on the other hand, offers the official KDE KDEPIM, and frankly, it continues to be utterly unusable. And that’s a very sad story. So much for the amazing benefits of the Semantic Desktop.

The straw that broke this camel’s back was when I needed to find an email under time pressure. Easy enough, right? Switch to KDEPIM and it cannot find what I’m searching for. I thought Search was the Holy Grail solved by Akonadi and the ballyhooed Semantic desktop. Alas, although I KNEW the strings in a particular email, KDEPIM would not find it. And it would hang. Just. Hang. 30 minutes of struggling later to no avail. Seriously? I recall an email client from the mid 1990’s called Simeon. It was just as terrible. 🙁

And then… KDEPIM just decided to randomly stop showing any of my mail. It would launch, and show an entirely un-populated window, and start using some CPU— but not enough to persuade me that it was doing something useful. I would wait. For hours. It would draw “Local Folders” and then stop. No display information at all, just a big blank screen. Really?

And then… time to compose an email to multiple recipients. I go about this the #awkward KDEPIM way: First make an address book group. Then compose message to address book group— OH WAIT! no such group shows up in the address listing. What? Moreover, pasting addresses as a CSV is just simply forbidden, for reasons inscrutable to this user. Is a CSV parser really that hard? Time to input each address by hand. 🙁

I’m sorry, KDEPIM developers. I really tried, for two years, to make this thing work. KDEPIM on Debian at 4.4.11 is still useful, but really, two years with so little to show? If it is so easy to make a client for accessing the shiny Akonadi resources, why does KDEPIM continue to just waste my time?

Oh, and how about letting those of us who dare to use this software in on the secrets of how to use it successfully, or what developers are doing to make it easier to use? I agree with the Debian and Mandriva maintainers. KDEPIM is not fit for use at this time, it is a developer toy.

Perhaps in the future, but not now.

“I am dissapoint.”

I’m switching back to Thunderbird with Lightning and Enigmail.

PAX East 2013: ACAM Panel: Preserving Game History

I was invited to attend PAX East to participate on the American Classic Arcade Museum’s Preserving Video Game History panel, along with: Mike Stulir [American Classic Arcade Museum], Gary Vincent [American Classic Arcade Museum], John Anderson [Freelance Author], Jonathan Ferguson [Game Design Instructor, Champlain College], Joey DeSena [RetrowareTV, Videographer]

You can listen to our discussion here:

Su3 – ACAM – Preserving Video Game History


Steve Jobs 1955-2011

I mourn the loss of Steve Jobs, who died late Wednesday afternoon. See:

Steve Jobs was truly a visionary technology leader. Co-founder of Apple, and Pixar, and founder of NeXT Computer, Steve Jobs led the computer industry to the modern era. I shudder to imagine a world without his demanding influence, his love for aesthetic beauty, and the innovative companies he built. He knew how to persuade people to create the truly amazing, and transformed the “computer industry” time and time again.

I will miss his panache, and innovative influence on the “computer industry.” As a student of the history of computing, his vision of a computer “for the rest of us” has been largely realized, regardless of platform, or operating system. In the accomplishment of this vision, I recognize the thousands of men and women all over the world who work (and have worked) tirelessly to make usable computing available to so many.

I celebrate his influential achievements and I mourn his death.


have a day.yad


Happy Birthday Debian!

YAY DEBIAN! Happy Birthday Debian!

Having used Debian GNU/Linux for 14+ years continuously, I admire the skill, dedication, and principled action of Debian developers worldwide. You’ve all done a remarkable job creating an operating system that runs reliably and stably on most anything. You allow me to continue to get useful life out of computers long after the OEM operating environment is no longer supported. Debian is my dominant operating system, and I continue to celebrate the tremendous strides in usability that the Debian project has created, and continues to create. Keep up the strong conceptual integrity that glues Debian, and the countless Debian-based distributions, together.

Congratulations on a remarkable 18 year journey, I look forward to our future together!


have a day.yad