Friday, April 30, 2004

Cool or not?

I've noticed a trend in the past few years. It's always been present but I've only just recently picked up on it. When Linux first came along, everyone thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Soon, people were insulting their previous Windows comrades for not using such a wonderful piece of software. Many jumped on the bandwagon and started berating whoever they could.

A year or so later, this "Linux is cool" philosophy still stood, but people started to talk against Linux. Apparently, it was the thing to do to point out where Windows was brilliant and Linux was duff. That's the trend that I'm talking about.

When something new comes out, everyone loves it and starts talking it up over it's alternatives. It becomes "cool" to be pro-whatever. A year or so after, it then suddenly becomes "cool" to go the other way and say "whatever's not so great, the old thing was better". I've noticed it with Windows/Linux, and with lots of other things. Counterstrike, being one of my most recent PC games (yes, you heard me) suffered the same fate (albeit in reverse) when it caught Steam fever. At first, everyone thought Steam was bad and hated it. Now people are praising it's good points louder than it's bad. It's also recently gone into another phase where it's suddenly bad again.

I don't know about anyone else but, yes, I do get first impressions. At first I may think something is wonderful but I soon pick up on it's flaws quite quickly. I am very careful when evaluating something new to be cautious and to express it's good points only as good points. I don't claim things to be the be-all-and-end-all of everything until I've tested them for my purposes, thoroughly.

With the Windows/Linux debate, my reservations on judgement don't seem to have been held by the majority of people. I first got a whiff of Linux around the 2.0 kernel release. At the time, few people had heard of Linux and even fewer had ever used it. I was using Window '95 at the time, having just "upgraded" from Windows 3.1. I had got hold of a CD of this mysterious new operating system and I tried it out. I loved the speed, the simplicity, the bare-nakedness of a command line reminding me of DOS, which I was already very familiar with.

I got things working, I had XFree86 up and running with my strange, exotic (cheap) hardware and it worked and I could see that, for free, this was indeed a fantastic piece of work. I knew then that it wouldn't be replacing the Windows desktop any time soon, but I sincerely wished (and still do) that it would. I tried it. I saw where it was difficult or did stupid things. If people asked me afterwards what I thought of Linux, I could tell them.

Just because it's good, doesn't mean it's going to take over the world. I run a Linux router on my home network. I also have installations of Linux dotted around various computers. I'm in the process of making more and all the time, I've used it to make lovely little black boxes... computers that don't need to be touched to do their job, faceless machines that do what they are told, first time, every time.

My brother knows very little about Linux. I set up a Linux router where he presses a button on a joystick attached to the machine disconnects and reconnects, should there be a problem. Another button cuts out any modem connection that may be on - a relic feature from the old days when it was purely a modem-based router and our parents complained that they wanted to make a phone call. Another button brings the modem back on.

That same router is still in operation. My brother knows that all he has to do is turn it on and it will do it's job - he'll be on the internet. It very, very rarely fails us. Another similar machine is a print server. If that is on, he can print - it'll go through to any one of a number of printers - it's his choice. Rarely does that fail... in fact sometimes it's a bit too failsafe and remembers print jobs even after being rebooted so that I have to log in and cancel them for him. I'm replacing both the above with an updated machine that can do the job of all of those and that'll be Linux too. That's what it's good for.

Blackboxes are where Linux's strength was and is, but I do hope that it moves further. During my time using Linux and talking to people, though, I keep seeing this pro/con attitude cropping up. At first, me being able to run another operating system that never crashed was very impressive to other people. People asked how they could get it and I used to tell them all of the downpoints... sorry, it can't run your games. Online, people were claiming that Linux could do everything and everyone should be using it.

Then I'd meet someone on the internet a year later and it'd suddenly be old hat and I should be using Windows to do it and Linux was shit because it couldn't run anything. Linux hadn't changed that much over that time, if anything it had improved, but it was suddenly cool to call everyone an idiot because they were using it.

I like to think that, after a brief initial investigation, I know what an operating system can and can't do and where it's forte lies. I don't want to be a this-is-cool-that's-not person, I want an opinion, one that doesn't change over time without significant cause, an opinion doesn't mean something is either black or white... most things are zebra-coloured, with many good points and many bad points. I think Linux is marvellous and always have, but I know how and why and where it's marvellous, I don't assume it can do everything and then slag it off when it can't.

When I first installed a Steam version of Counterstrike, I could see that it was a neat idea, albeit poorly executed. I foresaw problems of constant updates keeping it buggy (another rant I really should get around to writing) and possibly changing the gameplay. I wasn't shouting it's praises at the start or calling it names when it started to have problems because I could see what it was and I wasn't about to jump on a bandwagon just for that.

It reminds me a little of politics. The reason I have never voted and don't intend to? There's only one person in the entire world who could do what I would do if I were in power. That's me. I vote for me every time. If I voted for a party, I would have to agree with every single little policy that they have otherwise I'd just be a hypocrite. (Oh, and for the arguments I get about people having died for my right to vote... I don't know how many times I've heard this... nobody died for my right to vote, I would hope that they died for my right to freedom, to vote how I choose, to do what I felt was right and to have the option to choose).

Similarly, I don't instantly jump on a Linux-is-brill bandwagon only to jump onto the Linux-don't-do-what-I-want bandwagon later on. I always stand firmly in the middle and see what's good and what's bad.

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