A Thought on the Modern Computing

Written by Chris Cummer

Last night I got around to getting my venerable G4 desktopup to some semblance of modern-ness (modernity?modernality?). Took a couple hours but it all went smoothlyuntil I upgraded to the latest version of QuickTime and nowno video plays back at all (PPC + 10.3.9 + QT 7.1.5 = bad).No worries, I've got nothing better to do tonight than muckabout with that.

As a command-line text editor I happen to like nano.Actually that's not quite true. I just dislike nano lessthan I dislike all the others (and if you're the sort whojust started spitting at your monitor over how muchvi/vim/emacs/pico are better and I'm a luser schmuck fornot using [your editor of choice here] take your finger andjab it in your eye firmly and you'll have a decentapproximation of my position on that issue). And I likeediting text files as much as the next guy so I figured I'djust whip nano onto the G4 too. How hard can it be? It'sonly 117 k in size.

Installing nano

1. Install DarwinPorts
2. DarwinPorts won't work without the Apple Developer Tools
3. Download 600 megs of Apple developer tools
4. Install the developer tools (with ten minutes of systemoptimization)
5. DarwinPorts won't work without X11
6. Download 50 megs of X11 (with ten minutes of systemoptimization)
7. DarwinPorts won't work without X11 headers
8. X11 headers are part of the developer tools, but notpart of the default install (duh)
9. Re-download 600 megs of Apple Developer Tools (meaculpa, I figured after it was done installing I was donewith it and trashed the installer)
10. Re-install the developer tools, this time with X11headers (with ten minutes of system optimization)
11. Update DarwinPorts
12. Install nano
13. There is no step 13

Piece o' cake. 1.1 Gigs and 2.5 hours to install a 117 k oftext editor. For my next trick I'll install GIMP by nextSunday.

Anyhow, enough of that. That's just the long of way ofgetting to... .

Having to use all three major operating systems daily I'vefinally come to believe deeply and resolutely what I thinkI've known for years about the Operating System wars we allengage so heartily and smuggly in:

All operating systems suck. Yours does, mine does. In factall of mine do. The one used by the smartest person I knowdoes, as does the one used by the stupidest person. All ouroperating systems suck.

We're like cavemen who've recently just invented the wheel:all our wheels are still hand-carved by bashing rockstogether and we're arguing about who carved the wheel thesmoothest and which type of rock is best for wheel-makingwhen in fact what we really need is 4-ply all-season radialrun-flat tires attached to some decent shock absorbers.

The OS wars are not about who's OS is best, they're aboutwho's OS sucks the least. All we're all doing is trying tofind the one that sucks the least for us, as individuals.And an argument at that level is not an argument worthhaving.

So I hereby apologize to everyone whom I've ever implicitlyor explicitly offended by deriding your OS choice. I waswrong and mine is no better, it just happens to suck lessfor me. But it still sucks.

And if anyone ever implies you're somehow defective for notbeing able to use a modern computer, poke them in the eyereally hard. They deserve it. The software is defective,you are not.

When it comes to modern computing, I think Han Solo sums itup the best: "Good luck, [we're] gonna need it."

Part 2

Evidently I need to clarify some points above since somepeople seem to think I'm attacking the developers of ourmodern operating systems for software-related issues orbugs. I'm not. That misses the point entirely. Thosedevelopers are in the same boat we all are: their tools arealso just as bad as ours and their OS is just as bad asours. It isn't about the specific software per se.

If the caveman analogy didn't make the point clear enoughperhaps this one will. The Wright brothers invented theairplane (our computers today are their airplane). Butundoubtedly they had some issues with flying long distancesin the fog, at night. That's us, trying to create stable,easy, unobtrusive consumer computers and operating systems.

it's perfectly reasonable for the Wright brothers to put alight on their plane, and then a brighter light, and then awhole bunch of lights to help them fly through the fog.That's us, improving languages, creating better compilers,doing more usability testing for the users.

But in hindsight the best way to fly through fog so far isby using radar, GPS and aircraft auto-pilot systems thatcan land a plane even if the pilot can't see the ground.That's... exactly where we aren't in computing and, andthis is important, it's no one's fault.

No, I don't have a solution. That'd be like expecting thetown doctor to tell Orville he just needs to pop up a fewgeo-stationary satellites and he'll be hunky dorky. Thingsjust don't work that way and my whole point here isn't tolay blame but in fact to point out the very futility ofdoing so.

That's why the OS wars are so pointless. We're not at apoint where being militant is useful since we're allsuffering, perhaps in different ways and with differentdegrees of technical savviness.

So when I say the modern OS sucks, it's not an attack onthe makers, or the users, or to imply I somehow magicallyknow how to fix it all. Statements like that are useless,just errant bitching. Rather it's a statement ofperspective on the state of our infantile knowledge aboutcomputing in general compared to where we might hopefullyend up one day, far far away.

I am, in fact, celebrating that our operating systems, oursoftware, sucks. Try it, say it, dump the emotionalpersonal investment you've made in your operating system asa reflection of your personality and world-view, take astep back and laugh at what we've created.

And then marvel at how incredibly far we've come in thelast fifteen years. It's a good time for suckage.