Saturday, May 12, 2007

Cargo Cult Computing

InformationWeek has an article asking why Microsoft doesn’t have a cult following like Linux, Java, and FOSS do.

The comments on the article itself as well as the ones on Slashdot (what? Didn’t think something like that would slip past them did you?) make me feel rather ill.

I don’t want a cult in things that I use to do a job. I want solid tools to work with and a decent chance to find answers to questions that I might have if I can’t answer them myself. Mentioning a cult makes me want to go the other way.

Who the hell cares about fanatical fanboys? They tend to do more harm than good because they scream about anything that is different than what they love.

Want to know the reasons that Microsoft products are used in so many enterprises?

They’re fairly easy to use, they don’t require being compiled or excessively tweaked “out of the box” for most tasks, the learning curve for most basic tasks is small, there are a whole LOT of 3rd party software providers, and the formats that they use for documents are the same ones used by most businesses. I realize that the last item in that list basically says “everyone uses Microsoft stuff because everybody uses Microsoft stuff,” but it’s true.

(Yes, the new Ribbon interface and Vista break the slight learning curve, but I’ll get to that in a minute)

For most enterprises, those are the important things. Most larger businesses have some sort of licensing deal on the MS software so they’re not paying retail for it, IT people familiar with Microsoft products aren’t horribly hard to come by, and, more importantly, “normal” workers familiar with Microsoft products are dead simple to come by.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Microsoft fanboy. In fact, I’m not a fanboy of anything except maybe usability. I’m more of a right tools for the job kind of guy. I use stuff from Redmond, I use open source stuff (hell, I even release some small open source stuff), and I use various pieces of 3rd party commercial and free software. (as in cost. Dear gods do I hate Stallman for his “Free” vs. free crap. Want an example of the downside to software cults? Go look at that fool.)

Is there room for improvement? Heck yes. Do they need slavering fanatics to accomplish it? No. They just need to listen to their customers a bit more.

With their new “Ribbons” interface driving everyone crazy and Vista (which I swear has to be Windows ME round 2) being a bloated piece of crud, they may have taken a step backwards, but they’ll recover.

They need to remember that change for the sake of change isn’t good. Change for the sake of improvement is (usually. Well, okay, sometimes).

In the interest of disclosure, I should say that I’ve had friends who work at both Sun and Microsoft. I got to hear about a lot of issues on both sides, and get to see them for myself because of my network and development work.

I don’t support the full stack out of any one group, I don’t think.

  • I run both Windows and Linux (more Windows lately).
  • I like Eclipse, but I’ve also been a long time Visual Studio user (first for C and C++ starting back in 1998 and now for C#. I also used CodeWarrior for C++ back then for what it’s worth).
  • I also use Ruby and the FreeRIDE IDE.
  • I use MS SQL, mysql, postgres, and have used Oracle in the past among other databases.
  • I actually prefer Word to OpenOffice because it’s easier to make documents that look good in (I’m sorry, but if I want to write a document, I want to write a document, not tweak this and widge that).
  • I use FireFox and Thunderbird (but for the love of my sanity, would someone fix the memory issue in FireFox??)

The list goes on. Some things fall on the Microsoft side, some fall on the side of some open source project, and some fall on a third party solution.

I admit that I used to be an idealist about software at one time. Hell, with as often as the university beats you over the head with the opinion that open source is the best thing ever, you would have been too. However, then something happened – I started doing this for money and a lot of clients want their code to be their code (surprise surprise).

Now I tend to be horribly pragmatic. I see places where open sourcing things makes more sense and I see places where not open sourcing things is a positive thing. The people who think that one way or the other is the only way to go are just plain silly. I even maintained that opinion while I was editor of an open source magazine and stated it plainly in my first article there.

I’ve had enough of the mudslinging. My computer is a tool that allows me to do work. It is not a religion. I use what makes sense and I don’t need a cargo cult that screams “they may be more successful, but we’re *better* so why aren’t you worshipping us???!!!”

How about you?

Current mood: annoyed
Current music: Delerium – Terra Firma


Karyl said...

Memory issue? Just curious if you might elaborate on that. Not being overly computer savvy (despite what my coworkers seem to think lol I fake it well I guess? Or maybe I just know too many programmers so I feel dumb), I apparently haven't noticed.

James Hollingshead said...

FireFox basically doesn't free up any of the memory it grabs until you close it.

Not just close the tab that asked for the memory - you have to close every instance of FireFox that you have running for it to free the memory.

It's the reason that, after a while, it slows to a crawl.

Karyl said...


That explains a lot.....