The Support Myth

The principle differentiator between open and closed source software these days is supposedly support. The quality gap between the two camps has either closed or Open Source is widely recognized to be superior. The primary reason today for not adopting an open source solution (where there is a business case for doing so) is that there may not be any support for the software. This is certainly a big part of the FUD campaign pursued by Microsoft against Open Source and Linux. I suggest that “the support myth” is just that – mythical.

If you use Windows, are you free to contact Microsoft and ask for help? No, not really – you maintain a busy in-house staff to take care of this for you, and to reinstall the operating system or reboot the workstation or server (!) as your primary troubleshooting methods. If there is a glitch in Word, can you do anything about it? No, you can’t. You can complain and whine, but you cannot fix it or get it fixed. Once a new version of Word is out, you can take your chances and buy a new license, and then hope that your problem got fixed, and that any new features don’t break your workflow, render your old documents unreadable or require a new training course. Most closed source software “support” is not supportive, and can only help you in narrow ways when the software is broken, but never when it’s wrong.

A common complaint of those confronted with the Open Source model is the claim that while you are permitted to change the source of your software, you lack the expertise to do so, which makes it a non-advantage. The counter to this is that, if you need a feature or a bug fix, you can simply sponsor a hack-a-thon to get it implemented, supporting the community and getting your needed fix far faster and more cheaply than hiring a consultant or having fully customized software written. There are a lot of changes required in the way that people think of software development in an Open Source world, but those changes will be easier to make once you shed your belief in the outmoded “support myth”.


" It takes a lot of doing to get vim (which is really gvim)
" to behave properly on Windoze, but I've got something that
" works a bit.  I have to turn auto-indenting off because it
" constantly screws up, but it's better than notepad.

colors darkblue
set guifont=Lucida_Console:h10:cANSI
set nocompatible
"source $VIMRUNTIME/vimrc_example.vim
"source $VIMRUNTIME/mswin.vim
"behave mswin
set backspace=indent,eol,start
set ruler
set nocompatible
set showcmd
set ts=4
set shiftwidth=4
set expandtab
set shiftround
set smarttab
set tw=72

set incsearch
filetype plugin on
syntax on

:inoremap ( ()<ESC>i
:inoremap [ []<ESC>i
:inoremap " ""<ESC>i
:inoremap { {}<ESC>i
:inoremap < <>i

iab teh the
iab hte the
iab adn and
iab nad and
iab taht that
iab htat that
iab fo of
iab ot to

Apple Migrates to Intel

The big news in consumer computing this week seems to be the
announcement of Apple switching processors to Intel chips from IBM’s
PowerPC. I come to this news with quite a bit of scorn and derision,
but partly that is because I started out with bitterness towards Apple.
I spent the years between 1986 and 1996 using Macs, and in that time I
became an application user – not a computer user. I could invent
nothing, develop nothing, and there was no hint that there were creative
properties to computing devices in those years. I am not the only one
who found the Mac to be too confining – Neal Stephenson wrote an essay on the
subject. I frequently wish that I had spent those years learning and
using Unix, which would have given me a much broader set of skills than
the ability to double-click. So I did not come to this news with an
open mind, and further thought on the subject has led me to the opinion
that Apple has, once again, made a massively bone-headed move.

I am not suggesting that Apple should have stuck to the PPC chips – they
have not been advancing and are not providing an advantage to the
company. You can be as big a fan as you like of the architecture, but
if no one can make it speed up, and no one can make it’s
"better" features actually perform better, then it is time to
move on. That said, going to Intel is idiotic. Intel has been getting
it’s butt kicked by AMD for a few years now, and they are still
providing us with 1970’s technology today. Most importantly, by going
to a commodity chipset, Apple has paved the way to having their precious
software work on cheap, generic machines, which will radically undercut
their hardware sales. Apple is a company that needs to focus – either
make hardware or software, but stop trying to do both as a seamless
"experience". Some suggest that assuming Apple doesn’t sell
OS X for generic hardware, it will get ported to generic hardware and
widely pirated. I think that this is true, and it will hurt both Apple
and Microsoft, because neither one will make money from it. Some
suggest that the lack of support will dissuade people from this, but
that is not th case for the home user at all (though it is a major
deterrent for business). How much support is provided by Apple or
Microsoft now? Sure, there’s someone you can call, but I’ll tell you to
reboot for free, and I can ignore you just as well as a big company.
User-level support is practically non-existent for any OS – you need a
community or a third-party service vendor to get any real help.

Perhaps the most important issue is control – with both Windows and OS X
you get very little control over the system you use, and if you exert what
little control you have, you frequently find that you have voided your
support contract. On Windows you have control over your hardware, but
if you change too much you’ll have to re-register your copy of Windows.
Also, if you want to change a behaviour or fix a bug you have to wait,
and to buy a new product sight-unseen in hope of fixing it. I am no
longer willing to do that. I no longer up proprietary software because
it denies me that ability to control my computer for no benefit.