Saturday 28 June 2008

It's Time to Grow Up

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes over at ZDNet has a very interesting post up, titled "Sticking with XP / Upgrading to Vista / Waiting for Windows 7 / Switching to Mac or Linux — There’s no single right answer". He puts forward the blitheringly-obvious elephant-in-the-room answer to the perennial food-fight question, "Which system is best?" Namely, "use what works for you."

As I read through the post and the comments that had been added to it, I thought about all the man-centuries (if not -millennia) that had been "invested" in the topic. Naturally, I had my own two rupiah worth to say on the topic. Following is the text of the comment I left at approximately 1645 GMT on Friday 27 June. Let me know what you think. (There aren't any links in the post reprinted below; to the best of my knowledge, ZDNet's commenting software hates links, and it definitely hates Macs; every single comment I've posted has given me the error "You must enter the text to post" — on a clean, empty comment form — after I've hit the "Add your opinion" button. Fix it, guys!

"Use what you like, and like what you use."

That's excellent advice for those of us who've been bouncing around in the funhouse for a while, who know which mirrors make us look weird (or, worse, are broken and likely to cut us if we're not careful)...and, granted, there are blessed few truly "new" users now; statistically, nearly everybody's used a PC with one form or another of Windows, and increasing numbers of us have used Mac and/or Linux, but...

We still do have the FNG syndrome with folks who haven't upgraded for a while, and finally they get tired of their molasses-slow Win98 box when they see this zippy new PC or Mac they've been handed at work. "Gee, we use XP at work, but I heard Microsoft isn't going to sell it anymore... what should I use?" Many of us, professionally or otherwise, are tasked with advising those people. Too often, the advice becomes "this is what I use; try it" without really understanding the (often vast) difference between the adviser and the user in question. And when "advisers" try and hash things out among themselves, it almost universally degenerates into an Animal House food fight scene — which doesn't bring any value to the discussion and actually makes us LESS able to give good advice.

Mental hands up: How many of you reading this have ever spent a month using Leopard? Vista? At least two of Ubuntu, Fedora or SuSE Linux? How many raised your hand all three times? Yeah, I see you, way back in the back.... but blessed few others.

In any other endeavour that dared call itself a craft, let alone aspire to an engineering discipline, this would be malfeasance if not negligence; you just DO NOT give advice on matters in which you are not qualified — and if you don't have experience and/or training with Technology X, you're NOT qualified to present advice as being any more valuable than used toilet paper.

In that light, Adrian has performed a major public service here. Given the reality that most people whose job relies on using and/or developing for one of the major platforms are quite unlikely to be as current and proficient on any of the others, this is the best advice that will just let us get along with our jobs without pissing in each other's lemonade each and every single day (Mike Cox and No_Axe, you know who you are).

But in the increasingly unlikely event that we're ever to make something professional out of this hobby that we are lucky enough to get paid for, the fact that this "solution" is seen as viable to any degree, let alone the MOST viable solution, is absolutely, reprehensibly unacceptable. And since computers and software have become absolutely central to nearly everything in modern life, including not least public policy, if we don't get our house in order under our own power, sooner or later some governmental organization or group thereof is going to step in and exert adult supervision. Is that what we want?

The days when Windows geeks and Mac users and Linux hackers could happily putter away, each in their own walled garden with tactical nuclear landmines guarding against any encroachment by reality, are gone as surely as the clipper ship. In the world of the Internet, where information is what's important and how it's processed/generated/visualized/stored is at best secondary, we're faced with the same choice as every biological or cultural organism at an evolutionary shift: adapt or die. Keep the lemonade clean, or drink the purple Kool-Aid. Our choice. Each and every one of us.

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