The New Computer Conundrum

question-markI’ve been running on an aging low end laptop for close to a year now, after passing down my main system to my son after his system died. The laptop I’m on now was never meant to be my main system, but an extra for testing, or something I could bring down to the shop when I wanted (since then my Nexus 7 fills that role). It’s time to think about the next computer purchase.

And I’m torn.

It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the “tabletization” of the desktop OS. I’ve generally liked Windows 7, and also like Linux. I like how Linux works, it’s open source philosophy, and customization options. That said, I’m a support engineer, which means I spend my day fixing broken systems (in my case a storage virtulization solution, which is built on top of Linux). I am finding that when I come home, especially now that I am getting more into video creation for my other blog, I have an increasing desire to not have to fix, tweak, or jump through a bunch of hoops to “get stuff done”.

So step one is to look at user requirements. What is the “stuff” I’m looking to “get done”? In short:

  • Web (and email, but I use the web interface of Gmail, so include it under web)
  • Office apps (whether it be MS Office or an alternative such as LibreOffice)
  • Sketchup (formerly by Google, since sold to Trimble)
  • Netflix, Hulu, watching DVDs
  • Music (Play and manage local files, as well as services such as Spotify)
  • As previously mentioned, video (and audio) creation and editing

Now what are the options I am considering? I should note that I’ve been running Ubuntu 12.10 for the last couple of months on this old laptop as an experiment to see how things will work, and to see how much I would be looking to go back to Windows 7 for a task. In short it’s been pretty good and I haven’t had a huge reason to want to go back to Windows, with one exception: video creation and editing. More on this below.

Options I’m considering in no particular order:

Windows 8

I don’t like Windows 8. No I don’t like it, Sam I am… OK, I never claimed to be Dr. Seuss. Seriously though, the Start screen (aka “Metro”)  in Windows 8 is the primary reason for my distaste. I tried, using both the Developer and Consumer Previews. I won’t reiterate what I’ve already mentioned in previous posts about the new Start screen. Let’s suffice to say though I need the truck. I don’t think I should need to install third party apps, or do registry edits to make my operating system behave as the operating system with the features enabled that I use.

If I were given a free Windows 8 system now, the first thing I would do is disable the Start screen and enable the traditional Start menu, either by registry edits or third party apps (less preferable) to make it more like Windows 7. Maybe I sound like a grumpy old man, but it really seems this was change for the sake of change, not added usability. I will say it makes sense for mobile, but that then brings me back to the point I’ve made in the past that when a mobile experience is what I need, I’ll reach for my tablet or phone. When I am on a desktop/laptop, it’s because I need it to do something more. The experience on the desktop vs. mobile does not need to be the same. The one plus that Windows 8 has going for it is the reported performance improvements.

Windows 7

You can still get systems with Windows 7, or I could buy a system with Windows 8, then install 7 instead (but that then counts as buying an OEM licence for Windows 8). I said that I generally like Windows 7. My concern here is support. Officially, their site states that mainstream support ends January 2015 (extended is 2020, but this is only available to corporate customers). I generally get, and expect, more than two years of service from my systems, especially if I am paying a bit more for better than low end hardware.

Linux

I like Linux. I like how it works (navigating both the GUI and CLI), and have played with several distributions. I mentioned that I am currently running Ubuntu 12.10. I have also used to varying degrees previous versions of Ubuntu (and derivatives) and Linux Mint as my main usage distro, and others for testing them out. Unity has grown on me some, and I consider it superior to Windows 8 Start environment… at least in Unity, it still acts like a desktop. I’m not crazy about the inclusion of web in the search, but at least this is easily turned off. At times, I’ve had some sluggishness, but I would not want to pin blame on Unity, since I am running on older hardware and it could be either (or both).

I like that Linux stands for freedom of choice, customization, and the control it provides. What is an issue still though is options for video creation and editing. There are some promising projects, but they are not where they need to be yet. I’ve tried Openshot, Kdenlive, and Cinelerra. The learning curve is a bit much for what I’m looking to do when it comes to Cinelerra. I had issues with Openshot bringing in captions (using Inkscape, there is no internal way that I know of to do it), and while I did get a movie edited with Kdenlive, I found it odd that I needed to relaunch it using sudo in order to have it render the video. This isn’t exactly what I have in mind when I state I’m in the mode of “getting stuff done”. Linux is great, but for me, it’s clear there are still limitations that will prove frustrating in everyday use. I will still continue to use it though as a “hobbyist” either on a test system, and/or a virtual machine.

Mac

It’s been a long time since I’ve used a Mac. When I did, I generally liked it, although it was not my primary system. When I was in a network support/operations role, I had three systems on my desk: Windows (XP), Solaris, and Mac. Each did some things better than others. There was one other time I considered buying a Mac for my personal use. It was back in the Windows Vista days and I had issues with performance degrading on my system. But then Windows 7 came out and fixed many of those issues. I now find myself once again considering the Mac.

I’m either odd, or just part of a larger, but much quieter group of people in that I am neither a huge Apple fan and devotee, nor an Apple hater. We have iPods and an iPad in the house, but I use Android as my main mobile environment (Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus). I think Apple makes high quality products, albeit expensive, that deserve thoughtful consideration. I’ve been critical of Apple at times, for example, being “paternal” (perceived attitude that they know better than the user what they want their user experience to be), or overzealous in patent litigation (huge rabbit hole here discussion here, and they are not the only guilty party). I also give them credit though. Even though it is a more controlled (or maybe because it’s a more controlled) experience, they have an environment where it is easier for most folks to “get stuff done”, especially, it seems, in the content creation area. My thinking here is if I do purchase a Mac, I would use iMovie for the video editing, then decide later if I should move to something like Final Cut or Adobe Premiere.

What are your thoughts? Anything I haven’t considered in your opinion? Please though, no flame wars :).

Let The Truck Be A Truck

Let The Truck Be A Truck

A few posts back I made reference to “tabletizing” the desktop/laptop OS. Since that post, Linux Mint has remained at the top position on Distrowatch, followed by Mageia, then Ubuntu. Distrowatch may not be the “be all end all” of distro ratings, but seems to be one of the best indicators of at least interest of a particular distro.

Linux Mint’s main offering of their latest version (13, an LTS or Long Term Support release) comes in two main different desktops: Cinnamon, and MATE. Cinnamon is an offering to make the Gnome 3 desktop a more traditional desktop, while MATE is a Gnome 2 fork for those that really want to stay with that experience. Mint also offers an xfce and KDE edition. I am currently running the xfce variant of Linux Mint 13 on my Linux box.

I have not followed Mageia closely, but understand it to be a community fork of Mandriva that came about when Mandriva fell on some difficult times financially. They have a default environment of KDE, but also offers Gnome 3, xfce, lxde, and a couple of others.

From various places I’ve read around the net, folks seem to be still critical of Unity (the default Ubuntu desktop environment), as well as the desktop formerly known as Metro for Windows 8. Of course there are some folks that seem to like those interfaces, but to my unscientific observations, there seem to be more folks critical of these “tablet oriented” interfaces on the desktop/laptop than those embracing it.

My take, and it seems there are others who may agree, is when a tablet experience is all I need, then I will reach for my tablet. When I am on a desktop or laptop though, it’s because I need it to do something more. Something the tablet either cannot do, or do as well or efficiently as a laptop or desktop.

The late Steve Jobs made the analogy that personal computers are like trucks. At one time, when the US was much more of a farming nation, most folks had trucks. As that trend changed though to less farming and into other occupations, less trucks were used in favor of cars. Of course, trucks never went away, and similarly, I don’t see personal computers completely going away anytime soon.

So why “tabletize” the experience of a personal computer? I know in the case of Windows 8, I can click on the “Desktop” tile to get to a more traditional, Windows 7-like experience, or do some registry hack. When looking at the case with Ubuntu, I can install a different evironment.

But I shouldn’t have to.

Why take the truck (in this example, let’s assume the standard pickup), and cut 6 feet off of the 8 foot bed, taking a key function of the truck and reducing it to a significantly less function? It seems to me that the truck functions as a truck when, well, we let it remain a truck.

Repost (and Edited): Creating Good Passwords

This is originally a post I did back in 2008, which I have edited to tweak some of my original recommendations. This has become especially more important as sites like Facebook, Twitter, and online emails are becoming more the focus of online attacks.

Most companies and universities have password policies in place that enforce complexity requirements. But do you have a good policy you use for your personal accounts? You should create good strong passwords for any accounts you access – your email, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, online merchants, your personal finance file on your system, etc.

When creating your password, it should:

  • Be at least 10 characters long, but be easy to remember (more on this in a second).
  • Contain at least one capital letter, a digit, and a special character along with the lower case letters. Some web sites may not allow special characters (shame on them!!), so be creative with more digits (preferably) or capital letters.
  • Not be built from a dictionary word or any name – including character substitution!! For example, password is obviously a BAD password, but P@ssw0rd is also a bad password. Another example here would be something like Und3rd0g! or T0m&J3rry (guess I’m in cartoon mode here). Hacking utilities would have these figured out in very little time.
  • Not contain sequences, patterns, or repeated characters, for example 123, 111, qwerty, etc.

So I mentioned making your password at least 10 characters. I used to like to make them 8 characters exactly. Perhaps this is because of my past experience using UNIX systems, where the first 8 characters only were significant (standard UNIX at the time would ignore anything after 8 characters), but I also thought 8 characters would be easier for most to remember, although now I think 10 would be fairly easy, with time, to commit to memory. Once you get used to your new password, it will become second nature. What you don’t want is to have to write the password down and stick it to your monitor; it should be something you can commit to memory. If you must write it down initially, keep it in your wallet or someplace safe and not viewable, but DON’T write your username or what site or service it is for. Even then, only keep it long enough until you memorize, then shred it.

So given the rules, how to actually create a good password? Think of a phrase nine or ten words long, and then use the beginning of each word to make into your password, mixing up the capitals, symbols, and digits. If you use nine words, you can use punctuation as the last character. If you can easily remember a longer phrase and the password you create from it, certainly go for it. Some examples (don’t use these for yourself, though):

Phrase: I really found the Science Attic very useful today!
Password: Irft5@VuT!

Phrase: My new golden retriever Fido is the best dog ever
Password: MngrF1tBde

Phrase: Firefox and Chrome are great internet browsers everyone can use
Password: F&C@giB3cu

So you get the idea. And you can get really creative with this, so have a little fun with it. 🙂

There are password creators/managers, although I haven’t really evaluated any of them and I personally think the best password manager is the one between your ears. The idea is the same though – keeping your accounts that much more secure.