The cloud, the smartphone, the tablet, the Web
itself as a big giant operating system-- what's the fatal flaw in
all of these? It's all about feeding content to passive consumers.
Plug me in, baby, I'm not lifting a finger ever again.
I looked in the mirror just a few minutes ago, and I did not see
a baby bird looking back at me. I saw me. I daresay you fine
readers had the same experience. And yet the computer industry
looks at us and sees baby birds. Or perhaps sheep, or whatever your
favorite symbol of unquestioning passivity is.
How many of you have ever used a Shopsmith? The Shopsmith is a
compact woodworking shop that builds five basic tools into a single
unit: saw, horizontal drill, lathe, sander, and drill press. Stores
that sell Shopsmiths have classes where you can come in, get your
hands dirty, and learn how to make cool things. You actually get to
do things, you don't sit and watch someone else have all the fun.
Linux is the Shopsmith of computing, with one important difference:
its toolset is infinitely expandable, limited only by imagination
and ability. The more you learn the more you can do.
Web development is all the rage now. Everyone wants to stuff
applications into Web browsers. I think it's a lousy idea, except
for very simple applications. I suppose they'll get better with
time, but it's a poor fit, layer upon layer of kludges. They're
slow and inefficient, and require way too much horsepower. Have you
noticed the latest "advance" in Web apps? They want to access your
GPU directly. Imagine that, instead of making the software better,
they're falling back on throwing more hardware at it. Just think
how much better our lives will be when Flash ads can suck up both
CPU and GPU.
Just imagine-- if all these titans of tech and purveyors of
software-as-a-service had standardized on Linux/Unix from the
start, they would be far ahead of where they are now. Linux/Unix
have had powerful terminal services, remote networking, and remote
graphical desktop abilities from way back in the misty dawn of
time. Why is so much energy going into funky, limited Web apps?
Because they can't bear to dump the dead-end that is Windows. And
yet even Windows can be served by Linux application servers, with a
whole lot less effort than shaping the whole world to accommodate
poor old incapable Windows. If a fraction of the effort had been
put into improving Linux/Unix services instead, we'd have
holographic dancing 3D animations by now. Or at least a much larger
set of highly-polished, fast, reliable, grownup applications
instead of this crazy kindergarten Web app stuff that has so many
people all excited. Like the talking dog-- it's not that it can
talk very well, or hold an intelligent conversation, the novelty is
that it talks at all.
But I think the real goal is not to enable us little birds to do
great things like we can do with our standalone Linux apps, like
create professional-quality music, photographs, publishing,
drawings, programming, make movies, and what-have-you. We're not
supposed to do anything but open our little beaks and consume
whatever they see fit to serve us. Which is such a waste when we
have all this great technology at our fingertips. No thanks, I'll
keep my Linux Shopsmith.