Editor's Note: This Whole Usability Thing
Apr 30, 2004, 23:30 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
Re-Imagining Linux Platforms to Meet the Needs of Cloud Service Providers
By Brian Proffitt
There's been a lot of usability, GUI, how-to-make-Linux better
articles out of late, most of which have presented--at the very
least--interesting ideas about what's "missing" in Linux.
Since I use Linux for 99% of my daily computer activities, I
have to admit that I don't find much missing from it, but I also
know that I am a first-class geek who thinks nothing of tweaking
and twiddling my computer to get what I want.
One of the problems I have had this week is with spamassassin.
Earlier this month, to jump away from Red Hat 9, I ended up
settling on Fedora Core 1. With that yum-based upgrade came a new
version of spamassassin and there's where the trouble began. The
new version still worked, but I could no longer train it to
recognize what was spam and what was ham. So many pieces of spam
went uncaught and started trashing my inbox.
Finally, I located the solution ("sa-learn --import"), which
upgraded the database spamassassin uses to store all of this nifty
spam/ham data, which in turn allowed the sa-learn function to work
again. Of course, as soon as that happened, suddenly all my mail
was spam, which means I have spent the remaining four days of the
week endlessly re-training spamassassin.
Now, at this point, I could possibly start talking about this as
an example of what's wrong with Linux as an operating system, that
its too user-unfriendly, blah, blah, yadda, yadda. Many articles
have taken this approach, including some I have written.
Today, I say forget it--I like training my spam software. It
gives me an enormous sense of control on what is and what isn't
coming onto my machine (I know, it's on my machine, but I am a big
believer in out-of-sight, out-of-my-reality. Rob Enderle? Never met
him, must not exist. It's a fun mindset, you should try it
Is spamassassin the end-all be-all of anti-spam software? No, of
course not. I would have liked that database to have been
auto-updated when I upgraded the software. But I am very much in
favor of people taking real proactive action every once in a while
to manage their systems. Microsoft Windows users, as a rule, don't
do this, and they end up paying the price. Microsoft has led them
to believe that all is well, everything's under control, while
spyware and trojans march merrily through the front door of
Linux users, by our very nature, tend to be far more territorial
about our machines, so we tend to watch the doors more closely.
Many people ask me what kind of software I use at home and at
work. "Linux or whatever I need," I typically reply. While I really
like Linux, the truth is, I see it and all the other operating
systems as tools. They help me get my job done. So, while my left
eye may start twitching when I sit down in front of a Microsoft
box, I'll still do it if that's what's available to get a job
I think this tool mentality is a good one, because it brings to
mind something a lot of computer users (maybe even some Linux
users, too) can forget: like any tool, you have to take care of
My father-in-law is an Ohio farmer who has a vast collection of
old woodworking tools that my wife hopes she will someday be given
when her dad is too old or too busy in retirement to use them
anymore. She loves to do woodworking, and I have visions of our
garage being slowly converted to a New Hoosier Workshop in years to
These tools are in great shape even today, because my
father-in-law takes the time to sharpen them and oil them and keep
them in good condition. I believe that we should all be taking the
time to do similar things with our computers. Keep things patched.
Tweak firewall configuration settings. Lock down unused services
The more you maintain a tool, the more you will know how to use
So yes, let's get that Grand Usability Theory going--but don't
make us too complacent.