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Good Son, Bad Son

Aug 03, 2007, 22:30 (34 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

A couple of weeks ago, my mom got a bee in her bonnet about no longer being able to connect to her favorite web sites, due to the age of her browser and operating system. She's been running Mac OS 9 (yes, that's a 9, not an X) for several years now on her iMac, but lately more and more of her visited sites were dropping support, and access, from her Netscape browser.

Many of you might now be thinking that I am a bad son for letting her continue on with this antiquated machine. If so, mea culpa. My only defense would be Exhibit A: my mother. Trust me, change does not come easily in the Proffitt matriarch's household. I had, a couple of years ago, upped the memory in her old Imac as high as it would go and upgraded her to OS 9 from 8, but we'd reached the limits to how far her trusty green plastic machine would take her.

Recently, her bank's web site decided to give Netscape users the boot, which left her without easy access to her account. This, decidedly, was not something she appreciated, and after a quick call to the bank voicing her opinion, she called to give me a piece of her mind. Mind you, my mom's no technophobe, but somehow when it comes to the Internet, I am at once her scapegoat and go-to guy.

I repeated her options: get a new Apple machine with OS X or get a new PC and let me get Linux on it for her. (Sorry, PPC Linux dudes, I have been there, done that with my old iBook, and never again.)

Honestly, I was lobbying for an Apple box, since she's been using Macs since her elementary school teaching days, and I thought the transition would be the easiest for her. The flaw in that plan, however, was that she wanted a laptop to take with her on her more-frequent retirement trips, and the prices of Powerbooks were enough to scare her off. So, a PC laptop it was.

The problems further arose when she saw a decent laptop on sale at one of the national office supply stores right before I left for OSCON last week. I confirmed it was a good machine and a good deal, so off she went to get it. That was not the problem. The problem was this was Friday; Saturday I was leaving on the flight to Portland, so I had no time to get Linux on the machine. While I was away, I would have to leave Mom running Vista.

Very bad son.

To my credit, Friday night was spent starting up and running the initial Vista configuration routines. I set up her e-mail and her bookmarks, and (I thought) got McAfee's pop-ups quieted down. After a quick tutorial to Mom about the joys of a two-button mouse, off I went to Portland.

When I came back, she was not happy. Gone were the simple "it just worked" icons, replaced by a constant barrage of "accept/don't accept" messages. Her home page, which had the link to her Web e-mail account, apparently up and changed to something else. The crapware, to borrow Walt Mossberg's eloquent term, was in full nagging mode.

In other words, welcome to Vista, land of commercial opportunity.

I have the machine now, sitting here quietly on my desk, ready to be wiped and loaded with Ubuntu (about which I just finished a book, which will be my only shameless plug for this new tome, I promise).

I have, finally, swung back to being a good son again.

But before I cleanse this machine of its unholy demons, might I just make a professional observation?

This Vista thing? What a piece of horse hockey!

Seriously, I mean this. Everyone is always complaining about how complicated the Linux desktops are, but Vista is completely goofed up. Putting aside the presence of so much crapware the Vista desktop looks like a walking billboard for every pay-to-use software service on the planet, there are serious flaws in this GUI.

The stupidest flaw is the Shut Down command. Under Windows XP, it was right there in the Start menu. On this machine, there's a Suspend button. If you want to shut down, you have to go one step further into a sub-menu. A sub-menu for Shut Down? C'mon!

There are more flaws, but it must be clear, I am saying this not as an avid Linux user. I am saying this as the author of a Window XP book, which I wrote during my brief hiatus from Jupitermedia (neé Internet.com), right between running Browserwatch as a freelancer and Linux Today as a staff member. (Yes, my dark secret is revealed. I also co-wrote an OS X book with Bill von Hagen, and authored 16 other Linux books, so I consider my karma at the very least balanced.)

As a so-so expert on Windows, I have to say that the changes to Vista's interface are confusing and in many cases unwarranted. The more I use this operating system, the more irked I get. Irked, because for so long everyone has derided Linux as being something their [insert older relative here] could not use. After looking at Vista, I am convinced more than ever that Linux is going to be the ultimate savior of all of those older folks out there.

Let's plan this out: an interface with simple menu commands: "E-Mail," "Web," "Pictures," "Chat," "Word Processor," and so on. No program names, just task-oriented commands. It starts, you type in a password, and off you go. The only thing that pops up is the occasional "Hey, you need to update your software" message. Because, my dear friends, this simple functionality is all the real average user needs, not the bells and whistles that Windows (any version) includes and claims as "essential."

Could the path to world domination lie in the hearts and minds of the baby boomer generation? I certainly think so.

So, off I go, to load Linux on my Mom's new laptop, like a good son. Hopefully she'll forget about this experience with Vista before my birthday in a few months.

Somehow, I doubt it.