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Editor's Note: All This Great Technology Just to Reinvent Television

Mar 20, 2010, 00:02 (13 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

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.