The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

A collection of rants

Posted By on May 3, 2004

Before you read my LJ, read this essay about Why he hates weblogs. I think I'm a combination of his “Obsessive-Delusional Ranter” and “Tragically Geek”.

Why Gentoo is super cool It’s the only distro I’ve used where I can do the installation via ssh from my living room. My latest experience with proprietary software I’ve gotten in to Classic Battletech again. This necessitates the ability to make up character sheets simply and easily. At first, I was using Battlemech Designer. The only problem with it is that it doesn’t support the Level 3 rules, and it only does battlemechs, not protomechs, vehicles, or planes. It ran under Wine, and did the job. So, looking around, I couldn’t find any free (freedom) or free (zero cost) software that did the job, but I found HeavyMetal Pro, which people seemed to speak highly of, and everyone seems to use. So, I pony up the $90 and buy the whole kit, the software does it all. It doesn’t run under wine – the software just exits. Okay, I can handle that. So, I install Bochs. Bochs works surprisingly well, and is even fast enough to run Windows 98 on a 1GHz laptop. However, no display driver exists for Windows 98 under Bochs, so only the default 640x480x16 colors mode works. So, that’s a no go. Installing it on my actual Windows 98 machine worked just fine. Using it, however, was less than productive. The interface was kludgey and hackish. I mean, people rag on F/OSS for having “bad UI”; this app had just about the worst UI I’ve ever used. (This is not a F/OSS vs. Proprietary argument, however – Apple has some GREAT UI’s). Anyway, so I contact the man and ask for a refund. He tells me that, like other software places, he does not accept returns because you could steal it and never pay for it. WTF? Turns out, that is the case. When you buy general PC software (console video games seems to be a different animal), no one lets you return it if it sucks. Talk about fucking over the customer. To quote South Park: “This is America, and if something sucks, you’re supposed to be able to get your money back”. I have become unaware of this trend, because I haven’t bought anything except console games in about the last 4 years. So, this has taught me a lesson: don’t buy proprietary software unless I can try it first. Now, this leaves me with a problem: while I can use Battlemech Designer for now, it won’t meet my future needs (Level 3 rules + support for vehicles and aero). So, I think that I will come up with my own mech and vehicle design software, Free Software, of course, and it will provide me with the impetus to try out some technologies that I’ve been wanting to learn, including: – UI design under Linux (I know how to do this under Windows, but not Linux) – XML (all the mech files will be saved in XML) – Printing (I have no idea how to actually print something nicely – sure, I could fiddle with raw postscript, but that’s not much fun; there must be an easier way) and for the second iteration: – reverse engineering BattleMech Designer and HeavyMetal Pro files to write filters that convert them to my XML format – optional integration with a DB backend (the mechs are stored in the DB for easier searching and organizing. XML will be retained for import/export) This will also run under OS X, provided you install the right GUI toolkit (whichever one I pick..) On the off chance, if anyone is interested, let me know. I’m going to do this right – write up a feature spec, some UI sketches, come up with the specs for the XML file format, etc. Why Microsoft can never produce a useful OS” (This is more a play on the terms “useful” and “OS” than anything else.) I have no doubts that, despite their various faults and problems, MS will eventually fix the issues in their OS that are actually “bugs”. However, the following problems will still remain: 1.) Bad decisions (such as ActiveX) 2.) Lawsuits, litigation, etc. Now, lots of people have talked about 1, so I’m not going to. However, I was hanging out with my girlfriend, and she was using her PowerBook (as she always does) and I was watching the tools she was using the most; namely: 1.) Mail 2.) Web 3.) Instant messenger 4.) Movie ripping (from old home videos) 5.) DVD creation/Burning. Let us examine these one by one. 1 and 2 are included in Windows. Fine. 3 is, to an extent, but only MSN, IIRC (other folks, is this correct?), as Microsoft wants to make it more difficult to use other systems to protect another business model; therefore this is a decision, not a “bug”. 4 and 5 are not included. Why? Well, I don’t know for sure. They don’t compete with an MS product, so there is no reason that MS cannot develop and bundle such applications with their OS, thus enhancing their product offerings. However, this would complete with other people’s products, and therefore they would get sued; over and over again, for using their monopoly position to attack other markets. This is why MS will never produce an OS that is as useful out of the box as OSX – they’d get sued over and over again. How the DOJ missed the point The above brings up application bundling, which is, of course, what the DOJ and independent lawsuits seem to have focused on. However, I think that all of this completely misses the point. The danger from Microsoft; the real danger, is NOT the bundled software, the fact that windows media player competes with Real, the fact that MSN competes with AOL. The real problems are: 1.) OEM installed software limitations: MS’s bundled software is not a threat if OEM’s are allowed to install other applications. However, in order to get the most favorable terms, OEM’s need to agree to not install additional software that competes with Microsoft’s (this is part of the reason that OpenOffice, StarOffice and Corel Office have had difficulty gaining and holding ground). 2.) PC Shipment Exclusivity agreements: OEM’s get “market development funds” for each Windows PC they sell. Fairly normal and standard, right? Well, here’s the catch – if you sell one machine; ONE MACHINE without Windows on it, you lose ALL the money, which can be hundreds of thousands (or more) of dollars. 3.) The two above are typically secret agreements – these OEM agreements are secret so that no one knows who signed what with whom and under what terms. This is typically the case in business, but in the case of monopoly, it is bad for the public interest. I would even go as far as to say that Microsoft should be forced to disclose all contract terms with all OEM’s, and enforce standardized pricing: so that they can’t go to HP or Dell and strongarm them away from attempting to sell non-windows machines. Now, I think some of this has been done as a result of the DOJ investigations, but it’s not gone far enough. Microsoft needs to be relegated to a place where they MUST innovate in order to keep people wanting to buy their product. All things being equal, the DOJ rulings do not acheive this. However, Linux just might. It’s coming faster and faster, and Microsoft is scared. I suppose that is it for tonight. It’s getting late and I need to work tomorrow. Oh, I’m playing paintball next Saturday; WOOT! My mom will be there. The field is Fox 4 Paintball in Upton, MA. They’re running a “women in paintball” day, where women play for free. If anoyone is interesting in going alone, let me know. Liz will not be going; she was going to, but then realized that it was Mother’s day and is going home that weekend. Looking at the website, this field looks like a really pro operation; it might just be worth the drive up there on a regular basis…

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