Why I hate white computers

Why I hate white computers

Disclaimer and Editor's note<<END_OF_DISCL

This piece was written in 2009-2010.  It expresses my personal views
and makes no claim to contain wisdom and/or truth.

In the following the names of the guilty have mostly been changed. The
particular brand of computers and operating systems I talk about have
been renamed to 'white computer/OS' for no particular reason.

All writing was done on a smartphone and I did not intent to fix those


The Story Begins

About a year ago i made an error. Noone talked or tricked me into it,
I did it myself with no external influences other than the usual
information overkill from advertising, TV and other media.  I bought
a well-known, rather stylish smartphone.

While that device is rather neat, not particularly cool or ergonomic,
and I feel slightly uncomfortable when having to use it in public, it
has this big, stinking problem: it needs a particular music
software. The first thing it does after getting its first dose of
energy is asking for that music software.  Just like a newborn asking
for the remote control after its first dose of mother's finest. Unlike
the newborn, however, the stylish smartphone will just refuse to do
anything if it doesn't get its music software. That's more like a two
years old.

Now, me being a pure Linux guy for like 15 years, that posed a
problem. Buying a windows license was out of question and getting it
to run in wine would probably not be worth the time. Well, so many
people, even developers, even developers I know and trust, were
happily using White OS machines and I decided to jump the train.

I made an error and I accept my punishment. 

The Punishment

I even paid for my punishment which came in form of a white
computer. Aye! a nice piece if hardware it is, cleaned my desk from a
lot of cables. But that wannabe operating system is such a crippled
and broken piece of software. I really can't understand, why so many
people still follow the cult.  I mean it may have a future, I don't
deny that. But it will take a while to grow up.

The Focus Killer

The first thing to mention, and I might just as well stop writing
after that, is, that it uses click to focus exclusively. Go and search
the 'net for the blog of Steve Yegge, he has a very nice summary of
that topic. Now, if I write 'exclusively', don't take that
literally. As I mentioned earlier, that OS looks rather childish to me
and here is one reason. White OS uses click to focus exclusively
EXCEPT for the Terminal application which allows focus follows mouse,
and all X-apps for which you can enable FFM as well (and Gimp in
particular would be completely useless if you couldn't) and except for
one application or the other which may choose to pass the mouse click
used to activate the window to the buttons or whatever was underneath
your pointer when you clicked. So, make sure to click right beside any
button in Ciscos VPN window. By the way: do you wait for that VPN
software to shut down your connection before you continue to work? I
don't, because it takes like ten seconds or so, and I just refuse to
wait ten secs for a network connection to shutdown. But that friendly
piece of software kindly reminds me when it has finished shutting down
the connection I already forgot about because my mind is already
occupied with (hopefully) more important things by STEALING THE FOCUS!
This is soo bad bad nono I have no words for it, and I can't tell the
white OS to ignore the focus requests from that program. Anger. Ah,
and just one more thing: why on earth does scrolling work under the
mouse pointer, regardless of focus?! Eh, wait, almost, it does not
work with the volume control.  See, there's just no concept there, no
consistency. It is the same type of inconsistency that got people
confused when they saw GTK-, Qt- and Athena-apps on their Linux
desktop. But if you paid for something, e.g. an OS, you try very hard
to make yourself believe, it was worth the money.

The Case of The Keyboard

The second most annoying encounter was the case of the German
keyboard. See, I've been typing for ages and I happen to have a good
understanding for which keyboard will give me wrist pain and which
won't. The cheap (as in feeling not in price) white plastic keyboard
is an ergonmic catastrophy. The worst thing is, that the keyboard goes
'upwards'. In addition to that I don't want to confuse my brain with
yet another layout. In the past I used a German layout on a German
keyboard, a US layout, which is far better for programming tasks, with
a German keyboard, US layout on US keyboard and a small collection of
notebook keyboards. Today I just know what I want and on that machine
I wanted a plain German keyboard (a PC keyboard if you will) with just
the same layout as is nicely printed on the caps. And, wow!, those
keyboard even manage to label the curly braces, the square brackets,
the backtick and even the tilde, all of which are important to you if
you're a shell person and a programmer, without confusing their users
so much that they will have to spend the rest of their lives behind
rubber walls. Seriously, why are those not on a white keyboard??  So I
just plugged a quite normal PC keyboard into the USB socket and lo and
behold the machine worked some magic and detected it. Actually I can't
remember whether I had to reboot. Whatever. My computer, no
wait... The computer asked me to press the key right of the left shift
key, which is a smart thing to ask, because you can detect quite some
different layouts from that information. So far I was impressed. After
pressing that key the computer told me, it now knew what that new
keyboard was and I could go ahead now. Can't remember, whether I had
to reboot that time, either.  Imagine my astonishment when I found out
that it now used the new keyboard with the original layout of the
white keyboard. No curly braces where the labels indicate, but right
there where they were before, on that white piece of crap,
unlabelled. What a dork! In Linux it is quite common and thus quite
easy to pick the layout independently from the model. Desktops like
KDE even ship whith a quick switcher which you can configure to any
number of (supported) layouts. In the white operating system this just
isn't possible and that's it. There is a file whic you can find on the
internet and which was written by some brave person with too much time
on his hands privately, which kind of solves this problem. For those
who know: consider it the equivalent of writing your own
xmodmap. Stone age, 'nuff said.

To find that solution I've waded the seas of blackboard postings
several evenings and found clearly phrased questions of people who
also wanted to do this adventurous thing. And they, just as me, had to
endure screen after screen of messages from sheep, that happily follow
the cult, that they should really, really try that fine keyboard
because the lords of ergonomy created it and thus it must be very
good. Really. And you can get used to it. Really. Try it. Follow the
cult. Crap! It's worse than reading flame wars about Emacs vs. vi, KDE
vs. Gnome and even postings about the removal of parentheses from
Lisp. Unbearable.  There is a professional software engineer who
writes a very clear question and a bunch of new kids has nothing
better to do than trying to make him a true believer. I wonder what it
must have felt to see a Spanish missionary in south America some 500
years ago for a priest or whatever of the Inca. Maybe they felt just
as I did? Who knows. If there is any parallel, history does not give
reason to relax.

To come to the end of the keyboard story. The xmodmap-lookalike
worked, almost. Some things where still strange. Eg the super/windows
key worked like the fruit key on the white device and as the meta key
in emacs. But my fingers are programmed to expect the alt key as the
meta. After one year of using that crooked layout my fingers can't do
all the emacs tricks on other machines with the same speed as before.
This is probably the hardest part of the punishment! And of course
home and end work differntly on the white OS: they jumpy to the
beginning/end of the text you are writing. Useless.

At that time I had an unusable computer, due to click to focus, on
which I could not type like I wanted. But that was not the end.

One PATH to Rule Them All

So, at some time I could type curlies.

Shortly thereafter I wanted to do some Java work. Not really
programming, bless me, but I needed Netbeans and I needed to checkout
the sources with svn.  Unfortunately the svn that ships with white OS
is so frigging old, it wouldn't work with the repo I needed to
checkout. A few days earlier I spent some time figuring out which
extension mechanism to use, macports or fink, and without any reason
picked ports. So a newer svn was just a port install away. After that
I could easily check out the sources from the command line. Since
Netbeans has a svn integration module, I wanted to make Netbeans use
the ports version of svn, too. That's easy, I thought, just adapt my
PATH. So I modified my .bashrc and re-logged in, but Netbeans didn't
find the new svn binary. So I put my PATH config into ~/.profile and
did the login chacha. No change. Again I had to read screens over
screens of garbage from people who dealt with a unix-like for the
first time, just to find out, that your desktop environment is not the
child process of a shell and thus has no notion of any config over
there. Instead you can keep a second configuration of your PATH in
some kind of plist-file which you'll have to keep in sync with your
shell config manually in the future. Congratulations. The gain is that
Netbeans will now know the right path even if started from the dock
and not only if started from a shell. But if you start it from the
built-in search capability the new process will be a direct child of
the first process (known as launchd over there and init on Linux),
which happens to ignore both of your previous configs. Since changing
the environment of that process means fiddling with the boot process I
refused to do it and now start Netbeans via the icon in the dock. It's
such a slow startup anyway, that moving to the mouse is not too big a
burden. But what brilliant mind came up with the idea of three
distinct ways of setting the PATH? It's been there for like 30 years
and works just well, thank you. No need to change that. Braindead.

Now, what about crashes? I can remember having to reboot the hard way
twice. No too bad. The first one was in the early days, so it was
probably my error. The secon time was when the Dock-thing went
down. It stopped working for no apparent reason, and I can't imagine
any reason for doing so, anyway.

The Missing Window

So, WhiteOS has Spaces. Not the big key on you keyboard, but concept
that is well known as virtual desktops on -say- Linux.  Over there you
may even choose between virtual desktops and viewport, depending on
your environment, but WhiteOS at least has spaces. And they're proud
enough of it to feature them in some advertising clips. There they
show off how damn cool Spaces is, it even continues to play a video
when showing all desktops.  Ok, it has a boring blue background, but
you get a nice overview of your open windows.  Actually, you don't.
When a dialo opens while you're in spaces it will popup just there: in
the overview.  And if you move down to one desktop that popup may end
up anywhere, on any desktop, I couldn't detect a pattern.  Even worse:
sometimes they end up behind other windows.  I mean, how stupid is
that?  As if that weren't enough, some windows, especially dialogs,
don't show up at all in the wannabe overview.  People tried to tell me
that those were not native application, or just apps that have
been badly programmed.  Well, it happens to popups from the calendar
program as well as the music software, e.g. The information dialog of
a CD.  So there you are: Spaces. Big thing. Has been there on
X-Windows for ages and the modern overview in Gnome shows the desktops
just as they are: with background image, with panels, with live views
of playing movies and loading browsers, heck, even with all dialog

Deadlock Dock

Maybe it's just my long time behavior that I use Spaces and all the
cool kids use the Dock.  Ooh, look at that polished surface
effect. Cute. And the happy jumping icons.  My son, who is pretty
young, really likes the jumping duck and I've been starting and
stopping that FTP-program for good while.  Actually, the Dock is a
rather central piece. One day it stopped working and I knew no way out
other than rebooting.  I could not navigate to a terminal, because the
dock didn't work, I seem to remember starting new terminal using the
search facility to no avail, so there wasn't any chance of curing
things by some command line magic.  At the end Reboot it was. I could
still reach the reboot menu item. Just that I had some unsaved files
in NetBeans and Netbeans opened a dialog to ask me what to do now.
Thereby it managed to stop the shutdown process which told me it
couldn't shut the system down because some program didn't allow.  I
was told to stop that program first, which I couldn't because I could
neither get there nor kill it hard using the dock.  Deadlockdock. Ok,
this episode wasn't particularly funny. Those things happen on all
systems.  It's just that people keep saying that WhiteOS may have some
edges but it just works.  No, it does not.  It evenn has to reboot
when the webbrowser has been updated.

The End

Please, don't even start thinking about pointing me to things that
have been fixed in the meantime.  Actually, you'd better stop thinking
about ANY kind of feedback.  All this is history to me.  No more
WhiteOS, thank you.  I'd rather give windows another try and see what
they improved in the past 15 years.


[Editor's note: here the original text stopped.  It was never finished
and never will be.  There were some notes to myself but I never got
around writing the rest of it: someday Android saved me.]