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Apple Rant

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Although it may seem like it, I don’t hate Apple.  True, nearly every piece of electronics I own run a Microsoft OS (all 3 PCs, my phone and my MP3 player).  But the reason isn’t that I don’t like shiny objects or that I love getting certain UI innovations after everyone else.  No, I’ve stuck with Microsoft because generally I prefer to deal with some necessary tweaking or frustration in order to have the freedom to make these customizations.  I want to be able to build my PC, reflash my phone and get more features in my MP3 player without having to fight the OS manufacturer at every turn.

So I do dislike the walled-garden approach to computing that Apple has chosen, not because it doesn’t work (for the majority of users, it does), but because I appreciate choice and freedom when it comes to configuring my computing devices.  When you hear of Apple purposefully removing applications or functionality from iPhones because it competes with some business of theirs or AT&T’s, it really sounds like iPhone users are just renting their devices.

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Arg.  After initially getting excited about Windows Phone 7 when it was revealed a few months ago, after learning more about the OS itself I’m getting disappointed.  It’s really not looking to be anything more than Microsoft’s attempt at an iPhone, which is not what I was hoping for.

I have a thing about personalization.  I have this strange hatred for conformity, and really like to be able to make whatever I have at least somewhat “me.” That’s the main reason I’m not interested in the iPhone.  I know it’s a good device that tons of people love.  But it’s a completely closed, locked-down platform with no potential for real personalization or customization.  It’s Apple’s way or the highway.  I can’t stand that.

For all its faults, Windows Mobile gave me that freedom.  Granted, I never was as serious about tweaking the phone’s OS as many people, but I liked the ability to flash a new ROM if I was getting bored with the UI, or Google a hack to change some low-level setting I didn’t like.  But Windows Phone 7 throws all that out the window, leaving me less excited about my options when I decide it’s time for a new phone.

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Ubuntu Impressions

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In all my years of using computers quite heavily, I’ve been a Windows user 99% of the time.  But I have used other OSes, particularly Linux in certain work environments.  I’ve configured PXE-boot network-driven automated installs of Suse and Red Hat, tweaked NFS and Samba on Linux servers in a network of mixed client OSes (Linux and Windows), and have played around with Debian a bit on a personal computer.  Yesterday I wanted to set up a file server at work without having to deal with getting a Windows server license, so I decided to go with the Linux distribution that everyone seems gaga for, Ubuntu.

Now, to be fair, I was installing on an old machine that I hadn’t used much beforehand, so it’s possible it may have some hw issues independent of the OS it’s running, so some of my issues could be related to that.  Its CD-ROM drive had apparently died, for one thing, and it had issues booting an OS off of a USB key.  But before I installed Ubuntu, it seemed to boot into Windows consistently, so the vital components appeared to be working.  Anyway, I just wanted to say that some of my issues below could be due to hw, although again, Windows didn’t seem to have problems.

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My only magazine subscription is to Wired, a slick publication that appeals to society-aware geeks who are interested in science and technology and how they can make the world a better place.  It features everything from product reviews to well-researched articles on topics ranging from politics to medicine to open-source software.  The writing can be a bit sensational at times, but I think it makes it more enjoyable to read, and really conveys a sense of optimistic excitement over the potential in modern technology.  I don’t read the issues cover-to-cover, but there are frequently articles that I find very interesting.

One such article that I think well represents well the kind of varied and important subjects often featured in the magazine was in last year’s February issue.  Titled “The Truth About Autism,” it was a fascinating look at autism research and how our opinions of the condition have changed, with the aid of technology such as blogs and YouTube.

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I’m a fan of the “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language” known as xkcd, and one of the recurring “hero” characters in it is Cory Doctorow, author and founder of former magazine and current blog Boing Boing.  I was perusing some of the older xkcd comics, most of which I’d already seen, and came across one of the references to Doctorow and decided to wikipedia him.  Turns out he’s a pretty interesting person, and a well-read and respected fiction author.  He’s really into comics and science fiction, as well as personal privacy, intellectual property right laws, and a host of other “nerdy” subjects, many of which interest me as well.  I then read about his latest novel, Little Brother, and some of the critical acclaim it had received.  It piqued my interest, so I looked into it more.  Turns out that Doctorow publishes all his books under the Creative Commons license, which is essentially a more flexible alternative to Copyrighting your work.  Creative Commons has been a great success online, along with GNU free documentation and other “share-friendly” licensing methods, and has many sites dedicated to works published under its “some rights reserved” protections.  The beauty of Creative Commons is that it preserves the content creator’s rights to profit from and retain ownership of their work (be it musical, literary, photographic, etc.) while recognizing that allowing the public to freely keep, share, and (optionally) modify artistic work can be a tremendous boon to their success.  To make a long story short, by being published under CC, Doctorow’s books like Little Brother are freely available, and he has a wide variety of text and ebook formats available for free, anonymous download on the book’s website.  If you’d like to know more about why an artist would choose to freely give away their works, read Doctorow’s explanation at the beginning of the book.

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