Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Some of my quirks...

I get asked a lot why I am a certain way, or why I prefer things the way I do. Typically, this is in reference to computers, though food is another common area. I was born in 1981 (as a reference), but a lot of my attitude is more like somebody who was born in the 90s or even 00s. I'm highly computer literate, at a technical level, but that doesn't mean I know how to use everything out there today. Far from it, in fact, which is why I am the certain blend of "quirky" that I seem to be.

Growing up in the 80s, I was one of the privileged few with a computer. Comparing it to today's standards would be pointless, so I'll refrain, but the OS that powered it was MS-DOS 2.0. Note, I said "powered it" rather than "was installed on it" because my first computer lacked a hard drive. It booted up off a 5 1/4 inch floppy, loaded DOS into it's 256 KB memory, and then you swapped disks to run your application. There was no mouse, the monitor's only pixel shade was Matrix green, and if you didn't know the command line, you couldn't use the device.

Being DOS 2, this was long before DOS 5 which introduced the ASCII/ANSI based "DOS Shell" file manager. You had files, and directories, all limited to an 8 character file name, and a 3 character extension. The two were separated with a period, and there were no exceptions. This is how I grew up.

Later on, DOS 5 came out. I had since upgraded to a different system, that was slightly better - 512 KB of RAM, and a hard drive (20 megs). This system had a mouse, and was capable of running Tandy's Deskmate 2 software package. It introduced a number of new features, mainly, copy and paste, and was the first GUI I ever worked with. It should be noted, though, that Tandy followed IBM's common user access standards, and as such, copy and paste was done with the CTRL+INS and SHIFT+INS, rather than CTRL+C and CTRL+V, which was in use by only Apple at the time.

Eventually I upgraded yet again, this time to a computer running DOS 6.22 and Windows 3.11. Aside from running windows programs, I preferred being in DOS as it was more familiar. It should also be noted that Microsoft copied Apple in the use of CTRL+C/CTRL+V for copy/paste, as well as including IBM's CTRL+INS and SHIFT+INS. As such, I kept using the CTRL/SHIFT + INS key strokes.

A little later, Windows 95 came out, and I upgraded the OS. The UI was so new, I remember changing the default shell from explorer.exe to progman.exe to replicate Windows 3.11's look and feel for months. I usually have to be dragged kicking and screaming into new UIs. It should be noted I still preferred DOS and SHIFT/CTRL+INS.

When Windows 95 OSR2 came around, I was thrown into the new UI finally. I had no choice, as progman.exe wasn't included any more. It took getting used to. A lot of getting used to. I did manage to adapt, though, and found Windows mostly usable. I tweaked it the likes of Tweak UI and SysInternals tools, and life went on. Despite Windows now trying to call "directories" "folders", it never stuck. I still call them "directories" to this day.

In the course of my explorations, I started getting into UNIX via telnet (SSH wasn't around just yet). I got access to my first shell account probably in 1997 (it was a FreeBSD box, running ksh, if memory served), and I fell in love with it. It was multi-user DOS, only about a hundred times more functional. I immediately dropped my mail client for pine, and started getting back into the CLI that I was born and raised on. And UNIX still referred to them as "directories" too. Vindication was never so sweet.

Windows 98 came and went. Internet Explorer and Netscape were battling it out, and to be honest, I sided with Internet Explorer (this was back in the days of IE 4). I never liked Netscape (thought it looked funny for a Windows application), proving I was young and nieve at some point. Though I didn't use a web browser for much - mostly reading Slashdot and gaming news sites, as well as managing the gaming sites I ran myself. Still, days went by where I didn't open my browser. We didn't have those fancy "tabs" back then, and I didn't ever consider them because of how infrequently I hit the web. I lived in IRC, in telnet, and in instant message applications like ICQ. I switched to Outlook 98 for email, due to the sheer number of messages I received (5,000 a month was typical volume if memory serves).

In high school, we were an all-Apple environment. OS Classic (7.6, 8.0, 8.5 were common - 9 wasn't out yet), and that scarred me for life. I was constantly fighting the UI to do things the way I wanted to do them. I hated the design of their system in so many ways, because it wasn't what I was used to. Going home to a Windows system didn't help, either, because it gave me an "out" rather than forcing me to adapt. I look back at those 4 years as "hell".

Windows 2000 came and yes, I upgraded. 2000 would be the logical successor to 98, would it not? Made sense to me, but no, Windows 2000 was the upgrade to Windows NT, which was the enterprise version of Windows. As a result, a number of games and printer drivers didn't work on Windows 2000 that did on 98. That irritated me, and was what lead to my first linux desktop system (I installed it on a 2nd computer, right around the time it came out).

When Windows ME came out, I ignored it. Then a month later, I laughed at the poor saps who were running it. It was buggy, it crashed frequently, it was slow, and my rock solid Windows 2k system just worked. No, I couldn't run all the software I wanted to run on it, but stability trumped compatibility. All the core things I wanted ran on it fine, anyway. I still had little use for a web browser, and I still used CTRL/SHIFT + INS. I switched to SSH right around this time, too.

When the Mozilla project released their Phoenix browser, I gave it a shot, and found I liked it more than Internet Explorer (which was getting progressively worse). 0.5 was the first version I actively remember using. I never gave IE another thought after this point.

Windows XP came out, and I ignored it similarly to ME. The Luna interface looked like somebody at Microsoft had asked Lego to design their interface for them. The color scheme was abysmal, and the "new" style start menu didn't sit well either. I rarely used the start menu, and when I did, I didn't want to have to drill down into the "All Programs" menu to access the groups. Putting shortcuts to commonly used applications on the main menu only makes sense if you HAVE a set of commonly used applications. All my applications that were commonly used were always running: ICQ, IRC, Outlook, SecureCRT (SSH client), and so when I wanted to use the start menu, it was usually for the one-off game of Starcraft or Quake that wasn't logical to pin as a favorite. Thus, I turned off the new start menu design pretty fast after I finally relented and upgraded.

Then, in 2001, Windows just pissed me off. The lack of flexibility in some of the applications, down to the OS itself, made me do an end run around Microsoft and I jumped ship to Red Hat Linux. Evolution (mail client) was a good enough Outlook clone, Mozilla Phoenix (now called Firebird) was a great browser, X-Chat (which I was already running on Windows, having abhorred mIRC versions after 3.x) already worked on linux, I had full command line capabilities and all the tools I was already using via SSH anyway, so the only thing I was really missing was games. And for those, I had a second computer for. My initial desktop was Gnome 1.4, with modifications from HelixCode (later, known as Ximian).

After XP came Vista, and I'm sure everybody's aware of the pile of smoo that was. Having been on linux for so many years, by the time Windows 7 came along, I couldn't have cared less. Linux had shaped my philosophies and usage patterns to the point that I was no longer capable of running Windows. Linux was all about "open" and then Google showed up, reinforcing those ideas in my head. Data should be "free". Standards should be "open". So now that you know my history, lets examine what I want in a modern system.

I want a consistant interface on my OS. This means, an interface that I can use with out difficulty, with out wanting to curse at regularly, that allows me to be productive. Sorry, Apple, this isn't you. From your global application menu bar to the lack of click-through events on backgrounded UI elements, I hate you with a passion. You may be awarded medals for your design capabilities, but it's function > form for me, and you fail that at the most basic levels. For an OS built on UNIX, I'd expect more to be honest. Most of the tools I require on the command line are missing, thanks to your hatred of GPL, so unless I want to install MacPorts and compile a ton of things, in a very Gentoo-esque fashion, you're pretty useless (and that's assuming I can stomach the interface that isn't very customizable to begin with).

I want open standards. I don't like Facebook. I don't use them, as a result. I don't trust them with my data. So I *sure* don't want them integrated into my OS. Same goes for Amazon. Here's looking at you, Canonical. I want open APIs to allow me to add the services I make use of. If you want to ship it by default, that's fine, but give me the ability to remove it. Don't shove iCloud or Sky drive down my throat - I'm even less likely to use it when I can't remove it.

I don't use proprietary document formats. I believe that data should be free. This means, I can import and export between formats at any time, for any reason. Google Docs allows me this, as well as LibreOffice, so I use the two of them for that purpose. I don't support Microsoft Office or Apple's iWorks, as they haven't completely documented their XML format.

I don't want to financially support companies that resort to patent trolling, and trying to get competitor products banned over things that have 20+ years of prior art, such as detecting phone numbers and making them dialable (Borland Sidekick, 1986) or arranging application icons in a grid (Palm Pilot, 1996). I most certainly don't want to financially support a company that engages in petty censorship of software based on something as trivial as license, or content.

As a result of the above, I found that Microsoft and Apple both can't meet my needs as software companies any more. The companies have decided to stop producing products I actually want. My needs really haven't changed much in over 20 years, but Apple and Microsoft seem to no longer wish to meet them. Microsoft keeps re-inventing the wheel, rolling out new interface after new interface, and Apple's never appealed to me in the first place. So, a linux user I shall remain, for the foreseeable future, muttering words like "directories" and using SHIFT+INS for paste. (At some point, I did migrate to CTRL+C for copy. I've never used the "cut" function. Another quirk of mine.)

P.S. I haven't covered some other important events in this history, such as my moving to Google Chrome from Firefox, or from Evolution to Gmail, but those things happened. As content became more and more web-based, so have my tools, to the point where it used to be days between opening a single browser window, to now where I always have one open with usually 6 to 10 tabs inside it.