Mac OSX vs. Linux: Chasm in usability of software installation Monday, Feb 16 2009 

I would like to highlight one of the reasons why Linux did not get its way into the desktops yet — though it’s free, have good drivers coverage and tons of applications: installing software is a pain. Actually, it starts well: typical distribution has an update manager with GUI where you can check applications you need and hit OK to install them. Updates also work fine. But what if this distribution does not have the tool you need in its list? That’s where it breaks…

You may try another packages system; maybe they have what you need. But this would typically require messing with command line, finding all the required libraries and resolving possible configuration conflicts. And something of course won’t be available as a package and you will need to take the code from CVS and compile locally. It is all painful and really scares off 99% of users.

Mac OSX is a Unix too but they made applications management really simple. All application files are placed in one folder — application bundle. Finder even shows this folder as a single file to hide this fact from you; it’s an opaque structure. So you download an archive with this bundle (typically zip or dmg), extract it and drop inside Applications or any other folder. Easy! Need to remove the application? Just delete the bundle like other files. Need to replace it? Delete the old bundle and extract the new one. Very simple, no dedicated tool, all users can do.

If installation requires extra actions the software is packed in pkg file, but they are really rare and typically are system tools. OSX has a built-in utility that extracts pkg content in appropriate places and executes the required actions. Some applications, like MS Office, tend to abuse it but still such packages are self-contained: they don’t require you to find and install other packages so the experience is like you run a wizard. Still possible to do by most users.

The chasm in usability is made by decision in Mac OSX to distribute application libraries with application itself. Linux is an OS written by programmers for programmers — extra copies of files are considered bad. It’s a typical programmer’s decision: if you have a reusable piece of code you should reuse it wherever possible. Copy-paste is a big no-no in this field so every reusable component is packaged and distributed as a shared library. Now they win on space but users — they have to manage this huge dependency tree!

Hard drives are enormous nowadays; libraries are still very small. Typical library is smaller than one photo produced by my DSLR. My time spent on CVS and gcc costs much more than disk space. And that’s why (partially) my OS of choice is Mac OSX and not Linux.

P.S. If you are writing an application for Linux, please, don’t make a package for your favorite distribution: make a folder with all files you need so I can just download it as archive, extract and use. All users of all distributions will praise you!

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Economy’s Train Tuesday, Feb 10 2009 

When I think about the economy it reminds me a train. We all sit in there and enjoy produce-consume cycle that moves the train forward. When economy is healthy it grows and we feel as if the train accelerates making the ride more joyful. But occasionally something goes wrong; within months we fell in recession and the train slows down. How could it happen? We need fuel to make it move — we need money; we borrow more than we can return, we play in Ponzi schemes and do other crazy things. Eventually, they grow over a threshold and burst; you can’t borrow above some limit, people loose trust in your enterprise.

Economy, as a train, may be pulled or pushed. Consumers pull the economy by purchasing goods and services while producers and banks push the economy by making these goods and giving credits. When pulling force slows down the government eases life for manufacturers and banks thus increasing the pushing force. And vice versa then manufacturers and banks break, the government stimulates consumers to increase their pulling force in hope that the pushing force will recover. But what if they break at the same time? That’s what happening in 2009…

The whole idea of the stimulus package is to take fuel for the train somewhere and keep it running in hope that money could be returned later. But you know, this plan may fail. If there are severe problems with the train, if people that travel in it just can’t produce more then they consume — the train will stop. So maybe instead of burning more fuel it makes sense to just slow down? By lowering ambitions, consuming less and working more it is quite possible to live and enjoy the life. By ignoring the problems it is easy to blow up the engine and stop forever; how do you think ancient civilizations did stop to exist?

The Ultimate Knowledge Test Thursday, Feb 5 2009 

I know the ultimate way to test your expertise in some area. It’s very simple and really shows how deep is your knowledge of the topic. It takes some time to undergo but may be well less then internship. You also don’t have to sweet through interviews and what’s most astonishing – you don’t apply to a particular job and at the same time you apply to every job in your domain. It’s also very truthful; you may convince yourself that you really know the thing but as you can’t fool the mirror to beautify the reflection you can’t fool this test because it’s too based on reflection.

The test is to write about the topic. That’s it, that simple. You may start a blog or write articles for someone – it doesn’t matter. A few writings may cover enough ground to show how well you know something. If other people can comment on them – that’s excellent; your replies will expose even more of you.

Writing also improves and expands your knowledge. After you’ve mentioned something or provided an example you should read it over and criticize. Is this statement valid? Will this example work? Typically you are confident of your writing but yet you are not sure about some parts. You check them and your assumptions turn into the facts that means knowledge.

You also share what you know and you should be proud of it. Other people will read and learn and refer to you; the process of educating other people is very gratifying.

So if you specialize in something there are no reasons not to write about it; you will improve yourself and other people. And if you fear to write then maybe it’s because you are not so confident in your expertise level? You see, the test works even before you start it…

The Three Levels Of Wealth Monday, Feb 2 2009 

The first level is no wealth. People at this level have no or almost no money and don’t possess any property. Some people, like monks, do it intentionally. Some have lost it in war or in accident; many refugees in Africa live in camps and effectively don’t have much of their own. But there are also people that just live without wealth and are happy. Well, maybe not exactly happy but little money and clothes are just good enough for them and they don’t care to change this situation. We call them ‘homeless’ since these folks don’t care about living in ‘real’ homes.

On the second level there are people with an income. Typically it’s a salary that they receive monthly and use to pay the bills. Many rent a flat or have a mortgage. What makes them grouped on level two is that they have to work for a living, and what is very interesting is that most of them remain on this level forever. Of course anyone wants to be rich and don’t go to work five days a week but in practice few people manage to get there. Living on the second level is just good enough for many and their dreams remain dreams.

People on the third level may not work till the end of life. They have enough money to support themselves for years. And typically a home of their own. It doesn’t mean that they have piles of money – they just could allow themselves to do what they want, where they want and when they want, and not to think about a job. How much money could that be? I think that two or three millions USD should do. It’s not too hard to calculate the amount – just sum up all the remaining salary that you will get in you life, plus some extra money, just in case.

This level is so interesting because you could see who you are – decide who you will be – lazy slump of meat watching tv the whole day, new-born artist, just a healthy shiny very social person or eccentric entrepreneur. I’m not on the third level yet, but it’s exciting to think about this – could it be like a new life?