Computer programming centre-right lovers of Swedish meatballs


English: YouGov logo
English: YouGov logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to YouGov (the UK’s largest polling company) that is what typical lovers of Linux are – though it’s based on just 272 individual profiles (out of 200,000 or so members of YouGov’s panel). Oh, and they are blokes. More at https://yougov.co.uk/profiler#/Linux/demographics

(YouGov made at least some of their profiling data available online this morning and it has kept British internet users amused all day.)

Windows lovers are, apparently, somewhat more numerous – there are 744 of them – but also typically younger, less well off and even more right wing. And are also men. Apple pie is their favourite dish and perhaps unsurprisingly they are not as keen on programming. Yes, it’s true: Windows lovers are lusers through and through. See https://yougov.co.uk/profiler#/Microsoft_Windows/demographics

Admirers of the Microsoft brand, though, tend to be older (still male) and rather more centrist – and numerous. Perhaps this is the Bill Gates effect? People admire his creation in the abstract but there is little concrete love. See https://yougov.co.uk/profiler#/Microsoft/demographics

But what of your favourite hipster computer brand – Apple? Turns out they are centrist, female and middle class and like grilled halloumi cheese. It’s harder to make a direct comparison though as (surprise, surprise) Apple users don’t seem to identify their operating system. See https://yougov.co.uk/profiler#/Apple/demographics

There is lots more to look at – for instance Android users are seemingly very left wing while computer scientists are middle aged men who eat a lot of chicken.

The year of Linux on the desktop?


KDE 4 Current version: 4.7 Older versions: 4.0...
KDE 4 Current version: 4.7 Older versions: 4.0 beta 2, 4.0 beta 3, 4.0 beta 4, 4.0 RC2, 4.0 final, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6 (see file history) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many who work or research in the industry, desktop computers have an “end of history” feel about them.

The improvements in technology that allow chip makers to double the number of transistors in a given area of silicon every 18 – 24 months are still there but “Moore’s Law” as we understand it – ie., that computers will get twice as fast every 18 – 24 months – has broken down. We simply cannot power the chips (or rather keep them cool while supplying them with the power they need) and while parallelisation (ie “manycore”) means manufacturers can lower power demands and, to some extent, keep the speed of machines rising, it too is hitting a fundamental barrier – the inability of commodity hardware to supply instructions and data from memory fast enough to serve many more than 4 – 8 cores.

All this suggests that we might be close to “peak desktop” or to put it another way, the desktop computer you have now is not much slower than the one you will have in ten years time (unless, that is, you shell out quite a lot more for some fancy memory architecture or some other technological advance changes the rules.)

But what I think is clear is that you will have a desktop computer in a decade’s time, though it may look a bit more like today’s laptops: smaller, lighter, devices are going to be easier to deliver than faster ones. Tablets and other small form factor devices are useful for browsing the internet or writing a 140 character message, but who they are not the ideal devices for writing a 5, 10 or 100 page document on.

But if we are only going to buy one or at most two new desktop devices in the next decade then the business model of Microsoft – which still utterly dominates this space – is broken. No new desktops means no new sales of Office, the big money spinner for Microsoft.  Their response has been to compete for tablet and phone sales with Apple, though they start from a long way behind and, now, to lever their near-monopoly on general-use operating systems to seize control of all of the software on desktop.

Their plan to demand complete control over the desktop may yet fall foul of the regulators – it is difficult to see the European Commission nodding this one through, for instance. But there are other responses available.

Microsoft got clobbered in two ways when they previously tried to lock up one aspect of the software ecosystem – the browser. For sure, regulators put the squeeze on, but long before then users developed a far more effective way of breaking free – they switched to Mozilla Firefox.

Now the battle is much bigger. Microsoft are not just trying to control your browser, but all the other software on your machine. They will say they will still let others manufacture software and they are just supplying quality control – but would you really agree to the only books being available for sale those that were approved by Amazon (sadly, the evidence from the ebook market suggests that many of you would!)?

And what if Windows 9 removes all support for non-approved software (no doubt in the name of virus suppression or trojan elimination?) The behaviour of Apple fanatics shows there are plenty willing to welcome their new all-controlling overlords. But there is an alternative – whisper it – Linux on the desktop.

Now that very phrase – “Linux on the desktop” – has an internet meme-like jokey feel to it. It’s the gallows humour phrase of the free software world. If Linus Torvalds were ever to be led to the scaffold for crimes against intellectual property robber barons his last words would no doubt be “this is the year of Linux on the desktop” – but maybe the moment has come to find a generation of “second adopters” who are willing to break out of Microsoft’s jail?

The pace of development of the Linux kernel has not slowed, but there is a less excited feel to it all these days: Thermidor came to this revolution some time ago, but that is also a sign of its maturity.

After all, there is still no stopping an idea whose time has come.

Should we all be worried by Windows 8?


Graph of typical Operating System placement on...
Image via Wikipedia

It is not so long ago that I wrote here that Microsoft were no longer the enemies of free software. News I have read today makes me wonder if I was worse than premature in that judgement.

Allegedly, Microsoft are proposing to make it more or less impossible to boot your computer with any software other than that which they supply or subsequently authorise, by tightly linking a computer’s BIOS to booting software.

This sort of proposal was first kicked around by MS when they launched their “secure computing initiative” about a decade or so ago – at the time when the number of virus and trojan attacks against their operating systems (which tended to be run by users with root/admin privileges) was big news internationally (I remember one afternoon the whole of the Welsh Assembly’s computer network being taken down by the ‘love bomb’ email virus).

There was a big hoo hah about the proposal then and it went away – but now it is back and is set to be a core part of the forthcoming Windows 8. The signs, so far, are that Microsoft are not taking legitimate concerns about the proposal seriously.

Dennis Ritchie


Unix creator Dennis Ritchie
Image via Wikipedia

Dennis Ritchie, the inventor of the C programming language and the Unix operating system, has died.

If great men stand on the shoulders of giants, then Ritchie was one of the greatest giants of all.

Unix (including Mac OSX), Linux and Windows were or are written in C. (In Windows’s case it has now moved on to C++, a direct descendant of C). Your iPhone‘s operating system iOS is written in ObjectiveC which, as the name suggests, is also a derivative of the great man’s work.

In your face, fan bois


Image representing Safari as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

There is something very annoying about Apple users: they pay twice as much as the rest of us for stuff and then think that they are the clever and cool ones. How does that work?

Well, here’s some bad news for them: their browser is almost certainly broken.

If you look at the graphs on this post, you can see that Safari seems to get worse with every iteration – the opposite to the way Internet Explorer and Firefox are going.

Ha ha.

That is all.

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