Holiday work planning

For the IT stuff the weekends and holidays are often the times of full work when infrastructure needs to be changed or updated. During these times there are less users affected. I don't say none because I know companies where there is nearly always somebody working.

I wish everyone a relaxed set of holidays and my special wishes go to those who have to work.

For those who will do major changes during these days, remember to plan in time and check the availability of required suppliers in case something unexpected happens!


IT investment required

I hear a lot of news about companies laying off employees.

They use the financial crisis as an opportunity to do something that they should have done earlier: Simplifying organization and increasing the efficiency work flows. In addition to that they follow another general "hype": The rush to achieve more with less people (who are even less trained).

So, companies want to have a few very productive apes working for a banana.

The challenge: Companies must invest in the appropriate IT infrastructure to be able doing more with less. But "investment required" is something that companies do not want to hear right now...


Apple worse than Microsoft?

The Apple iPhone is currently one of the most wanted gimmicks as far as I noticed. And I had the opportunity to test it:
  • Design: There is no doubt that Apple has a good feeling for design - even if there is nothing particular on the iPhone. Basically it's just a rectangular brick similar to other mobile devices. But anyway, it feels good in the hand. But also talking about the GUI. At least a technical versatile person like me gets familiar quickly with it (and I am not a Mac user). However, there are also some critics: In some cases - contacts for instance - while dealing with contacts (looking up information for instance) you may accidently call a person. Further I would like to have the possibility to "officially" close the last Safari browser window (when I press the single real button on the phone I return to the main menu but I never feel sure that browsing is really stopped then).

  • Keyboard: However, a basic important instrument - the touchpad keyboard - has quite small keys and as I do not feel boundaries of keys on the touchpad I had typos all the time. This is really annoying.

  • Phone: The first thing I noticed: You can't use the phone if you did not first plugged it into a PC or Mac with iTunes installed. Hell, I only have Linux at home! Luckily my parents and my company notebook still have Windows installed. The phone speech quality was very good in the few tests I did - even using the hands-free mode (speaker) showed a good quality. I really wondered when I noticed that I cannot use an existing mp3 as ringtone. Apple really wants me to buy a ringtone from their store! - Luckily there are services helping to get around this silly limitation.

  • Browsing: Web browsing is not so annoying because the screen is quite large, you can zoom with the fingers and you can view a site also in landscape mode on the screen. GMail (or Google in general - was also easy to read my blog) is very optimized for mobile devices. Yahoo already less, many other sites worse.

  • Applications: There is a large set of applications available, many very useful ones available for free. Backdraft: You need an Apple ID for getting those (without dirty hacks) which you can get only if you provide your credit card information (no, I don't have a credit card) or your bank account information. Why that if I am not going to buy anything?

  • Synchronization: Synchronization of contacts can be done under Windows basically with Outlook, Yahoo and Google contacts (there was something else I don't remember yet). Calendar can only be synched with Outlook. In general these choices are poor. No Thunderbird synchronization and in general - as iTunes does not run on Linux - no synchronization features on Linux. Although there are some people who hacked it and there should be some possibility, but I didn't try that.

  • Usability in general: Once you got a little familiar, it is an efficient phone and mobile device. They have realized some very creative and good UI elements striving your finger(s). These can be used very efficiently. However, I still think that real keys do have advantages. Real keys could be either smaller being better to use because you feel the key boundaries. As long as you use the internal calendar you can be fine, I tried to use Google Calendar (through the Safari web browser) and it was very easy to lookup the appointments of the next days but very annoying to create a new one. Would have been faster writing the appointment onto a piece of paper and add it later on a real computer. Similar experience for taking notes or surfing on websites. So it's still (as other mobile devices) no real alternative to a real computer - no chance regarding productivity.
I have to say that I am not a fan of the business strategies of Microsoft (at least from the moral point of view) but my experience with Apple is even worse than Microsoft. I even tested an iPod about a week ago with similar experiences. They try to force me using their software as Microsoft does. They only support Microsoft products where really definitely necessary to sell their hardware to a larger amount of people. They don't support Linux. I read from people trying to get an iPod working with Linux complaining about encrypted firmware for instance. I probably also never understand, why a multimedia application (iTunes) holds and manages firmware and drivers for a piece of hardware. But worst, they urge me to provide them credit card information or a bank account even before they let me install the free stuff. But once they have the information they give me a lot of options what I can buy with just one click away (don't give such a phone to your kids!). When trying the iPod with Linux I could mount the iPod but the folder structure was quite strange and copying files there did not make them show up on the iPod - only with Songbird I was able to put a piece of music there. Why the hell? If I already can mount it why isn't it enough to copy something there? It could have been so simple...

Related post: Why Linux?.


The sad thing about Linux...

...is that it does not run on every hardware.

No matter, what operating system you use - or more general - whatever piece of software you are using, there are always downsides.

For Linux there are also several downsides but the most annoying downside is that I have to take good care of the hardware I am choosing.

Last weekend I tried a Fedora 10 Live CD on two separate machines and on none of the two I got to a login screen. I could have investigated the issues but then I decided that it would be less problematic to just try to solve the particular problem the user faced with his Vista.

Although I was very annoyed with some flaws (although considered as features in Vista) and although it ended up in a lot of software uninstallation (shipped by the vendor of the notebook) replacing with other components that work better, I am sure that fixing the major hardware issues for the Linux would have been much more trickier.

Further last week I tried to get an iPod nano to work with my Linux at home. As it did not work in an instant I started searching and finally found out that there are some models coming with a particular firmware version that only works in combination with iTunes (refusing to work with GtkPod or comparable applications). I noticed that there are either USB sticks that are not certified to be compatible with Linux. Didn't try one of those but already the fact that it's not written either on the package I am quite sure that the vendor isn't either.

A lot of hardware that is not (well) supported out of the box there are often specific tools and drivers available somewhere (my NVidia graphic board at home was such a case). I can fix this in some cases although not an expert on Linux.

However I cannot assume that users not familiar with computers can fix such issues themselves. Let's assume that a user bought a computer with preinstalled Linux and now buys an iPod or a new cheap photo printer or whatever other hardware piece that promises to be connected via USB and that's it in many cases. And in other cases it comes with a CD containing a double-click setup with a colorful wizard and all done. Yes, it is not always working on Windows anyway but my experience is that the probability is much higher that your new piece of hardware runs without problems under Windows than under Linux.

When the hardware is supported then the system runs in general more stable and more fluently under Linux. But I guess vendors do not want to take the risk and therefore they ship their machines with Windows. If they would put Linux on their machines (if the hardware is supported) the risk is that users bring the computer back angry because their newly bought iPod or Photo printer is not working with it.

Related posts: The good, the bad and the ugly, The operating system, Ubuntu compatible hardware, The Dell Latitude 2110 and Ubuntu 10.04.1.


My application set on Windows

For work I am using a notebook with Windows 2003 Server (which I need for developing with several server applications and in combination with several virtual machines running on that host depending on what I do).

In the last years I tried to reduce commercial closed-source products and replace them with others (free and - where possible - open source). Here is the list of free software pieces I use most:
I use others, but these are my most used free applications and tools under Windows.

Related post: Why Linux?.


Sunlight at the end of the tunnel

In the last years I have developed more and more on myself instead of using 3rd party components. I have tried to minimize the use of 3rd party tools and components because I can't fix issues for myself in mostly closed-source components (in the realm of specific applications there is not much open source yet). I would have used more of those 3rd party components if I would have experienced good support.

Unfortunately many companies try to sell you a cardboard box with some nice stuff and they don't want to bother with you any more. This is also due to license based sales systems. Although there are some exceptions, especially very big companies with license based sales are not interested any more in serving you. Companies rely on big advertising and big marketing events instead of getting recommended by users due to good service.

Often there is a lot of color and a lot of gushing and self-adulation and I hate it. Even on trade fairs I could really find much value. For the last year I was completely avoiding any of such events.

Yesterday I have been the first time at a local event of Sun Microsystems. Before I have only been on events from Microsoft. And it was a completely different experience:
  • There were only few people there (it was not one of those mega-events known from Microsoft) and the presentations were completely free of self-adulation focusing on the content.

  • The technical strategies presented attracted me, everything seemed to be clear and well designed. I could feel the underlying experience.

  • The sales model was explained in about 10 minutes (there are companies where you need a special course to understand the licensing models). And you can either get support for some related 3rd party products directly at Sun.

  • The presenters had a detailed background and technical knowledge.

  • I could get in touch with all relevant persons and they answered all my questions. They explained me where I missed some underlying basic know how. They were available for more than an hour after the event.

  • I got the E-Mail addresses of all presenters for questions that come up later. Sales already got back to me with answers to other questions.
So I feel better and full of hope that there are still companies who are interested in providing good services. If Sun keeps what such events promise subscribing to their services is value for money.

Related post: The dawn after sunset.