Category Archives: High Tech

Gadgets, gizmos, and other fun stuff

Random tech thoughts

On the IT front, I was thinking about my last company when they decided to lock down everyone’s computer by removing admin access to it. I managed to bypass that with local accounts at the time, but looking at it in hindsight I had some thoughts. First, I can state that I could do their job. I know I can, I’ve done it, and I’ve had IT people come and ask me for help (especially in UNIX environments). Second, I can state that they can’t do my job. I know they can’t, they don’t have the programming and design skills to implement software.

Those two statements form the basis of my thought on this: why are IT people making decisions about my work computer? They are distinctly not qualified to determine what facilities I need or don’t need and, from that basis, should keep their hands off of the machine. Now, in my current company, this is the case, but that is not the most common of situations and that is despite the fact that we can indisputably say that the guy making the decision is unqualified.

I realize that people will say that it’s not my computer, it belongs to the company. This is true, but IT doesn’t run the company, even if they think they do. Their job is to provide the facilities that I require to perform my job. It is not their job to decide what facilities I require, I decide that, that’s why I’m in the role. Now, if some IT person is willing to come by and categorically demonstrate that they can do my job, I will concede their right to decide. Until then, I expect them to keep off my machine.

Now on to the Google OS… Google, if you’re not aware, is taking their plans a little further beyond their regular realm to challenge Microsoft in a more direct manner: the desktop. Of course, this isn’t all that new, the open source world and Apple have been trying to do the same thing and haven’t even come close to succeeding. Google may also join them in that, but they may not, here’s why:

1. They don’t have to invest huge resources to this. The bulk of the work is based on the Linux kernel and the surrounding platform, notably Ubuntu as the base. Google has massive Linux expertise, their platform runs on it.

2. Google understands “easy” in the same way Apple does. Apple’s OS X is a UNIX platform, but the majority of users really don’t know that and don’t care. It runs, it’s point and click, and they don’t have to dig into the nuts and bolts. Google dethroned Yahoo, amongst others, with a single input box. That’s all. It’s at the point that their name is now a verb.

3. Name, that’s a good one as well. Google is probably as well known as Microsoft, it may in some senses be even more well known. There are people that have no clue what operating system is on their computer, but they do know that if they need to find something, they go to Google. Yes, Apple has huge name recognition, but probably more for the iPod and iPhone than computers these days and Apple is all or nothing, you have to buy both the computer and the operating system and it isn’t cheap. Apple is substantially more expensive than others.

4. That leads to price: free. Not going to happen in Redmond or Cupertino.

5. Money is also a factor and Google has it. This is pretty key, while Apple has certainly increased the coinage over the last several years thanks to the aforementioned iPod and iPhone, they haven’t really invested in their computing platform. Google has cash coming out every opening and they aren’t selling hardware or, for that matter, the operating system. They’re selling services and they can advertise those like crazy, you just need to buy that nice little system from Acer running their free operating system.

6. History repeats itself. There was a time when most people sat down in front of a dumb terminal and ran all of their applications on a bigger computer, sharing resources and software with other users. Today, they call that “cloud computing” and Google is heavily invested in it, but they aren’t alone, so is Microsoft. The concept is simple, you don’t install the software on your machine, you use it over the network. Google apps are popular and are being used by business, so there is a real potential for their operating system, nicely designed to work with all of that, to make real grounds.

7. That comes back to price again… Microsoft is expensive. They do have value, I’m not an open source fanatic that fails to see that, but it isn’t cheap. The problem I see is that their cost may be exceeding their value and I think Microsoft is seeing that too. Their actions in recent history certainly seem to indicate a shift in their thinking, especially with embracing more standards and the whole concept of Azure, they may be getting it.

8. Getting it. The 800 pound gorilla can be toppled, just look at IBM. IBM didn’t get it, they saw software as a loss-leader, a way to sell hardware. Microsoft got it, hardware had bad margins, software had huge margins. Take away the source code, sell the binaries, make a mint. Microsoft has certainly made a mint, they have revenue that exceeds many countries. However, some software is really not that important, it has to do certain things and that’s it, other software is what matters, and so the operating system is really not that important from the user perspective and it shouldn’t be. If you have to pay attention to it, something wasn’t done right. Google sees this as an avenue and it may well exist. The average user just wants to web browse, send emails, play around on Facebook, chat with friends, and play the odd game (maybe). None of that is the operating system.

The shift is happening, Google gets it. So, to succeed, they really have to hope Microsoft doesn’t.

An interesting subject on Slashdot: hostnames

Naming servers on a network is always an interesting debate in technology circles, but the Slashdot discussion on it shows something distinct between IT guys and those of us who code for a living.

In my current company, and the one previous, it is pretty obvious that the developers had some control over the naming scheme for servers. In the last company, the convention was “birds or things that fly” and so we had kestral, dragon, etc. I was, oddly enough, the one that broke that scheme. The first machine that I set up I called phantom and won the argument on the basis that ghosts fly. The second machine didn’t even come close, I called it toontown because I had watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit the night before. I just carried on from there, though the best was probably “frankensparc” because it was a Sun Ultra 5 with a drive caddy that we used to switch environments as we need them. Ultimately, IT got involved and machines started to get named as “ads-dev1″ and “corp-fssrv1″ and so forth.

In my current company, we named the machines after comic book characters, the first being spidey, then wolverine, hellboy, and beyond. This was my idea, but I have to give the crown for naming over to a friend and co-worker when he came up with mystique, magneto, and mysterio for QA test machines. It just fit. Later on, as we moved into the 64-bit arena, there was a desire to “update” the naming scheme and the model was futuristic science with the first being called quantum. Interestingly enough, there hasn’t been any since and we still have our comic book heroes and villains doing the heavy lifting. Now, despite all of that, IT has gotten involved with their naming convention as well. From this, we have the exciting names of “adfs-srv” and “avmail1″ as examples of the outcome. Notice a trend here?

In my home domain I’m both the developer and the admin (and, yes, it is admin when you have more than 13 machines, including rack mounted servers, on a highspeed network). My domain is a mixed bag of Linux, UNIX, Mac OS, Windows, etc. However, the machines are named for species of cats, big or small. So, I have lion, leopard, puma, sabertooth, etc. Heck, I even named my printer “cheetah” because it’s a sprinter!

The difference I’m trying to highlight should be obvious by now: IT is boring. Yes, the naming conventions IT create tend to make sense and there is value in that, but it lacks character. It lacks, really, esprit de corps. Nobody cares, or remembers, a machine called “adfs-srv” that provides shared file systems. They do, however, remember that “wolverine” is where to get, and see, the latest build in action, or “hellboy” is where you get the official releases. Yes, the name “wolverine” doesn’t have a direct meaning to what we do, but it sticks out and is remembered. More importantly, it means something to people because it is a real name, a machine that can be themed. How do you theme avmail1? You don’t.

As a side note, my desktop at the office is called “revenant” and my laptop is “ghost” as a gesture to the first server, phantom, that I ever installed. I’m in a fortunate position (being employee #3) that I get to install my machine and name it what I want. Otherwise it would be something exciting like “johnpc-dev” or the like. You tell me what you would prefer…

Net effect, if you want esprit de corps, ignore the advice of IT and come up with something that works for you and is fun. If you want practical and dull, listen to IT. Par for the course, no?