Input Output Errors

Ever have one of those days where your PC is screaming “upgrade me?” I think mine is heading in that direction, but not without a real fight first. Yesterday I was thrilled to see that I was able to do a clean install of my OS without any troubles, largely because I keep my user data on a separate partition. Then things started going wrong. Input/output errors during boot, then the same when I again tried to re-install yet again.

I clean the DVD burner with an approved CD cleaner and use another unrelated disk for an installation attempt. Again, part of the way through the install, some stupid input/output error. From what I am able to tell, it could mean a bad DVD/CD drive or possibly, although I deem it as unlikely, a bad hard drive. Then again, the hard drive was tossing those same errors at me at first, so maybe it is.

So here we are, because I am on a time crunch and do not have time to troubleshoot the hardware — new hard drive/DVD-CD drive, new cables for each and hell, I am even using different controllers! The result — I am still seeing input/output errors on ISO images brand new that have tested today as working on other PCs.

I am about to do a test install with Windows to see what might be going on, even though clearly, this is something down the chain of hardware as the drives, cables and CDs all check out. I am ready to scream at this point as I receive yet another reminder why my blood presure was so high back in my PC repair days. Seriously, this is ridiculous…

A Few Words (Well, A Lot, Really) To The Linux Crowd

Over the past few weeks I’ve been fooling around with several Linux distributions (distros).  For those who don’t know, “Linux” is a core operating system (kernel), around which various programming teams have built a variety of interfaces.  Linux itself is a variant of Unix, basis of the Mac OS and a number of others.  Thus, all the Linux distros — Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Red Hat, Debian, Linspire, Freespire, gOS and several dozen others — all share the same core and are, in fact, close cousins of each other and of the Mac as well.

Why all the variations?  Because every geek or group of geeks out there thinks they know the best way to set up an operating system to control a computer and get business done.  Some concentrate on remaining small and simple.  Others try to emulate the look and feel of Windows.  Some are approached via a graphic user interface (GUI) like Windows, and some use a command line approach similar to the Windows “Run” command, that involves entering arcane bits of codes and abbreviations in order to communicate with the machine.  Most involve both to one degree or another.

Frankly, all that geeky stuff leaves me cold — me, and probably 98 or 99% of the computer users out there.  We don’t have time to fool with it, and most of us couldn’t care less whether a folder is called My Computer, Home, or C3PO.  We just want to interact with our machines and check our email, send IMs, create, manipulate, store and transfer documents, send photos of the grandkids, download porn, read and create blogs, and all the other simple things that make computing handy and fun.

I know: in reality, none of those things are simple, but we want them to seem simple.  We don’t go out to the driveway and connect wires beneath the dashboard to start our cars (well, most of us don’t) and we want our interactions with the cyberworld to be just as painless as cranking up the Prius and driving 500 yards to the market, saving gas all the way.

It’s clear, however, that Micro$oft has fallen down on its job of providing us with the necessary improvements in our computing environments.  Windows is too big, too buggy, and is simply not up to doing some of the jobs that newer applications and computers are asking.  It uses basic programming that goes back to 1993, when its core (NT) was first published, and the uncontrolled bloat that has occurred since is clearly seen in Vista, which won’t even run on most older or smaller computers, and doesn’t run really well on any.

The small, stable Unix/Linux kernel seems to be the answer, unless Google has an alternative up its sleeve.  Thus the rush by developers to get a version of Linux out that is comfortable for the average user.  In several cases they’re really close to achieving that, but there is one problem — a perceptual one — that even the most polished versions have yet to get past: geekthink.

Geekthink is the misconception that the rest of the world thinks like a programmer; that they intuitively know things that are second nature to geekdom.

This leads to “obvious” things like calling folders “Home” instead of “My Computer,” referring to “easily obtainable by alt-get,” “are you root,” and stuff like that.  They can’t seem to get it through their heads that noobies like me need to be led by the hand. We need everything explained, step-by-step, in excruciating detail.

People who think like programmers and who are still able to understand how to break information down into bits digestible by non-geeks are few and far between.  What the Linux community needs is people who can look at their efforts from an outsider’s point of view, say “this isn’t intuitive; it needs fixing,” and be listened to.

Case in point: the Grub loader.  It’s an elegant little piece of work, but no one outside the programming community knows how to use it, unless they took the trouble to do a lot of research and read through a lot of geekspeak to find out.  Grub is the program that allows you to have Linux on the same computer or drive as Windows — which most newcomers will prefer.  We want to try the distro out, get our feet wet slowly, before we marry it by buying a Linux-based computer or installing it as our only operating system.  We need to learn how virtualization works — ahead of time.  We need to learn the terminology.  It would be nice to know which apps on the new OS are equivalent to things like Notepad, Wordpad and the Task Manager — and how they differ.

Grub makes that possible.  But the programmers miss out on little things.  They seem to assume, for example, that I will want to switch my PC on and have it boot into Linux, so they make that the default.  Now, if I want Windows, I have to wait fifteen or twenty seconds.  Then I have 10 seconds to tell Grub that I want Windows, or I’ll get Linux whether I want it or not.  If I don’t want it to work that way, I have to perform a precarious task equivalent to editing the Windows Registry, if I can find instructions that I can understand.

Furthermore, if you want to remove most distros from your computer, you have to format the partition they’re on, first digging into Windows and getting rid of Grub so that you won’t get errors that prevent you from booting at all without a boot disc.

Now, there is absolutely no reason that Windows couldn’t be the default, just as there is no reason that Linux should have to be installed into its own partition on a drive — thus opening another can of worms.  How do we know that?  Because Ubuntu, of all the distros I’ve tried (about a dozen) has a installer called WUBI that installs the complete Ubuntu OS, with all its bells and whistles, into a folder on the drive of a Windows machine just like installing an ordinary program. Want shed of Linux?  Uninstall it, using Add or Remove Programs or your other favorite uninstaller.  I don’t know how it does that, AND I DON’T NEED TO KNOW.  It just works.

So listen up, programmers: if you want your systems adopted outside your own little crowd of self-congratulatory byte-heads, make it idiot proof, and easy to use. Regardless of what seems to be an elitist attitude that users should have to pay their dues or something silly like that, you have to face reality.

We ain’t payin’ no dues.  There is a good reason why Ubuntu is kicking other distros all the way to the curb amongst the non-cognoscenti: it’s nearly idiot-proof, and getting closer every day.  Even Freespire is a PITA in comparison.  Ubuntu can use CNR too, ya know.  If you want success in the distro race, the formula is simple. Learn to think like beginners.  Build interfaces for beginners.  Find the few amongst you who can achieve “beginner mind,” and let them write voluminous help files covering every aspect of the system, from plugging in the box to running Photoshop in a virtual machine.

Or buy a canoe, because you guys are well on the way to missing the boat.

Mojave Windows – Boy Were Some People Feeling Silly

I do not say this often, but in this instance the move to prove a point by Microsoft was nothing short of brilliant. By offering users a chance to try the new “Mojave” operating system in a controlled setting, MS was sure to prove a point that many of their employees have been championing all along – Vista was not that bad. This experiment has apparently, shown that many people took to the new OS almost instantly.

Truth be told, today’s Vista is just an OS. I own a copy of Ultimate and found it to be no more compelling than my Ubuntu releases or my wife’s Mac. Again, it’s and OS – so what? And it is with this that I believe that a point has made on behalf of Microsoft, that most people who have never even tried the release, now realize that the issues of the past have largely been dealt with. It may still not be the fastest thing to run in the world, but it is not going to be as bad as many people have reported it to be in the past. Vista does what it is designed to do well enough. It provides the security enhancements over XP as promised.

So while I have heard some people charge that Microsoft has done little more than make themselves feel better, I would point out that they may have actually proven that this latest release might prove to be just fine by the casual user. What say you? XP forever? Waiting for Windows 7? Loving Vista? Using Ubuntu (like me)? Apple of forget it? Hit the comments, share your experiences.

Ubuntu At Best Buy?

Wow, this certainly surprised me. Today I found out that Ubuntu Linux is now being sold at Best Buy online and even at some stores. And normally I would say this is great, except there is a problem – what the heck is Ubuntu “complete” edition? To my knowledge, Canonical (owner of the copyrights and trademarks for Ubuntu) never provided any arrangement with ValuSoft. Because if it was true that Canonical had struck a deal with Best Buy, it would potentially overshadow the news we once saw with the Ubuntu/Dell deal.

So how widely available is it? Apparently, it is available in town here in Vancouver, WA – at three stores in the area. This is huge right? Not so fast. Best Buy mysteriously has not listed this in the same category as OS X or Windows. In other words, the OS I run everyday all day is not listed as an operating system. Well, let me correct that. It both is and is not. It is assuming you use the search feature to look for Ubuntu or Linux. But it is not if you browse to operating systems.

Here is where I see the problem. As you can see from the apparent box used, this “Ubuntu” release is going to see its fair share of frustrated users as it is not sharing the fact that Linux behaves very differently than other operating systems. There are some hardware vendors who have worked very hard at ensuring that there will never be Linux support with their products. So many existing notebooks using Broadcom chipsets or odd-ball video/audio chipsets are going to send new users into panic mode fast. Help is on the way through Youtube among other venues, but unfortunately people stumbling upon this Valusoft release will be mislead into thinking that migrating is a snap.

What do you think? Did Valuesoft use Ubuntu without getting trademark permission first or is Canonical trying a covert experiment with marketing while using Valuesoft as a test vendor for distribution? Hit the comments.

Bill Gates On Windows Usability

Right up front, there are a couple of things to consider about this Bill Gates rant.

  1. The email written by Bill Gates was done in 2003.
  2. He is speaking about frustration with a select problem, so do not take this as him giving up on Windows altogether.

What got me thinking were these words being muttered from the man himself.


I am quite disappointed at how Windows Usability has been going backwards and the program management groups don’t drive usability issues.  

Wow, this speaks volumes as to the frustration Bill must have been dealing with when trying to work with Windows Movie Maker, an application that is supposed to be user friendly. Still, there is an alarming item that we all ought to be looking into is the concern over general Windows usability. This alone is something that to this day, I believe is going largely unaddressed with Windows. Not saying OS X or Linux is any better in this dept, but perhaps an indicator that the almighty dollar has lost this match and even Bill Gates himself is finding himself frustrated with shortcuts taken to rush deadlines.

When In Doubt – Start Over

In the past, I have talked about my thoughts on Microsoft Surface technology, acknowledging how well it would fit into kiosk type duties with companies such as AT&T. But when I heard about a possible Surface “Sphere“, I about lost it. Now obviously most people have pointed out that technology such as this is not really practical in the home or office. We are brought up these days to use a keyboard and a mouse in our computing lives. Yet at the same time, there was a time not all that long ago when the idea of a mouse was just plain silly. I see a home based Surface Sphere facing the same challenge and opportunity.

Contrary to what others have said in the past, I do not believe that the concept of the Surface computing platform is to outwardly replace Windows, compete with OS X or even overthrow Linux as the star-filled newcomer. No, I see this as something of a 10-15 year venture. I am talking about creating the next “mouse” so to speak. This is where I believe Microsoft is headed which in reality, leaves other computing platforms as a moot point. There is no competition because it is not likely the focus for MS…yet.

What do you think? After fully realizing that Microsoft knows full well that in this day in age users are not really ready to lose the keyboard/mouse combination all at once, do you suspect that Microsoft will be using future Windows releases to slowly warm us up to using new and exciting ways of interacting with our PCs using touch?

Vista and Leopard – You Gotta Ask Why?

Reader Don Naphen made a comment about an interesting article over at PC Magazine in which the writer was critical of the new Apple operating system Leopard. There was also some comparisons made between Vista and Leopard, which makes for interesting reading. Though I do not use an Apple system, I can not comment on whether the writer is correct or not in his assumptions about the new OS. But after reading this article and having also used Vista from beta to its final release, one question does come to mind for both operating systems. Why?

The first part of the ‘Why’ question is easy to answer. Both Microsoft and Apple make bundles of cash on a new operating system which in theory should, in my opinion, make using a computer easier and provide for a more pleasurable user experience. One could argue that by adding eye candy to the system and making a new OS sparkle on our screens can be considered more ‘pleasurable’. With this in mind, one can conclude that both Microsoft and Apple have succeeded in this. I am the first to admit that in my experience using both Vista and XP, Vista by far is more eye pleasing. It would appear from reading the article from PC Mag that Leopard for the most part is more eye applealing than Tiger. Again, I don’t use an Apple system and can only base this assumption on what others write.

The second part of the ‘Why’ is hard to define. Moving things around on a system that we have all become familiar with  makes no sense to me. I would imagine that those who work on a new operating system may feel that by moving things around, changing the appearance of icons and adding more menu items to a system which requires a user to click more is a vast improvement over a previous OS. Imagine if you would , going down to buy a new car and finding that the gas and brake peddles on the vehicle have been reversed. When you question the salesperson as to the ‘Why’ you are given an answer that the engineers felt that this new design would enhance your driving experience. Huh? Another new feature we have added is when you turn the steering wheel to the left the vehicle will automatically make a right turn for you. Needless to say that these added new features will add a definite “WOW” to your driving experience.

I am not writing this with the purpose to continue the argument about keeping XP or upgrading to Vista, nor if one should upgrade from Tiger to Leopard. But rather as an observation that just because something is new, doesn’t automatically make it better. The decision to use any OS is best left to you and what you prefer using. Whether a person writes something good or something bad about an OS, the final decision on what is best for you can only be made by you and you alone. :-)

Comments welcome.

PC Mag article here.

[tags]microsoft, apple, xp, vista, leopard, tiger, operating systems, good, bad,  [/tags]

Regain Control Over Vista's UAC

I have to admit, while the fact that Microsoft is endorsing this does little to boost my confidence, the fact this that if I was running a Vista network of workstations, this product would likely be on each machine. Overall impressions have been good with BeyondTrust™ Privilege Manager and let’s be honest, there is something to be said about taking a more proactive stance on Windows security than what we are seeing alone on the UAC front alone.

What are your thoughts, specifically those of you otherwise content with your Windows Vista experience? Would a software solution like the one above, honestly help to make UAC a lesser hassle for the average user of a workstation? Hit the comments, tell me what you think.

[tags]Vista, operating systems, security[/tags]


Widgets are everywhere, and you don’t have to look very hard to find them. They’re already on operating systems, Web sites, and software, and this content revolution has only just begun. Widgets provide a great way to personalize what’s already yours, and you’ve surely seen them all over MySpace and on various blogs. We’re all pummeled with so much information, and it’s nice to be able to consume these bite-sized servings of content rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet at certain times. Besides video, audio seems to be one of the most popular types of widgets around, and Sonific encourages you to embed selections from their catalog of songs right onto your Web page.

Sonific has built up a nice collection of independent music, and they’ve gained most of their artists from CD Baby. You shouldn’t come here expecting to be able to grab tracks from major label artists, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t find some good tunes. If you or your visitors enjoy what is being heard, then you can find out more about the song and even take steps to purchase the album. Not only is the player attractive, but song playback seems to take place almost instantly, and this makes the service even more appealing. What will you listen to today?

[tags]Sonific, Widgets, Operating Systems, Web Sites, Software, Personalize, MySpace, Independent Music, CD Baby[/tags]

It's Back – Linux Fanatics Part Deux

It took some time and a whole lot of love for the various distributions, but after working on some logistical issue with Chris Pirillo, considering my options with trying to launch, we have instead opted to relaunch Linux Fanatics with me at the helm.

The most recent articles are up and I will be putting up new how-to content on a near daily basis. Chris and I believe this will help to take on the desire to get Linux questions answered, but to do so in a dedicated channel, much like we have Windows Fanatics.

So if you have questions regarding Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Simply Mepis, Linspire/Freespire or PCLinuxOS, don’t hesitate to ask so we can get your questions answered over at Linux Fanatics.

Still want more? Keep up with Matt’s latest thoughts over at his own Lockergnome Blog!

[tags]Linux,technology help, operating systems[/tags]