Jamie's Blog

The ramblings of a programmer with a little too much time on his hands

Tag: Rant

Some Things

It’s time for another round of short, seemingly random, topics. Most of these topics could become a full length post, but they’re still only ideas floating around in my head.

Flavour

I often find myself wondering where certain words come from, or how we ended up with certain phrases. “As long as a piece of string,” for example. It’s one of the many things that interest me about languages and linguistics.

For instance, I received an e-mail at work today that said:

ニンジン味のポタトチップス

To those unversed in reading Japanese, it says “Carrot [sic] flavoured potato chips”

One of the guys I work with saw this and emailed it to me. The first thing that struck me was the strange use of Katakana to spell out “ninjin”. I wont lie to you, I had to look  up what ninjin was, simply because it was spelled out in Katakana.

Katakana is one of the 4 scripts used in Japanese typography (along with Hiragana, Kanji and Romaji). Katakana is used, almost exclusively, to spell out foreign words.

Once I’d figured out what ninjin was, my eyes where drawn to the Kanji for flavour (“味”). It’s comprised of two other Kanji (many Kanji are made up of other, simpler Kanji):

口 which means “Mouth” (as it’s a pictogram of an open mouth) and

未 which means a whole bunch of things, the only related one I can think of is “Still” (as in “To stay still”)

To me, this makes sense: if something tastes good, then you’ll want to keep your mouth still to take in the flavour. At least, that’s how I’m going to remember it from now on. Or maybe something like, “The air was so sweet that I decided not to move. Just take in the sensation of the breeze and the warm sunshine against my skin.”

DRM

I promise you that this isn’t going to be a long, boring post on DRM. I’m not even going to go into the specifics of what it is. There are pluses and minuses to DRM. It’s a kind of marmite, in that it divides people straight down the middle.

Some wont get that reference. Marmite is said to be the quintessential “love it  or hate it” product. There, apparently, is no middle ground when it comes to yeast extract.

DRM is good from a content producer’s point of view. You’re protecting your investment (either time, effort or money) from those who want access to it for free. Most “content sponges” (a phrase coined by James Portnow of “Extra Creditz“) don’t see it this way, and get upset at the very mention of it. True, it does get in the way of you enjoying a product. In fact, there’s a (years old) image doing the rounds this week on Google+ that goes a little like this:

I agree with this image, but not with the idea's it promotes

I agree with this image, but not with the idea's it promotes

The only thing wrong with this image, in my opinion, is that it promotes piracy. Something I cannot get behind. Of course, I love the fact that I can drop in any of my personally compiled DvDs (taken from my legal purchases of the same), or fire up my WDTV and jump straight into the movie. But I also like the idea that the people behind the movie have received some (even if it is very little) payment, indirectly, from me for the the fruit of their labours.

Of course, I can see it from the other side of the argument, too: Just before Christmas, my brother bought me a copy of Sonic Generations for my PC. He (foolishly) bought it from a store, but made a saving on the price (I was as shocked as you are right now, dear reader) as the store was having a sale.

I dropped the DvD into my PC’s Blu-Ray drive, excited to play the game…

I know that being 25, and getting mildly excited about a Sonic the Hedgehog game that, stylistically, goes back to when Sonic was fun to play is seen by some as a bad thing. I don’t really care, though.

I waited for the install procedure to complete, and was asked to enter my CD Key. It turned out that someone had pirated my copy of the game. I got in touch with Steam and they, rather quickly, authorised Sonic Generations on my account. That was only after having proved that I’d bought the game legitimately and having sent them a copy of my brother’s purchase receipt, though.

Typing all of this, I’m reminded of a conversation over at Stack Exchange I read recently, about copy protection and how it’s only a matter of time before someone cracks each protection system.

Once you’ve got the data in memory, it’s been decrypted. It has to be decrypted somewhere along the line, for you to use it. Once the RIAA/MPAA figure that out, we’re buggered.

Health

I’ve been ill this past week. Starting Wednesday, I got a real sore throat. It got so bad that I couldn’t swallow, at one point. I still managed to throw up twice, though. It started out as a sore throat, became some kind of flu, then relaxed back to a sore throat. I even had to have a nap at work… during my lunch hour, though.

If I had access to my work email account, I’d put up the picture that was taken of me, asleep at my desk. It was sent out to a whole bunch of people with the subject header “It’s all go in the office”

Most of my symptoms had gone by the Saturday afternoon, but since then I haven’t been able to hear anything with my right ear. It’s all been muffled and rather strange. I think it’s linked to my Eustachian tube dysfunction.

How was I able to spell Eustachian first time, but then screw up on dysfunction, straight after it?

It might be an infection that’s moved from my throat up to my right-hand Eustachian tube. I’ve been advised by someone at work to get it checked out. The last thing that I want, apparently, is a perforated ear drum.

As you can, no doubt tell, I’m not a medical professional and will be seeking professional, medical advice as soon as an appointment can be booked.

TL;DR

Japanese words. DRM is good, but also bad. I was will

That’s All, For Now

I’ll leave you with this:

How many other songs can you think of that have Tambourine solos?

Remember, “TAMBOURINE SOLO!”

J

I Really Hate When This Happens

Access to this website using a browser other than Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 or later is not allowed. Please use Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 or later to access this website.

But I’m using Linux!

Way to cut a large selection of your user base, idiots!

Even Worse

I hate it more when a compatibility issue happens when you try to log into a website, the log in fails and you’re dumped back at the “Please log in page” with no information as to why it didn’t work.

I’ll tell you why it didn’t work: for some reason, the web developer (the person who built the web page) has blocked access for people who dare to not use Internet Explorer (a program that big security firms in the US recommend that people don’t use).

This is annoying on so many levels, not just because people who aren’t running Windows can’t access the site. But those who are running Windows, but don’t want to suffer with massive security holes in their operating system (at least, the ones caused by Internet Explorer) can’t access the web page either.

This really grinds my gears as I’m from an Unix/Linux background, and am going to be converting back to those systems, soon. This means that I wont be able to access certain websites, or apply for certain jobs because these services are arbritrarily only available to those who use Windows AND Internet Explorer.

Thankfully, the tide is turning, and groups/companies/whatever are being forced to create websites that are not locked down to one system.

Solutions

Why don’t you just use a friend’s computer to access these sites?

The main reason I want to access these sites is, usually, to apply for something or other. Either a job, an account, or even for online banking. I don’t want to use an internet browser that has enough security holes for security firms to advise that people not use it.

Why don’t you use a public access/library/Internet Cafe computer?

See above.

what about emulating Internet Explorer through WINE?

See above.

What about installing compatibility packs for your browser?

Why should I have to install yet more software, just to access websites that are blocking me, on account of not using a buggy, security hole ridden piece of bloat-ware?

There aren’t that many websites that require you to use Internet Explorer, are there?

You’d be surprised. Most (UK based, at least) Universities will only allow access to certain pages or resources if you are either running Internet Explorer; OR running Internet Explorer AND have made some specific changes to the way the operating system handles standard TCP/IP connections.

I’m looking at you, Almer Mater

In Short

Stop denying access to your web service, arbitrarily if users aren’t using Internet Explorer. It’ll affect sales/numbers/whatever metrics you are using, and will cause compatibility issues when you decide to re-design you’re website.

Additional

I was even told yesterday, from an unconfirmed source, that Windows Internet Explorer 9 (and later) has it’s own version of the Java runtime interpreter. This version is a slimmed down, streamlined and shortened version of Sun’s official Java runtime environment. One that is meant to make loading Java apps a lot quicker.

This means that certain commands and calls used in common Java applications (namely: all of them) wont work, and users will be left in that dark as to why. Which means that the developers of the original java apps will be forced to re-write them to work on Windows Explorer 9 (and later), making them incompatible with the actual Java runtime environment… You know, the one that’s installed as part of your Operating System, or on your PS3, or your Tablet, or whatever.

The next big thing for web development is going to be WebGL. This will, basically, allow web developers to write graphically rich web apps (including whole websites) along the same line as the big AAA games. These web apps will be able to run directly on your GPU (Graphic Processing Unit, on your graphics card), making them load and run extremely fast and look, simply, amazing. The problem with this is… well, you can read about it here: link.

J

Digital Distribution

What Is Digital Distribution?

Digital distribution is a method by which producers of content can provide consumers with said content, through a digital medium.

So, digital distribution is a way for you to get that new album or video game or movie without having to leave the house. iTunes, Steam, Netflix, GoG. These are all digital distribution services.

Say I want to buy Scott Pilgrim vs The World (which you totally should, seeing as it’s an awesome movie by my favourite Brit. director), I could go to the local DvD/Blu-Ray store and buy it there (for around £9.99 – £19.99); which is fine. But, say it’s raining, or I haven’t showered, or I just want to watch it right now. All I need to do is fire up iTunes, or Netflix and I can start watching it in minutes (depending on my connection speed and bandwidth).

That, in a nutshell, is digital distribution.

Why Use Digital Distribution?

One reason for using digital distribution is that it’s (almost) instantaneous. Instead of leaving the house, going to the store, buying the product, coming home, and sitting down to use it; you simply click a few buttons and hey presto it’s there.

Another reason is that it’s, typically, cheaper.

Shogun Total War 2 came out recently. It was £34.99 at all the stores I went to, and around £30 from online retailers.

Not bad, considering that was the price on day of release.

Then I looked on Steam (a digital distribution service for video games). It was £29.99.

That’s the same price as the online retailers, isn’t it?

Yes, it is the same price as the online retailers. But the caveat here is that I wouldn’t have to wait for 3 days for it to get to my house. Sure, I’d have to wait for it to download, but that’s only a few hours.

Another example would be “Let Them Talk” by Hugh Laurie.

Not this, again!

Yes, this again.

I’ve talked about this album, online, in many different forms. I really can’t wait for this one. (I’m a big fan of the blues, you see). Anyway, back to the plot.

There’s a plot this year!? Look out

I checked online, and at my local CD store. The average price for pre-ordering this CD would be £9.99. Not bad. Only problem is:

  1. At the store, I’d have to go and get it on day of release (And they’re not that great at holding on to pre-orders, round these parts)
  2. Online, I’d have to wait for it to arrive in the mail.

So, I went away and looked on iTunes. £7.99, and delivered straight to my PC as soon as it’s available in the UK. Technically, I could stay up until midnight the day before and it would download as soon as the time was 00:00 and 1 second.

Pro’s of Digital Distribution

  • Instant transfer of data (depending on your connection speed and bandwidth available)
  • Cheaper (no “middle men” running stores, with high overheads)
  • Ready to go as soon as it finishes downloading (especially in the form of video games, no lengthy installers here)

Con’s of Digital Distribution

  • Depends, entirely on having a stable connection to The Internet
  • You might have to install some middle-ware (iTunes, or Steam for example)
  • Three letters: D. R. M

My ISP

This all brings me, quite neatly, onto the topic of my ISP. My ISP is not the best in the world (they’re certainly not the worst in the world, either). I’m not going to mention them by name. I’m not stupid enough to leave myself open to libel. So, you’ll have to guess what my ISP is called, although the clues I’ll give you (backed up facts) will help you to deduce the name of the ISP.

Connection. Is It Good?

Mine? Terrible. I can be connected to The Internet one day, and not connected the next. Considering that I’m paying a premium to get online, too (around £20 a month, not mention line rental and the phone bill).

It isn’t just the stability of the connection, either. I pay for pretty high speeds, around 10 Mb (remember, that’s megabits, not megabytes), and get a maximum of 400Kbps (again in bits, not bytes). Their reason for this? I’m sat behind a router… oh and “there are lot’s of people in your postcode using that service”

Customer Satisfaction.

Which? recently did a nationwide survey of ISPs. They asked, around, 200 people from this area what they thought of their Internet connection and ISP. Their answer: “Not good.”

In fact, when all of the numbers had been crunched, then scaled to reach a national average. My ISP was second worst in the country.

Their (the ISP) response? “That wasn’t a big enough sample!”

Considering that this particular ISP is only available to a few thousand people, that seems like a big enough sample, to me. Even guestimating, you get something like this:

If the maximum amount of people connected to this ISP is around 2,000; then 200 people is 10%. More than enough.

Other Areas Of The Globe.

I’ve been informed that there are “under-developed” areas in 3rd world Africa that have better telecommunications systems than those provided by this ISP.

I’ve no proof of this, so a grain of salt is required.

Switch?

The problem with this ISP is that they run a virtual monopoly in this area. You can’t switch to another provider, as other providers wont come into this area, as it’d be too expensive.

A second provider would have to pay the first provider for using the exchanges. The price of which would be passed on the to customer.

Back To Digital Distribution?

This all brings me back to the topic of digital distribution. As, I mentioned earlier, digital distribution is an excellent way to get products out to customers very quickly.

A problem I have with accessing digital distribution is that my ISP enforces download limits. If you go over the limits, you have to pay, I’m not sure what the scale is as I’m always cautious of going over. So much so that I’ve installed an app/gadget/widget that monitors my speeds and data transfer totals.

With everything going the route of digital distribution, ISPs that enforce download limits are going to die a slow and painful death if they don’t change their policies. Except it wont be the ISPs who suffer, it’ll be the customers. Especially if those customers have no choice on the service they use.

Conflicting Emotions

Note: this post was delayed by one day on account of my Internet connection going down

Happy Returns?

Today was my 25th birthday. One quarter of a century has past since I was born. One score and five years ago, I came forth into this world.

All right, enough of that

I looked in the mirror today, and felt a wave of emotions come crashing over me.

First I was happy, excited even. I don’t usually get excited about birthdays, much less my own. So this was strange. Maybe I was just happy and had brushed my teeth extra hard, providing me with a fluoride rush (is there such a thing?).

Then came the sadness. For some reason my mind fixated on the fact that I was 25 years old (roughly 1/3 of my life expectancy – as I calculate it), and wanted desperately to list all of the things I had accomplished.

  1. Attained a degree in Computer Science
  2. Studied Japanese for five years

I was sure that there where other things, but couldn’t really list them.

Accomplishments

OK, so I hold a bachelors degree in Computer Science with a specialisation in video games development. That sounds quite impressive, if I do say so myself. However, I can’t seem to get a job doing anything even mildly related. I’ve put it down to the fact that we’re on our way out of a recession – one that started just as I graduated back in ’08. I seem afraid to admit that I might not be the best candidate for the job, though.

Maybe the reason I haven’t been successful is that I haven’t applied to any games companies directly, which means I haven’t had a need to build up a portfolio of games work that I can submit to them during the application process. I did have an interview for CodeMasters, but from the questions I was asked it was clear that they wanted someone with an MSc rather than a plain old BSc.

The other jobs I’ve been applying for have been Software Engineering ones. I’ve applied for them simply because the core techniques involved in Software Engineering and Gamed Development are the same, mainly the development models (Waterfall, RAD, Milestone, etc) . The only difference is that Games Developers are trying to squeeze every last drop of power out of the system using extremely low level programming languages like C or C++; whereas Software Engineering (especially the roles I’ve been going for) have been web development mixed with a lot of high level stuff like .NET and C#.

I can hold my end up using C# and .NET, and I appreciate that there are times when high level, managed code is essential, or even better at doing the job. But coming from a background of assembly, C and C++ I’m more comfortable in those languages.

The other main problem with Software Engineering roles is that there is a list of requirements as long as your arm that the applicant has to have. Things like:

C#, PHP, .NET, SQL, Ruby, CSS and Abab experience essential

And that’s for an entry level Software Engineer? Where is a fresh graduate going to gain experience in all of those languages? Seriously. Especially since one of those is a proprietary language and only available through an expensive licence.

Japanese Study

Yes, I’ve studied Japanese for five years. I can hold my own in a conversation – so long as the person(s) I’m talking to don’t mind being a little patient with me – and I can read my way through simple manga.

All this, and I’ve only had the chance to go once!? And for only a few weeks!?

I’d thought – once, a long time ago – that I could use some Japanese language training to help me get a job out there doing (surprise, surprise) video game development. But that seems to have gone the way of the Dodo, too.

Compromise?

I’d spend less time thinking about this kind of thing, if it weren’t for the fact that my current employment contract runs out in six weeks. There’s talk of keeping me on, by to be completely honest, I’m not sure if I want to do it.

As my good friend Leigh said, a few weeks back:

You feel like your stagnating…

And he hit the nail right on the head. I really do feel like I’m stagnating. I’m not using the skills and techniques I’ve studied over the years, and I feel that they’ve started to get a little rusty. I don’t feel like I have to time to brush up on them either, at the minute. On top of that, I feel like I’m stuck in this city – with no job prospects here, I really HAVE to move on, but can’t seem find the funds or employment that will allow me to do it.

Maybe I should just stop thinking about all this, and go with the flow; ride the waves, so to speak.

Maybe.

J

(Searchin’ Searching’) For So Long

As I’ve said previously to friends:

I think, very much like Scott Pilgrim, I’m over my mourning period. Time to get the hell on with my life.

The only thing that seems to be holding me back is the fact that I’m not in stable employment. Without stable employment, I can’t truly get out of the rut I’ve found myself in. The rut which seems to be affecting my state of mind.

Yeah, I’m fine with my hair falling out; yeah, I’m fine with being overweight (something that I can change quite easily, once I find the motivation); yeah, I’m fine with being a bit of a nerd/geek/polymath (delete as appropriate). But what I’m not fine with is that I can’t seem to find the motivation (or funds) to get out of my parents house for good.

Don’t get my wrong, I love living here – free food, free bed, folks on hand for companionship and advice – but I want to get out and see the world. I know that some of you will be crying out that I travelled all the way to Japan a few years back, whilst that is true, it’s my singular experience out of this country. I just want to get out of here.

I feel like I’m wasting away – not just myself but my life, too.

J

Telephone’s Ringing!

The phone’s ringing!

Not gonna answer it then?

Dude! You’re sat right next to it

So I check the last call and answering machine.

Guess what? It was a call for me, about an interview.

Douche.

I wouldn’t mind so much, but he’s sat (roughly) a foot away from the phone at ALL times.

Mech-Douche

What’s the point of having a land-line if you’re not going to answer it?

I didn’t recognise the number

What!?

There are over 500,000 different telephone numbers in this city ALONE. Extrapolating, that would mean over 8 million in the country (land-lines only) and roughly 31,381,059,609 numbers of mobile phones in this country alone.

Worst excuse ever

So what you’re telling me is that you’re a lazy son of a female dog?

The problem with ISPs

My major problem with ISPs – well I say “ISP”, what I actually mean is “Monopolised Telecommunications Network”, but that’s a bit of a mouthful – is that they can let you down when you need them the most.

My ISP (Internet Service Provider, for those who don’t know) has been messing me around for weeks. I’ve been, practically cut off, for most of last week; which was a shame, as I didn’t get a chance to watch a lot of Desert Bus for Hope. that, and talk to any of my friends based in Japan, or check emails, or buy my final Christmas gifts.

As a side effect, I’ve been a little lacklustre on the posting this past week. Although, not much has happened. Not much aside from snow and reading, that is.

Remember a few weeks back, when I posted an image of a pile of books? Well, thanks to my ISP, that pile of books has dropped to 4. Although, more were added at one point.

I think this is a testament to the boredom that can be achieved with a modern lifestyle. Even with housework, food and other things to occupy my time – including video games – I still found the time to sit, relax and enjoy a good book or two.

I managed to clear “The Playbook” in less than an hour and a half, which was pretty good going. I started “Parasite Eve” yesterday and I’m already one third of the way through it. It’s quite engrossing, and very detailed – especially the surgery scenes. I recommend this one to anyone who isn’t a little squeamish. Also, it’s Japanese Horror (think “Ringu” but with Science as opposed to hocum, mythology and psuedo-Science)

I’ll post a pic of the new, shorter pile of books for you all to peruse, later.

Have fun,

J

Bricks, eggs and children

Today, I’ve been washing bricks. Seriously, washing bricks.

I don’t get any perverse pleasure out of it or anything. We’re re-painting the storage shed so that we can put an top loading, 150 litre freezer in there. This has meant that the bricks have had to be washed before we can paint, apparently. I’ve been at it, now, for nearly 2 hours.

We’ve just gotten round the the painting side of the operation and I have to tell you that, white and beige have never been mixed this badly since… well, ever. I’m not a big fan of beige, in fact I agree with Lee Evans about it (“You only start liking beige when you get to be a certain age. And that’s only because it starts to match the colour of your skin”).

I’m standing there, brush in hand, “painting” – if you can call it that. I’m not very good, you see. I feel like I’m being taught to suck eggs. Which got me thinking as to whether Nanny Ogg knows how to suck eggs. She seems to know everything else that a witch could know.

Before you all cry “shenanigans”, I know that Nanny Ogg is a character in the Discworld series of books, and it therefore not real.

You might be thinking, ‘why is he blogging when he should be painting?’ To this, I say, ‘good question’. It’s because I’ve decided to have a short break. What? It’s not YOUR shed that I’m painting.

Anyway, I’ve been catching up with what my friends are doing this morning. Turns out that some of them are having fun with their “beeeaaaiiirns” (colloquial Yorkshire English for Child or Children). This has sent me, as it usually does when some one uses that word, into a rant about the etymology of that word.

Bain – I’ve decided that’s how the colloquial version is spelt, by the way – comes from the English word ‘Bane’. Bane, as the online Cambridge English Dictionary tells me means ‘A cause of continuous trouble or unhappiness’

I am, simply, staggered by anyone who chooses to refer to their offspring using this word in a positive way. ‘I’m just off down the park with the beeeaaaiiir,” one might say. Which, to me, implies that one is taking the ‘worst thing to ever happen in my life’ to the park.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that sound terrible?

Memory loss

I had a post all thought up earlier on today. It was about something which seemed important at the time, too. Clearly it wasn’t that important, otherwise I’d have remembered it. I was feeling a little down earlier, so it could have had something to do with that.

Instead, I’ll change the topic of this post to that of memory loss. Unfortunately, this might end up being another rant of mine. I apologise in advance.

The truth is, I’m suffering from memory loss recently. I don’t know how long it’s been going on for, mainly because I can’t remember when it started. The strange thing is, I can remember some things, but not others. For instance, I can remember a conversation I had with a friend over a year ago – we were talking about how bad she thought her life was, and I’d mentioned some pretty harrowing things from my past and she started crying, “That’s terrible, Jamie” she cried out at one point.

It’s not as if it’s affecting my short term memory only, either. I can remember that I visited a friend last night, and we were sat chatting about all sorts of things (Spooks, and the fact the in America it’s called MI5 because “Spooks” can be a racists term for African American people, was one of them). I can’t remember where I went during my walk earlier, or what I did yesterday morning, for example.

I’ve been to see my doctor, and he’s said “At 24 you shouldn’t be having memory loss”. Really Doc, is that all you can say? I’m starting to think that it might be linked to my drowning feeling of self worth. Which would be a vicious circle to be trapped it. And here’s why:

I feel my self worth dripping away, which affects my memory. Then I go for an interview, I get asked some questions that I know that I know the answers too, but can’t recall the information. I fail to answer the question, and don’t get the job. This affects my self worth. Ad infinitum

That’s not really been helped that much by my hair falling out either. Plenty of people have told me that it doesn’t matter, and I’ve never seen myself as being defined by my image, but at a time when my life is slightly out of control, I need some sort of control. It’s just a shame that my mind has decided that I need to control my hair follicles.

I’ve been shown some documentation supporting homoeopathic medicinal treatments for androgenic alopecia, but it all seems a little wishy washy. Lots of “after 6 months of treatment x% of patients showed some improvement in hair regrowth and strengthening,” etc..

I’ve also read some hypotheses linking it to social standing and how the older, more mature, and socially grandeur members of a group of primates will have hair loss. In fact, some primates have evolved a larger forehead with a receded hair line for just that purpose – some believe.

The problem with that, is that if a selection of men and women where to be asked to rate a selection of photographs of men on attractiveness, I feel that most of the “attractive” men would have a head full of hair. It’s what I call the George Castanza paradox.

Either way, this doesn’t help with the memory loss. If anyone had suggestions for a remedy, let me know.

Software shouldn’t be expensive to licence

The title sums up my main thrust, I think. I’ll let you all in on a little secret, shall I: SOFTWARE ISN’T EXPENSIVE

Epoch making, I know. I’m not talking about piracy, either.

You, see there are a few things called the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Public Licence that where set up to allow programmers, software engineers (which are not the same as programmers) and consumers to create, distribute and sell software and licences to companies without those companies having to pay massive amounts of money to use the software products.

A lot of people and organisations have reservations about converting to or using open source or free software. This is, mainly, because of perceived incompatibilities between different software and operating systems. This is just plain stupidity, and the fact the a lot of IT Consultants still refuse to admit that there are plenty of legitimate open source solutions that are easier to use, more efficient and have better support for end users than the majority of proprietary software products is baffling.

Don’t get me wrong, as a software engineer I like to receive remuneration for products and services rendered. But this should be a question of morals rather than plain Capitalist urges. Especially in our current financial climate, with a lot of companies in the world having to reduce their work force to remain trading.

There was news of Bristol City council taking open source software more seriously last month. It turns out that the council wanted to save money, and someone suggested that by switching to open source software they could save £7.3 million a year in software licensing alone. That figure is AFTER calculating the costs of moving over to open source systems – the cost being around £1 million, but most of that was on hiring people to set up the new system, and the little training required to show people that Star Office or OpenOffice will make them more efficient than using proprietary office suites.

After a few months of planning, the council decided to scrap the idea of moving over to open source solutions opting instead to upgrade ALL of their systems to Microsoft’s Windows 7 Operating System, and Microsoft’s Office 2010 at a cost of over £10 million for one year. Their reason: No one else is doing it, so why should we?

Seriously. That was their reason. I’m just going to let that sink in for a minute.

..

Now that we’ve discussed that, let’s move on to the moral implications I was talking about.

In the UK we have socialised medicine <insert American’s claiming that this is worst thing to ever happen to any civilisation, ever>, and it’s a brilliant system. Since the 1980’s the government has been seeking to digitise the whole system, claiming that it would make response times for time critical systems (ambulances and the like) and collaboration between specialists (an Oncologist being able to give a consult to someone in a different hospital without moving out of their office, etc..) easier and more efficient. The main problem, though, has been the extremely near sighted insistence on using proprietary software suites; which during this time has lead to deaths, misdiagnoses, and wrong prescriptions being given out.

I can’t blame all of this on proprietary software, though, some of the time these problems have be caused by the government having a “lowest bidder” system. This is the same system that they use to outsource defence contracts as well. Basically, the company who says that they can do the work for the least amount of money get the contract. That’s it.

But for some reason, when it’s been suggested that open source software could be a viable solution, it’s been dismissed out of hand. I have two theories about this:

1) “If it’s free, it can’t be fit for purpose.” This is the wrong attitude to take, completely. I can name several things that are free that we all take for granted day in and day out. The Internet (which runs on Unix – a free operating system), Air, Nature, Animals. These things are all unfit for purpose?

2) “It doesn’t have a brand name on it, like ‘Microsoft’ or ‘Apple’.” Neither does The Internet, Air, or Nature. Just because something doesn’t have a famous brand name on it, does not mean that it wont be any good.

The last thing I want to mention is the perceived lack of interoperability between open source systems and proprietary systems. I agree that some proprietary software solutions will have custom file formats, with patents and copyright on them to stop open source products from opening or editing them. This is perfectly legitimate, one company trying to protect their Intellectual Property is a fine thing. But this idea that open source software does not work well with proprietary software is a fallacy.

I’ve already mentioned that The Internet (or rather, the servers that contain the files we recognise as The Internet) runs on a free operating system called Unix. Does this mean that computers running proprietary operating systems can’t connect to the internet without having specialised software in place? No, you can browse the internet, download files, ever edit your blog or website without even having an internet browser installed.

The same thing can be said about open source office suites, image manipulation, 3D modelling, gaming software. They’re all fully compatible with the proprietary versions of similar software. In fact, Microsoft even shared their office suite format types with the world so that open source office suites could use these file types. So, all office suites are able to handle Microsoft’s file formats. The same can be said about image files, as software companies don’t (generally) own the intellectual property on the different file formats out there. This is the same across the board, with software companies giving out the file format descriptors shortly after they’ve released their software solutions (both open source and proprietary).

So, my question, after imparting all of this information to the world (which was already out there, anyway) is: Why are companies and organisations still afraid to adopt open source systems? Especially now, of all times, during the recession.

Food for thought, possibly.