On Computers

Rabbit's Rant

Jack 'daWabbit' Imsdahl, jack@oncomputers.info

18 May 2003

Where Are the Freebies?

This is my first rant for "On Computers". Well, I guess that depends on how you view my other writings, doesn't it? 

This is quite an exciting time in personal computing, to my way of thinking. There are all sorts of devices and applications that I would love to give a trial and report to you all about. Unfortunately, I'm 'income challenged' enough that I can't afford to try very many of them at all. That's a real pity, to my way of thinking.

Ideally, manufacturers would ask us if we wanted to have a given device or application for a short trial period and, if we agree to whatever terms they wish to do it under, loan us one or more of them for test. I certainly would not expect any manufacturer to give expensive things to us, but I would like a short-term loan. The various manufacturers do just a bit of that with Deepak and Joe, but I don't even show up on their radar, I'm sure. I have a list, though, of things I would love to try and I thought I would share that with you. Note that all my wishes are for developments of existing technologies. I have little interest in the cutting edge and I think most computer users are with me on this score. Nor do I wish to try every variation of PDA that rolls down the pike. Just the things that might change the way I work for the better.

#1 The Lindows laptop computer. 
No one; not even the CEO of Lindows, pitches Lindows as a finished product. It is a work in progress, by every account. I have some small familiarity with Lindows, having installed it on two computers and started their owners out using it. Plus, I'm a Debian GNU/Linux user, upon which Lindows is based. Now, though, there's a device supposedly set up to take advantage of what are billed as Lindows' biggest strong points and I would dearly love to spend a month or so with it to see how they are coming along. It is, in my opinion, time for a real shakedown to see what falls out.

Of course, there's a hazard in this. One cannot evaluate Lindows from the standpoint of the power user of either Windows or Linux. It's built as a starter OS for those new to computing, despite it's being based on Debian GNU/Linux, and really has to be judged as such. Perhaps I flatter myself, but I think I can assume the viewpoint of the average new user well enough to give it a whirl in the environment it is intended for. New users typically surf, use e-mail, perhaps try a word processor or image editor and play a few games. I'd like to see how Lindows stacks up for the most common computer tasks and how the Lindows "Click-N-Run" software installation system works.

I've since spoken to Deepak about this and he informs me they are so behind in filling orders for the Lindows Laptop that they simply cannot afford the loan of even one unit. (Neither of us can determine whether this fact represents unforeseen demand, a lack of production facility or some of each.) Pity.

#2 The Tablet PC and Denim
Prior to this week, Tablet PCs interested me very little. Yes, I acknowledged they were neat devices and that they definitely have a place in the scheme of things. Still, I could not see myself using one except as a sort of scratch pad replacement for a laptop, which would hardly justify the expense for me. That has changed.

There is a project at the University of California at Berkeley which is called the 'Group for User Interface Research' and which is developing an application called 'Denim'. http://guir.berkeley.edu/projects/denim/ I strongly urge you to check this one out. That site has documentation and streaming or downloadable demonstrations, too.

Denim allows one to design a web site or other user interface via a pen input (which is still the way many, of not most of us, still do preliminary layout of all sorts of projects) on a PC running Mac OS, Linux or Windows. Using Denim, these preliminary drawings can be made into a functioning interface or web site pretty much without coding! I can see real value in this for me in my work and I want very much to try it and report how it performs.

One does not need a Tablet PC to use Denim. A simple pen input pad device will do. But this seems tailor-made for the Tablet and so that's how I want to use it. Imagine; truly portable web site design without all that paper! My days spent waiting in the doctor's office would never be the same.

#3 Star Office 6 and WordPerfect Office 11
Yeah, yeah. Microsoft Office is the standard. I know all that. But on the Windows platform there are contenders for at least a large slice of the market. Perhaps Star Office 6 and WordPerfect Office 11 aren't going to satisfy the 'power user', as is so often said. But what about the rest of us? I ask this in all seriousness. The vast majority of us who use office productivity suites never get close to using all the features and capabilities included in them. Why should we pay for what we're not going to use? I'd like to give both these suites a good test run.

Inevitably the subject of Open Office comes up at this point. I've gotten good service out of it and installed it for a number of other folks, but it's not my favorite. Star Office 6 is supposed to be virtually identical, being possessed of the same code base, etc. But I find it hard to swallow that Sun would sell a product so poorly differentiated from a free one and I'll bet there's some features and functionality there to be had over and above what Open Office offers. 

About the same goes for Abiword. In Linux, Abiword is a joy to use. As a basic word processor, there's hardly one better for the "*nix" platforms. But despite long-term tries, I've not been satisfied with it in Windows at all. It crashes on any 32 bit Windows platform I've tried it on. That's annoying and can lead to loss of one's work, which makes it intolerable. Abiword still seems to have a future, but on the Windows platform, it's a ways away.

There are more things I'd like to try. I'll probably detail some of them in these pages, from time to time. And I would very much like to hear what you, the reader/listener, are interested in. I probably should not speak for the rest of the team, but I'll bet they would welcome any feedback you might care to provide, as well. 

© 2003 Jack Imsdahl

Back • Home • Up • Next

© 2002 - 2004 by On Computers and the Videotex Services Coalition.