Linked by Howard Fosdick on Sat 24th Nov 2012 17:52 UTC
Editorial Do you depend on your computer for your living? If so, I'm sure you've thought long and hard about which hardware and software to use. I'd like to explain why I use generic "white boxes" running open source software. These give me a platform I rely on for 100% availability. They also provide a low-cost solution with excellent security and privacy.
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tony
Member since:
2005-07-06

The only other issue I would raise is that using desktop Linux as part of a small-business IT strategy, even a business that does IT, is going to require more training than most computer users are going to willingly undertake. Most computer users--including IT professionals-- are basically like most automobile users. They know how to put in gas and use the steering wheel and are otherwise quite content to remain in ignorance of technology they depend upon.


That's true for all of the technology we use. You might know how to compile a kernel, figure out which kernel module you need to get the sound card to work correctly, or be able to diagnose that the constant dropping of the wireless signal is based on a buggy driver that hasn't been updated yet by your distro of choice (and when you bring the problem up someone invariably offers a "superior" distro that you should switch to).

But could you go through the driver code, line by line, and solve the problem? Could you design your own PCIe card? Have any idea of what the individual traces do? Or the SATA signaling, what the pre-amble on the SATA command is for (or what it consists of)? Could you re-solder a cracked motherboard (or even know how the different trace lengths might affect timing?)

We all have a demarcation point with technology. There is a huge (quite literally) unfathomable, by a single human mind, amount of complexity hidden from us in the technology that we come to rely on, that not only do we chose to ignore, but we couldn't effectively use the technology without most of it being hidden.

But that's the point. The more of the technology that is hidden from us, the more useful it is. Computers used to be programmed by machine language, then assembler, and then C and others compiled languages, then the scripted languages. Every layer we bury from site means we've reached a new level.

There will always be a need for those that understand the deeper levels (and those people will be highly valued), but it's not necessary (nor practical) that we all do.

I put gas in my car, and my car's computer tells me when to change the oil and perform other maintenance. That's fine by me, because I use it to get around. The workings of it don't interest me, but I enjoy the benefits that it brings. Baring a zombie apocalypse, I'm fine with that relationship. There are people that love to tear down engines, rebuild... whatever in an engine. And that's great. But thankfully today, you don't need to know that to own a car.

Reply Parent Score: 3

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

tony,

I agree with you & the OP. Generally most people don't need to know the low level details, and that's a good thing because it makes us more efficient and less distracted.

"The more of the technology that is hidden from us, the more useful it is."

My own view though is that the low level things should remain out of the way, yet accessible for those of us who'd benefit from writing/installing third party modifications. We're seeing many modern platforms simply cutting off access to low levels. That's a big problem because it represents a growing inequality regarding access for developers/engineers who'd otherwise be able to further drive innovation.

Reply Parent Score: 3

zima Member since:
2005-07-06

It's possibly perceived as much easier and/or cheaper (also with support, when some/many "average users" ~accidentally go too low) to lock things down ...or maybe the idea, for parent companies behind some platforms, is to not have too many outside devs able to compete with them?

Edited 2012-12-01 09:59 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

zima Member since:
2005-07-06

The more of the technology that is hidden from us, the more useful it is. Computers used to be programmed by machine language, then assembler, and then C and others compiled languages, then the scripted languages. Every layer we bury from site means we've reached a new level.

And before that, re-plugging cables or binary swithes manipulation.

I wonder what is the next level...

PS. Maybe distribution of task-specific VMs, all that is needed nicely included and not much else? (versus recent projects like RPi which seem to focus on hardware more - so a bit stuck in the past; of course, RPi is genuinely useful for many things ...but one goal - offering safe way to experiment with OS & programming while isolating potential damage - can be nicely covered by VMs)

Edited 2012-11-28 10:30 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

ssokolow Member since:
2010-01-21

(versus recent projects like RPi which seem to focus on hardware more - so a bit stuck in the past; of course, RPi is genuinely useful for many things ...but one goal - offering "safe" way to experiment while isolating potential damage - can be nicely covered by VMs)


The whole point of the RPi is to bring back the days when students came into university Computer Science programs primed with deep knowledge of the system.

That means four sub-goals:
1. Convince parents it's safe to let the kid tinker like mad (tricky with a VM)
2. Let the kid explore as deeply as they want (tricky to give the feeling of with a VM)
3. Give the kids something to interact with the real world in fun ways like the GPIO header on old Commodore and BBC Micro computers. (impossible with a VM)
4. Convince schools to have a ready supply of them. (Easier when you satisfy the first three goals and offer it cheaper than the machines to run VMs on)

Not to mention that you always feel happier about something when it's your own personal thing rather than something to share with your parents, brothers, and sisters.

The RPi's price point also gives schools the option to say "Give us $35 and you can take it home to play around with and keep it when the semester is over." (Plus whatever the SD cards cost in bulk, of course)

I remember hearing Eben analogize it to giving the kid a bike rather than letting them muck around with the family car.

Edited 2012-11-28 10:44 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2