Archive | August 20, 2006

Why are computers so hard to use?

David Berlind's recent blog post pointing to Tim Bray's trials and tribulations on switching from a Powerbook to a Sun Ultra 20 running Ubuntu (!) has some interesting reflections on how hard all desktop switching is. David says,

[Tim] “used two words — “wrangling” and “gyrations” — in his last post that leap off the page as having long been (in my mind) desktop Linux's key stumbling blocks.”

I've got a half-dozen machines in the office I work at regularly: Dells, HPs, ThinkPads, Macs, running Win98 through XP, OS X, CentOS, Ubuntu, Fedora, Xubuntu and probably a couple of others. I am constantly wrestling with getting a PDF file just right on this one, or wrangling an icon to do what I want on the desktop of that one. They are all hard!

I got tired of using the supplied Apple keyboard with my iMac and thought I'd try a Microsoft Natural Keyboard I had spare around the office. It worked well, just plug it in and It Worked ™. However, the key labels and assignments had me stumped. On Windows and Linux, the control key is the lower, outer left key and I spend all day issuing ^X, ^V, ^F, ^T to cut, paste, fine and create a new FireFox tab. On the Mac, it's not the outer key, it's the option key, the middle of the three keys outboard the spacebar. Except when it's not. Subconsciously, I had gotten myself into the groove of using the different keyboard layout on the (different) Apple keyboard. When I swapped out the keyboard for the one I use on another machine, I lost the ability to touch type those characters on both keyboards.

In the above-cited blog post, Tim was annoyed when Ubuntu didn't follow the hand-patterns he had memorized on the PowerBook; I feel the same way when I use the Mac.

Windows su or sudo?

Garrett followed up on my recent post about creating a root shell by point to Aaron Margosis' post with a “MakeMeAdmin.cmd” batch file. My one-liner solution created a shell as an admin user. Aaron's is more extensive and adds the current user temporarily to the administrators group (requiring the admin password), then requires the current logged-in user to log in again for the shell session.

I'm not sure of the security implications of each, or whether one is better than the other. In a sense, my script is similar to “su” where the shell is in the context of another administrator, where Aaron's is closer to “sudo” in the sense that the current user can temporarily execute super user commands. It sure would be nice if the script could go one step further and persist a list of users with sudo capabilities, so you only had to do one login. In either case, it seems that the security context doesn't “leak” outside of the shell in which it is executed.

Customers most satisfied with Apple

OSNews reports Apple Leads Industry in Customer Satisfaction. “Newly published data from the American Customer Satisfaction Index show that Apple leads other personal computer manufacturers, beating out Dell, HP and others. On a 100 point scale, Apple merited a score of 83, according to the ACSI, a 2.5 percent year-over-year increase and a 7.8 percent increase from 1995, the first year the ACSI measured the PC industry. The annual ACSI is sponsored by the American Society for Quality and University of Michigan's M. Ross School of Business. It's derived from phone interviews with customers contacted by using digital-dial telephone samples. More than 70000 consumers are identified and interviewed annually.”

No surprise there.

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This work by Ted Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.