No, this doesn’t mean Ubuntu and Linux are giving up

This week, Mark Shuttleworth closed the longstanding Ubuntu bug #1, which simply read, “Microsoft has majority market share.” Because Microsoft didn’t lose its market share lead to Ubuntu, or Red Hat, or some other conventional Linux distribution, some people, including John C. Dvorak, are interpreting this as some kind of surrender.

I don’t see it as surrender at all. Microsoft’s dominant position, which seemed invincible in 2004 when Shuttleworth opened that bug, is slipping away. They still dominate PCs, but PCs as we know it are a shrinking part of the overall computing landscape, and the growth is all happening elsewhere.

I have (or at least had) a reputation as a Microsoft hater. That’s a vast oversimplification. I’m not anti-Microsoft. I’m pro-competition. I’m also pro-Amiga, and I’ll go to my grave maintaining that the death of Amiga set the industry back 20 years. I have Windows and Linux boxes at home, my wife has (believe it or not) an Ipad, and at work I’m more comfortable administering Linux than Windows right now, which seems a bit strange, especially considering it’s a Red Hat derivative and I haven’t touched Red Hat in what seems like 400 years.

What Shuttleworth is acknowledging is that we have something other than a duopoly again, for the first time in more than 20 years, and the industry is innovating and interesting again. Read more

The trouble with Dell

Note: I wrote this in mid-2010 and, for whatever reason, never posted it. I found it this week. Although the information in it is no longer fresh and new, it’s still useful, so for that reason, I’m posting it now.

Dell is standing on some shaky ground right now. Bill Snyder has a good summary of the problem.

In recent years, Dell computers have, shall I say, made me nervous. Some of it’s been concrete. Some of it’s just been touchy-feely. Now one of those touchy-feely problems is more concrete. Read more

Nonstandard configuration on a vintage PC? Maybe it was gray market

Nonstandard configuration on a vintage PC? Maybe it was gray market

I saw an interesting question about the configuration of mid-1980s (pre-PS/2) IBM PCs on a vintage computer forum this week. The question regarded how various machines came from the factory, especially when some collectors have PCs they bought from the original owners, including an invoice, showing the machine didn’t match known factory configurations. This made me think of the gray market.

The gray market referred to the practice of discounters getting genuine IBM PCs and reselling them, sometimes modified. The most famous gray marketer was Michael Dell–the “Dell” in Dell Computer Corporation–who got his start by upgrading bare-bones IBM PCs and selling them out of his dorm room and later, out of a condo. Eventually he decided he wanted a steadier supply, and started manufacturing, becoming the company we know today.

But Dell was far from the only one. Read more

The tyranny of consumerization is real

Computerworld cites the Ipad 2 and increasing demand by end users to use such consumer devices in corporate environments as “The tyranny of consumerization.”

This has happened before. And if history repeats itself, the future will be better than today, but the road there is going to involve some pain.
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If I had to buy an off-the-shelf PC, what would it be?

I got a question today. A someone who knows someone who knows someone kind of thing. Basically, wanting to know what to buy if, you know, they wanted to buy a computer rather than build something.

They’d had bad experience will Dell, so Dell wasn’t on their list. I did not argue.

Here’s an edited version of my response.
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Why working fast food and retail was good for me

One of my former high school classmates is concerned. Her seven-year-old’s life ambition is to work at McDonald’s.

I told her not to worry. I didn’t work at McDonald’s, but I spent 2 1/2 years working another, nearly defunct fast-food chain, and that motivated me more than anything to go to college. And then, working two years off and on in retail motivated me to finish college.

At 16, I applied for a job at my favorite fast-food chain. It was in decline at the time, but I didn’t really know that then. What I knew was they were hiring, and if I was going to work somewhere, I might as well like the food.

I blew them away at the interview, and I’d barely made it back home when I got the phone call offering me the job.

I had a lot to learn, but it wasn’t long before the district manager declared I was the smartest guy in the whole district. Himself included. I worked with a lot of interesting people. Some were my age. Some were much older than me.

One was even smarter than me. She was hired a year or so after me. She was an honest-to-goodness, card-carrying MENSA member. She talked like William F. Buckley Jr., including the accent. I understood about half the things she said, but at least I understood half of it. She talked to me more than anyone else she worked with, not that I was much of a challenge for her. But intellect is hard to find in fast food, so I guess you settle for what you can get.

At the end of the summer, she quit. I told you she was smarter than me.

Most of the people I worked with, and for, were much less successful. A lot of them came and went. We were high turnover. Management liked it that way.

On a couple of occasions, I nearly got turned over. One time, a shift supervisor called me lazy in front of a customer. (I wasn’t.) The customer said, “Well, you’re the one leaning against the door while he gets my order ready.” He didn’t like that at all. Pretty soon, he was challenging me to a fight. Knowing there was no way to win in that situation–I could stay and get beat up, or fight back, still get beat up, and get fired on top of that–I took a nonviolent approach. I wiggled my way out of the corner he backed me into, ran across the parking lot, and found a cop.

The shift supervisor wanted me fired over that. I wanted him to spend the night in jail. Neither happened.

The other time, I fell victim to a professional quick change artist. He was slick. He ordered a 50-cent cup of coffee. He paid with a rolled up $20 bill, which he tried to pass off as a single. He acted surprised when I handed him back $19 and change. So he had me change back for a $20.

At that point, I should have closed the drawer and asked him to leave. I know that now.

Being 17 and naive, I tried to keep up with him. And I thought I was doing a pretty good job, until he tried to get me to give him a $100 bill. I didn’t have a $100 and I knew it. And at that point, I called him on his attempt to shortchange me, and called a manager over.

The manager watched him mosey out the door, and we proceeded to count down the drawer. It was short beyond the allowable limit. He had taken me.

He couldn’t fire me on the spot, but he told me that would probably happen the next day, and sent me home.

I went home, told my parents what had happened, then retreated to the basement. I fired up the computer and wrote my account of what happened, including what the manager did wrong. And to defend myself, I also gave a nice account of other goings-on at the store. If I was going down, I was going to take the store’s poor management with me.

The letter quickly found its way to the corporate office in Ohio, and it wasn’t long before I was getting calls all hours of the day. Including when I was at school. Corporate was amazed to find out the letter that was causing such a stir had been written by a 17-year-old.

“With all due respect, your corporate policy sucks,” I told one executive. She asked what I thought they should do.

“Train your employees.” After all, they were trying to fire me for handling a situation improperly, but nobody had ever told me how you were supposed to handle that situation.

One day, while all of this was going on, the vice principal of the school took me aside. “What’s going on?” he asked. He knew something was bugging me. I told him the story.

“Imagine yourself a single mother with no education, not even a high school diploma,” he said. “You’d be completely at the mercy of those people.”

I didn’t agree with the man all that often, but he was right about that. And I resolved to never be at the mercy of those people again.

A year or so later, after all the store management churned, I told one of the new managers if he was bored, my file was probably the most interesting reading in the whole file cabinet. An hour or so later, he came out and told me I was right.

I quit in early August 1993. I was starting at the University of Missouri. The company was in bankruptcy, and the store closed about six weeks later. I visited one last time before it happened. By the end of the year, the chain had pulled out of Missouri entirely. I understand the chain is still in business, barely, but confined to a dozen or so locations in and around Ohio. Ironically, I’m traveling to the city it used to be headquartered in next week. On other business.

I have a fiery streak, and it was visible then, at least as much as it is now. My manager at my second-most recent job told me once that I could be difficult to deal with, but that was because I care, and given the choice, he’d take the guy who cares. Every time.

I worked retail for two summers and spring/holiday breaks as well, while I was in college. I sold computers. I had a mixed relationship with management there too. Some of the managers liked me because I knew my stuff and could sell a ton of product, as long as I believed in it. Some of the managers hated me because they couldn’t tell me what to do. I wasn’t going to steer a customer toward a Packard Bell computer just because some manager wanted to move a bunch of Packard Bells. I had more integrity than that. And one manager hated me just because I was white and had some college education.

I worked hard and I sold a ton of Compaq computers in my time there. And there was only one time a customer ever stumped me with a question. He brought in a weird cable and wanted an adapter to connect it to a modern PC. I now believe it was an IEEE-488 cable. What? Exactly. I don’t feel bad about that, because I guarantee there wasn’t anyone else who would have known what that cable was either.

But if they needed a memory card for an obscure IBM clone computer, or needed to know if a certain piece of software or peripheral would work with their old computer, I was your man. I either knew whether it would work, or it would take me about two minutes to figure it out.

I was good at what I did, but I didn’t like being controlled. I didn’t like that I wasn’t paid on commission, but the managers got bonuses based on monthly sales. So in effect, store management got commissions on my work.

But mostly, I didn’t like what one of the managers did to me the day after Christmas.

His name was Steve. He called me at home and said he needed to talk to me. In person. I asked if it could wait for my next shift. He said I needed to come in immediately. So I drove 20 minutes to see him.

He told me I was being laid off. The store was getting rid of its Christmas help.

Never mind I was going back to school in five days and probably would only work a couple of shifts anyway. Never mind my dad had just died and I really needed the money from those last few shifts. Never mind I’d always done everything they asked me to do. None of that mattered.

I saw him the day before I left for college, when I went in to pick up my final check. “How’s it going?” he asked with a fake game show host grin on his face.

“I’ve been better,” I said.

“What’s wrong? Are you sick? Are you hurt?”

“I’m leaving for college tomorrow, and I really needed the money from working this week. But none of that matters to you.”

On various occasions, the managers who did like me tried to talk me out of going back to school. Stay with the company, they urged. Look at them. Look at what they’d done without a college degree.

Yep, look at them. The best of them are probably still managing stores, somewhere. One of the managers who didn’t like me got demoted. And Steve, the manager who laid me off, got fired for sexual harassment.

I graduated college in May 1997, with a bachelor’s degree from one of the most prestigious journalism schools in the world. The same school hired me, fresh off my stint in retail, to unbox 400 IBM PC 330s and install memory, network cards, and operating systems on them. I understood the job was temporary.

When that job was done, they found money to keep me around. I worked for them part-time, off and on. A semester before I graduated, they offered me a full-time job with benefits, as a network administrator, and allowed me to work around my class schedule.

Today I’ve worked full time in some form of information technology or another for 13 years. I’m also a published author on two continents.

I’m successful. Not as successful as I want to be, but successful. I don’t necessarily have everything I always wanted, but my family and I definitely have everything we need. I’ve had some ups and downs, but the last two times I’ve quit a job to move on, someone’s tried to talk me out of leaving. And both companies tried to lure me back months afterward–one successfully.

Not wanting to sell junky consumer electronics again and really not wanting to sell processed sandwiches and fries again has something to do with all that.

Dinosaur hunting

Today I slipped over to Laclede Computer Trading Company for the first time in many years. I was in search of an ISA parallel card. They’re not easy to find these days, mostly because they aren’t particularly useful to most people these days, but I figured if anyone would have one, it would be them.

No dice. But man, what memories.

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