BT et C

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Neat analogy in /. comment on the fact that Vista will hurt OpenGL's performance. Well, I don't want to talk about OpenGL, 'cause I know so little about it. But Procyon says:

"MS is the volkswagon of software. It's cheap, it gets the minimal job done and it doesn't take much training to know how to drive it."

Hm. Of course, no analogy tells the whole story ... in fact, analogies exist for the purpose of not having to tell the whole story. But this assessment -- i.e. of Windows as the "ordinary" OS for normal folks who don't particularly want to learn to hack -- is so common, and so inaccurate in my opinion, that I'm going to spring off from here.

Like everyone else, I have my own favorite operating-systems-as-cars extended metaphor, but I feel that all of these concede too much already, in treating an operating system like a physical object. Your computer is a car. Its operating system is -- not even the engine -- more like, the laws of internal combustion.

It is fortunate that chemical equations exist, because I can now suggest that the chemical equations describing internal combustion, Maxwell's field equations, etc. are the "software" component of your car, and this will make sense since low-level operating system code consists of equations, too.

But those equations are widely known, and with sufficient skill in chemistry and metallurgy you could apply them and hack together your own engine. So I have really only described an "open source" car.

A car sold with a pre-installed, closed-source operating system would be very different. It would not (necessarily) use internal combustion, electricity, or a combination thereof. It might very well use solar power or nuclear fission. Or geothermal energy. You wouldn't know because the rules by which the engine does what it does to the camshaft/axels are not disclosed.

You might reverse engineer your car to discover some of this stuff; the technique known as "packet sniffing" is analogous to measuring/analyzing the substances that go into the tank and come out the exhaust pipe. But you are Very Unlikely to become qualified to do any repair or maintenance on your car through these means.

All you guys thinking analogically will (and should) now say "Exactly. And most people don't care about learning that stuff. They're fine with paying a mechanic for those services."

But maybe the guys thinking philosophically (w00t) will realize something: your choice of mechanic, in this analogy, is limited by the vendor. Is this a good situation? There are billions of people on this planet, and a great many of them are willing and able to apply the laws of mechanics to a car engine so that it works, or works better. They are appropriately called mechanics.

But if you drive a closed-source car, 99.9% of those mechanics are useless to you -- they don't know and can't discover how your car works. As a further oddity, all of the mechanics who can fix your car have a vested, personal interest in you continuing to buy closed-source cars. Weird.

Y'know how annoying it is that your warranty expires if you don't go to the dealer for your oil changes etc? This is like that, but 1,000 times worse. Because the dealer (analogy being stretched tight here, I like that) does not actually sell any cars. She just does the service. Boy, I hope you can trust her. 'Cause she's the only one who can service your car. The only one. And if she breaks stuff on purpose, so that you keep coming back and paying her, then too bad for you. Weird.

Y'know what really reminds me of a volkswagon? GNU/Linux. Think about it:
-It's compact, resource efficient
-The engine is in back (no particular advantage, it's just unfamiliar at first)
-It's got this cool sorta counter-cultural vibe thing
-There are at least a billion people who can do basic maintenance (oil change) on it, and there are millions who can do more advanced repair work, and there are probably a hundred thousand who basically grok it.

Some more fun points:
Fedora Core reminds me of a Corvette (maybe just the sound?)
SELinux reminds me of an armored car
Knoppix reminds me of those bicycles they have lying around all over Austin, where you can just take one, get where you're going, then go back to your normal mode of transportation. Or keep using the bicycle. Except instead of bicycles it's Corvettes.
Gentoo reminds me of Kit, from Knight Rider

Windows reminds me ...
... of ...
I dunno, a city bus? It goes to predefined spots. It tries to cater to everyone's needs, so it makes all sorts of extra stops that have nothing to do with you. It's usually ugly. It's inefficient (Cf. buses that can hold 80 people and usually have 5 on them). If it's broken, then well you just don't get to use it today, and you hope that whoever's in charge will fix it soon. And you always feel stuck, sitting with a bunch of people who seem unhappy about being on the bus.

Oh, one other thing: the cars are all free, including the armored cars and Lamborghinis. The bus costs $400 for the Home Edition and $1,000 or something for "Pro".


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