Between being a single user and a volume (corp) user
This is hard to write. Not sure if much will come out of it, but let me try. This is about my reflections on, how the way you obtain and use software, change as you finish education, move out of home and spend your 8-10 hrs in a workplace. There’s also the educational institute in between, but that’s a mix sometimes…risky or not, that’s for the immediate authorities to tell.
In the starting, maybe in school years, when you start on your first desktop PC, its probably more powerful (to play all the games) than than what you might end up with at work or you might think having a more powerful machine at work, (where you don’t play games anyways) is a waste of resources anyways (can I take some RAM home?). Your home PC is totally under your control. Your choices, your mistakes, your tweaks, your softwares, your junk, your passwords, my viruses…erm…sly viruses, I mean. You configure as horribly or as perfectly as you can (great business for those magazines that throw around tips among themselves). You need all temp files cleaned, you put in 10 tools to try out which one cleans up the best (that one even plays my fave song ‘seek n destroy’ when it finishes!). You choose the best one, without realising the amount of bloat they added to your registry (that slows down your bootup btw). You feel confident that you get enough amount of malware protection and you got loads of diskspace, so you wanna try out some of the freeware (which bundle in some spyware as well). Not all freeware are bad, not all freeware intend to be bad, but its your home PC, you do wanna try out stuff, confident of that memory hog that hopes spinning a magnifying lens in your face would hypnotise you to think its scanning for malware (and you do too…my virus told me once…it was ROTFL so hard). So what’s the disadvantage of having so much control over your own machine? Its got a effect similar to a vendor lock-in. Vendor lock-in is the phenomenon that you experience when you are trapped by a vendor with a product that only interoperates with other products from the vendor, so your entire workflow is dependent on you feeding the vendor for a long long time. When you setup your machine with all different sorts of shortcuts and quick fixes and unexplained speedups, it becomes hard for you to adjust to a computer at another place…esp. workplace, that you have almost no control over. There’re layers of bureaucracy to wade through before you clean up those layers of junk with CCleaner or something similar. So before I write about what I feel is a very viable way to switch over, let’s have a look at if being a volume user is really that bad or ‘virtually suffocating’?
The main factor that makes it difficult to accept the rudely restricted domain of enterprise computer usage is the fact that we’ve been conditioned through long years of continuous tweaks and customizations to accept nothing better than our very own personalised home computer experience. I cannot truthfully express the way I hear my friends from the developer community are locked out of the internet or from using even their usb drives or even installing some work-relevant tools. But the basic thing is at the corporate level, even the tools that you could freely take advantage of at home to accelerate your computer often come to an abrupt halt detecting your operating environment and with or without reason, getting suspicious that you’re violating the “free for home/personal use only” clause. Some software aggressively (and often stupidly) suspect you for that, whereas there are others that’d just easily trust you. I’ve seen some softwares checking if the computer is on a domain (LDAP/AD) which often is a characteristic of large organisation deployments and then denies to work (‘you cheated!”…’no, i was just passing by this domain, i swear’) I’ve seen antivirus software refusing to install on server editions of operating systems whereas we aren’t even thinking of managing clients from it, but just protect the server. So there are softwares that don’t work as ‘free’ly as they do on your home PC and there are people at the workplace who add more restrictions onto that. Although there definitely are systems out there in the corporate environment that put home PC’s to shame. I’ve seen machines of quite senior (in corp level, not age necessarily) members, with 3 media players, WoW trial and more stuff that you in your formal mindset would be compelled to raise an eyebrow at (yeah like The Rock!). I am a different species when it comes to the roles played by different IT professionals. I’m what you call in short as sysad or more correctly an IT administrator. The one who decides your choice of cracked and crap-sponsored software sucks and needs to be removed with a warning to you. Well I wish I could get to be that bad, but I don’t. 🙂 We have the right to choose the software that we wanna use, but we don’t get to exercise that freely. We’ve test setups of different OS’ environments and we get to use a whole ton of softwares in the name of testing for future needs. Believe me, its not always that interesting, when you gotta try all those stuff, which you never ever dream of letting anywhere near 10 ft of your computer. (get that symantec CD away from my computer!!). As administrators, since we’re the only ones that gotta fix up the mess we end up with, the only clause for testing stuff is that each day our machines should be working just as good as on day 1 since complete initial setup. What we term as the ‘production’ setup. And then there are both server machines and our own personal desktops. Former is where we notify our team and test out stuff and latter is where we personally try out new stuff and find solutions to work smart or to solve some issues better. Like trying out different browsers, different cleaners, different mail clients, different never-heard-of-that tools, etc. However even with the freedom of choice, corp environment always often finds us looking for alternatives to ‘free for personal use’ softwares.
So what’s the easy way of transitioning between home and corporate computing environments? Software that is affordable and executable in either of the places without any restriction clause. Data that is either portable or available from either of the locations that you use computers in (…and perhaps more). Not softwares that work 100% at home, 50% in educational institutes and 10% in corporate organizations, unless you pay up and have no way out if the vendor closes shop.
So guess what kind of license helps you learn softwares with the exact same number of features (and bugs) at home, at school, at college, at your workplace, without any usage restriction? Its Open Source (for the organisations) or Free Software (for the individuals) licenses. It protects you against all the hardships in transitioning that I explained above with the differences in computing environments. In the end, its not hard to change softwares. It’s hard to get acceptance from other people, since even trying to mix in proprietory products with closed formats is taking extra tension of making sure that open products try their best at guessing what might be in the secret coded files…and believe me, some do an unimaginably awesome job at that. So what’s different about file types that free software applications pump out? They are open, the layout of the files, what’s the metadata, what’s the user content, which goes where, what way to arrange the different fields of information, how to get the contents into an universal format, how the file is read into the application, etc. everything is made public knowledge. If the application doesn’t have a file format of its own, it adopts one of the other open file formats, so you could be using 2 of the applications that open the same file format and yet not find your files constantly messed up between the 2. The products are often not upto par, because they have either started much after conventional commercial products have started, or we were aware of them much later, or there are few users of the products who could contribute back not only usage feedback but possibly fixes or new features for the application. The only way free software would be useful to us, if we take interest and a more and more of us not only demand features, but also take the initiative to give back to the community and its not always code that you gotta think of. You could take a look at Mozilla’s crowdsourcing technique of leadership. Your ideas are always welcome in an open world. Something better out of it always comes out when you toss it around with a whole world of like minded people.
Before I close out, like I said in the beginning, educational institutions fall in between home environment and corporate environment. Some may teach you with tools that you can try out back at your home PC and some may teach you with tools that are affordable by corporates and hence almost impossible to obtain and study on your home machine. Often the way proprietory products would encourage the latter is by giving a little more featured ‘educational’ version. What really matters is how the education ministry of your government gets influenced by software vendors with their own profit motives and charts out syllabi for schools and colleges specifically mentioning the vendor’s products as the only tools to teach children with. This is harmful in the long run as children don’t get to try out stuff back at home and their home machines are either useless gaming machines or infestations of warez, given their best efforts to hopefully getting the latest greatest commercial products without paying a dime to the companies that make it. Its only the people, that I know, have taken it as their concern to try hard and get the Goa govt. to change the syllabi into a more neutral one atleast, if not downright free software supporting. Elsewhere outside India, entire nations are moving towards open source, building their own versions of OSes, specifically in their languages, for their own administration, education and other civil departments. Who the hell are we trying to kid with showing off that we use softwares that are affordable by the wealthy west nations (including the bugs that they never ever have any idea about)?
Let’s hear now what you gotta say about your own experience. Comments are open. Always.
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Tags: opensource, Personal computer, Vendor lock-in