I had an experience yesterday I've got to share with you. This is going to be something of a rant. It relates not only to security, but also productivity.
It begins a few weeks ago, when my daughter's church group started a project. Half a dozen bible stories were selected. Children split off into groups, and each one took one of the stories. Their assignment was to script a short play which told the important parts of the story.
They could make a serious drama, a comedy, or anywhere in between. Costumes, makeup, set design, etc., were all at a minimum. The idea was for the kids to put time into learning the stories. They meet once a week, and so they had at most three days to work together.
Each group was to make a video of their play. Last night was the showing of the videos.
There were six videos. Most were about five minutes long; a couple approached ten. The entire event contained less than 45 minutes of video.
Everyone brought in their videos on DVD. Some were saved in MPG2 format, some in MP4. A couple, like ours, were actually authored in DVD format.
A member had a laptop computer connected to a projector, which should have been all they needed. The problem was the laptop was running Microsoft Windows.
Here's where I need to take a quick step back and explain that I knew this would be the case. I hardly ever use Windows for anything, but I wanted to be sure our DVD would run on the church's equipment. So before leaving home, I booted our computer into Windows, popped in the DVD, and... Spent the next ten minutes trying to figure out how to make the DVD play. I started with the Windows Media Center. The user interface took me down one dead end after another. Finally, in frustration, I popped the DVD out, and back in again. The screen turned black, and after a few moments the DVD started playing on its own. Why it didn't do that the first time remains a mystery.
So much for the flashback, now back in church. The show started at 7pm. The projector came on, the lights dimmed, and the first DVD was inserted into the laptop.
Along with everyone else, I watched while the operator, the same guy who owned this laptop, opened Windows Media Center and proceeded to click on the same dead-end links I had done myself, only a few hours earlier.
I recognized those links well, since I had seen them so recently. He was making what appeared to be logical choices, only to meet a dead end every time. It took him about ten minutes to get the first video to play, and I know he wasn't sure exactly what he had done to make it work.
The second video should have been easy, but it wasn't. In fact, he failed to make it run at all. He ended up bringing in a cart with a TV, which had a built-in DVD player. The screen was too small for the room, and the sound was tinny, but he finally got another video going, so the show could go on.
Of course, as I've told you, not all the videos could be played that way, so a return to the drama of the laptop was inevitable.
I'll spare you the details, except to say there was a similar delay between every video. The show lasted until after 8:30pm; more than an hour and a half to play 45 minutes worth of video. The oddest thing to me though, was this: No one seemed to think this was unusual.
When I had run into trouble playing the DVD on my own computer, I had cursed Windows' unintuitive user interface, but I had also chalked it up to me being unfamiliar with Windows-- for the past fifteen years I've used Linux.
This is just one more example which illustrates that even people who use Windows all the time cannot make it work reliably.
Most people use Windows on their home computers, and are unaware they have a choice for a better alternative. This is why so many people are not surprised when a 45 minute show takes 1-1/2 hours to complete. They all believe this is what they should expect when computers are involved. The blame the computer, when they should be blaming the operating system.
Windows has one choice for a user interface (desktop environment). Well, two choices, now that Windows 8 sports the failed "Metro" interface. Linux has many choices for desktop environments, all of them easier to use than Windows.
My personal choice is KDE. When I insert a DVD into my system running KDE, I get a menu in the lower-right, offering me several choices. With a single click, I can play a DVD, open a file manager showing the files on the disk, or select from several other useful choices.
The interface is so easy to use that I'm very certain the man operating the laptop at church could have used it to play all the videos back to back, in 45 minutes. Even though he had never before seen the interface, I'm sure he could have done it without a single snag.
What's more, within the 45 minutes wasted on this one event, I could have installed Linux on his laptop, set up so he had a menu choice to boot into either Linux or Windows. Within a few days of using such a system, he would be questioning the sanity of ever booting into Windows again.
As an aside, I don't know what software the other five groups used to edit their videos. They are all Windows users, so I assume they used editing software they purchased. My daughter edited her group's video using Openshot, a free program available for Linux.
Most of the programs running on Linux are free. Linux itself is free. Free as in "free beer" and also free as in "freedom". For most programs, the source code is also open.
More and more people are discovering a better alternative in computing. Why do I think this is important enough to write about?
There are plenty of more important issues out there. Our friend Prophesy wrote about one of them already today.
Computers are not so important in and of themselves. Neither are the operating systems they run on. These things are tools which we use to get our work done. That work might involve our livelihood, our home budget or, as I'm doing now, the spreading of ideas.
Tools should help us perform our work more efficiently. They should not hinder us, and get in the way.
In my experience, Microsoft Windows gets in the way more often than it helps. If you're not using Linux, do yourself a big favor and give it a try.
If you need help, begin with my article here: