This blog is a political blog from a left-of-centre perspective. This is not specifically a party political blog, but does have a Lib Dem orientation. Constructive enagement with radical liberals, social democrats / democratic socialists and greens is particularly welcomed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Liberals and Linux, Microsoft and Monopolies

I was under the impression that Liberals were generally supportive of open and competitive markets as an aid to innovation and driving up standards and meeting consumer needs.

Yet, the majority of you no doubt write in support of such, despite (sometimes unwittingly) having paid your levy to Bill Gates in adopting a computer operating system brought to you by a company that hates competition. Microsoft often uses it's domination of the home PC market and it's financial position to either 'extend and embrace' innovative and popular rivals by buying them up, or forcing competitors out by incorporating elements into their operating system for 'free'. Where are WinAmp or Netscape Navigator now ? The bloatware that is Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer dominate the Windows platform in their place. MSN Hotmail ? That too was once an independent webmail operation, before being 'embraced' by Microsoft and being re-branded MSN Hotmail. Microsoft's anti-competitive zeal has few equals.

With it's armies of developers it took what, about 7 years, for Microsoft to introduce Windows Vista to replace XP. The result even more bloatware. Half truths about what was / is a Vista capable PC, lots of flakey drivers at the outset and the same security issues that bedevil all versions of Windows. Would you buy any other product that had so many failings upon purchase ?

Now I should add that I'm no geek. I'm not a great lover of command lines, want my OS to generally work 'out of the box' and installation and updates to be as pain free as possible. I have to say my last PC had Vista pre-installed. It was something I didn't really want or need but it's cost was factored into the PC purchase price - like it or not. It is actually quite hard to buy a PC without MS Windows installed on it.

Having tried on differing machines Ubuntu Linux, Linux Mint, Linpus Linux, Madriva Linux and Fedora Core nearly all, but especially the Ubuntu and it's sister spin-offs, have installed easily, worked well straight out of the box (sometimes initially without proprietary multimedia codecs which can usually be easily added). Adding and updating software, the quality of free (as in cost and in ability to change and adapt) open-source software, the frequent closing of any security loopholes by regular updates, put the Microsoft family of products to shame.

Windows really is the triumph of a private monopoly acting against the needs of the majority of IT users. So why are so many fellow Liberals using Windows and Office from the Microsoft stable? Why are you afraid of open-source alternatives. Why are LD councillors getting their local authorities to sign up to deals with Microsoft ? Why are councils employing an array of IT support professionals ? With re-training and re-thinking of attitudes Linux and other UNIX based alternatives offer a cost-effective solution, without the need of so many professionals to patch-up Microsoft's dismal efforts.

In contrast, with Linux one can refashion a 'distribution' to meet individual needs, be that the look and feel of the OS, or extend functionality in a way that suits you, should you have the time and coding skills. An operating system that, in the case of the leading 'distributions' or varients (like Ubuntu, OpenSUSE Linux, Fedora Core or Linux Mint) upgrades come roughly every six months (not 6 years like some). Programmers frequently fix glitches or issues with speed, rather than the year long wait for a Microsoft 'service pack' to emerge before a new Microsoft OS can begin to offer any kind of stability and online security.

Now, I am not a Linux evangelist per-se. I don't mind paying for quality hardware and software, I love the marriage of design, functionality and ease-of-use that many Apple products have. Mac OS X with it's UNIX underpinnings, stylish user interface, offers all this and a secure online platform You can even put Windows on a Mac system too if you've got essential applications or games only released on that platform that you rally can't do without. However, when my new Mac arrives in the next week or two, I'll still find space on my hard drive to install a version of Linux to sit alongside Mac OS X. I'll use lots of open-source applications. Why go either down the illegal route (via a pirated copy of MS Office) or the expensive route by a high street MS Office purchase, when Open Office will do the same thing, more or less, for free and is cross platform, which is a boon to those whose productive tasks are done across Linux, Mac and MS Windows environments. Need a lightweight but useful word processor ? Use Abiword instead. Need a responsive Media Player ? Try VideoLAN VLC player, it'll play just about every audio-visual format you can chuck at it ! Photoshop too expensive ? Try the GIMP ! Prefer more secure browsing ? Try the infinitely more adaptable Firefox. The list goes on !

Even if you can't let go of the Redmond beast that is Microsoft Windows, seek out the many great open-source applications available often on Linux and Mac, as well as Windows. There really is no need to accept spyware, trojans and virus infection as a 'norm'. You really don't need to download 'hookey' versions of MS Office from dodgy websites offering illegal serials or cracks for commercial products. Be legal and be free in every sense of the word. Liberals should be liberal in their approach to software. Try some of the options suggested, invest some time with those applications mentioned and ideologically you'll be doing the right thing and your bank balance (and maybe moral conscience too) will be in better shape !

Finally, for Lynne Featherstone MP, as IT advisor-in-chief to Nick Clegg, please make sure that the party's own IT structure / communications are multi-platform in orientation.

Semi-rant mode now off.

Anyone want to defend the unlovely crew from Seattle way ?

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Friday, January 23, 2009

On the Left - What a surprise ! - But nowhere to go ?

The Political Survey 2005 : reveals to no great surprise that I'm politically left-wing. With regard to political compatibility it suggests that of all the largest political parties it is with the Greens whom I have the greatest similarity of views, with twice as many respondents sharing similar views,than do Labour and Lib Dem inclined voters. It would have been interesting to compare my typical views with those held by the continuing Liberal party, but they are not included in the comparison chart.

Happily there are no BNP or UKIP supporters with whom I share commonalities with, despite being more Eurosceptic minded than most other Lib Dem members. In terns of the wider populace the survey says :

* 8.6% are significantly to your left
* 45.8% have views about the same as yours
* 45.6% are significantly to your right

That seems about right ! I'm glad that it recognises that I am internationalist in outlook, prefer rehabilitation to retribution in respect of the criminal justice system. And, in economic terns, it describes me as 'slightly socialist' and anti-war. In reality, I very much support a redistributive economic model.

So where does someone who is broadly on the left, is internationalist in outlook, redistributive in economic terms, a Euro agnostic, favours decentralisation, has small l liberal values go ? Traditionally and tribally I was Labour. Blair, the Iraq War and a shift to the right put paid to that. Lib Dems outwardly appear quite attractive, but their taxation policies and their potential impact on public services concern me. The floated proposals on 'free schools' could result in more selective and socially divisive system and some at the top of that party want to reposition the party on issues like scrapping tuition fees. In short my perception is of a party moving rightwards under the leadership of an ineffectual leader. The Greens ? Disorganised, often illiberal and their policy programme seems in part disjointed and unrealistic.

There are people in each of these parties I admire, ethos and policies that I can subscribe to (and disagree with). But none really enthuse me.

As someone who has always been politically engaged I feel 'switched off'. Watch most political programmes on TV, listen to radio broadcasts, read eports in the written media and little reflects my concerns or those who live in areas like mine. On a political blog I find myself more enthused about writing of the Derby - Forest match this evening. How has it come to this ?

At least America was offered clear and distinctive choices. No-one could doubt the differences between McCain and the Republican party and the alternative of Obama. Obama in European terms is hardly a radical, but the choices on offer meant voting could make a difference. Nationally whilst I'd hate to see the return of of the Tories and, locally I see how they still serve the few rather than the many, I just don't feel motivated politically at all. Am I alone in feeling this way ?

Can anyone give me good reasons to leave my armchair and be politically active again. Nasty conservatism in one borough (Torbay) can only motivate one so much !

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A Kinder Gentler Derby ?

Nigel Clough one of my all-time Nottingham Forest favourites with 300+ appearances in the Garibaldi shirt leads out the Rams for the FA Cup contest between Derby and the Tricky Trees. Hopefully Nigel will be given a respectful and generous reception from the Reds faithful.

Some Forest fans were not happy that new Forest manager, Billy Davies, had himself a largely successful tenure as Derby County manager. Frankly, it's his track record that is key and having got Derby promoted to the Premier League and previously taken Preston North End into the play-offs, his experience at Championship level makes him ideal, in my view, for rescuing the Reds from their lowly league position. Happily recent good form has seen the Reds move above our 'friends' from the other end of the A52 ;-)

The first meeting of the season in the league was full of controversy. On the balance of play Forest deserved their draw, but two very late and very poor refereeing decisions stopped the Sheep loving ones from gloating for months ! To see their angst at the time was sooooo amusing !!! I'm still laughing !!

So to tonight. What can you expect ? A kinder and more restrained Derby clash ? Forget it ! It'll probably be played at a brisk pace with lots of barely legal tackles flying in. There'll probably be little in the way of pretty football. It'll be all about not losing ! Local pride matters more than the actual prize of an FA Cup 5th Round place.

Being the curmudgeonly pessimist that I am, I fear a narrow Sheep victory, with home advantage being decisive. Whatever one might say about the Rams, I have to say the loyalty of their support, despite going a full year without winning a league match, continues to impress. A whole YEAR, what joy !

I remember years ago the Derby match day programme talking about the fierce but 'friendly' rivalry between the two clubs. The vicious fighting between rival fans throughout that evening and the fact that something like a third of the Derbyshire constabulary were said to be deployed at that particular match, makes talk of friendly rivalry look hideously inaccurate.

Unfortunately I can't get to Shame Park for the game tonight so it'll be a night of anxious tension and much swearing at the TV. Here's to a quiet night for the Police, but to a handsome Forest win and much gloating at our 'friends' from the Sheep Dip !

Is it just me or is seeing your main rivals losing almost a pleasurable as seeing your own team win ?!

Forget rationality, its Derby v. Forest, so C'mon you Reds !!! Please don't let me down !!

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