Dante’s inferno (or the three levels of OS)

Dnte AlighieriDante had a sense of humour, even back in the 13th century. Anyone who can create such a nightmarish image and call it the Divine Comedy would have been the kind of guy who went to bed with a twinkle in his eye. But he proposed a very interesting concept about the various ‘levels’ of the Christian afterlife and how things can get progressively worse, and there’s my rather tenuous link. It’s about how depending on which OS you choose, and what your priorities are, some things just get progressively worse.

I thought about this following my ordeal with Ubuntu, and when I started wondering why I had bothered trying to install it in the first place. What was I going to do with it? I mean, really DO with it? I have a friend who is what I’d call a Linux guru. He’s built his very own ‘distro’ and arcane terminal commands flow from his fingertips whenever he’s sat at a Linux machine. Much as he’s an advocate for Linux, the GPL and all things open-source, he frequently recounts to me, horror stories about trying to get various bits of hardware to work – hardware that just springs to life under Windows.

So let’s think about my webcam, a rather neat little Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 that I bought for a modest outlay of £45 ($90) because of it’s superb picture quality and built-in microphone.

Under Windows XP SP3 it works perfectly (helped not least by the fact that Logitech, like virtually every other hardware manufacturer, supply the drivers for it on a CD in the same box). The camera has face detection and auto-zoom and is a joy to use with Skype in said OS. In fact using it is as difficult as popping in a CD and plugging the camera in.

Now we descend to the next level – Mac OS X Leopard. Again the story is reasonably good, the camera’s basic function of capturing an image and sounds via its built-in microphone are there and working. For the most part. Ok, with Skype the face detection and zoom have gone as you have to rely on a generic built-in Leopard driver, but it’s perfectly usable. Then we have programs like Evernote and MacJournal which can’t hear a thing through the camera’s mike. PhotoBooth is another – deciding whether it’s going to detect the camera based on, well… I don’t know, maybe the weather?! As for Leopard’s built-in Speech Recognition, it’s a complete non-starter.

Finally we reach Linux. You may find yourself trying to determine the camera’s device id at a command prompt and then searching for drivers courtesy of Google. If you’re lucky enough to find one, the features it supports and how are a bit of a lottery and you may have to compile (and re-compile) things and edit other system files in order to treat the world to a moving picture of your ugly mug. I appreciate that the hardware manufacturers don’t help by keeping the specs of their devices secret, but it’s a problem that unfortunately ends up firmly in the lap of the Linux user far too often, and let’s be honest – there are an awful lot of people out there who simply want to use a PC to do something creative or fun, rather than tinkering with the inner workings of its OS.

While I appreciate the community spirit of Linux and the stability and beauty of OS X Leopard, Windows has it’s place. For the millions who don’t care about the politics, about the proprietary code, about the struggle to win the minds of the computing public, about the tinkering trying to make things work, and who just want to use their PCs in peace… it’s there. Off you go. Just sorry I won’t be joining you.

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