Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Sunday, May 25, 2003

 

Memorial Day, part 1

Here's some old, dead computer stuff that deserves to be remembered.




The first 5mb winchester drive for PCs. My first one (1984) cost 3 grand. I threw away a couple hundred floppies. Since then we've been on a capacity curve that boggles the mind... and still... always... with nearly 300GB in the house today, I have 200% less storage than I need. I've had to spread my life across sourceforge and blogger and taht.net just to keep from being overwhelmed by my own electronic refuse. It became impossible to back all this stuff up years ago, and why's that?
Function Keysyou know, those keys, lettered F1-F12 on the top of your keyboard? Before we were cursed by mac-think, function keys used to actually do something. Today's software litters 1/3 of your screen with useless visual garbage, and obscures the one thing you are supposed to be doing in front of a word processor - processing words. Function keys... they were right there, near your fingers and only in your field of vision when you wanted to edit something, rather than write it. How much productivity is lost every single time we have to reach for a stinking mouse?
Lotus Manuscript The outliner kicked ass. I've never managed to write big, complexly formatted, beautiful documents since its demise - it lived in the gap between framemaker and ms-word, and asphexiated there. I write in a very fragmented fashion - and no tool I've yet used under linux lets me organise my thoughts and reorganise them and then format them properly.
There are people that swear by metacard. Staroffice? Don't make me laugh - it has this thing called sections but outlining properly? Ha. I like blogger in that so long as much subject range is small, I can manage my topics anywhere, but there's no easy way to link back to the plethora of pieces I've put together this year. I've tried mozblog, I can't get it to work. I try to write in gvim, and I can't paste that into the damn browser. !@#!.
The best outliner out there? Powerpoint - but it only goes a few levels deep and iuseless for anything other than single screenfulls of text. I keep seeing people trying to use it to outline meeting notes, and getting more and more frustrated. Powerpoint is a symptom of our 13 minute attention span. It's become a powerpoint-driven world, and all the sadder for it.
I'm open to recomendations. I'll even switch OS's, if that's what I have to do. Send me an email recomending your favorite outliner, feel free to plug it with all the glassy eyed conviction of a scientologist, and I'll look into it.
WordStarKing of the control sequence - an even more typist friendly method of pounding out text than function keys. And, aside from a few throwbacks like joe, it's dead as a doornail. And I'm cursed with the memory of all the different word processors I've used over the years - Why do I still remember that Ctrl-KB started a block? I could be using that mental space for something useful, like a girl's phone number.
Borland's SidekickHit two keys, handle a phone call. Hit two keys, write down a spurious thought. Same two keys, again, bang, you were back in what you were doing. I've reached the point where I need three monitors just to retain enough context during the day to finish something, switching between writing, browsing, coding, thinking, planning, noting....
Framemaker for Linux Why did they kill it? Is there a market yet?
SCO Professional Due to a look and feel lawsuit, the cowardly namby pambies at SCO in 92 killed their Lotus 123-alike. SCO's higher ups had already abandoned their own product internally as part of their windows capitulation strategy, and not satisified with killing off Pro, SCO's bewildered execs went on to kill off their entire office suite. It was an orgy of self destruction, utterly crippling the generall usefullness of the the product, trashing the last corporate-wide scheduling program I've ever used that worked, as part of their pathetic pacification of legal beagles with bigger backing and balls than brains.
Note to SCO: The OS ain't the the thing, man, it's the apps. No apps, no mainstream. If you don't use your own product, why should your customers?

Now lawyers run the company. They're suing the world, crying "Foul!" - their OS IP (that they have maybe 8 engineers left working on) has been obsoleted by everyone else. I don't think they get it yet. IP ain't like land. It depreciates if you leave it fallow. Rapidly. The worth of what you have paid so much for over the past decade is zero, zip, nada, nothing. The software world doesn't run on Prop 13. Do you get it yet?
CPMThank god I can't remember the syntax of the PIP command anymore. But I still remember a couple CP/M boxes fondly. Coupled with wordstar I could really pound out text and fit whole papers on single floppies and store somewhere in my field of vision where I could friggin find them again. I remember having a monochrome monitor - 19 years ago! - that let me clearly see a whole page of text instead of this 1024x768 window into a windowed world with the entire screen filled up with useless decorations, colors, fonts, scrollbars and Clippy.


You'll note that every last one of these dead pieces of software was proprietary - that nearly every company just... went under... or discontinued the product - rather than release the source code and let it find a new ecosystem. Why I don't know. If they released it, it would have at least remained as sand in the greased world of their competitors. Wouldn't that have been nice?

I've been thinking we need to rewrite bankruptcy law - in exchange for being able to rip off shareholders and lienholders when you hit chapter 7 - corporate IP should automatically enter the public domain - Wouldn't that be a trip? To still see products like the above still nipping at the heels of the monopolistic monoliths we have to deal with today? Change product obsolecence law - you obsolete a product, you give it up to the PD rather than force an upgrade or vendor change down the throats of your customers.
 
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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


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