Software and the like

For over ten years I was a front end developer. Of course, back in the day the role was called “web designer” and there was significantly less front end to develop. This was a natural progression for me because I did sculpture in college. I think it’s funny that three of the best Flash developers I worked with (yes, I’m really that old: I started flashing in 2005) were also fine art graduates. One chap was an illustrator (hi, Carl) and the other two were painters. I was surprised by this at the time, labouring as I was under the prejudice that programmers were all mathematical people. One thing this showed me was the true economic potential of a fine art degree.

I have done lots of digital design, mostly for the interwebs, but also some for print. When I started there were options for which design software to use when it came to web graphics. There was a choice between Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. I was an Illustrator guy because vectors are the bomb. For anyone who has never worked in digital design, I’m here to inform you that Illustrator designers were very much the redheaded stepchildren of the community. In every group of designers (in a respectful rather than competitive way) everybody knows who’s who. I was never the golden boy, but I was useful enough to keep around (or so it seems). The golden boy was always a Photoshop head. Finally, at Geary Interactive in San Diego I met the best visual designer I have worked with to date (hello, Rich) and he was an Illustrator fan. This was extraordinary vindication for me.

I was a Windows user for many years. Way back when, the only consumer OS that ran high end software was Windows NT. I used to dabble in 3D studio Max, Maya and even Softimage (I said I was old). Some of this stuff didn’t run on anything else apart from IRIX machines, which were horribly expensive (anybody remember SGI?). I’m half tempted to pause and give you my take on why IRIX died, but it’s a little off topic.

In those days Mac was on OS 7ish which nobody developed any serious software for because it was too clunky to bother with. Obviously they got their act together and came out with OSX.

Let’s take a look at some currently available operating systems. Let’s start with the crowd pleaser: Windows.

Windows is Windows.

OSX is pretty good and is an actual functioning operating system. The only real complaints I have about it are:

  1. It feels like an educational app for five year olds.
  2. GUI file navigation is flat out embarrassing: the system in Windows beats it.
    1. To be fair: it is BSD and does have terminal, which is the fastest way to traverse files, but most people prefer browsing to command line.
  3. Apple has the audacity to ask for money in exchange for it.

And then there’s Linux.

Everybody has heard of it, but to most it is a strange environment where programmers and hackers wage war on the internet (or something). The funny thing though, is that Linux is the internet.

It’s hardly surprising that it’s foreign to most of us: as of January 2021, 1.93% of all desktop operating systems worldwide ran on Linux. This is not what I would consider global domination. However that is the view from the client side; through the looking glass, the numbers are quite different.

The previous information comes from this place where I also found the following:

  • In 2021, the lines of code submitted to the Linux Git repository reached 27.8 million.
  • In 2021, 100% of the world’s top 500 supercomputers run on Linux.
  • Out of the top 25 websites in the world, only 2 aren’t using Linux.
  • 96.3% of the world’s top 1 million servers run on Linux.
  • 90% of all cloud infrastructure operates on Linux and practically all the best cloud hosts use it.

Also: Android is Linux.

WTF? How does nobody (margin of error +/- whatever) know this? Is it some devious conspiracy by Microsoft and The Open Group? ‘Seems unlikely to me, given that this information is freely available on the interwebs (even in Russia and China). In my opinion, people just don’t think about it. The only operating systems most people realise they interact with are the ones on their computers; mobile devices; televisions; cars etc. People aren’t idiots (or at least not all of them in my experience). They know that when they’re online they are getting information from a machine somewhere that has an OS, but it’s not really their business to investigate any further.

When I go to a restaurant and order a meal I don’t do any research beforehand into the cooking style and work history of the chefs in the place. Nor do I inquire as to which chefs, exactly, will be preparing which parts of the meal. I don’t consider this to be a reckless or radical approach to restaurant dining. It’s the same with people on the web: they know what they want and as long as it is delivered in a timely manner they don’t waste any time wondering where it came from. They just eat their dinner. I don’t think this is unreasonable.

But what if you heard about a restaurant across the street that everyone from burger champers like me to four-Michelin-starred chefs said served the best food they have ever eaten? What if this restaurant made all its money from online advertising and the food was always 100% free? Surely it would be only the most hardened Luddite who wouldn’t at least stop in for lunch just the once.

This, in essence, is the current situation (not the bit about the restaurant: that’s just a metaphor). Let me be clear: I loved Illustrator and Photoshop (and other software, what can I say: I’m a nerd). But then I heard about Gimp and Inkscape. They are children of Linux, but are also available for other operating systems (and Windows). If you’re feeling nerdy you can download the source code and build them your own way for the proprietary OS that you wrote last weekend.

So what’s the difference between Photoshop/Illustrator and Gimp/Inkscape? Let me attempt to be somewhat systematic about this and compare the rasters and the vectors separately.

Photoshop has much better branding: better name, better marketing images etc. One of the reasons I didn’t try Gimp when I first heard of it was that I found the name off-putting. This is a bit of Linux humour. It stands for Gnu Image Manipulation Program, but the only reason they called it that is because the acronym spells gimp, which they thought was funny (I do too). So Photoshop wins that round, but Adobe spends literally hundreds of dollars every year promoting their products. The Gimp people also do some promotion, but the spend is really not far off mere hundreds of dollars.

I finally took the leap and switched to Linux in February 2021. I had a window slammed in my face one time too many. For the first time in twenty years I was without PS/Ill. I don’t know how many of you are smokers (I am). Inevitably I have been on the merry-go-round of giving them up several times until finally I gave up giving them up. Anything you do almost every week (most days in fact) for twenty years is sort of an addiction. There was no possibility I was going to do without, so I started to learn Gimp/Inkscape in earnest.

Initially I found the Gimp interface to be somewhat counterintuitive. I wasn’t bothered though, because I understood that my Photoshop habits and shortcuts etc. were more than a little ingrained. After the first week I started to develop a workflow and the scales fell from my eyes. Gimp is much (much) better than Photoshop. Selection transformation; add guides by selection and many more things just work better in Gimp.

There is a myth circulating that there are more tools in Photoshop than Gimp. There are some useful tools that ship with Photoshop that don’t ship with Gimp, but all of them can be installed as plugins in Gimp for free. There are a few “advanced” features unique to PS, but they are completely useless. You hear about them pending and they sound interesting; they usually have some clever programming in them and when you get the chance you try them out and think “that’s pretty cool” but you never come across a situation where you need them for anything. I’m not going to publicly list them (in case somebody at Adobe gets in trouble) but I think many of you know which tools I am referring to ;-). There are also many plugins (extant and under development) available for Gimp which offer functionality Photoshop users can only dream of.

Every useful feature Photoshop has to offer works better in Gimp. Except for layers. They have improved recently, but are still kinda clunky. The good folk at Gimp are aware of this and are working on further enhancements. The layer system in Photoshop is a thing of beauty. Credit where credit’s due: well done, Adobe.

A good (in my opinion the king of them all) example of a technologically clever Photoshop feature which is utterly useless is Adobe Photoshop Mix. According to their website, Mix is “a creative, easy-to-use photo editing experience on your iPhone, iPad, or Android phone.” Fair enough, one might say. Another way of putting it however, is: how many times do you have to hit a professional photographer in the head with a plank of wood (pine: 4×2) before (s)he decides to go to a shoot without a laptop?

Even if the plank to the head technique succeeds and they get through the day, how many family members will you have to threaten before they agree to edit their images on (cruelly, their own choice of) “iPhone, iPad, or Android phone”? You see where I’m going with this, people: Adobe Photoshop Mix isn’t really a technology issue. It’s about human rights. It’s about dignity and allowing professionals to continue to use the hardware they prefer.

Have you ever seen the fucking size of monitors (usually it’s two) graphics and photography types use Photoshop on? I promise you this: they are indeed larger than (this is too good: I have to do the list again) “iPhone, iPad, or Android phone” screens. There’s a good chance that if I brought up things like graphics cards, RAM and storage space I would require immediate medical attention, so I’m not going to mention them. And have you seen the amount of shit Adobe slings about RAW support (which Gimp also supports) everywhere? Holy fucking Moses! It has physical weight; they spew so much of it. What’s RAW mainly about (apart from bullshit: it’s fairly useless for all but the most extreme edge cases)? It’s about 12 or 16 bit images instead of 8 bit ones, for accurate colour calibration. What can you not do on the beautiful device list (one more time) “iPhone, iPad, or Android phone”? That’s right: colour calibration. So WTF is Adobe Photoshop Mix? A marketing gimmick; a flat corporate lie.

Seriously, Adobe?

So in summation, Gimp beats Photoshop hands down everywhere except layers (for now). And it is 100% free forever: check the license.

Right, as JZ might put it: on to the next one: Illustrator vs Inkscape.

It would be more dramatic here if Adobe, bleeding and caught in the ropes, managed to reach down into its cold corporate soul and rise up in desperation against this violent onslaught of what I can only describe as “the bloody obvious”. That would be a good way to proceed if I was writing a drama here. But I’m not. This is where Adobe falls out of the ring.

What can I say? I used to LOVE Illustrator. But then I met Inkscape and she captured my heart. I’m sorry, Illustrator, but there is simply no path forward for us together. Now I am Inkscape’s bitch. I have no control when she is around. We had a better run than most, what was it; twenty years? I loved you then; I love you still, but I am no longer in love with you. This thing is bigger than the both of us, girl. If there was any way I could change it I would. But as you know, I’m just (barely) a JavaScript guy and you need more; you deserve more. I can never give you what you need; I just don’t have the C++; the Python. If I did, I would have healed your wounds many years ago. Aaah, Illy! Why did you have to go there? (She just brought up snapping. How many times did her “snapping” cause me to snap?). Listen, Ill, I don’t think this conversation is going to end in a bright place if we continue, so I’m shutting it down. Oh for fuck’s sake: now she’s saying that she’s glad this is happening in public. She’s not an idiot. She knows there’s no such thing as privacy. It’s a dig that I’m insane: that I’m attempting conversation with someone who believes privacy is possible.

Ok, Ill: I’m pulling the plug. I’m with Inkscape now and that’s really all there is to say. I have no idea whether or not it will work out long term, but I’m willing to take the chance. I am certain you will find another user more in tune with where you are coming from. I will always remember you fondly. Goodbye.

Sorry about that, guys. I wasn’t expecting to see her today, but at least now I don’t have to bother with herself versus Inkscape. If you need a comparison, just copy and paste the Photoshop commentary and make reasonable substitutions. Same deal, same license (more or less).

What else can I say about Linux Software? Blender? Check it out yourself: professional video editing suite (used by the big Hollywood boys); insane 3d capabilities; a rendering engine that beats Renderman. If I attempt a complete list of the benefits of moving to Linux I’m afraid the page would require more electricity than I’m willing to consume. It’s all better. It’s all free. Forever. Men and women (admittedly quite a few) all over the world take a break from their sixty hour weeks and ask themselves “what could I improve about Blender/ Gimp/ Inkscape/ Linux etc?” Hobbyists and weekenders are kicking the living shit out of the hulking megacorps. How is this possible? Look at the combined spend of Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, Discreet Logic and all the rest of those avaricious machines. Now look at how much money goes into the far superior Linux products. Now it’s even more What The Fuck.

The difference is intent. The open source community intends to try to improve things for everyone (admittedly bragging rights are always at stake). The silicon data rapists intend to make as much money as they can at any cost. They do take legal restrictions very seriously, however. It’s mostly an accounting issue. Let me frinstance this for you.

You are the CEO of MicroDiscreetAppleCorp. Everyone’s heard of them, right? You have a new app that slings porn up front and scrapes phones in the back (after users graciously grant access to their phone’s data). Unfortunately somebody you pay a shit ton of money in Washington seriously dropped the ball. There was a bill going through the motions about fair disclosure of data use that was supposed to be killed, but somehow it managed to limp, broken and half mad, across the finish line.

The problem now is that if your application sucks every piece of information it can from every device it is installed on and sends it to your data vault, you have to list this as a function of the software and explain (basically) what you do with the information.

As you know, many apps do this. And much of the time they simply won’t run if you don’t give them full access. I’ve noticed recently that some marketing departments are experimenting with the phrase “only while the app is in use”. It’s probably true – I haven’t checked. Maybe the apps in question only have full access to all data on your phone while they are in use. So fucking what? They still sniff out every piece of imagery and text they can reach and beam it back to the mothership. But “only while the app is in use”. Every single time the app is used. Fuck off, MicroDiscreetAppleCorp.

That reminds me: has anyone read the Facebook message in WhatsApp? It’s:

Messages and calls are end-to-end encrypted. No one outside of this chat,
not even WhatsApp, can read or listen to them. Tap to learn more.

And if you Tap it you get a popup with the following:

WhatsApp secures your conversations with end-to-end encryption. This means
your messages, calls and status updates stay between you and the people
you choose. Not even WhatsApp can read or listen to them.

At the bottom of the popup are two options, one on either side:

Learn more                  OK

Tapping “Learn more” takes you here. What a fucking load of gobbledygook. Need I say more? Well, there is one thing I can think of: end-to-end-encryption. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about end-to-end encryption:

In many messaging systems, including email and many chat networks, messages pass through intermediaries and are stored by a third party, from which they are retrieved by the recipient. Even if the messages are encrypted, they are only encrypted ‘in transit’, and are thus accessible by the service provider, regardless of whether server-side disk encryption is used. Server-side disk encryption simply prevents unauthorized users from viewing this information. It does not prevent the company itself from viewing the information, as they have the key and can simply decrypt this data.

This allows the third party to provide search and other features, or to scan for illegal and unacceptable content, but also means they can be read and misused by anyone who has access to the stored messages on the third party system, whether this is by design or via a backdoor. This can be seen as a concern in many cases where privacy is very important …

Oh yes, one more thing: fuck off, Facebook.

Anyway, back to MicroDiscreetAppleCorp.

This new law presents a business challenge. Nobody in the same voting district as sanity will install this thing if they know its actual function. But this is not the end of the world because all your competitors in the same market face the same problem. So what do you do? You schedule a meeting with accounting to crunch some numbers. You figure out the per-use-cost of legal fees when you break this new law. Abiding by it was never on the table, after all: the app cost $15m to develop – not big money, but mind the pennies and all that.

I’m not an accountant, nor a lawyer, but this is the basic setup. MicroDiscreetAppleCorp just works out if there is enough profit in proceeding when they subtract development cost and legal fees or whatever. They don’t give a shit about laws. The one that just squeaked through now has a target on its back. MicroDiscreetAppleCorp is patient. It has money. It bides its time.

Contrary to the beliefs of many, corporations are not evil. They are neutral. They were originally conceived as a means to more efficiently garner wealth. This is what they still do. They do it very efficiently. And let’s face it: a lot of us either work or have worked for some of them (I know I have). They pay wages and taxes (kinda) and are deeply interwoven with the fabric of everyday life. Generally their public face is inoffensive; many hardly notice them at all. But that’s where all the money is. They are the new aristocracy.

The people who work for these machines are not bad. They are you and me. Say you work for SpankCorp and you are the main earner in your family (one of each; you were worried for a bit about the boy’s development before the age of two, but that seems to be ok now etc.). You found out that as well as mincing the minutiae of peoples’ lives for usable data, they also own a company named GoFuckYourselfThirdWorld, which is a far cry from the friendly face spankers (as the company insists the employees jovially refer to themselves) are encouraged to project.

GoFuckYourselfThirdWorld is extremely profitable; their business? Shipbreaking in India. You are literally nauseated. You just caught a glimpse of the rabbit hole. It’s late because these bastards work you hard, but you have no choice other than to grind yourself to the bone because the pay is good and God knows you need the money and if you stumble there are ten younger, smarter people vying for your job and Jesus Fucking Christ you are so fucking tired. But now you realise whom you actually work for. What can you do? Bring it up at the next management meeting? Leak the information? It’s already public: you found it on the internet – there’s no whistle to blow. Resign in protest? Seriously? In this job market? At my age? With two kids? Come on!

These are the people paying the child labourers (not all that much if you look into it). They are you. They are me. What can we do about it? I’m not certain, but the corporate Ouroboros looks to be getting dangerously close to running out of tail. We need to feed this fucker something else. Or tame it, but that’s a conundrum. These boys (and yes, it is literally a boys’ club) are major players in legislative bodies across the world. They keep their shit tight. And they have almost all of the money, so that’s some serious David and Goliath business. Except we are not David. We are the lumbering, uncoordinated retards who suffer from gigantism and can barely see what is immediately before us, let alone make sense of it.

And FuckYouCorp is David. Standing on the hill, young, fit and keen eyed with a slingshot. There is no fight here. Those slingshots were the handguns of the day. In the grasp of an expert they were extremely accurate and had the stopping power of a .44 magnum. Us poor Goliaths don’t stand a chance. Not in this game. This is their game. I want to play a different game.

Cue Linux. This, my (potential) friends, is an Operating System. It is bullet proof. That’s why every fortune 500 company uses it. They don’t use it exclusively. But it is their backbone; their neural network. Windows and OSX disappearing in the morning wouldn’t toss a hair on their heads, but if there was suddenly no more Linux, difficulties would arise.

Linux is what the space chaps use (all of them).

Dudes! Security! Dudes! Much has been written on the topic and many corporations feed on it, but the only operating system that can approach it is Linux. There are no viruses for Linux. It’s too secure for them. Even the OS doesn’t have permission to execute a file unless you expressly grant it. Unix, which Mr. Torvalds originally modeled the kernel on (the only problem I have with Unix is that it is closed source) can’t compete with Linux security anymore. If there was anything better, the rich people would be using it. But all of them use Linux. Because it’s free. These people know a bargain when they see one: that’s why they’re rich :-).

And what a joy to use. It never bluescreens, farts or hiccups. It just sits in a sort of zen state, never straining. Its way is always clear; its path is always prepared. Its time is now ;-).

Seriously, guys: save up the price of a Linux seat, download it (this is my favourite flavour) and give it a shot if you’re feeling brave. It’s only 2GB. The whole thing. Any device you can read this page on can run Linux. If you’re a bit timid and don’t want to install it you can put it on a flash drive, pop into your BIOS settings, set the boot order and it will run off the stick without even installing. It really has lots of good stuff and it has terminal. If you like, you will never have to even see terminal. You can remove the shortcut from the launch bar and sail through life, but it’s always there if you need or want it. The only recent Linux feature I would like to draw your attention to right now is Warpinator. I think it’s brilliant and I think it might go wide, but what do I know?

So that’s my two-and-sixpence on the whole software thing. I won’t bother leaving links to anything I mentioned because in Linux all you have to do is pop open the software manager and type in the name. Then it installs exactly like a mobile app and uninstalls completely whenever you like. Completely. No DLL bullshit and lingering shortcuts etc. No charge. There are many companies charging for various distributions and custom features and good luck to them. I’m just blown away by how far the mums and dads have surpassed the big boys, with no money, in their imaginary spare time, while working for the big boys.

Now, I’m aware that the Linux project is woefully underfunded, but unfortunately so am I. However, in the true spirit of the open source community I would like to offer a candidate for the Linux logo, since it still doesn’t have one. What do you think?

I wanted to give credit for the raster penguin, but I can’t figure out who made it. Anyone?

2 thoughts on “Software and the like

  1. Thank you for this. This is the clearest analysis of the current situation with corporations I have ever read. I’m going to try mint. Keep writing.


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