Saturday, May 07, 2016

Software Choices

This might be a bit geeky today and for that I humbly apologise ... But I do hope you see some similarities here with choices you're likely going to be making with your various electronic bits and pieces.

I might have to do a few choices soon with the various bits of software I use at home, due to ... a couple of things actually. So what do I use ?

I have 4 main computing devices, an iPhone 5, an iPad Mini 2, a desktop PC running Windows and a Macbook Air running MacOS X. It's a fairly decent mix, although the iPhone is starting to run into its forced obsolescence and I might need to look into alternatives soon. Translation - the home button isn't working as it should and the battery connector is ... pretty unreliable.

The catalyst for my choices is a couple of happy messages :

The Firefox web browser on my Macbook deciding it wasn't going to update any more. This is pretty serious because the web is a pretty toxic place now. If the vulnerabilities are present and unpatched, you can be hit by so-called "drive by downloads" where you visit a site and pick up malware Nasties without realising it. The malware is usually not part of the site you visit, it's usually coming from the third party advertising on the site. And in the worst case, they'll happily start encrypting your files without you realising. So it's good to have a browser that's protected.

My Macbook Air is from 2013 and I still have it running the software it came with, MacOS X 10.8.5 Mountain Lion. I've seen no compelling reason to move to a newer version and have many compelling reasons to stick with 10.8.5. Apple are definitely people for the forced software obsolescence to drive you into buying more of their kit. It's as if they think that your money should really belong to them and them alone.

It doesn't work like that Mr Apple, you have to give me a product that is compelling enough for me to buy and that I think will be around until something significantly better comes along.

My Macbook is still going very strong after 2.5 years, the battery life is still a guaranteed 12 hours under fairly normal usage and it does (most of!) what I want it to do. It runs iTunes 10.7 constantly (see below), it looks after my email and I use it for my web browsing. It's failed to run the games (Planetbase, Elite and Darkest Dungeon attempted) but I don't use it for the games, that's the desktop's job.

The iTunes 10.7 thing is crucial. I exclusively use it to run a method called "iTunes DJ" where I pick an album and a few tracks from rules I have and iTunes DJ will suggest more random tracks to fill the gaps. It works well for me and rotates me through the music library without me having to exert brain cells on too many choices. Keeping that iTunes DJ is non-negotiable and I won't be updating the software until it's back in iTunes. The newer versions of iTunes are an abomination to use anyway compared to 10.7.

Of course it means I can't update the Macbook to newer versions of MacOS and I can't update the iPhone to newer versions because it will then refuse to talk to the 10.7.

That's the forced obsolescence working again. And it's likely to get me swapping back to Android again when my phone breaks.

How about the desktop ?

My desktop PC is 4.5 years old now and is still going strong, having had 2 new graphics cards since it was built. Development of PC bits has slowed to a crawl and it means the current machines just keep on going. This gives the whole PC industry a massive problem. How do we get the consumers to keep buying the product ? Forced software obsolescence again.

Windows XP worked fairly well for a while but ... remember back. It was a cantankerous old beast that didn't work too well when it did work, it hated to accept new hardware and it would often decide a part of it was broken and you couldn't fix that without a reinstall. And then MS broke it when Vista came out by making a disastrous change to the disk access.

To show how much XP got worse, I used to run it on 64MB machines. After a while, it needed 512MB minimum, preferably 1GB. That's a ridiculous amount of bloating. And you would need a SSD to run it on to mask that disastrous change to the disk access.

Windows 7 actually works really well.

(Although it has always refused to talk to my camera - grr-mutter-grr)

But ... and here's the big butt. Windows 10 is out there in all of its flawed development and misguided concept glory. It's currently free up until the end of July where MS will start expecting quite a few £££ for it. MS just updated their malware (the one that comes in disguised as a security update) to push their shoddy upgrade again.

What will happen to Windows 7 after the free upgrade period finishes ? Expectations are that it will have its support blighted as MS shifts emphasis over to its Windows 10.

So how will I be tackling these various software issues ?

The desktop will go to Windows 10 at some point. Not just yet. But before I have to pay money for it. There's just too much risk that I get left with an unusable or poorly performing system.

Note - if you do go to Windows 10, make sure to disable as much of the telemetry/spyware that comes with it as you can. There's a lot there.

The Macbook will stay on MacOS X 10.8.5. There's just too much risk that I get left with an unusable or poorly performing system if I update it. (Yep, deliberate copying there !). The problem with the newer MacOS X versions is that I've heard too many stories about Macs becoming unusable due to irreversible changes being made to the software. I see tales that their disc access becomes incredibly slow or their battery life gets hammered.

The Macbook works really well for me at the moment, the only reason I have to update it is to get more games running on it and ... that's what the desktop is for.

But how about that web browsing ? I'm getting around that by checking out a program called Waterfox. It's based on the Firefox browser but I'm hoping it combats a couple of issues I have with Firefox :

Firefox has memory leaks which make it crash after a while.
Firefox updates were going to finish on the Macbook next year.

The iPhone will stay on iOS6 (and a bit) because then it'll stay talking to iTunes 10.7 on the Macbook. The iPad is on iOS8 (and a bit) at the moment, should really update it to iOS9. The iPad talks to iTunes 12 on the desktop. I only use the desktop iTunes for a backup and for getting music off cds and into the Macbook, that's more than enough time with the abomination that is iTunes 12 for me.

Lesson - before blindly hitting that "upgrade" button, make sure you know the implications of it. See if there are alternatives that let you avoid the downsides.

I think I've rabbited on long enough for now though ! How's me ?

Tired after the traveling last weekend. It's so worth it but it does knock me out for the rest of the week.
Relieved that my insides are behaving better now, they really weren't happy with me at the start of the week and I don't know why. Better now.
Hoping my back doesn't decide to betray me ! I injured it as a teenage bowler, which left a weakness that can be triggered by something as simple as leaning over and twisting. Ouch.
Happy that my outsides are genuinely recovering now. Not long left now until I can stop worrying about them.

And now chilling out to the World Endurance Car race now, gaming videos on the desktop, music on the laptop later and another HeyChrissa stream tonight playing one of my old favourite games, Mass Effect.

The weekend is a good time to rest, recharge, do some of those neglected chores (the washing is about to come out of the machine) and regain strength for the week ahead.

And the sun is shining too !

Hope you all have a great weekend.

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