Thursday, June 2, 2011

Computer, Input Blog Entry

Tonight I wanted to type this up by just speaking into my computer. Unfortunately, speech recognition software just isn’t quite to the point where it can be used in so cavalier a manner without a lot of training, practice, and probably some premium software like Dragon Naturally Speaking. I don’t want to deal with all that. I just want my computer to do what I say.

I looked in the Ubuntu software repository to see if there was some speech recognition software, and there was something called “Julian” that looked like it might work, but it would probably take some time to get working, and when I got to that point I don’t have any guarantee that it’s not just some speech related library that a couple devs put together while making some other project.

This is the problem I have with Linux in its current state, and in the past. It’s significantly better than it used to be, but I still run into the problem of having a task that I want to accomplish and I know kind of what I need, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it things aren’t always what I want.

I’m fairly technically inclined, so I can figure out most things without much problem, but sometimes I just am left scratching my head. This is what is so exciting about the mobile operating systems of iOS and Android these days. They’re easy. As far as most people know, the shell that they work with *is* the operating system. Of course, this isn’t true, but for most people, if they end up seeing a terminal window, or are asked to type in some archaic build command that looks like it’s from the bad old days of MS-DOS 5, something has gone terribly wrong.

I’m not saying that candy-coating everything and super-simplifying user interfaces is always the best way to go about doing things, but there is some merit in having it be easy for a technological neophyte to use.

As an example, a cousin of mine had her computer stop working right before she went on a trip to California. She needed her computer to do some simple web browsing and Skype calls, so  I installed Ubuntu 10.10 on there as a quick intermediary installation just so it would work for her while she was gone. Now, Ubuntu is widely regarded as being one of the easier distributions for users, as it is very simple to use and borrows heavily from Windows/OSX. She had Vista on before, and was used to that (though usually not happy with it).

I threw it on the night before she left, made sure the wireless was working, and put Skype/Chrome on there for her. Now, she was only there for about 4 days, but almost every day I had to do some sort of technical support (“Where did Skype go?”, “What is the keyring password?”, etc). If I had used a different distribution (say, OpenSUSE) and had not been available to walk her through things that I wouldn’t even think are difficult, it’s likely that she wouldn’t have been able to use her computer at all.

What’s my point with all this? Well, today Microsoft revealed some elements of Windows 8. It’s got a more touch friendly interface, and borrows heavily from their Windows Mobile 7 tile/Metro UI. I think that’s pretty cool. If used properly, with the right combination of hardware, it could work out to being super-cool.

However, with the heavy focus on touch interfaces, I have to wonder whether Windows 8 will have a significant role on computers like the monster I built a couple months ago. It’s designed to basically be a non-mobile workstation that I can use as a media device, work device, and whatever device. It has no touch input, and is not really in a position where I can feasibly connect a touch-enabled monitor, even if I were so inclined.

I’m no market analyst, but I believe that Steve Ballmer wasn’t kidding around when he said that Windows 8 was going to be a huge risk. Once it’s brought to market, and I’ve had a chance to play around with it, I can give a little better verdict, but for now, I’m a bit skeptical.

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