Bonum Certa Men Certa

"Modern" Computing Sucks and Harms Computer Users

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Oct 03, 2023

Butterfly At Work

Reprinted with permission from Ryan Farmer.

I came across this Richard Stallman interview from 2008, in New Zealand.

The interviewer asked him why he felt the Free Software Movement was so strong in some countries and not in others. He said “I don’t know.”

I’d say that it’s worth speculating.

I can’t speak for the entire world, but I know that the United States has gotten a lot worse in the last 30 years in almost every conceivable way, because I was around to witness the country I grew up in and what it’s like now, and the gradual decay from Point A to Point B.

When you instill incorrect values into one person, you can get a narcissistic spoiled brat that is very unintelligent and socially awkward, and then they become a terrible adult.

In isolation, this can be a problem you see occasionally in every society.

But Extreme Capitalism benefits from this because unintelligent people can’t think in terms of how badly they’re being exploited, and why their long term goals and survival should take priority over getting the latest iPhone.

When the COVID “lockdowns” happened, and the government would only let you shop at places that sold food, I saw Walmart get a lot bigger.

The government, through this decree (strangely without any enabling laws, but who needs laws at this point?), helped them eliminate a lot of competition, or severely weaken it.

Best Buy, for example, had to shut down because they sell TVs and computers and appliances, but not food. Walmart sold food, but the non-food sections didn’t have to shut down.

Many people I saw were lined up, during a pandemic, where they were all told to stay in their homes because of something that could kill them, they lined up across the store, to spend COVID “stimulus checks” on new TVs, because that’s how they were “educated”.

Not, “Jesus Christ! 25 million people just lost their jobs! I’d better save this!”, but “Eh, fuck the landlord, he can’t throw me out this month. Throw the working TV set in the neighbor’s lawn, kids! We’re getting a bigger one!”

How can a society of people like this, who don’t even appreciate what’s unfolding in front of them or where it could lead next month, possibly appreciate Free Software?

They don’t think in terms of Freedom anymore. They aren’t allowed to. They weren’t educated to. It doesn’t help the people who run this place.

Frankly, I’m happy that the situation is not worse than it is now. But even where we are at now, where you approach someone and they laugh at you while they’re doing stupid things in regards to their computing, is bad.

People have been taught to think of people who don’t do bad things for themselves, or who try to plan for the future, as “cranks”. It took me a while of using Windows to finally say “This is enough. I’ve had it. This thing is getting worse every release. Every few years, they attack something I’ve done before and it stops now!”. Around the time Vista came out.

At some point, I may have to look at some really weird hardware options to even keep running Free Software thanks to Microsoft and Intel locking down my computers. (“Secure Boot”)

The other day, I said to someone, “You know, I don’t use Google Chrome. If you sign in, it will hurt you more, but if you have it on your computer at all, it is hurting you.”

How many people should need to go to jail over things they said on Facebook or Web searches after they logged in and personally identified themselves to Google, over their real IP address, in a browser that saves everything in a history file, which it also uploads to Google? All of their passwords to Google. All their dirty laundry to Google. (Or Microsoft with Edge, etc.)

Jail over things like abortions that were legal for over 50 years and up to 14 months ago in every State.

The major reason that modern browsers want you to log into the browser is so that beacons from advertising/tracking companies (Microsoft/Google) can follow you around the Web and attach what you do on most sites to your Google or Microsoft account, where you are also having your searches logged.

You don’t need to do much to become an Enemy of The State in America these days.

Just become unable to work (even through retirement), or get an abortion and refuse to give them more slaves in the future.

This truly is a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Nazi euthanasia program, only Joe Biden is allowing fentanyl to hit the streets so people can pay 50 cents to unburden the State from their existence.

Eventually, you’ll see Biden’s retirement plan for you, which is COVID and fentanyl, or you’ll be placed in a nice shiny set of handcuffs.

In the early 2000s, Bill Gates said he imagined that eventually you’d just log in to a computer and every setting would just apply to the computer for you.

Whether it’s Windows or Chrome or Microsoft Edge, this is not something they do, for free, to make your computing better. It’s designed as a malicious backdoor.

Occasionally exporting your passwords and bookmarks to storage you control isn’t difficult.

Hell, my SeaMonkey profile has been updated by me, by hand, several times now. That’s not the most straightforward process, but it’s still by no means impossible.

The other day I imported the current state of my Brave bookmarks and passwords into SeaMonkey “the long way” by exporting them from Brave into LibreWolf, then when they were in a “Mozilla” format, I copied over the key4.db, logins.json in and started the browser. Then deleted all my bookmarks from SeaMonkey and imported the bookmarks.html I exported from Brave.

Thankfully, I don’t need to do this that often. Mozilla has been harassing SeaMonkey users for a long time now.

Keeping profiles backed up, zipped, CSV and HTML exports, it’s not as “convenient” as sync, but it also doesn’t risk divulging your information.

Logging into a browser wasn’t even a thing until Chrome came along. Why do people do it? It can only hurt them.

Anyone who was born since the mid 90s has never known an America without the “USA PATRIOT ACT” or “REAL ID”.

It’s not their fault. They’ve never been Free, so how can they appreciate the concept?

They were not born into a Free and Democratic country like I was. They think this is normal. If they think this country is normal, why wouldn’t they think using Microsoft or Apple was normal, or DRM? When we saw the first spyware we said “Oh hell no!” and looked for something to destroy it. Today, it’s in your phone, your laptop, your devices at work.

During the COVID lockdowns, they even used this crisis to try to force more proprietary software on people. The State of Illinois demanded “Zoom” to attend court proceedings. It demanded “Microsoft Edge”, to edit a PDF. There were sites where I needed to apply for things that said “Don’t use your back button or a mobile browser or this could break.”

The State is running on really shoddy IT stuff, and how could it not?

It signed deals with a hodgepodge of crap software vendors like Microsoft and SalesForce, and it got progressively darker from there.

If you went to court and wouldn’t agree to use Zoom on your own computer, they tried sticking you in a room with it on one of their computers where it could see your face and hear your voice. That’s still not as bad as installing it on your computer, but it is bad.

The America where people were free was brutally murdered by Congress when *I* was 17, but it took some additional years to see just what they had done.

It’s doubtful that every country on Earth has betrayed and failed an entire generation or two of its citizens like America has.

Stallman, in the article, remembered when the US government actually exercised some authority over corporations, and how that’s pretty much gone now.

Even at Google’s anti-trust hearing, they’ve got the judge in their back pocket. They’re in there keeping the media out, keeping almost everything under seal, getting a bunch of witnesses they’ve essentially bribed, like Apple and Mozilla.

This is not a hearing that will lead to a fair outcome. It can’t.

Stallman also addressed Bill Gates and his infamous “Letter to Hobbyists”.

[KH] So what do you say, or what did you say to Bill Gates, when in his open letter to hobbyists back in 1976, he said “who can afford to do professional work for nothing?”

[RMS] Well, I never even saw that letter, I wasn’t using micro-computers, in fact I never did, and I wasn’t even aware of his existance at the time. But you’ll note that GNU stands for “GNU’s Not Unix” …

[KH] That’s right, what do you call that, it’s a recursive acronym

[RMS] Right, but this is, it’s not “GNU’s Not MS-DOS”, I wasn’t even thinking about MS-DOS which I considered a toy, and the Free Software Movement isn’t aimed at Microsoft, it’s only later that Microsoft developed almost a monoply and people started thinking of that as the thing that you might replace.

[KH] However the Bill Gates question remains valid, what hobbyist can put three man-years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product, and distributing it?

[RMS] Well actually, thousands of us do; because his argument is that Free Software couldn’t exist, and the fact is it does. He’s like somebody arguing that planes couldn’t possibly fly while you can go to the airport and see them taking off. There are tens of thousands of useful Free programs, some big, some small, that were worth packaging for users to conveniently install in free versions of GNU plus Linux operating systems. So, a better question would be; “why do people do this?”, but the fact is, we do, and I’ve seen many reasons for it. One is, politicial idealism like mine, but most people and most developers actually don’t share that. Another motive is “fun”, because hacking doesn’t just mean circumventing, it means playful cleverness, and solving problems, making a program work can be fun, it’s one example of hacking, which many of us enjoy.

When I was a child, I ran into the GNU GPL, I can’t recall whether it was the first or second version. It was on some program in a “disc of freeware and shareware”, which were the terms I thought of at that time.

I don’t recall seeing any source code with the program, so they actually might have just copied the binaries and the GPL, pointing out that they had just violated the GPL. 😛

However, at the time, I was a kid, right? What do kids not have a lot of? Money.

Well into the late 90s and early 2000s, I had Windows 98 and Linux on my nicest computer (which was not remarkable, but sufficient), but I was still buying a lot of DOS software and I was still using FreeDOS. All the stores were racing to dump as much DOS software as they could because Microsoft was getting rid of DOS.

I also kept using a lot of programs meant for Windows 3.1, and I had one computer that had to run MS-DOS because FreeDOS wouldn’t run Windows 3.11 in enhanced mode and I couldn’t get on the Internet without it.

So it was a mishmash of old software I got in the bargain bin (because when software came on physical media, capitalism did what it always does….overproduce), and old computers that the repair shop guy down the street didn’t want. My main system kept undergoing tear downs and upgrades.

Not because I’m one of those spoiled brats who had an unlimited budget for a computer, but rather because hardware became obsolete fast and I had the guy at the computer shop offering me deep discounts on anything I could stick on a Super Socket 7 motherboard.

So by the time I was done with the upgrades, it was hardly even the same computer that it started out as. It had 6 times more hard drive space, a processor more than twice as fast as it came with, 16 times as much RAM, and it ended up with a Voodoo 5 graphics card in the end. It kept it relevant into the 2000s.

I ended up doing a lot of those “Holy shit, they’re clearancing out processors and they only want $20 for this!”-type things over the years, even on Socket 754.

On the Super Socket 7 system’s lifespan, I ended up using a lot of “freeware” (including from Graham Pockett’s site where he had thousands of them), and a lot of Free and Open Source Software.

In the modern world, users fight just to “repair” their machines. Apple gave up fighting this in California after spending tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and open daylight bribery, using their customers’ money fighting against the interests of their customers.

They joined when they realized there was going to be some “right to repair” bill, and they could live with this one and continue cheating their customers with non-upgradeable hardware that is forced into being impossible to use due to being dropped from the Software Development Kit and eventually killed from the network after they add a couple more “g’s” that nobody even needs because phone network speeds have been fast enough for years.

Apple knows that you’re paying that Indian at Batteries Plus Bulbs the same price as you would the Apple Store if you need a battery upgrade, and if you go to him, your phone will say “non-genuine battery detected” and swell up like a balloon a few days later, and then he’s obviously used to chargebacks, so after he doesn’t agree to a refund, he’ll just try to defame you in rounds that go back and forth a few times before the credit card company forces the refund through.

So you get on the train and go to the Apple store because that’s what you do.

So Apple will still have the battery replacement market to themselves if you know what’s good for you and you don’t want to risk having the phone explode, and they know it, and that’s why it costs $79 now.

If just trying to keep something working is this bad, imagine trying to upgrade anything these days.

My Lenovo laptop, this laptop, has the RAM and SSD soldered into the board, everything is as non-upgradeable as they could possibly make it. They never planned that I would put Debian 12 on it instead of a bloated piggy like Windows 11, and then follow it up with ZRam to make it even less likely to run out of RAM than I was with 16 GB. But when the Left Ctrl key started to glitch out, I called and asked what it would cost. $250 for a damn keyboard. The whole laptop cost me like $900 3 years ago!

So I got into the KDE control panel and swapped the Super (Windows) key with Left Ctrl. Then I got used to it so I did it on my older laptop too.

It’s hard to even imagine the Super Socket 7 computer and how much more pleasant it was to upgrade than this modern shit. I E-Mailed HP and they told me all the jumper settings for every processor that I could use with the board. I got an E-Mail from one of the engineers, directly, within days. None of this modern crap where it’s some guy they stuck there in another country for 10 cents an hour to ask if you tried to reboot the computer. Soon to be a “chat bot” because a few stinking dollars a week so the guy can buy a plate of rice to eat after a 12 hour day is too much.

Over the life of the Super Socket 7 computer, I avoided buying another entire computer at least three times. One reason you can’t do this now is that Microsoft is losing money hand over fist and they know if you can flip the laptop over and yank the RAM and double it, or stick in a bigger SSD, or remove and replace the CPU, it means less duplicate sales of Windows, and their hardware vendors (Lenovo profits down 66% Year over Year) are even more motivated, so they’ll be able to sell anything at all. They HATE right-to-repair. Hate it!

Back to the Bill Gates Letter.

Bill Gates’s letter to hobbyists was laughable even 20-25 years ago. It didn’t age well at all, even into the BBS era, much less the Internet era, because even Windows users who had never heard of Linux could tell you that there were plenty of people making utilities and games and stuff.

Even if you only got binaries, and saying “Just keep it.” or “Send $5 if you think this is useful.” But you didn’t have to, to use the program.

So a lot of this wasn’t Free and Open Source, but it was free of charge, and then as time went on, more high quality Free and Open Source software came about and pretty soon it had displaced Windows entirely on my computers and I really wasn’t even that interested in Windows anymore.

And I’m still not. Windows 11 is so bad that if there’s anyone left at Microsoft who hasn’t been laid off yet, they should be incredibly ashamed of promoting a product this bad. It’s even worse than Windows Vista.

If I was even the slightest bit tempted to use Windows, one whiff of how slow, unstable, and full of crap and advertising it is would scare me right back off of it.

Not the least of which is because it has one of those “App Stores” that’s eventually designed to make it impossible to install software any other way so they and the government can control your computing entirely, and shakedown application developers for 30% of their licensing fees (or donations).

As time goes on, Windows is becoming less and less interesting, and much more menacing.

You almost never hear about it anymore other than the monthly problems with the latest version, the incessant malware, or the Free and Open Source Software they purloined to give it a feature that actually works, because they didn’t write it.

With Apple, Chrome OS, Linux, and Android, Windows almost feels like this bloated obsolescent turd that some stuffy old people and hillbillies use out of habit.

Even my ex, who I wouldn’t say is incredibly smart, told me he’s a Linux user now. He got a Steam Deck. He runs KDE on it. I mean, if he can figure it, out anyone can.

It’s always interesting to see the reviews on some <$200 Windows device and how it doesn’t even work and everyone hates it because with 4 GB RAM and a Celeron it does nothing at all, and you’re over here like “Let me put Linux and ZRam on it! I can make this useful! I see your System Monitor! The system service that makes sure Windows is not pirated is using 10% of your processor! LOL!”

Why do people tolerate proprietary software that’s not even good?

Well, I think a lot of people just act like it’s a burden that’s affordable to keep carrying as the costs mount.

Sometimes monetary, sometimes ones that are less obvious. win

Proprietary software in general is like Stephen King’s Needful Things.

You get it, it does a thing you wanted it to do, but there’s something horribly off about it, and you find out it’s cursed and it actually does something horrible that you never thought about. The devil is in there appealing to people’s vanity, selfishness, and short-term interests to push something that will hurt them.

When you use things such as Apple products, Windows, and proprietary software, eventually your computing becomes the State of Illinois in miniature.

A complete mess that barely works. It relies on a lot of hacks and workarounds. And if everyone knew it was like that, it would be better, but instead you have people bragging about what a great hunk of shit they bought.

Proprietary software is designed so that after you use it for a while, you can’t easily cut its tentacles because you’ve gotten hooked on doing everything a certain way that’s been provided, but doesn’t work anywhere else.

This is a huge problem with iPhones. They don’t even support RCS, so if you want to have advanced text messaging and video calls you have to agree on some non-Apple software that runs on iPhones and Android.

And people also engage in tribalism when they paint themselves into a corner. Like, I ran into this completely stupid “dating bingo card” where “Has an Android phone.” is a red flag.

Yeah, it’s a red flag that this guy is not a mindless spendthrift and isn’t going to tolerate it in a partner. Go find yourself someone else. Please.

Guys, you dodged a bullet!

I certainly don’t know about anyone else but with a landlord that comes out and raises the rent 10% every year, and medical bills, and food, and gas, etc., how are you even buying any of those crap. Debt?

I don’t have any of that right now either. Try savings. You’ll like it better.

But the biggest drag about proprietary software, DRM, advertising, etc. is the mindset it gets people into.

Behaviors that are inherently social and positive, like sharing, have a Russian Reversal pulled on them, and people are left saying how “only a criminal would share”.

Whenever I run into someone like this, I immediately stop talking to them. It’s a lost cause. And you see this behavior in younger people now, especially. It’s a tragedy.

I refuse to be trapped into doing something vital in a such a way that if anyone asks me for a copy of something, I have to say, “No. I agreed I would be an asshole to you and everyone else by agreeing to the license. And even if we wanted to disobey the license, I can’t because there is malware that makes sure I can’t give you a copy.”

Back when I was still a Windows user, I installed iTunes.

I didn’t care much about Free Software at this point, but Pepsi had free iTunes songs under every cap. So I installed it to try it out. At the time, a can of Pepsi was cheaper than a song on iTunes. I figured I’d buy one Pepsi and try the code. Out popped a song.

“Hmm, that’s weird. What the hell is an .m4p?”

It turned out that Apple was using this weird new format called AAC which was not an MP3 file. That alone wasn’t terribly important. They were both patent encumbered, they both played on the same devices, but what is “p”? These are supposed to have .m4a (MPEG-4 Audio) or .aac (Advanced Audio Coding) extensions.

Well, the “p” apparently stood for a euphemism for some Apple malware. Instead of calling Digital Restriction Malware what it is, they said it was “protected”. From me! The person who allegedly “purchased” it.

Well, that’s a neat trick.

I found this out when I went to play the file in Winamp and couldn’t. I didn’t know what DRM was at that point in my life, but when I found out what it was, I was so mad that I deleted the iTunes file, uninstalled iTunes, and told everyone I could talk to why they shouldn’t use iTunes.

Everything you spend money on that has a “Product Activator” or “DRM” makes you agree to be an asshole to everyone, binds you to that agreement, and then self-destructs. Thus, you wasted your money.

The “p” was for “pointless”. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to fork over thousands of dollars to Apple. This file will self-destruct.”

Richard Stallman said that everything that has DRM that you do not know how to remove, you shouldn’t even touch it. I agree.

Did Stallman know about the DMCA? I can’t imagine he didn’t know that removing DRM is illegal.

Lots of things that are not wrong are illegal. Many laws do more harm than the activity that they outlaw, and laws that protect DRM are actively causing harm to society, and criminalizing people who are doing no wrong.

In this sense, we should reject all formats that control what you do after you spend the money. Now that all of the fools have subscribed to Apple Music or Spotify where they will own nothing despite eventually being out thousands of dollars, the price for an audio CD that I can buy and rip into lossless WavPack files is sometimes 7-8 for $5.

How stupid it would be for me to pay Apple or Spotify $15 a month (with the amusement tax that I am not amused by) and not own anything! Ever!

It will be a cold, cold day in Hell with Satan ice skating to work before I ever agree to give up real money in exchange for this.

In the time sense iTunes pissed me off, Apple and Microsoft have gone on to do far worse. If you stay for this, you’re not only hurting yourself. You’re hurting everybody.

I can deal with Microsoft Office formats, but creating them and distributing them is an evil, because it will mean that we’ve ceded control of something important to an evil company. Not just evil, incompetent. Their spreadsheet software has a seemingly unlimited number of bugs in it, so if you’re using it to any real extent, there’s almost certainly errors creeping in.

And these sorts of bugs in such an established product are almost impossible to fix, even if you want to, or knew how to.

In at least some cases, Microsoft has said they improved their math libraries, only to have that claim tested and to find out it was doing the same thing the previous version did!

Excel offers two RNGs, one in the ATP and another via a function call, RAND. In
versions prior to Excel 2003, both RNGs were unacceptably bad and Microsoft made no changes to the ATP RNG for Excel 2003,3 so we focus attention on the RNG for RAND.

Microsoft claims to have implemented the Wichmann–Hill RNG (Wichmann and Hill,
1982). However, the Wichmann–Hill RNG does not produce negative numbers. It has been reported in some newsgroups and in some press venues (e.g., PC Magazine,April 6, 2004, p.71) that, at default, when RAND should produce numbers on the interval(0, 1), it sometimes produces negative numbers and each of us has independently confirmed this phenomenon.

However, even if Microsoft had correctly implemented the Wichmann–Hill RNG, it would still be unacceptable.

On the accuracy of statistical procedures in Microsoft Excel 2003

Later on, in 2013, Microsoft’s Excel produced a report about the US federal deficit that made GDP growth in “high debt countries” look like it was about 22 times less than what it actually was during the time studied. The Republicans seized on this in demands to cut welfare programs.

The formula showed a range that produced a result saying countries with debt more than 90 percent of GDP yielded a negative growth rate of 0.1 percent. Adding the five countries excluded at the bottom of the Excel range, the rate would have been plus 2.2 percent.

How an Excel error derailed the federal deficit debate

Mind you, you have to pay quite a bit for Excel and Office, and now it’s on a “subscription” where you can’t ever stop paying or it won’t work.

All the while, a Free and Open Source Software program called Gnumeric was extremely accurate, and has found a niche in statistical analysis and scientific fields because they know you can’t trust Microsoft.

Proprietary software doesn’t just tend to be garbage with a coat of paint now and then, it is exploitative and tends to be full of bugs.

If RMS has made any mistake, it’s to only cut down proprietary software on terms related to user freedom. He should have also pushed much harder on why depending on it can backfire for other reasons.

Microsoft is like a landlord that goes in, and graciously rents you a dump, and doesn’t really fix anything, but extracts rent anyway. And you’re sort of grateful if he even comes out and unclogs a pipe now and then, and wonder how on Earth it can be this expensive for what you’re getting.

Their new subscription model will let them totally let the software rot. They don’t have to make it better or even look better. It is not on your computer, or if it is on your computer it’s a version called a “service”, which is another euphemism, which means that if you don’t pay this month you lose it this month, and you can no longer do things you could already do.

This is on top of agreeing to be an asshole to everyone on Earth, and have nothing to share, except maybe files of the format that got you into this mess.

Nothing is going to get better until we demand to make it better.

Much of the propaganda from the State these days is palpable.

I mentioned to Roy today that the UK police put up a “notice to parents” that said if your children are using “Linux” or “virtual machines” or “Tor”, contact the police for an intervention!

Yes, because who doesn’t love INVITING the police over. I mean, they’re British so they can have tea with the cops while they stick their big fat cop noses all over the house and then have a little talk with Johnny or Timmy about how Virtual Machines with Linux are the devil’s lettuce or something. I don’t know.

I would say I smell Microsoft, but truth be told, Microsoft is just the enforcement of a State that doesn’t want the public using encrypion.

In former democracies turned autocratic kleptocracy, such as the United States, there’s a huge push to just make most uses of encryption illegal if the government has a hard time breaking them. They promote this huge lie that only criminals want privacy.

If they get their way, the only encryption you’ll be allowed to use is to talk to your bank and maybe some DRM software that is hurting you, and that’s about it. It is no sort of future we should want or allow to happen.

It’s much easier to attack people who use software like Windows or Mac, because if you don’t control the operating system, you’ve lost already. Stop here. They want this layer of spyware underneath you using their other euphemism. “Security”.

Yes, the “security” of having a scanner that sends Microsoft all your keystrokes and hash values of everything that hits your hard disk.

(For “security”, you know. How can you possibly be secure without telling an ICE/DHS contractor with backdoors in their products everything?)

I’ve been using Linux more than 25 years now and have never had a virus. I’ve uploaded Windows programs to VirusTotal or scanned them with ClamAV and found viruses in them and deleted them before running them in Wine, but out of the box, Wine isn’t even there. It’s optional. And most malware doesn’t really do what it was designed for in Wine anyway because it’s not Windows. So like, it goes to infect a Windows system service or something, and that service isn’t really htere because it’s not Windows.

Still can’t hurt to check. But the thing is, I decide whether I upload something to Virus Total. ClamAV uses a local database. I’m not telling anyone anything about anything else.

In summary, modern computing is worse in nearly every way.

We have to fight like Hell to avoid being spied on, to fix our own property, and to run the software we really want.

We’re in court and at the ballot box and fighting against companies like Apple which use our own money against us, just for watered down versions of rights that everyone took for granted 20 years ago.

It must stop. Even if it means abandoning the PC and accepting whatever limitations that more open platforms bring, practically, in the short term. â–ˆ

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This is How 'Linux' Foundation Presents Linux to the World
Right now it even picks Windows over Linux in some cases