Apple’s “Pathological” Approach to Customers

I think Lawrence Lessig puts his finger on it pretty well with this post about the problems with Apple’s “communication” strategy about bugs/feature removal in upgrades:

But the argument I want to advance here is different. It is that in the “hybrid economy” that the Internet is, there is an ethical obligation to treat users decently. “Decency” of course is complex, and multi-faceted. But the single dimension I want to talk about here is this: They must learn to talk to us. In the face of the slew of either bugs or “features” (because as you’ll see, it’s unclear in some cases whether Apple considers the change a problem at all), a decent company would at least acknowledge to the public the problems it identifies as problems, and indicate that they are working to fix it.

Why is that what decency requires? And why, then, is the pathologically constipated way in which Apple communicates with its customers indecent?

Because when you see the incredible effort that is being devoted to dealing with these either bugs or features, there is an obvious incredible waste of time and resources that Apple could avoid simply by saying what they know.

For many users, communication is one of the strongest arguments for open source.

The fact that the source is open may not make a lick of difference to people who aren’t good with code, and/or are uninterested in spending the time to maintain or add features, or fix bugs. But they can have a direct line of communication with the developers who are working on features. Maybe a project you’re using goes in a direction you don’t like (for example) but at least you see the “WONTFIX” in the bug tracker. With Apple? Who the heck knows?

Many of the freedoms that are important to open source/free software folks seem like abstractions to non-developers. Apple provides a really good object lesson that shows that there are concrete reasons, beyond just hacking the code, that users should prefer open source.

A Response I’d Never Like to Hear or See Again: “Just Don’t Use X”

Well, Actually TrollcatLet me say this up-front. I’m guilty of this myself. I’ll own it, I’ve said variations of this about plenty of technologies or services.

Someone complains about a mobile OS, “oh, don’t use that. Use [insert speaker’s favorite mobile OS here].” Someone complains about Windows/Mac/Linux, “simple, just use [Windows|Mac|Linux] and your problem goes away.”

Someone complains about a problem with Facebook, Gmail, Google+, Twitter, etc. “Oh, just don’t use it. Simple.”

You get the idea.

The speaker may be the best kind of correct, technically correct, but they risk invoking the “fail mode of clever” which is (as John Scalzi so eloquently put it) “asshole.”

You may think your absolutist, well-thought-out, well-reasoned manifesto against $thing is convincing. It may even be convincing to anyone willing to 1) take the several hours it takes to hear the diatribe, and 2) trade off the benefits or perceived benefits of their choice to embrace the alternative. (This is assuming you offer an alternative. Many folks like to bash things and then not even up an alternative, which isn’t a winning strategy. Yes, I’m looking at the whole “Defective by Design” campaign when I say this.)

It’s totally OK for you to refuse to use a service, operating system, program, or whatever. More power to you. Just don’t assume that your choices are applicable to others.

People use Facebook for complicated reasons, and often actually are aware how annoying the service is and how shitty it is that Facebook continually tweaks privacy options/settings and the flow of posts, etc. People use Windows for complicated reasons that depend a lot on their level of comfort with computers, applications they need, etc.

“Just don’t use X,” is not a constructive comment. That’s not to say offering an alternative is bad or wrong, if done reasonably. But “just don’t use X” is pretty much a non-starter.

And don’t even get me started on the folks who recommend telling others when they encounter problems with X “simple, just tell them not to use X and to use a better service/technology.” Yes, because what will win users/customers is to reply to their issues with an invitation to make changes on their end that will be perceived as disruptive. Way to go champ, pick up your prize for customer service at the front desk.

You can advocate for better options, but leading with “just don’t use X” as an absolutist statement pretty much guarantees you’re going to be ignored and annoy the other person or people. Take a stab at being empathetic with others and realize that your set of choices and values may not apply well to their situation.

A Quick Tip/Request on Social Media

Fail Whale One of the things I use social media for is to put the word out about projects that I work with/on and to draw attention to events or things that might be of interest.

Likewise, a lot of my friends are in a similar position. Whenever I peek into Twitter, Google+, or Facebook, I try to re-share/amplify things that my friends post that might be of interest to people who follow me or are connected to me on social media. This used to be sort of de rigueur for social media, but I’ve noticed that the practice has fallen way off.

Assuming your friends are posting things that might be of interest, you might consider boosting their signal a little and help to spread the word. I generally try to RT or promote other people’s events, posts/articles, and so forth at least as much as my own. And if I notice someone being kind to me on social media, I try to return the favor. (Note, this is not a request that everyone all become retweetbots or anything — just asking for folks to take a second and help promote other folks’ stuff as much as they pimp their own.)

The nice thing is that you have a chance to be exposed to things outside your own network, and I’ve run into a lot of interesting things, articles, and people that way.

Thoughts, comments, flames?

DevOps in DC Intro to Ansible

Going all the way to Washington D.C. for USENIX LISA next week? There’s lots to do at LISA (hint: Red Hat events, Fedora events) but if you want to get out and meet some of the local DevOps type folks who might not be at LISA, you might want to check out the DevOpsDC meetup on Tuesday night:

Introduction to Ansible with Michael DeHaan

Ansible is a radically simple IT orchestration engine that makes your applications and systems easier to deploy. Avoid writing scripts or custom code to deploy and update your applications— automate in a language that approaches plain English, using SSH, with no agents to install on remote systems.

Right now the group has 35 slots available, and I suspect as LISA gets closer they’re going to fill up quick. If you’re going to be in town, sign up and learn about Ansible. (And say “hi,” if you see me at the event – looking forward to meeting new DevOps folks!)

Attending LISA Next Week? Come by the Fedora Booth and Birds of a Feather

USENIX LISA 13 One of the best system administrator conferences around, hands-down, is USENIX LISA. Also, one of the longest-running admin-oriented conferences to boot. I’ve been going to LISA since 1999 or 2000 (off and on) and I’ve always enjoyed the talks, the hallway track, and the general atmosphere at the event.

If you’re going to be attending LISA next week, in lovely Washington D.C., you’ll not want to miss the Fedora booth on Wednesday and Thursday. Note that you can score tickets to the exhibit hall even if you’re not attending the full conference. Sign up for those on the USENIX LISA website:

The hours are:

  • Wednesday: Noon to 7:00 p.m.
  • Thursday: 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

You’ll notice that’s not a huge amount of exhibition hall time, but more than enough to drop by and talk shop with fellow Fedorans.

Also, we have a Birds of a Feather on Wednesday from 7:30 to 8:30 and that will include snacks and drinks. Don’t miss that one, it’ll be a great opportunity to talk about what’s going on in Fedora, what’s coming in the next release, and plans for Fedora 21 and beyond.

Testing Fedora 20 Beta Cloud AMIs

Doing much work in the cloud? If so, I’d encourage you to take a few minutes to spin up the latest beta test candidate cloud image for Fedora 20. (This is not the final beta release, this is a candidate for the beta release that’s coming shortly.)

You can grab the images for x86_64 or i386. If you’re using Amazon Web Services (AWS) it’s even easier, as all you need to do is use the AMI IDs:

ami-e7a1f38e : us-east-1 image for x86_64
ami-6ba6f402 : us-east-1 image for i386

See Matthew Miller’s note to the Fedora Cloud mailing list for more info on the test cases and the changes to cloud-init for this release.

Note that I spun these up as well and didn’t run into any real issues. The more the merrier, though!

When in Rome, Don’t Use GitHub

Please excuse the garbled proverb, I don’t mean to say that people in Rome shouldn’t use GitHub. Instead, I’m talking about using the right tool for the job and the community. Sometimes the “right” tool is completely wrong, because the audience is wrong for the tool.

Collaboration works well when you use the right tools. For developers, that’s often git and GitHub. Wanna work on some code? Throw it up on GitHub. Check out the code, make your changes, and commit. Most developers working in open source today are likely to know git well enough to work with you. (Note that I’m using “GitHub” as shorthand for any git repository/service, really.)

At the edges of developer communities, though, there’s a temptation to use developer tools for non-development work. For example, creating marketing materials and documentation.

For some documentation projects, git is probably the right tool. Especially if you’re doing books and trying to document along with a release cycle. But for creating marketing materials or “living” documents that change a lot? Probably not such a great idea.

Use the tools that are lightweight and easy for anyone to work with, preferably something browser-based and that allows revision control. (e.g., a wiki.) While there are flaws with those tools, they’re “good enough” and – most importantly – they pass the “native” test for people who are contributing to non-code projects. Do they have a browser? Check. Can they figure out how to use the wiki in 5 minutes? Check. Do they need to create an account with a third party service or download a tool they wouldn’t otherwise need? Nope. All good.

Resist the urge to impose your favorite tools on an unsuitable audience. It’s always tempting to go with what you know best or optimize for your own use case, but resist the urge when it’s going to be detrimental to getting maximum participation and building community.

One Week With Android

1465136-android_robot_logoSince my iPhone 4S was getting very long in the tooth, and the latest crop of iPhones really didn’t excite me, I decided (once again) to try jumping ship to Android.

For the record, I’ve tried switching from the iPhone to other platforms several times now. When my first iPhone’s screen was shattered, I tried Blackberry. That lasted less than a month. I received a Nexus One at an OSCON several years ago and tried switching to that – while it was OK, it just wasn’t quite “there” in terms of application parity and ease of use.

Recently I tried switching to a Nexus 4 after having received a Nexus 7 tablet and finding that the most recent Android was pretty damn nifty and the apps (at least those that I use) had more or less caught up. That would have been successful, except that the Nexus 4 camera was horrible.

So – the most recent attempt, I decided to jump ship to Android and switch carriers away from AT&T. First, let me say that I find shopping for an Android phone to be a bit on the painful side. There seem to be approximately 45,000 different models of Android phones, and for every really nifty feature each phone has, it usually has at least one major flaw that means it’s not quite right. Say what you will about Apple, but they don’t overwhelm people with choices.

I wound up getting the Samsung Galaxy S4 on T-Mobile. I feel like T-Mobile has a bit of bait-and-switch going on with their pricing, since what they advertise for the phone’s price is really the down payment, not the actual price of the phone. (T-Mobile’s lower monthly cost is because they’re not subsidizing the phone, they’re selling it to you on installments.) If I had known more about their pricing, I would have bought the Google edition of the phone outright and then gotten T-Mobile service.

The Phone and Android Experience

Android has improved a lot over the years. It has some nice touches that iOS doesn’t have, or at least didn’t until the iOS 7 release. (Haven’t tried that yet.) But it still has some inconsistencies that set my teeth on edge, though how much of those are stock Android, and how much are the carrier changes, is unclear. It still takes far too long to find some settings. IIRC, changing one of the top status bar items meant digging into “display”, for example. And uninstalling apps should be as simple as clicking an app and deleting it.

I have been able to find most of the apps I used on the iPhone and get those sorted without too much trouble. Some apps are basically identical, some are a bit different in bewildering ways. RunKeeper, for example, is laid out differently and it was much less intuitive finding out how to enter a workout manually.

It’d be nice if I could find a general purpose music player that syncs well with a Linux desktop music player. Right now I’m using Amazon MP3, and it’s OK – but I find (oddly) that a few of the albums I’ve downloaded from Amazon MP3 have incorrect album art and/or are tagged weirdly. (It has “Rio” tagged as disc 0 and disc 1, and so has split the album in two. Same with “Sand in the Vaseline” by the Talking Heads.)

Battery life is pretty good, and I like the fact I can replace the battery. I plan on buying a larger battery with an expansion case shortly.

The headphones that come with it are decent – nothing to write home about, but not crappy either.

I like the fact I was able to change the launcher, and have grabbed Nova Launcher and customized things a bit. Oddly, they had configured the S4 to have only 4 icons per row, where as (I think) stock Android has 5. Also, the Samsung launcher had a wee bug that was driving me nuts where it wrapped the title of one application by one letter, leaving an orphan dangling under the icon. Yes, that really bugged me.

Bonus points for having a widget so I can turn on the camera light as a flashlight. Minus several points for the widget being fugly, just light grey text on a darker grey square. Bleah.

Several beers to the first person who can tell me how to change the theme for the messaging application. It’s just so hideous.

Loving the swipe typing on the phone, except when I need to “type” a word that’s not in the phone’s dictionary. Then it feels like a major step backwards having to plonk down each letter.

Also loving the fact that the keyboard has number keys at the top instead of having to switch back and forth just to type in any passwords that have numbers and letters.

The blocking mode is useful. Can someone tell me how the **** to turn off the annoying notification that it’s on, though? I know it’s on, I set it. Now kindly stop taking up real estate on my notification bar/notification area. Especially when it’s not actually active. (I have it set from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.)

Long story short: I don’t regret switching, and I actually think I will be sticking with Android this time – at least until Apple or another vendor comes out with something compelling enough to switch again. (But never Windows Phone. Sorry Microsoft, but no. Not ever.)

LinuxCon, CloudOpen, and Gluster Community Day

Next week is a big one for Linux and Open Cloud practitioners and enthusiasts: It’s the annual North American LinuxCon (and CloudOpen), put on by the Linux Foundation – and, following LinuxCon, the Gluster community is putting on a Gluster Community Day on September 19th.

Naturally, LinuxCon is on my “don’t miss” list of events, and I’m really looking forward to attending the Gluster Community Day and learning a lot more about Gluster. I have a little background on Gluster from looking into it when I was spending more time on Apache CloudStack, but need to get some quality hands-on time with it.

If you’re attending LinuxCon, don’t miss my talk on Wednesday: Everything I Know About the Cloud, I Learned from Game of Thrones. Hoping to have a lot of fun with the topic, but also actually pass on something useful about Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) clouds for folks who are somewhat new to the topic. Need I add, there will be Game of Thrones spoilers if you haven’t read the books/watched the show. (And if you haven’t, well… you have almost a week to do so.) Also, if you’re already familiar with Game of Thrones on HBO… don’t worry, the talk will be G-rated.

See you in New Orleans!

Google: Have You Heard of It?

I firmly believe that it’s important to adopt the “there are no stupid questions” attitude when working with open source communities and those who are new to them. However, the temptation to say “sorry, do you not get Teh Googles on your computer?” is so very great sometimes…

Then I remind myself, we’re all busy people, we all jump straight to “I want to engage with people RIGHT NOW” (or something similar) and I’m not immune to those things myself. Still, tempting.