Friday, November 5, 2010

In Defense of Big

There’s been some dissing of the “big names” in computing and networking. I’d like to say a word in favour of using a ubiquitous provider. Stephen Downes offers to show us how we can do everything Microsoft does for free. I like free, but I also like the convenience of the integrated suite. I have on my netbook, but don’t use it at work. I’m not quite arrogant enough to think my work is more important than innovation, but my employer expects me to be productive. Sure there are hacks and patches that will make Ubuntu faster at almost everything than Windows, but I went months without seeing my granddaughters because my son couldn’t find Linux drivers for his webcam. People worry that if Facebook or Twitter fail they will lose their network of connections. I can’t quite see the value of moving to more obscure services where there are far fewer subscribers. Where’s the “enhanced serendipity” in that? I like the polished feel of Second Life. Open Sims may be attractive to education because of lower prices, but I’ll stick to SL if I want to invite someone new. Our recent safari to ReactionGrid was definitely a learning experience. Malcolm Knowles would love the determination, patience, and dedication exhibited by the group. But most of my colleagues would be never try a virtual world again if it was that difficult. Skype is another “big” connector that gets dissed. It was fun talking to Tony on tinychat this morning, but I would never have found him without our “PLENK in SL” Skype group to give me the link. I can ask most contacts, “Can I call you on Skype?”, and seven times out of ten they have an account. If they don’t, they’ve at least heard of it and are more than willing to give it a try. If I’m testing an unknown service, I have to spend a lot of time reassuring them that it won’t harm their computer.

Ease of use, universality, ubiquity, integration: these are the features that make the “big names” attractive. I admire the frontierspersons who boldly go. I’ll delight in the new territory they show me. For now though, boring as it may sound, I also need a proven, predictable environment that frees me to concentrate on getting work done.

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