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I write this from a university computer lab, where the computer users of tomorrow are being indoctrinated into the dark arts. And here there are three sights that greatly sadden this long-time keyboard pounder and monitor glarer.

The first has to do with the choice of keyboard on the PC side of the room. Of these, fully half are sporting the Microsoft Natural Keyboard, one of the greatest crimes yet caused in the name of ergonomics. This is a horrible device, and the students know it. I imagine they are great for people who have learned to type the "traditional" way, which includes absolutely none of the computer science people of whom I am aware. For all others, they are blasphemy against the very god Asdfghjkl. Even though this is not a lab where there are many Linux boosters (and even they have their own crosses to bear, in the person of a Windows NT lab across campus), the computers saddled with these ungainly, misshapen devices are always shunned in favor of those without. Unfortunately, the number without are few, so many students have to use them anyway. I can’t shake the feeling that Microsoft, looking for ever more profound ways to insert their tentacles into the computer marketplace, are trying to tie people’s very typing reflexes into their corporate strategy, causing people to become so used to these new, "improved," patented keyboards that they can’t use the old models.

But this is not a rant about keyboard use, no sir or madam, according to case. This is a rant about the fact that, despite the use of these hideous, hateful keyboards on over half of the PCs in the lab, that they still have not proven sufficiently repulsive to force any PC user over into the Macintosh half of the lab. Guys/gals, this place is stocked with G4s, the very latest, tippity-toppest Macs on the market. How the school was able to afford these babies I have no clue. There are fifteen of these things here, yet most of them wile their limited days before obsolesce unused, their many billions of processor cycles going to waste. Some days I have to suppress the urge to secretly run the distributed.net client on these things. (Actually, it is not a urge which needs much suppressing – these awesome devices are so saddled with lockout and security software to protect them from those horrible, dangerous student users that they are useless for anything except web browsing or Microsoft Office. But that is a topic for another rant.)

The students who come here, as stated before, are not religious, penguin-worshipping computer science types. They are basically typical college students who write essays and do web research (and porn viewing, as evidenced by occasional, anonymous output on Printer Grumpy). For these purposes a Mac is just as good as a PC, right? Well, not quite. Oddly enough, although Mac users have always had an easier computing experience than the PC guys, and despite the fact that Microsoft basically stole large portions of their user interface from Apple, it is still different enough from the Mac UI that newly-traumatized computer users will go for what they used on the boxes they keep at home. Furthermore, and this is the result of a bad design decision on Apple’s part I would say, these G4s are bereft of all signs of a floppy drive, forcing the user to use Zip disks, most of these students not even being aware of what those are.

The Microsoft/Apple conflict, of course, is old news. The true question is if (or when) Linux and other free OS’es will make the entire conflict irrelevant, and actually quaint. I would say they still have a ways to go, at least; the third saddening thing about this lab would have to be the total lack of computers running Linux or anything like that. I suppose that if these people are scared off by the absence of a "start menu" and a mouse with one button, asking them to put up with KDE or Gnome is still a couple of years down the ease-of-use road.

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