Wot! Not Vista?

Short URL: http://fsmsh.com/2086


My Windows XP machine went "phut" the other day. I think it isa hardware problem as it had been "phutting" more and more over the pastmonths, but now it is unusable. This is not the disaster it mayappear to be!

The children are the only ones who really use it and theapplications they use are OpenOffice.org for typinghomework, Firefox for researchingprojects etc and MSN for chatting with friends - thoughnot necessarily in that order. As a temporary measure I letthem use my Ubuntu laptop topull them through, with some surprising results...

One of the main reasons my children used Windows XP and not GNU/Linuxbefore was because of their use of MSN. Although GAIM suffices as a chatclient, it is not what they call "Real MSN", and does not have thebells and whistles such as "emoticons" and other gizmos that make itlook like someone has vomited on the screen. Personally I think one ofthe advantages of GAIM is that I am spared from these horrors, but mychildren have informed me that such paraphernalia is crucial to theirgeneration's ability to share internet experiences with others.

I had heard of a product called aMSN – a quick searchthrough Ubuntu's "Add/Remove Programs" option on the "Application" menushowed that it was in the Ubuntu repositories so I installed it for them tosee if it was any better. I was duly informed it was still not "Real MSN",but despite that the client passed the acid test and it is adequatelytacky for them to communicate important information such as thelatest girlfriend/boyfriend news or the playground gossip which theydid not manage to fit in during break-time at school.

My wife is Chinese and the 18th February saw the arrival of the yearof the Pig. Not just any pig though, 2007 sees the advent of the yearof the golden pig, something that happens only every 60 years. My son,being twelve this year, is a pig so this year is very special to us.

To celebrate this we held a new year party and familyand friends descended on us en masse to help consume the mountains ofdelicious Chinese food my wife had prepared for the event. My daughterand her cousins obviously missed some friends because theyfired up the computer and started "chatting" to them through MSN. Aguest, who was glancing over their shoulders while doing this, decidedto show off his knowledge of computers and said "Ah – I see you have gotVista then..."

No I had not. I have no intention of getting Vista unless it isextremely necessary for my business, and then only as a secondarymachine. Also, with my XP machine dieing on me, it appears I haveno Microsoft supported operating systems in the house, just an oldWindows 2000 laptop gathering dust which I occasionally switch on when Ineed a Windows environment. What he saw was Ubuntu for the first time;I guess he came to the conclusion he did because it was slightlyunfamiliar and looked classy.

On the applications front, the developers of aMSN need to becongratulated. They have identified a hole in the requirements of amodern GNU/Linux desktop, especially in a domestic environment likemine, and have filled it. The same goes for the free softwarecommunity in general: a nice usable free desktop exists, in all sensesof the word, enabling a real choice of environment and because of that Ican move my entire family away from the Microsoft monopoly. Althoughthere are some things my children cannot run, and some inconveniencesthey experience because they are not tied into the closed formats andprotocols of their peers, they are not significant enough to keep themon Windows.

Another event happened a few days ago related to Ubuntu: Idiscovered that my children had not done their homework. This isnothing unusual, but this time they blamed the new system. It was notdue to any shortcomings of the GNU/Linux environment, Ubuntu orOpenOffice.org, but rather they had discovered a program called"Five or More". They were hooked and were taking turns on the computerto compete against each other - so much so that it distracted them fromdoing their homework. That is their excuse anyway. Even if I wanted tonow I do not think I can move them back to MS Windows, not withoutfinding a Windows port of that game and other goodies they havediscovered. Hopefully they will show their new system to their friendsand more people will adopt GNU/Linux.

The younger generation are evolving in a rapidly advancing society, farmore so than any has before. Where exactly it is advancing to matters:it is so easy for us to sacrifice their freedoms for our convenience,and so important that does not happen. I do not want my children tofind that some faceless foreign corporation controls their computer anddecides what can be run and when; or for their electronic devices to bedisabled by unaccountable organizations on a whim; or "because theycan", simply using it as a means for increasing profits.

Free software, with GNU/Linux, plays an important role in this contextby creating a base-line of freedoms that other systems willneed to compete with. It is more important now than ever before. I believeGNU/Linux is rising to the challenge, but it needs to continue to doso. It needs significant adoption and slick distributions likeUbuntu are helping (I know it is not perfect and has flaws, I am nottrying to create a distro-war here); programs like aMSN are also veryimportant as they destroy some of the roadblocks to deploying free software. Ialso like to think I am helping with its all-important adoption: it isup to others to judge my performance and contributions though.

Now, when discussing home computers with colleagues I explain: "Mychildren have a fantastic new computer system. And no, it is notVista! No WGA. No license restrictions.".



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

If you would like to make amsn more cool, there is a project called Emerald2.0 http://amsn.lnxteam.org/ which is a skin that makes amsn look more like a modern program

guydjohnston's picture

Yeah I've noticed that aMSN's GUI doesn't seem to be very attractive. Personally, I find Kopete to be good for MSN when using KDE. I also think Gaim's good when using GNOME, but I find it slightly less nice than Kopete. I particularly like how you can set custom names for the contacts in both, which as far as I know you can't do in the official MSN/Windows Live client.

GNU - free as in freedom

mattflaschen's picture

I'm quite satisfied with Kopete. I like the seemless (okay, mostly) integration of the different protocols, which is remniscient of Trillian, but free as in freedom. It is annoying that you seemingly can't send messages to non-buddies, though.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Good article. My 3 daughters (14, 11, 6) and my wife all use Linux at home as I have removed Microsoft products from the house. We use OpenOffice.org, Konqueror, Thundebird and Firefox running on Slackware 11. My eldest comes home from secondary school (a Windows environment) complaining about the number of crashes the PCs had that day and wishes she had Linux there. My 11 year has hassled the IT guy so much that he has now installed OpenOffice.org and The Gimp (albeit windows versions) as standard programs. I have found by showing my kids the alternative and stable software available they won't put up with software that doesn't perform. When given a choice, they choose OpenOffice.org and Firefox everytime.

Kids are the future, show THEM what is available, they will set the standards for all software and only that which makes the grade will survive.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Your comments are right on the spot ! I also run a small internet-café, with teenagers and young adults customers, here in the north-coast of the Dominican Republic, and what people want is the "REAL MSN". I have 4 public PC's, 2 of them dual boot with winxp, being also Edubuntu Dapper & Vector Linux 5.8 Std. And the 2 others are Vector only.

I am glad for aMsn because it is trendy enough to feel like the bloated Microsoft counterpart, but I wish it will go further in the teenagers idea of instant messenging.

As of me, I use Gaim only, because I have no use for those things... My main box is FC6, and it looks much nicer than Vista whenever I use Beryl... But I must admit I just uninstall Beryl, as I am not a big fan of those 3D things...

Anyway, your article was a good read, and I get your feeling ;)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

As an added idea, if they want to use the sys for school too, they can use Edubuntu. You can even load it on top of Ubuntu or as a separate install. Due to the range of ability children have there will be programs that are not 'of their age' but there will be others that could promote their schoolwork.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on


maco's picture
Submitted by maco on

I have my Ubuntu laptop set up with Beryl. I had a Windows Vista background modified to say "is SPYWARE," a blue theme, and blue/green skydome. One of the techs at the computer store / repair shop where I work said "oh you got Vista?"
"No, this is Linux. Read the background"
"But Vista can do that, right?"
*spins cube to other desktop "No, Vista can't do any of this" *uses the Expose plugin*
"I've seen that before though"
"No, you saw a Mac do some of it"
"Oh, yeah that's right..."
"The new Macs that aren't out yet will have multiple desktops, but they won't flip like this. They don't have the 3d desktop or the wobbly windows. Expose *demos that again* is the only thing already on Macs"
"Yeah but how much memory does that use?"
"I'm using 500mb right now. If I play a DVD and open more Firefox tabs, get on Gaim and IRC...about 900"
"How much memory do you have?"
"A gig--I've never used swap. I didn't even have swap for a while"
*looks stunned* "You've NEVER touched a pagefile?! How?!"
"Linux isn't as bloated as Windows, more optimized"

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I've had conversations like that before, but somehow people aren't impressed when I do that and tell me all about how cool WMP9 and IE7 are and how I need to get Vista so I can check it out. I've used WMP9 and IE7. They're not worth the time.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

There is a new mono-based MSN client in the works called Monkey Messenger, which claims to be on-par with the "real" one.


leeyee's picture
Submitted by leeyee on

I'm a college student from China, and also using Ubuntu. Nice to meet you here who has a chinese wife. ^_^ That's very good you've converted your children to GNU/Linux, although it was caused by a game.

I'm 22. When I was a child, I remember that the only thing we could play what has some relations to electronics is GBA, and it's even not colorful. When I went to high school, the only OS we had is Win98, I never heard about Linux or Unix before I went to the college. This might be the big difference in China. However, I think we need Linux and free software much urgently than west countries, for our falling behind in IT developing and lack of enough money into research.

But that's odd, few people in China knows GNU/Linux, let alone contribute to this great project. I think the main problem caused this is education. People at my age have no much knowledge about it, and as a result we would teach the new generation only Windows, from 9x to NT and now Vista. And our children will teach their children Windows, and so on and so on......

Finally, I would to say sorry for my English, hope I've made myself clear. Thanks for the great post!

Terry Hancock's picture

"does not have the bells and whistles such as "emoticons" and other gizmos that make it look like someone has vomited on the screen. Personally I think one of the advantages of GAIM is that I am spared from these horrors, but my children have informed me that such paraphernalia is crucial to their generation's ability to share internet experiences with others."

My experiences on forums (some thing, only asynchronous) with a lot of teens seems to show similar behavior which isn't actually that surprising if you think about your developmental psychology.

Image is extremely important to teenagers. They're at a stage in life where they are actively trying to define their ego and super-ego (to use psych terms I'm not qualified to use ;-) ), and the image they portray to their friends is an important part of that experience.

For them, conversation is just as important as display behavior as it is for actively seeking information. This is why you'll frequently see posts like "Oh that is SO true!" (basically NO denotative content), but this post has an avatar, a tagline, a "location" (frequently comically fake), and a 500 word signature quoting their favorite song lyrics, anime characters, or whatever. On some sites, it may also have gender, sexual preference, astrological sign, favorite band, favorite anime, or whatever else you'd be frightened to imagine.

This is more about establishing presence and making peer bonds than it is about communicating in the technical sense. It's what substitutes online for "face time". And just like teenagers spend hours on what decorative T-shirt or earrings to wear and whether their hair should be long or short and which popular accent they should attempt to fake or what slang words are cool, they spend just as much time on these electronic accutrements.

They'll grow out of it -- sort of. Most adults still care about the status impression that their car or house makes. Even choosing to "dress down" or "look nerdy" is often really a signal, used to link to certain peer groups.

Of course, I went to a high school with uniforms, so some of these behaviors are held in check -- but we still found ways to push the envelope. An online communities I moderate for has a similar set of restrictions -- limits on avatars and signatures, for example. That actually works pretty well at maintaining a sense of balance -- but I'm sure there are a lot of kids who don't find that comfortable and so go elsewhere.

I think the "younger generation" (queue Lawrence Welk) has a lot of fun with these things, and so they do matter. We should definitely not delude ourselves about that: free software needs to provide these kinds of tools as much as serious communications channels, applications, or games. I'm glad to hear that it hasn't been that much of a problem.

I myself have been treated to the forbidden pleasures of flash animations -- my kids have discovered apparently endless collections of parody animations based on video game characters and the like. The volume of this kind of work that exists is really stunning: I bet amateur flash animators are producing more total animated cartoon output than the entire commercial industry did when *I* was 10.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Gaim surpasses Yahoo messenger at one point: you can create custom emote themes in Gaim. Just take a look at how the themes on gaim.sf.net work. Then your children can make custom themes to share with their friends (yeah, Gaim in windoze, just care about the line ending in text files though).

I still couldn't convert all my friends to Gaim, coz they need webcam/audio support. Hope vv comes to Gaim soon.

P/S could you please remove "coward" from the generic name?

Author information

Edward Macnaghten's picture


Edward Macnaghten has been a professional programmer, analyst and consultant for in excess of 20 years. His experiences include manufacturing commercially based software for a number of industries in a variety of different technical environments in Europe, Asia and the USA. He is currently running an IT consultancy specialising in free software solutions based in Cambridge UK. He also maintains his own web site.

privacy policy