Showing posts with label software. Show all posts
Showing posts with label software. Show all posts

Friday, May 6, 2011

Software tool goes to court

This is great news for those of us who've grown accustomed, over the years, to the excellent software tool called FreeHand, which I mentioned in my article of October 2010 entitled First, find an old Mac [display]. A lobby group named Free FreeHand has been set up, in the hope of preventing the Adobe corporation from allowing the tool to become extinct.

Well, this organization has actually filed an antitrust lawsuit against Adobe, in the northern district of California.

Onlookers who use neither FreeHand nor Illustrator—that's to say, people who never need to create sophisticated computer graphics—are likely to imagine this conflict as a storm in a teacup. But that would be a big mistake. It's a showdown between an arrogant monopolistic corporation and its customers, past, present and maybe future. Adobe decided unilaterally that it would be better (for Adobe, that is) if there were only one product, Illustrator. So, the corporation has been blithely suggesting to FreeHand enthusiasts that they drop their familiar drawing tool and change to Illustrator. Now, this is often an unrealistic suggestion, because you simply cannot obtain identical results with the two products, and people don't want to be faced with the task of redoing in Illustrator—supposing this were feasible—all the stuff they've mastered in FreeHand.

Let me tell you a trivial anecdote. Many years ago, after working as a sailor for a few months on a Greek cargo ship (which took me as far as Kuwait) and then a British tanker, I got back in contact with Europe at Rotterdam. Funnily, after the relative solitude and austerity of the big vessels, I was somewhat irritated by my rediscovery of an urban environment, which struck me as "soft" and superficial. (This attitude lasted for some 24 hours before I returned to a normal state of mind.) In a bar alongside the port, I found myself standing next to an American tourist, a guy in his fifties, who asked (in English) for a Coke. The friendly but naive Dutch barman dared to offer the American customer a glass of an unidentified brown liquid that came from the tap of a drink fountain that couldn't be seen from where we were standing. From his first sip, the American reamlized that it wasn't pure Coca-Cola, and he snarled furiously at the barman: "Hey, fellow, I'm an American and, when I ask for Coca-Cola, I mean Coca-Cola!" Then he stormed out of the bar. Now, if I think of that incident, it's because I see Adobe, today, as trying to persuade Coke drinkers throughout the world that they should switch to another beverage. The proposed beverage, brown and bubbly, might look a bit like Coke, and taste a bit like Coke… but it just ain't Coke! In any case, the idea of bringing the FreeHand affair to a court of law is fascinating, because it's probably one of the first of citizens asserting their right to carry on using a piece of software of their own choosing. It's truly a religious issue!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

First, find an old Mac

As a schoolboy in Grafton, I was greatly amused by a well-known English essay that we were studying: A Dissertation upon Roast Pig by Charles Lamb [1775-1834]. The author explains that, in ancient China, the meat of pigs was eaten raw, simply because the advantages of cooking had not yet been discovered. Be that as it may (I suspect that Lamb was exaggerating, for the sake of his tale), the taste of roast pork became known for the first time ever when a farm house was destroyed by an accidental fire, along with the family's pigs.

[Click the engraving to access a copy of this short essay.]

As an outcome of this accident, people throughout the region learned that roast pork was delicious food. In their minds, the recipe for roast pork started as follows: Acquire a farm property with a pigpen, and set fire to it. It took them a while to discover that you could in fact obtain roast pork without seeing your entire farm property go up in flames.

I've often encountered situations of that kind. Shortly after our marriage in 1965, Christine and I invited a Breton priest, Abbé Chéruel, to lunch. Proud of my recently-acquired knowledge of the procedure for making genuine French mayonnaise, I got into action… but all my energetic manual mixing was to no avail: my mayonnaise mixture remained in a liquid state. Making an effort to remain cool and act efficiently, I decided to transform my planned tomato salad into something entirely different. I hollowed out the tomatoes, mixed the seeds with my failed mayonnaise mixture, added herbs, stuffed this into the tomatoes and put them in the oven to cook. The result was excellent. For years afterward, my personal recipe for eggy stuffed tomatoes started out as follows: Screw up your preparation of mayonnaise…

These days, my "recipe" for using a pair of sophisticated software products—Flash and FreeHand, both originally manufactured by Macromedia—starts out as follows: First, find an old Mac… What I mean by this is that my aging copies of these two tools won't work on my new iMac with an Intel chip, whereas they continue to work perfectly on an older iMac sitting on an adjacent desk.

Concerning the first product, Flash, the latest version is far too sophisticated and expensive for my needs. I only had to drop in electronically (so to speak) at Adobe's recent grand mass called Max, in Los Angeles, to confirm that Flash has become a gigantic web-development tool, particularly in the corporate world. The fact that Steve Jobs doesn't want his iPhone and iPad to be polluted by the presence of Flash-based stuff is neither here nor there. In the vast world of desktop computers (such as iMacs, for example, as distinct from mobile gadgets), Flash doesn't look as if it's about to disappear. On the contrary. As for me personally, in my modest computing world, I carry on using my antiquated version of Flash, on my older iMac, for many different tasks. For example, I've used Flash to build and update websites that enable me to distribute downloadable chapters of my genealogical monographs.

As for second product, FreeHand, Adobe considers that their customers should switch to Illustrator, which is almost certainly a more modern and powerful software tool. In fact, Adobe announced explicitly on May 15, 2007 that it would discontinue development and support of FreeHand. Now, this annoyed me considerably, because I've been using FreeHand for years for all my genealogical charts, and it turns out to be quite a messy affair to convert them into Illustrator format. Here's a typical example of such a chart, produced using FreeHand:

Since FreeHand was still running perfectly on my older iMac, I've got into the habit of producing genealogical charts on my second machine, and then using an external storage device (a USB key) to load the finished charts onto my new Intel-based iMac.

BREAKING NEWS: Half an hour ago, while writing the present post, I wanted to check the exact spelling of FreeHand (with an uppercase H). I opened by chance the Wikipedia article on this product. I noticed a paragraph about users who were disgruntled because the FreeHand tool refused to work on the latest iMac running Snow Leopard. And lo and behold, I stumbled upon a reference to an Adobe patch that fixed this problem. Five minutes later, I had FreeHand running perfectly on my new iMac! There's a moral in this story. Blogging is good for you. It can even give rise to therapeutic benefits at the level of the blogger. If I hadn't set out to describe my woes concerning these tools that were implemented solely on my old iMac, then it's quite possible that I would never have heard about that great FreeHand patch. The phenomenon of a chance discovery, while seeking something else, is referred to as serendipity [Wiki]. So, both my invention of a recipe for stuffed tomatoes and my discovery of the FreeHand patch were serendipitous.

Friday, October 29, 2010

No longer with it

In my post of August 18, 2010 entitled Electronic versions of my novel [display], I explained that, in order to get my novel All the Earth is Mine published electronically by Smashwords, I was obliged to purchase a copy of the legacy product Word, bundled with lots of other stuff that didn't interest me at all. I started out by registering the product with Microsoft. [I seem to recall that I was obliged to do so, to get it working.] After my initial shock to find that there's apparently no such thing as user documentation for Word, I soon got used to playing around with this dull old dinosaur… which apparently remains, for many folk, a synonym of word processing.

A few days ago, Microsoft sent me an email informing me that I could update free-of-charge to the latest version of their product. Now, Microsoft's update procedures involved entering three 25-character codes (transcribed manually from stickers on a piece of cardboard) and forwarding them an image of the sales invoice from the online Apple store. They were by far the most complicated operations I've ever been expected to perform in order to obtain the latest version of a software product. And I'm not even certain that these nitpickers are really going to give me an update. For the moment, they've merely stated that they intend to "review" my submission.

I've had professional contacts with Microsoft for a long time. In the early '80s, in Paris, I collaborated in the production of an Apple II demo disk for the Multiplan spreadsheet, which was an ancestor of Excel. A few years later, another project led to my meeting up personally with Bill Gates at a reception in a Paris hotel. Then, on April 2, 1991, as a freelance journalist, I was invited to Microsoft's marketing meeting in the Château d'Esclimont, located between Versailles and Chartres.

[Click to access the website of this luxurious establishment.]

Today, when I discover antiquated manual procedures of the kind proposed for an update of Word, my little finger tells me that an imminent destiny of decrepitude is surely looming over the head of this once-famous software corporation.