Form and Function

[This week’s Communications column for the Vanuatu Independent.]

[Yes, it’s a re-hash of this rant. ed.]

As a computer geek, I’m supposed to be suffused with enthusiasm and excitement over the features of the latest software. By rights, I should be the one carrying the techno-tablets down from the mountain, telling you how the latest in frobnalising ephemetry is going to change everyone’s life. I’m the one supposed to show you where to sign up and what to do with it once you’ve got it.

I have a confession to make: I hate most software.

90% of software is crap. As author Theodore Sturgeon famously said, that’s because 90% of everything is crap.

I save a particular loathing for word processors. For any but the simplest tasks, their interfaces are utterly ridiculous. I haven’t liked a word processing interface since WordPerfect circa version 5, which ran on DOS (remember DOS?). If I had my own way, I’d still be using it.

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The Right Tools for the Job – II

I was in Pentecost island last week, visiting some members of my extended family in Lalwari, a village located almost in the clouds in the island’s mountainous spine. The village is only accessible by footpath, meaning that day-to-day life is almost entirely without automation of any kind.

Half an hour’s walk down a muddy mountain trail lies Ranwadi School. It recently received nearly a million Australian dollars in upgrades. The school has always been a beacon to PENAMA province’s brightest students. Now, due to strong support, solid administration and high quality resources, Ranwadi is stronger than ever.

I walked down to the school one rainy morning to provide assistance with a computer that had been acting up. A spyware infection had damaged some system files and the machine could no longer start. I spent about an hour re-installing the operating system software on the machine, and everything was fine.

Well, it should have been, anyway….

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Software and the New Colonialism

A colleague of mine recently attended a meeting between the Ministry of Education and representatives for a new initiative sponsored by Microsoft. On the face of it, the offer on the table was compelling: Microsoft Windows and Office licenses for sale at about 700 vatu each for educational institutions. Huge investment in flagship schools in Vanuatu, with hundreds of new PCs in total running all the latest software at prices never seen before. How could anyone refuse?

Microsoft is not the only company to come to the sudden realisation that there are about 5 billion people out there who don’t buy their product. Many major IT corporations have taken a look at the mature European and North American markets and decided to begin developing markets elsewhere in the world.

It’s a great opportunity for them. Junior and intermediate managers trying to make a name for themselves are leading the exploration. Rather than navigate the shark-infested waters of corporate HQ, they’re establishing new territories, trying out new tactics and creating new opportunities for themselves and their customers.

This is not a bad thing in and of itself. But it does need to be understood.

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