How to Pick a Good Gift for a Geeky Dad

There’s nothing like a good battle to liven up the conversation on the Linux blogs, and that’s just what happened last week thanks to the resurgence in the controversy over OOXML.

Following appeals by South Africa, India, Brazil and Venezuela, the fate of OOXML — and indeed standards-making in general — is far from clear.

“I think OOXML will cause the greatest wave of change to how national standards bodies conduct themselves that we have seen in the last decade or two,” wrote Bob Sutor of IBM on his blog. “Critical questions are being raised about process, transparency, representation, and accountability.”

Linux aficionados on the whole have been opposed to OOXML, so the fresh debate came as music to many bloggers’ ears.

*Now* Is It the Year?

News that Acer plans to push Linux on many of its upcoming laptops and netbooks, meanwhile, added another note of merriment on the blogs, causing many to wonder — again — if 2008 really *is* the year Linux will arrive.

“The ‘news’ value is that a huge, major OEM of Windows is drifting towards Linux support, which means that driver availability, support, integration, and application components get a new protagonist, and a powerful one at that,” wrote postbigbang on Slashdot, where more than 300 comments had been made by Friday.

“Ideological reasons aside, it’s a major deal for such a huge OEM of Microsoft to have committed to the ‘enemy’ camp,” postbigbang added. “And as Acer is very influential in Asia, it also means that others will likely follow suit in a ‘herd’ effect.”

On the other hand: “Before the M$ bash fest starts, let’s make this clear: These companies are not using Linux distros because they hate Microsoft or any of that other nonsense,” cautioned goltcz. “It is purely a financial decision. They can make more money with Linux while at the same time offer consumers a product that can be judged by its functionality and other merits. If these companies could make more money using M$ operating systems, they would in a heartbeat.”

That said, however, “the Ubuntu fan boi in me wants say, ‘Sweet — it’s finally the year of the Linux DeskTo… Lapto… NetBook,'” goltcz added.

13 Tips

Speaking of Linux and its many virtues, Inter-Sections blogger Daniel Tenner made some interesting posts a few weeks ago on the subject of development projects and how to make them successful.

The first of those, titled “13 tips for creating a successful new online product,” makes a variety of useful suggestions for what to build, how to build it and who to build it with, including Tip #8: “Don’t let your programmers design the user interface.”

That post, which garnered 96 Diggs, was followed up with one titled “Perfection does not exist.”

‘Don’t Make That Mistake’

“Once you make it your aim to ‘build the perfect product,’ you find yourself paralyzed by lengthy design work, longer iterations and significant periods of ‘making the features perfect’ without releasing anything to the users,” Tenner wrote. “This can and probably will kill your startup. Don’t make that mistake.”

Instead, “aim to move forward a little bit at a time,” Tenner urged — “build small increments of functionality that you can show to users as soon as possible.”

Does all that ring true to those in the trenches? The inquiring minds at LinuxInsider wanted to know.

Missing the Point?

“The article misses a major point,” Gerhard Mack, a Montreal-based consultant and Slashdot blogger, told LinuxInsider. “You have to know what problem your software fixes before you can create something that fixes it.”

For example: “I’m sure the legal field is short of all sorts of software that fixes massive gaps in their productivity, but I could take the best programmer in the world and still not create a good product because neither I nor the programmer know much about how a law office operates and what the problems are,” Mack explained.

“You need to *know* the problem — experience it and feel the pain,” he added. “A twice-a-week meeting with an end user is just not good enough. I suggest immersion into the field being catered to in a tech support role. The experience won’t be fun, but it will teach the programmer what’s wrong with the software and (hopefully) how to fix it.”

Two Lessons

Along similar lines: “Back when I was working for a large telecom, I worked on a project management application that was very heavily influenced by user input,” Slashdot blogger mhall119 told LinuxInsider.

“Here are the 2 biggest lessons I learned while working on that project:

1.) You must make your application do what your user needs to do with as little effort as possible

2.) What the user wants your application to do is usually not what they _need_ your application to do.”

Users consistently confuse what they need to do with what they currently do to accomplish that, he added: “For example, the user’s need may be to go from A to C, but they will only tell you that they need process B added, because that’s how they currently get from A to C.”

Wants vs. Needs

While Tenner’s article “made some good points about responding to user input, I think that it still missed the mark because it doesn’t make this distinction between a user’s want and a user’s need,” mhall119 said.

“Nobody uses software for the sake of using software, so anything a user tells you they want to be able to do in your software is only a means to accomplishing some other goal,” he concluded. “If you don’t know what that goal is, you won’t ever know how to help them get there.”

Thanking Dad

Finally, speaking of helping someone get somewhere, that’s a pretty fair description of what a father does for his kids. What better time to say thanks than Father’s Day, which is this coming Sunday!

“As the father of two toddlers, there isn’t much money in the family budget for high-priced geeks gadgets, so while an EeePC or an iPhone would be nice to have, I certainly wouldn’t want to get one for Father’s Day because I’d know how much of a dent it had just put into our savings,” mhall119 said. “On the opposite note, I am a geek, and so I want something I can actually _do_ something with.”

Top of mhall119’s wish list for the big day?

  1. A new USB thumb drive (“I recently ‘misplaced’ mine, and it was only 1 Gig anyway.”)
  2. X10 Home Automation stuff (“You can get enough for a small geeky project for well under $100.”)
  3. “Any old hackable Linux or Java device from eBay — geeks don’t mind second-hand if it’s something they can tinker with.”
  4. “A portable music player that supports Vorbis, or even better can be loaded with Rockbox. Again, second-hand would be OK here,” he said.

Gifts for Geeks

Indeed, caring children of Linux geeks might want to check out ThinkGeek, which currently has a special section devoted to Father’s Day. We especially like the “Binary Dad” T-shirt and the “Caffeinated Breath Spray”!

Then, of course, there’s the Linux Tux Shop, which offers Tux T-shirts, gummi candy and more.

Finally, one additional suggestion came from Slashdot founder Rob Malda.

“My kid is only 9 months old, so I don’t think he’ll be picking anything for me this year,” Malda said. Nevertheless, “How about a nice Leatherman?” he added. “Every dad needs one.”

So there you have it, dear readers — time to hit the stores!

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