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I just got my latest issue of Wired in the mail and it had this great article about open source hardware. I’ve been interested in the concept of open source software for quite a while now, but the idea of open source hardware has never occurred to me. Open source software has led to a lot of great projects, like Firefox and GNU/Linux, that have allowed people to create custom software and stick it to the likes of Microsoft , and it’s intriguing that open source hardware could do the same for physical electronics.

The microcontroller board detailed in the article, the Arduino Diecimila, is dirt cheap to buy, or you can just download schematics and PCB layouts from the Arduino website and build your own. Arduino also provides a software development environment you can download and use to write custom programs to control the Diecimila.

The thought of having open hardware that can be easily hacked and customized (check out these projects) is exciting to me, because it will allow me to create still more electronic devices (like my custom DVR and Linux servers) that consume large quantities of my time while providing questionable benefits to my life, such as the ability to watch more TV and create MySQL databases that I do not know how to program once created. Many of the projects in the aforementioned link seem to involve audio/light/music synchronization for ravers and people who like their homes to look like lame-ass techno clubs, as well as “interactive” and “sonic” art whose appeal I do not understand, but there are some projects, such as this one, that I deem more useful. For instance, I could use a similar sonar device to alert me when someone is about to invade my cubicle space at work.

Jesting aside, I am hoping that others will follow Arduino’s lead and start an open source hardware revolution that leads to homebuilt versions of the iPod and cheap, easily implemented home automation. Simple, accessible, and customizable hardware like the Diecimila has the potential to do so, much as Firefox has allowed people to create their own web experience by programming extensions and sharing them with others.

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I’ve been using Ubuntu at home for over a year now, and overall, it blows Windows away in just about every category. Ubuntu respects that I might like some control over my computer, unlike Vista, which assumes that I am a retard who needs to be protected from making critical system changes like renaming shortcuts in my Start menu or installing software that might be of questionable origin, like AutoCAD and Nero.

I am unlucky enough to be the owner of the sole Vista machine at my place of work, and a couple weeks ago I finally got sick of Vista planting its jackboots in my ribs every time I tried to interact with the computer. After a bit of a hassle (entirely due to Vista not being intelligent enough to consolidate data so I could make a new partition), I got Ubuntu installed and XP up and running in VirtualBox so I could run AutoCAD without having to reboot to Windows. No hardware or driver issues, no activation required, and a big performance increase to top it all off. That being said, the Ubuntu crew needs to work on a few things if there is any hope of Ubuntu attracting non-technical users and overtaking Windows.

First off, this business of manually editing text files to configure programs must end. There is no reason that I should have to hunt around looking for a incomprehensible text file to get something working, and an non-technical user isn’t even going to realize that a text file could control how a piece of software works. I’m very glad to see that Hardy Heron eliminated the need to configure display settings in a text file, because that was ridiculous.

Another thing that needs to be eliminated is the need to do some things from the command line. I really like using the command line and in a lot of cases it’s faster and easier than using a GUI, but no way should a regular user have to type commands in Bash. I don’t think it should be eliminated or made less powerful; it just needs to be hidden from everyone but power users.

Another problem I’ve had occurred with Ubuntu’s automatic update feature. The updater had downloaded the updates and was installing them when it locked up. It might not have been such a big deal, except that it was installing a kernel update when it locked up. I had no choice but to reboot, and when I tried to boot into Ubuntu, my OS was toast. I couldn’t get Ubuntu to boot despite trying a bunch of things to fix it. So, I had to completely re-install Ubuntu. I can imagine what people would do if this happened to them using Windows: they would throw their hands up, say it was a horrible OS, and start wondering if there were alternatives.

The gist of things is that Ubuntu needs to allow power-users the control they want under the hood, while still keeping the power of Linux covered up by default in a pretty GUI for non-technical users. Until then, the average user is stuck with Windows, which uses a pretty GUI to keep users from having any control whatsoever.