Paperclip death opens path to open source

I have a confession to make. I have a bad habit. I've spent all my years as a desk-bound worker systematically mangling paper clips. I can't help myself. Really.

I have a confession to make. I have a bad habit. I’ve spent all my years as a desk-bound worker systematically mangling paper clips. I can’t help myself. Really.

When it comes to office supplies, I’m Hannibal Lecter -- well, to be honest, paper clips don’t have nice, tasty livers so I don’t actually eat them, but I do a damned good job on them. My favourite paper clip mangle is something I call “the crank”. You take one of those triangular clips and open it out into a kind of mutant squared-off “s” shape and you can hold the shortest end (aka the crankshaft) between the thumb and index finger of your left hand and you take the other, longer, end (aka the handle) between the thumb and index finger of your right hand and you, well, crank it. When you’re done you can give each bit one more little twist and it all breaks apart. I know … it’s puerile, facile, infantile and completely stupid, but it keeps me busy for hours. It’s like knitting …it gives me something to think about while I’m talking.

So who gives a damn about my paper clip fetish? No one probably, but paper clips are big news at the moment. Well, one particular paper clip anyway.

Microsoft’s poor old “Clippy” is slated to bite the big one. Yes folks, MS Office XP is just so damn good that we, the users, no longer need a stupid cartoon paper clip popping up every two and a half seconds to either ask us what we’d like to do or try to tell us what it looks like we’re trying to do. I understand that some Microsoft marketer has even organised a website where we, Clippy’s loyal and devoted fans, can visit and make suggestions as to Clippy’s next career move. Hmmm, are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I went through a bit of a phase last year where, following Sun’s acquisition of StarOffice and Corel’s efforts at the Computerworld Expo, I got excited about Linux and started looking for ways to go open source on all our desktops. On paper it looked great (what’s not to look great about free software?) but in reality something like 75% of technology total cost of ownership comes down to “soft” costs like deployment, management and user training and support. That’s the bit where the open source math doesn’t quite add up – unless, of course, you’re a PC hobbyist with lots of time to spend fiddling and tweaking. In my own highly unscientific and ultimately frustrating experiment, Linux was (a) harder to set up than Windows, (b) ran like a dog and (c) kept hanging or dying or something without even showing a blue screen of death to let you know what’d happened.

Free or cheap software is great. Freedom from the tyranny of the Wintel upgrade spiral is great but, for my money, it’s still hard to go past the “it all just works together” aspect of the Microsoft stack. Now that they’ve got rid of that bloody paper clip I might finally be able to shake that bad habit of mine.

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons. Send mail to Jim Swanson. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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