Why are we all here?
That's really the key question, isn't it? I don't mean that in a philosophical sense: what I mean is why have we decided to come together to form the community and this project? What motivated us to say "I want something more" and decide that KOSH would give it to us? Ask everyone involved in KOSH and you'd get a different answer.
When I first started writing this article I tried to think of a way I could explain my own reasons for joining KOSH. There are a lot of reasons I could give but I think that there's one event that happened recently that really helped to unify all of them and that's what I want to share with you now.
A short while ago I went to Cardiff to visit my sister. For those of you who aren't familiar with the geography of the UK, Cardiff is in the south of Wales and, since I'm part Welsh, it's a part of the UK I happen to love. Although this in itself isn't significant to this article, while I was there I noticed something that definitely is.
My sister has an old 486 laptop with Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 97, which she uses to do work she takes home from the office over the weekend. Although the system is a little low powered for that software, in theory it should be able to handle the strain. That, of course, is the theory and the truth is somewhat different. Windows runs well enough, about as stable as it ever gets and, since it's not being put under too much stress, it is usually crash free.
Office is a completely different story. Because my sister's workplace use Office 95 and she has Office 97, she has to convert between the two formats - but Office 97 has a bug in the conversion routine between the two. There is a patch available but, at 8 Mb in size, it's not easy to get onto the laptop as there's no CD-ROM and she doesn't have access to the internet. That problem is pretty easy to solve though: a little time and patience and I've downloaded the patch and put it onto several disks so that it can be installed on her laptop. The problems with Office run much deeper though. It routinely corrupts the display on her monitor, files will demand resources they don't need - access to a network for one - and, in general, it makes the simplest of tasks into a chore.
What this helped me to appreciate is how frustrating it must be for people to be forced to use that kind of software. As a full time software engineer with an honours degree in Computer Science I'm used to dealing with computing problems and finding their solution. To some degree that has desensitized me to how frustrating and annoying it is to meet constant obstacles when you're trying to complete a simple task. Put quite simply, it is not acceptable.
Office 97 is only one example of what's wrong with computers today. It's bloated with unnecessary features, it's inefficient and requires more system resources than it should have to use. It appears poorly tested as huge and glaring flaws are present.
Computers were supposed to make all our lives easier and happier, taking away many of the mundane tasks we don't really have time for and simplifying the tasks that we have to perform every day. Instead, they're beginning to become a millstone around our collective necks, demanding yet more time and effort from us as they 'improve' while forcing us to cope with problems that should never have existed in the first place. That is something I will not stand for.
The reason I joined KOSH is that I believe it offers an excellent chance to change all that, that it will provide everyone with a computer system that is designed around their needs and wants and not around what Microsoft (or anyone else) think you need and want. I believe it will give computer users a simple, efficient, scaleable system that will run well on simple computers but also utilize the full potential of more advanced ones.
Most importantly, I believe that it will do the single most important thing that needs to be done. I believe it will put the user back where they belong, in charge of their computer and not the other way around. That's why I'm here and that's why I'm going to stay here.