Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




An opportunity?

Everytime I get called to fix a friend's / family member's / neighbour's PC I keep thinking the same thing.... this stuff isn't ready for the public yet...

Most people want their computer to do email, surf the net, do some Word/Excel. Those with kids (or who are still kids) want to play games.

They don't want to know about operating systems, patches, worms, the registry etc. All they want is a machine that reliably works.

And actually all I want for them is to have a machine that works! If we extrapolate we can see that there are millions of people who just want this. And yet I can't find a way to provide this as a service... Well, I do provide it as a service, but it kills hours of my time... what I mean is I can't find a way to provide this as a profitable commercial service. People would love it. They pay a small charge and their system is administered for them... But most of them wouldn't want to pay the hundreds of pounds / year that it would actually cost them...

Anyone got any ideas? Is there a model out there that someone could use to provide managed systems to the plebs?

gwyn
Monday, August 23, 2004

Evolution.

Ape
Monday, August 23, 2004

IMHO, they would only "love it" after it's crashed they systems. Otherwise they just merrily go on.

Say you write a $50 program that bulletproofs Windows. Few would buy it.

Alex
Monday, August 23, 2004

Two answers:

1) This is just the niche the iMac tried to fill, you can judge for yourself how successfully this was done
2) There are a number of start-ups offering access to standard Office software via Broadband web connections (via a browser but with the usual rich-client functionality):

http://metatime.blogspot.com/2004/07/virtual-apps.html

Mindful
http://duskanddawn.blogspot.com

mindful_learner
Monday, August 23, 2004

"Most people want their computer to do email, surf the net, do some Word/Excel. Those with kids (or who are still kids) want to play games."

If only that were true. There is a world of difference between what these people say they want, and what they actually want.
You see, they really want to unzip that file they were mailed by "some girl they never met" and run that .exe so they can see Titiana's boobs.
Btw. this is far from limited to the net. You could say the same thing about cars or whatever. Johny really wants to drink ten pints and then set a new record on the way home in his lobotomized Peugeot.

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, August 23, 2004

A Mac would still fix all those problems (opening attachments), and you can still surf porn.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, August 23, 2004

www.geeksquad.com

Chris Peacock
Monday, August 23, 2004

No. I think people really just want a managed service. They get a computer that allows them to do what they want. When it goes wrong they want someone to fix it.
What they do not want is to play a lot of money for people to fix it. Now if their initial machine were provided built to a standard then the 'supporter' would only be supporting one configuration. OK, now they've got the problems of new loaded software but there must be some sort of solution...

CSC et al do this for corporate systems. The clients pay some sort of maintenance fee (or the cost of the machine is included in some sort of lease arrangement)

Potentially I could produce standard builds as a basis. I could even use standard hardware (it's much of a muchness these days anyway for most users) - which makes life easier.

I could protect it from the net etc. by using some sort of virtualisation. The computer has a base OS and then has another installed within it. These are easy to snapshot, backup and replace etc.

It's a definite problem (and there's a definite market) but it's finding an appropriate solution that is tricky!

A lot of people are so unsavvy that they end up spending more money than they need to on a machine anyway... get convinced by the sales guy to buy the latest P4 with hyper threading and a gig of ram... and all the associated bells and whistles... this would all be part of the service...

gwyn
Monday, August 23, 2004

You can get pretty far just by figuring out a way to block exe's that aren't on some "approved" list ("approved" meaning "isn't a virus, malware, etc.).  Your subscribed users' attachment name / MD5 / etc. are checked, and if OK (i.e. not "not ok"), they are allowed to run that program.

devinmoore.com
Monday, August 23, 2004

How about partitioning the hard disk?  Tell them save all your work on this drive, if your computer goes wrong you won't lose your data (assuming the hd doesn't fail).  Then you can use whatever mechanism you like to install/recover the OS again.

Steven
Monday, August 23, 2004

Write a plug-in that would execute Active-X in a sandbox.  Then you'd see 99.9% of their problems go away. 

Sell the plug-in to big PC vendors.

WWJCD
Monday, August 23, 2004

"How about partitioning the hard disk?  Tell them save all your work on this drive, if your computer goes wrong you won't lose your data (assuming the hd doesn't fail).  Then you can use whatever mechanism you like to install/recover the OS again."

It's what I normally do. Unfortunately it doesn't deal with the myriad of programs that store settings in the registry or within Program Files directory.

So yes, they can save their data but if you trash the C drive they'll lose their other settings and program related data. This annoys me a lot. On *nix I seem to remember that everything to do with an app will be stored in the apps directory.. *nix doesn't "splatter" things round the hard drive. Therefore if you backup that directory you can restore it in isolation and get it working as before.

gwyn
Monday, August 23, 2004

I'm not sure there is much you can do about the programs writing it's settings in three different places.  But if the computer has just been trashed by a virus how many programs do you want to be recovering? 

I'm not sure if you want to do the job you're doing but lots quicker or you want other people to do it for themselves?

IMHO with Windows you're not likely to be able to restore programs easily, you can just make it a little easier by putting them all on one cd if possible. 

Not sure if anyone has a better suggestion though...

Steven
Monday, August 23, 2004

"OK, now they've got the problems of new loaded software"

This is 99% of the problem.

If you were to lock down a system and not allow any installations, then this would deal with:

viruses
worms
poor software that creates DLL hell.

This is what corporations are, understandably, doing by limiting users to non-admin accounts.  That, to a very large extent, limits them from the above sorts of problems.

Drives me, as a shrink wrap developer NUTS to deal with, but I can see the benefits.  And that may mean happier PC users, which is good for ALL of us.  Happier users means they recommedn sw to more people, that means larger potential user base.

Mr.Analogy (Shrinkwrap ISV company owner)
Monday, August 23, 2004

http://www.adminet.com/minitel/

Fred
Monday, August 23, 2004


Last year, I lived in an apartment where the electricity was included in the rent.  I also happened across a rather large group of users who had horribly infected machines. 

It was a great combination...  I charged each person (4 of them) $25/hour for virus removal and patching services.  I plugged all of them into my KVM and started the scanners running.

Then I played Deus Ex on my machine.... while making $100/hour for hitting a few buttons every so often.

It was *well* worth it.

KC
Monday, August 23, 2004

I've used a system administration program that intends to do something along those lines. I won't mention it's name here but if you'd like more info feel free to contact me privately. It's not quite intended for home audiences but no doubt it could be used as such as long as there's a competent administrator behind it somewhere.

It is a software installation/distribution system, as well as a full audit package. Essentially from your location you can 'distribute' patches or software to the PC's, remotely control them via something like VNC, monitor for new application installations, etc. Every time the PC is rebooted, it is checked pre-boot and compared to how it should be. Anything that has changed, except defined document/data folders, is restored (almost instantaneously) to the way it should be.

That's only a basic summary - it does more than that. But as I said, if you want to know more feel free to drop me an email.

James U-S
Monday, August 23, 2004

The idea of a transactional file system is intriguing.  Like a database, you could roll back to a given point in time (uhh, it was working last Tuesday).

Don't know if this will ever be practical, but Longhorn at one time promised the new NTFS would be transactional...

Bill Carlson
Monday, August 23, 2004

Problem with a transactional file system is what happens if a virus manages to get a hold of it?  It could just roll back your system until it was just installed I guess.

Steven
Monday, August 23, 2004

Sounds like 'appliance computing' to me.  The reason that will likely never take off is that everyone knows (even my mother) that they will eventually want to do *something* that doesn't fit into the 75% of the features that would likely be glommed together by a network appliance manufacturer.  That sticky, slight fear ensures that general-purpose computing will always live on, at least while software developers are trying to innovate.

Regards,

Chas Emerick

Snowtide Informatics : http://www.snowtide.com
PDFTextStream: High Performance PDF Text Extraction Java Library

Chas Emerick
Monday, August 23, 2004

>Most people want their computer to do email, surf the net, do some Word/Excel.

>They don't want to know about operating systems, patches, worms, the registry etc. All they want is a machine that reliably works.

Any modern Mac will give you this.

> Those with kids (or who are still kids) want to play games.

Playstation or XBox - great game libraries and very inexpensive. Also, doesn't tie up the computer.

Tony Chang
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The single biggest reason that computers 'aren't ready for the public yet' as the original poster said, IMO, is the mess that is the Internet.

Sure, it is great for us. Us meaning software/internet/IT professionals. We know what we're doing, we know how to protect our PCs, we know where to look for whatever we're looking for. But for Joe Public, the Internet is something different. They understand that it has fantastic potential, but they also know that it is very easy for them to get virus infected. They know that their computer can very quickly damaged by some program that is then a massive pain to remove (in minutes, if unpatched. and let's face it, how many consumers properly patch their pc's). Parents can't let their kids use the computer by themselves in case that porno spyware program that they thought they got rid of but keeps popping back up is still hanging around. All they want to do is use the internet, email, and write some letters occasionally and some spreadsheets. But they are forced to do, and know about, so much more, when they have no real need to.

It's really hurting the internet industry as a whole at the moment. It has so much potential but until a solution is found the problem of viruses (so-called 'spyware' in particular) it can't ever be what it could be. But of course, we all resist change by bitching at MS each time a new patch comes out, and lots of us won't load SP2 which goes some way to securing a system in case it breask something else (myself included). Consumers won't upgrade to newer operating systems. "Why should I? My computer already works, doesn't it?". Sure it does, but only because somebody keeps cleaning it up and getting rid of the viruses. Not that I'm saying upgrading will solve very much, but people on older operating systems aren't necessarily helping things. "I don't need a firewall. I've got you to fix my computer" is something I've heard as well. It should be about preventing, not firefighting.


Whether this solution is by educating the users better, or by some new software protection system, or whatever, something needs to happen, IMO, before the internet can realise it's potential.

James U-S
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Hmmmm, how about some sort of GUI dumb terminal that connects to a mainframe via broadband?

Jack of all
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

You mean Minitel Turbo? ;-)

NotFrench
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home