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Henry's Techno-Musings: Hotmail Change Prompts Switch to Linux

By Henry Grebler

Techno-Musings image


Caller ID enabled me to answer the phone, "Hello, Home."

A short pause; then my wife's voice, "Hello, Work."

She always seems to be a little surprised by technology. And often quite delighted. But not this time.

"I can't write emails," she continued.

I asked for more information. "Ok, I'll take a look."

Just then, Tri came into my pod, talking. I turned around. "I'm on an important support call," I smiled.

"Tell 'em to put in a ticket."

"My customer is more important than that."

"I'll come back later."

My wife uses Hotmail for her email. I put her on speaker, and navigated to hotmail.com.

"Hang on! This looks different! Where's my inbox? Wait a minute - where's Hotmail!?" It was my turn to be non-plussed: I'm not good with gratuitous change.

I ruminated, not for the first time, how users are full of irrelevant details, but forever fail to mention the elephant in the room. My wife is no better or worse than other users.

Typically my thinking goes something like this. I try to do something; the behaviour I see is not as I expect. I fiddle around a bit, just in case it is a spuron. Then I stop. When did I do this last? Did it work ok then? Yes. What's changed?

So my mild hysteria when I got to the Hotmail page has nothing to do with my inability to cope with change. All right, it has everything to do with my inability to cope with change. But it serves another purpose. It means that I notice that a change has occurred. Consequently, when, soon after, I encounter an unexpected response, I am encouraged to consider a possible connection between the change and the unexpected response.

"Up the top." Our roles have changed; she has no problems with moving the furniture around. Neither do my kids. Me - not so much.

I scanned the alien terrain. Nothing looked like a link to me - another new fashion. Then I found it. I was taken to my inbox. I don't use my Hotmail account all that often, but it looked unchanged.

When I clicked on New, I was presented with a screen which looked unremarkable. I found I could enter a To: and a Subject: - and so could my wife. However, when I clicked on the body of the email, I got a cursor and could enter text; she didn't, and couldn't.

"I'm going to have to leave it until I get home," I told her. "I'm sorry."

"That's all right. It can wait."


When I got home that evening, things were pretty much as she'd described them. No amount of clicking in the body of the email solved the problem.

I tried Internet Explorer (yuk), but it also had problems. I tried some other computers with different revs of Firefox.

When I tried Firefox, I got:

Upgrade your web browser

We recommend that you upgrade your web browser so you can get the most out of Windows Live Hotmail. Upgrading should only take a few minutes. To get started, choose one of the browsers below:
* Microsoft Internet Explorer * Mozilla Firefox * Google Chrome * Apple Safari
If you don't want to upgrade right now you can still continue to use Windows Live Hotmail, but some parts of it may not work and it may not be displayed properly.

Yet another piece of useful information my wife had omitted to report.

So, it looks like Hotmail knew what they were doing. Let me rephrase that: it looks like the people at Hotmail were aware of the effects of their changes.

When I went to the compose window, I could not enter text in the body of the email.


For some time I had been trying to move my wife from Windows 98 to something else. Anything else. But she was comfortable with the environment with which she was familiar.

And I don't blame her one bit. It's one aspect in which we are very much alike.

I still use olvwm as my window manager and am prepared to go through hoops to have it on all the computers I use. I can't always get what I want, but I do ok.

The one thing that drives me to distraction is the trend amongst Linux distributions to pursue a Microsoft Windows look and feel. Everything about Microsoft Windows is at odds with what I want to do and how I want to do it. It's like trying to get me to wear clothes intended for a creature with different numbers of arms and legs from me: I can probably contort myself to don the garb, but I will be so uncomfortable I won't be able to achieve much.

But I digress.

I'm a good hubby: I try to give her what she wants. Even when it comes to computers. So I considered how to get her back her Hotmail.

I could install the latest Firefox (version 3.something). No, I couldn't: it does not support Windows 98.

Perhaps we could move her to Google mail. This is still an option.

I could install some form of X server on her machine, and have her run Firefox on my machine, displayed on her machine. This is still an option, but I have not (yet) found an X server which supports Windows 98. I am prepared to search further.

Interim Solution

While I'm navigating these options, what's she going to use for email? Well, I'm not saying I've got the best solution, but it was fairly straightforward for me to fire up Firefox 3 in a VNC server on my BSD machine; and start a VNC client on her machine. Hey, presto! She can use Hotmail.

It's all very recent. I'm dying to hear her feedback. Stay tuned.

Evil Grin

But I think I have a better idea. I think I'm detecting that this is, for her, the last straw. I think that she is resigned to migrating to a different platform. And if the platform is on the table, guess what else is on the table? Yep: Linux.

Because the case is so hard to refute. First of all she knows that she has support. She can call her Help Desk (as she did at the start of this article) and be sure she will get great service. And she's been around me long enough to know that I'm much better at supporting Linux than I am at supporting Microsoft Windows. Hell, it's what I do!

So the good news is that Microsoft (owner of Hotmail) may be the motivation for her to move to Linux. Don't you just love the irony?!

What's the opposite of "Conclusion"?

Stay Tuned

It was my intention to have this all wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. I hoped to have moved my wife to a Linux platform and present a neatly packaged article for all to savour.

Sadly, that hasn't happened.

Real life (the bit that intrudes into my writing time) has prevented me from producing a happy ending. So far.

I'm scared that the relevance of the subject matter will attenuate with the passing of time.

Here's what's happened recently. My wife is using the interim solution. It is much less user friendly than I had expected, but bearable. Just.

I was able to fire up Ubuntu (not the latest) off a CD on another computer and let her try to use Firefox. Her response was extremely encouraging, the experience very positive.

With a bit of luck, I will be able to report back next month.

Stay tuned.


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Henry has spent his days working with computers, mostly for computer manufacturers or software developers. His early computer experience includes relics such as punch cards, paper tape and mag tape. It is his darkest secret that he has been paid to do the sorts of things he would have paid money to be allowed to do. Just don't tell any of his employers.

He has used Linux as his personal home desktop since the family got its first PC in 1996. Back then, when the family shared the one PC, it was a dual-boot Windows/Slackware setup. Now that each member has his/her own computer, Henry somehow survives in a purely Linux world.

He lives in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

Copyright © 2010, Henry Grebler. Released under the Open Publication License unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 178 of Linux Gazette, September 2010