On Internet Advertising

Category: Computing Devices
Thu, 13 Mar 2008, 12:49

Like many other webmasters, I too want to find ways to generate income from my web site. The Google AdSense program is a great way to bring in a few dollars, but it would be nice to take in a bigger piece of the advertising pie by selling ads directly.

But selling ads is not easy. Many advertisers don't want anything to do with the traditional banner ad since they are seen as ineffective. But from the point of view of the webmaster and of the visitor to the web site, banners remain the best solution. Let's have a quick look at some of the other methods advertisers use:

radio man

Some advertisers count on techniques that basically annoy the reader. Pop-up ads, and their cousins the pop-under ads, foist the advertiser's message directly in your face. In the few seconds before the reader hits the close button, the advertiser hopes that his message will get through. For me, pop-ups and pop-unders are so much a nuisance that if I stumble upon a web site that uses them, I back out immediately and never return.

More recently, advertisers have turned to another insidious technique, that of buying pages on web sites. A visitor to the site may read some content on a site and believe it to be the opinions of the webmaster. But in reality, the content, including it's external links, is paid for by an advertiser. Since this content is paid for, the objectivity of the material is obviously suspect. But because the content is on an independent web site, the reader may not be aware of the true nature of the content.

Have you seen ads in newspapers that look like articles? Respectable newsrags will put a disclaimer at the top indicating that the article is really a paid ad. But for most publications, their biggest customers are the advertisers. And for many, it's not easy filling a weekly or monthly publication with meaningful content, and so many will accept content from their advertisers. Sadly, the same is happening with some web sites.

This causes a problem for the search engines, like Google. They try to determine the quality of information on the zillions of web sites out there. One way is to count the number of links to particular web sites on the theory that the better quality sites will have more links pointing to them. Links that aren't paid for are considered more useful since there are no ulterior motives in adding such links to a site. But how do you differentiate between a paid-for and a non-paid-for link?

It's been reported that Google has some algorithms that try to determine the quality of links. Apparently, if Google determines that a web site is playing games to try to improve its page rank, Google may place the site in a sort of "penalty box", and exclude the site from search results. And so advertisers end up playing a cat and mouse game with Google, trying out different ways to pay for links that will not be found out by Google!

As always, the person caught in the middle is the average web surfer. The average person visits web sites looking for information or entertainment. Sometimes, he goes on-line looking to buy some particular product or service. But generally, the average person doesn't want to have to wade through lots of ads. Plus, the average person wants to be sure that the information he reads is objective and untainted by commercial interests.

The increase in the number of paid-for pages, as well as "text link ads", is yet another annoying development in the story of internet advertising. Web surfers need to be even more vigilant than ever in carefully reading web site content. Can we expect webmasters to always identify paid-for content? Probably not. Whenever we visit web sites from now on, we need to constantly ask ourselves if what we are reading sounds objective, or sounds more like ad copy.

Omnifariously yours, Hans.

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Is Linux Ready for the Desktop?

Category: Computing Devices
Wed, 12 Mar 2008, 18:20

I won't make you read through my entire editorial. The answer is a most definite "Yes".

Every so often, the question is asked: Is Linux ready for the desktop? That is, although we know Linux is already a darn fine server operating system, is it a good choice for the desktop? To justify my answer to this question, I'll start with a quick review of my own experiences with Linux.

In the mid-1990's, I used OS/2 on my home computer. I think everyone who ever used it knew it was a pretty good alternative to MS Windows at the time. But after a while, we all knew too well it wasn't going anywhere. Rather than move to the dark side and install Windows, I decided to try out Linux. So in June of 1998, I installed Red Hat Linux version 5.1. But after installation I stared at a plain fvwm screen and wondered what the heck I was getting myself into. It was a big step down from OS/2, but I stuck with it. A month later KDE version 1.0 was released, which made Linux a lot easier to use. As a computer geek, I had little trouble being productive with it, but clearly a lot of work was still needed. And I had a lot of learning to do.

Five years later, I moved up to Red Hat version 7.3 which was a big improvement. But still it was not ready for the average computer user. For example, writing CD's needed a good understanding of some text based commands. And adding new peripherals, such as a scanner and flash card reader, wasn't a trivial process.

Let's look at now. I recently bought a new computer, and the very first thing I did with it after powering it up was install Linux. This time, my Linux of choice was openSUSE (version 10.2), one of the more popular distributions. Although installation is relatively easy, I went through the process several times. The first was unacceptable since it left me with just 25 gigabytes in /home, which wasn't nearly enough for my photos, let alone anything else. Also, it kept Windows Vista in a partition. Having a dual boot installation may be fine for some people, but I didn't want anything to do with any Microsoft software. During the second installation, I gladly got rid of Vista completely.

About a week later, I downloaded and installed the 64 bit version of openSUSE. If you have a 64 bit CPU, doesn't it make sense to run a 64 bit O/S? Finally, after another week, openSUSE version 10.3 was released, and so I went through one more installation. In all the installs, the only non-standard part of the process was downloading and installing the nVidia display driver, which works beautifully in 1680x1050 full color.

What can I say about openSUSE 10.3? My scanner, LAN-based printer and sound device were all supported out of the box. It also recognizes my digital camera, although transferring image files is much faster when I plug the flash card directly into the computer, which works flawlessly too. Writing CD's and DVD's is now an easy process, with a robust and complete GUI based application.

Regarding software, openSUSE 10.3 has practically everything you might ever need packed onto one DVD, 4.1 gigabytes in all. The installation DVD has more than you need for a desktop, including all the software you'd need for a LAMP server. If you're a webmeister, you know that having Apache on your desktop is a good idea so you can test locally first before uploading.

For office tasks, you get OpenOffice. This includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation editor, and database. For image editing, you get the GIMP. For web browsing, you get a number of different web browsers, including Firefox and Opera. You also have a choice of e-mail clients, including Thunderbird. The programmer is incredibly blessed with a goodly number of compilers, interpreters, editors, libraries and GUI design tools. If you had to pay for the equivalent proprietary tools, it would cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars for each desktop computer in your home or company. Granted, the open source tools might not have all of the functionality (or bugs) of their proprietary cousins. But is that last five percent that you may never use anyways really worth spending the extra money? If you have a lot of desktop computers in your company, the costs can add up very quickly!

To get some idea of the software included with openSUSE, start the "Install Software" application. Any time you need to do something, chances are that if it's not yet installed, you can find it in the software repository. For example, one time I needed to extract the text from an image file. A Google search revealed that the command I needed was gocr. When I found I didn't have it yet on my system, I popped in the install DVD, invoked the "Install Software" program, and found the gocr package. Every time I browse the list of packages, I always find something else useful to install too!

Of course, many of the free or open source tools, such as OpenOffice, GIMP, Perl, Python, Ruby, Firefox, etc., are available for Windows too. But if you're using an application that doesn't require Windows, why spend the extra bucks either for the O/S itself or for the hardware needed to run it effectively? Think about it: In a Windows machine, how much CPU time is spent on checking for viruses? Or ensuring that all your software is properly licensed? If you have a dual processor machine, you might have one of those CPU's doing nothing more than making sure you're honest. Do you really want to deal with a software vendor that assumes its customers are fundamentally dishonest and need constant checking?

With the release of Windows Vista, many companies, institutions and governments are making the comparison between open source and proprietary solutions. Most are choosing to stay away from Vista. Many are choosing to switch to Linux. In fact, over the past year, it is believed that desktop usage of Linux has more than doubled. (From looking at the logs for my own web site, I believe that estimate is on the low side!) The advantages are clear: No license fees. No need to upgrade hardware just to support a new O/S release with dubious benefits. And much improved security.

To conclude, the time is now ripe. You can break the shackles of proprietary software and advance to open source software. As some fans of Linux say "It's not the software that's free; it's you!"

Omnifariously yours, Hans.

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