Category Archives: tech

MPs’ Web Sites

When I set up Planet Westminster in 2006 I thought it would be a relatively simple project to maintain. Over the years, more and more MPs would start blogs. Every couple of months I’d add the new ones and everything would be great.

It hasn’t worked out like that at all. MPs’ web sites have proved to be really difficult to keep track of.

The problem is, of course, that the vast majority of MPs have absolutely no idea how web sites, blogs or web feeds work. That’s to be expected. What’s less expected is that many of them seem to get round that problem by delegating the work to people who also have no idea how web sites, blogs or web feeds work.

I’ve just done a clean-up of the feeds I’m currently monitoring. Here are some of the problems I’ve dealt with.

A few MPs (including Douglas Carswell and Caroline Lucas) changed the address of their web feed. Just changed it. No notification as fas as I can see. No attempt to redirect the old address to the new one. Just an old address returning a 404 error. Anyone who was subscribed to the old address would have just stopped getting updates. It’s almost like they don’t want people to follow what they have to say.

Ed Miliband’s web site has just ceased to exist. It now redirects you to the main Labour Party web site. Because the leader of the party obviously has no constituency responsibilities. Or something like that.

John McDonnell seems very confused. In 2007 he had a web site at john4leader.org.uk. In 2010, he was at john-­mcdonnell.­net. Both of these sites are now dead and he’s at john-mcdonnell.net. It’s like no-one has told him that you can reuse web site addresses. I wonder what he’ll do once he’s run out of variations of his name on different top-level domains.

Eric Joyce has just lost control of his domain. His ericjoyce.co.uk address currently goes to an unfinished web site campaigning for “John Smith for State Senator”. It doesn’t look as though Joyce realises this as he’s still promoting the web site on his Twitter profile.

Then there’s Rory Stewart. His web feed was returning data that my RSS parser couldn’t parse. Taking a closer look, it turned out that it was an HTML page rather than RSS or Atom. And it was an HTML page that advertised an online Canadian pharmacy pushing Cialis. Not really what an MP should be promoting.

Stuff like this happens all the time. MPs need to take more notice of this. And they need help from people who know what they are talking about. My theory (and it’s one that I’ve written about before) is that MPs’ web sites and blogs are often overcomplicated because they are developed by companies who come from a corporate IT background and who dismiss the possibility of using something free like WordPress and over-engineer something using tools that they are comfortable with. It can’t be a coincidence that many of the worst MP web sites I’ve seen serve pages with a .aspx extension (sorry – only geeks will understand that).

I’m going to repeat an offer I’ve made before. If any MP wants a blog set up for them,then I’m happy to help them or to put them in touch with someone who can help them. It needn’t be expensive. It needn’t be complex. But it can be very effective. And it will work.

Update: Eric Joyce replied to me on Twitter. He said:

Thanks. It’s being worked on and they seem to have pointed it at an obvious specimen page.

Gullible

Did you know that the word “gullible” doesn’t actually appear in the OED?

A lot of people I know spend a lot of time poking holes in tabloid stories. It’s fun hobby for all the family. The tabloids are so bad at checking facts that it’s usually easy to find the basic flaws in things that they print. The internet makes it so easy to check facts that there’s no excuse not to do it. Oh, sure there’s a lot of nonsense out there too but it’s usually pretty simple to separate the facts from the nonsense.

Which is why it’s disappointing when people just don’t bother.

This image was all over Twitter and Facebook when I woke up this morning. It’s a great image. The idea of a sporting hero like Bradley Wiggins having a go at Piers Morgan like that is brilliant. It would be fantastic if it was true.

It’s not though.

And it’s easy enough to find out what actually happened. Both men have public Twitter feeds, it’s just a case of searching back to find the tweets in question. It took me a couple of minutes to find this exchange (it’s from a week ago).

And yes, I was very disappointed @bradwiggins didn’t sing the anthem either. Show some respect to our Monarch please!

— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) August 2, 2012

.@piersmorgan I was disappointed when you didn’t go to jail for insider dealing or phone hacking, but you know, each to his own @bradwiggins

— Colm Quinn (@mrcolmquinn) August 2, 2012

See that. The reply isn’t from @bradwiggins at all, it’s from @mrcolmquinn. And he wasn’t even pretending to be Bradley Wiggins or anything nefarious like that. He just included @bradwiggins’ name in the tweet so that Wiggins would see what was going on.

I’m not sure what happened after that. I think that for almost a week nothing much happened. At some point those two tweets were turned into the image above. I don’t who created the image or why they did it. I don’t even know whether they misread the tweets and genuinely thought that the reply came from Wiggins or whether they were trying to cause trouble.

I do know that overnight last night people started to share the image on Facebook and Twitter. And that pretty much everyone who shared it didn’t bother to do the two minutes of research it would take to find out what really happened.

The reply was a good one. Morgan certainly deserved it for being such an idiot about the national anthem. And I’m glad that it got a wider audience. I just wish that people weren’t taken in so easily when they see something that they want to be true.

The next time you go to share something like this with your friends, why not pause a couple of minutes and find out whether or not it’s actually true. Prove that you’re better than a tabloid journalist.

Oh, by the way, it’s not true about the word “gullible” either.

Modern Perl for Non-Perl Programmers

Normally I keep my Perl posts over on my Perl blog. But although this post is about Perl, the regular readers of my Perl blog aren’t really the target audience.

That’s because I’m running a training course that is aimed at programmers who don’t use Perl. If you’re a programmer who is interested in learning about Perl, then you should have a look at Modern Perl for Non-Perl Programmers.

It’s a one day course at Google Campus in London on Saturday 6th October. Tickets are £30 and you can book your place by clicking the button below.

Eventbrite - Perl School: Modern Perl for Non-Perl Programmers

Android Applications

For the last two years I’ve been using an HTC Desire. In the last few days I’ve upgraded to an HTC One X. Whilst I liked the Desire a lot, one thing that really let it down – the lack of space to install apps. I spent most of the last year with the “short of space” notification on. At times I was running a “one out, one in” policy where I could only install a new app if I removed one first.

The One X has a lot more memory, so I’m hoping that I won’t have so much problem installing apps and can try some new and interesting ones. I’ve started by installing what I consider the essential apps.

Then I installed a few apps that I used to use, but that I had to give up when I ran out of space on the Desire:

There’s one app that I used to use that I can no longer find. I think it was called Movie Finder and it listed all the films that were on at all the cinemas in London (or, perhaps, the UK). If anyone knows what it was – or can recommend a replacement – then please let me know.

I’ve installed some semi-random apps that caught my eye:

  • Gigbeat – Who seem to have beaten Songkick to producing an app that uses Songkick data.
  • Instagram – But it currently doesn’t support the camera in the One X. I’m sure that’ll come soon.
  • Night Clock
  • VirginMedia TV guide – currently just a TV guide, but it’ll be awesome when I get a Tivo as you can program it remotely.

That’s as far as it goes so far. But the Android market (sorry, I mean the “Google Play Store”) is now huge. I’m sure I’m missing out on interesting and useful apps. Or, perhaps, there are better apps available to replace the ones I’m currently using. Is Tweetdeck still the best Twitter client? Is there a better augmented reality app than Wikitude?

What am I missing out on?

Internet Security Rule One

Internet security rule one is “do not share your password with anyone”. There should be no exceptions to this rule. If anyone asks you to share your password with them, your answer should always be no.

Sometimes people say “oh well, it’s only a password for [some unimportant web site] – what harm could it do?” And, of course, perhaps giving someone your password for that particular unimportant web site won’t do any harm. But it’s a chink in your armour. By revealing your password for that site you’ve set a precedent. You just might be that little less protective the next time that someone asks you to share your password.

It’s called the Password Anti-Pattern and its shortcomings have been well-documented for several years. I wrote about it with specific reference to Twitter a few years  ago.

There are two levels of problem here. Firstly there’s the fact that you’ve given a third party complete access to interact with the web site for you. If it’s your Twitter password you’ve given away then the third-party service can do anything to your Twitter account that you can do yourself – right up to closing your account.

I assume that everyone can work that out for themselves. But the second problem is more subtle. Obviously any web site where I have an account is storing my password somewhere (probably in a database). And any third-party service that I want to share my password with also stores that password. So what’s the difference?

The difference is that the original web site is (hopefully) following basic password storage principles and storing my password using non-reversible encryption. The third-party site can’t do that. The third-party site needs access to the plain-text version of the password so it can be used to log on to the original web site. Oh, sure, they’ll hopefully store the password in their database in some encrypted format, but it will have to be a reversible encryption so that they can get a plain-text version of it back when they need to use it to log in to the original site.

So if someone somehow gets a copy of the original web site’s database, your password is held in some industrial-strength non-reversible encrypted format. But if they get a copy of the third-party service’s database, they’ll have your password in a far less secure format. If, at the same time, they manage to grab the third-party service’s source code then they’ll know exactly what process to follow to get the plain-text version of your password from the encrypted version.

Of course, you’d hope that their data centre is secure and no-one will ever steal their database or their source code. But it could happen. And the more passwords that you share, the more chance there is that someone, somewhere will get hold of data that you’d rather not have.

There is, of course, a way round this. It’s called OAuth. With OAuth, you don’t need to give anyone your password. You can authorise certain applications (or services) to take certain actions on your behalf on particular web sites. So, for example, I can let Twitterfeed post to my Twitter account without giving it my password. And that’s all it can do. It can’t follow new people, maintain my Twitter lists or close my account.

Twitter is a good example. In 2007 and 2008 a whole ecosystem grew up around Twitter. Many services offered cool and interesting services to add on to your basic Twitter account (Twitterfeed was one of them). But they all needed your Twitter username and password, so anyone who was at all security-conscious couldn’t use them. But in 2009 Twitter implemented OAuth. And, a few months later, they turned off the old authentication scheme so that you now only use OAuth to talk to Twitter.

The remaining problem is that OAuth only works when the original web site has implemented it. And that’s quite a lot of work. There are still many web sites out there which have lots of useful information out there locked behind a username and password with no other way to access it.

All of which brings me to what prompted this post. Earlier today a friend pointed me at a web site which provided a really useful service. But when I looked, it did it by asking for my login details for another web site. I’m not going to name either of the sites involved (my friend works for the third-party site and I don’t want to embarrass her), but it was a really useful service and it made me sad that I couldn’t use it.

Of course, as my friend explained, they had no alternative. The original site didn’t have OAuth support, so the only way they could get hold of the useful data was to log in as the user.

To my mind, that’s not a good reason for implementing the password anti-pattern. To my mind that’s where you say “oh well, that was a good idea – shame it’s not going to work” and start to lobby the original web site for some kind of OAuth support. But that’s not likely to happen as the point of this service is to compare different offerings and make suggestions of how the user could save money by switching to competitors. I can’t really see the original companies being keen to support that.

So we’re left with a situation where this third-party has implemented the password anti-pattern. And, as far as I can see, they’ve made quite a nice little business out of it. But makes me really uncomfortable to see what they’re doing. I’m pretty sure that I can trust them with my data, but I’m not prepared to compromise my principles in order to access this useful service. They are teaching people that it’s okay to share their passwords. And it’s not. It never is.

And it doesn’t stop with this company promoting their own service. On their site they have testimonials from a number of well-known web sites, newspapers and television programmes saying what a wonderful service it is. They have technology correspondents, who I would expect to know better, singing their praises and encouraging people to sign up for the service – telling people to break the first rule of internet security.

It all makes me rather depressed.

Look, I’ll tell you what. I’ve got a really good idea for an add-on for your online banking service. Just leave the login details in a comment below and I’ll set it up for you.

Tracking Packages

Last week I ordered a new laptop. Yesterday, Dell’s web site told me that it had shipped. And, an hour or so later, they gave me a link to track the delivery on the UPS web site.

Now that link is fun of course. But refreshing the page dozens of times a day gets a bit boring. So I started to look for alternatives. Firstly, UPS have a service that sounds like it emails you whenever the status changes. So I set that up. I got an initial email at that point, but nothing more – even as the status changed a couple of times. Reading the description more closely, it seems it only sends an email a) when there’s a delay, b) when the package is delivered and c) when explicitly requested on the web site. So that’s no good.

Of course, what I really wanted was a web feed. Something that I could subscribe to in Google Reader that would always show me the latest status. Being a geek I started to think about a writing a program that would grab the information from the web site periodically and turn it into a web feed. But I stopped myself before I started writing any code. “Surely,” I thought to myself, “I can’t be the first person to want this. Something like this must already exist.”

I was right, of course. A quick Google brought me to Boxoh. Give them a tracking number (and it’s not just UPS – they also understand FedEx, DHL and USPS) and they will not only give you the web feed that I wanted, but also a Google map showing the progress of your package. How cool is that?

There appears to be no way to embed the map on another web site, but that’s the only fault I can find with the site.

Here’s the progress that my laptop is making. It started in Shanghai, before travelling to Incheon in South Korea and Almaty in Kazakhstan from where it flew to Warsaw, which is where it currently is. On Monday it’s due to arrive in Balham.

I love the fact that I can track it so easily. And I’m more than a little jealous of its travels.

Did Twitter Censor #GodIsNotGreat?

[Executive summary: Betteridge’s Law (probably) applies]

The Twitter furore over the #GodIsNotGreat hash tag has pretty much died down now, but there’s one branch of the debate that is still getting comments and retweets. Here’s an example from johnwilander.

#GodIsNotGreat pulled from trends because christians protest. But #ReasonsToBeatYourGirlfriend was allowed. Stay classy, @Twitter.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the hashtag vanished from the list of global trending topics on Friday morning. And this conspiracy theory leapt up almost immediately. As far as I can see, none of the people repeating this claim have any evidence to back it up – which is more than somewhat ironic given Hitchens’ evidence-driven view of the world.

The argument seems to go like this: At one point the hashtag was trending. Then Christians got upset and starting making death threats aimed at the people who started the trend. Soon after that, the hashtag was no longer trending. Therefore Twitter must have given in to Christian bullying and censored the hashtag.

Whilst it all sounds frighteningly possible, I hope I don’t have to spell out the flaws in the logic. If you can’t work it out for yourself then I recommend the Wikipedia article on Correlation does not imply Causation.

I could be wrong here. There might be some irrefutable piece of evidence proving conclusively that Twitter deliberately censored the hashtag. If there is, then I haven’t seen it and I’d be grateful to anyone who could bring it to my attention.

There is, however, some evidence that Twitter didn’t censor the hashtag. On Friday morning, as the debate still raging, a Facebook friend in Canada pointed out that it was still trending there. In the middle of the afternoon someone pointed out that it was still trending in San Francisco. So if Twitter were censoring it, they weren’t doing a very good job. There’s even someone who apparently works for Twitter saying that they didn’t do it.

Of course, none of this is conclusive evidence that Twitter didn’t censor the hashtag. But balancing some evidence for non-censorship against absolutely no evidence at all for the censorship I know which side I come out on.

All of which leaves us searching for an explanation for the sudden disappearance. And, to be honest, I don’t think we really need to look too hard. Things stop being trending topics all the time. Things have to drop out of the list so that new things can come in. Otherwise the list would constantly be full of nonsense about Justin Bieber and Twilight. The Twitter trending topics algorithm can’t possibly just measure the popularity of topics. That would be incredibly dull. Instead, what it does is to look for changes in popularity. A steady buzz of the same few million people talking about a particular topic doesn’t get noticed, but a sudden increase in the number of people discussing the same topic does. The Buffer blog has a good explanation of this and the official Twitter blog says much the same thing.

I’m sure that this won’t convince the conspiracy theorists. “Ah,” they’ll say, “That’s all very convenient. But that just gives Twitter an easy way to cover up their censorship..” Which is true, I suppose, but hardly a basis for a rational discussion.

And that’s the most disappointing thing to come out of this affair. The people making this accusations are fans of Christopher Hitchens. You would hope they’d be from the more rational end of the spectrum. You’d hope that they would be above making accusations like this without evidence. I guess no-one is immune from irrationality.

But I’m going to go out on a limb here. And lay my cards on the table. And other clichés that Hitchens would despise.

Twitter (probably) didn’t censor the #GodIsNotGreat hashtag.

Update: The author of the tweet I quoted above seems to agree with me.

LoveFilm and Silverlight

Yesterday, LoveFilm announced that they are changing the technology which powers their film streaming service. From early in January the existing Flash-based system will be replaced by one which uses Microsoft’s Silverlight technology. This is extremely disappointing for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, there’s the immediate technological fallout. Silverlight doesn’t run on as many platforms as Flash does. Anyone running an older (non-Intel) Mac will no longer be able to use this service. Neither will people running Linux on their PC. This also means that people trying to access the service on an Android device will be out of luck. I don’t know how many of LoveFilm’s customers this will affect, but it can’t be a trivial number.

But it’s the second reason that makes me even more depressed. And that’s the reasoning behind the decision. Paul Thompson, the project manager for the streaming service says this:

We’ve been asked to make this change by the Studios who provide us with the films in the first place, because they’re insisting – understandably – that we use robust security to protect their films from piracy, and they see the Silverlight software as more secure than Flash.

Simply put: without meeting their requirements, we’d suddenly have next-to-no films to stream online.

This is a change that the company have been forced into by the studios who make the films that LoveFilm want to stream. The studios believe that their content needs to be protected from piracy and that Silverlight provides a higher level of security than Flash does.

They’re probably right. But they’re fighting the wrong battle.

Remember when all the digital music that you could buy had DRM? Remember what a pain it was keeping track of how to play particular tracks or which devices your were allowed to play them on? Or perhaps you don’t remember that because you were sensible enough to steer clear of that madness. Perhaps you did what most people did and just ripped your CDs or *ahem* “acquired” music from elsewhere. Eventually the record companies realised that they were fighting a battle that they couldn’t win and now we all happily buy MP3s with no DRM. Well, I say “all”, but one of the fallouts from this battle is that a generation grew up with no experience of paying for music. There are still a large number of people who think nothing of downloading music of dubious provenance rather than buying it from Amazon or iTunes. If the record companies had seen sense earlier, they might have not lost an entire generation’s worth of income.

And that’s apparently where we see ourselves again now. The film studios think they are protecting their content, but actually they are training people to go elsewhere. I would love to be able to buy digital copies of films to download or to rent access to streaming versions, but they need to be DRM-free versions that I can use as I want to use them. Not crippled versions that I can only use on devices and in ways that are approved by the studios. And if the studios are going to stop suppliers from giving me what I want, then I’ll go elsewhere. It’s not as if it’s hard to track down versions of any film or TV show that has ever been released on DVD. Or shown on a digital TV channel. We all know where to get these things, right? And we all use them. Because we’re being trained to believe that it’s the easiest way to get hold of this content. And when the easiest way is also the cheapest way, the studios lose out.

It’s not just the film studios who are re-fighting the same battle. Book publishers are doing the same thing. Pretty much any Kindle book that you buy from Amazon will have DRM. The publishers are following exactly the same short-sighted logic and reaching the same flawed conclusions. They have a slight advantage over the record labels and film studios as their old-style product is a lot harder to rip into digital format. But the arguments against what they’re doing are just as valid. Kindle book DRM has been broken repeatedly. And once the DRM is removed from just one copy of a product,  the producer of that product has lost the game.

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. The film studios and the publishers are repeating the mistakes that the record labels were making last decade. They run the risk of alienating and losing the support of a whole generation of potential customers.

Update: I should point out that there is a Linux port of Silverlight called Moonlight. But, as I understand it, it doesn’t support the DRM features that LoveFilm would be relying on.

You Try To Do A Nice Thing

Long-time readers will know that I’m involved with the nms project. This is a project which writes simple software that people can use on their web sites if they want guestbooks, forms that get emailed to them and all that very Web 1.0 stuff. It’s a nice thing that we’ve done. We’ve created something and donated it to the internet.

The programs are all open source. Anyone can download our software and use it pretty much wherever and however they want. We usually have no involvement at all if someone uses one of our programs. We’re most likely to get involved if something goes wrong. This can take two forms. Either the web site owner experiences problems setting up the program or, surprisingly often, the web site owner fails to notice that anything is wrong and it’s a visitor who discovers that the site is broken. The error page for many of the programs contains a link to our web site so a lot of the complaints come to us (who can do nothing about it) rather than the web site owners (who could probably fix it). That was a mistake. We should have made the programs so that the error page gave you the email address of someone who could help.

But it means that I get occasional email from very angry people who have been disappointed by a web site that uses one of our programs. I found this in my inbox this morning.

FUCK YOU, YOU BLOCKING BASTARDS

I don’t know who the hell you are, and I don’t care.
YOU are actively blocking my transmissions and receipts on the internet, and you can GO TO HELL.

YOU are the reason that millions of people are protesting all over the world, you ‘information funneling PRICKS’!.

Can’t you twits get a job in the REAL ‘private sector’, like cleaning toilets?

In closing, I would like to say, FUCK YOU TO HELL.
http://republicbroadcasting.org/cgi-bin/test.pl

Tell STADMILLER to get fucked, as well, if he is ‘going along’ with this shit.
HE is still pissed that GCN still exists, isn’t he?
MAYBE he is pissed that I warned him about his on-air reference a couple of years ago to hanging the Congress by lightposts in D.C.,…
GOD!
You are playing ‘the game’, and you will be held accountable.
How does that go, again?
‘WE ARE ANONYMOUS.
‘WE ARE LEGION.
‘WE DO NOT FORGET.
‘WE CANNOT FORGIVE.
‘EXPECT US.’

Something like that, isn’t it?

NO HARD FEELINGS, JUST THE FACTS.
I AM
[name redacted on the offchance that it’s not a pseudonym]

I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about. The link goes to a web site that has a broken configuration of one of our programs. I can’t even be sure which one it is as the site owner has renamed it. I did what I always do in such situations. I replied politely and explained the situation. I told him that if he explained exactly what the problem was then I would do what I could to put him in touch with someone who runs the site in question. Often this approach leads to an apology for the original rudeness. Which is nice.

But it’s not much fun living in a world where you can do a nice thing like giving away software and that opens you up to abuse like this.

Hating Gnome 3

I’ve been using Linux as my desktop operating system for about fifteen years. For most of that time I’ve used GNOME as my desktop environment. That’s longer than I ever used Windows so it’s become ingrained into the way I work. I’d guess that I’m at least 50% more efficient using GNOME than I am using any other desktop environment.

Then, a couple of months ago I upgraded to Fedora 15 which included the new GNOME 3. And everything changed.

And I really mean everything. GNOME 2 would be recognisable to someone used to using Windows or Apples’ OSX. It had menus which opened windows and those windows could be minimised into icons. Your most frequently used icons could be dropped onto your desktop for easy access. It’s the way that graphical user interfaces have worked for decades.

But the GNOME developers decided that this de facto standard was no longer what they wanted. Menus, they decided, were old-fashioned. What people really needed was to search for the name of the program they wanted to run but activating a hot-spot in the top-left corner of the screen and then typing. And no-one really needs icons all over their desktop. That just looks untidy. Oh, and minimising programs, who uses that? They’ve removed the minimise button from all windows. And if you manage to work out how to minimise a window (by right-clicking in the title bar to get a menu) the window minimises into nowhere rather into the icon dock that we’re used to.

As I say, pretty much everything changed. My first impressions were that hated it.

But I decided to give it a fair chance and I’ve been using it on three computers for six or eight weeks to see if I’d get used to it.

And I still hate it.

I’ve found out that there are ways to bend it back to approaching usability. Various extensions can be installed to fiddle with the minimal default set of icons in the top panel. Things like adding a drive menu and removing the accessibility icon. There’s a ‘tweak advanced settings’ tool that you need to install. That allowed me to put icons back on my desktop and return the missing minimise and maximise buttons to all windows. Oh, and somehow I managed to get a permanent Mac-style program launcher on the right-hand side of the screen. It’s not menus, but it’s better than the standard approach for the most common programs I use.

But it’s still not right. I can’t find a way to get my menus back. And, probably most importantly to me, I can’t find a way to put iconised windows anywhere useful (or, indeed, anywhere visible).

I’m sure that the GNOME developers thought they had good reasons for all of the individual changes that they made. But together they make for a completely different experience for the user. I’d probably be more productive in Windows than I am in GNOME 3. Windows is certainly far more like GNOME 2 than GNOME 3 is.

I don’t know who I’m more angry with. The GNOME developers for deciding to release a product that is so completely different to the previous version. Or the Fedora team for including it as the standard desktop in their latest version.

Some of you are probably thinking – ah, but surely GNOME is Open Source; why not just fork GNOME 2 and use that on Fedora. I really hope that someone does that, but I’m sure that a project like that is well beyond my expertise.

If that doesn’t happen, I’m probably going to have to look for an alternative desktop environment. I think that KDE still looks like a standard GUI. Perhaps I’ll give that a go. Or people have been trying to convince me to use a Mac for several years. I never seriously considered it because I didn’t want to learn a new desktop environment.

But if I’m being forced to learn a new environment anyway, then I should probably consider a Mac too.