First, some storytelling, or go to the part where I talk about Bing:
Choosing Windows, Using Edge
I recently bought a Windows workstation. I have been a Linux guy for 10 years, so I was ready with my Fedora disk ready to wipe Windows out for the slightest inconvenience. The window snapping-to-max-height whenever I double-clicked a a window brought me close… I tore the new Fedora 38 CD out from the July issue of Linux Pro Magazine. But, I took a breath and I was able to figure out how to disable this snapping feature manually by changing the setting in the Registry.
I had been thinking about getting a Windows machine just so I could run certain products only available for Windows (and Mac), e.g. the Adobe suite. Also for the purposes of being better able to support clients who use Windows, and also getting into more audio/video production (without fighting with Linux). In other words, Windows would be a pragmatic tool for more productivity.
Exiting the Cone of Silence
While I’m still an ardent supporter of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and very alive to the dangers presented by the centralized control of information in walled-gardens and service APIs, and even the control that Microsoft, Apple, and Google have over our personal devices, I still have to live in this world and get things done. The AI frontier presents an even greater challenge to FOSS since it is so costly to get a large AI model trained — a huge number of compute cycles running on expensive video cards is needed to do the many matrix operations needed to squeeze the knowledge into what we use effortlessly in the ChatGPT interface. But, all those calls go back to OpenAI, which does who knows what with our prompt data. I have decided that I don’t care, it is too useful. So, I was primed for to look at the advantages of using AI, rather than being the suspicious libertarian security nut that I become sometimes — the one that’s always a click away from ordering the Unabomber’s manifesto on Amazon (how ironic!). :-p
Of course, opening up Edge pushed me to the Bing search page — Microsoft doesn’t hesitate to push its many products at you. Somehow I ended up on a page showing off the new Bing AI. Comparing it to the old Bing chat, which would be fussy and shut off conversations when it couldn’t adequately understand, the new Bing clearly was close to the performance of OpenAI’s free research version of ChatGPT (v. 3.5) which I had also recently adopted as day-to-day tool. But, wait, there was more: New Bing was built into my Edge browser.
A half hour with the Bing sidebar at my beck and call, riding with me as I skipped along through the Hyperlinked World, brought the idea of a digital assistant closer to reality. Bing sidebar initially gave me the choice of three “creativity” settings, known in AI terminology as “temperature” — determining how much creativity the sentence completion engine should inject randomness into its answers. I chose “Precision”, meaning the least amount of creativity and the most veracity (hopefully). If you’re old enough, you’ll remember Sgt Joe Friday’s line, “Just the Facts, Ma’am.” And Bing sidebar diligently summarizes and gives it reports with footnoted links to the original sources.
Love was almost ruined
But, I spend many days writing code, which requires focus. Anything that breaks my focus can break my forward-going energy and unstack the plates that I’m carrying about in my thinking (search “Yak shaving”). I need to use the web browser to both look up information about programming APIs and function libraries and view the results of various technical outputs.
But, egad, the default setup for the Edge browser is to dump a “news-entertainment” page, with flashy carousels with pictures, blinking out a click-bait invitation into the morass of Internet garbage. So, every time I opened a new Edge window or tab, sometimes just to get another Bing sidebar, I was subjected to the distracting nonsense in the default page. I was almost having an epileptic seizure from all the flashing. Imagine a dancing clown trying to distract the engineer defusing a bomb.
Why, Microsoft? Why would you do this to your users?
I cast about for a way to reset the starting page. I asked Bing sidebar — it seemed to present an answer for another version of Edge, even though I had included the version number, which was the most recent release. I even went over to Google, but found no help. I clicked through every option in Edge settings. There was a way to modify which annoying content you wanted on the landing page, but not how to easily just get rid of it. On social media, I declared my sad separation from Bing sidebar as a result of its manipulative parent’s interference with my ability to work.
But, social media to the rescue. A fellow grad student from the Economics department (15 years ago) saw my complaint and gave me just the nugget I needed to find the settings to change the layout of the landing page (upper right hand corner OF the landing page itself). I still had to poke around a bit to figure it out.
So, I have my new happy work environment with Bing sidebar riding along. Maybe it should be called Bing Sidecar?
I also like the integration of VS Code and the WSL Linux slice. Thinking about looking at Github Copilot next (since Microsoft has been pushing that at me through VS Code).
To me, the entire process has enlivened me to the importance of not being too quick to cut off opportunities, but that by leveraging new different tools, as well as relationships with smart people, so much can be accessed and accomplished.