A journey to hell and back

Other than doing carpenter stuff, I also spent part of this weekend trying to fix my parents notebook. My brother was sent to me with their computer and a sloppy smart card reader they need for their job to submit business documents to the italian chamber of commerce: I must confess I almost forgot, after my first year as a switcher, how great the “it just works” paradigm is. There has been no way to make windows XP find the USB device, despite a frightening number of painful reinstalls and reconfigure, and I can only hope I had my share of yearly windows related pain.

We ended up installing the whole thing on my wife’s windows box, just to figure out that sending those documents would have required:

  • reading a ponderous 60+ pages documentation;
  • installing four (yeah, FOUR!) custom software packages (all proprietary, of course, despite relying on some OSS stuff such as GhostScript;
  • a stupid and painful reconfiguration of web browsers, email clients and custom certification authorities (yes, they give you a smart card and require you to use it. Yes, they use a self signed certificate for their web site)
  • finally, a procedure which would scare away even the most experienced computer user (it did indeed scare the hell out of me);

After this incredible effort, I was expecting to have some very advanced stuff installed on our computer: I tried to spell out as clearly as I could “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”, but eventually I found out that the fetid pile of dingo kidney I managed to install was just a tool to sign PDFs with a smart card and a certain date (can someone please tell these guys about OpenSSL ang PGP?). To add insult to injury, the Chamber of Commerce web server doesn’t actually accept any documents outside business hours, so we were stuck anyways. These are the times when I tend to think that physical punishment should be considered as an option…

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