Monday, 13 October 2003
8:30 - Is Windows XP the final version of Windows?
Years ago, I was cruising down a country road toward Farmburg. I saw a sign, Farmburg - 6 miles. I drove for another mile or two and saw another sign, Farmburg - 7 miles. Now, either Farmburg was behind me, which I was pretty sure it wasn't, or Farmburg was receding at considerably more than the 55 MPH or so that I was driving.
Longhorn, the supposed next version of Windows, is a lot like that. The longer we wait, the further away it seems to be. Microsoft is now officially saying that Longhorn is three years away. That puts it at the end of 2006, and we all know how good Microsoft is about making OS releases on time. That tells me that it's likely to be at least mid-2007 and possibly mid-2008 before the client version of Longhorn ships. The server versions, which are critical to the success of Longhorn as a desktop client, will, according to Microsoft, lag the client versions by a year. Taking Microsoft at its word here, that means Longhorn Server probably won't ship until at least mid-2008 to mid-2009. That's assuming it really takes Microsoft only a year to bring out the Server version after the desktop version. If they're late, it could be 2010 before Longhorn Server ships.
That's a long time by any measure, but it's particularly long when we're discussing software releases. Consider where we were six years ago. Most PC servers were running Novell NetWare, with Windows NT 4 Server just starting to make inroads. A few corporate desktops were running Windows NT 4 Workstation, but most were still running Windows 95 and Office 95. More than a few were still running Windows 3.11 for Workgroups and Office 4.2. Linux was just starting to gain converts in server-space, and the number of people running Linux on their desktops was so small that few even bothered to count them.
Now consider how far Linux has come in the last six years, and think about how much further it will have matured six years from now. I was reading an interesting article the other day. It made the point that many desktop Linux applications are only two major releases from functional parity with Microsoft applications. In some cases, that's pessimistic. Mozilla 1.4.1 is a better browser by far than Internet Explorer 6. OpenOffice.org 1.1 is probably just one major release from functional parity with Microsoft Office, in the sense of being a drop-in substitute for 99% of the people who currently use Office 2000 or XP. Evolution is gaining fast on Outlook. It's already a drop-in replacement for Outlook in stand-alone mode, and its integration with Exchange Server is now approaching usable. A host of other Linux applications are in similar stages of development, and many of them will reach the Good Enough level in the next year or two. In six years, they may well be far ahead of the comparable Microsoft applications.
But Microsoft isn't standing still, I hear some people saying. But that's just the point. They are standing still in many cases, or moving so slowly as makes no difference. Consider from a functional perspective their last several releases of nearly any product you care to name. Internet Explorer has pretty much been unchanged since version 4, despite its current version number of 6. It is, not to put too fine a point upon it, an obsolete browser. Anyone who has used Mozilla, Opera, or another modern browser and is then forced to use Internet Explorer feels as though he's driving a horse and buggy. And speaking of buggy...
Windows is no different. Microsoft has written only one serious operating system. They called it Windows NT 3.5, although that was actually the 1.0 release. Since then, they grafted on the Windows 95 GUI and called it Windows NT 4. (NT 4 was originally called the SUR for Shell Update Release, and then Windows NT 3.6, before some marketer at Microsoft realized they could charge a lot more for Windows NT 4 than they could for a point release). Windows 2000 was supposedly a complete re-write, but I have my doubts. In effect, it's just Windows NT 4 with an updated GUI. If Microsoft really did do a complete re-write, they took great care to include many bugs from NT 4 in unchanged form. Windows XP, once again, is primarily an updated GUI tacked onto good old Windows NT, with a few things moved around and a few Wizards added.
So, although Microsoft wants you to believe that their current products are several generations removed from what they were selling years ago, the truth is that they're pretty much the same old products with a new coat of paint slapped on. In fact, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to upgrade a creaking old 1997 installation of Windows NT 4 to the latest version of Windows XP just by applying a service pack. Except, of course, that that wouldn't generate any upgrade revenue for Microsoft.
Conversely, Linux has been making giant strides over that period, albeit from a much lower starting point. In 1997, only True Believers ran Linux on their desktop systems. Nowadays, your grandmother can install Linux, using a GUI that's at least as good as Microsoft's, and with hardware autodetection and configuration routines that are better. If you don't believe me, just try removing a hard drive from one system and installing it in another system with a different motherboard and peripherals. If Linux is on the hard drive, it detects the changes and reconfigures itself automagically. If Windows is on the hard drive, you'll have to strip it down to bare metal and re-install everything. At least you will if you have any sense.
Microsoft has another huge problem looming. Licensing 6.0. A lot of companies grudgingly paid up when Microsoft made them an offer they couldn't refuse. They didn't want to do it, and they resent Microsoft for holding their feet to the fire. Having extracted those large sums from numerous corporations, Microsoft had better show them something in return. Something like a major upgrade that's actually meaningful rather than just cosmetic. The problem is, Microsoft has nothing to give them, and won't have until Longhorn ships. When those three-year Licensing 6.0 contracts come up for renewal, I suspect we'll see thousands of companies abandoning Microsoft like the proverbial rats abandoning a sinking ship.
And Microsoft may indeed be a sinking ship. Not this year, certainly, and probably not next year. But I think we'll see more and more signs that Microsoft is in trouble as the months and years pass. Eliminating stock options was more significant than most observers realize. And one of the most significant signs will be that Microsoft will talk rather than do. They'll ship sizzle instead of steak. Office 2003 is a good example of a "cotton candy" upgrade. All appearance, no substance. All sizzle, and very little steak. Most of the corporate IT guys I know don't even plan to deploy Office 2003. They're not dummies. They recognize it for what it is, an attempt to generate upgrade revenue and to fob off folks who paid big bucks for Licensing 6.0. The problem is, it doesn't actually do much that's new and useful. And if you want to take advantage of even the small improvements, you have to deploy Windows Server 2003, which again many IT folks are planning not to do. The payback just isn't there. Which pretty much sums up Microsoft's coming problems.
To answer my own question, yes I do think Windows XP is the final version of Windows, or at least the final version that matters. I'll make a prediction here. By late 2008, let alone by 2010, most of the people who are now reading this journal entry will be running Linux on their desktop and notebook systems. Please mark my words, literally. Put a reminder in your PIM to check back here on 14 October 2008. We'll talk more about it then.
Tuesday, 14 October 2003
9:34 - The bad news keeps on coming for the DVD-R/RW format. Apple, one of the last DVD-R/RW holdouts, has announced support for DVD+R/RW. The first real indication I had that DVD-R/RW had lost the format war was when Plextor announced their single-format DVD+R/RW PX-504A DVD writer. Then, in May, Pioneer announced that they'd ship a drive that supported DVD+R/RW, which was kind of like Pepsi endorsing Coke. Now Apple, which was the last major holdout in the DVD-R/RW camp, has apparently seen the writing on the wall and announced limited support for DVD+R/RW in their next release of OS X. For now, Apple is supporting DVD+R/RW only for data, but I expect to see them extend that to video before long.
Now that DVD+ discs sell for the same price as DVD- discs, the last advantage of DVD- is gone. I expect hybrid DVD± drives to remain popular for the next year or so because people like to hedge their bets, but DVD+R/RW has won the format war. If you're buying a DVD writer, the Plextor PX-708A is the one to buy. It's a dual-format DVD± drive, but the dual-format capability is not the reason I recommend it. For now at least, Plextor has the only 8X DVD+R drive available, and 8X makes a huge difference. If the PX-708A is a bit pricey for you, the 4X Plextor PX-504A DVD+R/RW costs $50 or so less and remains an excellent choice.
21:47 - Well, the Communist Chinese have launched a manned orbital mission. Let's hope that it ends catastrophically for them. The last thing we need is Communist China with a serious space program.
Wednesday, 15 October 2003
11:14 - Blew up an ashtray this morning. When I knock the ashes out of my pipe, a burning ember sometimes ends up in the ashtray. Ordinarily, it goes out pretty quickly, but under some circumstances it can continue to smolder in the nest of ashes and old tobacco in the ashtray. This morning, I noticed a burning smell that wasn't my pipe. When I touch the edge of the glass ashtray, it was quite warm. So I carefully carried it into the kitchen and dumped the contents into the side of the sink with the disposer. Some stuff remained stuck to the bottom of the ashtray. Silly me, I ran cold water over it to rinse it out. The ashtray shattered with enough force that one of the large chunks sailed over the edge of the sink and fell on the floor. I've blown up a lot of things in my life, but I think this is the first time that I've ever blown up an ashtray.
I've always thought that few people pay enough attention to companies that try to redefine common words for their own benefit. One example I've harped on is the attempt, apparently successful, by the RIAA to redefine the word piracy to mean copyright infringement. That's a cunning plan, because all of us grew up knowing that piracy was a Very Bad Thing, while none of us get too excited about mere copyright infringment.
This article provides yet another example of this disturbing trend. The direct marketing organizations are trying to redefine the meaning of the word spam, to their benefit of course. We all know that any unsolicited bulk commercial email is spam, but these folks would have us believe that spam sent by their member companies is not spam at all. No, it's "legitimate marketing messages". Only messages that are vulgar or deceptive are spam by their definition.
Yeah, really tough rules. Among them, my favorite is that e-mail lists should not be sold or provided to third parties without notice to the consumer. Not permission, you understand, just notice.
I don't know about anyone else, but I consider these "legitimate marketers" just as much spammers as the sleazeballs who promise larger penises, "generic" Viagra, or a share of millions of dollars in stolen Nigerian oil money. The problem is, the direct marketing groups are convincing lawmakers to accept their definitions of spam and "opt-in". If they succeed, we'll all be the losers, because the resulting laws have the unintended effect of legalizing spam.
Is there such a thing as a "legitimate email marketing message"? Although many anti-spam zealots would say there's not, I disagree. For example, right now I have a message in my inbox that SpamAssassin passed as legitimate, but Mozilla Mail marked as spam. SpamAssassin was right in this case. It's from Encyclopedia Britannica, and is offering me their current version for $25.
Now, if I'd never bought the EB this would be spam. But I did buy an earlier version, and I provided my email address to them when I did so. For them to send me an offer to upgrade to a newer version of a product that I'd already bought is, in my opinion, a legitimate marketing email. It would also be legitimate if they sent me an offer to buy a closely related product, such as their almanac. But if they sent me an offer to buy an unrelated product, or if they sold or rented my name to another party, that would be spam.
And therein lies the problem with passing laws about spam that use anything other than an absolute opt-in requirement. What I consider acceptable, someone else might consider spam, and vice versa. Anything that depends on a subject judgment, such as likely level of interest, is unacceptable. The only acceptable criterion is whether the recipient has actively opted in to a mailing list. Any law that uses any other method to define spam is a bad law.
With regard to my comments yesterday about DVD writers, James Chamier posted the following over on the messageboard:
Thanks. As you know, but others may not, the issue is that some DVD players and DVD-ROM drives refuse to read discs whose Book Type field is set to DVD+R rather than DVD-ROM. Some DVD burning applications, such as Nero Burning ROM, allow you to specify the Book Type field as DVD-ROM, which allows some of those DVD players and DVD-ROM drives to read the resulting DVD+R discs.
All DVD writers that I'm aware of by default write the Book Type field as DVD+RW on DVD+RW discs. Most DVD writers by default write the Book Type field as DVD+R on DVD+R discs, although I believe HP DVD writers write the Book Type field on DVD+R discs as DVD-ROM. Changing the Book Type field requires hardware/firmware support. Some drives support changing that field. Others, including Plextor, do not.
Those that do support changing the Book Type Field to DVD-ROM (other than HP, which does it by default) recommend changing it only when required for compatibility. Frankly, I'm not sure why they make that recommendation. It would seem to be a harmless change that would ensure compatibility with a wider range of DVD players and DVD-ROM drives, but apparently there must be a downside to doing it or everyone would do it by default. I speculate that using a DVD-ROM Book Type field on a DVD+R disc must cause more compatibility problems than it solves. Otherwise it would be nonsensical not to do it by default.
When this subject first arose some months ago, I did email Plextor and ask whether they planned to add this feature to their firmware. They replied simply that they did not plan to do so, without further explanation. I find this whole situation very puzzling.
I will say, though, that ultimately I regard the problem to be caused by the DVD players and DVD-ROM drives that require an incorrect Book Type field rather than by the DVD writers that are writing the correct Book Type field to disc.
14:17 - I send the following message to subscribers this morning.
Thursday, 16 October 2003
10:30 - I sent the following message to subscribers last night:
And then there's this:
Those must have been posted after I sent out my message. When I received your message, I checked the Microsoft security bulletins page, and they still hadn't added those to the list. Seven security bulletins in one day! That must be an all-time record, even for Microsoft.
I did it again. Sometimes when I think I've made my last post of the day, I'll start writing something that I intend to post the following day. I write it in the next day's space, and leave it there while I think about it. Sometimes I decide not to post it at all. Other times, I make changes to it before I post it. Still other times I post it unchanged. But sometimes I forget that I've already written something for the following day and add a new entry to the current day and publish it. So my readers end up in a time warp, read tomorrow's post while it's still today. That happened yesterday with the following entry, which I'm leaving unchanged.
I'm afraid Kerry isn't going to make his 16th birthday, which is coming up in a couple of months. As Barbara has said, when his quality of life declines, that's the time to have him put down. Until recently, he was enjoying life, even though he's quite limited in mobility. He'd at least attempt to play ball with the other dogs, even though he seldom was able to get the ball. When it was time to go out, he'd struggle to his feet with great enthusiasm and charge out the front door at his highest rate of speed.
I'd actually have had him put down a month or two ago, except that I don't want to kill him just because he's inconvenient. We have hardwood floors throughout most of the house, which makes life difficult for Kerry. He can get up if he's on carpet or grass, or something else with some traction, but on hardwood he just thrashes around. We've put down rugs for him in his usual locations, but being a Border Collie (albeit a very old one) he's not satisfied to just lie around like most very old dogs. Instead, he wants to be moving around constantly. And that's one of the problems.
For some reason, Duncan (our nine-year old Border Collie) is terrified by Kerry's scrabbling around. The other day, Duncan climbed up on my end table when Kerry was scrabbling particularly enthusiastically. Once Kerry starts thrashing around, he won't stop until he's able to get to his feet, which he sometimes can't. So, during a normal day, I'll be sitting here in my office trying to work when Kerry starts to thrash about. Duncan is terrified and flees. Malcolm, our four-year-old Border Collie, for some reason attacks Duncan when Duncan is frightened, so I have that to deal with as well.
If I go out and help Kerry to his feet, he'll head somewhere. I don't think he has any particular destination in mind, he just wants to be on the move. He'll move to another room and lie down. Then, literally five minutes later, he starts thrashing around again, and the whole process starts again. It's bad enough during the day, but Kerry also decides to start thrashing around in the middle of the night, which wakes us all.
So we decided to start penning Kerry up in the foyer. We put down a nice soft rug for him to lie on, and that sometimes works for a while. But eventually he starts whimpering and yipping because he doesn't want to be penned up. Sometimes that goes on all day long non-stop, which makes it pretty hard to concentrate. I tried moving him to the downstairs area, but the problem with that is that he starts barking. Although it's not intentional, Kerry's behavior makes us all miserable.
Then there's the fact that he either can't control himself or has forgotten that he's supposed to go outside when he needs to potty. For the last month or two I've had to clean up his messes an average of at least once a day, and sometimes they're pretty bad ones. The poor foyer rug has been washed within an inch of its life. We started putting down beach towels on top of it, so now we usually have to wash only the towels. Still, it's getting pretty unreasonable. I have to wonder what Duncan and Malcolm think. Both of them know that dogs are to potty outdoors, so they must wonder why Kerry is doing it indoors. I think a great deal of the reason for Duncan being upset all the time is that Kerry is not behaving as a dog should, and Duncan knows it. Even Malcolm is showing signs of being upset by Kerry's behavior.
Barbara and I had hoped that Kerry would just die in his sleep one night, and that may still happen. Neither of us wants to make that final visit to the vet. If our home was out in the country, I'd simply take Kerry for a walk one day and return alone. If my dog has to be killed, I'd prefer to do it myself, but of course that's not an option for city dwellers. So it looks like Barbara and I will have to take Kerry on that final trip to the vet.
My problem right now is that I don't think Kerry is miserable, just that he's making the rest of us miserable. He seems perfectly happy. He's eating well. Too well, in fact. He's still interested in playing ball and going outdoors, although not as enthusiastic about it as he was just a couple of months ago. Until recently, when he needed help getting up, he'd wait for me to start lifting his rear end and then he'd help me get him up. Now, he often just lies there and we have to lift him bodily to his feet. But for all of that, I don't think he's in pain or tired of life. Which makes having him put down a very hard decision indeed.
Barbara's sister called this morning. She's still having problems with the verdamnt HP OfficeJet 6110 All-In-One. She's been on the phone with HP support in India the last three nights running, last night for 3.5 hours. The final resolution last night? The HP guy told her that it was a Microsoft problem and there wasn't anything they could do about it. Understand, this is an HP PC and an HP printer/fax/scanner. Everything they have came out of a box with HP on it. But HP says it's Microsoft's problem. The guy told Frances to call Microsoft. She, not realizing that HP is selling OEM Microsoft Windows XP that HP is responsible for supporting, called Microsoft. Microsoft, of course, told her that she'd have to pay for support, which she rightly refused to do.
OfficeMax, where they bought the PC and printer, told them they could bring it back for a refund, which they may yet do. I told Frances that I'd be over this weekend to try one last time to make it work. So I started downloading the current drivers from HP. I was amazed to see that the printer driver was 20 MB. I was more amazed when I read the introduction page for it and learned that this was a crippled "corporate" driver, and that for full function support I'd need the full-function driver. That one was, believe it or not, 170 MB. I downloaded that, a firmware patch, and everything else I could find on the 6110 driver page. One file there looked very useful. They didn't call it nuke-driver.exe, but they might as well have. I'll use that to eradicate all vestiges of the drivers before I start fresh.
Needless to say, I wouldn't recommend that anyone buy an HP PC or "All-In-One" peripheral. The fact that Frances and Al bought all HP and had to spend hours on the phone before being told it was a Microsoft problem speaks volumes about their so-called out-of-the-box experience.
And this regarding the Plextor DVD writers:
No, it's not true. Mount Rainier is a hardware technology that can be used with CD and DVD discs. If an optical writer doesn't have support for it in hardware, that drive will never support Mount Rainier. As far as I know, current Plextor optical writers including the PX-708A have Mount Rainier hardware support. I suspect that the reporter misunderstood the Plextor technician, who probably told the reporter that he couldn't use Mount Rainier with the Plextor drive because MRW requires not only that the drive support Mount Rainier, but that the OS and firmware do as well. Mount Rainier support is promised for forthcoming updates of Windows XP and Linux, but as far as I know no current OS release supports it.
I confess that I haven't been paying close attention to Mount Rainier in the absence of OS support for it, so I'll send your question and my comments to one of my contacts at Plextor for his comments.
Friday, 17 October 2003
10:20 - One of the most annoying things about spam, at least from my perspective, is the collateral damage. For example, in order to keep spam at reasonable levels, I've had to start using very aggressive spam filter settings. Inevitably, that means I miss some real messages, which are lost in the blizzard of spam. I receive an average of probably 500 spams a day from all sources. That's average. On a bad day I have received upwards of 1,000. There's simply no way I can deal with that other than by automated methods. And no automated method is perfect.
Someone commented on one of my mailing lists yesterday that her primary goal in spam filtering is that no real message shall be lost. That sounds good, but in fact it's nonsensical. If your primary goal is that no real message can be lost, you might as well not use spam filtering at all. Even the least restrictive settings on a spam filter will sometimes treat a real message as spam, so the implication is that you'd have to review every single message manually. If you're going to do that, there's not much point to using spam filtering at all.
Another example of collateral damage is that some messages I send are never received. For example, every time I send a message to subscribers I get numerous bounces. Some of those are fatal errors, such as no such account. But most are soft errors, namely mailbox full errors, and I suspect that most or all of those are caused by spam filling up people's inboxes. So a message I sent to a subscriber never arrives, and I seldom even know that delivery failed.
Which brings up still another example of collateral damage. The reason I don't know that delivery failed is that I've been forced to start treating mailserver error messages as spam, and delete them without looking at them. Viruses, worms, and Trojans like Sobig generate so many false mailserver error messages that I simply don't have any alternative to ignoring them. At the height of the recent epidemic, I was receiving mailserver error messages at a rate of literally 500 per hour. This week, with nothing major going on, I'm still getting 100 or more a day on all my accounts.
Plextor is nothing if not responsive. I forwarded Mr. Thorarinsson's message to my contact at Plextor, who is a VP for Plextor USA. He in turn sent it on to Plextor's head of engineering, along with a bunch of people at the parent company in Japan. I received the following response from Plextor's head of engineering:
I then sent Plextor's head of engineering the following query:
I'll report what he has to say.
I got some very weird spam this morning. Or at least I thought it was spam on first glance. SpamAssassin didn't catch it, and Mozilla Mail didn't flag it as spam either. Here it is:
Is it just me, or is this really obnoxious? It's clearly not spam, in the sense that it really is an individual message intended for me, but why on earth would anyone believe that this is an acceptable way of asking a question? Did this unbrowser.com thing do a web search, make its best guess, and send a bunch of copies of this query to however many people it thought might be able to answer the question? Talk about rude. Geez.
Ah, never mind. I just visited their site, and it's worse than I thought. These people are sociopaths. Here's their description of their "service".
Just the thing for someone who is too lazy to do a bit of work for himself. Instead, he can just type in his request and cause 100 people to be spammed by these bastards. I'm adding them to my kill file.
Saturday, 18 October 2003
Sunday, 19 October 2003
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