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Week of 14 June 2004

Latest Update : Saturday, 19 June 2004 13:24 -0400

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Monday, 14 June 2004

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10:17 - The Xandros/Mozilla problem is fixed. To make a long story short, Hyper-Threading Technology (HTT) was causing the problem, even though Xandros explicitly lists support for HTT for the Business Edition, and even though I'd earlier disabled HTT support in BIOS when I first suspected it might be causing the problem.

Last night, I finally decided to convert the Antec Aria system in the den to Windows XP, because nothing I tried had let Xandros (and, more particularly Mozilla 1.6) operate properly. I ran Windows XP Setup and blew away the Xandros installation. When XP Setup finished, I found that XP hadn't recognized the embedded gigabit Ethernet adapter on the 865-based motherboard. I was about to get up and go off in search of a driver disk for that motherboard, when it occurred to me that I really didn't want to run XP on this system. I wanted to run Linux, so I decided the hell with it. I blew away the XP that I'd just installed, put the Xandros Desktop 2.0 Business Edition CD back in the drive, and told it to install. One way or another, I was going to make Linux run on this box.

When Setup completed and Xandros booted for the first time, I was surprised to see the First-Run Wizard actually run. That was the first time that'd happened. Could it be? Yep. The First-Run Wizard completed normally, and I fired up Mozilla 1.6. With trepidation, I clicked on the URL line and started typing a URL. It worked! I was able to use Mozilla 1.6 normally. Hurray!

I played around with the system for a while and then, being me, I ran BIOS Setup to re-enable HTT, blew away the Xandros installation, and re-installed Xandros. Same problems as before. The First-Run Wizard hung, and trying to use the keyboard locked up Mozilla 1.6. I restarted the system, ran BIOS Setup, disabled HTT, and restarted the system. Mozilla had the same problems as always, this time with HTT again disabled.

So I blew away the Xandros installation and, with HTT still disabled, re-installed Xandros. It worked perfectly once again. The lessons learned are that (a) HTT causes problems with Xandros 2.0 and, more particularly, with Mozilla 1.6, and (b) that simply disabling HTT is insufficient. You must install Xandros with HTT disabled. If you do that, everything just works.

When HTT processors first shipped, most major system builders shipped their systems with HTT disabled for exactly this reason. They were concerned that some software wasn't compatible with HTT and that shipping HTT enabled by default would cause a flood of support calls. In fact, for all I know, major system builders still ship their systems with HTT disabled by default. This is the first time I've been bitten by HTT incompatibilities. Well, the second time, considering that I had similar problems with Mozilla 1.6 (but not 1.5) under Windows 2000. HTT is wonderful when it works, but when it doesn't it can cause hair loss.

Mozilla 1.6 apparently uses threads heavily. On the installation with HTT enabled, I ran Process Manager immediately after I started Mozilla 1.6 and saw four Mozilla processes listed. It appears that Mozilla's threading implementation is deficient, at least on a fast processor. I suppose there's a moral there somewhere.

At any rate, Xandros now works perfectly. Well, almost. One weirdity I noticed earlier still exists. I chose the Molecule screen saver, which displays rotating organic molecules. Even now, with HTT disabled, the Molecule screen saver eventually "runs out" of molecules. When that happens, it displays a notice in yellow text at the lower right corner of the screen, "Constructing molecules..." Once that happens, it never goes away, and the system will happily sit there constructing molecules for days on end.

Other than that, Xandros is working perfectly. I haven't re-installed Microsoft Office under Crossover Office, but that worked fine even with HTT enabled, so I'm sure it'll work fine now.

After a short time working with Xandros, I conclude that it's the optimum Linux distro for someone who wants to get away from Windows but doesn't want to take a lot of time learning Linux. Xandros looks like Windows and generally works like Windows. If I didn't have special requirements that mandated using MS Office, I'd be perfectly happy with OpenOffice.org or StarOffice.

If you've been wanting to try Linux but found yourself giving up in disgust, give Xandros a try. I think you'll like it a lot.



Tuesday, 15 June 2004

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10:14 - Interesting morning. I haven't gotten much done yet. It started when I took the dogs out. One of the neighbors was walking his dog, and pointed out that someone had broken a beer bottle in the gutter in front of our house. Punks again, no doubt. I swept that up, which took a while because pieces of it had scattered the whole length of our frontage. Then I had to mail in the estimated state income tax. I did the federal estimated taxes yesterday, but I couldn't find the state forms. So this morning I downloaded the PDF from the NC Department of Revenue web site, filled and in, and got the state estimated taxes mailed off.

Then it was time to change my voter registration from Libertarian to Unaffiliated. I realize that sounds strange. I've been registered Libertarian since about 1976, except for one brief period when the Libertarian Party was de-certified in North Carolina. They switched me to Unaffiliated then, but the Libertarian Party soon regained ballot status, and I changed my registration back as soon as possible.

I changed to Unaffiliated this morning in response to a letter I received yesterday from Elizabeth Vance, who is one of the LP leaders in North Carolina. She enclosed a change of affiliation form with her letter, so I filled it out and sent it in this morning. The reason Elizabeth mailed all registered Libertarians in the 5th district and asked us to change our registrations to Unaffiliated is that the Republican Party allows unaffiliated voters to vote in their primary and run-off elections, and the LP would really like one of the Republican candidates for the 5th Congressional District to win the primary.

Accordingly, the letter also asked us to vote for Vernon Robinson, whom I've mentioned before in my journal. Vernon is not remotely a libertarian. He's a classic conservative. But Vernon is also that great rarity in politics. Vernon is an honest man. As it happens, I know Vernon. His wife, Helene, worked at the library when Barbara worked there. I don't agree with all of Vernon's positions on the issues, not by a long shot, but with Vernon what you see is what you get. He's much like Jesse Helms in that respect. A lot of people dislike Vernon intensely, just as they disliked Jesse, but few would question their honesty. They both take positions because they believe in them, not because it's politically expedient to do so.

So, Elizabeth Vance asked me and other Libertarians to change our affiliations temporarily so that we could vote for Vernon in the hotly-contested Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District seat. Apparently, the best predictions are that this race may come down to a margin of 250 votes or less. There are 650 Libertarians registered in the 5th District, so the Libertarian vote may well gain Vernon the nomination.

Actually, I'd have voted for Vernon in the general election anyway (assuming no Libertarian was running), but I wouldn't have thought to change my registration and vote as Unaffiliated to help him gain the nomination. The fact that Elizabeth Vance asked me to do so is sufficient reason to change my affiliation on Vernon's behalf. The fact that Congressman Ron Paul, who is a Texas Republican in name but a hard-core libertarian in reality, also endorsed Vernon is just icing on the cake. I'd probably have done what either of them asked. That both are asking makes it a no-brainer for me, and I hope for other 5th District Libertarians. Frankly, I'm surprised that two hard-core libertarians are so strongly recommending that other libertarians support a conservative, but they must have good reasons for doing so or they wouldn't have done it.

I hope Vernon wins the primary and is elected in November. If he is, it wouldn't surprise me to see him make a serious run for President of the United States around about 2012.

I've been playing around more with Xandros, and I could live with it if I had to. I'd previously loaded Microsoft Office 2000 under Crossover Office, but last night I got a chance to play with it a bit. Ironically, Office apps load faster under Crossover Office than StarOffice apps load natively. Word 2000 seems to work normally. I was able to load, edit, and save documents without a problem.

There are a few minor glitches. For example, I loaded and edited this page last night. Everything seemed to work normally until I attempted to insert an image (the separator bar above). When I clicked on Insert Image, instead of getting the normal FP browse dialog, I got Xandros File Manager. That seemed odd, but I used it to navigate over to where the image resides and double-clicked the file. Nothing happened. Hmmm. So I closed Xandros File Manager, expecting FP to reappear. Nope. It was gone, closed. Double hmmm.

Obviously, the emulation of Crossover Office isn't perfect, but it looks to me to be good enough for routine document editing and so on. That's what I need. I'm not quite ready to abandon Windows 2000 on my main systems, but Xandros is very, very good.

Today I have to reshoot a bunch of images for the cover of the new book. I talked to Ellie at O'Reilly yesterday, and she wants a higher point of view. That means I can't arrange the stuff on the kitchen table, because there's a chandelier in the way. I'll have to put the stuff on the floor in the library and stand over it, shooting downward. We'll see what happens.

14:38 - I've shot a bunch of images and sent two or three batches up to the lady at O'Reilly who's doing the cover. We'll see what she thinks.

Life is simpler now that I noticed while we were visiting the Bilbreys that it's possible to have image file numbers continue to increment rather than start at 1 each time I insert an empty card. Brian was kind enough to explain how that was done. This Olympus C-5000 camera is not simple. That's not really a criticism of Olympus, because they had to cram an awful lot of functions, features, and options into an interface with limited display space and controls.

I just noticed, for example, that menu setup options differ according to which mode the camera is in. There is a dial on top of the camera that has a dozen or so modes--auto mode, program mode, aperture- or shutter-priority mode, and so on. What wasn't obvious was that the setup menu options differ according to which mode the camera is set for.

And now I need to spend some time getting organized for the next edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell. My "quick" backup, where I xcopy changed files across the network to other network volumes, is no longer quick. I need to remove a lot of stuff from my current working directories and archive it to other directories that aren't backed up as frequently. I should probably also do some mail archiving. In all, I probably have a full day's worth of work, archiving, organizing, producing chapter stubs for the new book, etc.


Wednesday, 16 June 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]

10:32 - I periodically get email from people who think I should convert this journal page to use blogging software. My response has always been that I prefer to use static HTML pages because that keeps my options open. If my web hosting company disappeared with no notice, I'd be back up and running on a different host within a day or two, with all of my domains transferred to the new host. This web site exists as a local copy here on my home network, and reproducing it to a new host would be a simple matter of telling FrontPage to publish it to the new server. I would not be constrained in choosing a new host. Anyone that can provide me with a web server would do.

Alas, that's not the case for the 3,000 people whose blogs disappeared from the Web earlier this week, with no notice. Dave Winer, who was hosting them, shut down 3,000 blogs with no notice to their owners. In effect, those blogs are gone forever. Winer says he'll provide backups of the blog data to the owners, but only if they ask nicely, and only once he gets around to doing it, which supposedly will be sometime next month. That won't solve those bloggers' problems, though.

In the first place, a raw backup is of only limited use to them, because their blog data is in a proprietary form. That means their only real option is to locate another blog hosting service that uses the same blogging software and pay whatever that service happens to charge. Even having done that, though, their blogs are still dead for all practical purposes, because they're no longer at the same address. Few of their readers will find them again, and even if all 3,000 of those dead blogs are restored to life, much of their older content is useless because it points to addresses that no longer exist. Talk about link rot.

I actually don't have much sympathy for these 3,000 bloggers. They chose to keep their content in a proprietary form and to host it on servers not under their control and using someone else's domain name. Why would anyone do this? Because it was free, I suppose. They've all just learned a very expensive lesson, that "free" services are often worth about what you pay for them.

I've been keeping an eye on Pamela Jones' new service, GrokDoc. It's basically another Linux documentation product, but aimed at Linux newbies. Or so they say. I have to wonder though. Their initial list of tasks to be documented is:

  • Email
  • Letter & Printing
  • Surfing the Web
  • Firewall
  • Installation

Firewall? They're going to have Linux newbies setting up firewalls? That seems a bit of a stretch. I can't imagine many topics more likely to cause a newbie's eyes to glaze over than firewalls. There's a great oxymoron, "ipchains for newbies".

Their choice of distros for newbies also seems odd:

  • Mandrake-Installation
  • Fedora-Installation
  • Red Hat-Installation
  • SuSE-Installation
  • Knoppix-Installation
  • Yellow Dog Linux-Installation
  • Debian-Installation
  • Gentoo-Installation
  • Slackware-Installation
  • Other Distros-Installation

Debian? Gentoo? Slackware? I can't think of three distributions less likely to be useful to a Linux newbie. What about the newbie-friendly distros like Xandros, Lycoris, or Lindows/Linspire? The discussion page on selecting a distro makes no mention of any of these. If I, as a relative newbie myself, were asked which distro to start with, I'd answer, "Get Xandros. No question."

Perhaps these commercial distros are insufficiently pure? PJ and Groklaw are definitely in the Free Software ("GNU/Linux") camp rather than in the Open Source Software ("Linux") camp, but even so. I'd hope they would empathize enough with newbies to suggest a newbie-friendly distro regardless of whether it was commercial or not. I can think of few ways better calculated to turn off a newbie to Linux instantly than to suggest he install Gentoo or Slackware.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Bush Kills Anti-Spam list
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2004 15:59:23 -0700
From: Shelton, Marvin
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Bob, Here's something I just read from the Associated Press that you might be interested in and comment on:

<copyrighted AP article removed; see source material here.>

I think that this flat out sucks! In my mind, one of the benefits of the registry would have been that if you created it and prosecuted a couple of people as examples, it might make it a spam-deterrent. As it stands spammers (at least all the really big ones) have or are moving to overseas servers.. Which even this damn authentication technology wouldn't solve since now we'd be all tied up in international law. Don't these guys get it.

1. You create a technology by which any email originating from outside the U.S. is identified and passed thru a federally approved spam filter, and require all senders of such international email traffic to be able to identify it's source (or face prosecution and fines).

2. You create the national registry and require the same thing within the U.S.

maybe it's not that simple, but the main problem as it stands now, is that there is no-deterrent.. maybe the FTC doesn't want to possibly negate the growth of the lucrative anti-spam software market. YIKES... more lunatics make money while the average-joe has to pay up and take a ton of crap anyway. Ain't life grand...

I think the government did the right thing this time. There's not much point to passing a law that's unenforceable. It's counter-productive, in fact. The Do-Not-Call list works because it's easy to enforce. Tracking back telemarketing calls to the source is trivially easy, and it's easy to hold accountable the companies that are making them or paying another company to make on their behalf. Spam, on the other hand, is essentially anonymous.

As to your first numbered point, I have no desire to give the federal government still more power, nor do I want it filtering my email. Something like 90% of all spam comes from servers located in China and Russia, although much of that originates from US-based spammers. The easy solution is to block Chinese and Russian servers by black-holing or flagging any email whose source is within the IP address ranges allocated to those countries.

In fact, that will happen shortly on my own server. We discussed the idea of actually blackholing China and Russia entirely (I wouldn't care), but eventually decided to flag instead of blackholing. Once Greg and Brian have implemented this flagging, any email that originates from China or Russia will have a header something like "X-Spam-Country: Yes" I can tell Mozilla Mail to delete automatically any message that has that header.

As to discouraging US-based spammers, I've already said that I think the only solution is the Godfather Corporation that I proposed to Jerry Pournelle. The top 100 spammers are responsible for the vast majority of spam, and the top 1,000 are responsible for nearly all of it. Spam won't stop until spamming becomes a literally life-threatening activity. Laws can't cope with the problem. Only direct action will work. If we woke up tomorrow morning to find a CNN headline reporting that the top ten spammers had been shot to death overnight, spam would drop precipitously. Shooting a few more periodically would cause spam to disappear. Short of that, I don't think there is any short-term solution.

Long-term, the solution is authentication. If mail servers are authenticated and talk only to other authenticated mail servers, spam can be controlled. But I don't see that happening any time soon.



Thursday, 17 June 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]

9:22 - Hmmm. The last group of images I shot for the cover of the new book aren't good enough. Ellie at O'Reilly emailed me last night to suggest that O'Reilly hire a professional photographer to shoot the images. She said the two problems with the images I'd sent them were focus and evenness of lighting. Here's a low-resolution example of one of the last batch I sent.

P6150084.JPG (1637722 bytes)

I asked them to let me give it one more try, so this morning I'm going to try again, this time with a supplemental flash mounted in the hot shoe. I spent some time last night reading the C-5000 camera manual (!) so we'll see what happens.

Barbara had the Day From Hell yesterday. Her system at work was hit by some kind of virus or worm. They use Outlook, Windows, and Internet Explorer (OWIE), so that's no surprise. Then, coming home, she stopped off at the library. When she came out, her truck wouldn't start. I drove over and tried to jump it. No joy. It just clicked. I figured the starter solenoid had died. So we had it towed. Tim, our regular mechanic, is apparently on vacation. There was no answer at his garage, and they generally shut down for a week and take their vacations at the same time. So we had the tow truck haul Barbara's Trooper to a garage near Tim's place. We figured that was the best bet because Tim subcontracts out air conditioning work and other stuff to this other place. They called this morning to say it was unfortunately the starter. Parts and labor will be $500 for a rebuilt NAPA unit. Ugh.



Friday, 18 June 2004

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12:57 - The images I shot for the cover of the new book yesterday still aren't good enough. O'Reilly is going to contract with a professional photographer to get the job done.

The more I use Xandros, the more I like it. There are a few functions missing, such as support for reading UDF-formatted CD-RW discs, but in general everything I need is there and just works.

Jerry Pournelle called me last night. On my recommendation, he got the Xandros Business Edition and was just about to install it to one of his systems. I suspect those of you who subscribe to Byte will be reading about Jerry's experiences with Xandros  in next month's column.

In the meantime, if you'd like to play with Xandros, you can download the Open Circulation Edition, which is basically the Standard Edition but without support and with the CD burning app limited to the slowest speed supported by your CD-R drive. The OCE is a free download via BitTorrnet, but Xandros charges $10 for an FTP download. Because the OCE is freely-distributable, I expect it will soon be available on mirror sites, if indeed it isn't already.

I sometimes get email asking me why I'm so determined to migrate away from Windows and Windows apps. It has nothing to do with hating Microsoft. I want to migrate away from Windows because I don't like the direction Microsoft is heading, with DRM and so on, and because I want to get away from the viruses, worms, Trojans, and spyware that plague Windows.

That, and I'm tired of the security hole of the day followed by the patch of the day. Patching is inevitable, but with OSS software I feel comfortable that the patch is just a patch. With Microsoft, I always wonder when I install a patch or service pack what additional DRM and other nasties I'm installing.

And, from a larger perspective, I want Linux to succeed on the desktop because I want Microsoft to have serious competition. With about 2% of the market, OS/X isn't that competition. But Linux has the potential to grab serious desktop market share from Windows, and we'd all be better off if it did. That most certainly includes folks who choose to stay with Windows.

I could, if I had to, convert our network entirely to Linux right now. Xandros on the desktops and some other mainstream Linux distro on the servers. I won't do that, because I want to get more experience with Linux before I start a major migration, but it's in the cards. Xandros 2.0 is excellent. Xandros 3.0 will be better still. Mozilla has rendered Internet Explorer and Outlook nearly irrelevant as far as I'm concerned. OOo 1.1.1 is very good, and 2.0 will be a lot better.

Microsoft is under the gun for Longhorn. I don't doubt they will ship "Longhorn" in 2006, as promised, but the "Longhorn" they ship is going to be a pale shadow of what they originally promised Longhorn was to be. In the meantime, their installed base is largely static. Very few people "upgraded" to Windows XP or Office XP, and fewer still to the 2003 products. Excluding new PC purchases, most of Microsoft's installed base is still running Windows 2000 (or earlier) and Office 2000 or earlier. Desktop Linux has a huge window of opportunity, and companies like Xandros are taking advantage of that window.

By 2006, when Longhorn finally ships, desktop Linux is likely to have a significant installed base. By 2008 or 2009, when Longhorn starts to be deployed in significant volume, desktop Linux will be a serious challenge to Microsoft's desktop domination. Desktop Linux is beginning to achieve critical mass, and the mushroom cloud you see is likely to be over Redmond. Microsoft is fully aware of this, and I expect their dirty tricks campaign to accelerate with each passing year.

Microsoft knows it can't compete on a level playing field, so it'll be doing everything possible to make sure the playing field isn't level. Expect more organized FUD from such Microsoft stalking horses like AdTI, and more nuisance lawsuits from sock puppets like SCO. Also expect more software-patent crap like the recent FAT patent brouhaha, despite the fact that Microsoft is opening a serious can of worms by attempting to use software patents to kill OSS.

In the end, though, Microsoft is going to lose this war, which I expect they realize. They'll win some battles, certainly, but in the long term the outlook for Microsoft is grim.



Saturday, 19 June 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]

13:24 - I just happened to take a look at my site access stats and noticed that Mozilla is coming on strong. More than 25% of the hits on this site so far this month have been with Mozilla rather than IE. It's true, of course, that my readers are much more likely to be using modern products like Mozilla than are general users stuck in the IE rut, but even so these are impressive numbers.

Top 15 of 1625 Total User Agents
# Hits User Agent
1 36663 14.21% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; .NET CLR 1
2 26771 10.38% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)
3 19745 7.65% Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.6) Gecko
4 17963 6.96% Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.0; en-US; rv:1.6) Gecko
5 16510 6.40% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.0)
6 11456 4.44% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.0; .NET CLR 1
7 7107 2.76% Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.0; en-US; rv:1.7) Gecko
8 6848 2.65% Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.4.1) Gecko/20031
9 5559 2.16% Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.6) Gecko/2004021
10 5469 2.12% Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.7) Gecko
11 4676 1.81% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows 98)
12 3352 1.30% Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.0; en-US; rv:1.7a) Geck
13 3323 1.29% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; Crazy Brow
14 2839 1.10% Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; (R1 1.5))
15 2320 0.90% Mozilla/3.01 (compatible;)

Linux remains stable at about 5%, which is surprisingly low. I expect that as the word about Xandros Desktop 2.0 gets out, more and more of my hits will come from Linux systems. And the Mac doesn't show up at all.



Sunday, 20 June 2004

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{Five Years Ago Today]




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