Monday, 18 October 2004
[Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday]
[Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday]
- Xandros shot craps on me yesterday. I was deleting some
unneeded files from my home directory when the KDE crash handler popped
up. I closed that, and then rebooted the system because in the past
when Xandros File Manager crashed there'd been some problems until I
The reboot started normally, with Xandros displaying the initial
startup messages. At the point when the display normally switches to
graphics mode and displays the login prompt, Xandros hung. I tried a
couple more times to restart, including a complete power-down reset,
and Xandros refused to boot.
My main office system had been running Xandros 2.0, unlike most of
the other boxes around here, which run Xandros 2.5. I was about to do a
repair installation with the 2.0 disc, but in a moment of insanity I
decided to do an upgrade to
2.5 instead. The 2.5 disc booted normally, and installation proceeded
Xandros says that no data is lost during an upgrade installation,
and that's true in the sense that user data is preserved. But what's
lost is configuration data, including that for Mozilla Mail. Instead of
recreating my entire Mozilla environment, most particularly my several
mail accounts, I decided to copy over the old Mozilla profile data from
the thompson_old directory where the upgrade install places the old
That kind of worked. My mail configuration is back to normal.
Unfortunately, the Mozilla Browser is hosed. The menu has disappeared,
as have all of the bookmarks. I tried uninstalling and re-installing
Mozilla, but no joy. It appears to be broken beyond retrieval. I tried
renaming prefs.js to see what would happen. That didn't fix the
problem. Mozilla badly, badly needs an import/export settings command
that would allow one to export the settings from a current installation
and then import them into a new installation. Or, at the least,
complete documentation for its configuration text files.
I won't be posting much this week. I have a lot to do, both workwise
and in terms of personal errands.
Tuesday, 19 October 2004
[Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday]
[Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday]
[Sunday] [Next Week]
- Barbara sent me some rare footage of Bill Gates undercover at SuSE
headquarters. (Mr. Gates is on the right.)
Despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, Novell says desktop
Linux is at the tipping point. I think Novell is right. As I told
Pournelle the other day, I think desktop Linux is fast approaching the
shoulder of an exponential growth curve. When major corporations like
AT&T and IBM announce pilot desktop Linux projects, many analysts
pass this off as simple toe-dipping or establishing a bargaining
position to get better deals from Microsoft. I'm sure that's part of
it, but I'm also sure that that's not all of it.
The simple fact is that desktop Linux is now fully capable of doing
everything that most computer users need to do, particularly business
computer users. Linux sucks as a gaming platform, certainly, and that's
likely to delay its penetration into the home market. But for business
functions--checking email, browsing the web, word processing,
spreadsheets, presentations, and so on--Linux is now as capable a
platform as Windows. I know, because I use Linux all day long every day
and have done since my personal Independence Day last July 4th.
When I upgraded to Xandros 2.5 the other day, I had to re-install my
applications. I was about to install Microsoft Office 2000 under
Crossover Office when I realized that I didn't really need Office 2000.
I'm perfectly content with StarOffice. There is now no Microsoft
software running on my primary desktop system, and I no longer feel the
For me, the costs are immaterial. If I want a copy of Windows or
Office (or ten copies), I just email my contact at Microsoft's PR firm
and the stuff shows up FedEx the next day. Same thing for Xandros, or
any other software I decide to use. Computer journalists don't pay for
software, any more than book reviewers pay for books or movie critics
for tickets. But for businesses, the costs are very material, and the
purchase price is only the beginning.
Most businesses faced with the choice of expensive Microsoft
software versus free or inexpensive OSS equivalents don't care about
the upfront price. The difference between $0 for OpenOffice.org versus
$75 for StarOffice versus $500 for Microsoft Office pales into
insignificance when the costs to deploy the software, train and support
users, and other soft costs are taken into account. That's why so many
businesses continue to use Microsoft software. It's a habit, and a very
expensive habit to break.
But more and more businesses are realizing that there are many
hidden costs to using Microsoft software. For example, many businesses
must literally dedicate one or more full-time IT staff to manage
Microsoft patches. Then there are the costs of dealing with the flood
of viruses, worms, and Trojans. Many businesses spend tens to hundreds
of thousands of dollars or more every year just to license antivirus
software, malware scanners, and so on. And even those costs are dwarfed
by the staff costs incurred to deal with the inevitable infections. In
many businesses, the IT staff spends literally 20% or more of its time
dealing with infections, and even that simply reduces the threat rather
than eliminating it.
I sense a revolution about to break out, and I think the next round
of Microsoft Licensing 6 invoices may be the straw that breaks the
camel's back. People who paid a lot of money to Microsoft last time are
going to receive another huge bill. Many are going to ask themselves
what they got for their money last time. The answer, in many cases, is
almost nothing. Sometimes literally nothing.
The simple fact is that few people upgrade Microsoft software, even
if they've paid for the privilege. Think about when each new version of
Windows or Office was released and what market penetration it has
achieved in the interim. Windows XP, for example, currently has about
50% of the market. That's after three years of new computer sales with
XP bundled. Given the average life time of business and home PC's, one
would expect XP's market share to be considerably higher than 50% by
now if only from attrition. The fact that XP sits at 50% share tells me
not only that essentially no one is upgrading earlier systems to XP,
but many people are actually "downgrading" new systems to run Windows
2000. The same is true for the latest versions of Office, which users
and corporate IT departments are ignoring in droves.
Then we have Shorthorn, the castrated version of Longhorn that
Microsoft has cynically defined in order to meet a 12/31/06 ship date.
In fact, that date will slip. It always has, and this time will be no
exception. We can expect to see Microsoft's "new" operating system,
which is actually just a big XP service pack, sometime in mid- to
late-2007. But, if history is any guide, it'll take at least a couple
of years for Shorthorn to catch on and gain any significant market
share. That means Shorthorn won't really be common until 2009 or so,
which is to say five years from now.
So, while Microsoft is for all intents and purposes standing still
for the next several years, Linux continues to evolve and improve
exponentially. Shorthorn is going to be much, much too little, and
much, much too late. And Microsoft realizes this, which is why they're
attacking Linux on every front, including by such underhanded means as
funding the fiaSCO. And people laughed at me a few years ago when I
predicted that Microsoft would be doing their best to buy enough
politicians to make Linux illegal. But that's what they're doing now,
and it's their last-ditch defense. Ultimately, it won't matter.
Microsoft can't win this one. Count on it.
- My friend Steve Tucker has an interesting
post up on his journal page. For a long time, Steve ran the
NASCAR/Winston-Cup Series races and related events for the Sports
Marketing Enterprise division of R. J. Reynolds. With the
government-mandated cutbacks in sports marketing efforts by tobacco
companies, the SME division of Reynolds was downsized, and Steve moved
to SPEVCO, a local company that provides marketing support services for
Winston-Cup racing teams. That turned out not to be a good fit, and
Steve is now looking for a marketing position.
That's not the interesting part, though. Unfortunately, Steve's in
the same position as many, many other middle managers who've found
their jobs downsized, outsourced, off-shored, and otherwise done away
with. What's interesting is that Steve is taking matters into his own
hands by creating an Internet job-listing service that focuses tightly
on exactly the types of positions and employees that Steve has been
working with for years. Steve's Mobile
Marketing JobList is a matchmaking service to bring together jobs
I have to say I was very impressed when I visited the site. In
contrast to the ad-hoc sites all of us create for our daily journal
pages, this is a professionally done, serious web site. The success of craigslist and similar sites
makes me think Steve may be on to something. He's just now getting the
ball rolling, so stop in and have a look. I hope Steve will still talk
to me once he's become one of those Internet Millionaire fellows...
The Forsyth Astronomical Society (FAS) has a public observation
scheduled for this Friday evening in Lewisville, a small town near
Winston-Salem. As Barbara was reading the paper yesterday morning, she
spotted the announcement. It said that the Forsyth Astrological Society was holding a
public event. I mailed the president of FAS to let her know, and
mentioned that Barbara and I wouldn't be attending because our
moon-sun-and-stars robes and peaked wizard's hats were at the cleaners.
The Lewisville Town Manager, who asked FAS to participate in the
event, apologized and said he'd try to get the newspaper to run a
correction. Alas, the damage is done. Hundreds of lunatics will
probably show up, expecting tarot cards and crystal balls. I can't
stand being near anyone stupid enough to believe that crap, so Barbara
and I will skip the event.
Wednesday, 20 October 2004
[Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday]
[Sunday] [Next Week]
Years Ago Today]
- I just sent the following message to subscribers:
Secunia has announced two critical
vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer running on Windows XP with SP2
applied. For details, see:
As usual, the recommended solution is to change your default browser to
Mozilla or Firefox. Alternatively, at least disable Active Scripting on
to Steve Ballmer, "There's no appreciable amount of Linux on client
systems anywhere in the world". Well, Steve, I happen to know you're
Here, for example, which I think counts as somewhere in the world, 80%
of our client systems are running Linux, and that will soon be nearly
100%. That's up from 0% a few months ago, which is a pretty significant
growth rate. I frequently receive mail from long-time Windows users who
are converting or who have converted their homes and businesses from
Windows to Linux. A glance at my server logs shows Linux client usage
growing every month. Many large businesses and government organizations
have converted or are converting to Linux, and we're talking thousands
or tens of thousands of clients at a whack.
I think you're whistling past the graveyard, Steve.
- Xandros has announced the beginning of their beta program for
Xandros 3.0. If you're interested in participating, fill out the
application form. I'm sure they'll choose only a small percentage
of those applying.
Being a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy, I filled out the form and also
mailed my contact at Xandros to tell her I wanted to participate in the
3.0 beta. I'm really looking forward to a Xandros built on a 2.6.x
kernel with the new KDE. As usual, I had a problem filling out the form
because it was designed for someone with normal amounts of PCs and
components. For example, it had a bullet list asking whether I ran RAID
0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 (does anyone really run 2 or 4 on a PC?). No choice
for stacked RAIDs or multiple RAIDs. It wanted to know what processor
and motherboard I used. Hmmm. No choice for "just about all of them".
Same thing for display adapter, sound card, and so on and so on.
Fortunately, there was a free-text field at the end that I used to tell
them about my working environment.
I suspect they'll approve my application in a heartbeat, unless of
course they think I'm kidding.
21 October 2004
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[Sunday] [Next Week]
- Barbara and I had dinner with our friend Paul Jones yesterday
evening, and then headed for the Forsyth Astronomical Society meeting
at SciWorks, where our friend Bonnie Richardson was doing the
presentation. As we sat at a traffic light waiting for it to change, we
felt a severe jolt.
As it turned out, the guy sitting behind us had gotten rear-ended by a
woman and he in turn rear-ended us. He was in a Toyota RAV 4 SUV, which
probably weighs about half what Barbara's Isuzu Trooper weighs. His
vehicle was crunched front and back, but as far as we could tell there
was no damage to Barbara's Trooper other than the rubber coating on the
bumper being chewed up a little bit. Other than being jolted sharply,
Barbara and I suffered no injuries.
The woman who hit the guy behind us was pretty badly shaken, but wasn't
injured. He, his wife, and their daughter also said they were okay, but
the guy kept rubbing his neck so the cops called EMS to take a look at
him. While EMS was there, they also asked Barbara and me if we were
okay. We told them we were fine, so they asked us to sign a release
form saying that they'd offered care and we'd refused it.
As it happens, our other Trooper is out at our mechanic's place getting
an oil change and inspection. He called this morning and I told him
what had happened and that I was concerned about hidden damage. He said
that the Trooper is very strongly built and that it was unlikely there
was any hidden damage. He said when we came out to pick up the other
Trooper that he'd check just to make sure there hadn't been any damage
to the gas tank mounts or anything else.
I called our insurance agent this morning and told him what had
happened, and that we planned to have our mechanic look at the Trooper
this afternoon to rule out any hidden damage. The woman who was at
fault is also insured with State Farm. Len, our agent, said we could
expect a call from State Farm Claims department and that they'd want to
send someone out to have a look at our Trooper. I told Len again that
the only damage we knew of was a few scratches on the coating of the
bumper and that we certainly didn't plan to replace the bumper on a
1993 vehicle because of minor cosmetic damage. He said that regardless
State Farm would pay us for any damage, and that none of this would
count against us because we were innocent victims.
- FedEx just showed up with a package from ASUS that contained
three motherboards, an A7N8X-VM/400 Socket A board for the Sempron
2800+; a K8N-E Deluxe Socket 754 board for the Sempron 3100+, and an
A8V Deluxe Socket 939 board for the Athlon 64 3500+. The A8V Deluxe
uses the VIA K8T800 Pro chipset, so it will be interesting to compare
its performance and compatibility with the MSI Neo2 Platinum, which
uses an nVIDIA nForce3 Pro 250 GB chipset. ASUS doesn't make an nForce3
Socket 939 board currently, although I suspect they'll be shipping an
nForce4 S939 board before long.
So, among all the other tasks on my plate, I also have some systems to
22 October 2004
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- I was wrong about the amount of damage to Barbara's Trooper.
When our mechanic looked at it yesterday, he said there was probably
$1,500 to $2,000 worth of damage. The rear bumper was pushed in
slightly, although it's not immediately obvious just looking at it, and
the spare tire carrier was bent in at the bottom far enough that it
dented the rear door slightly. The door still works fine, the dent in
it is small and behind the spare tire, and you have to really look hard
to see any damage to the bumper, so it'd be a waste to have the damage
repaired on a 1993 model truck. When I spoke to our insurance agent
this morning, he said the adjuster would estimate the amount of damage
and we could just tell him we wanted a cash settlement instead of
having the truck repaired.
built a new PC yesterday, using components I recommended to him.
Unfortunately, I overlooked one issue--Linux and BSD compatibility. If
it had been only a couple weeks later, I would have had the chance to
build the same configuration and do some compatibility testing.
Brian bought an ASUS K8N-E Deluxe Socket 754 motherboard and a Sempron
3100+ processor. He really wanted the Athlon 64 2800+, which costs only
$20 more and has twice the L2 cache and 64-bit support, but the local
store where he bought his components didn't have one in stock. Brian is
pleased with the new system, but it won't run Xandros 2.X, which lacks
support for the nForce3 chipsets. It does run Gentoo fine, and will
presumably run Xandros 3.0, which is currently going into beta test.
23 October 2004
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- Barbara is off this morning to a charity walk at Tanglewood
Park. I asked her last night, half in jest, if she was taking Malcolm
along. I was surprised when she said she was thinking about it, but had
decided not to because he barks at everything. So I suggested she take
Duncan, who is perfectly behaved in crowds, but she was afraid a
five-mile walk would be too much for Duncan. Duncan is almost ten years
old, and has some hip problems, so it was probably a wise decision not
to take him.
To my surprise, though, Barbara finally decided to take Malcolm along,
on the theory that he'll never learn to behave in crowds if he's not
exposed to them. Although he's five years old, Malcolm is still very
excitable. In the past, though, when Barbara has taken him to events,
more often than not she's told me afterward that Malcolm behaved well.
I expect he'll do well at this event as well.
The Register has posted an excellent article
by Nick Petreley that analyzes Windows versus Linux security. If
anything, Petreley bends over backwards to be fair to Windows, but the
article is nonetheless a devastating indictment of Windows security.
I've gotten several emails recently taking me to task for being too
hard on Microsoft, and suggesting that I'm somehow biased against them.
That's simply wrong. There's no question of bias. I've simply made a
judgment that Microsoft software and Microsoft corporate policies and
actions are no longer acceptable to me.
Those who've been reading my journal for the last five or six years are
aware of the progression I've made from being a Windows user to a Linux
user. I continued using Windows 2000 and Office 2000, for example,
despite the many exploits against them, because I didn't at that time
consider Linux and Linux applications good enough for my needs. I
continued trying Linux, starting with Red Hat 4, as I recall, but each
time I was disappointed in Linux and returned to Windows.
I elected to get off the Microsoft upgrade merry-go-round several years
ago. XP was the break point there. I simply refused to accept such
things as product activation, proprietary file formats, and embedded
DRM. But I stayed with Windows 2000 and Office 2000 because Linux
wasn't good enough for me yet.
And, boy, did I hear howls of outrage from Linux proponents about many
of the statements I've made over the years. I can't count the number of
times I was accused of being a Microsoft shill. More than once, someone
actually accused me of taking money under the table from Microsoft in
return for disparaging Linux. Some told me I was too stupid to
appreciate Linux, but I know my own IQ. Others told me that Linux and
Linux applications would never have the things I was looking for, and
that it was up to me to change my own expectations rather than
expecting Linux to change to suit me. I didn't believe that then, and I
don't believe it now.
So I continued doing what I always do, which is calling them as I see
them. I don't claim that I'm always right, although looking back on
several years' worth of posts I've been right more often than not. I
don't claim that my decision should be everyone's decision. Each person
has his own tipping point.
But I freely admit that I have become an advocate of OSS in general and
Linux in particular. I haven't made this change based on any
philosophical grounds. I think Stallman is a nutcase, although I
acknowledge the value of several of his contributions to OSS, including
the GNU utilities and the GPL. I don't even care if source code is
available for the applications I use, except to the extent that the OSS
model is a better development model than the proprietary model.
What I do care about is that the software I use is secure, that it does
not have embedded DRM features that are not under my control, and that
it stores its data in a non-proprietary, standards-based, open format.
Microsoft software fails each of those tests. Open Source Software
passes each of those tests. Just as important, Linux and OSS
applications are now good enough to meet my functional requirements,
and they're improving constantly. As they continue to improve, many
people who are currently using Windows will reach their own tipping
My personal tipping point occurred last spring when download.ject
struck. Microsoft took a week or so to release a stop-gap solution that
wasn't a solution, and told everyone to wait for XP SP2 for the real
solution. They also said at the time, although few took notice, that
they had no plans to back-port their fixes to Windows 2000 or earlier.
That was it for me. Microsoft abandoned 50% of its installed base and
expected no one to notice.
I'd been using Xandros Linux for a short time, and liked what I saw. If
you re-read my journal entries from June 2004, you'll see the
progression. I started using Xandros in early June, and by 4 July I had
declared my personal Independence Day. Since then, I've continued the
migration. The machine I'm writing this on has no Microsoft software
installed at all. Zero. And I quite happily use it all day long every
day to do my work. Others have found the same to be true, including
Barbara who made the switch a couple of months ago.
If you haven't yet made the change from Microsoft Windows and
applications to Linux, keeping checking Linux from time to time.
Xandros just announced the beta test for Xandros 3.0, and I suspect
they'll eventually ship a free version of it as well. Xandros 3.0 will
make still more converts, as will new versions of other distros.
Eventually, it will be mostly gamers and technological laggards using
Windows. Nearly everyone else will be running Linux or OS/X.
24 October 2004
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