Home » Daynotes Home » Week of 18 October 2004

Photograph of Robert Bruce Thompson Daynotes Journal

Week of 18 October 2004

Latest Update: Saturday, 23 October 2004 11:34 -0400

Click Here to Subscribe Buy PC Hardware in a Nutshell, 3rd Edition:
Buy Building the Perfect PC:
[Amazon] [Barnes & Noble] [Bookpool]
[Amazon] [Barnes & Noble] [Bookpool]
Visit Barbara's Journal Page

Monday, 18 October 2004

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]
[Daynotes Journal Forums] [HardwareGuys.com Forums] [TechnoMayhem.com Forums]
{Five Years Ago Today]

09:47 - 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 rebooted.

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 uneventfully.

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 data.

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

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]
[Daynotes Journal Forums] [HardwareGuys.com Forums] [TechnoMayhem.com Forums]
{Five Years Ago Today]

10:56 - 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 lack.

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.

14:50 - 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 and employees.

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

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]
[Daynotes Journal Forums] [HardwareGuys.com Forums] [TechnoMayhem.com Forums]
{Five Years Ago Today]

10:35 - 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 Internet Explorer.

14:13 - According 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 wrong.

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.

15:55 - 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.


Thursday, 21 October 2004

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]
[Daynotes Journal Forums] [HardwareGuys.com Forums] [TechnoMayhem.com Forums]
{Five Years Ago Today]

09:17 - 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.

14:47 - 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 build.


Friday, 22 October 2004

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]
[Daynotes Journal Forums] [HardwareGuys.com Forums] [TechnoMayhem.com Forums]
{Five Years Ago Today]

09:40 - 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.

Brian Bilbrey 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.


Saturday, 23 October 2004

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]
[Daynotes Journal Forums] [HardwareGuys.com Forums] [TechnoMayhem.com Forums]
{Five Years Ago Today]

11:34 - 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 points.

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.


Sunday, 24 October 2004

[Last Week] [Monday] [Tuesday] [Wednesday] [Thursday] [Friday] [Saturday] [Sunday] [Next Week]
[Daynotes Journal Forums] [HardwareGuys.com Forums] [TechnoMayhem.com Forums]
{Five Years Ago Today]



Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.