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Operating Systems

Journal Journal: Return of the Server

IBM Dreams of Pushing Microsoft Off the Desktop and Stomping its Clinging Fingers (LinuxWorld): "The Workplace Client Technology costs $24 a head a year; the Workplace Messenger and Workplace Document are $29 apiece for each user over three years. IBM is also going to charge $2 a month to support the servers. The price drops in large volumes."

Now, if this happens, IBM will be aiming the products at business users. But at those per-seat costs, Google, or Yahoo could offer them to everyone... as FREE services, supported by advertising.

This notion of centralizing applications (and the data that goes with them) back on a server where they belong (because on the server they are relatively safe from viruses, backed up daily, and can be accessed from anywhere on the net), first surfaced several years ago as the thin-client initiative, promoted among others, by Larry Elison of Oracle. That initiative failed, mainly due to the fact that vendors of the hardware got greedy, often offering the "thin-client" devices at a cost HIGHER than the standard PC they would be replacing. Needless to say, potential customers were not impressed.

Since then, the idea has surfaced again, about two years ago, when a company called Citrix was demonstrating the possibility of running Windows desktops in a window on Linux, and other Unix machines, or in a web browser interface on just about any computer equipped with a web browser. The system worked so well that Microsoft promptly paid Citrix for rights to use the product themselves, afterwhich, the idea suddenly stopped getting mentioned much by either Citrix or Microsoft. Conspiracy theory anyone?

Whereas the above concept would have continued to result in licensing charges being paid to Microsoft for each client system, these new initiatives don't involve Windows at all. Will this prompt Microsoft to pull the Citrix rabbit back out of that hat? Let's hope so. Maybe they too can offer Word and Excel usage for free to MSN subscribers. The average home user, the kid in high school doing a book report, and many dunderheads in business and industry are not nearly sophisticated enough to need a $400 word processing package. They don't do backups, they don't know about firewalls, and can't be trusted to update their virus scanners. The world needs a newer and safer paradigm for computing. Microsoft has proven that they can't secure Windows no matter how hard they try. Time to give up, all of us, and try something else. Server side computing is the way to go, and if Microsoft wants to play, welcome to the party.

Microsoft

Journal Journal: Blind Leading the Blind

Yahoo! News - Microsoft Touts Computerized Future: "Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates offered a brief glimpse of a major Windows security update, called Service Pack 2, that is due out sometime this year. But he said that while security 'is a required thing, we feel very optimistic that will be in place.'

The company urged hardware makers to devote resources toward supporting Microsoft's vision of a future rife with multiple electronic gadgets. "

Was he wearing very dark glasses and tapping the ground in frount of him with a stick too? Did they also predict the eventual emergence of VHS tapes over Beta? We'll start thinking about getting advice on the future from Microsoft when they demonstrate that they actually have mastered those fundamentals mentioned in the aricle. So far that doesn't seem to be the case.

In the mean time the vision for the future of electronic gadgets will probably come from Japan, China, India. Credit goes to Microsoft for giving away America's tech lead while we all fiddled with blue screens rather than doing real technology.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Flight From Quality

A recent Slashdot article pointed to research being done on the connectedness of various things, notably, users on the Internet.

While the science can, and has, applied this thinking to many things of real value, it's a bit scary to think, or should I say know, that it is also being applied to "marketing".

The unspoken "Why?" of all of this is that companies are trying to understand our social connectedness as a way to SELL us things.

Why use the scattershot TV ad to get us to buy a new car when they can simply allow the desirability of ownership trickle down the social food chain?

This is "Keeping up with the Joneses" taken to perfection. Once it is calculated which other individual or group we all choose to imitate, you find that there are only 30 people in the world who have to be given that new promotional edition MP3 player and soon everyone else in the world will HAVE to have one too. How Pavlovian!

The only problem I have with this way of thinking is that it continues down the path we are on of valuing everything except quality in product selection. It assumes (probably accurately) that many of us do what we do by imitation rather than making our own choices based on our own thought processes.

No need to enslave the masses when you can tap into their programming and get them to do what you want willingly. A few years ago we saw the first major uses of this on the internet as Flash based animations showed up in our inboxes suggesting some political point of view. Whole membership based websites with powerful financial backing have now sprung up to do the same thing, but more effectively.

If I look at federal budget numbers over the last 50 years I might eventually come to some conclusion that would influence the way I vote. If I hear those same numbers discussed on a TV program I might come to yet another conclusion. But in that instance I might also have some doubts based on perceptions I have about the networks bias, or the individuals from which the information came.

But what if that same misleading analysis comes from someone I know well and admire? Will I follow up with my own research, or just accept the information, having passed through no telling how many intermediaries, as though it were directly from my trusted source? Will I even think about the possible unreliability of the information?

The spectacular collapse of the Dean campaign shows us nothing more than that there is still a disconnect between those of us who spend much of our free time on the Internet and those of us who vote (at least in a few states). But this could change, and it probably will change. Not only will more people become used to getting their information from the Internet, but the Internet will become entwined in subtle ways in other activities such as listening to music or watching TV. At some point, with our without perceived dangers such as the Patriot Act, most of what we do online (in the most general sense) will be trackable, not because of some onerous law, but simply because we have given our consent, often in subtle ways, to be monitored.

The only thing that will remain will be to use that data to achieve the desired goal.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Weird Feature 2

I wonder what this user created topic feature is for?

Here is one I created, but I don't see how anyone would find it, unless via this journal entry or a private web page:

http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=93769

Odd.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Open Source Software in Government

Comment originally made to an article, saved here for "posterior":

I don't think the issue is so much with individuals and what software they choose to use. If you are an avid game player and have to have Windows to run your games that's fine. Do so at home, with my blessing. In business and government, it's another matter, particularly in government. Here are my two first hand experiences... compare with your own...

At the Department of Energy I worked with a group of 100 or so OS/2 users. This was back in the early 90s. They loved OS/2 and had no desire to change. As an autonomous department, they technically could run any software they wanted. However when it came time to upgrade their PCs to a newer generation of hardware they were given an ultimatum: Switch to Windows or keep your old PCs. They eventually switched.

At another well known federal agency there is a group of people who love IBM computers and operating systems. There is also a group of people who hate IBM and anything connected with them. More importantly these two groups hate each other and are in constant conflict. Since their systems have to talk to one another there is ample opportunity to stab each other in the back... cause something to fail (or just wait for a natural occurence) and then try and blame the other group.

Many years ago the anti-IBM crowd decided to build a system based on Wang mini-computers. The system basically sucked, but it wasn't a good career move to say so. The only reason they migrated off the Wang systems was that Wang went out of business. In fact they ran the system out of used parts for quite a while before declaring the situation an "emergency" which meant that huge amounts of money were spent for a quick conversion effort that should instead have been carefully planned.

They picked Windows as their new target architecture. I'm not sure that this was necessarily a bad decision, and in fact there were parts of the "plan", such as it was, that tried to encourage the use of "standards based" softare. This means that you write your programs to use, to the extent possible, generic SQL (for example) rather than Oracle, DB/2, or SQL Server syntax. Because it was an "emergency" however, these sound business concepts were ignored and the system became locked into specific DBMS/Compiler/Operating system ways of doing things. Seven years later and the system is still buggy as hell. The application is written in a now non-supported programming language, but the only fix for this would be another total re-write.

At one point a group I was involved with was asked to recommend some statistical analysis software to allow for ad-hoc queries of this 7 years worth of data. Using live data the analyst compared several potential products and rated them. As part of the summary he pointed out that while several of the proposed products were quite capable, he had noticed during the tests that almost no column of values in the database had sufficiently enough valid data points (both missing and mangled values) to draw any statistical inferences, no matter what product they picked. Both analyst and report were "shuffled off to Buffalo" never to be seen again.

I was there for another year or so after that. There was begrudging talk about the lack of wisdom in continuing to rely on non-supported components. Jokes about the similarity to the Wang systems were getting too common. They went to one of the top consulting firms for independent outside advice (a very good idea in my opinion). After months of study, they issued an analysis of just one of the many applications there. Not surprisingly they said it was too dependant on the quirks and features of a particular DBMS. It also was using outmoded client/server methodologies and of course the non-supported compiler was full of bugs as was the resultant application. They also threw in some concerns about Windows security, which was just starting to show up on the radar for large geographically dispersed organizations (network dependencies).

I was encouraged by the accuracy of this report and looked forward to their final finding that would make recommendations about how best to clean up the mess that had been made. Thirty minutes into the presentation of those final recommendations (it was a small "closed" meeting of about 8 people) it was clear that the recommendation was going to be to move to Java, standardized SQL syntax, and to *consider* alternatives to Microsoft for server components. The presentation was interrupted however and after a few Q&A type interactions it was adjourned by the government employee who sponsored it. He indicated that he didn't want to embarrass his boss by reporting back that there were any major problems with the path we had already taken. The report was "corrected" to indicate that everything was just fine as it was and now they are sending people to classes to learn how to use .Net (even though there is no .Net interface to the broken compiler they are using).

Not only our tax dollars but our very LIVES may depend on the quality of decisions made in meeting such as this, but I am quite sure that petty personal politics and ego play a larger role than anything else. I think the world will get this right. For once I have to say that Europe seems to be on the right path. China, Brazil, India too while they may be choosing Open Source for different reasons (lower cost, less dependency on U.S.) will ultimately be in a position to make the right choice on purely technical grounds. I'm not at all sure we (the U.S.) will be in such a position. I see us locked into a monolithic way of doing things based on back-room deal making rather than good technical decisions. The government people making these decisions in many cases have NO technical background and are more interested in selecting a technology that supports their digital camera or game playing habits than anything else. I have no doubt that the basis for many of these techniccal decisions are made on the golf courses of expensive country clubs and not in meetings that include a technical point of view.

Not only does Open Source need to be on the table during these decisions (which implies that there is a table involved and not a 4-iron), but the decision making process needs to be open as well. If you think there is a compelling national interest in running only Windows based software for programs that affect national security I'd like to hear what it is. My own inclination from what I have seen first hand is just the opposite. As a tax payer and citizen I am outraged by what I have seen and more than ever suspicious of decisions that I only read about in the news. If you care about your country, you should be too.

Operating Systems

Journal Journal: Time to Circle the Wagons?

Here is some not so surprising news...

Japan, the world's second largest economy, made a proposal at an Asian economic summit this week to build an inexpensive and trustworthy open-source operating system that would be based on a system such as Linux, which can be copied and modified freely.

"We'd like to see the market decide who the winners are in the software industry," Tom Robertson, Microsoft's Tokyo-based director for government affairs in Asia, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

I think the market IS deciding, which is going to be Microsoft's biggest problem for the next few years.

"Governments should not be in the position to decide who the winners are," Robertson said.

You know, I don't remember there being any protest from Microsoft when the US government stopped accepting RFP documents in WordPerfect format. I guess they've had a change of heart for some reason.

Full story at Netscape.com

It's not the governments of Japan or China that need to be put on alert, it is our own. As Departments of State, Treasury, and the White House among others, busily archive critical documents in .DOC format that will not easily be converted to anything else in a few years, low level management of these departments need to be aware that going the "safe route" of managing everything using Microsoft tools will in hindsight only allow you to say "But everyone else around me was doing that too".

I suspect there will be more and more defectors from this way of thinking, even within the US government as time goes on. However as that happens there will also be signs of desparation from Microsoft as they try and appeal to some sort of warped patriotism that says we should all keep using overpriced, buggy and undocumented junk.

We need to stop thinking of Windows as America's software equivalent to the Boeing 7x7, and start thinking of it as America's software equivalent of the Yugo...

Q: How do you make a Yugo go faster?
A: A towtruck.

Q: What do you call the shock absorbers inside a Yugo?
A: Passengers.

User Journal

Journal Journal: If U Cn Rd ths...

The security threat posed by a particular bug in Windows is "Critical", but this is mitigated by the fact that: "The user must open a document sent to them by an attacker in order for this vulnerability to be exploited.", or "The Microsoft Access Snapshot Viewer is not installed with Microsoft Office by default. ", or "Any information disclosure would be completely random. "

Well that last one is certainly good to know. If my information is going to be disclosed I'd certainly prefer that it be my random information rather than my much more valuable, um, organized information.

I'm wondering if there are not a team of "Mitigation Specialists" at Microsoft charged with coming up with these things. I think this is something I could handle pretty well. I think I'll send them a resume.

Here is a sample of my work:

Mitigating Factors:

* User must have not only installed Windows and Office, but actually be using these products for any harm to, or exposer of user data to occur.

~*~ Small pets, farm animals, or other domesticated wildlife will not be harmed by the use of these products, even if human user fails to exercise due caution.

*# Extra-Terrestrial life-forms are completely safe even when in the same room as an operating Windows environment.

~~ Use of un-patched Outlook Express has been shown to have no effect on local precipitation nor earthquake activity. We will advise customers of an future change in this situation.

I really think I could come up with a lot of these. How about you? Do you have a future as a Microsoft Mitigation Specialist?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Meeting of Minds

2003-07-24

Why did Bill Gates visit the White House the other day. It made the news not because of the content of the meeting (which I never saw even hinted at) but because Bill was insulted by having to produce his access badge (which he had left in the limo) before they would let him in.

Could it have gone like this?:

GWB: Well ha Bill, glad you could stop by come own in ta the office here and hava seat. I have to admit I don't really know what you came to talk about, ma people didn't brief me very well this morning.

WHG: I'd rather stand if you don't mind, what I have to say isn't easy, and as you might have heard I am of a nervous disposition. The problems getting in here this morning didn't help.

GWB: Oh, I heard about that and ah do apologize, but you know these days we can't be too careful. By the way I know you have given rather heavily to Democratic candidates and causes in the past. I hope you have come to tell me you have had a change of heart? I could sure use your support in these troubling times.

WHG: Um, well, not quite that. But I have been thinking... (Bill starts to pace nervously) This has nothing to do with politics or parties.... its about technology. I see our country losing its technical lead, and after conferring with my staff, I have come to the conclusion that we, Microsoft I mean, are to a large extent responsible.

GWB: Really? (with a puzzled look) Do continue Bill.

WHG: Yes. I... well... my company... I mean... SHIT!... I've made all this money, I'm as successful as anyone could hope to be, but this isn't how I planned it at all. (Bill removes his glasses and puts his hands over his eyes, trying to dry tears without being obvious about it).

GWB: Can I get my staff to get you a drink or something? I've got a little secret supply of hooch in the desk here if you'd like...

WHG: No. No. I'll be fine, let me get this out. It just didn't work out like I thought. I wanted the best operating system, the best user software imaginable. I wanted to make the computer the perfect aid to people in leading their lives and getting their work done. Now I've realize... release after release, that perfection eludes us... I now realize, it can't be done. All we have done is gloss over all the details that the users shouldn't need to worry about. BUT WE HAVEN'T RESOLVED THEM!! (Bill bangs his fist on the nearest furniture).

(an aid pokes his head through the door)

AID: Um, is everything OK Mr. President?

GWB: Yeah, we're fine (brusquely motions the aid back out and looks at Bill who seems to have more to say)

WHG: It CAN'T be done. I can't do it. You know the last computer program I wrote was a simple conversion of someone else's program to a new format. Everyone thinks I'm some kind of genius programmer. I'm a very smart person, but I don't have the patience to code, I rely on others to do that now. I had this vision though. I was sure it could be done: To absolve the user of all cares, make the computer and operating system take care of everything, safely, reliably. For years my staff has told me that we are almost there. And yet every year, there are new viruses, new bugs. Disk drives still get scrambled for no good reason, data gets lost, work has to be re-done. I yell at my staff, I fire some of them, they are terrified of me, but I know they have tried, I know if it could be done the people I hired could do it. I finally confronted my top people last week. I asked them... Is it really possible to perfect this thing, make it impervious from viruses, bug free, easy to install and fool-proof. I looked every one of them right in the eye and asked these questions and they all looked away. They've just been humoring me all along, and now I know I've lead our entire country and a good part of the world down a dead end path. (finally Bill sits down in the nearest chair, exhausted, and puts his head in his hands).

GWB: Uh... (looks around nervously) Uh, well yeah, I, uh, kinda... um. Hey you know I've been having a bit of trouble with the Presidential laptop here, isn't it cute how they put the Presidential Seal there on it where it should say "Compaq", hehe... Um, you think you could help me find the font size on this thing?

(Bill Gates falls out of his chair and colapses on the plush carpet)

Yeah, I think it went something like that.

Or it could have had something to do with *THIS*.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Bladerunner

2003-07-31

In the not to distant future, you may turn on your PC to find your desktop up and running within a few seconds. The PC will be not much bigger than a book, require no fan, possibly have several processors in it made to look like one very fast processor by the operating system. It will have no DRM imposed limitations, and oh, by the way, will sell for about $100.

Now the downside of all this is that at that price point, it may still be out of range for those of us former Information Technology workers who will be serving up hamburgers or stocking the shelves at the local 7-11, for no part of this new technology will be produced in the United States.

While part of me says that all new technology is a good thing, it would also be nice to know that someday soon our Captains of Industry will wake up to the fact that our way of doing things is way over priced for what it actually does.

The harbinger of this change has just been announced in China of all places, where they don't like the idea of being dependent on US technology since they view that dependence as a "security risk". If only WE thought in those terms!

They have a chip, probably already a motherboard for it, an operating system which is a variant of Linux, and they are working with Transmeta and IBM to get the thing off the ground. But they won't need our help for long.

The chip is slow by current Intel standards, but imagine four or eight of these on a single board, with a sophisticated OS distributing tasks between them. It will be blindingly fast, run cool and quite possibly have parts of the OS burned into ROM. There is really no reason for these things to be encumbered by any of the baggage of our current PC way of thinking.

*theinquirer.net*

----

http://www.culturecom.com.hk/index_en.html

Remember the opening of Bladerunner when Harison Ford is going through what I guess is Chinatown looking for some bit of information that ultimately comes in the form of a 3D micro-dot. Or at least that is the way I remember it. A common science fiction theme seems to be a future overrun by Oriental people who happen to also be the primary purveyors of high tech. The only thing that puzzles me about these scenarios is that the heroes are white guys.

For most of the gadgets we fill our houses with we now take it for granted that it is made "over there somewhere". For a very few technology items, such as aircraft avionics (I think) we still manufacture things over here. I know of a few American electronics companies that continue in business even though most of their commercial inventory is gone. My guess is that they are busy doing other things for the government that they can't advertise.

Could it be that companies like Intel and Microsoft will join that club? Lurking in the background, turning out a few hundred American PCs with "Intel Inside!", and Microsoft will be maintaining the last existing copies of Windows 2005 with full DRM functions enabled. As very special purpose devices, the hardware and software price tags will be astronomical. Does it seem far fetched?

But when is the last time you saw a stereo system or TV set actually made in the US? (No, I don't think RCA or Zenith are any more). We just don't do that sort of thing. It drives the price up, and us consumers would rather pay less, much less than we can possibly manage to sell things for that are made entirely here.

A year ago, the cheap PCs started showing up at Walmart for $200 and the result has been a gradual grudging price war by companies like Dell and HP. Prices had to drop from the ridiculous $2000 mark. The process has been slowed by loading the machines with half-gig memories, much faster processors, dual-DVD-burner systems. Anything to justify prolonging the higher prices. But ultimately all of these things cave in to consumer demand for a "basic" system to get on the net and print out homework. An alarming number of Americans still can't burn a CD successfully through a combination of bad hardware, bad software and graphical users interfaces that pretend to take care of everything, but in reality don't. After being "burned" on one of these high end systems the smart consumer opts to just get the job done with a simpler and less expensive computer, or even to get one for each family member rather than having to share the expensive model.

And then there is this DRM (Digital Rights Management) issue. Can Microsoft, Intel, the RIAA and a few other cooperate to make sure that you can only run programs, play music or videos, and possibly do other things with their permission on a computer that you have payed for, but which behaves more like your cable TV box? They probably can. As consumers we have been very lazy about demanding some things from our vendors. Like quality. We complain constantly about our computers, our cable systems, our telephone services, but most of us don't have the willpower to resist using the devices anyway. If nothing else were to change it wouldn't surprise me to see our use of computers go the way of cable. Price goes up, quality, choice, go down.

But things ARE changing, and as all computing becomes something we take utterly for granted, something that is made "over there somewhere" we will have a lot of choices, and the most important choice will be the operating system that we use with these new cheap devices. For the Chinese people, the new machine will come preinstalled with a special version of Linux. I think I forgot to mention above that these news processors are not just Intel look-alikes, they are completely new architectures, so with Microsoft withdrawing support for almost everything but Intel processors any more they will not likely even have the option of providing a Windows version for these machines. Too bad for them. And maybe a good change for us.

AMD

Journal Journal: Second Life

My web page URL at the moment points to a sign-up page for a new product called Second Life. I'll add comments here as I get questions or whatever so as not to fill up the forums with off-topic posts.

Q: Is Second Life Like Snowcrash?
A: Yes, very much so. I have used other systems loosely based on Snowcrash that made dogmatic concessions to the book such as units of measure etc. Secondlife hasn't done any of these things, but has attempted to make the environment as realistic as possible, including scripting, full physics, an in-world economy, mutable avatars, so that you can look like you and many more.

Q: Do you work for Secondlife?
A: No. Just a user. If you sign up using my link I get credit in-world though. That is my incentive, plus I like the program and wish it to succeed.

Q: Why doesn't the program support Linux, you seem to be such a fan of Open Source, Linux, and OS X.
A: I only works on Windows now, but they have short term (later this year) plans to make it work on Linux and OS X. having seen how fast these guys work during the beta I am confident they can do this. MOST of the action is taking place on the server side, and that is already running Linux. The client part of the program is relatively small and should be easy to support on other platforms.

Q: What are other requirements for the program.
A: Because it is server-centric, you almost have to have broadband. I know one person who has used it via dial-up but it is a very frustrating experience I have been told. You also need a modern computer running at 800mHz or so 256M of memory or more and a fast hard drive all help to improve the experience and finally you need a high end 3D capable video card, nVidia or ATI, with 32M I think. Best to check the site to be sure. Since there is no charge to download the program and try it, there is no risk to find out if your PC will support it.

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