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Computing At Chaos Manor:
January 15, 2008

The User's Column, January, 2008
Column 330, Part 1
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2008 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.


This is the first column of the year. It's traditional for columnists to write their first column under the influence of a New Year's hangover; which usually means that they suck the work out of their fingertips. We tend to make predictions, and pontificate about significant trends, and mostly hope that everyone is too busy to pay attention and thus will soon forget what we said.

It has to be that way, because the last part of December is taken up with holidays and family matters. We haven't had time to do any real research or become familiar with new products, and thus have to write in generalities. Of course I am violating the Columnist's Code of Confidentiality by revealing all this, but I've found that readers already know it, so I'm doing no real harm.

CES

I will have more comments on the Consumer Electronics Show another time. There were a bunch of interesting gadgets, but nothing to drive you out of your mind.

Bye-Bye HD DVD?

The only big announcement came a few days before CES: Warner will no longer be selling DVD's in HD format. They're going exclusively Blu-ray. Chaos Manor Advisor Peter Glaskowsky comments on this at his blog.

Warner's defection means, I think, the end of the contest. HD DVD will linger on for a while, but it's doomed. Everyone will want to be on the Blu-Ray bandwagon, and HD DVD will be left behind. Think Betamax...

TREND REPORTS

iPhone

There were several important trends last year, some more spectacular than others. The most spectacular product of 2007 was the iPhone. It was also quite influential. Apple sold a lot of iPhones; more importantly, though, they set new expectations for cell phone users. Not all of us have acted on those. I still carry a simple Nokia phone that is just a phone: no features at all. It's small, has a long battery life, is easy to carry in a shirt pocket, and works very well as a telephone.

Of course it's not all I carry. I also have a small Sony DSC T100 pocket camera that serves me quite well. I think it is no longer available, having been replaced by the Sony DSC T200 which has a few improvements and costs about what I paid for my T100. The T100 has been more than Good Enough for my needs: it takes good pictures, the battery life is good, it's easy to use, and the screen is useful even in bright daylight. I don't intend to replace it. I particularly like the size: it's small enough that I generally have it with me. The camera you have with you is the one you'll take your pictures with.

For more camera information try this site, which will tell you more than you needed to know. Recommended.

I also carry the Olympus WS-100 voice recorder for annotation: I can have it running while I take pictures, so that I record my notes if I'm doing a photo-journalism essay, or simply making notes about fiction. Sometimes I do both: something will inspire a thought about a new scene, and a picture plus a short dictation will record that. When I was younger I never needed to make notes: if I had a good idea, I wouldn't forget it. Those days are long over, and now even with dictation and a picture I may have trouble recreating an inspiration.

All three items, cell phone, camera, and voice recorder, fit nicely into one shirt pocket. The three together are a bit heavier and a lot bulkier than an iPhone, of course; and to do what the iPhone can do I'd have to add yet one more gadget, perhaps the Compaq iPaq that in fact I almost never carry; and of course that still wouldn't do it.

Now I really have no desire to browse the Internet with something I carry in my pocket, or at least I don't think I do. Some of the advertisements we see for the iPhone are intriguing and somewhat tempting, but I can probably manage without my telephone being able to find the nearest Pizza Parlor. Or perhaps I can't.

The common complaint about iPhone is that it's immune to programming, making it of dubious value for business use. Since Jobs seems to have a pathological avoidance reaction to any kind of business systems, this isn't astonishing. I am told, though, that there is real progress in iPhone programmability to be expected in the near future — indeed, as you read this, there may be news from MacWorld.

The iPhone points the way to the future. Apple has kicked over the beehive, and all the telephone companies, PDA companies, GPS companies, and for that matter camera companies, are stimulated.

At CES this year Sony is showing off a new version of their mylo pocket computer. Here's a link. It's Skype enabled. It only works with Wi-Fi, meaning that it's not really a replacement for a cell phone for anyone who moves around much. So far sales have been reasonable in college towns, where that's precisely the case; in many college towns you can't get out of Wi-Fi range.

Qualcomm is showing a prototype of their mobile Web device. It's not certain what features the final device will have, but Qualcomm is a communications company that supplies cell phone chips (and licenses intellectual property) to most major cell phone companies, and you can be pretty sure they're after a large market.

Both mylo and the Qualcomm device are somewhat larger than traditional cell phones, including the iPhone. When there are enough features to warrant carrying a larger instrument, fashions will change. It may be a new form of carry bag for men, or a new system of pockets with one pocket specially designed to hold the new equipment. Whatever it is, fashions will change to accommodate the new technology.

Peter Glaskowsky reports from CES that

The Sony mylo is a bizarre little thing. It's generally said that mylo (not capitalized by Sony) has not sold well, but I haven't seen any hard numbers.

The other machine in that general size and feature class is the Nokia 810, which followed the 770 and 800.

These two devices are not quite what we need; but once again the trend is clear.

Amazon Moves In

The next influential device from 2007 is the Amazon Kindle. Kindle allows you to read books and magazines. The goal is a device that is as easy and comfortable to use as printed materials, but which will hold a thousand books, your daily papers, your magazines, and whatever else you want to read, all easily available. Whether the present Kindle achieves that goal is not important. That's the goal, and it's pretty clearly an achievable goal.

The Kindle isn't a telephone, or a camera, or a GPS unit. It's not a general purpose small computer. At the moment, the Kindle is just one more device to carry. It's about as easy to carry as a book, and users report that it's about as easy to use and read. It could use some improvements, but it's a solid step into the future.

Not incidentally, Amazon has also created a sales mechanism to go with Kindle, and that itself is already changing the nature of publishing. Amazon has made it quite easy for any already-published author to get a book into "print" and available for sale for the Kindle. That trend will continue.

The Future of Publishing

These two trends, smaller and more powerful computers that are also telephones, and display devices that allow users to read books and magazines without discomfort, will converge. It won't be this year, but it won't take a decade. What the final device looks like I don't know. I am pretty sure it will combine a telephone, voice recorder, camera, web browser, and a reader good enough for books, magazines, and newspapers. It will also do web browsing and email, and it will probably have a GPS that knows where you are.

Note that electronics will not be the limiting factor. Electronics are already sufficiently powerful that the limiting factor on system size is the human interface: screens can be only so small, and keyboards have to be useful. Building the new system is not so much a matter of electronic engineering as it is of human factors design ingenuity. We may be sure that many will rise to that opportunity.

As the popularity of these devices grows, eBooks will cut deeper and deeper into mass paperback sales. I don't know what effect this will have on trade book publishing, but it seems to me that the mass paperback book market will be very much impacted. For example, once these devices are ubiquitous, I'd expect airport book sales of mystery and adventure novels — and science fiction — to drop to nothing. It will be easier to buy a book online. Airports always have high speed web connections, and few really want a physical book to read on the airplane, as witness the number simply left behind when the passengers deplane.

Some people buy paperback books to keep, but most get them simply for the information, and the physical book is just another thing to carry.

Mac Gains Market Share

Another significant trend is the growth and power of Apple Computer. For a while it looked as if Apple would be, at best, a company that served a small group of loyalists, but would have no real market share.

That's clearly no longer true. Apple is back with a vengeance, to the point where many former Windows enthusiasts now recommend a Mac for most users. This is no longer just a question of being cool or trendy. Apple has managed to make the UNIX operating system usable by Aunt Minnie, while leaving the power of that OS available to experts. We'll have more about specific Apple products when we get to the Orchid and Onion Parade, but there's no question about the trend. Apple is no longer a niche machine. The Mac product line can compete in any market, and wins in quite a few. I have no hesitation in recommending that beginning college students carry a MacBook Pro. Get a MacBook for high school students and Aunt Minnie if she needs a portable, and the Mac Mini if she's satisfied with a desktop.

The Mac OS X is now as powerful as any version of Windows. It's no more difficult to learn than Windows. There will be some difficulties for those already used to Windows and the PC, but they aren't insurmountable. Microsoft no longer has a monopoly, and will have to start competing again. This is good for all of us.

THE CHAOS MANOR USERS CHOICE AWARDS

I began the Users Choice Awards back in the early days of BYTE. In those days the BYTE Editors gave out "Editors' Choice" awards, then went to various categories of Achievement and Excellence Awards. (Another magazine took over the term "Editors' Choice," and now probably thinks they were invented there.) I participated in the selection of the BYTE Awards, but I didn't always agree with the choices: not that I thought any of the awards were undeserved, but sometimes I thought deserving products were left out.

Moreover, the BYTE Awards were chosen too early. In those days the BYTE Awards were announced in the January issue. The meant that they had to be chosen in early November at the latest, and most of them had to be chosen in October, which meant that the year's best was often chosen before COMDEX. There wasn't any help for this: the logistics of print magazines made it essential that the issue was put to bed months before the cover date. Byte often got early looks at hardware and software, but even so, we weren't always working with finished products. The result wasn't so much that undeserved products won awards as that deserving products were eliminated because the early look editions weren't finished and didn't work properly.

Thus the Chaos Manor Users Choice Awards column was written in January, on the theory that a year ends in December. Candidates included everything I had used in the previous year. The column was usually delivered by the 7th of January. This meant that the awards column usually appeared in the April issue of BYTE (on the stands in March). Of course the April issue traditionally included some hoax items, but I never put any in my column, precisely because that was the issue my awards were in.

The ground rules of the Chaos Manor Users Choice Awards were that the awards went to hardware and software actually in use at Chaos Manor, and which I found remarkably useful. I never pretended that I had selected the "best" or even the most cost-effective items; only that they were certainly "Good Enough," and had been very useful at Chaos Manor. In those days a great deal of both software and equipment came here, and I found myself using a number of systems; eventually I made a rule that I wouldn't replace a system or software unless there were clearly good reasons to do so. The new stuff had to be noticeably better than the old. Of course those were times of rapid developments, with great improvements at least twice a year at Spring and Fall COMDEX shows, so willy-nilly I changed systems at least annually and sometimes more often.

Times have changed. There are vast improvements in both hardware and software every year, but the effect of those improvements isn't so great, because so much of what we have is already Good Enough for what we're trying to do.

Hardware and Software Systems

Chaos Manor remains a "Microsoft House." Nearly all our systems run Microsoft Windows, either XP or Vista, and nearly all the work done here is done with one or another component of Microsoft Office.

Hardware: I am astonished to discover that I have not replaced a single computer system at Chaos Manor during the year 2007. I am still using precisely the equipment I began the year with: an Intel Core 2 Duo system running Vista, and an AMD Dual Core system running Windows XP Pro. Because of the operating system differences it's impossible directly to compare the two machines, but both seem to be good enough for most purposes.

The XP system is probably faster than the Vista system even though the Intel hardware is faster than the AMD hardware. Again comparisons are difficult because the AMD system, Alexis, is the communications system for Chaos Manor, and runs Outlook. I'm using Outlook 2003 largely because I am using the entire Office 2003 Suite on that system. I am pretty sure that Outlook 2007 would in fact be an improvement, and I have had the intention of converting to Outlook 2007 for some time now. One problem is licensing: although I only use two "Main Machines", I often use and test many more, and I don't have that many Genuine Microsoft Advantage copies of Office 2007.

I make no doubt that a request to Microsoft for a dozen legal copies of Office 2007 would solve that problem, but I haven't done that yet: which may show that while Outlook 2003 is slow and clunky and sometimes infuriating, it does work, and I have been able to endure its whims and quips. If you do use Outlook, be sure to install Microsoft Desktop Search. It really does do rapid searches of all your .pst files including ancient archives. It often shows me more results than I want, but I can usually find a clever search method to narrow the returns down to something acceptable; and then a new search is fast.

The laptops in use here are all Lenovo, and the one I use most is a three year old T42p ThinkPad, although the newer ThinkPads are a bit more powerful and certainly remain more than Good Enough. I continue to recommend the ThinkPad as the best all around laptop. ThinkPads play games and run all versions of Office, and the Wireless works superbly. If you're in the market for a laptop, make sure to look at the Lenovo line.

Software: Unlike those who detest Office, I find Microsoft Office of almost any vintage more useful than most of its rivals, and as an overall package I have no trouble recommending it for general use.

Let me add that in my son Alex's office, where they must produce very complex documents in a precise format — these are proposals to various government agencies including cities in several states — they have forbidden any copy of Office 2007 to be on any computer on the premises. Their advice is that if you are going to shift to Office 2007, everyone must make the shift; changing back and forth between versions of Word will destroy the formatting even if all you do is cut and paste from one document to another. They have also found Office 2003 to work well enough for what they do, and they use it a lot.

Falcon UPS Systems

Once again the Chaos Manor Users' Choice award for uninterruptible power supplies goes to Falcon Electric.

A story goes with that. When the big rains came to Los Angeles, we had power outages. The big one happened in the middle of the night. I happened to be working at the time.

All of my major computer systems are protected by Falcon UPS boxes. This includes the main Ethernet switch, the cable modem, and the D-Link Router, as well as the two main computers I work with.

First the lights blinked several times. Then they went off for about half a minute and returned. Finally they went off and stayed off. None of this had any effect on my computers: my on line connections remained intact. There were no glitches whatever. My lights were off. I thought they might come back, but after several minutes I decided to shut down my computers in an orderly manner. This was no problem at all.

I was now listening to a chorus of chirps as my Falcon UPS boxes complained bitterly that they had no input power. I went around to each and shut it down. Pushing a single button did the trick. Now all was quiet, and dark.

Hours later, when the power returned, the Falcon UPS boxes woke themselves up. Several of my computers, including the main server, had been set to turn themselves on and did so without problems. I manually turned the others on. In half an hour computing at Chaos Manor was back to normal.

Falcon UPS come in many sizes and configurations, from an UPS suitable for a single user to those for establishments with thousands of computers and networks. They tend to last forever. All UPS systems are subject to having the batteries wear out, but I have used a number of brands of UPS, and the Falcon UPS require battery replacement significantly less often than the others have. By significantly longer, I mean in some cases years.

I have said this almost every year since I began this column: if your work is worth anything at all, it's worth protecting by an UPS; and if it's worth protecting, it's worth getting a Falcon UPS. Highly recommended.

Antec Cases and Power Supplies

Most of the computers in use at Chaos Manor have been built here; and now the vast majority of those systems have been built in Antec cases and use Antec power supplies. The Chaos Manor Users' Choice Award for cases and power supplies goes to Antec again this year.

If you are building your own system, or you must replace a system power supply, I have no hesitation in recommending Antec. Do be sure to get enough capacity: we're putting more and more stuff into computers now, more memory and faster video cards, and power consumption has gone up enormously. Get an Antec, and be sure it's big enough.

Microsoft Live OneCare

I have given up Norton and the other Symantec Security Systems products (but not Norton Save and Restore, which will get a Users' Choice Award). I have also given up all the myriad anti-spyware products. For the past year Chaos Manor has relied on two lines of defense.

The first line of defense is a router. Nothing goes on here except through one of our routers. No system is ever connected directly to the Internet. That includes when I go on the road and connect to the high speed Internet connection the hotel provides: I put a small D-Link router in that loop. This not only allows me to connect more than one computer either by Ethernet or wireless, but protects all my machines. I know that most hotels have their own router, but the other guests are inside that security zone with me. I see no point in trusting them.

My second line of defense is Microsoft Live OneCare, and I can report that to the best I can determine, none of my machines has ever been hit by a virus, zombification package, root kit, Trojan, spyware, or other malware. When I say to the best I can determine, my best is pretty good: I have a number of third party malware detector programs, and I periodically run one or another against my systems. None have ever found any malware.

Now I can't promise that Microsoft Live OneCare will keep you safe. For one thing, if you are in the habit of opening unexpected mail attachments, you will eventually be bitten, and no program is likely to protect you from that. True enough, a good anti-virus program can see most of the virus packages coming and quarantine them, but if you get in the habit of opening mail attachments because you rely on the virus protection program to find them, you will inevitably get one that snuck past the virus detector. Depend on it.

I can report that for a year now Microsoft Live OneCare has taken care of a number of my computers. It updates itself automatically, maintains itself, and has given me no problems whatever. I give Microsoft Live OneCare the Chaos Manor Users' Choice Award

.

Golden Bow VOPT

For about the twenty-first year in a row the Chaos Manor Users Choice Award for disk defragmenter goes to Golden Bow's VOPT.

I have been using VOPT for about twenty years, and I have yet to lose a byte of data because of it. Disk defragmentation isn't as important in these days of enormous disks as it used to be, but it's still worth doing: among other advantages, programs that have been defragmented load faster, and there's less wear on the disk drive. Drives run cooler, and that may be important in hot weather. I use VOPT regularly even when my disks are not full. Highly recommended.

Norton Save and Restore

The Chaos Manor User's Choice Award for backup software goes to Norton Save and Restore.

I looked at Microsoft Home Server as a backup system, and it shows promise. The notion is to set up a central server system that will hold all the pictures, music, entertainment, and the like that a family uses, and will also use Microsoft software to bring in backups of other networked systems to this central place. Since Microsoft understands Windows, Microsoft Home Server should in theory be able to back up open programs as well as those safely asleep. That looks wonderful.

The problem is that Vista's networking isn't reliable. Every now and then Vista just can't connect to one of the other computers on my network; and if does that to me, it may do it to you. It's pretty hard to back up a system you can't connect to.

I intend to experiment with Microsoft Home Server this year, and I may well end up recommending it; but for now, I trust Norton Save and Restore to back up my data and programs, and Norton gets my Chaos Manor Users' Choice Award for the year.

Plextor Super Multi Drive

Long time readers will know that I have depended on Plextor CD and DVD writer drives for many years, and that Plextor often wins my annual Chaos Manor User Choice Award. This year the User's Choice Award goes to the Plextor PX-800A DVD Super Multi Drive. This ATAPI internal drive comes with Easy Media Creator 9 software, and while I tend to use Nero for my media creation work, Creator 9 certainly works.

There's not a great deal to say about Plextor drives: they work, and they don't cause problems. I still have an ancient Plextor Plexwriter on one of my Windows 2000 systems, and it gets used a couple of times a month to write CDROM backup disks. It has never given me the slightest problem; nor, of course, has the PX-900A. Use Plextor drives and have one less to worry about. Highly recommended.

D-Link Xtreme N Gigabit Router

Chaos Manor relies on D-Link because D-Link Just Works. We've used a D-Link Gaming Router for a couple of years. The latest model uses the N wireless protocol. N has longer range and great speed than previous Wi-Fi specifications.

This router allows WEP (not recommended), WPA, or WPA2 encryption for security. Like all D-Link routers, it's easy to set up, there's a message analysis system that prioritizes web traffic: games get their packets sent before web browsing. You'll notice the difference if some big mail message comes in while you're in a World of Warcraft raid against a major boss dragon. Believe me. VOIP including Skype works better, too.

If you need a good wireless router you won't find a better one for most uses than the D-Link Extreme. Highly recommended.

ORCHIDS AND ONIONS

Microsoft Vista

Microsoft Vista received by far the largest number of reader onion nominations. Some nominations were straightforward. Others ran to the obscene. Interestingly, I didn't get one orchid nomination for Vista.

That doesn't quite echo my experience. I found a lot to like about Vista, and some features I like a lot. The problem is that it's buggy. Sometimes things work, and sometimes they don't, and it's nearly impossible to predict what is going to happen

.

For example, Titan, the Lenovo Z61t laptop, runs Windows XP. Titan can see and connect to any machine on the network, including Roxanne, the Intel Core 2 Duo system running Vista that I'm using to write this on. There's never any problem.

Just at the moment, Roxanne can see and connect to Titan. That, however, wasn't true for most of last week. After the power failure here, when I brought up all the systems, Roxanne the Vista system could see all the other machines on the net. She could connect to all except Titan. Attempts to connect to Titan got an error message: Vista can't connect. Don't know why. See your system administrator. Try prayer to Cthulhu. Just don't ask me, because I have no idea why I can't connect. Yes, I can see the machine just fine. Have a nice day.

Then I brought up Leo, the Lenovo X60 TabletPC. Roxanne could see him, too. She just couldn't connect.

Moreover, Leo, who runs Vista, had precisely the same problem with Titan. He could see Titan. He couldn't connect, and didn't have a clue as to why.

Fortunately, every machine on my local network was usable: I could either push to it or pull from it. Titan could pull from Roxanne, and could push to Leo. If all that's confusing to you, it was more so to me.

So when I tried this a few minutes ago, I discovered that all the problems had gone away. Both Roxanne and Leo can connect to every machine in the house. Understand, I did nothing at all to fix this. The problem persisted for two days, then, sometime in the last two days, went away. All the machines were on line and running for all that time. Apparently Vista just takes a while to get connected. Alas, that while can be days.

I could tell some other Vista stories. For example, when I try to insert photographs into a Word document on a Vista machine, the system will often lock up, and I will be told that Word encountered a problem and had to close. No explanations are given. If I neglected to save my document before trying to insert a picture, the last few minutes of work will have been lost.

After I restart Word, everything works again without problems. Once again I have no explanation, and the problem only happens when I am running under Vista.

I have other problems with Vista. They're all mysterious, none crippling, but they add up to a simple conclusion: Vista wasn't ready for prime time when it was released. I had hoped that Vista SP-1 would fix the problems, but all the reports I have from readers about the beta release say it hasn't. If Vista had been running fine before you installed SP-1, it will continue to work; but if it had problems before, SP-1 not only doesn't fix the problems but may make the system unusable. Your mileage may very; I understand that most people who use Vista seem happy enough with it. I can only say that if you have XP, there's no reason at all to go to Vista, and if you have a choice of operating systems for your new PC, go with XP.

And a large onion to Microsoft for Vista, which isn't quite as bad as Windows ME — at least I don't think it is — but certainly isn't the big improvement we were promised, nor is it worth the huge price Microsoft demands. Another onion to Microsoft for the bewildering variety of Vista options. Fortunately Apple's Mac OS X is going to force Microsoft to rethink that marketing strategy.

Apple Computers and Mac OS X

A very large Chaos Manor orchid to Apple for the Mac OS X, and more orchids for the whole Mac hardware line. I haven't a single onion nomination for any Apple computer (I have a few for iPhone; we'll get to those later).

From the Mac Mini to the new Dual Quad Core Mac Pro. I hear nothing but praise and orchid nominations.

Apple has brought back competition, and that's all to the good for all of us. Big Orchids to Apple.

Reader Orchid Nominations

I have a number of nominations for orchids for the iPhone. Apparently those who like the iPhone like it a lot. On the other hand, some readers were very disappointed. Since I don't have an iPhone and don't intend to get one soon, I can't really comment on this. As I said, some who like iPhone really like it.

And here's a nomination I have no trouble agreeing with:

An orchid of legendary size and beauty to Amazon.com for selling DRM-free music. Using their (not entirely patented) 1-click purchase button, I was able to very rapidly buy a dozen or so of the best songs I've heard on the radio recently for either $.89 or $.99 each. It took only as long as necessary to search for the song name, artist, or album, play a brief clip to ensure it was the right song, and then download it to my music collection. If you use 1-click shopping on amazon, the whole purchase process can be a lot faster than buying via itunes.

These are true DRM-free MP3s that will play on essentially any consumer electronic device manufactured in the last 5 or so years, including any PC using any reasonably popular operating system. The bitrate is decent too (256k).

Sean

While we're at it, Baen Books deserves a large orchid for its marketing of eBooks. By making it simple and easy to download eBooks at a reasonable price, Baen is showing other publishers what the future will look like.

Peter Glaskowsky notes

Apple's iTunes Music Store also sells some DRM-free music, and was in fact the first digital music store to do so. However, Amazon offers DRM-free music that is available on iTunes only with DRM. Apple is likely to follow when its deals with the various labels allow, but for now, Amazon has a larger catalog of DRM-free music.

. png

Another reader nomination worth noting:

Orchid - Ubuntu 7.10 and Easyvmx.com

Jerry,

I have bought my last Windows OS - Win XP thank you for asking - because from now on I will be installing Ubuntu on any PC I use and running a Windows VM or Wine for the few awkward programs that really insist on the Microsoft OS and have no alternative version.

I have played (on and off) with Linux for a while now and I have installed numerous distributions of varying quality to see how well they work or don't work. For the most part they were annoying, irritating and didn't quite do what you wanted. "The remarkable thing about a dancing bear is not how gracefully it dances but that it dances at all". Linux distros were definitely in the "wow it dances" category, not the "wow it's a champion ballroom dancer" category. Ubuntu 7.10 is (as are for that matter Debian Etch and various Ubuntu variants) the first Linux versions where I can say, yes they dance well. Maybe not world champion class but certainly up in the professional earns a living doing class as opposed to the amateur levels we had before.

Ubuntu 7.10 works sufficiently well and painlessly that I have been able to get my wife to run it instead of Win XP when, for a variety of reasons, her XP laptop died a horrible death. My wife being someone who definitely lies in the "non techy" set of humans.

---

Another orchid to www.easyvmx.com which makes the creation of blank VMware images utterly painless. As a result of this and the free VMware player I have been able to test drive a lot of different Linux flavors and see how they really work.

--
Francis Turner

A user nominates Carbonite

In the "Orchids and Onions" department, I would like to nominate an Orchid award to Carbonite. Details here:

http://www.k-c-p.com/html/CarboniteReview.html

Cheers,
Karl Strieby

Carbonite has been widely advertised recently. I don't know a lot more about it. As with any Internet backup storage system, the problem is not the technology. That's quite well known. However, you must have confidence that the company will still be there when you need to recover your data and programs.

Adrian in Phoenix nominates

Orchids for low cost GPS units - specifically the Garmin Nuvi 200W

Jerry,

With a child in his first year of college, I wanted a GPS, but didn't want to spend much money on it. After looking at $100 units, my wife got me something better, but still not too pricey. I nominate the low cost GPS for an Orchid in your 2007 Annual Orchids and Onions Parade.

My new Garmin Nuvi 200W has a large enough screen, is easy enough to program & use, is easy to see in the car, and has plenty of accessories available should I care to spend more on it. It is widely available for under $300, and careful shoppers can get one for not much more than $200.

I've looked at other solutions, but PDA screens are too small for me to read while driving, & laptops are too bulky. Before this, I've printed MapQuest directions when needed - my Garmin will save us a lot of paper. I'm sure many of Garmin's competitors for it's low cost units would be just as suitable for me.

Vendor link: Nuvi 200W

Amazon Link: Nuvi 2 - includes reviews.

Other models in the Garmin line include larger or different maps, and add features such as MP3 playback and a BlueTooth interface for cellphones. At this time in my life, I need none of those feature enough to pay extra for them.

I hope that in a few years, my next GPS will be fully integrated with the Internet: Yahoo Tech Blog link.

In general, I don't buy leading edge gadgets because I know the costs will come down as the feature set improves. I get good use out of the gadgets I own, but I accept that they will be broken, abused, lost, or stolen, and I'll have to replace their function, if not the device itself.

Cheers,
Adrian in Phoenix

I can agree with all of that.

And finally, an onion to Google for buying the infamous doubleclick.com. So far we haven't seen them make use of the odious doubleclick malware, so we'll leave it as a small onion just for buying it. Perhaps, if their intent was to fold up the whole doubleclick empire and stuff it away, we can turn that onion into an orchid.

And that's quite enough for the first column of the year.