Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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The Mailbag

Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2008 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

May 15, 2008

I have been under the weather recently, and mail accumulated. We'll try to clean up a lot of it. I won't get it all.

The first letter has been here a while because I had hoped to finish a powerful new machine to try Vista on, but I haven't done that and this has waited too long.

Subject: Windows Vista and Existing Software, and Windows Power Shell

Hello Jerry,

Regarding your ongoing discussion of Windows Vista, I'm running the 64 bit version on a Sager laptop that I recently purchased, and have run into a problem that I haven't seen mentioned yet. I've found that a number of applications that I use on a regular basis are not compatible with Vista in serious ways, in that they either won't run correctly or worse yet, won't even install. These include Photoshop Elements 4.0, Quark Express 6.5, and ACDSee Pro image manager. In my experience, this is something new – In the past Windows application software, for the most part, continued to work when the version of Windows was upgraded, at least so long as no device drivers were involved. For me, at least, this has put a major crimp in how I work with the machine. Any thoughts?

All of that being said, I have to agree with you. Vista is very nice to work with, as is Office 2007.

Second, if you haven't looked at the Windows Power Shell, you really ought to. This is a command line oriented shell and programming environment somewhat comparable to the shell in UNIX / Linux and to the Perl programming language, with one very very significant difference. Instead of manipulating text and text files, Power Shell manipulates objects. If you look under the covers of either Windows XP or Windows Vista, you find that essentially the entire system is built out of either COM or .NET objects, and Power Shell is the first language that I know of that gives you direct access to all of this. Obviously, since this is very new technology, you can't really judge its importance right now, but if I put my seer hat on, I'll predict that this is the opening shot of a paradigm shift of major proportions in scripting. To learn more, I can strongly recommend "Windows Power Shell in Action" by Bruce Payette, published by Hanning. Bruce was the architect of Power Shell, and the book is fascinating reading not just because it teaches you how to use Power Shell, but because Bruce has generously littered it with side comments on why it's designed the way it is, and how it came to be that way. Fascinating! Even if you don't read the entire book, it's worth spending an hour of so reading the first chapter or two and then paging through the rest of the book to read the "Author's Notes", where he tells the whys and hows of the system's development. By the way, Power Shell is available from MS as a free download (it was originally planned for inclusion in Vista) and works under both Windows Vista and Windows XP SP2.


I saved this one far too long in hopes I could help with your problem, but I haven't been able to do that.

Thanks for the pointer to Power Shell!

I continue my love/hate affair with Microsoft Outlook. At the moment I am using Outlook 2003 with an AMD machine. We already know that AMD and Microsoft Windows XP have some problems; I am currently in process of putting together a Core 2 Quad 6600 with Windows XP as my communications system. If that isn't good enough for Office 2003 (and Office 2007, which I will also try when I get that machine together; I know I don't like Outlook 2007 on a Vista system) then I will seriously look for an alternative.

My plan to change entirely to Macs for a thorough test has been delayed a lot by the problems associated with the radiation therapy, but it's not ended, merely set aside until I recover a bit more. It takes about all the energy I have to keep up with my daily tasks using tools I already know; learning new ones takes a good bit more than I've got just now, but I have high hopes that will change. Note that I am writing this in Word 2008 on the iMac 20.

In any event, I got a good bit of mail on Outlook problems, and how to escape Outlook, and rather than delay longer:

Subject: Getting out of outlook,

As it happens I did this this week, so I know exactly what to do. I wanted to get my mail into Thunderbird so it's stored as plain text files, not in a proprietary format. (Also makes it easier to move them over to Linux, and that means I can use grep to search the mail files)

Anyhow, this is what I found:

Import your Outlook mail into Outlook Express.

Then get Thunderbird to import it from Outlook Express.

Worked a charm for me. Even if you don't use Thunderbird it makes it a really solid way to backup your mail for the future. Thuderbirds mail files are the same (AFAIK) as the standard Unix mail file format, plain text and well defined.


Importing into Outlook Express would take a week or so, I suspect, given the size of my stored pst files. Microsoft Desktop Search has done a very good job of indexing that huge stack of old mail, and the other day I was able to find a four year old email I had forgotten nearly everything about except the author's name.

If I do abandon Outlook on my main communications system, I will have to keep one system that runs it along with Desktop Search just to keep track of all my old mail. Hmm. Perhaps I could also periodically export new mail to that archiving server? Interesting thought.


For You, There Is No Escape


Solution to all your problems.

1) Export your Outlook rules according to Microsoft http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook/HP052429261033.aspx and save them

2) Get SBS 2003 from here http://www.cdw.com/shop/products/default.aspx?ED C=1022978 and install

3) Create a new Exchange E-mail account for yourself using the new user wizard in SBS 2003

4) Connect to the new account in Outlook

5) Import your previously saved rules http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook/HP052429261033.aspx

6) Import all your mail from your old PST files using File, Import

7) Get X1 desktop search with the Exchange connector http://www.x1.com/

8) Sit back and be happy !

Dean Peters

I'll keep all that in mind. Once again, importing everything takes a lot longer than I suspect you suppose, but the real problem for me is that I don't intend to get stuck with Exchange. I might or might be able to learn how to work it, but I don't have any great desire to try.

Exchange in my view is a great deal like old UNIX: it may be great, but you'd better have a guru on call night and day. It may be the solution for large businesses with far more volume than I have and lots of collaborative projects, but it's far more than I need.

My collaborations are handled very nicely by swapping Word files with Niven or Barnes or Webster or other co-authors; and while I have far more mail volume than most people, it's still small compared to places that need Exchange.

We are going to install Windows Server 2008, but I'm pretty sure we won't use it as a mail server.


Mr. Pournelle,

OUTLOOK lumps the SENT message file and the DELETED message file -- INCLUDING THEIR ATTACHMENTS!! -- in with the maximum size limit of the INBOX (I think that the OUTBOX is also added here, but it usually clears itself after sending a message fast enough to make this of little consequence). You MUST keep deleting SENT messages and DELETED messages manually (I automatically have OUTLOOK delete all DELETED messages from that folder when I end the program). Thus, even though you THINK that you have reduced the size of a mess of inputs/outputs and so forth from the INBOX, OUTLOOK doesn't think so until BOTH the SENT and DELETED folders are empty. If you forget this, it is very easy to hit the maximum size barriers and drive OUTLOOK completely insane (it is obviously not written very well and cannot handle overflows gracefully!!). Every so often delete the SENT messages and DELETED messages **manually** (except for those you REALLY need to keep until you can verify that they are no longer needed -- such as bounced mail needing to be resent).

This also goes for breaking down your mail into smaller .pst files (I do this by year -- one .pst folder for my personal mail and one for my work mail), such as, for your large volume of mail, building a new .pst folder each month -- you can have as many .pst files as you want (I think), as long as each is individually under its maximum size (they are not added together). If you have created sub-folders under one of your main .pst folders (to separate mail into smaller related groups), I think that they all add their totals together within that given overarching .pst folder, but I am not sure. Just try not to let the folders get near their maximum limits (not sure what they are in every case -- there should be some MS documentation on this).

Nathan Okun

The file size limits are not so severe in Outlook 2007, but your point is well made. The Sent Items folder can become enormous in a short time. In my case I have a separate pst into which I periodically move most of the sent items. That's work, but it does work.

This should have been posted in Tax Season:


Dr. Pournelle:

A few weeks back I was doing some initial entries on my Home/Business version of TurboTax, and found that the interview didn't seem to have access to the deductions section, i.e. Schedule A. A bit annoying, but I worked around it by accessing the forms directly. I haven't done a lot of other work on my taxes yet so I haven't given it much further thought.

Today, I got a phone call from a person--not a recording--at TurboTax. With apologies, he told me about an error in the software that had this symptom, and that if I did an online update it would go away. I told him that I generally didn't turn in my taxes until April anyway, and always did the online updates every time I loaded the program. I did express my appreciation for the phone call, though. He told me I should get an e-mail on this, too.

In all my life, I don't think I have ever had a software company actually call me on the phone to flag a problem they were fixing and apologize for the inconvenience. I was quite impressed, and thought I'd spread this around.

Tom Brosz

I have used Turbo Tax since it was MacInTax for the Mac only, back in the earliest Mac days, and indeed I kept a Mac here as much to use for MacInTax as anything else. When TurboTax bought MacInTax the only thing I used the Mac for other than playing some of the wonderful games that used to be Mac only was Roberta's reading program: Http://www.readingtlc.com Apple was way ahead in speech synthesis (still is, I think) and her original program for the Mac used text to speech. I wrote most of that in SuperCard; the Mac version doesn't work on OS X.

When Windows got good enough to handle the huge data base required she recorded the thousands of sounds, syllables, words, and sentences needed for her program, and we had the program converted to Delphi, and it now works on Windows.

But to return to your letter, I still use TurboTax, and I was able to do my taxes on time once again. I recommend the program.

Subject: Vista Problem

Hi Jerry I was wondering if you ever received a similar problem like this in vista. Occasionally when I install programs, and reboot I get a problem in Vista. Windows services do not work correctly. The network connection in the bottom right corner says unplugged, and then you go over it and it says server execution failed. OneCare refuses to launch and crashes. When you click properties on Computer, it says unavailable or is blank. The only way I have figured to fix this either format, or if I am lucky enough to do system restore. I thought I was doing something wrong, but have spoken to a few people and they had similar problems. Is this a known problem in vista, so far two programs have caused this problem the most recent version of AIM, and Google toolbar. For the first time in my life I have considered getting a mac, these problems have been constant, and whenever I have friends I tell them to becareful, and to spot problems early or they can't be fixed without a full format and restore.

On another not have you seen the article on the problems with the XBOX 360 Three rings of death?

Below is a link, it just reinforces that Microsoft quality and performance has become mediocre, and feels more like a call center from India, where all they can do is what their computer screen says. Apple and Google actually still have their drive for innovation and quality.

-- Link --

Best Regards,

Tim Jebara

I have had plenty of problems with Vista, but none that severe. The main ones I have had concern networking, but there are others, including an odd proclivity to crash when I try to include a photo in a Word File; it's not the act of including the photo that seizes the system, it's trying to change directories so I can find the photo that hangs things up, sometimes to hard reset. I've also had problems with Vista seeing CD drives.

On that subject:

Subject: Irony in operating systems

Dr. Pournelle,

Does anyone else see the irony in you turning away from Microsoft, a company which has provided you with all sorts of free stuff and support over the last couple of decades, because vista is utterly unusable, and switching to Apple, a company which has shunned you for quite some time, because the Mac OS "only" crashes every couple of days and only "sometimes" can't see the network?

You could probably get the same results out of switching back to win98, except of course you can't make any money writing about win9x these days.

WinXP appears to be more usable to you than either vista or the Mac's OS, but you must keep up to date in order to maintain relevance in the journalism field so you simply have no choice but to take a step backwards in usability in order to avoid scaring the neighbors and your dog by tossing your vista machine off the balcony out of rage.

I find that terribly ironic. It would be hilarious if I didn't have some sympathy for how much vista has tormented you.

Me, I'm sticking with winXP until I find that essential application I can't do without that won't run on XP. If the only microsoft upgrade alternative is Vista, I will probably end up turning to Linux or Apple as you are doing right now. I don't think I'll even configure a game-only rig so I can get DX10 games up and running, although that is one possible way to avoid abandoning computer gaming entirely. The games I mostly play (flight sims and an occasional shooter now and then) don't seem to have much penetration to the Mac, although my favorite flightsim (Hitech Creations' "Aces High") apparently works just fine under linux if you get the windows emulation set up right.

In any case, MS has surely lost their way if Jerry Pournelle is switching to Mac because he gave MS the benefit of the doubt, tried to use vista on his main computer, and found it utterly unusable after a year or so.


I have enough problems with Vista that I am about to give up. I have some new Intel equipment, ultra fast motherboard and quad chip, and I'm getting the latest and greatest in disk drives and memory for it. I'll install Vista on that; we'll see if once again the hardware has bailed Microsoft out...

Regarding your inferences of my motives: I have always written The USER Column. I write about what does the jobs I must do. I have a small business: I produce documents, science fact and fiction. I have to maintain contacts, do research, receive and answer mail, solicit and process subscriptions, and find material to write about.

Naturally I try to write about what works: what works for me, and also what will work for readers.

I had high hopes for Vista, and I kept trying it long after many of my colleagues gave it up, because I hoped it would be useful to users. I have embarked on experiment with Macs for the same reasons.

The Mac is not the answer to all problems, but it is the answer to some of them: perhaps enough.

In any event, I continue to do lots of things so you don't have to. My medical problems have slowed some of that, but as I recover I'll get back to more of it.

One final note: there has never been a time when there was not at least one working Mac in this house, and you may recall than when I went to the NATO conference on terrorism at Wilton Par, Surrey, I carried a PowerMac...

MicroSoft, software development, etc.

Jerry, As a programmer, your comments about Vista changing your .pst file location seem silly & frivolous. This is an example of why programmers shouldn't define requirements for applications. Programmers don't usually have the same concerns or experiences as the users of their products. Defining good requirements at the beginning, & verifying them during user acceptance testing near the end of development are critical to producing software products that meet user's needs. Any testing with existing users should have shown that Office 2007 NEEDS a compatibility mode allowing use of the old menus & commands.

MicroSoft, as it becomes an ever larger bureaucracy, seems to cede more and more power to managers who don't understand the importance of backwards compatibility, thorough testing, and actually determining what users need & want (2 different things) from their products. As a user, I'm currently fighting to reinstall Windows XP on a system that is all new except the case and the hard-drive (which will also be replaced shortly). In my mind, this is the same computer, I'm just upgrading it, but in Microsoft's mind, I'm using up my last install privilege on my WinXP CD. As a result, the old parts will become a Linux box, and if that works out well enough, I may never buy another MicroSoft product. My system is now so different that I've had to use the Repair option from the Win XP CD - in the process, I've learned the My Documents folder may be casually tossed aside during upgrades & repairs. Backups Backups Backups! I should have done a nuke & pave on the hard drive, but I'm thickheaded sometimes.

I don't have your experience with Outlook (my personal mail needs are met by Yahoo! & Thunderbird), but I'm pleased we've reached a point where a "small" business like yours can function for years without a lot of custom written software. Three decades ago, you would be considering paying for the development of a new or upgraded application, rather than the much smaller cost of purchasing a different off-the-shelf solution. It still isn't easy, but some progress is evident.

Your discussion of the Mac is very intriguing, and if I ever get done paying for my son's college, I will probably buy one. Thanks for all your efforts, particularly as you battle medical problems.

Adrian in Phoenix

"The surest way to civil war is to begin prosecuting policy differences as criminal. There is no faster way to destroy a republic than to give the loser great fear of losing the election." - Jerry Pournelle

As a user who doesn't do much programming any longer, I find the constant changing of locations for key files frustrating and enraging, and I reserve the right to complain; but then programmers seldom worry much about users, or so I have found. Nor, I fear, do I find your subsequent remarks indicative of my frivolity, but I won't argue the case.

One thing about Apple: they keep trying to reduce the need for specialty programs, and to make things work the same from revision to revision. I keep hoping Microsoft will notice.

Strongly-typed languages


In the 21 April Mailbag, you say

"But it is time to rethink the situation. The hardware will now support strongly typed structured languages, and we are no longer stuck with assembly-like languages unless we want to be."

GCC Ada (known as GNAT) can generate pretty much the same object code as GCC C for a source with the same functionality, provided you switch off all the non-mandatory runtime checking off (you can't switch the compile-time checking off).

Usually, of course, you don't switch off the runtime checks: they don't cost that much,. On the other hand, if you've used the SPARK toolset from Praxis (http://www.praxis-his.com/) to prove there won't be any runtime exceptions, you might feel justified!

I'm not sure who first said "Make it right, then make it fast (if you need to)" but it's a fine maxim for software development!


The hardware speeds make it possible to build new error and logic checking compilers. A long time ago I said that the real computer revolution will happen when the ability to teach machines how to do things will be less important than being able to do something: we will come up with ways to have non-programmers teach the machines without learning to be programmers.

There were once concerted efforts to write "natural language" program development tools. Most of those foundered, in part because they are very difficult to develop, and use a lot of computer resources. They're still very difficult, but we're getting the hardware. I haven't given up hope of a real computer revolution.

And finally I have this intelligence from an anonymous source:

Regarding Bell Labs. A long time ago I was hired and paid by "Bell Laboratories, Inc.", a separate company in those days. For my entire career I worked in the "Development" side, which was always much much larger than the "Research" side that got all the press. Not that we were slouches, mind you. Among other things, we development types were responsible for essentially all the development of the wireless phone systems, from the early analog systems way back when up through today's 3G CDMA digital systems. The point I'm meandering toward is this: Bell Labs as we knew it has been gone a long long time, since the mid-1990s at least. The continual pressure on managers to improve share price at all cost killed the Labs and its spirit of innovation and inspired an exodus of people from both the "R" and the "D" sides of the Labs. By now, barely a shadow remains.

Keep in mind here that I'm talking about "Bell Labs", which went to Lucent when AT&T and Lucent split up in 1996. AT&T started an "AT&T Labs" that was intended to be a clone of the Labs, but as near as I can tell it never reached critical mass, and evaporated even before Bell Labs did. SBC, which recently bought AT&T and adopted the AT&T name, is an amalgam of three or four of the original seven "Baby Bells", and never had a research arm of its own. The 1984 divestiture of the Baby Bells created Bellcore, which was jointly owned by the Seven, but they did very little research. The Baby Bells fairly quickly lost interest in Bellcore, which morphed into Telcordia and was eventually bought by someone else. In any event, I would not expect AT&T to ever sponsor R&D in any form remotely like the Late Great Bell Labs. They are a telecommunications and data transmission company that is focused entirely on making money in that business. There is no regulated monopoly anywhere anymore to support anything like what the Labs once was, and lacking that, there is no money, period. Sigh.

Sigh indeed. Bell Labs was once the closest thing we had to an advanced R&D Department for the human race, and its loss cannot be overly regretted.

In theory governments and the academies should be doing what Bell Labs once did, but in fact they don't: they're too obviously subject to political pressures that compromise the science. If you want an example, think Global Warming. Whatever your views, poisoning the wells seems to be the most frequent means of debate, and the use of intimidation to silence the opposition is not the usual sign of a scientific argument.

I think we'll all miss Bell Labs more and more as time goes on.

When I wrote that, I inadvertently said "advanced R&R Department." Peter Glaskowsky caught that and said

"an advanced R&R Department for the human race"

I'm sure those jobs were fairly calm compared to the frenetic pace of Silicon Valley, but probably not THAT relaxing.

...And although that was a joke, it's probably fair to say that Silicon Valley itself-- the whole ecosystem here, from the venture capitalists to the scientists to the engineers-- is now the R&D department of the human race. As some of us have been reminded just recently, it's well understood that not all of the startups here in Silicon Valley are expected to survive, but the technology they develop usually finds a home somewhere.

. png

Which is true, and "creative destruction" is capitalism's system for such achievements. See Schumpeter for more on that theory.

As Possony and I showed in The Strategy of Technology, some technologies can be created on demand through suitable organizations; the ability to determine what can be invented on demand and what cannot is important, but we have considerable experience at that.

What can't be created on demand are fundamental discoveries no one expects and thus no one tried to create. Bell Labs had a magnificent record at that sort of thing. Of course, so did university laboratories before they became corrupted by the grants and consensus systems; but that's another story for another time.