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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

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

September 30, 2008

We begin with corrections and comments on the September columns and mailbag, including a continued discussion of Vista:

Vista a Pig?

Dr. Pournelle,

Thank you so much for your site and your columns, I remember reading your Byte column when I was just a kid. I still have a few in a box somewhere... Yeah..I'm kind of a pack-rat...

I am reading your September 15th mail bag about Vista and peoples impressions. I hear from several people I know, and many on the web and on Leo Laporte's many shows, that Vista is slow, and bloated, and one should never install it on older hardware

Here are the specs for my system:

AMD Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2Ghz single core)

DFI Lanparty nForce4 Motherboard

nVidia 6600 GTS 512MB video

2GB DDR2 RAM

250GB Maxtor 7200rpm drive

LiteON 16x DVD burner

The system boots in under 50 seconds (XP boots in 40)

I installed Vista 32bit the week it was released, and had some very serious trouble because of crummy drivers. Over the next several months I tried again with better results, but it took until November of 2007 before I stayed with vista full time

Microsoft screwed up masterfully when they released without pushing vendors to make useable drivers, but with good and up-to-date drivers this system performs as well as the day it was built in March of 2005 with XP. I have many complaints about Vista, but they all have to do with the STUPID way Microsoft moved menus and property boxes around

Thank you again for the time you spend on your site, it is WORLD CLASS information

Les

I thoroughly agree that when Vista was released there were no drivers for many popular components, and many popular programs contained impermissible code. Whether Microsoft is greatly to blame for that is another story. I attended both WinHEC and PDC conferences in the years previous to the release of Vista, and there was a very great deal about getting ready. Microsoft pleaded with hardware manufacturers to work on drivers, and warned that new security features in Vista would break some code written for older versions of Windows.

Microsoft also warned against using unsupported tricks. Windows had instances of code hacks that could be used to hook into other features; many of those were not documented, and Microsoft has been eliminating them. This was also discussed at both WinHEC and PDC. The computer industry was warned that tightening up security would require eliminating many such tricks. Apparently some major programming houses either didn't believe them, or didn't know how to rewrite their own code.

I suppose I could take this as an opportunity to renew the language wars, but I'll restrain myself.


Macs More Secure than Windows

Greetings Jerry,

I'd like to respond to Mr. Dave Markowitz who sent you an email this month regarding inherent Mac security. I find his opening statement purely laughable

Macs are not more secure, they are simply not as targeted. I'm sure you've heard this opinion all over the net, but if the world's criminal hacker organizations were to intensely focus on the OS X platform, it would not last very long

I read earlier tonight that Apple released OS X 10.5.5 today...the major purpose of this release was...<insert drum roll>...SECURITY UPDATES!

No modern operating system is perfect and totally immune from attack. The bottom line is that if people programmed it, questionable programming decisions are inevitable which translate into exploitable security flaws

Cheers,

Jeff Mitchell

I doubt many will disagree.


Security and Trojans.

First I would like to say I am very happy you are doing so well. Good for you.

Trojans are a mixed bag. Just like the Trojan horse they are named after they proved one thing: The best walls in the world are of no help if you have an idiot at the gate.

However I really disagree with you about the relative security of the Mac vs Windows. I don't believe that it is just that fewer people target Macs. Linux and Mac OS/X are built on a Unix like base. I have used Linux a lot. And OS/X a little. Both are very good at asking you to authorize things that really should need authorizing.

XP really isn't secure and Vista asks for all sorts of silliness. I would bet that OS/X is more secure by design than Windows. Can it overcome the idiot at the gate? Well it should help to limit the damage that they can do.

For your PDF problems see this link. This is what I use and it really seems to help.

Oh and your lack of performance problems running Vista.

Should you have to use a quad-core CPU for Vista? I mean really an OS should let the average person do everything they need to running on just a single core CPU. Shouldn't Vista run on a machine with the same specs as a Mac Mini as well as OS/X does? I would say that Vista and OS/X are roughly the same in capabilities they are both running on and X86 platform. They should run about as well on the same hardware.

I will not get into how well Linux runs on older system. My wife has an old single core desktop that she uses at home. She boots into Linux when she needs the extra speed and into Windows when she need a Windows only program.

LTWATCDR

It will not be long before a Quad 6600 will be the "standard" for the people who read this column. As to Vista's security features, the defaults are annoying, but it takes only a day or so to tame Vista down so that its security prompts are very similar to those of Mac OS-X.

Thanks for the suggestion on PDF fixes for Firefox. It seems to help. When I'm really concerned about reading a PDF file I paste the URL into a Windows Explorer window. That always works.


Captain Morse asks

Can anyone give me some clarity on why certain programming houses are so reluctant to get on the 64-bit bandwagon? I note Mr. Shunk's problem with CISCO, and Adobe's allergy to 64-bit anything

If we truly live in a world where 4 CPUs and 8GB of RAM are required just make Outlook run acceptably, why is there so much reluctance to code other 64-bit software?

Ron Morse


Eric Pobirs replies

I greatly doubt most users need anywhere like those resources to run Outlook well. Jerry has a much higher mail volume than most and isn't operating in conjunction with an Exchange server, as intended for that app's full functionality

I'm not sure what you mean about Adobe. They've made a big commitment to releasing 64-bit version of their next generation of Windows apps. If you're looking from a Mac perspective, it is because Apple made a major change to their previously promised support for the APIs Adobe relied upon to make the transition to OS X. This meant making a lot more investment in new code than just going to 64-bit. So it got pushed back a generation or more. The same complaint has been made by many who feel Apple pulled the rug out from beneath them

By and large, the 64-bit problem is like most in that it means spending money. For major apps there is a significant investment required to get that first 64-bit version out. Product managers are reluctant to have the costs tied to them if they aren't dead certain the 64-bit market is there in large numbers

Eric

Interim report: so far I have had no reason to regret installing Vista Ultimate 64 on my main communications machine. I have Vista 32 on the new games and writing machine, but I am thinking of scrubbing it down and putting in 64-bit there as well.


Jerry,

After reading the Chaos Manor Reviews mailbag about Vista, I thought I'd throw in my $.02.

I just bought a brand new Compaq C700 with Vista Home Premium. I wanted XP, but I waited too long to buy. It is a dual core Intel machine with 2GB of RAM. I know it is a low end machine (by today's standards), and it performed like it. It took minutes to boot to a usable system and had "stuff" all around the screen (extra programs). The hard drive was constantly in use and response was .... not quick.

About a month after buying the system and installing my software on it, I decided to try PC-Decrapifier to reclaim some space. I did get some space back, but now my machine SCREAMS. Booting to a usable system takes seconds, like under 30 from power up (10 from login). Response time is instant. It was like getting a faster machine for free.

I know programs like PC-Decrapifier can be dangerous to run, but reinstalling does not scare me (it doesn't make me happy, either). I am not associated with this program, I found it in a Google search. It worked wonders for me. YMMV.

Now I just have to get used to the idiosyncrasies of Vista. :-)

Thank you
Jim Caple

You are not the only one to complain about the junk that vendors install on machines before they sell them. I don't have a lot of experience with removing that junk, so I can't comment on the particular program you recommend, but I can say that getting that junk off your machine is very much worth doing.

Perhaps Eric will have more specific recommendations since he faces these problems all the time.


Response to "Once a pig...always a pig"

Hi Jerry,

Another one from me. This time to Tim who feels Vista is a pig, even on modern hardware

Like you, my main machine is powered by a Core 2 Quad Q6600. I have 4 gigs of RAM in the box. I made the move to 32-bit Vista earlier this summer. The machine flies, period. It handles everything I throw at it without hesitation. I would have gone with 64-bit Vista but have an older scanner that does not have 64-bit drivers. Until I upgrade the scanner, I will stay with 32-bit. I won't lie and say there haven't been issues in my transition, but Vista performance has not been one of the issues...ever

My household also has a Toshiba laptop. This machine is not quite on par with Tim's machine, but it has a lower clocked Centrino 2 CPU and 4 gigs of RAM. The graphics on my laptop are definitely weaker, the bus speed is slower, and the hard drive is a 5400 rpm model. It came preinstalled with Vista 32-bit Home Premium but earlier this year I stepped up to Vista Ultimate. My laptop is over a year old, I bought it in February 2007 shortly after Vista was released. I abuse the laptop terribly, from the point of view of a normal user. I have many different programs installed, I've run fire modeling software on it, I have virtualization software installed on it, in short I've thoroughly used the machine. I've found the performance of my laptop more than acceptable. Not once have I felt Vista was getting in the way

I should also through in the fact that I have a living room media computer which runs Vista Home Premium. This box uses 5 year old hardware! Vista runs without issues! Never once has Media Centre failed in the middle of recording a program, never once has the machine performed poorly because it only has 1 gig of RAM

Rather than make a sweeping generalization of the product, perhaps Tim should examine the performance monitoring/reliability monitoring tools built into Vista to see what the problem is. Perhaps it's crapware bundled by a 3rd party. Perhaps it's a driver that needs updating. There may be a simple answer; he shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater

I'm getting very tired of reading all the negativity on the ‘net about Vista. So much so that I'm actually thinking of deleting bookmarks and RSS feeds from many of the sites I read regularly. Vista...now...is a good OS and a worthy successor to XP. I acknowledge that it was released to early and the rest of the Windows ecosystem was not ready. That is not true anymore. The garbage opinions and disinformation out there is literally mind boggling. Did everyone forget that it took 4 YEARS for XP to stabilize? It was as hated as Vista when it first came out. Me, I bought XP on the first day and never looked back. It was head and shoulders above anything before it. In my humble opinion, Vista is now head and shoulders above XP

I've told many of my friends this, when asked my opinion of Vista vs. XP. I think I picked it up elsewhere on the ‘net, but I like it

Why put a 7 year old operating system in a modern computer? It just doesn't make sense. You have to layer so many different things on top of XP to get to the same place that Vista is at, it just makes zero sense to me

I will also add in closing that Ubuntu Linux is NOT enough. Most normal people lack the time or patience to massage Linux and get it to the point where it does all the same things as Windows. However, I won't start up a Linux vs. Windows debate

Cheers,

Jeff Mitchell

I am still no fan of retrofitting Vista onto an XP system that works; but I am slowly replacing all the XP machines at Chaos Manor with Vista systems. Note that I will continue to use XP in VMware on my Mac OS-X systems; but I suppose that at some point I will have to look into using Vista there, too. I think that will have to wait until I get the resources to buy a Big Mac Pro with dual Quad and a lot of memory; not that OS-X needs that much power for what I do, but when you run Vista inside OS-X it's likely to be a different story. We'll see.


Mac guru and enthusiast Tim Loeb had a comment on piggery:

pig commentary

Dear Jerry:

Just a brief response to Brian Bilbrey's comments regarding the porcine element:

I too raised pigs for a number of years a while back and admit that a pig can be extremely swift when motivated, and indeed I thought about that when writing that they aren't known for their quickness: what I had in mind is that a pig's preferred position is horizontal. We don't have rattlesnakes here in the Pine Tree State but I learned early on not to turn my back on a pig, no matter how docile and content it seemed, and only by being rather fleet of foot myself (in those days) did I escape a couple of nasty bites. I always found leaving the critters unnamed was wise, but if you have to name a pig (and with kids around it's almost inevitable) mission-appropriate appellations like "Freezer Bound" or "Making Bacon" work best keeping emotional ties to a minimum

But as to Vista on my Gateway laptop I must say I'm somewhat more reconciled. It seems the OS does tend to optimize itself over time as you use it and super-long delays during boot are a thing (mostly) of the past. I still find that simple multi-tasking can slow it down dramatically, however, and would certainly have thought 4GB of DDR3 RAM should be sufficient for snappy performance; 2 x 4GB sticks (which is the most that most notebooks can support) are still prohibitively expensive. Careful pruning of the start-up files (especially removing anything to do with remote operation of the OS) has helped speed things up and as drivers mature my situation may improve but I still believe that Ubuntu Linux on inexpensive hardware is by far the most compelling "bang for the buck" solution while Apple's Macs offer the best overall computing experience for the vast majority of home and small business users

As for your Mac issue yesterday (Monday) Apple released a new update to OS X, 10.5.5, and now would be the perfect time for you to try the "combo" versus "point" update install method I wrote you about some time ago. To recap: the combination install packages contain all the updates since the release of the OS and thus overwrite a lot of old code when installed; "point" updates incrementally install only the code that is new with that version. Many experienced Mac hands will try to install the combo updates whenever time allows as there tend to be fewer glitches and issues with this method and refreshing the hard drive by writing over old code may actually squash odd bugs that have cropped up over time, much like a fresh install of Windows used to be a biannual routine

The combo update of 10.5.5 is a little over 600GB and is available here: Mac OS X 10.5.5 Combo Update

Hopefully this will solve your problem with the iMac. What I've noticed here is that Macs do tend to get very confused sometimes if while accessing the Internet via a network the connection fails for any reason, and sometimes they will go into an eternal loop trying to finish the interrupted operation. While I haven't seen the specific "will not wake" behavior you describe, perhaps this networking issue may be related somehow

In any case try Repairing Permissions (Applications>Utility>Disk Utility>Repair Permissions) before installing it and then give the Combo update a try and see if that helps

All the best--
Tim

I have followed your advice and I have done the updates with no problems. I am still waiting on a larger drive to install in my Mac Book Pro before I get that set up properly, but the iMac 20 works just fine.


Eric Pobirs comments:

That site I showed you on Monday, www.downloadsquad.com has a nifty search extension for the Vista Start menu

Link here...

Since desktop search tools are already common, there isn't anything revolutionary here but the win is in making better use of committed screen real estate by giving the Start menu more functionality. Especially useful for the ultra portables with their little screens

I get very annoyed at the default inclusion of extra stuff in software downloads. I was refurbing a laptop for a co-worker today and had to deselect Yahoo and Google's toolbars from five different items. They would have added nearly ten megabytes of wasted bandwidth to the day's usage

Eric

Thanks. And see above on crapware.


ebook's piracy and price

Good Morning Jerry,

We had a good discussion on ebook piracy the other day and this came up, so I thought I would add some data and some comments

My wife is taking a Stanford graduate class in computer architecture starting next week. It uses one of Hennessy's books on the subject. First thing I did was go to Amazon and try and get a Kindle version. Nope, no joy. The printed, trade version, costs 80.00 at Amazon and around a 100.00 at the Stanford book store. My wife's complaints from her last class is the books are too damn big and hard to carry around. Mine, is that it is 2008 and Stanford, of all places, should be in the ebook business. Nope.

So, I went to the Internet. In about 30 minutes, I had downloaded a very nice PDF version with active table of contents from the torrent cloud. I've attached the file so you can see what is possible. I'm sure this was done with a scanner and conversion software. I doubt anyone had access to the source material

So, your fears on piracy are well founded. However, if a Kindle version at a reasonable price, say 20.00? 40.00? - somewhere in there, had been available, why bother? I know that there will always be those that bother, but not real customers. The other thing that galls my ass is the price. It's set where it is because they damn well know they can get away with it. On top of that, the course costs 3000.00! And as an Intel employee, Lin is not supposed to actually attend class! Don't come near the campus. So my reaction to all of this is unprintable. In other words, they create their own problem out of greed.

Hennessy could have sold this book as a Kindle edition and bypassed all the nonsense. What is his excuse? The computer revolution is too hard to understand? Doubt it

Phil

I have mixed emotions here. My usual sympathy is for authors; but authors who are able to get their works included in compulsory reading lists may have extraordinary obligations.

But then we have long known how monopolists operate.