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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2009 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

September 27, 2009

Windows 7 Thank you

Jerry,

Based on your experience updating Vista rather than a scrub, I updated my Vista Ultimate Laptop with Windows 7.

I too, encountered no problems. Turning on my printers caused the system to load the proper drivers with no problems.

My previous printer that was flagged as default kept that setting.

I have a Windows Mobile Phone - Samsung i760. There were no problems with this device.

Win 7 does, however, have you remove the Vista Windows Mobile Center before the update begins.

Before I attached the i760 to the usb port, I soft-resetted the i760 and restarted the laptop. This was done as a precaution.

Windows 7 recognized the i760, installed the proper drivers, installed Mobile Center, and began sync.

Again, I encountered no problems.

My eWallet app also synched up without any problems.

My Goodsync app worked fine (I sync some files from the storage card).

I've found that Win7 works a lot better than Vista.

Some preliminary tasks that I performed before installation was of course a complete DR backup. And I also uninstalled some applications I no longer use.

Two days ago I upgraded my wife's Vista laptop. No problems.

Bud Pritchard - Patron

Byte Charter Subscriber

Chaos Manor HangerOn

Thanks. I can report that my Windows 7 machines - that includes Roberta's - continue to work without problems, and Windows 7 handles the internal network much better than Vista did. We will be converting all Windows systems to Windows 7, and that will include the virtual Windows machines on Macs. I've been working on fiction so I haven't made as much progress as I'd like, but at least it's steady.

Windows 7 is crisper and a bit more intuitive than Vista; and it's much better with networking.


The rather odd Windows 7 launch with house parties collected a mixed bag of comments. First Eric Pobirs

On the Windows Launch

About the Windows 7 launch, besides the economic hard times, I think this approach reflects a change in how all of this is done.

The press doesn't count for nearly as much as it once did. A lot of the big trade shows died, as much from bad management as a target audience that saw less and less value in traveling long distances to be in crowded rooms with often unpleasant people when they could instead get the same information over the web. The non-press audience, once dominated by small chains and mom-and-pop stores, had been mostly replaced with big chains who were better dealt with directly.

When Windows 95 launched, getting as much print and broadcast coverage as possible was key in getting out the word. Today, with Windows 7, a big part of the target audience doesn't need to be sold. They've already tried it out and can exert their influence on the market through the web and the creaky old system of actually talking to other humans in the same time-space coordinates.

The house party business is kind of silly but it is the endgame of the end user inclusive marketing approach. When I got the email from Microsoft I had to study it a bit to decide if it was for real or a joke. I guess somebody will do it. It just seems a bit like a debutante ball where the girls being presented have already slept with the boys in attendance.

Eric

And then Linux enthusiast and Windows curmudgeon Bob Thompson said

Microsoft hits new low

I thought Microsoft had hit rock bottom with their Win 7 launch parties, but it gets worse. They apparently decided that people couldn't be trusted to run their own parties without detailed videos to show them how.

http://uk.houseparty.com/offers/windows7uk/hosthelpvideos

No mention at all of beer.

I tried to convince Barbara to let me apply to have our own Win 7 launch party, but she wouldn't let me. Of course, rather than taking Microsoft's suggestion to make the final step showing people how to use Windows Help, I planned to show them how to blow away Windows and install Linux.

--
Robert Bruce Thompson

I do wonder if he's the only one who thought of this...


IE Tabs and Firefox

Hi Dr. Pournelle,

Like you, I am a fan of FireFox and use it almost exclusively except for dealing with Microsoft's web site. For that I use Internet Exploder 8, now. So, I have some small experience using IE 8. In response to the trouble you mentioned about trouble closing tabbed pages in IE, I would like to share some observations of my own.

I have noticed that the "close" X only appears on the selected tab. If you select a different tab, the X will appear on that one and disappear from the previously selected one. I have also found that you can close an unselected tab by right-clicking on it and selecting "Close Tab" from the context menu. If there is only one tab, the "close" X will not appear on it or will disappear if you had it selected and closed the other tabs.

I suppose the logic in not showing the "close" X for a single tab is that you won't want to close the only open tab. This makes some sense to me since I generally close the browser once I am done with it instead of closing the tab(s) and leaving the browser open.

If this is redundant information for you then please disregard the message. I hope that it is helpful, though.

By the way, do you think that "FootFall" might be a candidate for a sequel?

Cheers,
Bruce Lewis

Thanks; I should have noticed that, and in fact it's useful since it makes it clear which is the tab you will delete; I have sometimes inadvertently deleted a tab in Firefox. That removes one of my objections to Internet Explorer.

As to a Footfall sequel, Judy Lynne Del Rey, then editor in chief of Ballantine and a Footfall enthusiast (she caused her firm to buy Gold Medal Books which had bought Footfall at auction because she wanted to be the editor) very much wanted us to write a sequel called "Harpanet for President", a novel of a truly diversified United States (Harpanet was the alien who defected to humanity in Footfall) and Niven and I had notes on it, but alas, Judy Lynne died before the project was launched, and without her gigantic influence and enthusiasm the publisher's enthusiasm lagged and eventually died out. A sequel seems unlikely.


Open Tabs in Firefox

With regard to your habit of having lots of open tabs in Firefox, would the "read it later" add-on be a practical alternative?

See https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/7661

Best wishes

Bryn Davies

Indeed it does help. Thanks! I've been using it for a few days, and it's useful.


Subject: Mac problems

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

Be careful with Snow Leopard.

We just upgraded to two 24" iMacs. We also bought Time Capsule because... well, $300 for a terabyte of memory? How could we not? Plus it wirelessly connects both machines to the internet. We waited to make the purchase until Snow Leopard was released in order to avoid any possible trouble in changing over from Tiger, bought everything on the release day at Best Buy. The Mac rep was nice enough to give us 2 copies of Snow Leopard for free. Very cool. Brought them home and set them up, no problem.

Then came the first update/upgrade/whatever they call it. My wife, who is the techie in the household, has been losing her mind ever since. The machine our boy uses is fine since she didn't do the upgrade on that one yet. The one the two of us use has gone schizophrenic. Well, actually, it's the Time Capsule that seems to have lost its mind. Whatever. The practical effect is that sometimes connectivity speed goes from really fast to slower than the Post Office in January, sometimes it refuses to connect to the internet at all, and now it won't talk wirelessly to our brand new HP printer.

My wife has spent over 10 hours frantically trying this and that. And we're not alone. There's a website (sorry, I don't know the name or URL) that has been set up to link people discussing just this problem. So watch your step.

As always, many thanks for doing what you do. I'm greatly anticipating the next JANISSARIES novel, too.

Best regards,
Tim Scott

I am just now installing Snow Leopard on the MacBook Pro in hopes of solving a mysterious difficulty with wireless networking on those machines. All that will be in the October column.

When Snow Leopard first came out I decided that upgrading was not urgent, and it took me this long to get to the first upgrade. The iMac will be the last to be updated since it's the production Mac (although the MacBook Pro is fast taking over that role; and of course the Air is the laptop I generally carry when I don't need a Tablet).

There was a time when it was a great act of daring to be among the first install a new upgrade to an operating system. That was particularly true of Microsoft updates, but somewhat so of Apple as well. My observation is that those times have passed, but I am left with a residual reluctance to fix anything not broken.


Subject: Stopping Vista from losing track of machines on your LAN

Jerry, somebody on Slashdot suggests that IPV6 support may be causing trouble on your Vista box. Here's a link to instructions on how to turn it off if you haven't: http://www.mydigitallife.info/2007/09/09/disable-and-turn-off-ipv6-support-in-vista/

--
Joe Zeff

I tried that on the last Vista system here. I have not noticed any changes in the system, but it does seem pointless to be running processes that we don't use. Thanks.

I am convinced that Windows 7, while not everything Vista was promised to be, is the best Windows yet, and we're converting everything to that. The upgrade installation from Vista goes quite smoothly although it takes longer than I would have expected. As noted in the column, do be sure to use the "upgrade installation" that requires connection to the Internet.


Northgate keyboards?

Pardon me for bothering you...

I recall you are/were a big fan of Northgate keyboards.

Do you still use them? I was wondering if you had any experience with regards to keyboards (at) northgate-keyboard-repair.com

I have one which has developed some severe problems, and am wondering if I should refurbish it or not. Given that kbs can be cheap, it's an interesting choice to make. I love it but am not sure if it's a $75+ love or not, compared with a $20-40 new purchase...

Thanks if you decide to respond.

--
--- --- --- --- ---
Nicholas Bretagna II

I was in fact a great fan of Northgate keyboards. I loved their clicky feel. Alas, all of mine wore out over the decades - they were pretty rugged - and I don't have any of them working now. I am slowly replacing all keyboards here with the Microsoft Comfort Curve keyboards. The click feel isn't as good as the old Northgate (or the Hall Effect keyboards I used in early DOS days for that matter) but they key layout is good, and I can write easily on them. I also do a lot of my work on an Ortek programmable, but those are getting harder to come by, and while the key feel is better than the Microsoft, the key layout isn't, and I'll probably replace the last Ortek with a Comfort Curve one day.

I have no experience with any keyboard repair company. At one time we did some of that work here, but that was decades ago, and I wouldn't attempt it now. Fortunately, though, Captain Morse has been keeping track:

A company called Creative Visions Technology of Plymouth, MN, the same town Northgate called home, sells in their Avant line as near a clone to the old Northgate OminKey keyboards as you can find. I'm typing this on an Avant Prime (105 keys, function keys on top) and recommend them highly. The 116-key version with function keys on top and on the left is also available. Not inexpensive (the 105-key model is listed for $149 plus shipping).

https://www.cvtinc.com/products/keyboards/menu.htm

Fans of the old IBM model "M" keyboard with their "buckling spring" mechanical key switches can still get a very good fidelity clone from Unicomp in Lexington, KY. I have purchased several of their "customizer 101" and "customizer 104" keyboards (list $69.00) over the last ten years and am currently using one on my Windows 7 test mule. Sales and service is first rate.

http://pckeyboards.stores.yahoo.net/keyboards.html

Ron Morse

Thanks!


Chaos Manor Advisor Dan Spisak has a recommendation

The Story of AES as told by Stick Figures

Actually pretty informative, plus, who doesn't like stick figures?

http://www.moserware.com/2009/09/stick-figure-guide-to-advanced.html

-Dan S.

Appeal depends on your interest in the subject (the Advanced Encryption Standard), of course, but it's a relatively painless way to get the basic facts, it's organized from simple to vast detail, and as the introduction says you can exit at any point... Thanks.


Security expert advisor Rick Hellewell on the fake anti-virus attacks (see September column)

How Fake Antivirus Alerts Work

The Internet Storm Center has an interesting post about how social engineering is used to get people to respond to a fake virus alert. Screen shots show the sophistication of the scam ... no grammar or misspellings here.

http://isc.sans.org/diary.html?storyid=7144

Be careful out there !

Regards, Rick Hellewell

The moral of the story is that you really have to be careful. If you do unexpectedly get one of the myriad variants of the "Your machine is compromised, click here to download an anti-virus" popups, do not click anywhere on that window including on the little red x that is supposed to close the popup. The entire popup window will be active, and clicking anywhere on it will invite the payload. Instead close the browser, either by right clicking on the browser down in the tray, or doing ctl-alt-delete, Task Manager, and let Task Manager close the browser.

We had another attack recently: a charge on the Macy's bill. We haven't used the Macy's account in over a year. This purported to be a renewal of something we ordered annually, but the Macy's representative on the telephone had no idea what it was supposed to be. He reluctantly agreed to "dispute" it; he was then surprised when I told him to cancel the Macy's card. He said "But there's no annual fee!" I could only answer that apparently there was, and he didn't even know what the fee was for.

A month rarely goes by without my finding some small item on one of my credit cards that no one can account for. As a result I have cancelled most credit cards. It used to be there was no harm in keeping inactive credit cards that had no annual fee, but I think that is now inadvisable.

As Rick says, be careful out there. There will be more on this in the October column.


When Roberta's XP system was attacked by the "Anti-Virus Virus" the infection went far enough that ctl-alt-delete would no longer allow me to open Task Manager (TM was grayed out).

Starting Task Manager

Hi,

Here's another way to start Windows Task Manager. Press Ctrl-Shift-Esc. I hope you find it useful.

Regards,
Wayne Johnston

Thanks. I haven't fired up Roberta's infected XP system since we transferred all her files to another (and far newer) Windows 7 system, so I can't tell if it works on her compromised machine. Ctl-Shift-Esc brings up Task Manager directly on XP, Vista, and Windows 7. I don't know how I escaped knowing that.

I note that the New York Times site was serving the same virus (link) that infected Roberta's system (see the September column). According to CNET the NYT advertising staff were taken in by people pretending to be Vonage, and the traps were set in the advertisements. As noted above, social engineering often gets around security procedures. As Eric puts it, they go direct to the brain.


Virus statistics

Jerry,

Does the team have anything on virus/malware statistics (perhaps for the next letters)?

I just updated Ad-Aware and it looks like they're adding north of 100K new theat items per month.

Jim

First, Dan Spisak

Virii are not malware per se but the line can certainly blur.

http://www.kaspersky.com/press?chapter=146437529

http://www.viruslist.com/en/index.html

How often virus vendors software is updated:

http://www.av-test.org/index.php?menue=7&lang=0

Independent AV testing & comparison:

http://www.av-comparatives.org/

On the whole, it's Malware that is on the rise, not traditional viruses. And frankly malware acts a lot like viruses in its end effects to a users computer so the distinction is there but the A/V vendors see it all as threats to your computing environment.

-Dan S.

Rick Hellewell adds

The problem is not necessarily the number of viruses (malware) out there, it is that the malware is more targeted and subtle. Although there are vulnerabilities in the operating system, the biggest problem is how the malware is presented.

For example, the pop-up windows advising you of virus infections (such as what probably hit Roberta's computer) looks very realistic and valid. When you get one of those windows, the unwary user may just believe it, and click on the 'OK' button to 'fix' things. That is what will get the initial infection of a program that will allow the download of additional malware.

The malware you get may be as simple as just allowing your computer to relay spam mail. But, increasingly, the malware is more subtle. For instance, the malware may just wait around for you to go into your on-line banking site and then it will grab your banking credentials. That will allow the malware to start draining your bank account with wire transfers to 'money mules'

This is very lucrative for the attacker. Brian Krebs, who writes the "Security Fix" column for the Washington Post, has detailed businesses losing five-six figures or more from these types of attacks. And the banks are very reluctant to help you recover your money. In fact, some victims won't get any help from their bank until they agree not to sue the bank for the improper transfers. (See Brian Krebs blogs in his column here about this type of attack, and the problems recovering the stolen funds.)

And then there is the attacks via the ad-serving aggregators, who don't always do a very good job ensuring the validity of some of their clients. (Such as the attack via ads from the New York Times last weekend.)

So the users need to be very careful about responding to any warnings about viruses, or clicking anywhere. It doesn't matter which OS or web browser you are using. If you click on a button that installs software, and then you let the software install, you will probably have problems.

Regards, Rick

The bottom line remains "be careful out there."


The September column looked at Microsoft operating systems costs. That sparked a discussion among the Chaos Manor Advisors. I found it interesting, and here is part of it. It began with an observation by Eric Pobirs

In a machine found at Best Buy or shipped by Dell the license cost is only a few tens of dollars. Does the retail pricing of Windows exist solely for the purpose of public perception of the bundle license with a new PC rather than the intent to actually sell through to end users? Is the DIY market for those licenses at much higher cost just an accidental artifact and thus the tiny market's concern lacking any leverage?

I have to wonder since I've never seen a market share chart that attempted to show the DIY market. Some will only show the big brand vendors, and some will group lesser brands into sales volume tiers. Sometimes there is a pie slice marked 'Others' which is very thin. If that slice includes those of us building our own machines then it is no surprise that Microsoft would be deaf to any complaint as to portion of a retail license in a home assembled PC.

-- Eric --

That brought a question from Rich Heimlich

It doesn't make a lot of sense on the surface. If the DIY market is that small then why the heck would someone like Microsoft even bother with it?

It seems to me that the market would be a small percentage but even 1% of the market is still pretty significant.

Rich

Eric replied

The simple answer is, they don't.

What they support is small businesses that ship custom built PCs in small numbers. Anywhere from dozens to thousands a year. Their bread and butter is in services, especially in creating network infrastructure with domain servers and the licenses that incurs. (Office is also available in OEM form for a lot less. A LOT less if you're talking Dell or HP numbers, or you're a big corporate buyer. What they pay for the OS and Office is a whole other world compared to retail, which is what makes me suspect the retail is more for PR than actual revenue.) Which is where the real money is for MS and those small companies alike.

That they offer individual OEM licenses to be sold is just a side effect of the packaging provided for those small PC vendors to include with the systems. This is three items: a CD/DVD, a proof of license sticker with activation key, and the legalese printed material. You've likely seen this package if you've dealt with a newly purchased machine from a company small enough not to print their own branded media.

It isn't so much that Microsoft actively supports one-off builders but rather that they have nothing to gain from denying them access to the OEM product. There is little value in terms of revenue but it is a big PR channel for them since the enthusiast builders like you and I exercise a lot of influence at a low cost, especially if it gets written up on a well trafficked site.

The revenue angle is more meaningful for the hardware suppliers to the enthusiast market. For example, the audio card makers. As you of all people know, this was once a much bigger factor in PC building but now they've had their market severely compressed by the general adequacy of integrated audio subsystems. There is still value for the serious gamer in offloading audio operations but a lot of young builders don't remember the days when sound cards were an important item in making a new machine for just casual use. But then, people like us can remember when we had to buy an ISA board for 1P, 2S, and game.

So if the enthusiast market dries up, the sound card maker is left solely with the professional audio workstation market. A serious hit on top of all they've lost. But for Microsoft it's a blip on the chart in the annual stockholders' report.

Likewise for a motherboard maker who doesn't have any big contracts with PC vendors. ASUS has HP as its biggest contract customer. The boards they sell to enthusiasts are a lot more profitable on a per unit basis but it would be interesting to learn how that compares overall to the volume sales they do to HP.

In general, though, I cannot think of any big effort Microsoft has expended in support of the DIY market. There is value in allowing it and that is effortless but not a lot of revenue. Imagine if model trains were a huge expenditure in the corporate sector. How much effort would Lionel devote to the hobby shops in that circumstance?

-- Eric --

The major point here is that the price you pay for a boxed copy of the OS has little to do with the actual price of the OS that equipment makers pay. Microsoft sets a high sticker price so that it has lots of room for discounts.

I am still annoyed at the myriad versions of Microsoft OS, and a bit appalled at the store price. Of course few pay that price, what with family packs, academic and student prices, various developer programs, and such like.

I would prefer that Microsoft sell a single version of its OS at what I would call a reasonable price, the way Apple does, but my wishes do not loom high in the Microsoft decision process. At one time Microsoft pricing was influenced by Bill Gates and his goal of "a PC on every desk, and in every home, and in every classroom", but those days are over.

There's a general perception that Microsoft sets prices too high, and that given the fall in hardware costs the software costs should fall with them. I tend to share that perception, but in fact there are many ways for individual users to get around software prices - legally, through discounts, such as the OEM discounts for system builders, not through piracy - so the prices aren't as high as they appear to be. As to the wisdom of Microsoft marketing and pricing practices, it's hard to argue with success. Of course there are those who predict the imminent demise of Microsoft...

http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/1406307/windows-prices

For those still interested in this, Eric adds this final observation on hardware and software pricing. I find the image of free hardware with your expensive OS amusing, and I remember being in a computer store when an accountant came in demanding "a VisiCalc"; he had no idea that the machine that ran VisiCalc could do anything else. Eric's point about support costs being a critical factor in licensing practices is important.

All of which amounts to, so what? If the price of a brand new Dual Core i7 with Quad-SLI video driving a 30" monitor were a mere $200, it would still be a useless lump without an OS. You can keep moving the numbers down and it won't change that problem. Make the hardware cheap enough and it will be included free with the price of the Windows license. Kind of reminiscent of the days when guys came into computer store looking to buy a VisiCalc machine rather than an Apple ][. They knew about this marvelous new software and didn't think of it as a separate entity from that hardware where it ran.

There is only one thing that is going to change Microsoft's stance on this. Low sales alone won't do it if it is seen as the whole industry being in the dumps. Somebody has to take away a really serious piece of market share. Nothing else will prove that more than a small minority really object to the price. NPD is hardly a reliable oracle of software trends, especially as interpreted by the Inquirer. Something more concrete needs to happen before MS is going to make a change. They've had such predictions of doom quite reliably for almost every version of Windows this decade.

Fry's has been selling OEM Windows packages, prominently displayed, for at least 14 years and Microsoft has never objected. Microsoft has a simple set of conditions which Fry's follows by requiring the purchase be accompanied by a major system component, which is specified as a CPU, motherboard, or hard drive.

This seems to have fallen by the wayside, as other large retail outlets are selling OEM licenses without bundling requirements. (Again, I doubt this is without Microsoft's notice and allowance.) You get a little speech about being the one responsible for supporting the machine where it gets installed but it's understood that the DIY crowd isn't likely to be calling for support.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&DEPA=0&Order=BESTMATCH&Description=Windows&x=0&y=0

Note also that the Windows 7 Family pack is only a new occurrence at brick & mortar. There have long been multi-system OEM license packs available. I'd forgotten since I've rarely had occasion to use them. No big savings but convenient if you have the need.

I've little doubt that the beta-to-RTM upgrade was considered. It was then rejected for the reasons I mentioned, especially in light of the typical volunteer tester not being the sort daunted by a system build.

People tend to forget the support issue a lot. It can quickly drain all of the profit out of a product.

My basis for static hard drive prices comes from buying hard drives regularly over the last decade. The entry level drive hit its price minimum several years ago, around the time of the original Xbox launch. One of the problems Microsoft faced in building a hard drive into a console was that it was not going to get any cheaper like the other major parts after die shrinks (that never happened but that was the normal progression) while remaining at the same performance. They could put higher capacity drives in over time but that wasn't much help because the drive was severely underutilized in that generation. This was the experience that drove them to make the hard drive optional in the Xbox 360 but led to a different set of issues as the hard drive had now become more essential to a console.

Don't make the mistake of confusing the cost per GB of storage with the cost of a single drive. The entry level 3.5" drive may hold 500 GB but it sells for about the same price as when a 250 GB was entry level a while back. Big OEMs like Dell can get much smaller drives for business desktops with low local storage needs but retailers' stock doesn't run much below $50 except for closeout deals, which you cannot rely on finding at short notice.

And those drives Dell is getting aren't lower priced in proportion to their capacity. They're just enough lower priced to be worthwhile for selling PCs to big corporate buyers. There is a lot more to the price of a hard drive than the density of the platters and not much has happened in several years to reduce those costs. The need for greater onboard cache sizes as capacities grow helps keep the prices stable.

Currently, places like Fry's are treating 3.5" 500 GB as entry level with lesser capacities only found in external units. This week's ads included a Hitachi model for $50. There may be a few specials for less but precedent indicates they'll soon stop stocking 500 GB units for system building and upgrades entirely, with 640 GB units taking their place and working down to around $50. You can find lower capacity drive if you really want them but they won't offer any great savings unless the seller is hard up to be rid of them.

If I'm wrong, you should be able to reliably buy 500 GB 3.5" drives at any major PC component seller this time next year for about $30. I'm not holding my breath. Just because that Hitachi offers ten cent per gigabyte capacity doesn't mean Hitachi can produce a 100 GB model for $10 profitably.

The cost of the base unit, one single-sided platter and the accompanying electronics and casing, hasn't changed for a quite a while, regardless of capacity.

If you look around you may run across some small oddball cheap drives under the ExcelStor name. This is a Chinese outfit that licensed obsolete drive designs from IBM and continued under Hitachi. They've tried to specialize in picking up business too meager for bigger companies to bother with and do some contract work for companies like Iomega, who was buying them out but dropped the deal as EMC moved to buy Iomega. This is the only company that I can find that has sub-$50 products at retail that aren't discontinued models, at least not discontinued under the ExcelStor brand. Probably contain melamine.

In 2.5" drives the dominant capacities are 320 and 500 GB, with the starting price for retail boxed units running above $60. Greater than 500 GB 2.5" drives are starting to appear, so it's only a matter of time for the 320 GB models to disappear as the cost difference to manufacture higher capacity units becomes minimal. This is why the typical netbook with a hard drive rather than SSD usually has at least 160 GB capacity. These are the cheapest 2.5" drive it is worth bothering to make for most vendors, and even then it's because they can repurpose platters that didn't test out as double-sided.

Monitor prices are marvelously low right now but are likely to go back up somewhat in the future. Part of the price reduction is sharing in the manufacturing volumes for HDTV screens that can also be used in monitors.

But another part of it is that monitor makers are currently bleeding red ink and taking big losses to avoid shutting down their factories in hopes the economy will revive and pay off the hard times. Again, monitors have a floor level, too. Currently 19" models can be had under $100 with everything smaller becoming scarce at retail. I don't expect them to drop much more before they get as low as the vendors can stand and at the limit of what they consider worth their effort in good times. There will be a continuing market demand for that size as the form factor suits a lot of spaces, so it will likely be the entry level for a long time to come. Smaller monitors are still there but harder to find as they become primarily used in Point Of Sales systems and other dedicated apps.

The same problem holds. It doesn't matter if 30" monitors start coming out of cereal boxes. (The Super-Econo size they sell at CostCo.) The effective value will be nil if all you can get displayed on it is the BIOS menus and "OS not found..."

As for gaming on XP Mode, what games are we talking about? Cannot be anything requiring 3D hardware support and performance-wise would have to be quite old. There are other ways to get games of that vintage running on current OS versions. Anything pre-DirectX would be just as well off using DOSBox, which I'm sure you know has already been used by several publishers to revive old games.

XP Mode does exactly what it was intended to do. It gets ugly old apps like Accu-Care (something Alex, Dan, and I have to deal with for several of our clients) running properly on Win7. It flat out was not intended to support anything requiring substantial hardware support beyond the CPU, especially games. People who think they need to pay more for Win7 versions supporting XP Mode whose objective is running old games are simply barking up the wrong tree. They can save their money. If somebody comes up with a good solution for running ill-behaved old DirectX games on Win7, it probably won't require anything more than Home Premium. First, somebody has to be convinced there is money to be made in competition with people keeping their old game system setup off to one side for moments of nostalgia or on a KVM if it isn't too old.

Or it could be an open source project with a lot of contributors. The trick here is to not just emulate an old Intel box but one with a good DX-7 or DX-8 class GPU. Due to hardware patents it might be simpler to create a virtual GPU from scratch, although very non-trivial in itself, rather than try to emulate any from the 90s. Something equivalent to a GeForce 3 perhaps. Or maybe VIA would let their Chrome series be emulated for cheap. A few years ago I read about a bit of software that emulated a DX-9 GPU in software for testing code, and it even managed 8 or 9 frames a second on a then high-end CPU. Microsoft recently announced a GPU emulator for DirectX developers, again strictly for code testing since it would be painfully slow. But this suggests an older, far simpler generation of GPU might be emulated at full speed on a current high-end CPU that would have a lot of unused capacity when running an old single threaded game.

So long as the games don't require specific hardware make and models, it should be doable. It just isn't very likely to be done by Microsoft. Getting mission critical business apps running is an important objective for them. Old games, not so much.

-- Eric --


Free add-in to restore 2003-style menus for 2007 versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint

Hi Jerry,

After upgrading to Office 2007, I spent a lot of time customizing the various quick launch bars to surface commands that I couldn't discover on the ribbon without a lot of frustration. Recently, I found a free (for private use) tool on both Lifehacker and Kim Komando's site.

While it doesn't convert the ribbon back to the Office 2003 menu structure, it adds a Menu tab to the ribbon that in turn contains the original Office 2003 menus for the application. It even helps you discover where the commands were moved in the Office 2007 applications.

If you use the 2007 versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, this tool may help ease the transition.

All the best,

Jim
Woodinville, WA

Thanks. I have about managed the transition to Office 2007 and its new menus and ribbons, but I sure could have used that when I first started. I mostly use Word, of course. Word 2007 is actually an improvement over Word 2003, but 2003 remains good enough for about anything I actually do. For those with more stringent formatting requirements the upgrade is worth while.

I keep hearing stories about the New Office, and I suppose I should try one of the test copies, but just now I have other tasks to finish. Real Soon Now, I suppose.


Systems consultant Bob Holmes says

Mac OS X Snow Leopard vs. Windows 7

Jerry,

Here is my take on Microsoft Windows versus Apple OS X.

It seems to me that it is a no brainer that Apple wins this round big time.

One version of Mac OS 10.6 Snow leopard and about 8 versions of Windows 7.

One price, $29, for Snow Leopard ( this isn't totally correct since those that are upgrading from OS X 10.4 Tiger are supposed to purchase the bundle of Snow Leopard with iLife 09 and iWork 09 for $169 to be legal) Four Prices for Windows 7 from around $99 to about $200.

Snow Leopard can update Tiger or Leopard in place. Windows 7 needs a clean install if you are running XP.

It is really the difference between user friendly and utter chaos.

Microsoft needs to totally rethink the multiple versions and multiple pricing of Windows 7. The fact that Vista wasn't really ready for prime time wasn't the only reason that people and businesses didn't upgrade. The problem of cost and which version to upgrade to was a least as great a barrier.

Bob Holmes

I wouldn't go quite that far. The main difference between Home Premium and Professional Windows 7 is the ability to log on to a domain, and few home users will need that. Whether or not business users need it depends on the size of the business network. Still, I do wonder at the need for all those versions and prices.

Snow Leopard is a bit more like a service pack than an actual upgrade, but the price is right, and it installs easily. I just put it on the MacBook Pro and so far all seems well.


I have been slowly transitioning toward the Mac, although Microsoft Windows keeps calling me back, and the lack of macros in Office Word 2008 for Mac is infuriating. My son Alex now has a MacBook Pro which he uses as his main machine. He reports:

So I forgot my power supply at home this morning, and needed to switch between batteries so I could keep writing. Some research on the Intarwebs says that OS 10.4 and later have a feature called "Safe sleep", which causes the system to write system state to disk when you close the lid (and thus cause the machine to go to sleep). I switched batteries, opened the MacBook Pro, pushed the power button and had system state restored within 30 seconds.

This is essentially "Hibernate" as Windows users would know it, but without a separate command to start it. There is some literature about forcing a "safe sleep" involving heavy-duty voodoo with command-line arguments, but once again Glaskowsky's Theory of Macs is proved:

"With a Macintosh, everything is either ridiculously easy or impossible".

The "wait for it" problem will only get worse as people get more RAM for their laptops, and leave more apps open. The very nature of the Mac--I don't usually turn the machine off, or reboot, until there are major system updates--exacerbates this, because I don't kill apps, I just minimize them. They're not as obtrusive as Windows apps minimized so I don't think of 'em.

Now, if I could get it to hibernate so I can reboot to Windows, blow up Nazis (Company of Heroes, still the only game installed on the laptop), shut down, restore the Mac session, that'd be bliss.

--Alex

I find I have to remind myself often that simply closing an application window does not close the application itself; that has to be done by a separate operation. This is quite unlike Windows, where the difference between minimize and close is quite real. There are other subtle differences in the Mac Way of Life that take getting used to.

I don't find the choice between PC and Mac anywhere near as simple as the advertisements would have it...