Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Computing At Chaos Manor:
The Mailbag

Mailbag for January 15, 2007
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

January 15, 2007

This was a light week for mail.


Dr. Mark Huth is a heart specialist who also plays Everquest 2. I gave up the game as eating too much time, although World of Warcraft seems to have nearly taken its place.

Subject: On continuing reports on the Intel Mac:

Jerry,

I switched to an Apple iMac at home just after the Intel CPU's came out. It's been a dream to use, as it's stable, fast and integrates perfectly with my other machines. I'm running Entourage and am able to prepare talks, to fetch email from two Exchange servers, maintain schedules, and do all the other things I need to do on a daily basis. I installed Everquest 2 on it under Bootcamp and can use it to two box toons.

In terms of work computers, the software simply isn't there to make a switch to OS X based systems.

All in all, I'm very impressed!

Mark Huth

I have yet to have an unfavorable report on the Intel based Macs. I'm much looking forward to getting one.

"Two box toons" may not be familiar to everyone: Dr. Huth means that he has two different accounts, playing two different characters, using the same machine to run two instances of the Everquest program. That's quite a testimonial to the speed and stability of the iMac.


Last week I reported that Vista installations had problems with dialogue boxes not coming to the foreground.

Jerry,

Microsoft has had a problem with dialog boxes popping under rather than up since the days of Windows 3.0. This was particularly frustrating when the pop under was a modal dialog box and you couldn't do anything until you found it.

Your experience with the Office 2003 updates leads me to believe that pop under still lives in Vista.

It is way past time to hold Microsoft to reasonable standards of design and implementation. I started programing in the 1960s and before that wired boards for IBM punch card equipment. The mantra that was drilled into me was to program, wire, for ALL POSSIBLE CONDITIONS. This is obviously something that the designers and programmers at Microsoft have never heard. The all too common buffer overflow problem that Microsoft continues to fix on a hit and miss basis is caused by not following the above mantra. One should never assume that the buffer will never be sent more data than it can hold.

I don't quite know what needs to be done to hold Microsoft's feet to the fire, but something needs to be done ASAP.

An aside...

BMW has been widely panned for the iDrive system introduced in the 7 series. It might interest you to know that BMW chose Windows CE as the OS for the 7 series iDrive. When a revised iDrive was introduced in the 5 series Linux was chosen as the OS.

Treo offers two versions of its 700 series smart phone, the P and the W. The P uses the Palm OS while the W uses Windows CE. From an ease of use and reliability standpoint almost all reviewers have chosen the P over the W.

Microsoft is NOT a great technology company, but they sure know how to market!

Bob Holmes

The simplest solution to buffer overflow problems is to use programming languages with strong typing and range checking. It's much easier to let the complier catch errors than to debug programs after compilation, then test all the possible unexpected inputs. Niklaus Wirth developed Pascal and Modula 2, but in the early days computers weren't fast enough, and it was thought that fast compiling languages like C were preferable. That led to security problems. One hopes that we'll get new developments in programming languages now that we have plenty of computing power, but we'll see.


Subject: Upgrading to Vista

Here are my results with two test cases - my work machine and my home machine.

My work machine (Dell Precision 380 Vista Ultimate upgraded from XP Professional, Office 2007, connected to Server 2003/AD and Exchange Server) had a few hiccups converting but is running fine. The upgrade happened about a month ago and I've had one forced reboot/"crash". Vista is a complete memory hog. A 512MB machine was overkill for XP in normal business and home usage was struggling in Vista. Upgrading to 2GB was a noticeable improvement.

Most business applications came across just fine. The exceptions are Symantec Enterprise AV (an upgrade is available) and the printer driver for the Sharp copiers. The other printers (all HP) worked just fine. In fact I had fewer problems than with XP. It seems that as long as XP supported the model Vista does also. Microsoft finally fixed one of major annoyances in browsing the local network. It used to take about half a dozen mouse clicks to just browse the local neighborhood when on a domain. It is now the default view. All of the rest of the business software ran with no problems. Visual Studio 2003 gave warning errors but so far runs just fine.

Office wasn't a problem for me as I used the keyboard anyway and though they don't show all of the old menu items are supported. You do need to type them slower than you may be used to, though. But if you don't have the menu items memorized I could see someone quickly getting lost.

Any new machines will be downgraded to XP for now just to keep the user training consistent but I will allow the power uses to upgrade if they wish.

For home use my personal experience was the exact opposite. The machine was built by me and though it used all major brand equipment almost nothing was supported by the software and updated drivers were not available on manufacturer's web sites. I was eventually able to get the system to boot but then most of the software (mainly games but some image processing software) just plain would not run. In all of the cases it was an OS issue, not hardware.

I hope the limited data is of use.

Gene Horr

Most people will find the best way to get to Vista is to buy a machine with it already installed, but my experience with installing Vista on an Intel Core 2 Duo system has mostly been positive. I am beginning to like Vista a lot.


Subject: The many flavors of Vista

Here's an *ahem* 'tribute' to the many flavors of Windows Vista.

http://members.ispwest.com/gregg1/VistaVersions.jpg

It's inspired by the (in)famous ad campaign SEGA used as they were shot-gunning themselves to death with a flurry of different product lines.

The N versions are European editions *without* certain 'features' (or at least not enabled or installed by default) as mandated by the courts over there.

Yes, Vista could make tech support a genuine helldesk job, especially when it will involve customers who reply to questions like "What brand of computer do you have?" with answers like "Microsoft Word.".

Gregg

I certainly wouldn't care to be on the Help desk after Vista comes out...


Subject: Acrobat 7.09 Updater Experience

Hello!

Adobe has released version 7.09 to correct the vulnerability with PDF files executing javascript code as part of the URL that opens a PDF document. So if you (the evil hacker) put a link on your web page like http://www.anyoldplace.com/pdf/justafile.pdf (where 'anyoldplace' is a valid site, and the 'justafile.pdf' is a valid pdf file. But you put at the end of the link a bunch of javascript code, the javacode will execute (with the priveleges of the current user). That allows the evil hacker all sorts of opportunities.

So, updates are important, as usual. The problem is with the way that Adobe does updates -- very (very!) slow, with multiple restarts.

I have Adobe Acrobat Professional installed, so someone with just the Reader installed might have a different experience (but I recall that the Reader update program does the same thing). My Acrobat version was at 7.05 (yeah, I know). So I was four versions behind. But I figured that I'd just install the 7.09 version and all will be well.

Not.

Updates from Adobe require that you install all previous updates. The current update is not cumulative. So I had to install versions 7.06, 7.07, 7.08, and 7.09.

Each update takes from 5-12 minutes. And each update requires a restart of your computer. Don't even try to bypass the restart, because the next update needed won't install until a restart.

So, my Adobe Acrobat program is current. After about an hour of installs (with a lot of disk thrashing as each update installed a gazillion files) and four system restarts (five if you count the first install of 7.09 and then installing 7.06/07/08 and 7.09 again).

Now, on to the other hundreds of computers in our organization. <sigh>

Regards, Rick Hellewell

It gets worse with Vista. I have yet to get Acrobat Reader to install at all, which means I can't read pdf files. I'm sure they'll get that fixed soon enough, but at the moment when I try to install Acrobat I am directed to download Acrobat 8, and that won't install. I need to find the older Acrobat to use until Acrobat 8 is fixed.


Subject: Activation horse sense

Jerry

I am in the process of installing Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 on one of my machines. In reading about product activation on the publisher's website, I came across this:

"Uninstalling the software from your system will notify the activation server and will remove the corresponding fingerprint and serial number combination from the server, freeing up an activation and increasing the remaining number of activations."

I was shocked to see such common sense.

(The website also said that my user agreement will tell me how many machines I can install this on. I haven't looked that up yet.)

Ed Hume

What a sensible idea! I haven't tried the new Dragon yet. I was quite pleased with the previous edition. One day I'll get sufficiently organized. My notion is to use my Olympus WS-100 to make notes as I walk through a show or take a hike with my camera, then let Dragon transcribe the notes; instant photo-journalism of the sort I did in my Rome and Paris trips (only with those the notes were composed after the hike.)