Dr. Jerry Pournelle

Email Me


Why not subscribe now?

Chaos Manor Subscribe Now



Useful Link(s)...

JerryPournelle.com


Hosting by
  Bluehost


Powered by Apache

Computing At Chaos Manor:
November 6, 2006

The User's Column, November, 2006
Column 316, part 1
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2006 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

Probably the big news of the week was Microsoft making nice with Novell over Linux. There were a lot of stories about this. I first learned of it through my friends at Envisioneering who call attention to technology developments. You can find the story at BusinessWeek.

Apparently this took much of the industry by surprise. On reflection it didn't surprise me that much, but I'm not trying to claim any kind of coup. It's just that it has been pretty clear since the last WinHEC that the era of multiple processors plus virtualization will make operating systems less vital than they used to be. Right now you can run Windows XP or Vista in Parallels as what amounts to an application on an Intel Mac; indeed, with a sufficiently powerful Intel Mac you can run multiple applications on each of those Windows-under-Mac operating systems, and use the underlying UNIX capabilities of the Mac OS to pipeline results from one application to another, or from a Windows application to a Mac program. I'm not saying anyone has done this yet, but it wouldn't astonish me; and I am certain that it won't be long before such operations are routine for power users.

No one I know runs his computer to experience the beauties of the operating system. For most of us, the point of using computers is applications. Microsoft didn't start as an operating systems company, and in fact stumbled into that role almost by accident when Gary Kildall was out flying leaving his lawyer wife Dottie in charge at Digital Research on the day that the IBM team came calling with a huge non-disclosure agreement that Dottie wouldn't sign. Had Gary been home that morning, IBM would have released the IBM PC with CP/M instead of DOS, and quite possibly with PASCAL and PILOT rather than BASIC as the included programming languages. I've told parts of that story before, and we needn't go into it again. The point is that Microsoft began as an applications and language house, not an OS developer.

Microsoft used the enormous revenue stream from DOS to develop Windows, and the profits from Windows enabled the company to explore many other lines. Windows is still Microsoft's most reliable source of revenue, but I'd be astonished if Gates and Ballmer were not thinking ahead to the time of a computing power glut with corresponding capabilities in virtualization.

Not everyone sees this as simply a business move. My friend Bob Thompson, whose considerable experience has led him to distrust Microsoft's products and business practices, says:

The chicken just signed a non-aggression pact with the fox. Novell has just volunteered to become road kill.

Pretty clearly, this is Microsoft's opening salvo in its patent attack against Linux.

Until now, there have been two major restraints upon Microsoft using patents against Linux: the patent portfolios of Linux-friendly companies, and Microsoft's status as a convicted monopolist. This agreement removes from play the patent portfolio of Novell, which was one of the major Linux-friendly companies. It also provides Microsoft with a shield against accusations of monopolistic behavior, because it can point to the deal with Novell as proof that it's not attacking Linux, but only Linux companies that have violated its patents.

After you shake hands with Microsoft, you'd better count your fingers.

That isn't my analysis. I don't know Steve Ballmer very well, but I have known Bill Gates for more than two decades, and he has never thought of using the legal system as a way to make money. Until the anti-trust lawsuits, Microsoft didn't have a DC lobby; the Microsoft DC office was concerned with sales and marketing, but they didn't play the lobby game. They do now, of course; as I said at the time, the main effect of those lawsuits against Microsoft were that the Microsoft DC office was staffed with full fledged lobbyists and given an enormous budget. Gates doesn't like playing legal games, but the anti-trust suits showed him just how high the stakes were; and when he does get into a game, he plays to win.

Even so, Microsoft isn't likely to be making nice with Novell and Linux as an opening in a series of lawsuits. I do think they intend to get a share of Linux applications software sales. Microsoft is a standards setting company, and they want in on this. It took a while, but with fast systems and virtualization capabilities about to flow freely, they see that owning the OS is no longer the key to endless wealth. Applications are.

It's interesting to watch.

Eric Pobirs commented,

Especially when you consider that Microsoft only reluctantly became an OS company. The real gold in the IBM deal was to be the programming tools and apps. The Mac was seen as an application platform that would save them from the hassle of the profitable but unglamorous DOS business. Then OS/2 was the next great hope until it became plain that IBM had not a clue when it came to reaching consumers. A repeated theme in books by ex-Microsofties who were involved in those efforts is the desire to have somebody else do the heavy lifting on providing the platform. In spite of all the money, OS work was looked down upon by young coders looking to make their mark on the world.

They appear to have gotten past that. By the time they decided to get into the video game business they knew from the start they had to have their own machine rather than becoming a third party publisher for the existing console brands.

Interesting indeed. Peter Glaskowsky notes that because DOS started at someone else's code that was itself derived from CP/M, it's not astonishing that Microsofties were not thrilled to be assigned to the OS division, and "Microsoft operating systems never earned much respect in the world of software development."

We're all agreed that this situation is changing. Peter notes that "the Windows division is steadily digging itself from under the weight of all those early bad decisions. With Vista, Windows finally has a secure foundation, good multimedia APIs, and an attractive UI. We'll have to see how it performs in the real world, but I think it'll help the reputation of the Windows team." We've covered that before: Windows, and particularly Internet Explorer, were written with the goals of extensibility rather than security; and what makes software easy to extend also makes it more vulnerable. My experience with Vista is positive, and all my friends at Microsoft are genuinely both proud and enthusiastic about it.

Glaskowsky also notes that "On the other hand, Apple's Mac OS X team has always been proud of its work. And on the gripping hand, Linux development is a great way for programmers to make a mark. Linux lacks the originality and polish of its competitors, but it's still an impressive accomplishment."

The Great SCO Flap

Some see Microsoft as willing to exploit the legal system for its advantage because they recall the SCO case, which, depending on who you ask, was intended to put a primary hamper on Linux. In actual fact, the lawsuits caused a number of companies to move from SCO UNIX to Linux, a thoroughly unintended effect.

Here is Bob Thompson's brief summary:

SCO filed a multibillion dollar lawsuit against IBM, claiming that IBM had dumped millions of lines of UNIX code verbatim into Linux, and claiming numerous violations of contract, copyright, and patents. Despite years of discovery and numerous demands by IBM, SCO has failed to demonstrate any copying at all, leading the judge at one point to ask SCO "Is this all you have?" Most observers concluded two years ago or more that SCO had no case at all, and by now even SCOs strongest supporters (of which there were few initially and even fewer now) have conceded that SCO doesn't have much of a leg to stand on.

SCO's entire case now comes down to their entirely new and very bizarre theory that IBM violated SCO's rights by contributing "home-grown" code that IBM had developed independently. That is, according to SCO's theory, the fact that IBM's AIX is based in part on UNIX means that all of the software that IBM wrote independently and added to AIX is now "fruit of the poisonous tree", so to speak. SCO claims that IBM contributing that home-grown IBM code to Linux is a violation of SCO's rights. In effect, SCO is arguing that it has ownership rights over all code subsequently written by anyone who at any time so much as glimpsed UNIX code. Incredible, but that's what SCO is arguing.

Microsoft and Sun originally funded SCO's attack, channeling (IIRC) about $25 million in direct payments to SCO in return for UNIX licenses that neither company had any need for.

It's pretty apparent that SCO originally gambled that IBM would settle this as a nuisance lawsuit. It very quickly became apparent, however, that IBM was never going to settle and would fight this to the bitter end. That end is now approaching fast, and SCO is going to end up as a small grease spot in Utah.

IBM is the 900 pound gorilla when it comes to patents, and their legal representation is the finest on the planet. IBM has a huge vested interest in the continuing success of Linux. I wouldn't want to be in the position of attacking Linux as long as it has the IBM Rottweiler protecting it.

Nor would I, but I see no signs that Microsoft intends to use this new agreement with Novell as a basis of any kind of attack on Linux; it looks more to me like a case of if you can't beat Linux, get on board. Incidentally, the latest SCO theory isn't precisely new; it was tried in an attempt to suppress other "clean room" development. The theory has never been found to have merit by the courts. I'm also told there's some entirely new theory regarding derivative work involved, but that doesn't seem likely to go anywhere either. It would be astonishing to find there's any steam behind the SCO lawsuits.

Do note that the SCO lawsuit probably would not have got off the ground if Microsoft hadn't paid Danegeld to SCO, thus providing them with enough funds to continue their lawsuits. I said at the time that this was a no-brainer. Of course it's all fiction, but it's easy to imagine the scene:

"Bill, they want us to pay license fees."

"We don't pay Danegeld. Fight."

"Yeah, but look, it will cost us almost as much to fight the suits. If we pay, they'll leave us alone and use the money to harass our competitors."

"Oh. Hmm. Let me think about this..."

As I said, of course that's all fiction.

Watch Out, Here it Comes

I'm hardly the only one speculating about the "true meaning" of Microsoft's deal with Novell, and if there's anyone who has actual knowledge rather than speculations I don't know who it would be; but one inference seems crystal clear. Microsoft believes Linux is important, and is taking an interest in being Linux compatible.

And that, I think, is very much worth thinking about.

Intel Mac

Peter Glaskowsky just got his new Intel Mac. Here's his first report:

My MacBook Pro arrived this morning. By the end of the day I had it configured with two copies of Windows XP (Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop).

Everything's working fine so far. I'm backing it up tonight and tomorrow I'll run some benchmarks to see how it does on performance and battery life.

One note: the retail version of Parallels Desktop shipping from Apple isn't compatible with the Core 2 Duo processor, and doesn't know it isn't-- so the first two times I ran it, it caused a kernel panic and crashed Mac OS X.

There's a compatible version on the Parallels website, but I had to figure that out from their online support forum. Here's where to get the update and the free trial version.

http://www.parallels.com/download/desktop/

I have one more report:

Jerry

I've been reading your column and I just wanted you to know that 3 weeks ago I bought an Intel iMac 20" with a gig of RAM. I loaded up Parallels and it all works fine.

Due to some problems similar to yours [arthritis that makes sitting at the keyboard difficult] I have been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for years (in fact the base of their Ophthalmology dictionary is from me) - version 9 works great on my iMac setup. In fact, this weekend I packed up my dual core windows machine and will be running the iMac as my only machine to do administrative, scientific and personal work (and some amateur popular writing).

to quote a popular marketing slogan - 'Just Do It'

Aloha
Charlie<
/p>

Innovation And Excellence In Education To Promote A Healthy Society

Charles R. Fox, O.D., Ph.D., F.A.A.O.
Associate Dean, Academic Affairs & Research College of Health Professions
Wichita State University

This will be a continuing story. I intend to get an Apple Intel-based Mac of my own, and install Dragon Naturally Speaking on it along with podcast software. The only question is which Intel Mac? I suspect the new MacBook Pro with Core 2 Duo is more than good enough, but Leo LaPorte has a dual Xeon Mac Pro, which he uses for everything including running Vista. I confess considerable envy, but I suspect sanity will prevail.

Denial of Service

As usual, it all happened at once. If you want to subscribe to this site and wish to pay by credit card, you do so through Roberta's web site. A number of subscriptions came in just as we getting ready to go up to Santa Barbara for my youngest son Richard's wedding - and her web site came under "attack". We got more than 10,000 "returned" emails a day.

She was swamped. Her inbox overflowed. So did her mail account at EarthLink. I don't know how many real messages we missed, before I was able to set up rules that would weed out the "real" mail from the junk.

It turned out that this wasn't a real Denial of Service attack, although it looked like one, and had much the same effect. What happened was that someone was faking random usernames at her domain as the return address for massive amounts of spam. The returns were then transferred by EarthLink to her email address. The EarthLink spam filter would intercept a few thousand, overflow, and then pass all the rest along to us. We'd have no choice but to let them download and let my rules reject the bogus "returns".

Roberta called EarthLink. The second time she was connected to a young man in Bangalore who spoke perfectly grammatical but incomprehensible English; and he couldn't help at all. The flood continued. Finally she called again and this time was connected to someone with the title of "Webmaster." He was located in the Philippines. This time something was done: within an hour the flood ceased, and hasn't come back.

The moral of this story is that persistence pays, but you have to be determined. Your ISP has to know how to deal with this kind of problem, but that doesn't mean they have told the people you get to talk to. You have to keep insisting. It will take a lot of time - I wish I could bill EarthLink for the time Roberta wasted on hold - but, at least in our case, eventually we got someone able to fix the problem.

There's another remedy you may try in this week's mailbag.

Survival Guide

I thought of putting this in the mail bag, but I've been persuaded that this is of general interest.

HP Pavilion DV8000t

I purchased a new laptop from HP with Windows XP and Microsoft Office. They refuse to give me OEM CD's for the software, saying it is already loaded on the machine. Is there anything that can be done about this?

Mike

This is a rather common practice. There are a number of things you can do.

First, you can insist on actual installation disks for Office, and you'll probably be able to get them. You may not get an installation disk for Windows XP.

You do have the Activation Key for your Windows XP; it will generally be on the bottom of the laptop. Thus if you have any other copy of an XP installation disk, you can use that; except for versions, all copies of XP installation disks are the same, and it's the activation key that makes your system unique.

You may or may not have a "recovery disk", but its only use will be to scrub the drive and return the system to the original delivery state. If you don't have a recovery disk - many systems don't now - you may find images of recovery software in a separate partition on your laptop's hard drive. It would pay to copy those files off onto a DVD or CD's.

Eric Pobirs, who does a lot of system recovery work, says

The usual setup I've encountered allows the user to burn their own restore discs in case the hard drive is completely lost. And a set of factory produced discs is usually no problem to request. They'll charge for them but people who cannot deal with feeding a series of blank CDs to the drive will pay for a lot of things. It's what keeps Geek Squad, Make It Work, and other such operations in business.

But don't count on getting OEM CDs that aren't tied down to a particular brand of machine.

The last recent HP machine I examined had the partition plainly visible as 'D: Restore' when opening an explorer window. The notable thing when dealing with such machines is installation of anti-virus and/or anti-spyware software. Left to their own devices they'll want to include that restore partition in a full system check, which really adds a lot of time to the process and is very unlikely to be useful.

Eric

My practice is to install Norton Ghost or Norton Save and Restore (there are other such programs but those are the ones I can recommend) and use that to burn a restoration image on a DVD. If your system didn't come with a DVD burner, you can get a USB 2.0 external DVD drive for around $100, not a trivial amount, but worth the cost. Given a choice I prefer Plextor writers, but they will cost more than the ones you'll find at sales. Burn your restoration image on a DVD. Burn another restoration image on a new DVD each time you make a major software installation. Label and date the disks. Make backup copies of all your data.

In most cases all this will be useless activity, but what you're insuring against is the total failure of your hard drive. If that ever happens - and it can, see my previous columns for reports on how the drive in my TabletPC failed - you will be able to get a new drive, install that in your PC, and use Ghost or Save and Restore to boot the system and restore it. If you made a new restoration point after each software installation, your system will now have all the software it had before the failure. Copy in the backup data and your drive failure won't have cost more than a couple hours of work plus the time it took to acquire and install a new drive.

Speed Up Your Laptop

Laptops usually have slower CPU's than desktop machines, but often the reason the laptop seems slower isn't the CPU at all. One way to greatly speed up your laptop is to replace your disk drive.

Some laptops come with 4,200 rpm hard drives. Most come with 5,400 rpm drives. In both cases, upgrading to a 7,200 rpm drive will almost always make a noticeable difference in performance. You do want to be sure your power supply will accommodate the faster drive, but it usually will. Of course 7,200 rpm drives will cost more for less capacity than 5,400's.

The procedure for upgrading your drive is the same as you'd use for replacing a failing drive. Use Ghost or Save and Restore to make a full system image. The image can be on a DVD, or you can use a good external USB drive. Once you've recorded the image, boot up with the Ghost or Save and Restore boot disk, let it find the image, and Bob's your uncle. I've done this with two laptops now, and I've yet to have a real problem; but do be sure to look up your particular laptop on line to see if others have done this experiment and what problems they had. Usually finding and replacing a laptop hard drive is pretty simple (you will need precision screwdrivers; getting a proper fit is important); but there are some models that seem to have been designed to make that difficult. Before you buy a laptop you might want to look into that.

Intellipedia

A long time ago intelligence documents were circulated to different analysts who would add comments and content before sending them on. Sometimes they would go through several iterations before they became stable.

It was only a question of time before small computers would make that process simpler. The story is at this link. When I read that I thought it made sense, but I did comment on line that I'd be concerned about access if there were any chance of compromising sources.

Not long ago I got this note:

Although there is nothing in the slightest bit sensitive in this email, I'd prefer my name not be attached to it if you decide to print it.

They do not put information that could specifically identify sources in any of the versions of Intellipedia I am familiar with. In the Top Secret/Special Compartmentalized version, you might know that it came from, say, Signals Intelligence or a Human Intelligence source, but sanitized versions on other networks, when they create those sanitized versions, won't even tell you that. Even in the cases where you know the "source," it's been somewhat sanitized before it's gotten to analysts. Information placed on any of the Intellipedia versions is always governed by the usual procedures for dealing with information at that level.

Things that are on a strict need-to-know basis, or information which needs to be kept strictly compartmentalized, isn't supposed to go there. Screw-ups happened, but rarely, and they were dealt with swiftly.

We have several networks set up for sharing with various partners in various coalitions: Linked Operations Center Europe (LOCE)[1] is the best example. It's been running for quite some time, and we're able to share information with our NATO allies without compromising our various sources and methods, and vice versa. I worked at a place where one had accounts on different systems at different levels of classification, and it wasn't that hard to keep information that shouldn't be on certain networks off those networks. As I said before, screw-ups did happen, but they didn't happen very often.

It's public knowledge that we have a very close and long-standing relationship with the UK, Australia and Canada (as well as New Zealand) in sharing signals intelligence. It is also public knowledge that we have relationships involving sharing of intelligence with other nations as well, although details of who we share with and what we share with them are classified. Creating a wikipedia to share information with allies is basically just a modification on this long-standing practice, and while there will no doubt be some new bugs, there are decades old safeguards in place and the creation of means to deal with the new bugs will build on that experience.

The existence of Intellipedia has been public since at least August of 2006, when it was mentioned in a letter to Wired Magazine[2]: that letter goes into some detail about the problems Intellipedia has had. Senior leaders like it, but a lot of middle managers hate the idea. I personally thought that a lot of the resistance came from people whose jobs would be obsolete (if they aren't already) if a lot of intelligence was produced via Intellipedia. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy [3] operates in the intelligence bureaucracies, and is probably more pernicious in the various intelligence agencies than it is in normal bureaucracies.

Some of the press coverage on this has talked about how the creation of the Intellipedia was intended to make it easier to avoid some of the mistakes with intelligence that occurred in Iraq. That's a motivation, to be sure, but they also want to provide for better intelligence product in general, as well as better procedures to produce it.

It's also part of a trend: the various intelligence WANs used to be pretty lousy in comparison to the Internet. A lot of time, money and effort has been expended to change this over the last few years, and it has, in my opinion, paid off. Having classified versions of Wikipedia goes hand in hand with other things, like having classified blogs and licensing Google's search engine for use on the classified networks. Several years back, someone using Intelink was getting an experience that was similar to the Internet circa 1996 or 1997. Now, the experience is pretty similar to the regular Internet, without a lot of the useless junk. In addition to making research and exchange of information easier, this has made training people a bit easier, since a lot of things that used to be archaic (and/or arcane) are no longer in use, and what is in use is pretty much the same as the tools they're already used to.

This is probably a bit more information than I needed to make my point: the Intellepedia isn't all that radical a change, and, while there will inevitably be some problems, the risks of things being put on this that shouldn't be there aren't as great as you fear.

[1]http://www.fas.org/irp/program/disseminate/loce.htm gives some idea of what LOCE is and how it works.

[2]http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.09/rants.html. There was also an article in September of 2005 on the subject: http://www.gcn.com/print/25_29/42090-1.html

[3] Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in every bureaucracy there will be two classes of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those to work to further the organization itself without regard to the goals; and the second group will always gain control of the organization.

Which was reassuring. Some engineering development now companies routinely use private Wiki applications on an internal network. I expect to see the Wikipedia idea in use in a great many unexpected places.