Dr. Jerry Pournelle

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Computing At Chaos Manor:
January 30, 2007

The User's Column, January, 2007
Column 318, part 5
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.

Continued from last week

The Vista Hype begins this week, with Bill Gates appearing on the CNN Daily Show Monday at 11PM before the Midnight official release. Next day will see Gates on stage at the Nokia Theater in New York City to show Vista off. The betting is that it will be a good show: Jobs isn't the only one who can show us whiz bangs.

We can look for a spate of advertisements, PR-arranged "news" stories, lines at consumer electronics outlets (at least Microsoft certainly hopes there will be), and the usual hoop-la.

The question is, will it change your life? Should you be in a big hurry to get in on the rush to Vista? In my judgment, the answers are, yes, a little; and no, you needn't hurry.

Vista is fun. Once you get used to it (and turn off some ill-conceived security "features") it's easy to use. There was extensive beta testing, and most of the bugs in earlier release candidates have been eliminated. If you can do your work on any one of several Windows computers and one of those has Vista, you will probably find yourself using the Vista machine. It is, as Microsoft likes to say, a good user experience.

That, however, is when Vista is running on a powerful system: in my case a Core 2 Duo E6400 with 4 GB of memory (32-bit Vista 32 sees only 3 GB of that, of course), fast hard drives, and an nVidia 7600 video card. The fast hardware certainly doesn't hurt the user experience. For the most part, I can't do anything on this system with Vista that I couldn't do if I were running XP. Not yet, anyway.

I am told that on older machines, Windows 2000 runs considerably faster than XP and certainly would run faster than Vista. I wouldn't know: I have 2000 on a couple of older machines that do specialized functions, and I've not so far been tempted to change that. I suppose it might be an interesting experience to take an XP system and try 2000; perhaps someone will do that. I don't think I will have time.

I do prefer Vista to XP; but having said that, do note that Vista is running on the fastest machine in Chaos Manor...

Handling Media

I have about a zillion digital photographs, and while they are "organized" into folders bearing the date and sometimes the location of picture taking, that's only a step up from putting them in an envelope, labeling it, and pitching the envelopes into a peach crate. Vista is going to change all that. XP and several third party programs already make it easier to organize thousands of pictures, sort them, back them up, and send copies along to those who should have them. The net EasyShare program that comes with Kodak cameras is one good way to do that. Vista is going to make that even easier.

It's the same with audio files, whether copy protected or not. Vista does a considerably better job of allowing you to share audio files, and movies for that matter, among your networked computers than XP ever did. Vista handles Digital Rights Management better - at least for now. I put it that way because the whole DRM scene is in ferment. Hollywood is allowing things it said it never would allow. Consumers are fed up with having barriers put in the way of enjoying what they legally own - and with new legal restrictions on what they can own.

There are real clashes of principle here, protection of artists and their work versus convenience to the customer, and no one I know of has an actual inside track on where this will all end up.

Wherever the DRM story leads, it's pretty certain that Vista will ensure better user experiences than XP Media Edition ever would. Vista begins with media awareness; it wasn't grafted in.

In other words, Vista is moving Microsoft systems closer to the capabilities that Macs have had since OS X came out. Given the Mac's rather tiny (but rising!) market share, this will affect a lot more people; and as the steamroller continues, people will expect more, and demand more. That should be good for all of us, PC and Mac users alike.

Changing Your Life

None of this adds up to a life changing experience. That will come later. I have reports that VMware is working in the other direction: from allowing Windows XP and Vista to run on Intel based Macs, to allowing the Mac OS X to run on Vista enabled systems. It may not matter much whether or not that's true: if VMware doesn't do it, someone will (or in some reports, already has). The Mac OS system disks are for sale, and if you can fool Windows into thinking it's running on a PC when it's really just an application on a Mac, someone will certainly manage to do the reverse. That's just a question of time.

And when that happens, we're going to live in interesting times.

Upgrade now?

I wouldn't. If I really wanted Vista - and I did - I'd build a machine to run Vista; which is what I did. And if I decided I didn't want to build a PC, I'd wait to buy one with Vista already installed. Let the manufacturer hunt up the bugs when his proprietary "enhancements" clash with the new operating system.

Having said that, you will note that I did upgrade one of my main production machines to Vista, and I continue to use it; indeed, I rather miss Vista when I don't have it. I have even got all my old DOS accounting programs working and printing with Vista. It wasn't terribly easy, and eventually I got advice from Bo Anderson:

1) Disable User Account Control/Protection. It's done from the Vista Control panel. UAP is a flawed concept anyway. Instead have two user accounts - a standard retricted user for everyday work, and an adminstrator account for system work like creating shares and installing programs.

2) Share your printer.

3) Create printer redirection from LPT1 to shared printer. From the command line it's done as:


You can add a specific username with the /USER:domain\username switch.

Bo Andersen

That worked. So in fact does DOSPRINT (link) once User Account Control is disabled. You can turn UAE back on once the LPT: assignment is set.

I've had several other such experiences with "incompatibilities", nearly every one of them caused by over-zealous security protection when programs needed access to networked resources, and all solved by tweaking security settings after cursing a few times. None required evil and potent magic.

Alas, if you're unlucky, you'll have crucial applications that simply don't work properly with Vista. There are reports of problems with QuickBooks, for example. (See this link.) Microsoft has spent a year trying to be sure "legacy" applications will work properly, but some software publishers have refused to cooperate. Programs that use the registry to transfer information and permissions from one part of a program suite to another will now fail; astonishingly, some major programs still work that way even though Microsoft told the world to stop doing that way back in 2001. Before you upgrade, then, be sure that all your critical applications have conformed to Microsoft's restrictions and don't use any forbidden practices as short cuts. If your job depends on a program, make sure it works with Vista.

There are numerous other reports of programs not working with Vista, and that Microsoft is already assembling a bunch of fixes into a service pack. I tried following those to actual sources, and from what I can see, the best known laundry list of incompatible programs is at this link, and many of those are anti-spyware and virus protection programs. I saw none on that list that I would call critical, but what's trivial to me may be critical to some.

As to an upcoming Service Pack, apparently Microsoft is signing up beta testers, but hasn't sent out anything to test. It's not unusual for Microsoft to do this. I'll probably sign up myself. SP 1 for VISTA was scheduled long before the actual product release. Microsoft understands that beta testing can go only so far, and a released product will get bug reports the beta testers didn't find or didn't bother reporting.

If You Leap

If despite all this you want to leap to Vista by upgrading an existing machine, I have another bit of advice: buy a new hard drive. Use Ghost to make a complete image copy of your current drive. Set that drive aside. Now do your upgrade installation. If things don't work out, it will take only a few minutes to get back where you were before you started.

"Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet the last to cast the old aside." It's still good advice. And for mission critical applications, the old adage is, don't upgrade an operating system until after the first Service Pack is out.

Perhaps Not Astounding...

Meanwhile, I have more reports on the new Macs. Given that the new Macs are generally in the hands of Mac enthusiasts, it's probably not flabbergasting that I have yet to receive a single negative report; but expected or not, it's significant data. Everyone I've heard from is happy with every variety of Mac, and that includes people running Windows XP and Vista under Parallels. You'd think that by now I'd have a few gripes, but so far, none. Perhaps they're trying to hurry me along in getting one? If so, they've succeeded.

Neat Gadgets

   Monster Power Outlets to Go

Monster Power in a small package
Monster Power To Go with a whole bunch of wall bricks plugged in. To see how small it can get for packing have a look at their web site. [View larger]

I long ago acquired a three-foot three wire extension cord for travel. We all carry fused power outlet strips now, but they take up a lot of room. Comes now the Monster Power 4-outlet strip which doesn't. This is fused with reset, has four outlets and a short cord, and coils up to be small and compact. Works fine, takes up less room, outlets arranged so you can plug in multiple power bricks. What more do you want? Recommended.

   Battery Power

Both the Rayovac 15 Minute Charger and the newest Energizer charger are shown in the photo illustrating the Monster Power outlet. I've long recommended the Rayovac, which, provided that you use the Rayovac 15-minute batteries, really does fully charge a set of 4 batteries in fifteen minutes. Alas, it's no longer made. You can still find units for sale on Ebay and elsewhere, and in my judgment it's worth it if you carry a camera that can use Rayovac 15 Minute batteries.

Energizer makes a 15-minute Charger (see this link), and I had hoped to test it, but the unit they sent me is the standard model. This unit takes more than an hour to charge batteries that were already charged and never since left the charger. In other words, it's very slow if you are used to the Rayovac 15-minute charger. I am sure the Energizer 15-minute unit works and keeps going and going, but I haven't had a chance to use it. I know the Rayovac works; I have several and there's always one in my travel kit.

Winding Down

The first computer book of the month is Windows Vista Secrets (Wiley) by Brian Livingston and Paul Thurott. I've got this in bound galleys, and it has already been invaluable. Livingston and Thurott are thorough and write well.

The second computer book of the month is Building the Perfect PC, Second Edition by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson, O'Reilly Media, Inc. If you're going to build your own system to run Vista, this is the book you need. System building has become trickier in the past couple of years. Machines are very fast, and this imposes more rigid requirements for power. I have relied on the Thompsons for system building advice for a decade and more.

Pogue Press, an O'Reilly imprint, publishes the "Missing Manual" series. There's one for Vista, and like the entire series it's very good. If you want only one Vista book I mildly prefer Livingston's book because it is a bit more complete, but the Vista Missing Manual, like all books in that series, is very usable with a good index.

There is a separate Missing Manual for each component in Microsoft Office 2007. I have found the Word 2007 Missing Manual by Chris Grover to be extremely helpful. Recommended.

The book of the month is Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen, IQ and Global Inequality, Washington Summit Publishers. I have a soft cover edition; Amazon lists only the more expensive hard cover. This is a sequel to their original work IQ and the Wealth of Nations. Both these books are "controversial" to say the least, although much of the controversy is relatively mindless hysteria that tends to drown out valid criticisms. The same thing happened with their first book. In the current work Lynn and Vanhanen have carefully weeded out valid critiques of their earlier work and attempted to apply the tools of science to investigating them.

Their conclusions have not changed: there are vast differences between mean IQ's in various nations, and IQ is one of the most reliable predictors of national wealth. It is difficult to see how this thesis can be challenged: the data are pretty clear. Much of the controversy comes with challenges to whether IQ measures intelligence. One would think that makes little difference: IQ is what is measured by IQ tests. Those who score higher on IQ tests generate more wealth; nations with citizens who score high on IQ tests are wealthier than those whose citizens score low. It is certainly fair to argue that this is not causation: but the correlations remain, and when national IQ changes the wealth of the nation changes in the expected direction. One would think that this alone would be interesting, given the usual failures in prediction for most "social science" hypotheses.

If you believe that IQ scores are valid predictors of national wealth, then it makes sense to look into what IQ measures, and if or how IQ may be raised in a population. All this seems elementary to me, but it is apparently not a politically correct view.

I was already convinced by their first book. The current book carries that work further and disposes of some methodological objections from serious critics while not only confirming but extending the original hypotheses. Fair warning: the subject is one of vast importance, but neither of these books is easy reading.

If one wants easy reading with more polemics than serious social science, Patrick Buchanan in State of Emergency takes Lynn and Vanhanen seriously and goes on from there. The emergency, he says, is our open borders and illegal immigration. He describes his views of the effects. Buchanan intends to scare you, and he manages that well. Fair warning: I have long been of the opinion (which I believe I derive from reasoned analysis) that a combination of bad schools, open borders, and Free Trade is a formula for economic disaster. I see no trends or data refuting my view.

The movie of the month is The Queen. Helen Mirren gives her best performance yet; she is absolutely believable as Queen Elizabeth II. Michael Sheen is nearly as good as Tony Blair. The movie doesn't really go into the value of the monarchy as a stabilizing force in England, but there are hints. Don't see this as political science, though; it's just plain riveting.

The game of the month remains World of Warcraft where my poor part time paladin struggles his way up the ladder of levels. Given that I never have much time for the game, it's astonishing that he's as high as he is.