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Computing At Chaos Manor:
July 10, 2007

The User's Column, July 2007
Column 324, part 2
Jerry Pournelle jerryp@jerrypournelle.com
www.jerrypournelle.com
Copyright 2007 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.


Continued from last week...

Microsoft has pledged a billion dollars to fix the Xbox 360 (link), while many reviewers (including me) who remain friendly to Microsoft warn that only the adventurous should depend on Vista just now. What is going on?

My own view is that it's what happens to most big companies as they mature. The original founders no longer have the energy to run things, the second generation managers who were inspired by the founders are running out of steam, and bureaucracy seeps in. After that, Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy takes over. The expectation is that Microsoft will become a coalition of fiefdoms, some well managed, some not at all, with turf defense more important than innovation or performance. Sloan saw some of this coming at General Motors, and attempted to avoid it, but once he was gone, the fierce competition that characterized GM was replaced with something more mellow and humane, and thus more congenial to bureaucracy.

This is not always a bad thing, but in a competitive capitalist environment it can prove fatal. On the other hand, it takes a long time for anyone to see what is happening. GM and Ford were in big trouble long before anyone noticed it. By the time John Keats wrote his best-selling The Insolent Chariots GM and Ford were in trouble, but the book presented America as being hostage to Detroit.

Joseph Schumpeter postulated that "creative destruction" was the key to the success of capitalism. He also showed that few monopolies last very long. His student, David McCord Wright, held that one reason the United States did not go the route Marx predicted, with greater and greater concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands, was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and perhaps he was correct; but Schumpeter's analysis would have predicted that no monopoly can last long without vigorous government assistance to the monopolist. Given international free trade, Detroit's dominance was doomed. There may be a lesson in there for Microsoft.

When Gates ran Microsoft - and especially in the years before his marriage - no detail of the company escaped his notice. There were fiascoes, but there was swift and thorough creative destruction. Whole product lines were abandoned, and quickly, while resources were rechanneled to prop up key products. "If it works at all, ship it fast; the hardware will bail you out," was the first commandment. But those were the days of rapid and unpredictable change in the small computer field.

In today's more mature market, when the hardware is already far more powerful than the software requires, things are very different; and it may well be that Microsoft is no longer structured to respond.

iPhone Triumph?

Whatever the technical success or failure of the iPhone, Apple must have done something right with it: Apple stock is up, up, up, and looks to stay there. Apple may not be quite as glamorous a company as Google, but it's getting up there.

Meanwhile, some reports are in: so many iPhones went out the doors that the activation process was swamped. The "got to have it now" and early adopter cohorts have their iPhones. Many love them.

Rita Hayworth used to explain her romantic disasters by saying "They go to bed with Gilda, but they wake up with me." There is some of that going around in iPhone land. Users are discovering that Apple soldered in the battery, and will charge a good bit to replace it (link). Most complaints, though, were about activation (link), and that's likely to be temporary.

My own advice on iPhone is about the same as my advice for Vista: wait a while. The iPhone is very likely to promote a revolution, but it won't stop with telephones. The iPhone is the first stage of a fundamental change in what people will carry. Before it is over, PDA, Tablet, Notebook, the paperback book you are reading, telephone, fax machine, camera, iPod, web browser, and TV set will all combine into one gizmo you carry with you at all times. This is only the first step.

Windows Network Problem

File transfer errors.
File transfer errors. [View larger]

Last week I reported on a problem with file transfers when I tried to put our parade pictures on Roberta's machine. When I tried to access her system I got this screen.

I went downstairs to be sure her system was turned on, and that sharing was properly set up. That wasn't the problem. Her system was on, her C Drive was set to share (for security reasons not under the name C:) and I had full access user privileges.

I put up a note to this effect on my other web site (www.jerrypournelle.com) and soon got this reply:

Jerry,

I may not be the first to reply, but I will send this on anyway. Unfortunately, it means a registry edit.

See this knowledgebase article:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/285089

An older aticle:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/106167

There is a setting which you wouldn't think applies to XP, but only to server OSes, but in fact it goes back to NT Workstation 3.51.

Add (or change) the IRPStackSize parameter to 32.

Open regedit and search for:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\ LanmanServer\Parameters

If you don't see IRPStackSize, or it is too small, follow this (from the MS web page):

1. Click Start, click Run, type regedit, and then click OK.

2. Locate and then click the following registry subkey: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\ LanmanServer\Parameters

3. Click Edit, point to New, and then click DWORD Value.

4. Type IRPStackSize, and then press ENTER to name the value.

Note Type IRPStackSize exactly as it is displayed. The value name is case sensitive.

5. Click Edit, and then click Modify.

6. In the Data Value box, type the value that is appropriate for the network, and then click OK.

Note If the problem persists after you complete the previous procedure, try to increase the value of IRPStackSize even more. The maximum value is 32 (0x20 hexadecimal). Although the object manager supports values up to 50, values over 32 can, under certain conditions, overflow an server message block (SMB) packet buffer. Therefore, values over 32 are not supported.

Repeat: That's 32 *decimal*.

Note: you will probably need to reboot with each edit.

I set mine to 40 decimal, when this problem first cropped up for me. It has worked fine ever since. Reading this article, I think I will edit my own registry, and reset it to 32.

--Mark Allums

All this sounded straightforward, and in fact it was, but I was reluctant to edit the registry on Roberta's machine. She uses an older Pentium, and every time I suggest we upgrade her system she refuses with considerable vehemence. I don't muck with her system unless I have to.

It wasn't entirely clear what machine I needed to apply this fix to. The likelihood was that it needed to be Roberta's machine, but there were two other possibilities: Alexis, the machine I was using to access her machine with, and Imperator, the Active Directory server that runs the network. The least likely was Alexis. On the other hand that was the easiest to work with. Norton Backup and Restore makes a new restoration point every week, and it had just done that. All I had to do was close down Outlook and Front Page, and use my batch files to make backup copies of Outlook.pst and its archives, and the web sites created with Front Page, and nothing I could do to Alexis would lose either programs or data.

The instructions for editing the registry are clear and exact, and everything is quite obvious. I found that Alexis had no IRPStackSize DWORD, so I created one and set the value to 20. Regedit has radio buttons you use to tell it if this is a decimal or hex value. I chose hex, closed Regedit, and restarted Alexis.

Everything worked, but when I attempted to access Roberta's system I got the same error message.

I repeated the process with Imperator, the Active Directory server. Imperator did not have an IRPStackSize DWORD so I created one and set it to 20 hex. Then I reset Imperator, attempted to access Roberta's machine, and got the expected result - the same error message.

Now there was nothing for it but to hack into Roberta's registry. I waited until she was out of the house and had at it. First I had to log her off because Roberta's account doesn't have administrative privileges and can't edit the registry. I logged in to her system as me, opened Regedit, and was surprised to see that there was an IRPStackSize DWORD. It was set to 11, which is the lowest possible value, considerably lower than the default value. I set it to 20 hex, reset her system, logged in with her user name, and came upstairs to see if that had fixed the problem.

Indeed it had, and I can access her system from any of my machines, so the story has a happy ending.

As to why her system had an IRPStackSize DWORD set to the minimum value while none of my other machines had any such entry at all, I have no clue.

Growling at Outlook

My usual communications system is Alexis, a dual processor AMD system with 2 gigabytes of memory. She's installed in an Antec P-180 Performance case (link, see my review at this link) which keeps everything cool and running at top speed. She has an nVidia GeForce 6600 video card. Alexis isn't used for games, but she's perfectly capable of keeping up with any games I like including Medieval Total War (both Versions I and II) with hundreds of soldiers in dozens of units engaged in all-out combat. In other words, a powerful machine, not the fastest machine in the house but surely good enough.

She's not good enough when running Outlook 2003. When Outlook decides to go looking for mail to bring in (and process with rules) I can forget doing anything else. I can be typing in Word, and suddenly everything freezes. I can be trying to access the web, and suddenly everything freezes. It's worse when trying to do anything in Outlook itself, such as moving files by dragging, or even just looking at a different folder. I can wait for ten or twenty seconds before anything happens. It's infuriating.

It gets worse. I can be typing in Word, or looking at a web site in Firefox, and suddenly I am back in Outlook, which has stolen the focus. Sometimes I am back in Outlook only it has a (Not Responding) tag.

In all cases this can be fixed by the simple expedient of doing nothing: wait a while and the problems go away. Even if the message label says Outlook (Not Responding), if I wait a while that goes away.

Now I understand that some of the problems are created by the rules I use to sort incoming mail. I suspect that InBoxer may be eating some cycles along with the Rules Wizard. On the other hand, I haven't had this problem for more than a few weeks. It seems to have developed about the time I went on my trip back East. I know, I know, I have been writing about "piggy old Outlook" for years. Alas, I didn't know what "piggy" was. I'd gladly trade for the speeds I had a year ago.

The really infuriating part is that Outlook does just about everything I want it to do. It really is a good program - or would be if it didn't choke up my system and steal the focus on a dual processor machine with more computing power than the early supercomputers.

Vista Redux

Vista continues to have driver problems, so much so that I am looking for an old-fashioned CD drive. The problem is that my Vista machine reads DVD's just fine; but many times when I put in a CDROM, it just won't read it. The disk spins, lights flash, and then the disk pops out. I can take that disk to an XP machine with identical hardware, put the disk in, and it is read perfectly; but when I try on the Vista machine, it won't read it at all. I can then put in a DVD to see what happens, and that is read just fine.

Unfortunately, if I am not careful that pops up the Windows Media Center, and that doesn't have a mouse pointer in it. I can move the mouse around and see various screen buttons light up as the cursor moves over them - but in fact there is no cursor, and I can only try to infer where the "cursor" is. Shutting down that Media Center windows is frustrating. I finally used control-alt-delete and brought up the task manager, and exited the task from that. I could see the red X button in the upper right of the Media Center screen, but without a mouse pointer I was never able to activate it.

I could add some more strikes to Vista, but to what end? Vista is not really ready for prime time. It's lovely when it works. I love the active desktop screen backgrounds. It plays World of Warcraft just fine. The sound works. But every time I try to relax and just use Vista, it hits me with another glitch.

Wait for the Service Pack, and save yourself some frustration. Windows XP works just fine. Use that.