Thursday, October 29, 2009

Not what they get

Recently, I had a discussion with someone where I related how a single Word doc printed differently across different versions of Microsoft Word. The person I was talking to responded (quite seriously) that WYSIWYG means "What You See Is What You Get", not "What They Get", that Word actually renders the document on screen based on the capabilities of the default printer on that computer, so that you should expect the same document to print differently on different computer+printer configurations.

Whoa, it is really sad that it's not only accepted, but expected behavior for a word processing document to look vastly different (note my example: wrapping text around a table, page breaks, etc.) depending on the printer Windows was using. I might understand if the text were rendered a little different due to fonts (installed on the printer) being slightly different from the fonts Windows is using. But I find it hard to believe that text flowing around a table should be any different on one computer+printer vs another computer+printer. If that's really how Windows works, I think I'm even less of a fan.

And yet, Microsoft makes a big deal that if you run Microsoft Office, you will be able to share your documents with others running Office. Apple makes a point of that too in some of their ads. The Microsoft ad copy on Apple's Online Store says:
The latest version of the industry standard for productivity software on the Macintosh platform. Microsoft® Office 2008 for Mac is more powerful and easier to use. Office 2008 combines Microsoft Word for Mac, Microsoft Power-Point® for Mac, Microsoft Excel® for Mac, Microsoft Entourage® for Mac, and Microsoft Messenger for Mac and lets you easily create high-impact documents and seamlessly share your ideas with others, whether they are on the Mac or Windows® platform.
(Emphasis mine.)

And yet, if you cannot guarantee that your document on a Mac (in my example, at least one person printed their copy of the doc on a Mac) will look the same as on Windows, how is that seamless???

On the other hand, Linux/Unix systems expects the application to generate a Postscript document, which is then sent to the print driver, and it's the driver's job to turn that into a printed page on the specific printer. A document should look the same printed on a laser printer vs an inkjet printer. Isn't that the whole point of a printer driver? I think the Linux/Unix method makes more sense.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

5 things to know

Windows 7 has only been out for a few days now, so maybe now is a good time to start looking at what the press is writing.

The Washington Post has an article today about 5 things you should know about upgrading from XP to Windows 7. It's a great topic, since so many people opted to skip Vista entirely, and are (were?) still running Windows XP. The WP's article is not that long, but the slant struck me, so let me put it in plainer terms:
  1. Microsoft didn't make an XP to 7 upgrade tool, despite the fact that so many people avoided Vista and stuck with XP, so you need to blow away your system and re-install.
  2. Or, upgrade from XP to Vista, then upgrade from Vista to 7. Says the article: "It doesn't even have to be licensed since you won't be activating it and won't have it loaded for more than a few hours". Yes, I think the Washington Post just recommended software piracy to make the Windows upgrade easier.
  3. If you have older hardware, you will have a tough time finding drivers in 7. But Microsoft has software to help you find software.
  4. You may lose settings when you upgrade to 7, but Microsoft has more software for that.
  5. Your Windows security software won't work in 7, so you'll have to buy new versions. Yay! More software to make the software you already own work better.
The WP article concludes by recommending you just toss out your existing system, and buy a new one with Windows 7 already pre-loaded. Shocking advice, considering you could buy XP until very recently, and even a few weeks ago Windows XP still had better adoption than Windows Vista.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fedora 12 Beta

In case you don't follow the "Beta" releases, I thought I'd let you know that Fedora 12 Beta was just announced. Compared to Fedora 11, this release contains mostly hardware compatibility and virtualization. Check out the Feature List for full details.

I'm pretty excited about Multi-Pointer X. This extension provides a new client API for handling input devices and also Multi-Pointer X (MPX) functionality. MPX functionality allows X to cope with many inputs of arbitrary types simultaneously, a prerequisite for (among others) multitouch-based desktops and multi-user interaction on a single screen.

I am also looking to try out GNOME Shell "preview". Fedora 12 includes an early version of GNOME Shell, which will be the new way to launch applications, access documents, and organize windows in GNOME 3.0 (expected "sometime" in 2010.) I'm interested in GNOME Shell because it seems like a great way to separate the idea of "this is my desktop" from an application launcher. You may, at first, think it's an odd way to launch programs, but check out the Screencasts and you may agree that it makes things a lot easier.

GNOME Shell is still "preview", so not installed by default yet. Install the gnome-shell package, and use the Desktop Effects configuration tool to enable it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What are the reviews saying?

Windows 7 comes out tomorrow, and I thought this would be an excellent time to look back at the Windows Vista launch.

As we know now, Vista made a poor showing for itself when it was released, and performance issues and other problems dogged it for the last 3 years. But how was Vista reviews on the eve of its release? Tech writer Harry McCracken gives us a recap of the very positive reviews of the then-upcoming Windows Vista.

The reviews for tomorrow's Windows 7 launch are looking great. People are saying that Windows 7 runs better and is more stable than Windows Vista. Lots of people are waxing poetic about Windows 7.

But the reviews for Windows Vista were similarly awesome, yet the OS was a huge disappointment. What to think about Windows 7? Color me skeptical; I'll wait to see proof.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Microsoft attacks Linux at the retail level

I meant to post this a month ago when it first came out, but when the site was slashdotted I put it on hold and forgot to come back to it.

Overclock has a series of screencaps from someone who works at Best Buy. This person was going through the Microsoft ExpertZone training, and was presented with a section on "Windows 7 vs Linux". I immediately spotted many "untruths" in Microsoft's "Linux Compare" slides.

The Microsoft anti-Linux slides mention several things that were blatantly untrue. Allow me to chime in:

I haven't used Windows at home since 1998, and even then I only used it for games. When I bought my first iPod several years ago, I didn't have a problem using GTKpod to connect my iPod, and transfer my MP3 collection to it. I managed all my songs and playlists using GTKpod, and it was easy! (Since then, I bought a Mac and reformatted the iPod to work with that - call me a sellout, but iTunes has a ton of audiobooks I like.)

I have never had problems connecting my digital camera to my Linux PC. Everything just works for me. But if I did have a problem, I'd probably just solve it by taking out the memory card, and using a USB adapter. Then it's just USB storage.

Whether at work or at home, my printing experience under Linux has been "plug and go". Especially in recent years, just plug in the USB printer (I've used Epson, Canon, HP, ...) and Linux identifies it, configures the print driver, and you're done. When I used to run Linux at work, and got a new desktop printer, I didn't even think about it - just plugged it in, and got back to work. Printing to network printers requires knowing the IP address for the printer, but the Linux print configuration tool does the rest.

WindowsLive Essentials
The "Essentials" includes a bunch of stuff that is already included in most Linux distributions by default: email, chat, blogging, photo gallery, etc.

It's all about vendor support. I work at a large organization, and my teams support over 1,100 servers (over half run Unix, most of which is Linux.) We don't go for "community support" here, although I know some smaller organizations that do. Instead, we purchase and run Red Hat Enterprise Linux. This provides access to an online support center (basically, a knowledge base) and call-in phone support. That's the only way I'd run our servers at work.

Support may be different on the desktop, of course. There's Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop, and you can certainly run that. I run Fedora on my laptop. For Fedora, there's no one to call if things break, and I would have to rely on "community support" for any problems. If this scares you, ask yourself: how many times have you called Microsoft for help on your Windows PC? No one really calls Microsoft for home desktops; there's a reason people like Geek Squad are in business. (BTW, I just called Geek Squad to confirm, and they do support Linux on the desktop.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Open Source vs Commercial

Not my usual fare for Linux in Exile, but wanted to share anyway. A friend pointed me to the most awkward article I've seen in a long time, comparing "Open Source" vs "Commercial" software. I'm not convinced the author at ITSM Watch really understands what he's writing about.

The article is very short on specifics, mentioning only Nagios (monitoring system) by name. As a result, the author casts about for a target, and comes across as waffling and lost. From the article:
  • How is the company that uses open source software within their internal IT environment going to update and maintain the solution in their environment?
  • How "mature" is the open source solution?
  • What mission critical applications will be supported by this open source solution?
If the answers are less than satisfactory, then a commercial application would probably be the better choice.
These should be the same questions you ask of every software package you implement in business, not just open source software. I work for a large enterprise, and my teams support over 1,100 servers. No matter what the software or who is the vendor, we ask these same questions for everything we support.

Doesn't matter if the software was written in-house at HP or IBM, or by an OSS developer on his/her free time, the questions will be the same.

When you dig into it (although it's a very short piece) the author seems most concerned about support. From the article:
“I could program an ITIL solution in one week and provide it for open source download and it would be worthless,” said Chris Drake, founder and CEO of FireHost, a hosting company. The problem lies in the lack of a large community base to support the solution. To gain any advantage from open source, IT needs to learn the solution on its own, find a service firm to help, or rely on the community for support, making up-time requirements a prime consideration.
I call bullsh*t. Your 3 options to using open source are not 1. learn it on your own, 2. find someone to help, 3. rely on community support. You can purchase actual support for most open source software systems, just like any software package. Even Nagios has support plans.

At the end, the article asks about open source software: "Where do you go for support if the software breaks?" That's easy. You buy the support before putting that software in place in the enterprise, which is what the article is about. We do this where I work, and that's why we buy RHEL - to get support if we need it.

It's the same no matter if you run "open source" software or "commercial" software.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Microsoft leaks: the Halloween documents

October 31 is coming up soon, so now is a good time to remind everyone of the Halloween Documents, hosted by Eric S. Raymond.

If you don't know what this refers to, you may want to read the Wikipedia entry on the Microsoft Halloween documents leaks. Yes. Microsoft has acknowledged the authenticity of these documents. Furthermore, they have surfaced as an exhibit in the Comes v Microsoft antitrust litigation. Bill Gates himself had them distributed internally.

I think the Halloween documents are substantive proof that Microsoft really views Linux as a threat, and will go to great lengths to protect its monopoly standing.

Not all the Halloween documents listed on Eric's site are leaked memos. Some are simply Eric's commentary. Interested in reading just the leaked Microsoft documents? Here's a summary:

Document 1
An internal report written by Vinod Valloppillil, who was a Program Manager at Microsoft at the time. It looks at Free / Open Source software, including its strengths and weaknesses, and the possible impact to Microsoft's products and services. Importantly, Valloppillil acknowledges that Free / Open Source software "is long-term credible" and "FUD tactics can not be used to combat it." Instead, the document proposes fighting Free / Open Source software by "extending these [commonly-used] protocols and developing new protocols" and "de-commoditize protocols & applications." Thus, the consumer is locked-in to Microsoft's solutions.

Document 2
Another report by Vinod Valloppillil, with Josh Cohen. This gives an overview of the Linux system.

Document 3
Aurelia van den Berg, the Press and Public Relations manager of Microsoft Netherlands does a standard job of explaining away documents 1 & 2, saying that while real, they are not official - intended as internal case studies. Laugh with me at the last line: "Unless Linux violates IP rights, it will fail to deliver innovation over the long run." Does Microsoft mean to say that you can only innovate if you stomp on the rights of others?

Document 7
Presentation from a Microsoft internal Linux Strategic Review, held at the Microsoft offices in Berlin, Septemter 2002. Interestingly, it admits that anti-Linux FUD doesn't work ("Messages that criticize OSS, Linux, & the GPL are NOT effective.")

Document 8
Leaked memo by Orlando Ayala, Group Vice President of Worldwide Sales, about how to deal with competition from Linux in government. Mentions Linux and StarOffice (StarOffice is the "commercial" fork of OpenOffice.)

Document 10
An e-mail from consultant Mike Anderer to SCO's Chris Sontag, referring to Microsoft channeling $86M (possibly more) to SCO through Baystar, to assist in SCO's anti-Linux court cases.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

More stable?

With all the hype coming out about how Windows 7 will "run better" and be "more stable" than Windows Vista, I have to ask: Why couldn't Windows Vista run well and be stable? I mean, when did "stable" and "runs well" come off the collective list of expectations?

People are getting very excited that Windows 7 is "stable" and "runs great". Why is this even an issue? Because Windows Vista hasn't been that great. It had a terrible launch, and 3 years later companies like Dell still get enough demand for an XP "downgrade" that they still ship systems with the older version of Windows instead of Vista. So now we're all excited about how great Windows 7 runs, not realizing this as a symptom of Stockholm Syndrome.

Or any version of Windows, for that matter? I've done IT for almost 15 years and it's been a long, long time since I've seen Windows be really stable. To get Windows stable, you have to not touch the thing, no installing apps. God help you if you install any third party applications or drivers. We just expect that Windows will crash or hang up.

I've rarely experienced stability problems on Linux, and I've been using it at various levels since 1993. Opposite my experience with Windows, it's been a long, long time since I've crashed a Linux desktop. With Linux, if an application crashes or hangs, it's just the application - the system stays running.You don't have to reboot to fix anything. Just close the application window, re-open, and keep working.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wait for Windows 8 (or 9)

With Windows 7 not due for a few weeks yet, Microsoft has (inadvertently?) leaked information about the upcoming Windows 8 and Windows 9. In case you aren't able to view the page at Google's cache, a LinkedIn profile for a Microsoft senior research developer says:

Working in high security department for research and development involving strategic planning for medium and longterm projects. Research & Development projects including 128bit architecture compatibility with the Windows 8 kernel and Windows 9 project plan. Forming relationships with major partners: Intel, AMD, HP and IBM.

So now we know, Windows 8 will include 128bit support. Or will it? We've seen this kind of thing from Microsoft before: leak, announce, hype, delay. WinFS, anyone? That was announced as far back as 2003, intended for Windows Vista. But that got pushed to Windows 7. Then, it got delayed to Windows 8. Or possibly later. (If memory serves, I think Microsoft has been hyping a database-driven filesystem since the initial discussion about "Windows NT".)

So while the data center guy in me is interested in 128bit Windows support, at a technical level, I'm just not hopeful we'll see it in 8 or 9.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Linux takes to the air

You've probably already heard about this, but I wanted to share in case you haven't. The nice guys over at Helios have posted a voice track by a professional voiceover artist, pitching Linux as a product. It's already running on the air on KLBJ AM.

The best part? The raw tracks are available for download and released under the Creative Commons Attribute-ShareAlike 3.0 license. No attribution is necessary. You can find it in mp3 or ogg format, whichever you prefer. Cut, splice, hack, lay tracks under it as you wish.

It's great that Linux will get on-air time as a "product" to help promote itself as a great PC platform. It shouldn't all be about Windows, guys. I'm really excited to see what the Linux community makes of this. Should be interesting!