I just saw Phillipe Kahn (not Khan) in a Best Bait-n-Switch commercial, introducing himself as the inventor of the camera phone. But that’s not my favorite Phillipe Kahn story.
Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire is a 1992 autobiography of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. It’s old. But it’s a compelling snapshot of what the industry thought of Gates and Microsoft before Windows 95, before Microsoft Office, and before Internet Explorer. Indeed, it gives an early glimpse into the struggle [...]
I hate April Fool’s Day. So nobody thinks this is an April Fool’s joke, I’ll just write more about what I wrote about yesterday, concentrating on media reactions to Paul Allen’s memoir. Then, tomorrow, I’ll revisit a very serious, important topic.
You’ve probably heard by now about Vanity Fair publishing an excerpt from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s autobiography, which doesn’t give the most flattering portrayal of Bill Gates, his former business partner. I’ve heard most of these stories before, though I’m trying to figure out where. What surprises me is the people who are acting like [...]
It’s been said that Ed Roberts of Altair fame was the last person to get the better of Bill Gates in a business deal.
But I’ll say it was Jack Tramiel.
I haven’t said anything about Microsoft Executive Craig Mundie’s speech yet. Everyone’s heard of it, of course, and the typical response has been something along the lines of “Now we know Microsoft’s stance on Open Source.” No, we’ve always known Microsoft’s stance on that. They’re scared of it. Remember the stereotype of open-source programmers: college [...]
Innovation. And of course I can’t let this slip by. Microsoft is trying to say that open source stifles innovation. Steve DeLassus and I have been talking about this (he was the one who originally pointed it out to me), and I think he and I are in agreement that open source by nature isn’t inherently innovative. It may improve on another idea or add features, but most open source projects (and certainly the most successful ones) are clones of proprietary software. Then again, so was a lot of Microsoft software, starting out. Pot, meet Kettle. Kettle, meet Pot.
But although the programs themselves aren’t always innovative, I think the open source atmosphere can stimulate innovation. Huh? Bear with me. Open source gets you in closer contact with computer internals than a Microsoft or Apple OS generally will. That gets you thinking more about what’s possible and what’s not–the idea of what’s possible starts to have more to do with the hardware than it does with what people have tried before. That stimulates creativity, which in turn stimulates innovation.
Need an example? A calculator company called Busicom accidentally invented the personal computer. I’ve heard several versions of the story, but the gist of it was, Busicom wanted to create a programmable calculator. In the process of creating this device, they commissioned the Intel 4004 CPU, the first chip of its kind. There are conflicting accounts as to whether the resulting product even used the Intel 4004, but that’s immaterial–this calculator’s other innovation was its inclusion of a tape drive.
Intel bought back the rights and marketed the 4004 on its own and became a success story, of course. Meanwhile, people started using their Busicom calculators as inexpensive computers–the built-in tape drive worked as well for data storage as it did for program storage. This was in 1970-1971, several years before the Altair and other kit computers.
Four years later, Busicom was out of business but the revolution was under way, all because some people–both engineers at Intel and end-users who bought the calculators–looked beyond the device’s intended use and saw something more.
Open source software frequently forces you to do the same thing, or it at least encourages it. This fuels innovation, and thus should be encouraged, if anything.
Last week’s flood. No, I haven’t answered all the mail about it. I’m going to give it another day before I deal with it, because dealing with a ton of mail is frankly harder than just writing content from scratch. I don’t mind occasionally, but I’d rather wait until a discussion reaches critical mass, you know?
One reader wrote in asking why foreigners care about U.S. gun laws. I don’t really have an answer to that question. I find it very interesting that no American has yet voiced any strong objections to anything I said–I even had a lifelong liberal Democrat write in, and while she stayed to my left, she advocated enforcement of the laws we already have on the books, rather than an outright ban. She’d force more safety classes, but I don’t have any real objections to that notion.
An interesting upgrade approach. The Register reported about a new upgrade board, about to be released by Hypertec, that plugs into any PC with an available ISA slot and upgrades the CPU, video, and sound subsystems. I’m assuming it also replaces the memory subsystem, since pulling system memory through the ISA bus would be pitifully slow.
The solution will be more expensive than a motherboard swap, but for a corporation that has a wide variety of obsolescent PCs, it might be a good solution. First, it’s cheaper than outright replacement. Second, it creates common ground where there was none: two upgraded systems would presumably be able to use the same Ghost/DriveImage/Linux DD image, lowering administrative costs and, consequently, TCO. Third, corporations are frequently more willing to upgrade, rather than replace, existing systems even when it doesn’t make economic sense to do so (that’s corporate management for you).
Depending on the chipset it uses and the expected timeframe, I may be inclined to recommend these for the company I work for. We’ve got anywhere from 30-100 systems that aren’t capable of running Office 2000 for whatever reason. Some of them are just old Micron Client Pros, others are Micron Millenias who were configured by idiots (a local clone shop that we used to contract with way back when–I’ve never seen anyone configure NT in a more nonsensical manner), others are clones built by idiots, and others are well-built clones that just happen to be far too old to upgrade economically.
Many of these machines can be upgraded–the Microns are all ATX, so an Intel motherboard and a low-end CPU would be acceptable. Most of the others are ATs and Socket 7-based. An upgrade CPU would likely work, but will be pricey and compatibility is always a dicey issue, and most businesses are still stuck in the Intel-only mindset. (Better not tell them Macintoshes don’t use Intel CPUs–wait… Someone PLEASE tell them Macs don’t use Intel CPUs! Yeah, I’ll be an Intel lackey in exchange for never having to troubleshoot an extension conflict on a Mac again. But that’s another story.) They all need memory upgrades, and buying SIMMs in this day and age is a sucker bet. Average price of the upgrades would be $550, but we’d have a hodgepodge of systems. If we can get common ground and two years of useful life for $700 from Hypertec, upper management would probably approve it.
Sweet! In Optimizing Windows, I lamented that no one had made a hardware RAM disk. Leave it to the Aussies, someone did it. I found a reference to Platypus Technologies ( www.platypus.net ) on Storage Review’s forum. It’s pricey–a half-gig disk will run $1,500, while an 8-gig job runs into five figures–but you’ll never find anything faster. It’s a plug-in PCI card that uses SDRAM DIMMs. Whether it’ll take off-the-shelf DIMMs or just Platypus-manufactured DIMMs, I’m not sure.
I’d love to see this catch on and drive the price down. The size seems a bit small, but keep in mind that for, say, a Web server, speed is much more important than size, and a half gig will hold an awful lot of HTML. And there was a time when operating systems and a reasonable number of apps easily fit in half a gig, if you’re thinking workstations.
I’d say I think I’m in love, but that’s not true. This device is 100% Grade-A lust. Now the question becomes how do I convince Computer Shopper UK that they’ve really got to do an in-depth look at this killer device, and that I’m absolutely, positively the guy they have to have do it…?
One-button Linux shutdowns. Here’s a great idea. A lot of people run headless Linux boxes for firewalls or routers or Web servers or other things. But that once or twice a year you need to shut the machine down–due to power failures, for instance–becomes a real pain without a keyboard or mouse. You have to telnet or ssh in, issue the command… Or keep a monitor and keyboard handy, which just wastes space most of the time.
Here’s a solution: a case-mounted pushbutton with a pair of LEDs. Push the button, the PC shuts down. It plugs into a serial port and needs a small daemon to monitor the serial line.
And it occurs to me that nothing stops you from using the PC’s reset switch and its power and HDD LEDs–or turbo LED if it has one–and with that slight modification, it would require no modification to the case. Just put connectors on the PCB for the switch and LEDs and mount it somewhere inside.
Also, I looked at the source code for the daemon, and it would be extremely easy to mofify this project to do any other task–just go to the runshutdown() function and change the system(“/sbin/shutdown -t2 -h now”); command to execute any other Unix command. The C source code is so simple, even a journalist like me can modify it.
If I were building another Linux-based Cable/DSL gateway, I’d probably pull that line and replace it with these two:
system(“kill -9 $(pidof -x pumpd)”);
That way, with the push of a button, the gateway could go grab a new IP address.
And if you have multiple serial ports, nothing stops you from building one of these switches for each port and modifying this daemon to run additional commands. A throwback to the Imsai and Altair days, to be sure.
Too bad you don’t see much of this kind of stuff anymore.
Samba. Speaking of Linux, that was one of the weekend’s projects. My church ran out of IP addresses, so I took an old P166, threw a pair of NICs in it, and set up IP masquerading on it (Mandrake 7.2 makes this so nice–just run DrakConf, run Internet Connection Sharing, answer its questions, and you’re in business), then I started assigning 192-net numbers to the PCs that didn’t have addresses. It worked great. Since I had a Linux box with an 8-gig drive just sitting there, I decided I also wanted to set it up as a server. So I tried to configure Samba as an NT domain controller and fell flat on my face. It showed up in Network Neighborhood, but I couldn’t authenticate against it no matter what I tried.
I decided yesterday I was being too ambitious. I reformatted my P120, installed Mandrake 7.2 on it, and configured Samba to just look like a plain old Win95 box. It worked great. They’re not used to having a big network at church, and they’re all on Win98 boxes anyway, so I think I’ll just configure Samba to do user-level authentication, create a few shares, and let it go at that. The primary convenience of the server is the AV booth; one of the staff puts together PowerPoint presentations for the service, which are then loaded on a pair of PCs up in the AV booth for projection on Sundays and Wednesdays. The server will allow them to edit in their office, then go to the AV booth without shuttling around Zip disks. Chances are the DCE, who also serves as the resident PC expert, will also use a share there to store device drivers and other downloaded stuff he finds himself using often. Other than that, the server probably won’t get a lot of work, so trying to create an NT domain with hardcore security probably isn’t a good investment of my time.
So I’ll probably just create an AV share, create a public share that’s read/write accessible to anyone, then I’ll share out home directories and show him how to create user accounts. That way if anyone else wants to use a network drive, it’s there, but not mandatory.