C64 vs. Apple II

The C64 vs. Apple II was perhaps the most epic battle of the 8-bit era. Both companies sold millions of machines, yet both nearly went out of business in the process.

Comparing the two machines with the largest software libraries of the 8-bit era is a bit difficult, but that’s what makes it fun. The two machines are similar enough that some people ask if the Commodore 64 was an Apple product. The answer is no.

As a weird aside, it was possible, with a Mimic Systems Spartan, to turn a C-64 into an Apple II. Not many did, but the reason why is another story.

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Spot phishing e-mails with Outlook 2010

I got e-mail the other day from Turbotax saying someone had filed my taxes for me. Obviously a cause for concern, right? Here’s how I determined the message was fake in about three minutes.

Some people will tell you not to even open a message like this, but if you’re a computer professional, at some point someone is going to want you to prove the message was fake. I think this is something every e-mail administrator, desktop support professional, security professional, and frankly, every helpdesk professional ought to be able to do.

So here’s how you can get the proof. And generally speaking, Outlook 2010’s default configuration is paranoid enough that this procedure will be safe to do. If you want an extra layer of protection, make sure you have EMET installed and protecting Outlook.

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Another reason to block fonts at the proxy

Last week Apple released a bunch of patches up and down its product line. One of the vulnerabilities it fixed in OS X was a vulnerability in its font parser.

In the past you could mitigate vulnerabilities like this by only installing fonts from trusted sources, but since it’s now possible for web pages to transmit fonts along with other content, there’s a limitless number of untrusted fonts out there in the world.

Since it may take a while for all of the major operating systems to shake out all of the problems in their font subsystems, that’s the reason I’ve recommended filtering fonts at the proxy.

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Building DOS gaming PCs

The ultimate DOS gaming PC is a topic that I’ve seen come up in forums frequently, and that I’ve been asked directly a number of times. I guess since I published advice on running DOS games on Windows PCs on two continents, people figured I knew something about that. I guess I fooled them!

The trouble is that no single PC can really be the “ultimate” DOS game machine. Well, not if your goal is to be able to optimally run everything from early 1980s titles designed for the original IBM PC up to the last DOS version of Quake. I learned that the hard way in 1995 or 1996, even before Quake existed. Read more

How the Amiga could have lived to age 30 and beyond

It was 30 years ago this week that Commodore released its landmark, long-time-coming Amiga 1000 computer–the first 1990s computer in a field full of 1970s retreads.

Yes, it was a 1990s computer in 1985. It had color and sound built in, not as expensive, clunky, hard-to-configure add-ons. It could address up to 8 megabytes of memory, though it ran admirably on a mere 512 kilobytes. Most importantly, it had fully pre-emptive multitasking, something that previously only existed in commercial workstations that cost five figures.

It was so revolutionary that even NBC is acknowledging the anniversary.

Being a decade or so ahead of its time was only the beginning of its problems, unfortunately.

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The forgotten computer that changed the world

A rather hastily written and sloppily edited piece showed up on Slashdot yesterday morning that caught my attention, because it was about the Amiga 2000. The Amiga 2000 is a dear machine to me; in 1991, our family upgraded to one from a Commodore 128. I still have both machines, and there isn’t much that I know today that I didn’t first experience on one of those two machines.

This is an Amiga 2000 that looks fairly pristine. Inside there was lots of room for hard drives, memory, CPU upgrades, and video devices.
This is an Amiga 2000 that looks fairly pristine. Inside there was lots of room for hard drives, memory, CPU upgrades, and video devices.

Although I think the piece was little more than a used computer store’s effort to unload some hard-to-move inventory, I do agree with the premise. For a machine that had a tremendous impact on the world as we know it today, the A2000 is criminally unknown. Read more

The Tampa Post on “Windows Service Center” scams

The Tampa Post’s technology Q&A columnist received a letter this weekend (toward the bottom of the link) about Windows tech support scammers. From the article:

The people performing the hoax sound remarkably professional and officious.

Depending on what you say to them, results vary a lot. When they call me, they’re anything but professional. Especially lately. They seem to be OK when they don’t think they’re talking to a computer professional. Mention that you do this for a living, that you have an advanced certification, or that you wrote a book, and they turn vicious fast. Read more

The Warhol Amiga discovery in context

A team of digital archaeologists recovered a series of images off floppy disks from Andy Warhol’s estate, including a number of experimental images created by Warhol himself. Judging from the comments in the various places that covered the discovery, the Internet is unimpressed.

Yes, these images appear to be the result of Warhol messing around. In many ways, they’re not all that different from what anyone might produce today messing around with a digital camera and a simple paint program with a fill pattern.

I’m not sure how many of the critics realize Warhol created this stuff in 1985 or perhaps even late 1984, using preproduction, prerelease hardware and software. All of it was likely buggy. And, as much as I like the Amiga, none of it was anywhere near today’s standards. The stuff he had to work with was nowhere near 1989 standards–the Amiga in its early days was notoriously finicky.

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The trade off of fidelity and convenience in marketing, and how it doomed my favorite company

I’m reading a book called Trade-Off, by former USA Today technology columnist Kevin Maney. It’s primarily a marketing book.

Maney argues that all products are a balance of fidelity and convenience, and highly favor one or the other. He additionally argues that failed products fail because they attempted to achieve both, or failed to focus on either one.

An example of a convenient product is an economy car. They’re inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to keep fueled up, but don’t have much glitz and you probably won’t fall in love with it. A high-end sports car or luxury car is a lot less practical, but you’re a lot more likely to fall in love with it, and gain prestige by driving around town in it. Read more

Getting past your own biases

I read Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive last week. I always figured it was an autobiography or memoir, not a business book. But it’s a business book.  A very good one.

I avoided it because I didn’t like Andy Grove. I’ve never been a fan of Intel’s business practices during the 1990s and 2000s, including using payola to keep competitors’ chips out of large computer systems, but after reading this book, I’m more disappointed than anything. Whichever company had Andy Grove wins, period. No need to cheat. Read more