Tag Archives: OSS

Looks like Windows XP SP2 is gonna break stuff

I’m sure you’ve read already that Service Pack 2 for Windows XP is going to break some software in the name of enhanced security. And I’m sure you’ve read lots of howls of protest. And maybe some smug snide asides too.

What I’m sure you haven’t read is what to do about those compatibility issues.

Keep reading.First and foremost, you should keep your main Windows installation up to date. For everyday functions like word processing and e-mail, Windows XP SP2 should do just fine. It’s the old stuff that’s likely to break. And the old stuff is likely to be the stuff you only use occasionally.

So here’s what you do. Dual-boot Windows XP SP2 with an older version. That older version could be Windows XP SP1, or it could be something older.

How? The easiest way is to use a bootloader like XOSL. There might be others out there, but XOSL is proven, and it’s great. People have used it to install literally dozens of OSs on one computer.

If you’ve got software that hasn’t run right since you upgraded to XP, this is your chance to correct it too. With XOSL, lots of versions of Windows can coexist. You can even install Windows 3.1 if you can manage to locate drivers for your new hardware. (Though I can’t imagine why…. Windows 3.1 was so bad it drove me to run OS/2 for three years.)

After you get your old versions of Windows installed, boot into them and install your old software that doesn’t like XP SP2. Badda bing, badda boom, you can run your old stuff, and when you’re doing your everyday stuff, you can do the socially responsible thing and be up to date. Everybody wins.

Or, if lots of old software’s going to quit running anyway, you could just take it as your cue to switch to Linux…

Dave installs Windows XP

We needed an XP box at work for testing. Duty to do the dirty deed fell to me. So after ghosting the Windows 2000 station several of us share, I pulled out an XP CD. It installed surprisingly quickly–less than half an hour. The system is a P3-667 with 128 MB RAM and an IBM hard drive (I don’t know the model).
It found the network and had drivers for all the hardware in the box. That doesn’t happen very often with Microsoft OSs, so it was nice.

I booted into XP, to be greeted by a hillside that was just begging to be overrun by tanks, but instead of tanks, there was this humongo start menu. I right-clicked on the Start button, hit Properties, and picked Classic view. There. I had a Win95-like Start menu. While I was at it, I went back and picked small icons. I don’t like humongous Start menus.

I also don’t like training wheels and big, bubbly title bars. The system was dog slow, so I right-clicked on the desktop to see what I could find to turn off. I replaced the Windows XP theme with the Classic theme. Then I turned off that annoying fade effect.

Still, the system dragged. I went into Control Panel, System, Performance. Bingo. I could pick settings for best appearance (whose choices are certainly debatable–I guess they look good if you like bright colors and have a huge monitor) or best performance. Guess which I picked? Much better.

Next, I went into Networking. I saw some QoS thing. I did a search. It’s intended to improve the quality of your network, at the price of 20% of your bandwidth. Forget that. I killed it.

After I did all that stuff, XP was reasonably peppy. It logs on and off quickly. I installed Office 2000 and it worked fine. The apps loaded quickly–just a couple of seconds. That’s how it should be. If I went in and edited the shortcuts in the Start menu to turn off the splash screens, they’d load instantly.

WinXP brings up a bunch of popups that I don’t like. If I wanted unexpected popup windows, I’d run a Web browser. I couldn’t quickly figure out how to disable those.

I couldn’t run Windows Update. It froze every time I tried.

I found a Windows XP tuning guide at ExtremeTech. I suspect turning off the eye candy will help more than most of the suggestions in that article. I suspect if I dug around I’d find other things. We’ll see if I get some time.

XP isn’t as bad as I expected, I guess. But I’m still not going to buy it.

This, on the other hand, is worth a second look. And a third. You can now run MS Office on Linux. No need to wait for Lindows, no need to abandon your current fave distro (at least if your fave distro is Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake, Debian, or Caldera).

It’s 55 bucks. It’s available today. It brings Office 97/2000 and Lotus Notes r5 to your Linux desktop. Other Windows apps work, but their functionality isn’t guaranteed.

You can get some screenshots at CodeWeavers. It even makes the apps look like native Linux apps.

Microsoft’s temper tantrum

Microsoft is throwing a temper tantrum that if the states’ current proposal goes through, the company will be forced to withdraw Windows from the market.
Pay no attention, move along, there’s nothing to see here.

Remember, this is the company that didn’t sign an agreement with IBM for a Windows 95 OEM license until the day it was launched. At one point during the negotiations, Microsoft told IBM it could buy it at retail. As hard as it might be to remember now, at the time, IBM was still one of the top 5 players in the U.S. PC retail market.

This is a company that plays hardball. It says unreasonable things to get its way. And it’s used to getting its way. And even when it doesn’t get its way, it still says stupid things. Remember, in 1994 Steve Ballmer said a court’s decision against Microsoft in Stac’s favor would be reversed as soon as they found a judge with actual brains.

Reality check: Microsoft can very easily comply with the states’ demands. Or reach a compromise that will benefit everybody. Once upon a time, long long ago, when you installed Windows, you could tell it what you wanted. If you didn’t have any use for Calculator, you could click a little checkbox next to it, Windows wouldn’t install it, and you’d save about 200K of disk space. Hey, back when people were trying to run Windows on 40-meg hard drives, it was nice to have that ability. Or, if you already had a third-party calculator app that put Microsoft’s to shame and thus had no need for the one that came with Windows, you didn’t have to install it.

The same was true of DriveSpace and all the other bundled stuff. I mean, let’s get serious here: Is there any reason whatsoever to install Space Cadet Pinball on your domain controller?

But with Windows 95, Microsoft started to get unreasonable. Yes, you could uncheck that little box next to MSN, but when you did it, Windows didn’t actually seem to do anything. Regardless of whether you checked that box, when Windows was finished, you had an MSN icon on your desktop. If AOL continued to exist, Microsoft’s very existence was threatened. In order for Microsoft to survive, AOL had to die. So you got MSN whether you used it or not. (Some idiot with a journalism degree figured out how to remove it a couple of years later.)

With Windows 95B, things got more sinister. Netscape replaced AOL as the imminent threat to Microsoft’s very survival, so you got Internet Explorer whether you wanted it or not. This time, Microsoft didn’t even bother putting in a checkbox for Windows to ignore. You just got it. With Windows 95 OSR2.1 and 98, Internet Explorer became increasingly more entrenched.

Once it was evident that AOL would never die and Netscape would never rise again, RealPlayer and QuickTime became threats to Microsoft’s existence. So, with Windows 98, we got Microsoft Media Player, whether we wanted it or not. Never mind that the basic Real and QuickTime players are free and both companies would have loved for Microsoft to deliver them with Windows and it would have saved the company development costs.

Microsoft could go a long, long way towards appeasing the states if they’d just put in little checkboxes that let you decide whether Internet Explorer or MediaPlayer was installed, just like Calculator. There’s no need for 8,000 different versions of Windows, like Steve “The Embalmer” Ballmer wants people to believe. Let the consumer decide what pieces he or she wants. Does a deaf person need MediaPlayer? It’s questionable. Does a file server really need Internet Explorer? Absolutely not.

And while there are magazines and book authors who want you to believe otherwise, thousands of people have removed Internet Explorer from Windows. And guess what? The sun didn’t quit rising. The world failed to fall apart. The stock market didn’t crash. Their computers didn’t fall over. The applications they needed to run still ran. In fact, the applications ran better once they got the unnecessary machinery gone. Imagine that, a basic engineering principle applying to computers!

Microsoft execs have complained about a double standard, because Apple, IBM, and Be all shipped Web browsers with their OSs. Of course, there was a big difference. In the case of MacOS, BeOS, and OS/2, you could tell the OS not to install the browser, and it didn’t do it. The same for their other components. In the case of OS/2, you could even remove the entire Windows subsystem. You lost the ability to run Windows 3.1 programs, but you gained speed and stability. I knew people who did that. I’ve done minimalist Mac OS installations that took up less than 20 megs and were completely useless because they lacked the drivers needed to install other software. But if I want to be stupid enough to install a completely crippled OS that can’t do anything besides boot a computer and let me look at its empty hard drive, Apple’s not going to stop me.

The overwhelming majority of people will just leave things alone. But the people who like to get into the nuts and botls of things want (and deserve) the opportunity to change how their computers work. They want Microsoft to fight its battles in the marketplace, not in the memory and CPUs of their computers. I don’t blame them in the least. Of course, I’m spoiled. IBM and Commodore let me have it my way, back when I was buying my operating systems from them.

So, Microsoft has a history of threats, and a history of following through with them, even when the reasoning behind them is totally ludicrous. But in the case of IBM, they ultimately budged, albeit 45 minutes into the 11th hour, and they didn’t budge much. But you don’t just shut out the #3 or #4 PC maker in the country. At the time, Microsoft still needed IBM, and IBM needed Microsoft, as much as both companies hated to admit it.

This is no different. Microsoft can’t just pull Windows off the market. Windows is still its main source of revenue, and Windows runs on more than 90 percent of the computers on the market. Microsoft isn’t going to just give that away. Sure, they make some Mac products, but the Mac is 5 percent of the market on a good day. The cheapest and easiest replacement for Windows, in the unlikely event Microsoft pulled out, is Linux, where Microsoft is a non-player. Microsoft could still sell Windows software to the existing installed base. But it’s ludicrous. Pulling Windows off the market is corporate suicide.

I really don’t think Microsoft would have made IBM buy its copies of Windows 95 at retail. Not everyone remembers it now, but there was some resistance to Windows 95 initially, and a company the size of IBM not shipping Windows 95 on its new computers would have given way to much credence to the naysayers. Microsoft was counting on Windows 95 being big, and it wasn’t going to take any chances. It had spent way too much money on research, development, and hype. Microsoft made that threat to see just how far IBM would go. And that’s what Microsoft is doing now. It’s trying to see how much the states are going to budge.

And that’s all there is to Ballmer’s rhetoric. Nothing more. And nothing less.

Is Windows optimization obsolete?

I read a statement on Bob Thompson’s website about Windows optimization, where he basically told a reader not to bother trying to squeeze more speed out of his Pentium-200, to spend a few hundred bucks on a hardware upgrade instead.
That’s flawed thinking. One of the site’s more regular readers responded and mentioned my book (thanks, Clark E. Myers). I remember talking at work after upgrading a hard drive in one of the servers last week. I said I ought to put my 10,000-rpm SCSI hard drive in a Pentium-133, then go find someone. “You think your Pentium 4 is pretty hot stuff, huh? Wanna race? Let’s see who can load Word faster.” And I’d win by a large margin. For that matter, if I were a betting man I’d be willing to bet a Pentium-200 or 233 with that drive would be faster than a typical P4 for everything but encoding MP3 audio and MP4 video.

Granted, I’ve just played into Thompson’s argument that a hardware upgrade is the best way to get more performance. An 18-gig 10K drive will run at least $180 at Hyper Microsystems, and the cheapest SCSI controller that will do it justice will run you $110 (don’t plug it into anything less than an Ultra Wide SCSI controller or the controller will be the bottleneck), so that’s not exactly a cheap upgrade. It might be marginally cheaper than buying a new case, motherboard, CPU and memory. Marginally. And even if you do that, you’re still stuck with a cruddy old hard drive and video card (unless the board has integrated video).

On the other hand, just a couple weekends ago I ripped out a 5400-rpm drive from a friend’s GW2K P2-350 and replaced it with a $149 Maxtor 7200-rpm IDE drive and it felt like a new computer. So you can cheaply increase a computer’s performance as well, without the pain of a new motherboard.

But I completely and totally reject the hypothesis that there’s nothing you can do in software to speed up a computer.

I was working on a computer at church on Sunday, trying to quickly burn the sermon onto CD. We’re going to start recording the sermon at the 8:00 service so that people can buy a CD after the 10:45 service if they want a copy of it. Since quality CDs can be had for a buck in quantity, we’ll probably sell discs for $2, considering the inevitable wear and tear on the drives. Today was the pilot day. The gain was set too high on the audio at 8:00, so I gave it another go at 10:45.

That computer was a Pentium 4, but that Pentium 4 made my Celeron-400 look like a pretty hot machine. I’m serious. And my Celeron-400 has a three-year-old 5400-rpm hard drive in it, and a six-year-old Diamond video card of some sort, maybe with the S3 ViRGE chipset? Whatever it is, it was one of the very first cards to advertise 3D acceleration, but the card originally sold for $149. In 1996, for 149 bucks you weren’t getting much 3D acceleration. As for its 2D performance, well, it was better than the Trident card it replaced.

There’s nothing in that Celeron-400 worth bragging about. Well, maybe the 256 megs of RAM. Except all the l337 h4xx0r5 bought 1.5 gigs of memory back in the summer when they were giving away 512-meg sticks in cereal boxes because they were cheaper than mini-frisbees and baseball cards (then they wondered why Windows wouldn’t load anymore), so 256 megs makes me look pretty lame these days. Forget I mentioned it.

So. My cruddy three-year-old Celeron-400, which was the cheapest computer on the market when I bought it, was outperforming this brand-new HP Pentium 4. Hmm.

Thompson says if there were any settings you could tweak to make Windows run faster, they’d be defaults.

Bull puckey.

Microsoft doesn’t give a rip about performance. Microsoft cares about selling operating systems. It’s in Microsoft’s best interest to sell slow operating systems. People go buy the latest and worst greatest, find it runs like a 1986 Yugo on their year-old PC, so then they go buy a Pentium 4 and Microsoft sells the operating system twice. Nice, isn’t it? After doing something like that once, people just buy a new computer when Microsoft releases a new operating system. Or, more likely, they buy a new computer every second time Microsoft releases a new operating system.

Microsoft counts on this. Intel counts on this. PC makers count on this. Best Bait-n-Switch counts on this. You should have seen those guys salivating over the Windows 95 launch. (It was pretty gross, really, and I didn’t just think that because I was running OS/2 at the time and wasn’t interested in downgrading.)

I’ve never had the privilege of working for an employer who had any money. Everywhere I’ve worked, we’ve bought equipment, then run it until it breaks, then re-treaded it and run it until it breaks again. Some of the people I work with have 486s on their desks. Not many (fortunately), but there are some. I’ve had to learn how to squeeze the last drop of performance out of some computers that never really had anything to offer in the first place. And I haven’t learned much in the past since I started my professional career in Feb. 1997, but I have learned one thing.

There’s a lot you can do to increase performance without changing any hardware. Even on an old Pentium.

First things first. Clean up that root directory. You’ve probably got dozens of backup copies of autoexec.bat and config.sys there. Get them gone. If you (or someone else) saved a bunch of stuff in the root directory, move it into C:My Documents where it belongs. Then defrag the drive, so the computer gets rid of the phantom directory entries. You’ll think you’ve got a new computer. I know, it’s stupid. Microsoft doesn’t know how to write a decent filesystem, and that’s why that trick works. Cleaning up a crowded root directory has a bigger effect on system performance than anything else you can do. Including changing your motherboard.

2. Uninstall any ancient programs you’re not running. Defrag afterward.

3. Right-click your desktop. See that Active Desktop crap? Turn it off. You’ll think you’ve got a new computer.

4. I am not making this up. (This trick isn’t in the book. Bonus.) Double-click My Computer. Go to Tools, Folder Options. Go to Web View. Select “Use Windows Classic Folders.” This makes a huge difference.

5. Turn off the custom mouse pointers you’re using. They’re slowing you down. Terribly.

6. Download and run Ad Aware. Spyware DLLs kill your system stability and speed. If you’ve got some spyware (you never know until you run it), Ad Aware could speed you up considerably. I’ve seen it make no difference. And I’ve seen it make all the difference in the world. It won’t cost you anything to find out.

7. Remove Internet Explorer. It’s a security risk. It slows down your computer something fierce. It’s not even the best browser on the market. You’re much better off without it. Download IEradicator from 98lite.net. It’ll remove IE from Win95, 98, ME, NT, and 2K SP1 or lower. If you run Windows 2000, reinstall, then run IEradicator, then install SP2 (or SP3 if it’s out by the time you read this). Then install Mozilla, or the lightweight, Mozilla-based K-Meleon instead. Need a lightweight mail client to replace Outlook Express? Give these a look. Run Defrag after you remove IE. You won’t believe how much faster your computer runs. Trust me. An Infoworld article several years back found that removing IE sped up the OS by as much as 15 percent. That’s more than you gain by moving your CPU up one speed grade, folks.

8. Reinstall your OS. OSs accumulate a lot of gunk, and sometimes the best thing to do is to back up your My Documents folder, format your hard drive, and reinstall your OS and the current versions of the apps you use. Then do all this other stuff. Sure, it takes a while. But you’ll have to do it anyway if you upgrade your motherboard.

9. Get a utilities suite. Norton Speed Disk does a much better job of defragmenting your hard drive than Windows’ built-in tool. It’s worth the price of Norton Utilities. Good thing too, because 90% of the stuff Norton Utilities installs is crap. Speed Disk, properly run, increases your disk performance enough to make your head spin. (The tricks are in the book. Sorry, I can’t give away everything.)

10. Get my book. Hey, I had to plug it somewhere, didn’t I? There are 3,000 unsold copies sitting in a warehouse in Tennessee. (O’Reilly’s going to get mad at me for saying that, so I’ll say it again.) Since there are 3,000 unsold copies sitting in a warehouse in Tennessee, that means there are about 3,000 people who don’t need to buy a new computer and may not know it. I don’t like that. Will there be an updated version? If those 3,000 copies sell and I can go to a publisher and tell them there’s a market for this kind of book based on the 2002 sales figures for my last one, maybe. Yes, there are things that book doesn’t tell you. I just told you those things. There are plenty of things that book tells you that this doesn’t. It’s 260 pages long for a reason.

Recent Microsoft OSs are high on marketing and low on substance. If Microsoft can use your computing resources to promote Internet Explorer, MSN, or anything else, they’ll do it. Yes, Optimizing Windows is dated. Spyware wasn’t known to exist when I wrote it, for instance. Will it help? Absolutely. I stated in that book that no computer made in 1996 or later is truly obsolete. I stand by that statement, even though I wrote it nearly three years ago. Unless gaming is your thang, you can make any older PC run better, and probably make it adequate for the apps you want to run. Maybe even for the OS you want to run. And even if you have a brand-new PC, there’s a lot you can do.

Like I said, I’d rather use my crusty old Celeron-400 than that brand-new P4. It’s a pile of junk, but it’s the better computer. And that’s entirely because I was willing to spend an hour or two cleaning it up.

Ghosts from the past…

Wednesday night, 6:35 PM: I was in my South St. Louis County apartment, getting ready for church, when my phone rang. I’d had at least one telemarketing call that night already, but I picked up the phone anyway.
“Hello?” I said, maybe slightly agitated.

“Dave?” a female voice asked. So much for a telemarketer. I recognized the voice but didn’t place it immediately. And obviously she knew me.

“Yes?”

“It’s Wendy.” Ah, Wendy from church. OK.

“What’s up?” I asked. She doesn’t routinely call me–she doesn’t routinely call anyone, I don’t think–so I figured she probably needed something. That’s OK. I take care of my friends.

“What’s it mean when your computer says, ‘Bad or missing command interpreter. Enter path of a valid command interpreter, e.g. c:windowscommand.com’?”

“Oh. That means one of the files your computer needs to get started is blitzed,” I said. “What happens if you type it?”

“You’re gonna hate me,” she said as she typed the filename. “You deal with this stuff all day and now I call you wanting computer advice.”

I could never hate her. She’s too nice. Besides, guys like fixing things, especially for people they like. I probably should have told her that.

“It just repeats the same thing again,” she said.

“I see.” I had her try a couple of other locations–Microsoft OSs have always installed command.com in too many places. But no go.

“Are my other files OK?”

“Hopefully,” I said. “My computer used to do this to me once a year.”

“My whole life is on this computer, Dave,” she said, sounding a little distressed. My heart melted. I hate it when bad things happen to good people. I especially hate it when bad things happen to good people and one of Bill Gates’ or Steve Jobs’ toy operating systems is involved. But sometimes it’s just a minor inconvenience. I hoped this was one of those instances.

“I just need to boot your computer off a floppy, type a command or two, and it’ll probably come right back to life,” I said.

“Do you have time to do this? I mean, really have time to do this?” She didn’t want to inconvenience me.

“Yeah, I’m on my way to church, and you’re on the way, and it should only take me a couple of minutes,” I said as I formatted a disk and copied sys.com to it.

After assuring her again that I was sure, I told her I’d be there in about 10 minutes. I hopped in my car, disk in hand, ready to go be a hero and still make it to church on time. I rang her bell, heard her dog scream bloody murder, and she opened the door. As soon as she let me in, her Labrador warmed up to me. She led me to the computer room, where I sat down and popped in a disk. She yanked on her Lab’s leash, trying to keep her away from me. She wasn’t having much luck.

“That’s OK,” I said to Wendy. “I like dogs.” Then I turned to the dog and started scratching behind her ears. “I’ll bet the most dangerous part of you is your tail. You just like people so much you thump ’em to death, don’t you?” I turned to the computer and booted off the floppy. It didn’t work. So I restarted, and when it asked for a command interpreter, I typed “a:command.com” and got a command prompt. Meanwhile, her dog grabbed onto my hand with her paw so I wouldn’t go anywhere. Shadow, the Cocker Spaniel/Irish Setter mix I had growing up, used to do that.

I ran sys.com and rebooted, expecting to be a hero. Instead, I got the dreaded invalid media type reading drive C error.

I told Wendy I’d need the heavy artillery to fix this problem. I kicked myself for not bringing any more sophisticated tools like MBRWORK. It looked like a blitzed partition table to me.

I rebooted a couple more times to try to get symptoms. The Windows logo splashed up ever so briefly. The drive didn’t make any weird noises. That was good. That meant the boot record was intact, and that some data was intact–obviously, because it was reading the Windows logo. It looked just like the time my Pentium-75 crashed and forced me to cycle power, then didn’t come back up. I didn’t know how to fix a blitzed partition table then. But that was a long time ago.

By now, it was 7:20. “I can go get some more tools,” I offered.

“Go to church,” she said. “I’d feel really bad if you miss church. Tell Pastor John it’s my fault.”

I did my best to reassure her that I could get her data back. I told her the odds looked like about 50/50. In reality I was more confident than that, but unless I’m about 99% certain, I won’t say the chances are any better than 50/50. There’s nothing I hate more than disappointing people.

I went to church mad at myself that I hadn’t gotten her data back. I came home from church, got ready to gather up my tools, and checked my messages. It was Wendy. She said she’d gone to school to work on a paper, that we’d worry about the computer tomorrow but it wasn’t a big deal.

Maybe it wasn’t to her. But it was to me. I hate losing, especially to a computer. I have since I was in first grade and played Atari at my neighbors’ house. True, back then I got mad when I lost at Donkey Kong, but in my mind there’s no difference. Even though it’s a different game today and I lost a lot then and I rarely lose now, it doesn’t make me hate losing any less. Especially when I’m playing with other people’s stuff. Her words echoed in my mind: “My whole life is on this computer, Dave.”

I wasn’t going to let her down. I wasn’t going to let myself down by letting her down. I was going to get that data back, and I didn’t care what I had to do to get it.

I called her back, expecting her not to be there. Her mom, Debby, answered the phone. She gave me a few more clues, told me she didn’t expect Wendy home until late, said one or the other of them would be home about 3:30 the next day. I’d been at work until close to six on Wednesday and saw the possibility of having to stay that late on Thursday. I didn’t make any hard and fast promises about when I’d be there, but I started plotting how I would escape work by 4:15.

On Thursday, I loaded up floppies containing all the standard Microsoft disk tools, plus Norton Disk Doctor, plus Spinrite, plus MBRWORK and a few other partition recovery tools, along with a Windows 98 CD, and took the whole wodge of stuff to work. At 4:20, I called. Debby answered. I told her I was leaving work and I’d probably get there in about 20 minutes.

Along the way, I listened to a bunch of punk rock, really loud, and got myself pumped up. Whether it’s stepping up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with runners on second and third and two out, or just a tricky computer problem, I get myself into the same mental place. The world fades away and I see nothing but the challenge. By the time I got to their house, I was in the zone. I was so in the zone that I walked up to the front door of the wrong house. Wendy’s Lab was in the front yard giving me the “I know you! What are you doing over there? Get over here and pet me!” look. I didn’t notice. The neighbor pointed next door. Feeling stupid, I walked over. The dog congratulated me on getting smart, Debby greeted me, and I went another round with her computer, running MBRWORK. It recovered the partition successfully, it said. I got excited. I rebooted and the computer asked me for a command interpreter again.

Cantankerous computer 2, Dave 0.

I went home, fixed myself a little something to eat, pondered the situation, and wrote my Bible study for Friday night on my company laptop. That calmed me down enough to let me think rationally again. I packed up everything I could possibly need: Norton AntiVirus, Ghost, an extra hard drive, two laptops, a couple of Linux CDs, both versions of Windows 98, utilities disks…

I booted off my disks and tried a few things. Nothing. I booted my company laptop up with the disks–that laptop doesn’t have DOS installed–and added a couple more toys. They didn’t help. Wendy got home and asked if it was a bad sign I was there. I muttered something and probably came off as rude. I was in the zone, after all. I asked her if she had any floppies she wanted me to scan for viruses. She handed me one, and I tried to boot my laptop into Windows. It showed the very same symptoms as her computer.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Virus writers, PLEASE get a life. Get interested in girls or something. Anything!

Wendy didn’t like the look on my face. I told her what happened. She said a phrase I won’t repeat here, then apologized. There was no need. I felt like saying it too. Or something worse.

For grins, I tried booting the laptop into Linux. It booted up like it was cool. Hmm. Boot sector viruses that kill Windows dead don’t even make Linux flinch. I owe Linus Torvalds a beer.

I tried mounting my main Windows partition. Linux reported NTFS errors. Visions of virus writers getting beaten to a bloody pulp danced in my mind.

Since I was now convinced we were dealing with a boot sector virus, I replaced the MBR. No joy. I booted off a Linux CD, switched over to a console, ran cfdisk, and viewed the partition table. One 4-gig partition, FAT32. No problems. Odd.

Wendy started fretting. “You’ve spent all this time and you’ve lost your laptop. I’m about to start to cry.”

I stopped what I was doing, turned to her, and looked her straight in the eye. “I take care of my friends.”

She looked back at me like she thought that was kind of cool.

“I don’t care about the laptop. I can fix that later. I can rewrite the Bible study that was on it. It took me 20 minutes to write, so it’ll take me 15 minutes to rewrite. I’m going to get your data back.”

The Bible study I lost indeed took me about 15 minutes to rewrite, and the second version was a lot better. But I didn’t get her data back that night. Eventually I gave up, pulled her drive, installed a new drive, and installed Windows and Office on it so they’d have a computer that was useful for something. Debby walked in as I was switching drives, noticed the dust inside the case, and gave it a disgusted look. She came back with a rag and Wendy started laughing at her.

“She can’t stand dust anywhere. I guess not even inside electronics,” Wendy said.

Debby lit up when she walked in the room and saw the Windows 98 screen on her computer. Later when Wendy walked back in, she let out a whoop and told her mom she was missing beautiful things in the computer room. I was pretty happy about it too. Windows 98 didn’t install easily–the intial reboot failed and installation didn’t continue until I booted it in safe mode, then rebooted. I gave the computer a lecture as I booted it, reminding it that I have enough spare parts at home to build a computer like it and would have no qualms about destroying it and replacing it with something else. I know it didn’t hear or understand a word I said, but I felt better afterward.

I felt bad about not getting the data back that night. Wendy and I talked for about 45 minutes about other things. I felt better afterward. I forgot to thank her. Around midnight, I packed up the stuff and drove home.

Wendy and I talked the next day over e-mail. I’d taken my disks to work and scanned them on a non-networked PC nobody cared about and found the Form virus. Wendy had taken some disks to school and had them scanned. They contained both Form and antiCMOS. Since antiCMOS resides in the MBR and Form resides on the primary partition, the two viruses can coexist. Form was relatively harmless on FAT16 drives, and although antiCMOS was potentially destructive in 1991, it’s much less so now that PCs autodetect hard drives at boot rather than relying on parameters stored in CMOS. My work the night before would have eliminated antiCMOS, which explained why it wasn’t present on my disks. I did a Dejanews search on Form and FAT32, to see if that would explain the apparent partition corruption. I found that the symptoms were exactly what Wendy was showing. And I found recovery methods that had a high success rate.

I haven’t put Wendy’s drive in one of my PCs yet to recover it. But I’m pretty confident I’ll get her data back. That’s a good thing. I’ve met nicer people than Wendy and Debby. But only once or twice. People like them don’t come around very often, so I’d like to do something nice for them.

Bringing their data back from oblivion would do.

Craig Mundie’s infamous speech

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 students and college dropouts writing software in their basements that a lot of people are using, with the goal of toppling an industry giant. Seem far-fetched? Friends, that’s the story of Microsoft itself. Microsoft became an underground sensation in the late 1970s with Microsoft Basic, a programming language for the Altair and other kit computers and later for CP/M. And while we’ll probably never know the entire story of how and why this happened, when IBM decided to outsource the operating system for the IBM PC, they went to Microsoft and got both an OS and the must-have Microsoft Basic. Ten years later, IBM was just another hardware maker–really big, but getting squeezed. Today, 20 years later, IBM’s still a huge force in the computing industry, but in the PC industry, aside from selling ThinkPads, IBM’s a nobody. There may be hardware enthusiasts out there who’d be surprised to hear IBM makes and sells more than just hard drives.

Ironically, Microsoft’s response to this new threat is to act more and more like the giant it toppled. Shared Source isn’t a new idea. IBM was doing that in the 1960s. If you were big enough, you could see the source code. DEC did it too. At work, we have the source code to most of the big VMS applications we depend on day-to-day. Most big operations insist on having that kind of access, so their programmers can add features and fix bugs quickly. If Windows 2000 is ever going to get beyond the small server space, they really have no choice. But they do it with strings attached and without going far enough. An operation the size of the one I work for can’t get the source and fix bugs or optimize the code for a particular application. You’re only permitted to use the source code to help you develop drivers or applications. Meet the new Microsoft: same as the old Microsoft.

Some people have read this speech and concluded that Microsoft believes open-source software killed the dot-com boom. That’s ludicrous, and I don’t see that in the text. OSS was very good for the dot-com boom. OSS lowered the cost of entry: Operating systems such as FreeBSD and Linux ran on cheap PCs, rather than proprietary hardware. The OSs themselves were free, and there was lots of great free software available, such as the Apache Web server, and scripting languages like Python and Perl. You could do all this cool stuff, the same cool stuff you could do with a Sun or SGI server, for the price of a PC. And not only was it cheaper than everybody else, it was also really reliable.

The way I read it, Microsoft didn’t blame OSS for the dot-com bust. Microsoft blamed the advertising model, valuing market share over revenue, and giving stuff away now and then trying to get people to pay later.

I agree. The dot-com boom died because companies couldn’t find ways to make money. But I’m not convinced the dot-com boom was a big mistake. It put the Internet on the map. Before 1995, when the first banner ad ran, there wasn’t much to the Internet. I remember those early days. As a college student in 1993, the Internet was a bonanza to me, even though I wasn’t using it to the extent a lot of my peers were. For me, the Internet was FTP and Gopher and e-mail. I mostly ignored Usenet and IRC. That was pretty much the extent of the Internet. You had to be really determined or really bored or really geeky to get much of anything out of it. The World Wide Web existed, but that was a great mystery to most of us. The SGI workstations on campus had Web browsers. We knew that Mosaic had been ported to Windows, but no one in the crowd I ran in knew how to get it working. When we finally got it running on some of our PCs in 1994, what we found was mostly personal homepages. “Hi, my name is Darren and this is my homepage. Here are some pictures of my cat. Here’s a listing of all the CDs I own. Here are links to all my friends who have homepages.” The running joke then was that there were only 12 pages on the Web, and the main attraction of the 12 was links to the other 11.

By 1995, we had the first signs of business. Banner ads appeared, and graduating students (or dropouts) started trying to build companies around their ideas. The big attraction of the Web was that there was all this information out there, and it was mostly free. Online newspapers and magazines sprung up. Then vendors sprung up, offering huge selections and low prices. You could go to Amazon.com and find any book in print, and you’d pay less for it than you would at Barnes & Noble. CDNow.com did the same thing for music. And their ads supported places that were giving information away. So people started buying computers so they could be part of the show. People flocked from closed services like CompuServe and Prodigy to plain-old Internet, which offered so much more and was cheaper.

Now the party’s ending as dot-coms close up shop, often with their content gone forever. To me, that’s a loss only slightly greater than the loss of the Great Library. There’s some comfort for me: Five years from now, most of that information would be obsolete anyway. But its historical value would remain. But setting sentiment aside, that bonanza of freebies was absolutely necessary. When I was selling computers in 1994, people frequently asked me what a computer was good for. In 1995, it was an easier sell. Some still asked that question, but a lot of people came in wanting “whatever I need to get to be able to get on the Internet.” Our best-selling software package, besides Myst, was Internet In A Box, which bundled dialup software, a Web browser, and access to some nationwide provider. I imagine sales were easier still in 1996 and beyond, but I was out of retail by then. Suddenly, you could buy this $2,000 computer and get all this stuff for free. A lot of companies made a lot of money off that business model. Microsoft made a killing. Dell and Gateway became behemoths. Compaq made enough to buy DEC. AOL made enough to buy Time Warner. Companies like Oracle and Cisco, who sold infrastructure, had licenses to print money. Now the party’s mostly over and these companies have massive hangovers, but what’s the answer to the Ronald Reagan question? Hangover or no hangover, yes, they’re a whole heck of a lot better off than they were four years ago.

I’m shocked that Microsoft thinks the dot-com phenomenon was a bad thing.

If, in 1995, the Web came into its own but every site had been subscription-based, this stuff wouldn’t have happened. It was hard enough to swallow $2,000 for a new PC, plus 20 bucks a month for Internet. Now I have to pay $9.95 a month to read a magazine? I could just subscribe to the paper edition and save $2,500!

The new Internet would have been the same as the old Internet, only you’d have to be more than just bored, determined, and geeky to make it happen. You’d also have to have a pretty big pile of cash.

The dot-com boom put the Internet on the map, made it the hot ticket. The dot-com bust hurt. Now that sites are dropping out of the sky or at least scaling operations way back, more than half of the Web sites I read regularly are Weblogs–today’s new and improved personal home page. People just like me. The biggest difference between 1994 and 2001? The personal home pages are better. Yeah, the pictures of the cat are still there sometimes, but at least there’s wit and wisdom and insight added. When I click on those links to the left, I usually learn something.

But there is another difference. Now we know why it would make sense to pay for a magazine on the Internet instead of paper. Information that takes a month to make it into print goes online in minutes. It’s much easier and faster to type a word into a search engine than to leaf through a magazine. We can hear any baseball game we want, whether a local radio station carries our favorite team or not. The world’s a lot smaller and faster now, and we’ve found we like it.

The pump is primed. Now we have to figure out how to make this profitable. The free ride is pretty much over. But now that we’ve seen what’s possible, we’re willing to start thinking about whipping out the credit cards again and signing up, provided the cost isn’t outrageous.

The only thing in Mundie’s speech that I can see that Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox and Dan Gillmor should take offense to is Microsoft’s suspicion of anyone giving something away for free. Sure, Microsoft gives lots of stuff away, but always with ulterior motives. Internet Explorer is free because Microsoft was afraid of Netscape. Outlook 98 was free for a while to hurt Lotus Notes. Microsoft Money was free for a while so Microsoft could get some share from Quicken. It stopped being free when Microsoft signed a deal with Intuit to bundle Internet Explorer with Quicken instead of Netscape. And there are other examples.

Microsoft knows that you can give stuff away with strings attached and make money off the residuals. What Microsoft hasn’t learned is that you can give stuff away without the strings attached and still make money off the residuals. The dot-com bust only proves that you can’t necessarily make as much as you may have thought, and that you’d better spend what you do make very wisely.

The Internet needs to be remade, yes, and it needs to find some sustainable business models (one size doesn’t fit all). But if Mundie thinks the world is chomping at the bit to have Microsoft remake the Internet their way, he’s in for a rude awakening.

More Like This: Microsoft Linux Weblogs Internet Commentary

Experiments running old Mac software on a new Mac

Mailbag:

Compressed ramdisk; partitioned HDD; ram limitations

Mac adventures. Nothing fun. Take my advice: Don’t bother trying to get MS Office 4.2.1b running under MacOS 9. Not that most people would try to run software that’s two versions back on a new system, but… I guess these guys didn’t have money left in their budget to upgrade their old software after paying too much for an iMac.

Now, on a PC, the answer’s simple. Multiboot an older copy of Windows. (But Office 4.21 runs just fine under newer Windows, but humor me.) I can run DOS 1.0 on a Pentium IV if I want to for some insane reason, to get the ultimate in backward compatibility. If there’s some CP/M-86 app I want to run for some odd reason, I can run CP/M-86 on a P4 too–it’ new machines is software that tries to access the IBM PC’s ROM Basic. Very few programs did. The compatibility problem you’re most likely to run into is due to programs not handling very high CPU speeds well, but that’s curable with slowdown.

Older Mac software is very hit and miss with newer versions of the OS, and you can’t do backlevel OSs on new Macs. Whatever the current OS was at the time of a model’s introduction is generally the oldest OS you can run. There’s no booting into System 7.5.5 on your G4 for optimum compatibility with a legacy app you need that hasn’t been updated.

I almost resorted to trying to run it in the vMac Mac Plus emulator , but I found the hard disk files too cumbersome to deal with–getting files into them is really a chore, and besides, vMac didn’t seem too interested in mounting a hard disk image–only floppies. It’s a real shame the excellent Basilisk Mac II emulator hasn’t been ported to the PowerMac.  I’ve used it to run 68040- software on Windows PCs in a pinch numerous times, and fast PCs emulate the 040 much faster than the real thing. A Mac Basilisk port would be a very workable solution for running finicky older software on newer machines.

Later, I spent a couple of hours trying to get an Epson Stylus 850 printer working on another iMac with a USB-to-parallel adapter. Usually it works flawlessly. This one doesn’t want to play. I got rid of the “port is in use” error I had been getting by uninstalling and reinstalling the driver (my last resort, after trashing the printer preferences, AppleTalk preferences, and everything else I could think of in the Preferences folder, then zapping the PRAM by holding down Cmd-Option-P-R at boot time and letting it chime seven times), but then Chooser asked whether the printer was connected to the printer or modem port. Answer: neither. It’s an iMac. It’s connected to USB. I humored it by trying both phantom ports, but neither setting worked. Then I downloaded a patch from Epson’s Web site and installed it. The port-in-use errors came back. Lovely. I gave up for the day. Macs are supposed to be easier? Hardly. Maybe they’re a little easier to use (I doubt it) but they sure are a lot harder to fix.

Along the way I found this useful list of extensions and control panels though . So something good came of all this.

Mailbag:

Compressed ramdisk; partitioned HDD; ram limitations

01/23/2001

Mailbag:

More Networking

What’s going on with memory prices? Every time I say they’re stable, they drop again. I’m not going to say anything about current prices, except they’re low. Face it: I remember five years ago, paying $48 for an 8-meg stick, and I felt like I was stealing it. Kingston memory for $6 a meg! Unbelievable!

I told Dan Bowman on Sunday that you can get a 128-meg PC133 Kingston module at Outpost.com for $59 with a $20 mail-in rebate. Then yesterday he sends me word that I can get a 128-meg PNY PC133 stick from globalcomputer.com for $49. No rebate hassles whatsoever, and plenty of stock. So $6/meg has become $.31/meg. Prices may stabilize there, or they may free-fall some more.

What happened? Overproduction. Millions of chips were produced for millions of computers that didn’t sell over Christmas, which is supposed to be the heaviest buying period of the year. Not a whole lot of upgrades were bought either. And now, with demand for Rambus increasing a little and DDR looming overhead like the Enola Gay, they’re stuck with a bunch of inventory that’s living on borrowed time. Gotta move it, because demand’s moving elsewhere. There’ll be demand for SDRAM for many years to come (just as there’s still some demand for EDO DRAM today), but its days as the memory everybody wants are about to come to a close.

So as long as you have some use for SDRAM, this is a great time to buy. But keep in mind that the stuff you buy now probably won’t move with you to your next PC. A current PC with 384 MB of PC133 SDRAM will be useful for many years to come, true, but next year when you buy a motherboard that takes DDR or Rambus, you’ll have to buy new memory again, so it makes absolutely no sense to hoard this stuff.

So should you buy? Windows 9x sees diminishing returns beyond 128 MB of RAM, unless you’re playing with RAM disks. Windows 2000 really likes 256 MB of RAM, but for the things most people do, there’s little point in going past that. Of all the OSs I use right now, Linux does the best job of finding a use for such a large amount of memory. So if you’re below any of those thresholds, sure, buy. But if you’re there already, you’re better off banking that money until the time comes for your next major upgrade.

But if you are buying, let me reiterate: Get the good stuff. I had a conversation with someone on a message board today. He asked why, if 95% of all memory chips are fine, it makes sense to pay more for a brand name. I pointed out to him that with 8-16 chips per module, a 95% rate means you have a 25-50 percent chance of a bad module, since it just takes one bad cell in one chip to make the module unreliable. It’s much better to get A-grade chips, which have a .1% defect rate, and buy from a name brand vendor, who will in all likelihood do their own testing and lower the defect rate another order of magnitude. To me, knowing that I won’t have problems attributable to bad memory is definitely worth the few bucks. Even the bottom-feeders aren’t beating that Kingston price by much, and the shipping will make the cheap, nearly worthless memory cost more than the good stuff.

Tracking down memory problems is a real pain, unless you’ve got a professional-quality memory tester. I do. Still, verifying a memory problem and then isolating it to a single stick can take hours. I have all the facilities necessary to let me get away with buying the cheap stuff and I won’t do it. That should tell you something. Buying generic memory isn’t like buying generic socks or generic spaghetti. In memory, brand is a lot more than status.

Partition Magic. I tried unsuccessfully last night to track down a copy of Partition Magic 6 so I can revise the article on multi-booting Windows 98 and Windows Me that won’t go in the March issue of Computer Shopper UK. It’ll be in the April issue instead. I also had to deal with some personal issues. It’s not like my whole world’s upside down–it’s not–but a pretty important part of it is right now.

Mailbag:

More Networking

01/13/2001

Have I been brainwashed by Redmond? In the wake of MacWorld, Al Hawkins wrote a piece that suggested maybe so. My post from Thursday doesn’t suggest otherwise.

So let’s talk about what’s wrong with the PC industry. There are problems there as well–problems across the entire computer industry, really. The biggest difference, I think, is that the big guns in the PC industry are better prepared to weather the storm.

IBM’s PC business has been so bad for so long, they’ve considered pulling out of the very market they created. They seem to be turning it around, but it may only be temporary, and their profits are coming at the expense of market share. They retreated out of retail and eliminated product lines. Sound familiar? Temporary turnarounds aren’t unheard of in this industry. IBM as a whole is healthy now, but the day when they were known as Big Black & Blue isn’t so distant as to be forgotten. But IBM’s making their money these days by selling big Unix servers, disk drives, PowerPC CPUs and other semiconductors, software, and most of all, second-to-none service. The PC line can be a loss leader, if need be, to introduce companies to the other things IBM has to offer.

Compaq is a mess. That’s why they got a new CEO last year. But Compaq is a pretty diverse company. They have DEC’s old mini/mainframe biz, they have DEC’s OpenVMS and Digital Unix (now Tru64 Unix) OSs, they have DEC’s Alpha CPU architecture, and DEC’s widely acclaimed service division, which was the main thing that kept DEC afloat and independent in its day. Compaq also has its thriving server business, a successful line of consumer PCs and a couple of lines of business PCs. The combined Compaq/DEC was supposed to challenge IBM as the 800-pound gorilla of the industry, and that hasn’t happened. Compaq’s a big disappointment and they’re having growing pains. They should survive.

HP’s not exactly in the best of shape either. They’ve made a lot of lunkhead decisions that have cost them a lot of customers, most notably by not releasing drivers for their widely popular printers and scanners for newer Microsoft operating systems. While developing these drivers costs money, this will cost them customers in the long run so it was probably a very short-sighted decision. But HP’s inkjet printers are a license to print money, with the cartridges being almost pure profit, and HP and Compaq are the two remaining big dogs in retail. Plus they have profitable mainframe, Unix, and software divisions as well. They’ve got a number of ways to return to profitability.

The holidays weren’t kind to Gateway. They actually had to resort to selling some of their surplus inventory in retail stores, rather than using the stores as a front for their build-to-order business as intended.

Dell’s not happy with last year’s results either, so they’re looking to diversify and give themselves less dependence on desktop PCs. They’re growing up, in other words. They’re killing IBM and Compaq in PCs, and those companies are still surviving. Dell wants a piece of that action.

Intel botched a number of launches this year. They had to do everything wrong and AMD had to do everything right in order for AMD to continue to exist. That happened. AMD’s past problems may have been growing pains, and maybe they’re beyond it now. We shall see. Intel can afford to have a few bad quarters.

As for their chips, we pay a certain price for backward compatibility. But, despite the arguments of the Apple crowd, x86 chips as a rule don’t melt routinely or require refrigerants unless you overclock. All of my x86 chips have simple fans on them, along with smaller heatsinks than a G4 uses. I’ve seen many a Pentium III run on just a heatsink. The necessity of a CPU fan depends mostly on case design. Put a G4 in a cheap case with poor airflow and it’ll cook itself too.

Yes, you could fry an egg on the original Pentium-60 and -66. Later revisions fixed this. Yet I still saw these original Pentiums run on heat sinks smaller than the sinks used on a G4. The Athlon is a real cooker, so that argument holds, but as AMD migrates to ever-smaller trace widths, that should improve. Plus AMD CPUs are cheap as dirt and perform well. The Athlon gives G4-like performance and high clock speeds at a G3 price, so its customers are willing to live with some heat.

And Microsoft… There are few Microsoft zealots left today. They’re rarer and rarer. Microsoft hasn’t given us anything, yet we continue to buy MS Office, just like Mac users. We curse Microsoft and yet send millions and billions their way, just like Mac users. We just happen to buy the OS from them too. And while we curse Microsoft bugs and many of us make a living deploying Windows-based PCs (but the dozen or so Macs I’m responsible for keep me busier than the couple of hundred PCs I’m responsible for), for the most part Windows works. Mac owners talk about daily blue screens of death, but I don’t know when I last got one. I probably get one or two a year. I currently have eight applications running on my Windows 98 box. OS/2 was a far better system than Windows, but alas, it lost the war.

I can’t stand Microsoft’s imperialism and I don’t like them fighting their wars on my hardware. They can pay for their own battlefield. So I run Linux on some of my boxes. But sometimes I appreciate Windows’ backward compatibility.

I always look for the best combination of price, performance, and reliability. That means I change platforms a lot. I flirted with the Mac in 1991, but it was a loveless relationship. The PCs of that era were wannabes. I chose Amiga without having used one, because I knew it couldn’t possibly be as bad as Windows 3.0 or System 7.0. I was right. By 1994, Commodore had self-destructed and the Amiga was perpetually on the auction block, so I jumped ship and bought a Compaq. Windows 3.1 was the sorriest excuse I’d seen for a multitasking environment since System 7.0 and Windows 3.0. I could crash it routinely. So I switched to OS/2 and was happy again. I reluctantly switched to Windows 95 in 1996. I took a job that involved a lot of Macs in 1998, but Mac OS 8.5 failed to impress me. It was prettier than System 7 and if you were lucky you could use it all day without a horrible crash, but with poor memory management and multitasking, switching to it on an everyday basis would have been like setting myself back 12 years, so the second date wasn’t any better than the first.

Linux is very interesting, and I’ve got some full-time Linux PCs. If I weren’t committed to writing so much about Windows 9x (that’s where the money is), Linux would probably be my everyday OS. Microsoft is right to consider Linux a threat, because it’s cheaper and more reliable. Kind of like Windows is cheaper and more reliable than Mac OS. Might history repeat itself? I think it could.

The computer industry as a whole isn’t as healthy this year as it was last year. The companies with the most resources will survive, and some of the companies with fewer will fold or be acquired. The reason the industry press is harder on Apple than on the others is that Apple is less diversified than the others, and thus far more vulnerable.

Boot multiple operating systems for free

~Mail follows today’s post~

XOSL doesn’t seem to like my Promise Ultra66 controller. At least not all the time. I don’t like that. I also don’t like how XOSL installs itself in the root directory–my poor root ballooned to over 40 entries after installing it. That’ll cause some system slowdowns. I don’t like having any more than 16 entries in there if I can avoid it.

Fortunately you can install XOSL to a dedicated partition, and that looks to be the better method.

But when XOSL works, it seems to work well. It’s slick and versatile and gives you a great deal of freedom over how and where you install your OSs, as well as how many you can install (and let’s face it, with 30-gig drives selling for $99 at CompUSA, running multiple operating systems is going to get common).

And I see from Brian Bilbrey’s site that patents may accomplish what the RIAA could not. Makes me wonder why one of the RIAA members didn’t just buy Fraunhofer Institut (who owns the applicable patents on MP3) and start charging outrageous royalties immediately. That’ll kill new technologies faster than anything — just ask Rambus.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Dustin D. Cook” <dcook32p@nospam.htcomp.net>
Subject: Windows Me
Dave,

Here’s my two cents on Windows Me.

I have been testing this operating system for some time now before I begin pre-installing it on new computers. We’ve run the gamut of stress tests, benchmarks, and usability tests, and we have some interesting results.

All tests were run on multiple machines with a minimum system being an AMD K6-2 500 with 64MB RAM and a Voodoo3 3000 graphics card. The best system tested was an AMD Athlon 1.0 GHz with 512 MB Mushkin PC133 2.0 memory and
a GeForce2 GTS 32MB DDR. We used the same HDD for each machine. It is a Maxtor DiamondMax 45 Plus (ATA/100, 7,200 RPM).

Windows Me should take home a gold medal for speed. It booted quickly, it loaded programs at blistering speeds, and it performed very well in our 3D tests. All-in-all, Windows Me is about one percent faster than Windows 98 SE. This came as something of a surprise to me. I was expecting slightly degraded performance due to the additional system overhead of Internet Explorer 5.5 and the new features of Windows Me. Either Microsoft did some serious “tweaking” to their code, or I’m missing something entirely about this operating system.

Stress tests were a different story. Occasionally, Windows Me would lock-up on us for no apparent reason. The same computer running Windows 98 SE would never falter during our tests. Actually, sometimes Windows Me would lock-up when we were not even running the tests! We replaced some hardware in the machine, but it did this on all of the test PCs. This was a big problem for us. We still haven’t officially tracked down the killer, but we think it involves the new version of Internet Explorer. We had already completed our tests before the new service pack was released, so I don’t have any data from that version. The stress tests involved opening a 25 MB Excel 2000 spreadsheet and minimizing it; open eight browser windows and loading miscellaneous things like Flash movies, several animated GIFs and PNGs, and several Java applications; having The Matrix DVD-ROM’s menu playing in WinDVD 2000; and running Unreal Tournament at 1280x1024x16bpp with our custom “movie”. Windows 98 SE performed admirably, but, as I had mentioned earlier, Windows Me couldn’t do it.

In the usability tests, we had some elderly people try out each computer. This isn’t really a test that can be easily replicated, but overall Windows Me seemed easier for them to use.

What’s my opinion on Windows Me? I think Microsoft made a fairly good product. I’m not very impressed by the lack of native DOS support. I frequently use that to diagnose customer’s computers. What do I do if I have forgotten my boot diskette? I return to the shop and grab one instead of making one right there. The stability issue is a big concern of mine. I’ll try to reproduce those results after downloading the new Internet Explorer service pack, and I’ll write back to you with those results. The speed is commendable. I appreciate the extra “oomph” that Windows Me appears to have behind it. The boot time is quite impressive!

My prize goes to Windows 98 SE. Speed is a very good thing, but when it comes at the cost of stability…we have a problem. My customers don’t want their machine freezing every time they try to open http://thesiliconunderground.editthispage.com/ . 😉

Sincerely,

Dustin D. Cook,
A+ Campus Computers
Stephenville, Texas – USA
~~~~~

Thanks for the info!

You can add DOS support back in with a utility available at www.geocities.com/mfd4life_2000 — that was one of the first things I did after installing WinMe. As for stability, IE5.5SP1 might help. Running 98lite (www.98lite.net) to remove IE 5.5, then replacing it with IE 5.01 (or not at all) could help. I’m not at all impressed with IE5.5, so I’m inclined to speculate the blame lies at its clumsy feet.

I’ll keep experimenting with it myself. And I’m hoping my page is simple enough that it won’t crash any browsers. 🙂