The hysteria on StarOffice…

Various sources are reporting Sun’s plans to begin charging for StarOffice. Sun, meanwhile, is mum on the subject.
Nowhere has anyone reported that Sun, by the strictest definition of the word, already charges for StarOffice. You can buy it at retail. It’s fairly cheap, but we’re not talking five bucks. I’ve seen a retail-boxed StarOffice 5.2, with Sun’s logo on it, at Circuit City within the past year. Price was about 40 bucks, as I recall.

Sun is mum on the subject. It could be that Sun plans to charge $100 for it and take away the free download. Or it could be that 6.0 will cost $40 at retail but remain downloadable for free on the Web. It’s anybody’s guess, precisely because Sun hasn’t said anything yet.

It’s non-news until Sun announces a shift from current policy. But this isn’t the first time non-news has garnered attention and it won’t be the last.

One more thing. On a completely unrelated note… This picture really scares me.

Happy New Year!

The way the ‘Net oughta be. I finally broke down and bought a VCR yesterday. It’s hard to do video work without one, and you want to give people drafts on VHS. When it comes to consumer video, there are two companies I trust: Hitachi and Hitachi. So I went looking for a Hitachi VCR. Their low-end model, a no-frills stereo 4-head model, ran $70 at Circuit City. I ordered it online, along with 5 tapes. Total cost: 80 bucks. For “delivery,” you’ve got two options: delivery, or local pickup. I did local pickup at the store five miles from where I live. You avoid the extended warranty pitch and trying to convince someone in the store to help you, and you just walk into the store, hand the paperwork to customer service, sign for it, then go pick it up. Suddenly consumer electronics shopping is like Chinese or pizza take-out. I love it.
The VCR’s not much to look at and the $149 models are more rugged-looking and have more metal in them, but this model is made in Korea so it ought to be OK, and the playback’s great on my 17-year-old Commodore 1702 (relabeled JVC) composite monitor. For what I’ll be asking it to do, it’s fine. In my stash of Amiga cables I found an RCA y-adapter that mixes two audio outputs, which I used to connect to the monitor’s mono input.

Desktop Linux. Here are my current recommendations for people trying to replace Windows with Linux.

Web browser: Galeon. Very lightweight. Fabulous tabbed interface. I hate browsing in Windows now.
Minimalist browser: Dillo. Well under a meg in size, and if it’ll render a site, it’ll render it faster than anything else you’ll find.
FTP client: GFTP. Graphical FTP client, saves hosts and username/password combinations for you.
PDF viewer: XPDF. Smaller and faster than Acrobat Reader, though that’s available for Linux too.
Mail client/PIM: Evolution. What Outlook should have been.
Lightweight mail client: Sylpheed. Super-fast and small, reasonably featured.
File manager: Nautilus. Gorgeous and easy to use, though slow on old PCs. Since I use the command line 90% of the time, it’s fine.
Graphics viewer: GTK-See. A convincing clone of ACDSee. Easy-to-use graphics viewer with a great interface.
News reader: Pan. Automatically threads subject headers for you, and it’ll automatically decode and display uuencoded picture attachments as part of the body. Invaluable for browsing the graphics newsgroups.
File compression/decompression: I use the command-line tools. If you want something like WinZip, there’s a program out there called LnxZip. It’s available in RPM or source form; I couldn’t find a Debian package for it.
Desktop publishing: Yes, desktop publishing on Linux! Scribus isn’t as powerful as QuarkXPress, but it gives a powerful enough subset of what QuarkXPress 3.x offered that I think I would be able to duplicate everything I did in my magazine design class way back when, in 1996. It’s more than powerful enough already to serve a small business’ DTP needs. Keep a close eye on this one. I’ll be using it to meet my professional DTP needs at work, because I’m already convinced I can do more with it than with Microsoft Publisher, and more quickly.
Window manager: IceWM. Fast, lightweight, integrates nicely with GNOME, Windows-like interface.
Office suite: Tough call. KOffice is absolutely good enough for casual use. StarOffice 6/OpenOffice looks to be good enough for professional use when released next year. WordPerfect Office 2000 is more than adequate for professional use if you’re looking for a commercial package.

04/24/2001

A sense of wonder. It must have been almost 20 years ago, I read a short story in a magazine involving a wondrous new tool. I don’t exactly remember the plot line, but it was something similar to this: a preteen boy comes into a sum of money under questionable circumstances. He’s uncomfortable going to his parents about it, or even his peers. Not knowing where else to go, he turns on his dad’s computer and types his story into it–whether this was a built-in Basic language interpreter like a Commodore or Atari, or a command line like CP/M or MS-DOS, it didn’t say. At the end of the story he hits Return, or Enter, or whatever that key’s supposed to be called, and the computer responds with one sentence:

Sorry, can’t compute.

That line gave the story its title.

I don’t know why I remember that story, except maybe for the technical inaccuracy. At any rate, I seem to recall he left without turning the computer off, so his dad came home, noticed the computer was on, read what was on screen, and confronted him. And that was pretty much the end, at least how I remember it.

Last night I was making up a batch of barley and mushroom soup from a recipe I found over the weekend. I know when I’m out of my element, and trying new recipes without any help at all is among them. The recipe called for 4 tablespoons of dry sherry. Now, I’m not a wine drinker, unless drinking wine twice a year counts. I was pretty sure that sherry is a type of wine. But white wine? Red wine? I didn’t know. As I was picking up the other ingredients I needed, I went to the wine and liquor section of the local grocery store and wandered around a while. I couldn’t find any sherry.

So I went home. I figured I was probably in the minority as far as not knowing anything about dry sherry, but I also figured I probably wasn’t the first one to have questions about it. I fired up a Web browser, went to Google, and typed a question: What is dry sherry? I was able to infer very quickly from the site hits that, indeed, dry sherry is a wine. But I couldn’t find any. So I typed in another search phrase: “dry sherry substitute.” That put me in business. A lot of people have asked that question. One of the first documents hit offered several suggestions, marsala among them. I have a little bottle of marsala in one of my kitchen cabinets. So I made the soup, and it wasn’t bad.

The moral of that short story remains unchanged: A computer still can’t answer questions on its own, particularly questions of ethics–the experiments of www.mindpixel.com notwithstanding. What Mindpixel is doing is storing and cross-referencing the answers to millions of simple questions in hopes of one day being able to answer complex ones. (The results of that are fairly impressive–last night I asked it several simple questions like, “Was Ronald Reagan president of the United States in 1981?” and “Is Joe Jackson the name of both a famous musician and a famous baseball player?” and it answered all of them correctly.) But what Mindpixel, or for that matter, any good search engine can do effectively is gather and retain information. And that in itself is extremely useful, and the idea of search engines indexing a global database and answering simple–and not-so-simple–questions was unthinkable to most people just 20 years ago.

And I found a sale. I’m suddenly in need of a large number of network cards, as regular readers know. Just out of curiosity, I checked CompUSA’s pricing on Bay Netgear FA311 NICs, and–drum roll–they’re $14.99 with a $5 mail-in rebate. That’s a steal. It’s not quite as striking as the deal I found on D-Link cards at Circuit City back in January, but I like the Netgear–or at least its predecessor, the FA310TX–better anyway.

01/02/2001

Mailbag:

IE shortcut; Optimizing WinME; Partition; 10/100 NIC; Mobos

Trimming down Windows 2000.┬áSomeone else observed last week that, among other things, Windows’ included games are now critical system components. That’s messed up. Fortunately, it’s fixable.

Open the file C:WinntInfsysoc.inf in your favorite text editor, after making a backup copy of course. Search for the string “HIDE,” (without quotes, but including the comma). Delete all references to this string. Save the file. Reboot. Now open Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs, and go down to Windows System Components. You can now cleanly uninstall the Windows components that may not be useful to you, such as the Space Cadet Pinball game, or the Accessibility Options. I’m in the habit of just banging on the shift key several times to turn off my screen blanker. Why shift? Because it won’t send weird keystrokes to whatver application I left running in the foreground. Unfortunately, hitting shift five times usually pops up the Accessibility options, much to my annoyance. So I was very glad to finally be able to uninstall that feature.

And a bargain NIC. This week only, Circuit City is selling the D-Link DFE-530TX+ 10/100 NIC for $14.99 with a $9.99 mail-in rebate. While I prefer the DEC Tulip chipset for inexpensive 10/100 NICs, the Realtek chipset in this D-Link works with Linux and Windows, and that’s an absolute giveaway price. I mean, come on, most of us spend that much every week on soda.

I’ve got a D-Link laying around as a spare, but I had a Circuit City gift card with about $7 left on it, so I picked one up. Besides, I needed a stereo miniplug-to-dual-RCA cable, so suddenly I had two semi-compelling reasons to go to the shark-infested cave. It’s good to have some spare parts, and the D-Links have much better compatibility than the NDC card with the obscure Macronix 98715 chipset I still have in at least one of my systems.

I’ve seen some ludicrous claims that D-Link gives you 3Com and Intel quality at a Linksys price. I don’t buy it for a minute. But for a small home-based network, why pay $40-$60 for a NIC if you don’t have to?

And somehow I managed to avoid the sharks as well. I guess I just didn’t have Pentium 4 tattooed across my forehead.

Amazon now seems to be selling Optimizing Windows at its full retail price of $24.95. Obviously sales are slower now than when it was selling at (sometimes deeply) discounted prices, but still much better than November levels. If you’ve bought it, my heartfelt thanks go out to you. If you’ve posted a review, another thank you.

If you’ve read it and like it and feel like writing a review, either at Amazon or another online bookseller such as Barnes & Noble, Borders, Bookpool or Fatbrain, please feel free to do so. I appreciate it greatly. And if you have comments or questions on the book, feel free to e-mail me.

If you’re wanting to do a price compare on Optimizing Windows, visit www2.bestbookbuys.com/cgi-bin/bbb.cgi?ISBN=1565926773.

Mailbag:

IE shortcut; Optimizing WinME; Partition; 10/100 NIC; Mobos

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