01/05/2001

Mailbag:

Video card; Optimizing Windows; Maxtor drive

A links day, mostly. I spent most of my free time last night conducting an interview, the fruits of which just aren’t ready for here yet. But man… There really is something that’s better than messing with computers. It’s chasing down a story. (Purely my opinion, of course. I can hear the “Shaddup, ya slimy journalist!” mutterings now.)

I messed around the last couple of days with importing messages and addresses from the Mac version of Netscape Communicator into Outlook. That’s an adventure. I’ll have to write that up, maybe this weekend. And for the first time in several years, I’m actually doing Windows NT administration on the domain level again. Granted, it’s not a production domain–the purpose is strictly research. But it’s kinda nice to move back into that realm for a little bit, though I don’t want to stay in that role too long.

I had tons of mail, some of which I got to and some I didn’t. I put off the less time-critical stuff until the weekend. But keep it coming. Frankly the mail’s better than the stuff I come up with on my own, I think.

Search request of the day. Every once in a while I get a weird one. Yesterday’s was, from Google, “hate Southwestern Bell.” Who doesn’t?

But first the big news. Linux 2.4 is out. Its release seemed like a bit of a letdown, with Linus Torvalds saying pretty much, “Oh, by the way, it’s out.” Expect to see distributions based around it soon, but probably not tomorrow.

What’s new about it? Scalability and speed, mostly. And I found the 2.3 series had slightly better memory management. Hmm. Seems quite the opposite of Microsoft, doesn’t it, when new releases require less memory than the previous version did? Of course the bloated GUIs will eat up all the memory the kernel frees up.

Duron vs. Celeron. From the head-to-head comparisons I’ve read, the Celeron/i815 combination is a better productivity box, by a hair. But the Duron/KM133 combo, though slow for productivity, is a surprisingly good low-end gaming box. And even in its weak spots, it’s still better than anything we had a couple of years ago. And I hold firmly to my statement that no computer made since 1997 is truly obsolete.

And on to the links…

A place to buy SCSI stuff. The great people over at Storage Review love Hypermicro. They’re at www.hypermicro.com .

Everything you ever wanted to know about SCSI. (I’m on a SCSI kick.) It’s at www.scsifaq.org .

Fix your VIA-based mobo. All the latest VIA drivers are over at www.viahardware.com/download/index.shtm .

Gigabyte GA-7DX preview. Get your AMD-760 fix over at www.xbitlabs.com/mainboards/ga-7dx.html . It’ll probably be a few weeks yet before you can buy one though. But this board sure looks good.

Mailbag:

Video card; Optimizing Windows; Maxtor drive

Plextor bargains, and Year 2000 in review

A bargain Plextor CD-RW. I just spotted this great tip in a link to a link to a link in the StorageReview forums. The Iomega ZipCD 12x10x32 appears to be a relabeled Plextor drive, and it sometimes sells for around $100. So if you’re looking for the best CD-R on the market at a great price, go get it.
Details are at www.roundsparrow.com/comp/iomega1 if you want to have a look-see.

The $99 price seems to be a CompUSA special sale. Check local availability at www.compusa.com/products/product_info.asp?product_code=280095 if you’re interested.

Incidentally, the IDE 12x10x32 drives from TDK and Creative are also reported to be re-branded Plextors. Regular retail price on these four “twin” drives is similar, around $300. The TDK and Creative drives come with Nero Burning ROM, however, making them more desirable than the Plextor model. Iomega bundles Adaptec’s CD suite.

Happy New Year. An ancient Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, 2000 certainly was interesting. So, my toast to you this year is this: May 2001 be less interesting than 2000. Boring isn’t always bad. Just usually.

Linux 2.4 almost made it. Yesterday, Linus Torvalds released linux2.4-prerelease and vowed there won’t be a prerelease1, prerelease2, etc.–this is it. Bugs get fixed in this one, then the final 2.4 comes out (to be immediately followed by linux2.4ac1, no doubt–Alan Cox always releases a patched kernel swatting a couple of bugs within hours of Linus releasing the new kernel. It happened with 2.0 and with 2.2, and history repeats itself).

Anyway, the 2.2 prerelease turned into a series in spite of Linus’ vows, so Linus isn’t always right, but I expect 2.4 will be out this month, if not this week.

Linux 2.4 will increase performance, especially on high-memory and SMP machines, but I ran a 2.3 series kernel (basically the Linux equivalent of an alpha release of 2.4) on my P120 for a long time and found it to be faster than 2.2, even on a machine that humble. I also found it to be more stable than Microsoft’s final releases, but hey.

I ought to download 2.4prerelease and put it on my dual Celeron box to see how far it’s come, but I doubt I get around to it today.

Other lowlights of 2000. Windows 2000 flopped. It’s not a total disaster, but sales aren’t meeting Microsoft’s expectations. PC sales flopped, and that was a disaster. The Pentium 4 was released to awful reviews. Nvidia bought the mortal remains of 3dfx for a song. Similarly, Aureal departed from this mortal coil, purchased by longtime archrival Creative Labs after bankruptcy. (In a former incarnation, before bankruptcy and being run into the ground, Aureal was known as MediaVision. PC veterans probably remember them.) A federal judge ordered the breakup of Microsoft, but the appeals process promises to at least delay it, if not prevent it. We’ll hear a lot about that in 2001, but 2001 probably won’t bring any closure.

Hmm, other highlights. Apple failed to release OS X this year, and saw its new product line flop. Dotcom after dotcom shuttered its doors, much to Wall Street’s dismay. Linux companies didn’t topple MS, much to Wall Street’s dismay. And speaking of Wall Street, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) flip-flopped in the rankings of richest man in the world several times.

And two of my favorite pundits, Bob Metcalfe and G. Burgess Alison, called it quits last year. They are sorely missed.

And once again, 2000 wasn’t the year of the NC.

I know I missed a few. But those were the highlights, as I see them.

01/01/2001

Mailbag:

Partition; IDE/SCSI; Lost CD ROM; Optimizing ME; Win 98/ME

A bargain Plextor CD-RW. I just spotted this great tip in a link to a link to a link in the StorageReview forums. The Iomega ZipCD 12x10x32 appears to be a relabeled Plextor drive, and it sometimes sells for around $100. So if you’re looking for the best CD-R on the market at a great price, go get it.

Details are at www.roundsparrow.com/comp/iomega1 if you want to have a look-see.

The $99 price seems to be a CompUSA special sale. Check local availability at www.compusa.com/products/product_info.asp?product_code=280095 if you’re interested.

Incidentally, the IDE 12x10x32 drives from TDK and Creative are also reported to be re-branded Plextors. Regular retail price on these four “twin” drives is similar, around $300. The TDK and Creative drives come with Nero Burning ROM, however, making them more desirable than the Plextor model. Iomega bundles Adaptec’s CD suite.

Happy New Year. An ancient Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, 2000 certainly was interesting. So, my toast to you this year is this: May 2001 be less interesting than 2000. Boring isn’t always bad. Just usually.

Linux 2.4 almost made it. Yesterday, Linus Torvalds released linux2.4-prerelease and vowed there won’t be a prerelease1, prerelease2, etc.–this is it. Bugs get fixed in this one, then the final 2.4 comes out (to be immediately followed by linux2.4ac1, no doubt–Alan Cox always releases a patched kernel swatting a couple of bugs within hours of Linus releasing the new kernel. It happened with 2.0 and with 2.2, and history repeats itself).

Anyway, the 2.2 prerelease turned into a series in spite of Linus’ vows, so Linus isn’t always right, but I expect 2.4 will be out this month, if not this week.

Linux 2.4 will increase performance, especially on high-memory and SMP machines, but I ran a 2.3 series kernel (basically the Linux equivalent of an alpha release of 2.4) on my P120 for a long time and found it to be faster than 2.2, even on a machine that humble. I also found it to be more stable than Microsoft’s final releases, but hey.

I ought to download 2.4prerelease and put it on my dual Celeron box to see how far it’s come, but I doubt I get around to it today.

Other lowlights of 2000. Windows 2000 flopped. It’s not a total disaster, but sales aren’t meeting Microsoft’s expectations. PC sales flopped, and that was a disaster. The Pentium 4 was released to awful reviews. Nvidia bought the mortal remains of 3dfx for a song. Similarly, Aureal departed from this mortal coil, purchased by longtime archrival Creative Labs after bankruptcy. (In a former incarnation, before bankruptcy and being run into the ground, Aureal was known as MediaVision. PC veterans probably remember them.) A federal judge ordered the breakup of Microsoft, but the appeals process promises to at least delay it, if not prevent it. We’ll hear a lot about that in 2001, but 2001 probably won’t bring any closure.

Hmm, other highlights. Apple failed to release OS X this year, and saw its new product line flop. Dotcom after dotcom shuttered its doors, much to Wall Street’s dismay. Linux companies didn’t topple MS, much to Wall Street’s dismay. And speaking of Wall Street, Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) flip-flopped in the rankings of richest man in the world several times.

And two of my favorite pundits, Bob Metcalfe and G. Burgess Alison, called it quits last year. They are sorely missed.

And once again, 2000 wasn’t the year of the NC.

I know I missed a few. But those were the highlights, as I see them.

Mailbag:

Partition; IDE/SCSI; Lost CD ROM; Optimizing ME; Win 98/ME

Mac mice, PC data recovery

A two-button Mac mouse!? Frank McPherson asked what I would think of the multibutton/scroll wheel support in Mac OS X. Third-party multibutton mice have been supported via extensions for several years, but not officially from Ye Olde Apple. So what do I think? About stinkin’ time!

I use 3-button mice on my Windows boxes. The middle button double-clicks. Cuts down on clicks. I like it. On Unix, where the middle button brings up menus, I’d prefer a fourth button for double-clicking. Scroll wheels I don’t care about. The page up/down keys have performed that function just fine for 20 years. But some people like them; no harm done.

Data recovery. One of my users had a disk yesterday that wouldn’t read. Scandisk wouldn’t fix it. Norton Utilities 2000 wouldn’t fix it. I called in Norton Utilities 8. Its disktool.exe includes an option to revive a disk, essentially by doing a low-level format in place (presumably it reads the data, formats the cylinder, then writes the data back). That did the trick wonderfully. Run Disktool, then run NDD, then copy the contents to a fresh disk immediately.

So, if you ever run across an old DOS version of the Norton Utilities (version 7 or 8 certainly; earlier versions may be useful too), keep them! It’s something you’ll maybe need once a year. But when you need them, you need them badly. (Or someone you support does, since those in the know never rely on floppies for long-term data storage.) Recent versions of Norton Utilities for Win32 don’t include all of the old command-line utilities.

Hey, who was the genius who decided it was a good idea to cut, copy and paste files from the desktop? One of the nicest people in the world slipped up today copying a file. She hit cut instead of copy, then when she went to paste the file to the destination, she got an error message. Bye-bye file. Cut/copy-paste works fine for small files, but this was a 30-meg PowerPoint presentation. My colleague who supports her department couldn’t get the file back. I ride in on my white horse, Norton Utilities 4.0 for Windows in hand, and run Unerase off the CD. I get the file back, or so it appears. The undeleted copy won’t open. On a hunch, I hit paste. Another copy comes up. PowerPoint chokes on it too.

I tried everything. I ran PC Magazine’s Unfrag on it, which sometimes fixes problematic Office documents. No dice. I downloaded a PowerPoint recovery program. The document crashed the program. Thanks guys. Robyn never did you any harm. Now she’s out a presentation. Not that Microsoft cares, seeing as they already have the money.

I walked away wondering what would have happened if Amiga had won…

And there’s more to life than computers. There’s songwriting. After services tonight, the music director, John Scheusner, walks up and points at me. “Don’t go anywhere.” His girlfriend, Jennifer, in earshot, asks what we’re plotting. “I’m gonna play Dave the song that he wrote. You’re more than welcome to join us.”

Actually, it’s the song John and I wrote. I wrote some lyrics. John rearranged them a little (the way I wrote it, the song was too fast–imagine that, something too fast from someone used to writing punk rock) and wrote music.

I wrote the song hearing it sung like The Cars, (along the lines of “Magic,” if you’re familiar with their work) but what John wrote and played sounded more like Joe Jackson. Jazzy. I thought it was great. Jennfier thought it was really great.

Then John tells me they’re playing it Sunday. They’re what!? That will be WEIRD. And after the service will be weird too, seeing as everybody knows me and nobody’s ever seen me take a lick of interest in worship music before.

I like it now, but the lyrics are nothing special, so I don’t know if I’ll like it in six months. We’ll see. Some people will think it’s the greatest thing there ever was, just because two people they know wrote it. Others will call it a crappy worship song, but hopefully they’ll give us a little credit: At least we’re producing our own crappy worship songs instead of playing someone else’s.

Then John turns to me on the way out. “Hey, you’re a writer. How do we go about copyrighting this thing?” Besides writing “Copyright 2000 by John Scheusner and Dave Farquhar” on every copy, there’s this.  That’s what the Web is for, friends.

~~~~~~~~~~

Note: I post this letter without comment, since it’s a response to a letter I wrote. My stuff is in italics. I’m not sure I totally agree with all of it, but it certainly made me think a lot and I can’t fault the logic.

From: John Klos
Subject: Re: Your letter on Jerry Pournelle’s site

Hello, Dave,

I found both your writeup and this letter interesting. Especially interesting is both your reaction and Jerry’s reaction to my initial letter, which had little to do with my server.To restate my feelings, I was disturbed about Jerry’s column because it sounded so damned unscientific, and I felt that he had a responsibility to do better.
His conclusion sounded like something a salesperson would say, and in fact did sound like things I have heard from salespeople and self-promoted, wannabe geeks. I’ve heard all sorts of tales from people like this, such as the fact that computers get slower with age because the ram wears out…

Mentioning my Amiga was simply meant to point out that not only was I talking about something that bothered me, but I am running systems that “conventional wisdom” would say are underpowered. However, based upon what both you and Jerry have replied, I suppose I should’ve explained more about my Amiga.

I have about 50 users on erika (named after a dear friend). At any one moment, there are anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen people logged on. Now, I don’t claim to know what a Microsoft Terminal Server is, nor what it does, but it sounds something like an ’80s way of Microsoft subverting telnet.

My users actually telnet (technically, they all use ssh; telnet is off), they actually do tons of work is a shell, actually use pine for email and links (a lynx successor) for browsing. I have a number of developers who do most of their development work in any of a number of languages on erika (Perl, C, C++, PHP, Python, even Fortran!).

Most of my users can be separated into two groups: geeks and novices. Novices usually want simple email or want to host their domain with a minimum of fuss; most of them actually welcome the simplicity, speed, and consistency of pine as compared to slow and buggy webmail. Who has used webmail and never typed a long letter only to have an error destroy the entire thing?

The geeks are why sixgirls.org got started. We all
had a need for a place
to call home, as we all have experienced the nomadic life of being a geek
on the Internet with no server of our own. We drifted from ISP to ISP
looking for a place where our Unix was nice, where our sysadmins listened,
and where corporate interests weren’t going to yank stuff out from underneath us at any moment. Over the years, many ISPs have stopped
offering shell access and generally have gotten too big for the comfort of
geeks.

If Jerry were replying to this now, I could see him saying that shells are
old school and that erika is perhaps not much more than a home for  orphans and die-hard Unix fans. I used to think so, too, but the more novice users I add, the more convinced I am that people who have had no shell experience at all prefer the ease, speed, and consistency of the shell
over a web browser type interface. They’re amazed at the speed. They’re
surprised over the ability to instantly interact with others using talk and ytalk.

The point is that this is neither a stopgap nor a dead end; this IS the
future. I read your message to Jerry and it got me thinking a lot. An awful
lot. First on the wisdom of using something other than what Intel calls a server, then on the wisdom of using something other than a Wintel box as a server. I probably wouldn’t shout it from the mountaintops if I were doing it, but I’ve done it myself. As an Amiga veteran (I once published an article in Amazing Computing), I smiled when I saw what you were doing with your A4000. And some people no doubt are very interested in that. I wrote some about that on my Weblogs site (address below if you’re interested).

I am a Unix Systems Administrator, and I’ve set up lots of servers. I made
my decision to run everything on my Amiga based upon several
criteria:
One, x86 hardware is low quality. I stress test all of the servers I
build, and most x86 hardware is flawed in one way or another. Even if
those flaws are so insignificant that they never affect the running of a
server, I cannot help but wonder why my stress testing code will run just
fine on one computer for months and will run fine on another computer for
a week, but then dump a core or stop with an error. But this is quite
commonplace with x86 hardware.

For example, my girlfriend’s IBM brand FreeBSD computer can run the stress testing software indefinitely while she is running the GIMP, Netscape, and all sorts of other things. This is one of the few PCs that never has any problems with this stress testing software. But most of the other servers I set up, from PIIIs, dual processor PIIIs and dual Celerons, to Cyrix 6×86 and MII, end up having a problem with my software after anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. But they all have remarkable uptimes, and none crash for any reason other than human error (like kicking the cord).

However, my Amigas and my PowerMacs can run this software indefinitely.

So although I work with x86 extensively, it’s not my ideal choice. So what
else is there? There’s SPARC, MIPS, m68k, PowerPC, Alpha, StrongARM… pleanty of choices.

I have a few PowerMacs and a dual processor Amiga (68060 and 200 mhz PPC 604e); however, NetBSD for PowerMacs is not yet as mature as I need it to be. For one, there is no port of MIT pthreads, which is required for MySQL. Several of my users depend on MySQL, so until that is fixed, I can’t consider using my PowerMac. Also, because of the need to boot using Open Firmware, I cannot set up my PowerMac to boot unattended. Since my machine is colocated, I would have to be able to run down to the colocation facility if anything ever happened to it. That’s
fine if I’m in the city, but what happens when I’m travelling in Europe?

SPARC is nice, but expensive. If I could afford a nice UltraSPARC, I
would. However, this porject started as a way to have a home for
geeks; coming up with a minimum of $3000 for something I didn’t even plan to charge for wasn’t an option.

Alpha seems too much like PC hardware, but I’d certainly be willing to
give it a try should send me an old Alpha box.

With MIPS, again, the issue is price. I’ve always respected the quality of
SGI hardware, so I’d definitely set one up if one were donated.

StrongARM is decent. I even researched this a bit; I can get an ATX
motherboard from the UK with a 233 mhz StrongARM for about 310 quid. Not too bad.

But short of all of that, I had a nice Amiga 4000 with a 66 mhz 68060, 64
bit ram, and wide ultra SCSI on board. Now what impresses me about this
hardware is that I’ve run it constantly. When I went to New Orleans last
year during the summer, I left it in the apartment, running, while the
temperatures were up around 100 degrees. When I came back, it was
fine. Not a complaint.

That’s the way it’s always been with all of my Amigas. I plug them in,
they run; when I’m done, I turn off the monitor. So when I was considering
what computer to use as a server when I’d be paying for a burstable 10
Mbps colocation, I wanted something that would be stable and consistent.

 Hence Amiga.

One of my users, after reading your letter (and, I guess, Jerry’s),
thought that I should mention the load average of the server; I assume
this is because of the indirectly stated assumption that a 66 mhz 68060 is
just squeaking by. To clarify that, a 66 mhz 68060 is faster per mhz than
any Pentium by a measurable margin when using either optimised code (such as a distributed.net client) or straight compiled code (such as LAME). We get about 25,000 hits a day, for a total of about 200 megs a day, which accounts for one e

ighth of one percent of the CPU time. We run as a Stratum 2 time server for several hundred computers, we run POP and IMAP services, sendmail, and we’re the primary nameserver for perhaps a hundred machines. With a distributed.net client running, our load average hovers arount 1.18, which means that without the dnet client, we’d be idle most of the time.

If that weren’t good enough, NetBSD 1.5 (we’re running 1.4.2) has a much
improved virtual memory system (UVM), improvements and speedups in the TCP stack (and complete IPv6 support), scheduler enhancements, good softdep support in the filesystem (as if two 10k rpm 18 gig IBM wide ultra drives aren’t fast enough), and more.

In other words, things are only going to get better.

The other question you raise (sort of) is why Linux gets so much more
attention than the BSD flavors. I’m still trying to figure that one
out. Part of it is probably due to the existance of Red Hat and
Caldera and others. FreeBSD gets some promotion from Walnut
Creek/BSDi, but one only has to look at the success of Slackware to
see how that compares.

It’s all hype; people love buzz words, and so a cycle begins: people talk
about Linux, companies spring up to provide Linux stuff, and people hear
more and talk more about Linux.

It’s not a bad thing; anything that moves the mainstream away from
Microsoft is good. However, the current trend in Linux is not good. Red
Hat (the company), arguably the biggest force in popularising Linux in the
US, is becoming less and less like Linux and more and more like a software company. They’re releasing unstable release after unstable release with no apologies. Something I said a little while ago, and someone has been using as his quote in his email:
In the Linux world, all of the major distributions have become
companies. How much revenue would Red Hat generate if their product was flawless? How much support would they sell?

I summarise this by saying that it is no longer in their best interest to
have the best product. It appears to be sufficient to have a working
product they can use to “ride the wave” of popularity of Linux.

I used Linux for a long time, but ultimately I was always frustrated with
the (sometimes significant) differences between the distributions, and
sometimes the differences between versions of the same distribution. Why
was it that an Amiga running AmigaDOS was more consistent with Apache and Samba docs than any particular Linux? Where was Linux sticking all of
these config files, and why wasn’t there documentation saying where the
stuff was and why?

When I first started using BSD, I fell in love with its consistency, its
no bull attitude towards ports and packa
ges, and its professional and
clean feel. Needless to say, I don’t do much linux anymore.

It may well be due to the people involved. Linus Torvalds is a
likeable guy, a smart guy, easily identifiable by a largely computer
illiterate press as an anti-Gates. And he looks the part. Bob Young is
loud and flambouyant. Caldera’s the company that sued Microsoft and probably would have won if it hadn’t settled out of court. Richard
Stallman torques a lot of people off, but he’s very good at getting
himself heard, and the GPL seems designed at least in part to attract
attention. The BSD license is more free than the GPL, but while
freedom is one of Stallman’s goals, clearly getting attention for his
movement is another, and in that regard Stallman succeeds much more than the BSD camp. The BSD license may be too free for its own good.

Yes, there aren’t many “figureheads” for BSD; most of the ones I know of
don’t complain about Linux, whereas Linux people often do complain about the BSD folks (the major complaint being the license).

I know Jerry pays more attention to Linux than the BSDs partly because Linux has a bigger audience, but he certainly knows more about Linux than about any other Unix. Very soon after he launched his website, a couple of Linux gurus (most notably Moshe Bar, himself now a Byte columnist) started corresponding with him regularly, and they’ve made Linux a reasonably comfortable place for him, answering his questions and getting him up and going.

So then it should be their responsibility, as Linux advocates, to give
Jerry a slightly more complete story, in my opinion.

As for the rest of the press, most of them pay attention to Linux only because of the aforementioned talking heads. I have a degree in journalism from supposedly the best journalism school in the free world, which gives me some insight into how the press works (or doesn’t, as is usually the case). There are computer journalists who get it, but a g

ood deal of them are writing about computers for no reason in particular, and their previous job and their next job are likely to be writing about something else. In journalism, if three sources corroborate something, you can treat it as fact. Microsoft-sympathetic sources are rampant, wherever you are. The journalist probably has a Mac sympathy since there’s a decent chance that’s what he uses. If he uses a Windows PC, he may or may not realize it. He’s probably heard of Unix, but his chances of having three local Unix-sympathetic sources to use consistently are fairly slim. His chances of having three Unix-sympathetic sources who agree enough for him to treat what they say as fact (especially if one of his Microsofties contradicts it) are probably even more slim.

Which furthers my previous point: Jerry’s Linux friends should be more
complete in their advocacy.

Media often seems to desire to cater to the lowest common denominator, but it is refreshing to see what happens when it doesn’t; I can’t stand US
news on TV, but I’ll willingly watch BBC news, and will often learn more
about US news than if I had watched a US news program.

But I think that part of the problem, which is compounded by the above, is
that there are too many journaists that are writing about computers,
rather than computer people writing about computers.

After all, which is more presumptuous: a journaist who thinks that he/she
can enter the technical world of computing and write authoritatively about
it, or a computer person who attempts to be a part time journalist? I’d
prefer the latter, even if it doesn’t include all of the accoutrements
that come from the writings of a real journalist.

And looking at the movement as a whole, keep in mind that journalists look for stories. Let’s face it: A college student from Finland writing an operating system and giving it away and millions of people thinking it’s better than Windows is a big story. And let’s face it, RMS running
around looking like John the Baptist extolling the virtues of something called Free Software is another really good story, though he’d get a lot more press if he’d talk more candidly about the rest of his life, since that might be the hook that gets the story. Can’t you see this one now?

Yes. Both of those stories would seem much more interesting than, “It’s
been over three years and counting since a remote hole was found in
OpenBSD”, because it’s not sensationalistic, nor is it interesting, nor
can someone explain how you might end up running OpenBSD on your
appliances (well, you might, but the fact that it’s secure means that it’d
be as boring as telling you why your bathtub hasn’t collapsed yet).

Richard Stallman used to keep a bed in his office at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab.

He slept there. He used the shower down the hall. He didn’t have a home outside the office. It would have distracted him from his cause: Giving away software.

Stallman founded the Free Software movement in 1983. Regarded by many as the prophet of his movement (and looking the part, thanks to his long, unkempt hair and beard), Stallman is both one of its most highly regarded programmers and perhaps its most outspoken activist, speaking at various functions around the world.

Linux was newsworthy, thanks to the people behind it, way back in 1993 when hardly anyone was using it. Back then, they were the story. Now, they can still be the story, depending on the writer’s approach.

If there are similar stories in the BSD camp, I’m not aware of them. (I can tell you the philosophical differences between OpenBSD,  NetBSD and FreeBSD and I know a little about the BSD directory structure, but that’s where my knowledge runs up against its limits. I’d say I’m more familiar with BSD than the average computer user but that’s not saying much.) But I can tell you my editor would have absolutely eaten this up. After he or she confirmed it wasn’t fiction.

The history is a little dry; the only “juicy” part is where Berkeley had
to deal with a lawsuit from AT&T (or Bell Labs; I’m not doing my research
here) before they could make their source free.

Nowadays, people are interested because a major layer of Mac OS X is BSD, and is taken from the FreeBSD and NetBSD source trees. Therefore, millions of people who otherwise know nothing about BSD or its history will end up running it when Mac OS X Final comes out in January; lots of people already are running Mac OS X Beta, but chances are good that the people who bought the Beta know about the fact that it’s running on BSD.

And it’s certainly arguable that BSD is much more powerful and robust than Windows 2000. So there’s a story for you. Does that answer any of your question?

Yes; I hope I’ve clarified my issues, too.

Neat site! I’ll have to keep up on it.

Thanks,
John Klos

Publishing again, and Unix holy wars

I sent off an article to the UK Computer Shopper yesterday. I have no idea yet which issue it will be published in. Optimizing Windows seems to have a better following in the UK than here in the States; this series of articles will probably tilt the balance even more in that favor.
It will be interesting to see if they let my U.S. English stand, or if they translate it into British English. I listen to enough British and Irish music that my language is definitely colored by it, but I suspect I still sound pretty American. In college I tried to sound very British in my writing; I’ve since retreated back to Missouri because it feels more honest to write that way.
Dave’s still fighting his war. I talked with our Unix guru at work yesterday. He runs Linux and NetBSD at home almost exclusively, so he definitely has his finger on the pulse of the movement. I told him the story, then I quoted another friend, who’s fond of saying that Linux zealots are like Amiga zealots without the class, then exclaimed, “This software isn’t free! They may not charge any money for it, but they demand your soul!” And I’m not about to let software become my god. Charlie laughed, then he got real serious.
Those aren’t the old-timers in the movement, he pointed out. I’m pretty sure he’s right about that–Linus Torvalds talks candidly about how his family all runs Windows. Then he said Amiga was a much greater commitment than Linux is. Back in the Amiga’s glory day, it was an expensive computer. The easy decision was to go to Best Bait-n-Switch and buy a Packard Bell 386sx like everyone else did and pay $900 less for it. There wasn’t as much software available, and generally you paid full retail for it at out-of-the-way shops. The Amiga was expensive and not ubiquitous. You had to make a commitment to it, and you had to think long and hard about it before you did it.
Linux hardware, however, is dirt cheap. Sometimes it’s free. Businesses are glad to give their low-end Pentiums away, and Linux runs great on them. Linux is free. You download it off the ‘Net and burn your own CD. And much of the intellectual commitment that used to be there isn’t either, now that Mandrake and other distros install more easily than Windows does. And there’s more than enough useful software out there that installs easily, so you don’t even have to break out the C compiler anymore. On my first date with Linux back in 1996, there wasn’t any software in Slackware 3.0 that was useful to me except the C compiler. In those days, if you used Linux, chances are you wrote at least some of your own software. Two years later, when Charlie gave me a Red Hat 5.2 CD, there was more useful software on it than I knew what to do with. Today, most of the major distributions now have to come on multiple CDs because of the amounts of software they come with. It doesn’t matter anymore what you want to do with your computer, in many cases it’s all there for you, with little work on your part.
Charlie didn’t use the phrase “spoiled brat,” but he certainly implied it. When you had to make little or no commitment to your platform of choice, it’s hard to respect anyone else’s commitment to theirs.
Al Hawkins’ responses from yesterday (messages 27 and 29) echo some of that sentiment.
I’m not saying that’s the story behind every Linux activist. That’s certainly not the story with Moshe Bar or Brian Bilbrey. Nor is it the case with Charlie, and Charlie pushes very hard for Linux and the BSDs everywhere he goes. But that explains the tone of some of the zealotry I see online.

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Why Linus Torvalds is more popular than RMS

Quote of the day. This one made me laugh out loud–probably because I have a journalism degree, I’ve seen journalism professors show up for class sloshed, a good number of my friends are journalists, and, technically, I’m a journalist myself.
“I know how journalists work. They drink too much and they search for interesting stories.” –Linus Torvalds, in the Spring 1999 issue of Linux Magazine.

As for Torvalds, his mom, dad, grandfather, sister, and uncle are all journalists. Yikes!

Stallman on the warpath. My chance to be divisive, I guess. As a journalist, I mustn’t shy away from it. Hey, we’re supposed to look for these opportunities. So…

GNU/Linux is a horrible name. Stallman’s efforts should be commended, yes. I believe they have been. Stallman’s not exactly a household name yet, but certainly more people know who he is now than a year ago. If he wants GNU and his Free Software Foundation to be known, he needs to borrow more pages from Eric Raymond, or even better yet, Torvalds.

As an aside, I had a conversation with a friend and one of his friends the other night over coffee, and the whole Linux/Open Source/Free Software/whatever topic came up (probably because he introduced me as, “Dave, my friend who wrote a book about Windows and now he’s writing a book about Linux.”). I was trying to explain Stallman, and finally I just said, “He’s so libertarian he doesn’t believe in capitalism.” She stopped for a minute. “Libertarians don’t believe in capitalism?” Sure they do, usually fanatically so. But capitalism puts certain limits on your liberties, and if those liberties mean more to you than capitalism, you can start to disdain capitalism. It’s strange, but remember, in the 1930s the leaders of Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain took conservatism to such an extreme that it led to a form of socialism. The boundaries blur at the edges.

End aside. Raymond and Torvalds are better known than Stallman partly because they’re nicer and more reasonable people. Want proof? OK. Here’s an interview with Stallman, here’s one with Torvalds, and here’s one with Raymond.

It’s pretty clear from reading these interviews why Torvalds is the most popular of these guys, and why he’s become a bit of a media darling. Yes, he looks more like the anti-Gates than RMS or Raymond, but there’s more to it than just that: He’s more charismatic, he’s less intellectual (though he’s obviously a brilliant guy, he’s much more apt to laugh or crack a joke than try to convince you he knows more than you do), and he’s considerably more humble. He’s a likable guy. More likeable than Stallman or Raymond, and more likable than Gates.

Harping the GNU/Linux thing isn’t going to accomplish much. People have a hard enough time figuring out what Linux is supposed to be. And where do we draw the line? Sure, Linux isn’t very useful without some set of utilities (and the GNU utilities are the most commonly used). But what about XFree86? That didn’t come from GNU. But if it weren’t for XFree86, very few people would be interested in either GNU or Linux. And what about KDE? Stallman hates KDE because it dares to use the Qt library, which wasn’t always GPL. But it’s largely thanks to KDE that we’re not stuck using the often-convoluted interfaces that shipped with early Linux distributions. Without KDE, there probably wouldn’t have been a GNOME in response. OK, so now we’re up to GNU/Linux/XFree86/KDE. Oh yeah. A lot of the daemons people use with Linux (minor details like Sendmail and BIND–just the building blocks of the Internet, nothing to get worked up about) came not from GNU but from the BSD project. GNU/BSD/Linux/XFree86/KDE, anyone?

This becomes a convoluted mess. Maybe “Linux” isn’t the best name (if we named all OSs after the kernel, Windows 9x would still be called DOS), but it’s the name people recognize. My goal in writing is to communicate as clearly as possible. That means using the popular name.

A makeover for Stallman. I’m already in trouble, so I might as well get in a lot of trouble. We find out early in that interview that Stallman lived in is office for 13 years or something. He had a bed in his office! What, did he sleep there, wake up, code for 16 hours a day, except for breaks for meals and a break for a shower whenever he felt like it? As Torvalds says, journalists look for interesting stories. Here’s an eccentric guy. Let’s find out more about his eccentricism. Find out about the eccentricism, you learn about the dedication. It sounds like this guy just might be more dedicated and fanatic about software than Martin Luther was about Jesus. How can that be?

In fact, Stallman may have logged 16-hour days at the keyboard. He alludes to it in the interview, when he says he suffered carpal tunnel syndrome from too much coding. But he didn’t talk about it.

Stallman has this ridiculous folk song he plays about how hackers need to follow him, and they’ll be free. He alludes to folk music in the interview, how one person can take a song someone took from someone else, and it becomes a rich thing. What if Stallman brought his acoustic guitar to this interview, said, “Like this!” and played his ridiculous song, then said, “Hmm. Maybe not.” A little self-depracating humor works sometimes. Especially when you have a reputation for being pompous and arrogant. Just ask Linus.

People have to have a compelling reason to listen to you. Giving them a bunch of free stuff is a good start, I’ll admit. Though he speaks about word processors in a demeaning manner, which may make some programmers born and bred on text editors stand up and cheer, but I’m not sure I like the tool of my trade looked down upon in that way. I’m sure my mom doesn’t. The tools we need are different from the tools rms needs, and he needs to recognize that.

So, the difference between my mom and me. I have to listen to Stallman, I have to at least feign interest in who he is and what he’s doing (and to be honest, I don’t have to try all that hard) because I’m being paid to write a book that’s almost as much about him and his work as it is about Torvalds and Gates. But why should my mom give a rip about this guy? And therein lies the problem. With years of retraining, my mom could get her job done with a Linux (or better yet, Hurd, so Stallman and GNU can get all the credit) box running GNU Emacs. Hey, it’s a text editor, it’s a Web browser, it’s a programming environment, it’s a dessert topping, it’s a floor wax! And at the end of this retraining, I could then look her in the eye and say, “You’re free.” And you know what she’d tell me? She’d give me a dirty look and tell me it wasn’t worth it.

Stallman’s attitude is, “I’ll sacrifice a little (or a lot of) convenience in order to be free.” Torvalds? He freely admits his mom uses a Mac, his dad uses Windows, and his sister uses Windows. Then he corrects himself. “No, she [his sister] uses Microsoft Works. Windows is nothing more than a program loader to her. She doesn’t care how these computers work.”

I think the contrasting attitudes have a lot to do with why Torvalds feels he has too much attention and Stallman not enough. People more readily identify with Torvalds.