The tyranny of consumerization is real

Computerworld cites the Ipad 2 and increasing demand by end users to use such consumer devices in corporate environments as “The tyranny of consumerization.”

This has happened before. And if history repeats itself, the future will be better than today, but the road there is going to involve some pain.
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Why Firefox will probably always have mixed acceptance in corporate environments

I saw an article in Information Week today about Firefox in the enterprise.

The fanboys on both sides took offense, of course.

I’m a longtime Firefox user and an IT professional, but yet I agree with the premise that Firefox will always have trouble in that environment.The biggest reason is inside the firewall, in the corporate intranet. Some commenters complained about lazy in-house design, but that’s not the whole story. Many web-based enterprise applications are designed for Internet Explorer and only Internet Explorer. One app that I support takes it a step further, and only works with IE 5.5 or IE 6. That’s going to be a problem when the order comes down to deploy IE 7. The product is discontinued, so at that point we’ll have to either migrate to something else, or have people connect to a terminal server so they can run IE 6.

I have another web-based application I support (but if I ever change jobs I’ll deny ever hearing about it) that works with IE 7, but if and only if an administrator logs on and manually registers some ActiveX controls. That product is called Microsoft Project Server 2003 Web Access.

Yes, you read that right. Even Microsoft can’t properly support its own web browsers.

Any corporate web-based app that uses ActiveX will never run on Firefox. Those that check for a specific IE version might run on a hacked version of Firefox, but if you ever have any problems, you’re on your own. Corporate suits don’t like that.

And since computers and applications tend to live almost forever once they’re deployed, IE’s stranglehold on those environments may not be measured in years. We may be talking a decade, or even more.

I’ll submit the refrigerator-sized VAX systems I walk past nearly every day in the server room as evidence of the longevity of some systems. The computers themselves may not be quite 20 years old, but the applications they’re running are at least that old.

Firefox also tends to go against corporate culture in other ways. One of the first questions a corporate suit will ask is who they can sue if it breaks. Never mind that if a Microsoft product breaks, they probably waived all legal rights as part of the EULA. The guys in corner offices who wear ties know more about that than anyone who works on computers. A wave of the hand makes that problem go away.

Yeah, right. But don’t bother trying to tell them that.

A second problem is that many IT decisions are made, or approved, by people who admire Bill Gates’ wealth. Since Bill Gates became the world’s richest man by selling computer software, his computer software must be the best, period, end of story.

Many of the books decision-makers read perpetuate this belief. One example is the highly popular and influential book Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan. In many circles, this book is a must-read. I have to admit I’m getting as much out of this $11 book than I got out of my college economics class, if not more. But Wheelan trots Gates out again and again as a master visionary, a master programmer, and lots of other things that he clearly isn’t. The examples serve to make Wheelan’s point, which is the most important thing, but they also perpetuate the myth that Bill Gates is the greatest computer scientist and visionary of all time, when the fact is he’s an astute and ruthless businessman who happened to find himself in the computer industry. His track record as a programmer and visionary isn’t all that great.

But because of this myth, spread largely outside of the computer industry proper, many influential people will insist on using the Microsoft product any time there’s a choice. They’re not interested in Wordperfect or Quicken or Dreamweaver or Firefox any other product not made by Microsoft, as long as Microsoft makes something that competes with it.

The Millionaire Mind by Thomas Stanley explains this mentality somewhat. When a person’s job is to make money, they don’t want to do product research and they don’t want to take chances. When they buy tires, a dishwasher, or a refrigerator, they walk into the store and buy the most expensive one, because the most expensive one must be the best. They don’t want to spend time doing market research because they could spend that time making money. And they want something they believe won’t break, because time spent dealing with broken stuff is time they can’t spend making money.

Basically, any time spent discussing or researching a purchase is time that can’t be spent making money. So in the mind of a bean-counter or an executive type, it’s much cheaper in the long run to just choose the Microsoft product and forget about it.

The logic is completely faulty–it’s an excellent example of a red herring logical fallacy, as Bill Gates’ wealth has nothing to do with the quality of his competitors’ products–but arguing that point isn’t likely to get you anywhere. Even if the decision maker is wrong, the time spent arguing about it is probably worth more than the potential savings by going with a different product.

At home, none of this matters. And at home, I’ll keep using Firefox. I’ve been using Firefox since 2002 when it was an obscure project called Phoenix, so I think you can call me a longtime fan.

Firefox made remarkable progress from 2002 to now, while IE has gone from IE 6 to IE 7 in the same timeframe.

But in the corporate world, very little of that matters. Incumbency has its advantages. Some companies will embrace it because of its many advantages. In other companies, users will sneak it in the door, the same way they snuck in PCs in the 1980s and 1990s while the mainframe-centric IT staff wasn’t looking. But in the majority of companies, it’s likely to stay shut out, perhaps because something important requires IE, but if not, the mere absence of Microsoft’s name on the product will be enough to keep it out of some doors.

I don’t expect to ever have Firefox on my PC at my current job. It’s my employer’s loss, but it’s not my decision.


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.

The joy of teaching

The joy of teaching. Remember that Pentium-75 that was limping along under Windows NT’s heavy yoke? She didn’t complain to me about it (probably because she knew I did a lot to try to make it usable), but she did complain to some other people. One of the other IT guys did some lobbying. And when I said that a Mac would be an improvement over that thing, it got some people’s attention. (I’m not exactly known as a Mac zealot at work. Some call me exactly the opposite.) So she got another machine.
Well, as it turns out, she’s taking a class titled Management of Information Systems. She called me up yesterday to ask me a few questions relating to the class. Sure, says I. She asked about a mainframe’s place in a Webcentric world, which really made me think. I’m not of the mainframe generation, and I left the computer science program at the University of Missouri because the only thing they were interested in cranking out at the time were IBM System 370 administrators who knew VM/CMS and JCL. Gag me. I’d rather use and fix Macs. But retrofitting certainly makes more sense than outright replacement in many cases.

Then she asked about NCs. I laughed, because my now-defunct Linux book was to have a chapter about NCs in it (and how to roll your own). “Why didn’t they catch on?” she asked. Two reasons, I said. Poor marketing, for one. Larry Ellison assumes that everyone hates Microsoft as much as he does, so he releases this overpriced box and says little about it other than “Not Microsoft.” The second reason, of course, is versatility. People like the versatility of their PCs. NCs have none.

Then she asked a sharp question. “Isn’t this the same thing we do with Reflection?” (Reflection is a very high-priced VTxx terminal emulator from WRQ, Inc. that we use to connect to a cluster of VMS boxes.) Ah, she gets it! Yes, only NCs pull Windows and Windows applications (or another GUI and GUI applications) instead of text-based programs.

“This stuff doesn’t even seem real,” she said at one point. “And here you are, talking right off the top of your head about it.” But at the end of the conversation, she seemed to get it.

And that’s what’s cool about writing books or maintaining a Web site. Lighting up the darkness. Making the unfamiliar make sense. Or at least a little more sense.

My phone was ringing off the hook today. I made a comment about my popularity rising. One of my office-mates suggested I run for president. Well, I said, I couldn’t do any worse of a job of carrying Florida… But I won’t be of legal age until 2012.

I guess that’s the last thing I have to look forward to. At 16 you can drive. At 17 you can get into R-rated movies. At 18 you can vote. At 21 you can drink. At 25, your insurance rates go down. And at 35, you can run for president.


I remembered seeing an article a while back concerning this person’s issue:

It is an optimization guide for the K6-2+ (also K6-III+, but not
explicitly stated) processors, and it includes a board compatibility guide.

According to the guide, the FIC VA-503+ will only support the new
processors with a beta bios (doesn’t mention specific versions) and revision 1.2 of the board.

I’m CC’ing a copy of this to Curtis.


Dustin D. Cook, A+

I didn’t get this message, except when Curtis replied to me. I’ll have to investigate.
Thanks much for the tip.

Doesn’t anybody else feel impelled to mention that a 50MHz (for in this case >12.5%) speed gain is completely valueless? As you surely know, Dave, in ordinary use people don’t usually notice any speed change that’s much finer than 2x. I’d take a 12%-faster CPU and pop it into my system if 1) somebody gave it to me for nothing, and 2) it was a no-brainer plop-in install. Otherwise, there are better uses for $60. Ya think?

Peter A. Moore
ITS Engineer
Precision IT, a division of Precision Design Systems

in reference to:
My understanding was he wanted to get that CPU because he was using his 400 MHz CPU in another system.

Yes, you are entirely right, a 50 MHz gain generally isn’t worth it. You could make an argument for when it’s a 50 MHz gain accompanied by something else, say, an upgrade from a K6-2/400 to a K6-III/450, in which case you’d get a larger gain, maybe 25-35 percent, due to on-chip cache. But with CPU speed being a fairly small factor in overall system performance, that 35% increase definitely won’t work miracles.

When upgrading a system, I generally attack system RAM and the hard drive first. It’s amazing what a difference dropping in a 7200-rpm hard drive makes. I recently made a P200 boot Win95 in 15 seconds by replacing the drive, dropping in another 64 megs of RAM, then doing a fresh Windows installation and tweaking msdos.sys. Very nice.

Good observation. Thanks.

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