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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…

Disadvantages of Windows 3.1

Note: I wrote this way back in 2003, so my advice as far as replacing Windows 3.1 is a bit dated, but the strengths and weaknesses remain valid. If you’re thinking of a new computer, please don’t run anything older than Windows 7.

I found a search in my log analysis for “disadvantages of windows 3.1,” which I found interesting. I can talk about that.
Someone asked for it, and I aim to please. So let’s head down memory lane.

In all fairness, let’s talk about what’s good about it first. The main thing is that it’ll run–or at least load and execute–on pretty much anything, as long as it’s old. It’s anything but ideal on a 286, but it’ll execute. And on a 386DX, plain old Windows 3.1 is reasonably zippy if you cut down the number of fonts it has, only load a few applications, and install 16 MB of RAM in it. On a 486 or a low-end Pentium, it’s plenty fast.

Windows 3.1 freeware doesn’t have much in the way of strings attached–no need to worry about spyware. That’s a good thing.

Fine. Now for the hatchet job. To be completely honest, I didn’t like Windows 3.1 in 1993 and 1994 when it was what everyone was using. I ran it for a few months and then went out and bought OS/2 and never looked back. So you’re getting a perspective from someone who’s been willing for a long, long time to run anything other than Windows 3.1. But I’ll do my best to be fair.

You may have trouble running it on newer hardware. Let’s face it, it came on the market 10 years ago and not many people use it anymore. There’s not a lot of demand for drivers, so it can be hard to find a modern video card with Windows 3.1 drivers. And not only does Windows 3.1 have spotty capability with new hardware, it’s very limited in its ability to take advantage of anything made since 1995 or so.

More importantly, modern operating systems give full pre-emptive multitasking, or in the case of Windows 95/98/ME, at least something that vaguely resembles it. Under pre-emptive multitasking, the OS decides what applications get CPU time and how much. In Win3.1’s cooperative multitasking, the apps just have a knock-down, drag-out fight for CPU time. If you send an application to the background, it’ll get some work done, but not as much as it would under a newer OS.

My biggest beef with Windows 3.1 was its crashes. If you just run an app or maybe two all the time, it works reasonably well. But I’m the kind of guy who always has three or four or twelve apps open–the first multitasking systems I ever used, Unix and AmigaOS, had no problem doing that–and if you try that with Windows 3.1 for very long, you’ll see a lot of blue screens.

I wasn’t a fan of the Windows 3.1 Program Manager interface. I’m not in love with the Explorer interface of newer versions either, but it’s easier to use and faster to navigate than Progman was.

And although its software selection is pretty good, I guess Windows 3.1 now falls victim to the same argument I heard time and time again against my preferred alternative operating systems: What, don’t you like software? Sometimes Windows 3.1’s available offerings are adequate and sometimes they aren’t: Microsoft Office 6.0 is certainly adequate for 99% of all people’s needs. If you dig deep enough (I found a copy here), you can find Internet Explorer 5.0 for Windows 3.1. It’s not the best browser in the world but it’s the best one you’ll find for Win3.1 and it may be good enough for you. Sticking with Windows 3.1 limits you to a much smaller selection of software than newer operating systems. At this point, ironically, even Linux, which was once notorious for its lack of software that Joe Sixpack would want to use, now has a better selection of mainstream software than Windows 3.1 had.

At this point in time it’s hard to recommend Windows 3.1. PCs capable of running Windows 95 adequately are very, very cheap (I see 133 MHz Pentium computers sell for $35 when people are willing to mess with them, and a 66 MHz 486 will run Windows 95 decently and just about anyone who works in the computer field can find one of those to give you for free if you ask nicely enough), and although support for Windows 95 is starting to dry up, it’s much easier to find hardware and software compatible with Win95 than it is for Windows 3.1. Windows 98 is better still, but I definitely recommend a 200 MHz Pentium and more than 32 MB of RAM for Win98. Still, that’s doable.

And if you’re thinking that Windows 3.1 is adequate for you and you’re not totally strapped for cash, you might want to give the $199 Wal-Mart PCs running Lindows a look. Lindows is basically Linux with a pretty graphical user interface, and it’s perfectly fine for word processing, web browsing and e-mail. The budget Wal-Mart PC is hardly a barn burner, but it’s much faster than any computer you’re likely to be running Windows 3.1 on, and since it will be much newer, the hardware itself will also be a lot more reliable. Double check with your ISP before you buy one to make sure you can get connected (they’re probably getting used to that question by now), but if you can get connected, think about it.

Palladium and You

There’s been a lot of talk on the Web lately about Palladium. If you don’t have strong feelings about it, it’s probably because you’re not a bleeding-edge computing enthusiast. That’s OK. You’ll hear about it in time.
Basically, Palladium is Microsoft’s initiative to reinvent the PC and make it more secure. There’s a big uproar about it because it reeks of ulterior motives. Some fear Palladium means you will surrender all rights to your PC and cede them to Redmond.

I’m not totally convinced this is a bad thing.Read More »Palladium and You



Taxes; Networking; NiCDs; Basics; Problem; Amusing; Upgrade

A useful hardware site I somehow never mentioned. I thought I had, then I spent an hour searching my own site for it and couldn’t find it. Bookmark The Red Hill Guide to Computer Hardware . Hard drive reviews, motherboard reviews–and we’re talking current hardware to golden oldies, from a straight-talking dealer that’s actually built PCs using these things, rather than a few hours’ impressions from a lab. Useful viewpoint. If you’re about to buy something off eBay, get these guys’ impressions of it first. If you’re looking for new hardware but want more than just a gamer’s impression, visit here first.

CPU prices. There are people who believe this won’t be the only price cut this month, but regardless of what happens, it’s a buyer’s market. Some of these chips are already selling for less than these prices (thanks to gray market dumping), but check out the OEM prices on CPUs:


1.3 GHz: $265
1.2 GHz: $223
1.1 GHz: $201
1.0 GHz: $170
950 MHz: $143
900 MHz: $125

900 MHz: $99
850 MHz: $79
800 MHz: $65
750 MHz: $55

Pentium 4
1.7 GHz: $701
1.5 GHz: $519
1.4 GHz: $375
1.3 GHz: $268

Pentium III
1.0 GHz: $225
933 MHz: $193
866 MHz: $163
850 MHz: $163

850 MHz: $138
800 MHz: $93
766 MHz: $79
733 MHz: $76
700 MHz: $73
667 MHz: $69
But supposedly, the 1.5 GHz P4 will be selling for $256 at the end of the month. Guess what that means? Intel will have to cut their lower-clocked chips to even lower levels, and since AMD has to compete on clock speed, they’ll have to follow. This may also force AMD’s hand to finally release a 1.5 GHz Athlon, which they’ve supposedly been ready to do for several weeks now. AMD would rather not sell that chip for $250, but they’ll have to price it comparably to Intel, and they’ll need that chip to keep their average selling price up.

It’s scary how much CPU $99 will get you. Remember, a year ago 1 GHz was the absolute state of the art. Today, you can be knocking at the door for just a Benjamin. But at the end of the month that Benjamin should get you even more.
LCD. Speaking of price wars, I read speculation yesterday that the average price of a 15″ LCD flat panel (equivalent to a 17″ CRT monitor) will be $449 by July. A 17-incher will hit the $1,000 mark. Pricing will remain low throughout most of the year, then possibly inch back up as demand for PCs, particularly laptops, starts climbing. I’m not certain we’ll see the rebound in demand at the end of the year some are predicting, however–an awful lot of PCs were bought the past couple of years due to Y2K fear more than anything else. It may be 2002, when those PCs bought in 1999 hit age 3, before we start seeing much of a rebound. I know none of my clients have any interest at all in buying PCs right now, and they’ll do absolutely anything to avoid doing it. I’m thinking if we retitled my book and put a “Squeeze another year out of your Pentium-200!” cover blurb on it, we’d have a best-seller.
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I called the 888 number yesterday and got an answering machine. I’ll have to call again today. Maybe a few times.


Taxes; Networking; NiCDs; Basics; Problem; Amusing; Upgrade


Windows Me Too? I’ve read the allegations that Microsoft aped Mac OS X with the upcoming Windows XP. Maybe I’m dense, but I don’t see much resemblance beyond the resemblance between two cars made by different manufacturers. The Start menu has a new neon look, which is probably Apple-inspired to some degree. The Windows taskbar has had Dock-like functionality for several years now–it was added with IE4. The biggest change seems to be the Start menu–they’ve taken the Windows 2000 initiative, where only commonly used stuff is shown, to an extreme, and now the Start menu, at least in some screenshots, looks bigger. I don’t know if it really is or not–I saw another 1024×768 screenshot in which the Start menu actually takes a little less real estate than my current box at the same resolution. And they’ve re-drawn some icons.

As a whole there’s a more textured look now, but some of the Unixish Window managers have been doing that stuff since 1997. The login screen bears a definite resemblance to some of the Unixish login screens I’ve seen of late.

Microsoft is claiming this is the most significant user interface change since Windows 95. That’s true, but it’s not the big step that Windows 95 was from Windows 3.x. It’s an evolutionary step, and one that should have been expected, given that the Windows 9x Explorer interface is now older than the Program Manager interface was when it was replaced. Had 24-bit displays been common in 1995, Microsoft probably would have gone with a textured look then–they’ve always liked such superficialities.

Stress tests. New hardware, or suspect hardware, should always be stress-tested to make sure it’s up to snuff. Methods are difficult to find, however, especially under Windows. Running a benchmark repeatedly can be a good way to test a system–overclockers frequently complain that their newly overclocked systems can’t finish benchmark suites–but is it enough? And when the system can’t finish, the problem can be an OS or driver issue as well.

Stress testing with Linux would seem to be a good solution. Linux is pretty demanding anyway; run it hard and it’ll generally expose a system’s weaknesses. So I did some looking around. I found a stress test employed by VA-Linux at http://sourceforge.net/projects/va-ctcs/ that looked OK. And I found another approach at http://www.eskimo.com/~pygmy/stress.txt that just speaks of experience stress testing by repeatedly compiling the Linux kernel, which gives the entire system (except for the video card) a really good workout.

And the unbelievable… Someone at work mentioned an online President’s Day poll, asking who was the best president? Several obvious candidates are up on Mt. Rushmore: Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt. Most people would add FDR and possibly Harry Truman and Woodrow Wilson to that list. I was talking with a good friend the other day about just this issue, and I argued in favor of Lincoln. Washington had a tough job of setting a standard, and he was great, but Lincoln had an even tougher job of holding a bitterly divided country together. So if I had to rank them, I’d probably say Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and then we have a mess. I don’t agree with their politics, but FDR and Woodrow Wilson probably belong in there. James Madison and James Monroe belong in there, the question is where. Then it starts to get really tough. Was Harry Truman in those guys’ league? Not really, but he’s worlds better than Warren G. Harding and Bill Clinton. Fine, pencil him in at 9. Now who gets #10? Some would give it to Ronald Reagan. It seems to me that Reagan is at once overappreciated and underappreciated. A lot of people put him at the very bottom, which I think is unfair. But then there was this poll  that put him at the very top, by a very wide margin. When I looked, Reagan had 44% of the vote, followed by George Washington at 29% and Abraham Lincoln a distant third at 14%.

When I speak of the hard right in the media, that’s what I’m referring to: blind allegiance to an icon, however flawed. Don’t get me wrong, Reagan was no Warren G. Harding–he did win the Cold War after all. Conservatives say his economic policies saved the country, while liberals say it very nearly wrecked it. All I can tell you is my college economics professor taught that Reagan at the very least had the right idea–the big problem with the theory behind Reagan’s policies is the impossibility of knowing whether you’d gone too far or not far enough. Fine. FDR played a similar game. Both are revered by their parties and hated by the other party. But as president, neither Ronald Reagan nor FDR are in the Washington and Lincoln league. As a man, FDR probably was in that league, and if he was not the last, he was very close to it. But with the truly great presidents, there is very little doubt about them–and in the cases of Lincoln and Jefferson, their greatest critics were the voices inside their own heads.

Great people just don’t run for president anymore, and they rarely run for political office, period. It’s easy to see why. Anyone truly qualified to be President of the United States is also qualified to be en executive at a large multinational corporation, and that’s a far more profitable and less frustrating job. And the truly great generally aren’t willing to compromise as much as a politician must in order to get the job.

Early on, we had no shortage whatsoever of great minds in politics: Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe certainly. Plus men who never were president, like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. We had, in effect, from Washington to Monroe, a string of men who met Socrates’ qualifications to be Philosopher-King. (Yes, John Adams was single-term, but he was a cut above most of those who were to follow.)

But as our country developed, so many better things for a great mind to do sprung up. Today you can be an executive at a large company, or you can be a researcher, or a pundit, or the president of a large and prestigious university. In 1789, there weren’t as many things to aspire to.

If we’ve got any Benjamin Franklins and Thomas Jeffersons and George Washingtons and Abraham Lincolns out there today (and I believe we do), they’ve got better things to do than waste time in Washington, D.C.

No, our greatest president wasn’t Ronald Reagan, just as it wasn’t Dwight Eisenhower or John Kennedy. That’s nostalgia talking.


New adventures in SCSI. I was digging around this week and I found an old SCSI card. The PCB identified it as an Initio INI-9100A. I seem to recall I got it with my CD burner a few years back, and that I ditched it when it wouldn’t work with Windows 2000 RC2. Curious to see if drivers were ever released for it, I checked Initio’s Web site, and lo and behold, the release version of Windows 2000 was supposed to support the card. Since I’ve got a couple of decent SCSI CD-ROM drives laying around, I figured, why not try it?

I was unhappy to see Windows 2000 failed to bring up the Add New Hardware wizard after installation, but when I looked in Device Manager, the card was there. So I powered down, connected an old NEC 12X SCSI CD-ROM to it, powered back up, and bingo! I even got activity during boot. A quick verification by reading the disc, and I’m happy. So I powered down again. What else can I throw at it…? I spied an ancient, ancient Quantum 52 MB SCSI drive. (Don’t ask me why I keep this stuff.) I knew the card wouldn’t boot off it, since it lacks an onboard BIOS, but would the drive still work, I wondered? So I powered down, plugged the ancient thing in there, power back up, and I thought I saw the drive’s LED flicker during boot. Yes, back in this drive’s day, hard drives had LEDs on the front of them. They even had faceplates! I watched Windows finish booting, opened My Computer, and sure enough, I had an extra hard drive up there. But what on Earth could be on it? I opened up the drive, and hit gold. I must have used the drive sometime within the past five years, because it contained a copy of Caldera OpenDOS. That, believe it or not, is extremely useful. OpenDOS’ FDISK will delete any partition, unlike Microsoft’s. So I’m very glad I tried the drive.

So now I’ve got two SCSI-equipped systems, one of which is bootable. I’ve got an excuse to go buy a $220 IBM or Quantum 10,000 RPM SCSI drive… Uh oh. Good thing I got some overtime at work this week and will get some more this weekend.

And it looks like it’s unplanned upgrade time. Tom Gatermann called me up yesterday. He was replacing our friend Tim Coleman’s hard drive and the system just wouldn’t come back up. He futzed around with it for an hour, trying everything he could think of, then called me. I had him try putting the hard drive on auto detect, reset all the PnP/ESCD data, and of course, check all the cables. Nothing. The board would POST, then die. Well, without having a POST card (I know how to make one except I don’t have an EPROM burner) I can’t diagnose it any further.

Come to think of it, I should have had him disable L2 cache and see if that brought it back to life. It’d be slow as can be, but that’s a good way to troubleshoot a Socket 7 system, or a 386 or 486 for that matter. Strip the system down to just motherboard, CPU, video, a boot device, and a single bank of memory (a single DIMM or one pair of SIMMs). Disable L2 cache. If it works with L2 cache disabled, it’s a motherboard problem of some sort. Check all jumpers, re-seat anything that’s re-seatable, and try again. If it still doesn’t work, it has to be a CPU, video, or memory problem. Then you’ve got a few more steps to try, including disabling L1 cache and switching out the video and memory.

Tom took the system home with him, so I’ll be giving it a look today.

At any rate, it looks like we’re dealing with a blown board, and every time Tom or I do anything with that system, something goes. Tim’s on power supply #2, motherboard #2, sound card #2… Tim’s got an army of cats, and the system’s on the floor, which gives me concern. The system can pull in cat hair, and with it, static electricity. And I don’t know how good Tim’s wiring is. It’s a very maddening problem. Had anyone else built the system, I’d be cursing them, but Tom and I built it ourselves, and we used the same calibre parts we use in our own systems. So we think it’s an environmental problem.

I’m thinking I’ll go ahead and pick up a Gigabyte motherboard with a Duron chip on it, then give Tim my two-year-old AOpen AX59Pro board. I normally run systems much longer than that, but I want to help Tim, and I really ought to try to stay somewhat current.

Linux 2.4 again. I was right. Within 4 hours of 2.4’s release, Alan Cox released Linux2.4-ac1. A few hours after that, Linux2.4-ac2 followed. When does he sleep, I wonder?