Houston is Microsoft’s problem: Alternatives to Microsoft Office

Houston had a problem. Now it’s Microsoft’s problem.
You see, Microsoft threatened Houston with the same threat they’ve been rattling around a lot of other places. Sign a multi-million-dollar, automatic-upgrade deal for Office and other Microsoft software, or face an audit. When you’re the only game in town and you suspect people have played fast and loose with your licensing agreement, you can afford to do that.

Except the Texans stared the bully down. When Microsoft said Houston needed to cough up some bucks for office software, Houston said fine, they’d buy it from someone else.

And now that Houston is using SimDesk instead of Microsoft Office, it’s making headlines.

The city of Largo, Florida, which runs itself on a thin-client environment based on Linux and KDE, is a PR coup for Linux. But Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States. And this is turning into a PR nightmare for Microsoft–now Chicago, the third-most populous city, is also looking at SimDesk.

For less than half the money, the cities get ease of use, cross-platform compatibility, centralized offsite file storage, and longer hardware life. SimDesk stands to save Houston far more than the $7 million on paper.

But SimDesk isn’t the only other game in town. WordPerfect is still hanging on, one of the few survivors of the era when there were a dozen or more word processors, spreadsheets, and databases available for the PC. It’s still solid and capable today, and it’s a good choice if you’re looking to go a fairly traditional route. StarOffice is cheaper but still capable. The 602Suite (a.k.a. 602office) is either free or inexpensive, depending on the feature set you want.

Unfortunately, the highly regarded Gobe Productive is off the market, and efforts to raise the money to purchase the source code for the purpose of releasing it as GPL appear to have quietly failed. The good news is that the declination seem to indicate Gobe expects to have some kind of future.

If you want free, go with OpenOffice, which is StarOffice’s free, open-source twin brother. And if you’re willing to dith Office and Windows, you can run KDE and KOffice, or a variety of Gnome productivity apps, such as Evolution, AbiWord, and Gnumeric.

Most of the alternatives don’t offer all the functionality that Office includes, but few people use more than about 20% of Office’s functionality anyway. The alternatives have all of the essentials down.

The main thing tying most companies and organizations to Microsoft Office file format compatibility. An obscure piece of software called ConversionsPlus takes care of that problem. I’ve used ConversionsPlus to convert literally hundreds of files at a time to and from Microsoft Office format, and the process only takes a few minutes.

Switched off

In response to Apple, Microsoft started its own “Switch” campaign featuring a freelance writer who ditched a Mac for a PC that runs Windows.
Well, the Associated Press tracked down this freelance writer and found she was a Microsoft PR hack. She said she really did switch. But Microsoft pulled the ad.

The AP tracked her down from the personal metadata Microsoft puts in all Office documents.

Can’t you just see the Apple “Switch” response now?

“Hi. I’m a CIA spy. I got rid of my insecure PC and switched to a Macintosh.”

I always thought the “Switch” campaign was really dumn, but suddenly Microsoft seems to have made it interesting.

Will ZDNet ever get a clue about Linux?

The next time ZDNet runs a story about Linux and you start feeling the urge to click on the link and read it, I’ve got a piece of advice for you.
Lie down until it goes away.

If you have a clue about Linux, the story will just make you mad. If you’re trying to learn about Linux, ZDNet will fill you up with enough misinformation to confuse you for weeks.
Read more

But that’s just my opinion.

Free PR advice. I see the Taliban hunted down and assassinated four journalists. Well, OK, it’s not proven that they did it, but it looks like that’s what happened. Now, I know journalists are pretty low on the slimeball scale. I have a journalism degree from the oldest school of journalism in the world, after all. But terrorists and third-world dictators are such a completely different league of low that even a journalist-turned-lawyer-turned-politican who put himself through college selling used cars wouldn’t begin to approach it.
Bad move, guys. There’s anti-war sentiment brewing in Europe, but killing four unarmed civilians will do very little to fuel that. Reminding the people that the enemy they face is irrational and unrelentless and unmerciful isn’t a good way to end wars. You lose points in the court of public opinion, and it doesn’t put you in a good negotiating position either.

But even beyond all that, you should never kill that which you can manipulate–unless you’ve lost so much belief in your cause that you’re no longer confident of being able to put the right spin on things to convince anyone else that you’re right.

So we have further evidence that our enemy is mind-numbingly stupid. We have indication that their belief in themselves, or at least in their ability to escape from this alive, is wavering–instead of feeding information to journalists they’ve resorted to suppressing information by killing them. And we have indication of growing desperation. See above.

This is no time for protesting. This is exactly the time to start squeezing harder. Much harder.

I want to believe this. I mean I really, really want to believe…

Incidentally, if Gator isn’t uninstalling for you, Ad-Aware seems to do a nice job of eradicating it.

New toys. My 10,000 RPM Quantum/Maxtor Atlas 10K3 arrived yesterday. It takes the drive a while to initialize (upwards of 30 seconds) but once it gets rolling, it’s incredible. A completely unacceptable 37 seconds passes between the time Windows 2000’s “Starting Windows” screen appears and the time the login prompt appears. The thing’s amazing. Just to be obnoxious, I defragmented the drive while other things were running. They didn’t interfere with each other much–that’s the magic of SCSI command reordering.

I installed MS Office 2000 just to see how that would run. Word launches from a dead stop in three seconds. Kill the Office Assistant and it loads in less than two.

I know SCSI drives don’t benchmark much faster than high-end IDE drives, but the difference I see between a high-end SCSI drive like this one and a fast IDE drive is significant. Everything that ever has to touch the disk runs faster. This includes Web browsers pulling data out of the local cache.

Users who don’t do much multitasking probably won’t see much difference, but for a multitasking freak like me–I’ve only got 8 windows open on this machine as I type this, and I’m wondering what’s wrong with me–it’s unbelievable. I haven’t been this overwhelmed since my days playing with an Amiga (which, come to think of it, had a SCSI drive in it).

Witness the birth of a SCSI bigot.

Integrity and fiction on the Web

I had thoughts that I thought best not shared, but then I read Frank McPherson’s excellent take on the hoax, so maybe I have something more to share after all. I’d really rather let the topic die, but since it appears there are still things for us to learn, let’s learn. Take consolation in that we can learn without me ever saying that name that begins with “K.” OK?
Here’s Frank:

For most of the last three or four months Dave Winer has been promoting the idea of amateur journalism. His point being that today’s mainstream media cannot be trusted, and does nothing but lie. Dave feels he can’t trust writers of BigPubs because they could be bought out by some person or company. He questions their integrity.

I’m trained as a professional journalist. I’ve seen the corruption from the inside. But I also know the source of the corruption, and that individuals inside can rise above it. I have classmates and former colleagues all over the place. CNet’s Troy Wolverton was in my New Media class. MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan taught my Editing class. The Associated Press’ David A. Lieb was my first editor in college. The AP’s Justin Hyde entrusted a newspaper column to me at the tender age of 19. My mentor as a columnist was Andrew Blasko, now a writer/pr contact/editor (strange combination) at The Heritage Foundation. USA Today’s Elizabeth McKinley was in my Editorial Writing class.

Those are just the people whose bylines I’ve seen recently, or who I remember for one reason or another.

I trust these people. I don’t always agree with them. I trust their ability to get the facts straight, partly because some of them were among the people who helped me learn to get the facts straight, and all of them learned to get the facts straight from the same people I did. Plus I spent a lot of time with them. I know they have integrity because I saw it. Not only do I trust them to get the story straight, but I wouldn’t think twice about tossing my car keys to any of them.

I also believe in amateur journalism. As far as I’m concerned, Mike Royko was the greatest journalist of all time. You know how Royko learned journalism? He went to the Chicago Public Library, grabbed every book on journalism and newswriting he could find, and spent a weekend reading them. He learned the principles and ethics of journalism, combined that with a God-given knack for writing that he may or may not have realized he had, and became a legend.

The key word Frank McPherson brought up is integrity. The individuals I mentioned have integrity. The National Enquirer lacks integrity. NBC’s Dateline lacks integrity. Debbie Swenson lacks integrity. Corporations are inherently no more and no less capable of integrity than individuals.

But corporations may have a slight edge in ability to maintain their integrity, because of accountability. Corporations, being made up of individuals, have a certain amount of accountability built in. Individuals can get accountability or they can reject it. I know if I say something that makes people wonder if I’ve been smoking crack, Dan Bowman or Dustin Cook or Pete Moore or a host of others will call me on it. They’ll chime in with their twenty bucks’ worth (that’s the price most people put on my words, and theirs should be worth what mine are), the truth will come out, and we’ll all be the better for it.

And that doesn’t just apply to my writing. When I teach a Bible study, there are usually two masters’ students among the audience. Those guys are slumming. While there are many preachers who have less formal training than I have, Matt and John know far more than I do. I have no idea what they can learn from me. But I appreciate them being there, because if I’m wrong, I know they’ll speak up, and they know I expect them to.

Integrity and accountability aren’t so much something you get so much as they are something you live. And yes, you should look for them, and if someone appears to lack them, then no, you shouldn’t trust them, not even for the sports scores. Don’t give them the eyeballs the advertisers look for.

Now, Frank brought up Bo Leuf, who brought up the question of fiction. Bo observed that when fiction writing first appears in a new medium, it looks like fact, and outrages people. And some people still can’t tell the difference years later. Having lived next door to people who truly believed the X Files were real, I know this firsthand.

Personally, I love the idea of a fictional weblog. We’ve been trying for years to figure out ways to exploit the unique capabilities of the Internet, and the weblog lets us do that.

The idea hit me as I read the end of this Oklahoman article. “I think [Swenson] wanted to tell a story. But she should have written a book or something.” Those were the words of Julie Fullbright, the local hero who unknowingly gave her face to the fictional character whose name I promised not to mention. That’s the kind of quotable quote a journalist lives for. I read those words just before I left work for the day, and I’ve been thinking about them all night.

I thought she was right then, and I think she’s still right now.

Now, having written a book, and having fallen victim to a publisher’s whims, I know what it’s like to try to write a book. I know what it’s like to try to get someone to publish it. And I know what it’s like to try to get someone to buy it. The difficulty increases with each step of that wretched process.

So, I’m sitting here with a novel about half-written, and no desire to have anything to do with a publisher until I’ve managed to acquire some clout. Now I don’t know for sure what having clout feels like, but I’m pretty sure I’ll know it when I feel it. But I can set up another weblog. I’m comfortable with that. I can give it the following subhead: “A work of fiction by David L. Farquhar.” The novel occurs in the past. That makes life easy. I just put it on its own server, with the clock set back. When today’s entry is dated 1992 or whenever, that makes it look a whole lot more like fiction.

Besides, Murel, my cubicle neighbor, has been telling me for months that I’d end up writing my novel in pieces here and one day I’d just have to tie it all together. I think he was on to something.

I won’t make any money, but that’s OK. I didn’t make any money off the one and a half books I wrote either. At least this time I won’t go in there with that expectation. If something happens that makes it profitable down the road, fine. End aside.

The character can be no more compelling than the author. That was the problem I ran into when I initially wrote the novel. I was trying to write about a 19-year-old, but I wasn’t finished being 19 myself yet. I’m not certain that at 26 I have enough perspective. But I have more than I did then.

And yes, sometimes life is better than fiction. But fiction intertwined with life kicks royal booty. The best thing about The Great Gatsby is that Jay Gatsby’s fears and insecurities were F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fears and insecurities. Jay Gatsby made his money by running drugstores that sold other stuff out the back room. F. Scott Fitzgerald made his money peddling words. But Jay Gatsby was all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s worst fears wrapped into a character. He was vulnerable and honest. Vulnerable and honest people are compelling. Heck, vulnerable and dishonest people can be compelling.

So do I launch another weblog? I’m severely tempted. This isn’t the time to do it. I need to get my server in order and start getting content migrated to this site from its predecessors and make sure everything’s working smoothly. That’ll take a while yet.

But I know the formula. I have the plot, and the plot’s captivated everyone I’ve tossed it out to. I have some characters, and they’re far more compelling than the characters in the 1994-95 draft because I’ve spent the past seven years getting to know them. A few pieces still have to come together. But I think I really want to try this experiment.

More Like This: “/cgi-bin/search.cgi?terms=weblogs&case=insensitive&boolean=and”>Weblogs Fiction Personal

Napster and the decline of copyright–part 1

When Napster’s technology first appeared in 1999, I was like everyone else. I didn’t understand all of its implications. All I saw was a potential venue to find new music.

The cool thing about writing a book and running a Web site is that your questions rarely go unanswered. Just post, and answers tend to find you as people connected to works you admire find you.

Just this thing happened to me, when I mentioned finding a gem on Napster: a complete copy of Bark Along with the Young Snakes, the first commercial recording by one of my heroes, Aimee Mann. I didn’t know where else I would be able to get a copy, so Napster, I concluded, was a good thing, as long as you were willing to let your conscience be your guide. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

People seem to assume that superstars make millions of dollars. Who really gets hurt when we pirate, say, a Matthew Sweet single that’s been running through our minds for the past seven years? He was a pretty big star, so he’s set for life, right? No one really cares… No one gets hurt.

That’s a pretty clear-cut case. It’s illegal, period. Now you can probably justify it in your own mind if it’s just part of a course of action–you hear a song on the radio, or a snippet of it, so you search online to try to find out the title and artist, you find some possible suspects, then you listen to the snippets online at CDNow or another record store. If that doesn’t click, then you hop onto Napster, download the possible suspects, listen, figure it out, and then buy it. If you do that, you’ve technically still broken the law, but not really the spirit of it. You got your music and the artist got the money.

But some things aren’t as clear-cut. Out-of-print stuff, for example, isn’t. If I covet Pale Divine’s Straight to Goodbye from 1990, I face a tough challenge. The album’s been out of print for seven or eight years and never was all that common. It’s fairly easy to find in the band’s hometown of St. Louis, assuming I’m willing to pay $40 for it. But when I pay some record dealer $40 for a used copy, it’s not like the band ever sees a dime of it. As far as the band is concerned, there’s no difference between me buying it and pirating it. As far as the record label is concerned, there’s no difference either, but given the way Atlantic Records treated Pale Divine, no St. Louisan who followed the band in the late 1980s and early 1990s would feel sorry for them.

It was when I cited another obscure record, Bark Along with the Young Snakes, from 1982, as another example, that the story got complicated. Andy Breslau, the producer and owner of the copyright, found me and asked some compelling questions.

While Bark Along with the Young Snakes is hard to find, it’s not really out of print. It’s somewhat sought after, being the first commercial record that Grammy, Oscar and Emmy nominee Aimee Mann sang on. But the story is pretty different from Atlantic Records and Pale Divine. Aimee Mann recorded with Ambiguous Records, which was an effort by Andy Breslau, a bluesman then based in Boston, to capture and preserve and disseminate some of the eclectic music coming out of Boston in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We’re all familiar with classic rock mainstays Boston, and the classic rock/new wave crossovers The Cars, but much of the other music coming out of that city at the time never really made it outside of Boston. Someone needed to take this untapped resource and use it, so why not Breslau?

Breslau was playing in a band called The Blues Astronauts, and he had close ties with a number of bands playing around Boston at the time. Plus he had a desire to learn about production and recording, so all the pieces were there.

So Breslau formed Ambiguous Records, and he recorded and produced three albums: Bark Along with the Young Snakes, by Aimee Mann’s band The Young Snakes, Singing the Children Over by Kath Bloom and Loren Mazzacane, and Darkworld by Dark.

The venture lasted 18 months. Independent record distributors, Breslau found, sometimes had difficulty paying him in a timely matter. The Young Snakes were getting popular, so the logical thing to do was to press more copies. Breslau did just that, but then The Young Snakes broke up, and Aimee Mann and her then-boyfriend Michael Hausmann formed `Til Tuesday. While `Til Tuesday made it big for a while, their success did nothing about the large number of unsold Young Snakes records in Breslau’s basement. And Breslau’s own band broke up. And then?

“I discovered the joys of making records in a different way,” Breslau said. He was working on a fourth record, titled Doing the Sugar, Too by Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson.

“Luther had played with Muddy Waters for a number of years before and had moved to Boston and was playing around town.  It was then astonishing to me that he had no recording prospects at the time,” Breslau said. He took Johnson into the studio, struck a deal with his agent and the owner of a small blues label, and had a revelation.

“The whole process ended up being much more about the music for me,” Breslau said. “At that point continuing the label seemed too financially risky and really not as satisfying as the experience I had doing Luther’s record. For me it turned on this: If I could still produce the records I wanted to and not assume all the risk, end up hassling with distributors, doing all the PR work, sending out the copies to radio and critics etc. etc. etc., I could give up the label. Working with a small label as opposed to being a small label seemed the right direction for me to go.”

“Frankly, independent pop music is a very hard business,” Breslau said. “The world you compete in has at its upper limits multi-million dollar deals, multi-national corporations and huge ambition–some of it valid, a lot of it insufferably pretentious.”

All of this meant Ambiguous Records was history and mostly forgotten.

Then the MP3 phenomenon hit. While popular songs made up the bulk of the music available online, some die-hard fans connected turntables to their PCs, sampled their old records, and turned them into MP3s. In time, these rarities–Bark Along With The Young Snakes among them–showed up online.

“At a gut level, the experience of finding work you had a hand in `Napstered’ does feel as though someone is taking something without asking whether or not you want to give it away,” Breslau said.

Part 1 in a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

02/09/2001

Mailbag:

Fatal Exception Error

Ahem. Dan Bowman decided to rile me up yesterday by sending me this link.  What is it? An allegation that the press kisses up to the likes of Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy, and my all-time favorites, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They put them on the front page at least once a year and don’t call them on their lies because then they wouldn’t pose for photographers.

There’s a big difference between journalism and PR. Journalism reports the facts. PR casts personalities in the best possible light. What Dave Winer was describing yesterday isn’t journalism, it’s PR. And that’s why I read a lot fewer newspapers and magazines than some people might think a professional writer would.

I interviewed a few people in my days as a newspaper writer. (That photo up in the left corner is the photograph of a 21-year-old crime reporter for the Columbia Missourian newspaper. I scanned it off my press pass.) You’d better believe I hacked some people off. Did I give a rip what the county prosecutor thought of me, or the things I wrote? No. He had to talk to me. Sure, there was a competing newspaper in town (that’s a long story why a town the size of Columbia, Mo., has two papers), but he felt like he had to talk to me anyway. If I cast him in an unfair light, well, that was what the editor was for. Or he’d go tell my rival at the other paper how unfair I was. He’d listen.

I didn’t kiss up to RPs either. (That’s jargon. It means “real people.”) Once I covered the story of a separatist who was living about 15 miles north of Columbia. Now, this guy was one of the biggest looney tunes I ever talked to, but he did have a couple of good points. Everyone does. Even Steve Jobs. (He’s right when he says Microsoft doesn’t innovate, for instance.) But this guy was a criminal, convicted of a DWI. His solution rather than to pay the fine was to withdraw from the union, declare himself sovereign, and declare war on the United States. Really. He also placed liens on the property of everyone he didn’t like–city officials, judges… I believe he demanded payment in gold. He made a lot of people really nervous. He didn’t like me or the story I printed all that much, so he never talked to me again after that. He did get one of his cronies to call me up at the newsroom and threaten me with bodily injury though. (I guess he decided it wasn’t worth it to place a lien on my 1992 Dodge Spirit, or maybe he couldn’t track down that piece of personal property.) So I told my editor, carried around a can of mace for the next few months, and reminded myself that the guy could barely move, whereas I was 21 and still in decent enough shape to play softball well, and the cops all knew me and they knew him.

Oh, and when we did need to get a quote from him after that, I just grabbed the best-looking girl in the newsroom at the given time, asked her to turn the charm on, call him, and talk to him in as soothing and polite a voice as possible. They’d usually be good for about a one-minute conversation, which was enough to say we had talked to the man. By that time, I’d talked to him enough and talked to enough of his separatist allies to know how he thought and put what little we could get out of him in context. Plus I still had my notes from our original interview. It’s amazing how you can milk multiple stories out of a single interview when you have to.

We couldn’t get that separatist to pose for pictures either, needless to say. So we’d find out when he was scheduled to be in court, and one of our photographers would camp out on the courthouse steps and shoot half a roll of film as he walked past. Plus we maintained file photos for just those occasions when someone wouldn’t talk to us, or we couldn’t arrange to have a fresh shot taken due to the lack of a photographer’s availability.

I handled elected officials the same way. I wrote an extremely unflattering story about then-Gov. Mel Carnahan in early 1994. Carnahan wouldn’t talk to me; one of his aides denied the entire story, but I had half a dozen sources from both political parties who gladly talked to me. And a story that I wrote about former Rep. Harold Volkmer (D-Mo.) in 1996 undoubtedly hacked off more than a few Republicans.

So you hack off Bill Gates or another Silicon Valley personality. Big fat hairy deal. There’s a solution to that problem. Show up at the next speech he gives. Snap three rolls’ worth of pictures during his speech, each in the middle of saying a word. In half or even two thirds of the shots you get, he’ll look like the world’s biggest idiot. Find the least flattering picture, then run it really big. That’ll make him even madder. But remember, he can’t win. The press never loses. Freedom of the press is for those who own one, and, well, most of those guys don’t. Those who do don’t have as big an audience.

Or, if you’re not quite that mad (or your editor isn’t), run a file photo. Run a nice-looking one if you’re somewhat interested in making peace. Run one from the 1970s if you’re less so.

If the press quits kissing Bill Gates’ butt (and those of his sworn mortal enemies), they’ll lose a few interviews and photo ops. But what else will happen is the papers who quit will gain some credibility. Not all will fall into line, at least not at first. But those papers’ reputations as just a cog in the Microsoft PR machine will grow, and it will cost them. So slowly they will fall into line. And Gates will eventually realize that he has to talk to the press, even those he doesn’t like, because that’s the only way you have any control at all over what goes into the press. If you don’t talk, the press has total control.

In journalism school, one of the things they taught me was your integrity is far too high a price to pay for an interview. Your ultimate loyalty isn’t to your sources, but rather, your readers. But not everyone went where I went, and not everyone paid attention in class. But if the computer press would take that advice to heart, eventually we might start seeing less gum-flapping and more action. And that can only mean better products.

Mailbag:

Fatal Exception Error

12/04/2000

~Mail follows today’s post~

I’d forgotten how many telemarketing phone calls you get during the day. Blimey or something! How are you supposed to get anything done?

I had a classmate who used to mess with them. “You want to sell me windows? My house doesn’t have any windows, you see, because it’s a cardboard box. Sure, you can get phone service to a cardboard box. You can get cable TV too. I thought about a mini-dish but I’m not so sure my walls could handle the weight.”

He really enjoyed the roofing people, because he could tell them, in all honesty, “I don’t have a roof.” Hey, when you live in an apartment building, if you’re not on the top floor, you don’t.

The guys over at Junkbusters have a different solution. Make ’em sweat. They’ve even got a script with questions to ask. Visit them at www.junkbusters.com/ht/en/telemarketing.html if you’re sick of the bother.

Print it out, then keep it by the phone. And when you pick up the phone and get that tell-tale delay, followed by an unfamiliar voice who mispronounces your name, pounce. “Is this a telemarketing call?” (That question weeds out the other annoying phone calls, like Chrysler and MCI Worldcom calling up because of billing problems–sorry, you’ve gotta deal with those on your own.) If the answer is yes, then keep going. ” Could you tell me your full name please? And a phone number, area code first?” And they’ve got 12 other questions, where those came from.

I’m vacationing in beautiful Mehlville, Mo. as I write. Before you get too excited, I live in Mehlville. (It’s a St. Louis suburb.) My boss’ boss e-mailed me a while back and said, “Go on vacation!” so I did. Gives me a chance to catch up around the place–there’s a lot I’ve been neglecting.

Plus it gives me a chance to work on that last article for Shopper UK.

I’ve been reading Guts, the business strategy book by former Chrysler #2 man Robert Lutz. Lutz was the driving force (or a major driving force) behind all of Chrysler’s bold experiments in the 1990s before Daimler-Benz swallowed them. Interesting reading for anyone interested in business or the auto industry, though I’d have liked to see more of a memoir from him. Lutz didn’t graduate high school until age 22. How do you go from graduating high school at 22 to No. 2 man at Forbes’ 1997 Company of the Year? No matter how successful you are, there are lessons to learn from this guy. Obviously there’s more to him than an MBA, a stint in the Marines, and an interest in cars, and I want to know what that is.

I’m guessing there’ll be more later. No idea when. I’ve got a really hairy question from an Optimizing Windows reader to figure out.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Rodrigo Zamora” <rzam@nospam.cox-internet.com>
Subject: Sound Blaster Value
From what I have read the SB Value is exactly the same thing as the more expensive models except that it does not include the daughter card which has extra connections.  And it obviously didn’t have the LiveDrive which only comes with the Platinum.  However, this is not an issue since you can purchase these devices as add-on upgrades either from Creative or clones from another company.

The newer Values came with a Digital output which the older versions did not have.  In fact, it appears that even the AC3 Dolby Digital feature supported in the newer 5.1 seems to be only a  software (driver) update.  In other words, it seems that ANY SB Live! can do AC3 support with the right driver.

By the way, where did you hear that the Values have been discontinued? Creative still sells them on their site.

Rodrigo Zamora

~~~~~

The Value is a slightly different card, see http://www.byte.com/feature/BYT19991020S0006, and also http://alive.singnet.com.sg/features/products/. The main difference seems to be the quality of jacks used; when doing voice recognition or recording, you’ll notice the difference. Chances are you’ll notice a difference in output quality as well, though I haven’t tried the two cards side-by-side myself to confirm. They do use the same chipset, and some of the Value cards seem to have digital output capability, while others don’t. (My Live! MP3+ makes even a cheap pair of desktop speakers sound really good; connected to a stereo it’s nothing short of awesome.)

I’m pretty sure that I read in the Dragon NaturallySpeaking forums that the Value was discontinued and replaced by the MP3+ and Gamer (the difference in those cards is the software bundle). And the Value, though listed on Creative’s site, is out of stock there. I did find the card over at www.mwave.com priced at $47.

So for some uses, there’s little difference and the Value may be a way to save $40. But I will say the software that comes with the MP3+ is definitely worth the extra money if it’s at all useful to you.

I found a third-party daughtercard, at www.hoontech.com; any idea who makes the LiveDrive clone? Creative’s is pretty pricey; if the clone is less expensive, I’m sure there’s a huge market for it.

Thanks.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Gary Mugford” <mugford@nospam.aztec-net.com>

Subject: This and that

Dave,

   I actually saw, on the shelf for the first time, your book at Chapters, Friday. Still full price. Bought it anyway as a Christmas present. Worked wonders for my tech guy’s appreciation of his software guy, if you know what I mean. I’m sure it’ll be appreciated by its intended recipient, too.

   Dirty333 crashed rather spectacularly last week. It’s been a week of getting Tookie up and running to take its place. (segue to explain the names: The machine was an Win95B AMD K6-333. There was a famous player in the Canadian Football League named Jim Young, nicknamed Dirty 33.  I’m a lapsed jock journalist. Tookie’s a Win2K machine born in 2000). I lost a day’s worth of work to the crash and four days re-installing everything and getting the settings just so. All in all, I’m happy about the move, save for the switch over to a modern Logitech keyboard from the old 84-key keyboards that I’ve used since forever. Just why the hell is that damned capslock key STILL being put there long after the alternative for emphasis became font and style changes, rather than capping? Not to start a holy war, however.

   On the other hand, as a disinterested third party, I still have some reservations about the American election just past. I have no quarrel with the basic concept that a lot of people voted for an agenda they prefer. I do have a problem with some people who voted AGAINST one candidate or the other, as that’s an incredibly stupid way to cut your nose off. Better to waste the ballot, then to do that (I’ve probably wasted half the ballots I’ve ever cast, because nobody earned my vote. And to make it obvious, I would mark off EVERY box). But it seems a lot of people voted against Gore. And I think that had a part to play in the Bush victory.

   We don’t directly vote for Prime Minister in Canada. So, I’m never put to the task of deciding I like my local guy and hate his leader, or vice-versa. I’ve got no choice. And so, apparently, did you [G]. One’s supposed to be a ding-dong (my one meeting was pleasant, brief and non-opinion-forming) and the other was so stupid, he blew an easy victory by wanting to be his own man. One’s supposed to be a leader, but has never been anything more than a figurehead, except when he was losing money looking for oil in Texas, while the other was a very active partner in running the country (and the back room). The nitwit Nader was right in one respect, both of them were the same guy with slightly different accents.

   The difference was in the political apparatus behind them. That’s all. Bush will be a one-term president, as his father was. And the family failure to not keep promises will be his undoing. That it was the gridlock in Washington that will have forced him into recanting, will be forgotten in ’04. Gore will also go the way of the Quayle and nibble away at the fringes. Whether Gephardt or Kerry or whoever runs, they will beat Bush. They will be repeating the winning mantra of the ’90s, “It’s the economy, stupid!” And the American populace, longing for the good old ’90s will march to the polls and reverse the error of 2000.

   As far as Florida is concerned, it’s hard to see how either side can pretend to the moral high ground. The Democrats actually put in WRITING how to deny overseas ballots. And Gore’s supposed to be the bright one, right? But that was balanced by the Republicans delaying legal recounts, going to court first, arranging for out-of-town ‘ordinary folk’ to show up repeatedly to exercise their fully-paid for First Amendment rights and they repeatedly made mistakes over-reaching whatever was in their grasp at the moment.  The election day-after cabinet posing was designed to fool the umpire, but there was no umpire. The citing of Nixon’s consession to Kennedy despite Daley’s dad’s malfeasance in Illinois overlooked the fact the state’s electoral votes didn’t affect the outcome one way or the other. Calling the hand count tabulators all kinds of names, including suggesting illegalities when monitors from both sides were there, was assinine. Arguing against standards for assessing a questionable vote that were no less forgiving than that of the Texas law signed by Bush was the equivalent of Gore’s absentee ballot crushing screwup. But the rallying cry in ’02 will be the Republican refusal to recount the whole state and after-the-fact attempt to squash the recounts that DID take place.

   Even I could run that PR campaign. “Make it clear to the Republicans, your vote DOES count… this time!”

   So, on behalf of all Canadians, we say to you Americans, “Thanks for the entertainment! [G]”

   Regards, Gary
  ~~~~~

Thanks for the purchase! I’ve yet to see the book in a store myself. Of course it won’t sell if people can’t find it… O’Reilly needs to get it into stores before they have any right to complain about its lack of sales. Sandy McMurray’s review and the subsequent run on the book up north should have said something, I would think.

You just gave me an idea on machine names, and how to remember their IP addresses. This computer’s name is George Brett, and it’s 192.168.0.5; this one’s Mike Sweeney at 192.168.0.29. Problem is, I don’t know that there are five Royals whose uniform numbers I remember quickly, and do I really want to name my gateway after Buddy Biancalana or Rey Sanchez? But I’ll definitely name the Packard Bell I deny owning (I didn’t buy it new!) after Johnny Damon since he’s being the biggest putz since Jose Offerman. He deserves to have a piece-o’-junk computer named after him.

As for intelligence in U.S. politics, Gore’s supposedly the brighter one, but I remember seeing a video clip where he and the esteemed Mr. Clinton were touring Monticello, and Gore pointed to a picture on a wall and asked, “Who’s that?” The tour guide replied, “Well, that’s George Washington…”

I’ve never met a flunkie who didn’t recognize Washington (his face is all over the place, after all, including the one-dollar bill and the quarter, so you can’t spend money without seeing him occasionally), let alone any intelligent person who’s been in the United States more than a week.

General consensus is that Dan Quayle is smarter than both of them.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “James Cooley” <c_closet@nospam.dnai.com>
Subject: Yer Mom’s Great!

Dave,

Ah, your mom is great! Has Jerry Pournelle seen this? Would make a splendid addition to his stumping against ADD in the classroom.

As a computer repair guy myself I have a motto to share: “Focus on the solution, not the problem.” Regards,

Jim
~~~~~

Thanks.

I’m sure there’s not much room on Jerry Pournelle’s reading list for my site. Of course, with psych being one of his PhDs, he’s certainly qualified to talk on the subject.

Hasn’t Jerry said before that he probably would have been diagnosed as ADD in his youth, and in reality his “problem” was that he was better-read than a lot of his teachers and was just plain bored and unchallenged? (I’m doubly fortunate in that regard; I’m not as bright as Jerry and my teachers always bent the rules and let me work above my grade level to make sure I was adequately challenged.)

Good motto, especially if you remember that the easiest solution often involves cable connections and system logs.

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Michal Kaznowski” <michalkaznowski@nospam.yahoo.com> Subject: DPMI error while zipping windows

Hello David,

If you have the time, might you be able to point me to the easiest solution of a problem I have been having when using info-zip to zip a windows installation.

I get:

load Error no DPMI – Get csdpmi*b.zip

I am aware that Protected mode is required, but what is the easiest way of obtaining this.  I am mostly using 98SE (And Slackware 7.0 and SuSE) to install for friends, family and some that pay(!) and would prepare boot disc just to be able to run zip and unzip on the backup as described on page 201/2 of your guide to life and computers.

Your book is a raving success with my friends (what few I have as I like computers) and numerous copies have been purchased.  We are all looking forward to your definitive guide on a version of Linux so that we can all use it without the pain we have at present

-Best regards, Michal                         

~~~~~

Try downloading ftp://ftp.simtel.net/pub/simtelnet/gnu/djgpp/v2misc/csdpmi5b.zip. Put the executable files from this archive into the same directory as your Info-Zip executables. Let me know ASAP if that doesn’t fix it. (This is as painful as some Linux programs’ installations!)

Thanks for your encouraging words on Optimizing Windows. Unfortunately, O’Reilly cancelled the Linux book, so for now I’m just writing Windows optimization articles for Computer Shopper UK and taking a few months off from book writing while I decide what to do next.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

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