Version 7 looks like just what Firefox needed

Firefox 7 is out. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already have it, because, historically, a large proportion of my readers use Firefox or, in the past, used other Mozilla-based browsers.

The last couple of Firefox versions have been yawners, and a frequent butt of jokes on Twitter. “It’s Tuesday. Time for a new major Firefox release.” This one looks better. Here’s my review, after a few days of use.

Read more

Toggle between two hosts files with a simple script

A longtime reader wrote in asking if it was possible to easily toggle between two hosts files. There are several possible uses for this. When I’m at home, I need to address my web site by its internal, private IP address. On the road, that private address obviously doesn’t work. He wants something like this for other reasons; I believe he’s blocking ad servers with his hosts file and needs to unblock one or more servers temporarily for select sites to work properly.

This solution would make my Computer Science 203 professor rescind the B I received in his class if he saw it, but it works, and I don’t think he reads this blog anyway.

Read more

Microsoft sold 400 million Windows 7 licenses; what does it mean?

Steve Ballmer announced today that Microsoft has sold 400 million Windows 7 licenses, but anywhere from half to two-thirds of PCs are still running Windows XP and need to get with the program.

He also continues to insist Windows 8 will ship in 2012, which really makes me wonder why those XP users need to switch now. December 2012 is 17 short months away, and XP support runs until 2014. I see little need to rush out now and buy Windows 7, use it for 18-24 months, and then turn around and buy Windows 8. If XP is fulfilling users’ needs, what’s the hurry? Unless Windows 8 is going to be late, as bad as Vista, or both. But none of that can happen, right? (Note: It’s not 2014 anymore, so if you haven’t upgraded from XP, you need to.)

I’m sure the Windows 8 Police will be along to haul me away shortly for insinuating such things. But until that happens, that 400 million figure lets us do some other interesting extrapolation. Read more

Upgrade diary: Compaq Presario C552US

The Presario C552US shipped from the factory with a 1.6 GHz Celeron M single-core CPU, 512MB of RAM, and Windows Vista Home Basic.

It’s the most miserable computing experience I’ve seen in a very long time, if ever. I don’t know how they ever sold a single one of these machines, performing like that.

Fortunately, there’s room to improve it.

Read more

Firefox 4 is out

And although Firefox 4 isn’t officially released until tomorrow, copies have leaked out via FTP staging servers. I grabbed a copy from betanews to do my upgrade early.

I’ve played with pre-release versions, so no real surprises. It’s quick. The look changed quite a bit, but you can easily configure it to look like older versions if you want. I did on my desktop; on a netbook I might not.

If you’ve liked Firefox all along, you’ll like Firefox 4. If you’ve preferred IE or Chrome up to this point, I don’t think Firefox 4 changes enough to change your mind on that. It has a faster Javascript engine and makes better use of graphics hardware on Windows Vista or 7, but aside from that, it’s still the same basic browser. IE9 has all that too, and Chrome has fast Javascript and isn’t far behind with graphics acceleration of its own. Of course Firefox and Chrome have the advantage that they’ll still run under XP. I think Firefox 4 will even run under Windows 2000, if you’re still using that for some reason.

I like it, but I was using it when it was still a side project called Phoenix. Then it was Firebird. Then it became Firefox.

Using Robocopy to root out PST files

So the word came out that the office is migrating to Windows 7 at some yet-to-be-determined time, but soon. It’s in testing now. (Too bad they didn’t recruit me as part of the testing team, because breaking Windows 7 is one of my superpowers.)

We’ve been told to back up our data. Lots of people are paranoid that they’ll lose their Outlook PST files, and with it, their ability to do top-drawer work. Frequently we have to search our archives to find forgotten details about old projects. It helps to make the new projects go more smoothly.

I came up with a surprisingly easy solution. It doesn’t even require admin rights–which is good. I won’t elaborate.
Read more

The "good enough" PC

PC World has a treatise on “good enough” computing. This isn’t actually a new trend but it’s never stood still for as long as it has now.Jerry Pournelle used to describe cheap CPUs from Cyrix and IDT in the late 1990s as “good enough.” Running at 166 and 200 MHz, they ran Windows 95 and NT4 and Office 97 just fine. They weren’t good gaming CPUs, but for everything else, they were great, and you could build a computer with one of those and save $100 or more over using a comparable Intel CPU.

Trouble was, the mainstream moved. Intel knocked off all the upstarts by starting a megahertz war, and AMD came back from a near-death experience to compete. The requirements to run Windows increased nearly as rapidly, and it wasn’t all that long before 900 MHz was pretty much the bare minimum to run Windows comfortably.

But chips kept getting cheaper, and today you can buy a 2 GHz CPU for pretty close to what a Cyrix or WinChip CPU cost. But you get more than 10 times the power for that money. And Windows XP runs perfectly comfortably on a 2 GHz CPU, whether it’s a new Intel Atom or Celeron or a 5-year-old corporate discard. So does Office 2003, which is the very last version of Office that any sane person would want to use.*

*Besides being the evil spawn of Windows Vista and Microsoft Bob, Office 2007 also crashes more often than Windows 3.0 did. The only way I can go a week without losing work from Office 2007 crashing is to go on vacation.

The PC World author claims that Linux and Open Office running on Intel Atom CPUs will be the undoing of Microsoft. I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Netbooks running Linux got returned to the vendor a lot. I suspect the biggest reason is because they probably couldn’t figure out how to get their USB mobile broadband cards–I’m talking the stuff that cellphone vendors offer for 50 bucks a month–working in Linux. That, and they probably couldn’t get Flash working so they couldn’t see Facebook and other popular sites the way they could on their regular PCs.

Frankly, the two things that keep me from buying a $200 Dell Vostro netbook this weekend are the price of mobile broadband ($50 a month), and my concerns about the reliability of anything sold by Dell in the last 5-6 years. I work with a lot of Dell equipment, and once the warranty goes, their machines do not age gracefully at all. But I think Dell will sell a lot of these units, because the price is absurdly low, they weigh two pounds, and they run anything but 3D games and intensive graphics apps nice and fast. Sure, a dual-core system with its memory maxed out and a solid state disk will outrun it, sometimes even running circles around it, but that system will also cost 10 times as much.

I do think Office 2007 is the best thing that ever happened to Open Office. Open Office’s interface is a lot more familiar and doesn’t hide anything, and while it may not be as fast as Office 2003, it’s certainly faster at most things than Office 2007 is.

Linux has been usable for basic computing for a very long time, but getting it installed and configured remains a challenge at times. A netbook that connects painlessly to the wireless networks in restaurants and to cellphone makers’ mobile broadband cards while running Linux probably stands a chance. Giving some automated, easy means to synchronize application data and web bookmarks between the netbook and a desktop PC would probably help a lot too–something that does the same thing that Activesync does for moving data between Windows PCs and Windows Mobile PDAs. Will these things happen?

But I do think an era of “good enough” is upon us. There was a time when the top-of-the-line PC would be entry level within a year or two, and that’s not really true anymore. The entry-level PC of today is comparable to the mid-range PC of five years ago. For most of my lifetime, basic computing on a five-year-old PC was always painful, no matter how good that PC was when it was new. That’s not the case today.

Graphic designers, video producers, and scientists will always need ever-more powerful systems for their work, so they’ll continue to drive the cutting edge. But everyday computing is stabilizing. I don’t think Intel wants the future of everyday computing to be the cheap Atom CPU, but at this point it may be impossible to avoid it. If Intel decides to quit playing in this space, AMD can design something comparable to replace it in the marketplace. The Geode won’t cut it, but something based on the Athlon XP architecture and built using a modern process certainly would.

And frankly I’m glad about this development. It’s been nice not having to buy a new computer every three years or so.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux