* Posts by Philip Storry

61 posts • joined 28 Nov 2007


It's 2016 and a font file can own your computer

Philip Storry

Re: How did this ever become a problem in the first place?

(With apologies if you know all of this already.)

In the case of Windows, this all goes back to Windows NT 4.0.

Windows NT 3.x was stable and had lots of advanced features, but it required a pretty big machine at that time. 3.1 (the first release) was huge, 3.5 was better, and 3.51 was - by comparison to 3.1 - faster than a greased rat up a drainpipe. Sadly, when compared with Windows 95, Windows NT 3.51 was still slow.

Microsoft was running out of optimisations that they could feasibly make, and hardware wasn't catching up quickly enough either.

So Microsoft decided to move the GUI into ring 0.

Ring 0 is where the kernel lives. Intel CPUs had two "rings" where the code runs, each with different levels of privilege. In ring 3, the memory and I/O that the code has access to can be restricted to ensure a process can't affect other processes. Ring 0 has unrestricted access to the whole machine. (There are also rings 1 and 2, but earlier Intel processors didn't implement them so we're stuck with just the two rings.)

Moving the GUI code into ring 0 made window painting/repainting faster, so it was a significant improvement. Windows NT 4 felt livelier and nippier than Windows NT 3.51, so in that regard it was a success.

It was also controversial at the time. Windows NT was advertised as the secure version of Windows, and plenty of people were aware that this might not work out so well.

However, at the time there were no practicable exploits. Machines were only ever connected to what we'd now regard as trusted networks, video card drivers came on floppy disks and updates to them were hen's teeth, fonts were things we installed only if an application wanted it. And so on, and so on. Therefore only geeks and academics cared about the possibly impact of the move to ring 0.

The world is a little different now, and we're paying the price for past naiveties....

(In Microsoft's defence, X Servers usually run in ring 0 too, for performance reasons. I wouldn't bet against the Mac OS X graphical stack doing so as well. People like faster, and the customer is always right because he votes with his wallet.)


VMware axes Fusion and Workstation US devs

Philip Storry

Re: Will be interesting to see how this pans out

I agree with you.

But there's no column on the spreadsheet to fit all that in.

And the spreadsheet disagrees with us both.

And the spreadsheet is God as far as senior management know.

Therefore the spreadsheet wins.



That one weird trick fails: Google binned 780 million ads last year

Philip Storry

You've obviously not visited Buzzfeed/Answers.com/$timewastingsites.

Last week, I clicked on a link that took me there. I'm pretty sure I did half that number just on that one visit...

(Note: I just went to my Facebook feed to find some other such sites to pad out the list, but thankfully couldn't find any despite scrolling back a whole day. However, I now worry that some kind of disaster may have killed all of my less intelligent friends and relatives...)

Philip Storry

Re: So they're cracking down on some scumbags...

Whilst Scientology are classed as a religion, rather than correctly classified as "a cult designed to extract money from people", they probably qualify for some kind of discount from many businesses.

I'd like to see Google refuse to do business with them. But Scientology would probably just start a shell game with many new companies in order to get what they want. Let's face the simple fact that Scientology is the evil here, and Google is - at worst - the lesser evil.

Also, I'd question the source. Scientology makes lots of claims, many of them somewhat distanced from reality. But even if they provided evidence, would you really take it at face value? This is an organisation that has planned to forge government documents in the past, after all...


Eighteen year old server trumped by functional 486 fleet!

Philip Storry

Windows not running for longer than 49.7 days.

As far as I recall, that was Windows 95. And the actual figure was 49.7 days - or, suspiciously, around 2 billion seconds. Yes, the bug was caused by the fact that the system timer didn't wrap around - when it finally hit the maximum value of the DWORD, the machine just hung.

The bug actually affected both Windows 95 and Windows 98, meaning it took almost three years to get enough samples to diagnose the issue.

Thus leading to the joke "Even during their testing, Microsoft couldn't get a Windows 95 machine to stay up for more than 48 days..."

To be fair, most Windows 95 machines that did run as servers were doing either print services or file sharing (often a file share for Microsoft Mail) on a workgroup style network. So most of them were unlikely to be powered on for longer than 5 or 6 days in a row anyway.

But I don't think that should make anyone feel bad about sniggering at the bug. It was, and remains, a dumb mistake.

Philip Storry


“Igor” told us about a pair of IBM e x235 servers that have run since 1997, each packing four Pentium III CPUs, 4GB of RAM and eight 72GB Seagate SCSI HDDs.


Nope. The Pentium III wasn't released until 1999, so he must mean a Pentium II or has his dates wrong.

The amount of RAM is also a little luxurious for 1997, when the average PC had 16Mb and the average server had 32-64Mb. Not necessarily impossible, but dubious. I'd expect 1Gb of RAM tops in an x86 based machine in 1997.

And 72Gb hard disks in 1997? Not that I recall. Not even with SCSI bypassing the ATA limit of 512Mb. Maybe in pixie-la-la-land, but not on any site I worked at. The standard size around then was around the 400Mb region for a desktop, and servers might stretch to 2Gb per disk - but you were more likely to see an array of 1Gb disks.

Everything about Igor's story seems suspect. Those specifications are just too early. I respectfully submit that he's misremembered, and apologise to him for being the one to have to point it out.


El Reg mulls entering Robot Wars arena

Philip Storry

And from the website The Register, their entry is...


Wait. This plan may not work as well as we'd hoped...


Microsoft releases major PowerShell update after long preview

Philip Storry

A shortsighted view


To say "no UNIX shell even comes close" is both accurate and grossly misleading. You didn't give anything to measure by, for starters - close in what regard?

Both have their problems. Object orientation is wonderful, right up until you're doing something with AD and Exchange and find that (for example) the distribution members have a different type to AD accounts so you can't directly compare them without doing some type conversion. That type conversion is a hassle, and a great example of the extra verbosity PowerShell constantly seems to require to accomplish something.

Objects are indeed more powerful, but require more work - plain text definitely has its advantages on occasion.

And what are you comparing as a "UNIX shell"? Just bash? Nobody would dream of using any UNIX shell without also having a copy of cp, mv, rename, grep, awk, sed, sort, and so forth. And for more power, you can always fire up Perl or Python. (And Python is a standard part of most modern distributions, so it's not like you need to install it. Perl used to be, but I think it's now missing from some more modern ones.)

I like PowerShell, but its verbosity gets to be tedious after a while. I like UNIX shells, but the plain text thing clearly has occasional limits that it takes Perl/Python to fix.

Frankly, what makes PowerShell inferior in my day to day work is Remoting. That's such a classic "Microsoft Developer Solution" - nobody bothered to consult anyone who would actually use it. With no decent persistent sessions, it's a PITA to use except in scripts. (WinRM? Ugh. Thanks, but no thanks.)

Want to improve PowerShell? Give me SSH and a tmux/screen equivalent. That'll be just peachy. (And yes, I'm aware SSH is coming to Windows. So it's just tmux/screen we're waiting on.)

Funny thing is, that shows that - just like on UNIX systems - it's not just about one tool. Decent administration requires many tools, working in harmony. PowerShell's almost there...


HPE: If we don't give Deutsche Bank right contracted outcome, we'll lose money

Philip Storry

A more accurate headline...

"HPE - Deutsche Bank still haven't understood the contract they've signed, we're going to shaft them".

Because that's almost certainly what's actually happening here...


Outsourcer didn't press ON switch, so Reg reader flew 15 hours to do the job

Philip Storry

Re: External IP KVM or DRAC?

Because DRAC/ILO/IPMI look very expensive, so the bean counters dislike them.

When you're building any infrastructure that has quite a few servers, the additional cost of DRAC/ILO/IPMI soon adds up to a hefty bill.

Everybody here knows that when you factor in the potential costs - longer outages, and time saved when called out - they're actually pretty good value for money. Not wasting time having to go to the data centre to deploy the Mk I Finger O' Doom is pretty handy. An IP KVM was a useful alternative, but the lack of the power feature made it very much an inferior solution - which was reflected in the pricing of the two technologies.

But try telling that to the guy who doesn't understand, and is wondering why every server is more expensive by a three figure sum...

The drive to virtualisation has often been justified solely just on the basis of shaving that cost off each server (and having standardised drivers/devices on your servers). As you scale up, it becomes a significant saving.


Child abuse image hash list shared with major web firms

Philip Storry

Oh, goody! MD5!

It's lucky they chose an up-to-date hash algorithm that's got no known weaknesses.

What's that, Carnagie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute? As of 2010 you consider it "cryptographically broken and unsuitable for further use"? Oh, that's unfortunate... MD5 has been known to have collision issues since 2004? My - that is poor.

Seriously, MD5 is fine for some things. But for important things - like anything approaching censorship or criminal justice, perhaps - I don't think we should be using MD5. SHA-2 perhaps?


Web server secured? Good, now let's talk about e-mail

Philip Storry

People attempting proper SMTP TLS is terrifying

As soon as Let's Encrypt can get me a certificate, I'm going to get one. My website should be HTTPS-only by mid-December with a little luck. (The hard work is just content checking, to make sure all embedded content is also HTTPS and therefore doesn't trigger mixed content warnings.)

But SMTP? That terrifies me. I was a messaging administrator for 15 years before I switched to another technology this year. I've done that in healthcare, banking, and other sectors - I've got plenty of experience with doing SMTP+TLS, yet it's still deeply scary.

And it's not the setup of my systems that's really the issue. It's other people's systems. Which are often badly set up and badly maintained. If Blackadder had continued on to do a series in which he worked in IT, the conversation would go something like this:

Junior BOFH - "I want to see how an email system is run... so badly!"

Blackadder - "Well, you've come to the right place. An email system hasn't been run this badly since Hillary Clinton's campaign manager found a cc:Mail CD and a spare half hour..."

In theory, it should be fine. Very few people verify the certificates' signature chain. Or that the hostname matches the certificate. Or the TLS version, the ciphers, or much of anything else. They just use TLS opportunistically to ensure encryption over the public network.

Although it is odd that the only reason it'll be fine is that SMTP+TLS is almost always so badly set up it's actually very insecure.

But I know how complicated this is, and I recall what happened whenever a commercial partner's security team decided to try and enforce proper security in this area. Those were the "interesting days". Very long and very interesting...

And that's what terrifies me about this. The part where everyone else has to learn what I learned years ago - nobody wants to do this properly, they just want to do it well enough that it ticks the box marked "email to partner organisations is encrypted during transport".

Basically, it'll be a right mess.

I'm glad I'm out of the messaging game!


Chrome OS is not dead, insists Google veep in charge of Chrome OS

Philip Storry

Let's be honest here - the WSJ is not a particularly technical publication.

So when someone from Google said "we've been working for a couple of years to merge them", they heard "only one product will survive".

When in actual fact, the Google representative probably meant "we've been working on getting ARC (Android Runtime for Chrome) for two years, and in 2017 we think a Chromebook will be able to run Android apps so well it'll really blur the boundaries".

WSJ in "knows nothing and doesn't do research" shocker!


Big mistake, Google. Big mistake: Chrome OS to be 'folded into Android'

Philip Storry

Re: So what's your point?

I think his point is that it's not the underlying technology - it's the applications.

Windows NT4 was unsuitable for home use despite having the same interface as Windows 95. That's because it had to ensure security and process safety (amongst other demands).

Windows 95 was backwards compatible with a LOT of software. There were some exceptions - for example Delrina Winfax Pro didn't work - but that's because it replaced the COM port driver. The actual application would load and show you your old faxes, but it couldn't send or receive, due to that COM port driver. That's actually pretty impressive - only specialised software that did odd stuff didn't work, and even then it often partially worked. The rest of your Windows and DOS software would run just fine.

Where Windows 95 was impressive in its backwards compatibility, Windows NT 4 wasn't as impressive. Sure, it had a Windows on Windows 16-bit machine and a rudimentary DOS box. But most Windows software wasn't written with security in mind. A lot of 16-bit software did stuff that Windows 95 could allow, but the strict process limitations in NT wouldn't. Hell, Microsoft's own Office suite had a bunch of "this feature doesn't work under Windows NT" and "this feature requires local admin rights to work under Windows NT" issues until about Office 97 or 2000. If even Microsoft's developers couldn't get it right, what chance did others have?

The solution was actually pretty simple. It took two things - time and patience. Over time, most of the software became 32-bit and the compilers wouldn't allow stupid coding behaviour as easily. And software gradually became a little more security aware. But most importantly, users moved to software that was compatible as they either upgraded or switched to other applications.

It wasn't perfect, but after five years or so the world was just about ready to migrate to that new NT kernel. Some software wouldn't - couldn't - work on it. But most did, and it was just like the Windows 95 compatibility situation all over again.

How is this relevant to Chrome/Android? Well, there's an Android Runtime for Chrome. At the moment it only works with (and therefore allows) specific, vetted apps. It's quite possible that Google's plan is to run a "virtual device" on your Chromebook, where you'll be able to have your Chromebook as another Android instance, possibly even with app data synchronisation and the like. Android lends itself well to that architecturally, and it's far easier than trying to get lots of Android apps replaced with Chrome web apps/extensions.

But like those early Windows 95/Windows NT migrations, there will be edge cases where apps do unexpected and stupid things that the Android Runtime guys never anticipated. And there's issues like the notification centre (do they unify it between the Android instance and Chrome?), what data to synchronise, and so forth. It won't be perfect. So Google have some work to do to get it "good enough", and there may be new APIs in both Android and ChromeOS to help developers get the best out of this integration.

In this sense, I see strong parallels between the first two big Windows upgrade/migrations and this one. It's about application compatibility more than anything else - nobody runs an OS just for the sake of running an OS.

(Well, nobody with a life...)


Time Lords set for three-week battle over leap seconds

Philip Storry

Re: And we have...

His name was William Willett.

You're a bit late to kick him in the crotch, as he's been dead for just over a century.


However, there is a memorial to him in Petts Wood. I've been past it a few times, and was astonished as to how free of vandalism it is, all things considered.

I just read the Wikipedia article, and discovered that the man is also the great-great-grandfather of the lead singer of Coldplay.

It really is a ***ing miracle that the memorial hasn't been blown up by now, isn't it?


Laid-off IT workers: You want free on-demand service for what now?

Philip Storry

Re: "I've forgotten how to do that"

Before you leave, send an email to ask if you can take copies of all the {documentation|source code} with you, to help fulfil this requirement.

We all have a good idea what the answer will be.

If they call, then remind them that you asked for the resources you'd need to assist - and they declined to provide them. As such, you're working somewhat blind and feel it would be unprofessional to take such a significant risk with a live system. You're happy to help, but feel they need to be reminded - in writing - of the significant risk that this represents.

Of course, if they want to send over the latest {documentation|source code}, you'll happily read it to get yourself back up to speed, and then assist.

Oh, and when you've got that {documentation|source code}, don't forget that all of this is at your current employer's agreement. I'm sure they'll schedule time appropriately - you'll probably get through it all in a month or so, maybe two - that's OK with SunTrust, right?

Cue a few questions occasionally over the coming weeks to show that you're reading the {documentation|source code}... Some people might accuse you of delaying things by asking questions, but you're actually just ensuring you have a full understanding of the system. Very professional of you, and good mitigation of that risk.

I reckon you could easily spend a full three or four calendar months doing that. The word "risk" is a magnificent motivator in a paper trail...

Now, naturally, they'll probably decline this request for {documentation|source code} anyway when they call. But now you have a paper trail, established from before you left. You can remind them that any changes you make are naturally more of a risk than ones done by those done by the new owners of the system. Keep reminding them of this, in writing, before you make any change.

Congratulations. You're now highly unlikely to be called more than once, and there's no way they can say you were unprofessional or unhelpful. After all, the paper trail shows that they were the ones being unhelpful...


Mobile first? Microsoft decides to kneecap its Android users instead

Philip Storry

Exchange tasks? Rich?

"Business users don't get Tasks support, despite very rich Task support in Exchange"

Very rich? Come off it. Exchange's Task support is about as rich as a second hand car dealer with a lot full of Volkswagens.

A dedicated task service like Remember The Milk, Wunderlist or Todoist could be described as rich. Exchange's Tasks are best described as "you'll get a priority field, and you'll bloody well like it".

OK, perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration. But what do you actually get? Priority, Start Date, Due Date, Status and "% Complete". Because everyone here would be willing to be a tenner on ever having seen "% Complete" being used by a real-life user consistently...

You can assign tasks to someone, which is nice. And you can set a reminder or set a task to repeat. And that's your lot.

In task terms, that's pretty much the basics.

What are we missing?

No tagging. No assigning to projects (although you could use Outlook's woefully badly integrated Categorize feature, I suppose. If you're a masochist.) No location field, or goelocationary features. No time estimation. Minimal postpone features. No filtering of tasks by anything worth a damn except the date and priority. No daily digest delivered to your inbox. No subtasks or task hierarchy.

Oh, and as we're talking about clients here - no browser integration at all. No, OWA doesn't count - I mean bookmarklets and browser add-ons that make your task list usable from any web page. The closest Exchange gets is if you use OneNote - a rather heavy sledgehammer to crack this nut.

To be honest, I could say the same about the Exchange Calendar or other areas. Microsoft keep buying tools like Wunderlist and Sunrise, but if they attempt to bring them into a monolithic system like Exchange they're doomed to fail. They succeeded because they were focused on being excellent within their own domain, rather than merely another component in Outlook.

They need to be running as little web services on top of Exchange, that can be accessed by https with a simple API, and that can therefore concentrate on having a couple of good clients and a decent service. Let the Outlook team figure out how to ruin the experience in Outlook, but at least you'll still have a decent underlying service and standalone client that does the job well...


If you absolutely must do a ‘private cloud’ thing, here's how

Philip Storry

Re: Business Critical Data out there in the cloud

Tell me more about this JCB going through the whole of Shoreditch. It brings me a warm fuzziness for some reason...

Could it be sent to Hoxton afterwards? That would be just superb.


Google's new squeeze: Brotli compression open-sourced

Philip Storry

Deflate predates 1996 by about 6 years...

PKWare patented it in 1990, and first used it in PKZip 2.

It was soon found that the algorithm could be done just as effectively without using the patented methods, which is why it was used so widely - hence the RFC.

I'll happily admit that I had to go and check Wikipedia for the details, but did so because I was sure it predated 1996 due to the PKZip connection - I'm pretty sure I had PKZip 2 in 1993ish, on my trusty 8086 based computer. Not that I used it to create many archives, as LHA was often better at compressing and I soon found ARJ, which spanked everything else comprehensively until the arrival of the early DOS-based RAR archiver and solid archiving. It was a good time for compression then - plenty of different solutions, lots of competition...

Ahem. Sorry - got off topic there. Anyway, Deflate - older than you think, by around six years...


Twenty years since Windows 95, and we still love our Start buttons

Philip Storry

Ah, memories...

My first job was supporting Windows 95 for Microsoft.

Not actually working for Microsoft, I should point out - in the UK they outsourced their support. I actually worked for ICL Sorbus in Footscray, near Sidcup.

We spent from March to August training on and supporting the Public Preview of Windows 95, then Microsoft picked the two best performing companies from the five that they'd managed to con into doing months of free telephone support for them in the guise of a tender.

The two best were ICL Sorbus, and DEC.

Yeah. I know. I have no idea what criteria they used, and frankly I don't wish to know. But I was there, and that's my recollection of events...

Anyway, I suppose I should now say that I was there on the day of release, answering the support calls from hell, battling the stupidity and cursing the bugs.

But no. I may have only been 18, it may have been my first job, but I'd read BOFH via Fidonet and I knew a thing or two. I'd booked the whole damned week off as annual leave back in April, before management thought to ban such applications. I then kept very quiet about it, lest my colleagues get any similar ideas. (And gathered blackmail material, as a backup plan. The building was only three stories high, so sadly the lift shafts weren't really an option.)

Still, I did spend quite a few months supporting Windows 95 by phone, so I'm going to go for the pity vote here. PITY ME! PITY ME AND MY WINDOWS 95 MEMORIES!

Oh, and a quick note - back in those days, 13 floppies was pretty close to the definition of Bloat. Only Windows NT, OS/2 and perhaps a full install of Office 95 could make you do more floppy swapping! Oh how we rejoiced at CDs...


Windows 10 is FORCING ITSELF onto domain happy Windows 7 PCs

Philip Storry

Re: You will be assimilated into windows 10!

This Dilbert comic - from January 1997! - seems highly appropriate here:



UK.gov issues internal 'ditch Oracle NOW' edict to end pricey addiction

Philip Storry

I laughed

Oracle brought this upon themselves with opaque and over-priced licensing, and I wish the government good luck in moving to something cheaper. Perhaps gold-thread-adorned monks carving on platinum slabs with diamond-tipped drills?

(Or maybe just PostgreSQL.)


UK.gov loses crucial battle in home-taping war with musicians

Philip Storry

Re: How music got free

I shall add it to my reading list, but the review does leave me thinking it's an incomplete source at best.

Skimming the review, it looks to me like it focuses on three things:

1. An organised group of leakers

2. Music industry's long delay in embracing digital

3. The technical experts behind the MP3 standard

But in the review it keeps saying that the only people being hurt in the music industry are the musicians. For example:

"Partisans of 'sharing' sometimes liked to say that they were hitting back against fat-cat music executives. In fact, all they were doing was hurting musicians. The bosses continued to do very nicely, thank you." - it then goes on to explain cutting of artist rosters etc., as if the downloaders were causing this rather than it being an ongoing trend in the industry that dated back to the early 1990's (at least) anyway.

Nowhere do I see the fourth part of the story - the business practices of the record labels themselves. The "record deals" that are actually loans with strings attached. The ludicrous expenses that are encouraged by the labels, knowing full well they will bill the artists for them in the end. The promises of marketing support that turn out to be empty. The enforcement of exclusivity clauses long after the company has given up on the artist(s).

Without that, I think this is an incomplete account. Either there should be a fourth person, or all of this is in the details of the record executive and the reviewer inexplicably skipped it.

Yes, I see that this is a book about how music went digital. But the digital side is the least of the music industry's long-term problems. Their entire business structure has been exposed, and new artists are avoiding them for as long as possible...

Philip Storry

So where do I apply for my free "Greatist Hits" albums?

This seems quite fair.

In the same way that I should be able to apply for a free copy of any "Greatest Hits" album that comes out, providing I can prove I own all the original albums that the hits came from.

After all, I've paid the royalties for those songs already. All the compilation does is put content I've already paid for into a more convenient package. So I should have it for free, because nobody's losing out here.

So where are the vouchers for the refunds on all these Greatest Hits albums I've bought?

And don't fob me off with "bonus tracks" b***shit - they're almost all B-sides to singles or single mixes. And I have those singles too. I'll take some pictures, send them to along, and someone can send me the refund cheque in the post. Ta.

(Only semi-joking. This is a complete failure to understand that copyright is about a right to copy, not a right to profit. There are social benefits to copying that we should be willing to accept a loss of profits for - fair use, time shifting and format shifting are the main ones. At the heart of this ruling lies a blind ideology that copyright should be "profitright", and that this is the sole light in which the law should be interpreted.)


It's OK – this was an entirely NEW type of cockup, says RBS

Philip Storry

Re: du -sh

I respectfully disagree. The management gobbledegook filter clearly states "ingest", so they had the file. What you've described is a failure to "transfer" a file.

No, the word "ingest" means, quite clearly, that the file had some kind of unexpected content.

And we're now ALL thinking the same thing.

"The CSV file had a comma in the wrong place."

Because decades of experience, billions of pounds and ever-improving technology STILL can't defend itself against a comma in the wrong bloody place.

Such as it ever was, is, and no doubt will be.


BOFH: Step into my office. Now take a deep breath

Philip Storry

It's the damnedest thing, but I have this strong suspicion that Simon's recently been at an El Reg staff do and found himself sat next to Dabbsy...

Am I alone in this?


Microsoft spunks $500m to reinvent the wheel. Why?

Philip Storry

Outlook's no gem

"Neither Wunderlist nor Sunrise support a fraction of the sophisticated feature set that Exchange and Outlook use. Outlook allows you to apply categories to both email items and tasks, assign single-click shortcuts, and create rules – the building blocks for complex workflows."

And there lies the rub. You talk about Outlook as if it's a highly polished bit of software, but only the email part is. And even that has its dull corners.

Yes, you can categorise email items and tasks. Categorisation is semi-useless though.

It's mostly a manual process. Oh, you can create a rule to apply categories automatically - but that rule won't run on the server. So if you log off overnight or your PC suspends to save power, then your rules won't run. And if you move an email from the Inbox into a folder via your mobile access or webmail in between your Outlook sessions, then the categorisation never happens (because the rule never sees the email).

So in practice, you'll end up not using categories and just filing emails in unique folders instead. And don't start me on searching - yes, it can be done, but you have to prepend the name with "category:", so very few people bother. (As opposed to just using a #tag style tagging system as most modern web apps do - the hashtag succeeded because it's more intuitive for both input and search.)

Categorisation should be a wonderful thing. But in practice, like many non-email parts of Outlook it just doesn't feel finished. I get the feeling that any feature which isn't either Exchange integration or core email just doesn't get much development time...

Tasks? Yes, I can flag an email and it appears in my tasks. But it only appears in All Tasks list, so the integration is quite limited. So why bother? And yes, tasks also appear in your calendar. But only on the due date, which is sometimes too late as the task may require more time than you have that day. You might as well have a decent implementation separately rather than the anaemic and half-finished Outlook implementation.

I've used Wunderlist (but don't anymore, and not due to the Microsoft purchase - I have something that meets my needs better.)

If I were given the option of departmental Wunderlist or just using Outlook's tasks, I'd go for the Wunderlist option. It may not be integrated, but it has the essentials for task management - views for starred to-dos, today's due (and overdue) to-dos, this week's tasks, and so forth. Its list management is decent, it does tagging, and its sharing features are good.

Not that Wunderlist is perfect - but it's certainly better than Outlook's aneamic efforts.

I sorely doubt that the Wunderlist developers will ever be let near the Outlook client - it's too risky. I do wonder if some new collection of web-and-app services might not be on the horizon though, ready to take over from Outlook in the long term... It certainly seems that having teams dedicated to each functional area has produced better results than one team trying to prioritise three areas. So long as they interoperate and have a common look and feel, who cares if it's actually one product or three at the server side?


'Modernise' safe harbour laws for the tech oligarch era – IP czar

Philip Storry

Safe harbour is doing fine. Takedowns are broken.

Safe harbour isn't broken. It's doing its job fine - protecting those who run infrastructure. It's just like we wouldn't prosecute the Royal Mail or a printing company for the distribution of libel - the blame lies with the author.

The idea that big copyright holders have that they must attack the infrastructure is both disgusting and disturbing. The infrastructure is simply targeted because it's easier. But we should be very wary of this - if we want a diverse media, we need infrastructure that has safe harbours.

Paul Resnikoff says "And usage patterns show that everyone goes to those videos if the official video isn’t uploaded fast and first."

Well, I have a radical solution to that. It may well tax the tinier of brains, so brace yourselves:

As the person who created the content, be the first to upload it.

If you haven't made it yet, engage with your fans and get them to help - both in advertising and in policing. Amazingly, they'll probably help. Fan is short for fanatic, after all. If they don't help, ask WHY - it's likely that they have a demand that you're failing to supply. Welcome to economics 101... it really isn't that difficult.


Dear departed Internet Explorer, how I will miss you ... NOT

Philip Storry

IE 4. Oh gods, no...

For those of you who weren’t around in 1997, this was the year that Microsoft went mental. IE 4.0 was batshit crazy. It took over all your software, wormed into the file browser, it infested your very PC desktop, and it was Proprietary City. I specifically recall the unforgettable Peter Jackson returning to the office after a Microsoft technical preview of the new browser, telling us that the company had gone mad. His published review of IE 4.0 called it “insane”.

Oh, it was beyond insane. It was absolutely batshit-nuts-with-sparklers-and-celery-in-its-ears.

Having turned up late to the party, Microsoft then binged on the heady broth that the internet offered, in order to try and catch up. The result was a drunken mess that could only be matched by giving a house full of medical students a ten thousand pound credit line at Oddbins and instructions to spend it all over the weekend after their finals...

This was the version of IE that gave us Channels, which were like RSS but designed for media luvvies. I always wondered how much money Disney, CNN and Reed Elsevier must have wasted on creating infrastructure and content for that godawful idea.

The problem with Channels wasn't just the odd interface and the complete lack of anyone explaining what they were and why you'd want them. It was that they tried to download the content - all of it - so it could be displayed offline. This was a noble goal in the days of dial-up, as phone connections were initially pay-per-minute. But because it went via traditional media companies, they went a bit nuts and filled their channels with big images, so the end result of the developer's good intentions was that every time you dialled up, the first five to ten minutes of your connection time was dog slow as channels updated. The few people that did ever try them quickly abandoned them because of this.

Microsoft finally killed Channels when they released IE7. Yes, you heard that right - they survived about 9 years of disinterest and neglect.

But if Channels were a bad idea, nothing matches Active Desktop.

"Hey guys, I've had a great idea! You know that desktop that users hide by maximising their applications all day every day, so they only ever see it just after starting up and just before shutting down? Let's make that DISPLAY LIVE CONTENT!"

The idea of Active Desktop was just dumb. But the implementation was terrible. The IE rendering engine was a bit RAM hungry, and was famously buggy - so it basically made your machine slower and less stable, in order to allow you to see content that you won't see anyway because you're doing some actual work.

It was the perfect blend of weapons-grade-stupidity and pointlessness.

And, of course, because there had to be consistency between desktop and server, if someone had installed IE 4 on your servers (and if they did, no jury would convict you - so go right ahead) it sucked resources there whenever you logged on to them. And when would you probably log on? When there's a problem to be looked at. When you can't really afford to lose 8-12Mb of RAM to an instance of IE that you didn't want, and would never want.

And these are just the most visible failures of IE4. Inconsistent rendering across its many service packs, instability, that truly awful "one click instead of double click" option that tried to make Windows Explorer more like a browser but actually just made it useless... Imagine if a release that bad came out now. The net rage would eclipse all previous episodes!

I'd like to close by apologising to anyone who read this far for the memories I've brought back. If you were affected by the issues raised in this post, then please get yourself to a pub. That'll make it all better. Hopefully.


Google, Amazon 'n' pals fork out for AdBlock Plus 'unblock' – report

Philip Storry

Paying to bypass an ad blocker is fine by me, so long as the ads meet appropriate criteria.

I stopped using AdBlock recently, in favour of µBlock, But have used some kind of content blocking for years now - since Opera shipped with a built-in content blocker.

When switching to µBlock, the first thing I did was disable the ad-blocking lists. Content producers need ads to survive.

But some adverts are just obnoxious. Animation or even auto-playing sound are a definite no-no for me. I block those manually when I come across them. Depending on how easy that is, that may mean an entire ad network gets blocked. Oh well - that's their loss, not mine. If they had better quality control over their ads, then they'd still have my eyeballs available to them.

But it's such a shame that the advertisers have managed to be so incompetent that they've made some people completely anti-advertising to the point of militancy.


Would you buy a domain from Google? Industry weighs in on web giant's move

Philip Storry

Re: Yes.

I'm not going to name them, as my experience may be atypical. The plural of anecdote isn't data, I just wanted to state that things could be improved (from my experience).

Although I will say that their name is quite similar to this website's... ;-)

Philip Storry

Re: Yes.

I did read the T&C's, a decade ago when the domain was registered.

They've no doubt changed since, though.

However, I don't think your analogy holds. My issue isn't with the automatic renewal as such - it's that it's hidden from you, and that the domain in question was clearly flagged in their web portal as "expiring soon".

Even on the last day, there was no mention in their interface of an automatic renewal, and it looked very much like the domain was not going to renew. And there was no provided way to cancel - the interface allowed you to renew, but not to cancel. No "don't renew" option, and plenty of emails telling me I should renew - so the implication is that if I don't renew, I lose the domain. (Which is what I wanted.)

That, combined with the repeated renewal rate rises, makes me know exactly how valued my custom is.

My mobile phone contract, for example, does indeed just renew after each term. But the bill doesn't go up suddenly because I took no action to renew and instead just let that happen... (At least, it hasn't in the 18 years I've had a mobile, across two providers.)

Philip Storry


Given my experience with another big registrar recently, yes - I'd buy a domain with Google.

My main problem with the other registrar was the lack of an obvious way to not renew a domain.

I got plenty of reminders to renew before my domain expired, "to get the best rate". Worse rates as you approach expiration of the domain, which wasn't pleasant but also wasn't a problem as I wasn't going to renew. I didn't want the domain anymore, and I'd decided to let it expire.

Only to get an invoice for an automatic renewal on the day of expiration. At a silly rate, of course!

Apparently, they have an "automatic renew" option buried deep on the many links of their busy, badly layed out admin portal... And you can't turn it off except by calling a US number. (I'm in the UK, so they can get stuffed on that one.)

They then had the cheek to point out that my credit card details had expired - which I'd noticed a month before, and chose (wisely, with hindsight) not to update.

I took it up with their customer services via email. To their credit, they got it sorted without prompting and I now no longer have the domain. So a win there for them. But if the only thing an ex-customer respects about your business is that customer services made leaving painless, you probably have a long-term business problem.

To be honest, it all smacked of shady business practices to me. Renewal rates creeping up has little justification given that it's a DNS entry & a credit card payment. The lack of a "don't renew" option was odd. The automatic renewal that isn't mentioned and you can't turn off without calling someone is dodgy, given that you can change everything else about the domain whilst logged in to the admin portal. (Don't tell me it's for security to prevent domain hijacking - with my admin credentials, they can just point it at another IP address anyway.)

So why tell me it's expiring on $date and do the hard sell when you're going to renew anyway?

This was the last domain I had with that provider. I'll not be using them again. (I have a bunch of domains with two other providers, so I do have other experiences to compare them with.)

I'm pretty sure Google's offering will be better. Based on my previous dealing with buying things from them, I'd expect clear and simple portals for administration, and more transparency in the way they handle the transactions.


Are you running a Telnet server on Windows? Oh thank God. THANK GOD

Philip Storry

Re: Please help a penguin

You're right, telnet has no place on modern systems unless you have a need to leak credentials.

The actual bug seems to be that the telnet server on Windows doesn't validate input. Specially crafted strings can cause remote code execution - I assume that this means before the login process of the telnet session, and therefore running under the same account as the telnet service. But details from Microsoft are rather sparse here, so I have to admit I'm guessing.

Telnet isn't used much on Windows boxes. It's as unsecure on Windows as it is on *NIX boxes, and was only introduced to provide POSIX compatibility (if I recall correctly).

At the time, it was difficult if not impossible to administer a Windows box from the command line unless you'd written one heck of a lot of VB scripts, and most people therefore didn't bother with it when they could just use an RDP session instead...

Powershell has changed that somewhat, but it doesn't use telnet - it has its own remote connection methods (called "remoting" IIRC) that create an authenticated secure tunnel to the target machine, more like SSH (except predictably more fiddly and less useful).

So basically, telnet's a historical curiosity on most Windows machines, often only enabled because a badly architected bit of software has decided to use it... This vulnerability is like finding out that the British Army's cannon carriages can't be harnessed to some breeds of horse. ;-)


What's Jimmy Wales going to do with $500k from the UAE?

Philip Storry

An admission...

I'm just going to have to admit it - when I saw "UAE" I thought "Unrecoverable Application Error".

I know I shouldn't do. I think it's contextual - on El Reg, I'm thinking in technical terms not in geographical ones.

Still, it did make me wonder how a crash got them half a million dollars. If that's the way it works, I should be a billionaire by now...


HTML5 vs native: Harry Coder and the mudblood mobile app princes

Philip Storry

An odd change of focus in the article...

I get that this is about web technologies being used outside of the web browser. (And that's not new - on Windows, embedding IE into an app to cheekily render content has been going on for at least a decade. Hell, I've seen installers that did it, let alone the actual programs.)

But I find it odd that Apple are being lauded for finally improving their lamentable embedded browser, and there's no mention of Google unbundling their WebView component from the OS in Android 5 (Lollipop).

http://developer.android.com/about/versions/lollipop.html - scroll down to "Chromium Webview".

It seems to me that's much more relevant than Google flagging websites as mobile friendly in their search results. In fact, it's pretty much Google doing in Android 5 exactly what Apple did in iOS 8, surely?


Radiohead(ache): BBC wants dead duck tech in sexy new mobes

Philip Storry

Maybe not quite as pointless as it seems...

I already listen to digital radio, via the BBC iPlayer app or the TuneIn Radio app and any number of IP steams - DAB is dead as far as I'm concerned.

That having been said, I like the abstraction idea. If this could be put into an OS, it would be pretty cool. Having a "Radio" app that aggregates all possible sources would be nice.

It looks like it would be fairly cheap for Google/Apple to do as well, and it allows the vendors/networks to make money by pre-packaging stations - so should be popular there. And customers find it easier to listen to radio. Everyone wins, it seems.

(Well, except for Apple and their customers maybe, as Apple are a bit touchy about such customisations.)

On that basis, I wish 'em luck.


Google Glass faces UK cinema ban: Heaven forbid someone films you crying in a rom-com

Philip Storry

So are they planning on making some films that would be worth pirating then?

Something that's not a sequel or a prequel or a remake? Or a comic book adaptation or a young adult book series adaptation?

Something... new?

Something people might actually want to pay them money for, rather than just pirate so that they can at least be disappointed for free?

I think they have bigger problems than Google Glass. And the problem is on the supply side, not the customer side.


10 PRINT "Happy 50th Birthday, BASIC" : GOTO 10

Philip Storry

BASIC is under-appreciated

There's the famous quote about how BASIC ruins programmers.

Personally, I think it probably brought more people to IT than any other programming language ever has.

Almost everyone I know in IT "of a certain age" used BASIC as a kid. Whether they're now a developer, a systems administrator, an architect, a hardware engineer or a support engineer. (Or whatever other IT roles we can think of.)

And through things like VBA, BASIC continues to be very much alive despite a plethora of newer options.

Maybe, over the next few decades, Python or Javascript will eventually supercede it. But it'll take one heck of a lot of work, and we'd lose BASIC. And deep down, I don't think people working in the industry actually want that...


No sign of Half-Life 3 but how about FOURTEEN Steam Machine makers?

Philip Storry

Re: Very few decent games for linux on Steam

Define your criteria for "decent games"...

If you mean that there are very few big ticket, big budget games that get TV adevrtising slots and ads on bus shelters - then you're right. "Call of Battlefield Volume 17638 - Easter Edition" isn't available.

Although I'm not sure that's a bad thing, as many of those are bad ports from consoles anyway. The Steam Box has a controller which maps the keyboard to a console controller. So you'd actually be playing a game that was badly ported for controls on a PC, but on a platform which then attempts to port those controls back to a controller... *shudders*

There are some surprising titles. Serious Sam 3 BFE, for example. Niche, perhaps - but if you like that classic Doom style first person "possibly more enemies than you have bullets" kind of rush then you're sorted there.

And there are loads of excellent indie games. I've been steadily losing time to FTL: Faster Than Light. And Solar 2. And Gratuitous Space Battles.

But let's be honest, what will really convince you about gaming on Linux is playing Valve's own Hat Fortress 2 - the world's premier hat wearing simulator. I hear the next update adds the ability to shoot stuff too... ;-)


Samsung hauls in chiefs for 'CRISIS awareness' confab – report

Philip Storry

Re: but then Sony launched the Z1

Not quite just you. After the music CD rootkit debacle, I also swore off Sony.

However, I can't swear off a company forever if they seem to have improved. And Sony have somewhat improved. They're still not perfect - their motion picture side is as nutty as the rest of the industry - but they seem to have given their consumer electronics side a *little* more autonomy, and are less and less in the "everything in a Sony stack" mode. (Memory Stick? No thanks!)

I did some basic research on the Z1, checking for issues with DRM etc - nothing came up.

I think that's one area that Android has had some success in which people overlook - the Android platform is so much richer than a desktop platform in the APIs it provides, and pretty much stops some forms of lock in.

So for example you could go off and write your own music library code, but there's not much of a point - other apps want access to the music library as well. If you go your own way, then you're just going to have people complain that their exercise app or game can't see playlists.

So I do feel a little protected against Classic Sony Dickery by Android...

And Sony seem to be leading the pack in build quality and specs at the moment, which is why they're in the lead. That having been said, I'm sure I saw something about a new HTC One model with an SD card slot. That could complicate matters! ;-)

Philip Storry

As a Samsung Galaxy S3 owner...

I'm indifferent about the S4.

I was going to upgrade to it, but then Sony launched the Z1.

That doesn't mean that the S4 is bad. Only it and the Z1 are even in the running, as I want a microSD card slot on my phone. Waterproofing just nudged it into the lead.

But most of all, I just fancied a change. My last phone was HTC, my current one is Samsung, my next looks like it'll be a Sony. After that, who knows? If LG or Motorola launches a phone that meets my requirements, I'd happily look at those too.

Why would I have brand loyalty to manufacturers when I'm on Android? Whoever makes the best phone for my needs will get my money. I happen to need different things to many other people, so I have a more limited choice.

I suspect Samsung are confused right now. In brand terms, they want to be more like Apple. In market terms, they're not and never will be.


Pop OS X Mavericks on your Mac for FREE while you have LUNCH

Philip Storry

Re: And now the world waits...

I agree with you - it'll never happen.

Or at least, if it does, it'll be a huge change in Microsoft.

Every dumb decision, every stupid delay, every failure to create a new market that Microsoft has had for the past decade - they're all about extending and milking their existing Windows/Office monopolies.

So when I see small business owners I know wonder whether they should make do with a Chromebook or splash out on a Macbook Air - because in their own words "I use Google Apps and it's fine" - I can't help but see the future.

Enterprises, conservative as they are, will continue to insist on 100% Microsoft, because Microsoft is the new IBM. Nobody ever got fired for buying...

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, their mindshare and their usage stats decline by the day.

iWorks being free is a significant milestone in that. I'm not completely sure that in the future people will look back on this and say "that's when Office really became irrelevant"... But I'm not sure I'd like the odds on a bet against it.

To bastardise Pink Floyd, "All in all, it's just another chip in the wall..."

Meanwhile, Microsoft will continue to fluff their own decisions and cripple their own products to preserve a doomed pair of monopolies.

Much like IBM before them.


‘Priceless’ unique Palm ‘FAILEO’ laptop goes under the hammer

Philip Storry

Close, but no banana.

Dear LDS,

You're so tantalisingly close to the truth, yet haven't quite got it.

Your argument, after all, can also apply to future versions of Windows/Mac OS X. Should their creators ever be so stupid as to drastically change the interface, that is.

(Silence at the back! Wait 'till I've finished, as that's not my point!...)

The truth is that familiar interfaces are nice, but as you indicate with your tablet example, people are always willing to change if the benefits are clear.

What people *really* want is functionality.

After all, how many Mac users have a copy of Office? By many people's logic, they should. Office is irreplacable, and LibreOffice/OpenOffice just aren't good enough!

Yet I see more Macs with iWorks than Office on them...

Most PCs come with a trial version of Office these days. And most people don't want to pay 100 bucks for it at the end of the trial. Show them LibreOffice/OpenOffice with 100 of their bucks in one hand, and a copy of Office with a receipt for 100 of their bucks in the other, and they soon decide how valuable Office really is to them.

And yes, I have seen people pick Office instead of the 100 bucks. Usually for business reasons. But then, I also see small businesses just using Google Apps instead.

And Google Apps shows the real direction for functionality these days. Web browsers just won't be reasonable old chaps and stop their pace of development. They insist on rudely and uncouthly becoming more and more capable. It's just not cricket!

Remember Microsoft Works? Not the standalone abomination, but the Word/Works/Autoroute/Other bundle from the early 2000's? I knew people who loved that. Mostly for Word and Autoroute - that made their computer useful to them. These days a browser with bookmarks to Google Docs/Office 365 and Google Maps/AA's website/RAC's website could do the same. For free.

What software do people really want from their computer so that they can do what they want to? I'd venture the list looks a little like this:

1. A web browser.

1a. Email. (Maybe via browser, maybe via IMAP/POP3 See 1).

2. Basic Word processing.

3. Plays music. (Maybe via a web browser? See 1.)

4. Plays video. (Maybe via a web browser? See 1.)

5. Allows basic photo management/editing/sharing.

6. Using a spreadsheet as an overgrown table creator, and, in a very small minority of cases, using some basic formulas - but I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for that last bit to happen.

7. Abusing DTP to create godawful invitations to equally godawful events, and brain-melting newsletters about said godawful events - newsletters that are so bad your hamster will bite you for forcing it to **** on their shredded remains.

8. Porn (see 4).

I hesitated before putting 6 and 7 on. Many people will never actually use a spreadsheet, despite being aware it's there. Most home DTP functions are basically templated, and could probably be done in most word processor packages anyway.

The basics of everything on that list can be done in a browser if necessary. And other things I've probably overlooked.

So Microsoft's biggest fear is that customers - or on their behalf, OEMs - begin to ask why Office costs them 100 bucks when they use it so little. Or why Windows adds 20 to 30 bucks to the cost of a device, when all they're going to do is use a web browser that's free anyway.

At that point, Linux looks much more attractive to OEMs, and I'm sure many of them have been hinting at that since the netbook era.

None of this affects Apple as much. They're a luxury brand. It actually helps Apple, in a way - knowing that you don't need Office but just need to write simple documents occasionally makes a purchase of iWorks easier.

The tablet/phone markets are a little different, partly due to a richer platform experience due to well thought out APIs and partly due to a much lower cost per app, which distorts things a little.

But sticking to the fundamental "how do I do this?" rather than "how do I run XYZ?" shows much the same results - lots of movement towards web-based services. (A shocking number of apps seem to be little more than wrappers for mobile web sites!)

When you wrote "Linux is not an OS for most users, and will never be", you could have put Windows 8 in there. Or even Mac OS X. And you'd still be correct.

Because whilst a Linux distribution comes with plenty of software - free, curated, easily installable - all it needs to satisfy 90% of the needs of 90% of consumers is a web browser.

Most users don't need an OS, except as a bootstrap to a web browser. To them, Windows is what DOS was for the Windows 95 developers - a handy way to start the ball rolling after the power button is pressed. A minor step on the way to the final destination.

Sure, some older folks are stuck in their ways. (And many more aren't.) But by the time today's kids can afford to buy a copy of Windows or Office with their own wage packet, they'll already have gone through multiple versions or alternatives, and learned that they don't need it if they can run a web browser for free.

Welcome to the future. Feel free to bookmark it in case you need to visit again...

(Who am I kidding? Just type "the future" in your address bar, and it'll pop up! Remember using bookmarks instead of Google and local browser history? How quaint!)


Windows NT: Remember Microsoft's almost perfect 20-year-old?

Philip Storry

Re: A question from a young'un of 31...

The immediate reason at the time was simple... Money.

Windows 95, shipping in August 1995, had a minimum requirement of 4Mb of RAM, and recommended 8Mb of RAM.

Which everybody regarded as a joke. Sure, Windows 95 ran in 4Mb. And you could even run Notepad or Clock, too! But if you ran both of them together, your hard disk began to glow red hot as the swapping kicked in.

Realistically, everyone recommended a minimum of 8Mb and you should really want 12Mb or 16Mb.

For Windows NT? Version 2.51 was released in May 1995, and the minimum requirement was 12Mb, with the recommended 16Mb. And again, everyone laughed at that - you wanted 16Mb, preferably 24Mb.

Why is this important? Well, back then in 1995, RAM was for sale about 33 US dollars per Mb. (I couldn't find a reliable GBP price, so we'll have to use USD - sorry!)

That's before any taxes, too.

Let that sink in. If you'd bough a 486SX machine in late 1994, and it had 4Mb of RAM - fine for Windows 3.11! - then you were probably going to have to spend another 132 bucks just on RAM before you could spend your 90 bucks on the Windows 95 upgrade... Is your motherboard full already with four 1Mb sticks? Not unusual. You now get to throw away the old 4Mb, and spend ~270 bucks on four 2Mb sticks.

Eager to upgrade to Windows NT 3.51? Well, just double the prices... And start weeping, presumably.

Over the following few years, demand for RAM drove the prices down fairly quickly. But still, the requirements of Windows NT were a little more than Windows 95, and it never quite lost that reputation until Windows XP came out. (And perhaps not even then!)

There are other hardware issues, too. Windows 95 brought us Plug & Play, but that didn't come to Windows NT until Windows 2000 shipped in late 1999. And Windows NT also had a different driver model. Most manufacturers targeted Windows 9x for driver development as it had a wider installed base, so you were both more limited in the hardware Windows NT could run AND you sometimes had to fiddle with IRQs/memory addresses manually to get things working.

(Although in its favour, high end hardware like SCSI cards usually had much better Windows NT support and took a lot of the hassle out of hardware configuration anyway...)

Now on top of these costs and hardware issues, add on all the software compatibility issues that others have raised.

Windows NT was superb. Brilliant. Faced with a choice between Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0, I jumped at Windows NT 4.0. But I was savvy enough to know how to select/handle my hardware, and how to tweak software to run under it.

It rewarded me with greater stability and reliability. But I wouldn't have recommended it to the average user on the street until WIndows 2000 SP6.

On its release, I didn't like Windows XP's crayola-inspired interface tweaks, or paying for what was effectively Windows 2000 Service Pack 7. But with hindsight, Windows XP was the version of Windows we'd finally wanted - a great blend of the plug & play and software compatibility of Windows 9x, and all the stability of Windows NT/2000.

And by then, RAM was so cheap (by comparison) that it really wasn't an issue. :-)


Something's going on with Google Reader but nobody knows what

Philip Storry
Thumb Up

Re: NewsBlur - a Better FOSS RSS Reader.

Less fussed about it being open source, but it has been a very pleasant experience.

The training was a really nice trick. I didn't bother at first, but once I did I found the Focus Mode great for grabbing the important things whilst on the train to work, when time can be limited.


Apple loses 'Most Valuable Company' honor to ExxonMobil

Philip Storry

Re: @Nya

Good points, but I would like to add more detail.

You're quite right that Apple have rarely truly innovated. Most of their innovations have been done by someone else before.

Apple's true advantage lay in two areas. The first was in attention to detail and a strong direction. Steve Jobs, once involved in a project, dominated it. Don't want Steve's idea of an email client? Tough. That's all Apple will give you. But it was, admittedly, above average. And that was enough.

Their second advantage lies in two distinct but related areas - marketing and journalists. Apple have great marketing, and that helps. But many journalists aren't actually technical - they're writers who are merely ten percent more technical than the average person. Therefore they use Macs, because they're prevalent in the industry (due to an early GUI and availability of DTP software) and are personal users. Apple benefits from a very friendly Press.

So you're right that Apple's innovation was, in every case, not actually so. From MP3 players to capacitive screens to multi-touch, Apple has been as innovative as a block of granite. But they know how to do a demo, and their three-ring circus with Jobs as ringmaster was certainly good copy.

Apple are not dumb. They knew the iPod would be cannibalised by phones - remember the iTunes phone they did with Motorola before the iPhone? They have a good grasp of the market, and have proven themselves to be adept at pre-empting their competitors by entering the market early - witness phones and tablets.

Their weakness is in their uncritical belief in their own bullshit. There is no reason to have a tablet smaller than 10" - until eBook readers primed the market, and Google/Asus stormed it with the 7" Nexus. And Apple had to ship a smaller iPad.

There is no reason to have a larger phone, as your thumb can't reach that far. Until the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Note 2 sold like hot cakes, and Apple had to put a larger screen on their next iPhone.

Journalists are very happy today to forget that we had Apps on a Palm/Handspring Treo or Windows Mobile devices almost a decade ago, or that the original iPhone was web apps only despite not being 3G... But Apple's packaging and marketing make up for both history and shortcomings.

No one thing Apple has done has been truly innovative or ground-breaking. But they can more than make up for that with positive press coverage from poor "technology" journalists.

Their big problem now is that they charge more as a luxury brand, yet deliver less due to their obsessive control. Their competitors aren't necessarily better, but are at least both cheaper and more flexible.

Except even the most technologically illiterate journalists can't help but notice Apple losing their lead now.

Apple are in the a corner - give up control and risk loss of profits and bad publicity, or carry on and hope to work on high margins as a luxury brand. I suspect they will continue as a luxury brand for as long as they can, before moving slowly back to obscurity. They certainly show few signs of wanting to give up control, being fanatical about both what their devices can do and what they will allow themselves to take 30% of in their stores...


Sysadmins! There's no shame in using a mouse to delete files

Philip Storry

Re: Remote Control

Kind of.

Yes, PowerShell can connect to a remote machine and yes you can administer it.

But have you tried it for anything but Windows stuff? For example, Exchange Server? It's not very smooth. If I SSH to a Linux/BSD based MTA, I'm fine - every tool that's installed on that box is now available to me. If I run them, because I'm actually running on the remote machine, there are no issues. It all just happens over port 22, which is basically an encrypted text pipe. (I simplify, but not by much.)

If I connect to an Exchange Server via PowerShell, I need a port 80 connection with which to fetch the special PowerShell tools that Exchange needs. I then have to create a new session on that machine, and import that session into my current session.

(See http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd297932.aspx for details.)

It's the same for SQL Server and other Microsoft server software.

You could view this as a security boon, albeit security by interface obfuscation. Personally, I view it as a bloody stupid way to work. The *NIX method is both more seamless and intuitive. PowerShell still has some way to really rival it.

Philip Storry

I fall more towards the CLI camp

GUIs are nice, but they change. Because CLIs are often scripted, they become an API, and therefore don't change much over the years.

A CLI is also, perversely, easier to document - documenting a process for a GUI often results in 20 pages of screenshots, with no real detail about what you're actually DOING. Whereas a CLI document is often much shorter, so people feel they should pad out the document with a little explanation...

Sometimes, a GUI is superior - as others have pointed out, some selections can be hard to do with CLIs. Although if we had tools for the CLI like 4DOS/4NT/Take Command's SELECT, we'd be laughing there too.

What I really wish is that each played to their strangths more. I've seen too many GUIs that should have had some decent reporting or status monitoring, but were instead just bunches of buttons and checkboxes.

Conversely, I've seen CLI administered programs that were pretty poor, with minimal scripting (required input during the program) and more of an "edit the config file" attitude than actually providing a tool to make the change.

There is no panacea. Which is lucky, as it keeps us all employed...