* Posts by Peter Gathercole

2953 posts • joined 15 Jun 2007

Shuttleworth on Ubuntu: It ain't about the money

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Linux

Free OS does not prevent paid-for software

Just because the OS is free, this does not mean that a software house cannot charge for its wares that run on that OS.

The various public licenses have clauses that state that you cannot incorporate free code in charged for software, but they normally also allow you to compile against libraries from systems, and also to use the command sets in software.

So, if you have an idea which can result in a software package, it is perfectly possible to charge for that software. You don't have to contribute it back to the Open Community unless you have taken GPL or similar code and incorporated it into your package (and some of the licenses also allow a degree of that). But you can use GCC, Perl, PHP etc. to create the software including the libraries. I have wanted a HMRC certified small business payroll for Linux for ages, and would be prepared to pay the same for a Linux package as I would for a Windows package.

It is only where there is an already available good free package that you would have difficulty in selling your software. If you can sell a good DVD creation or audio editing package on Windows, you can do the same on Linux. Where is the difference? It is only people who do not understand the licensing model who think everything on Linux has to be provided free. Has the availability of Audacity on Windows stopped people selling audio editors on Windows? No,

I would agree that the proliferation of packaging tools is a problem, but you should really treat each distro as a separate OS, at least until a common packaging tool is agreed on. Until that time I will continue making the suggestion that Ubuntu is as good a candidate for the dominant distro as any.

Windows 7 early promise: Passes the Vista test

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@AC re. NT and USB

I think that you will find that NT predates Win95 by some years (even NT4 was about the same time as Win95, so predates OSR2).

Do you remember USB on Win95OSR2? Yes USB was in the OS, but you had to load 'drivers' for each device (it did not understand device families, so needed the USB ID for the device to be added), so plugging in a new memory stick or printer required you to put the driver disk in before you could use it.

I added USB support using vendor supplied OS extensions to NT4 on both Compaq and Dell PCs. Was not complex, and worked at least as well as in Win95OSR2.

Servers take dive in IBM's third quarter

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Unhappy

@AC - WTF?

In case you had not noticed, consolidation in the services and hardware business has been going on for the last 30 years. Ever wondered where Tandem, Compaq, Digital Equipment Corp., Pyramid, Data General, ICL, Amdahl, Sequent, Nixdorf, NCR, Honeywell, MIPS (I could go on, the hardware market only really has three or four major players in the non-PC space). All of these have been subsumed by larger companies.

If you think that this has made it easier for startups, then you have a distorted view of the hardware market. Study what has happened to Transmeta or Inmos, who were new companies built around innovative products.

What now happens is that a good startup produces a good product, fails to get capitalized to exploit the product properly, and promptly gets bought by the larger players.

Just wait for IBM, AT&T, and Microsoft to start stifling new startups by leveraging their patent portfolio. It will be nearly impossible for innovators to even get started.

All that the financial mayhem will do is shake the market out even more.

The same will happen in the software market. Just how many companies have been bought by Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAGE, Computer Associates (spit), Google, Symantec et. al. because they are competitors or have products that are genuinely new.

I agree that nobody is producing good software for SMEs at the moment, but that will not change, it will just get more difficult to start. There are just too few people prepared to venture money at the moment.

I will state an interest here. I have been an IBMer for seven years (although I missed the blue blood transfusion - I kept to my UNIX roots), and currently get a lot of my work on IBM kit. IBM are not perfect, their software is patchy, rushed to market, and the quality has gone down in recent years, but you are not going to get government agencies, Blue chip companies or major utilities buying software from a startup. Their buying policy will not allow purchases unless companies have a history and a good credit rating. Sad, but true.

All that rationalization will do is to remove choice that will not been replaced. Besides, IBM is reporting GOOD figures (growth is growth), and is extremely unlikely to go under, as they are not exposed to the credit market, being cash rich! Far more likely is that Sun will go. IBM or Microsoft could buy Sun out with the change in their pockets, especially if their stock crashes.

I would hate the hardware market to be IBM, HP and the PC manufacturers. We need competition, and currently only large players can compete.

Renault looks to wee-hued windows to cut car power draw

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
IT Angle

@Horse loving AC

You miss out the rest-stops, maintenance (vet and farrier) bills, expensive garaging, requirement for fuel even when not in use, and basic stubborness whenever its advanced autopilot decides that it does not like fluttering plastic bags, flashing lights or even drain covers.

Also, are you going to invent the waste collection services, because I believe that before the advent of the car, major cities would be inundated with piles of horse sh*t all over the place.

Thunderbird 3 release has wings clipped

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Coat

Thunderbird 3, wings?

Come on. Everybody knows that Thunderbird 3, being a space ship (and orange!), had no wings, just three atomic powered motors.

It's got Fanderson written on the back. Thanks.

Kentucky commandeers world's most popular gambling sites

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Coat

.com madness

The issue here is that the responsible agency for the .com top level domain, as well as the registrars for sub domains are in US legal juristiction. This allows a US judge to issue binding rulings.

There ain't no way this could happen to a .uk or a .ru site.

I move that we make the US adhere to the rules that the rest of the world work by, and give them a .us domain (does it exist already - must check), and make .com a worldwide domain, under the control of the UN or some such organisation.

Oh, and by the way, make it so .co.uk is actually limited to registered UK companies (.co == companies, gettit), and have a .pers.uk, or some other non-business oriented domain for non-corporate entities (are you listening, Nominet).

Still, probably too late now, especially as all of the root DNS servers are under US control as well.

Anybody fancy setting up a new independent set of breakaway domains for a new Internet? I'm sure that it could be done as long as you don't need them to be registered with ICANN. I guess that the main problem would be getting the IP addresses for your new root DNS servers. Ho hum. Maybe when IP6 becomes widespread.

Oh, it's (ironicly) the US flight jacket style coat at the back on the right. Yes, the one with the torn pockets.

Sun's solar wind hits 50-year low

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

@Terrence Bayrock

Completely agree with your last sentence. I've been saying the same for ages.

Electric Mini spied in Munich

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Manufacturing costs

I admit I have not studied the overall manufacturing costs, but I'm sure that I have read in a reliable source that the supply of high-energy light metal elements, particularly lithium on this planet is severely limited. And because of their properties (they are very reactive), they tend to be difficult to mine and refine, all of which takes energy.

It is OK to use the current prices at todays demand level, but if we are to have a battery powered transport system, I suspect that the demand for these metals, particularly lithium, will easily outstrip supply. Prices will jump, and the whole technology may become too expensive.

Currently, it is wasteful that battery manufacturers are making disposable lithium AA sized batteries (just look at the supermarket battery section). Because of it's chemistry, lithium is likely to become a much more important across the whole range of manufacturing. We must introduce a lithium recovery programme in the waste stream, and educate users not to throw them in the domestic waste.

BTW. Current LiPoly. batteries have a duty cycle of about 1000 discharge-charge cycles. This means that keeping a car used daily on the road will require the batteries to be replaced after 3 years, with progressivly poorer performance at the end of that time, like your Laptop (current charging efficiency quotes 99.8% for LiPoly. batteries, 0.998^1000=0.135=13.5% of original capacity at the end-of-life of the battery). Good news for the car manufacturers, bad news for residual car values. How does that factor in to the overall cost-of-ownership for an electric vehicle?

Of course, we could just wait until someone invents a better battery technology, but a chemical battery is unlikely to provide that much more energy than is possible using lithium without actually being dangerous (it's chemistry, stupid). I wish Shipstones and micro-pile fusion generators were not science fiction.

HP loads PC with nonexistent web browser

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Coat

Sound familier to UNIXers?

Hey, guess what. HP have just re-invented the chrooted environment.

We've been doing this in UNIX land for 30+ years.

Nothing is really new nowadays. Especially my coat!

BOFH: Lock and reload

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Coat

@AC

I was only wondering...

And yes, I have managed routers and terminal servers, but not for about 15 years! And even then, it was mostly telnet and latterly SSH. This is why I asked.

I probably have as much RS232 terminal experience as anybody, having been in tech. support for 25+ years, and having been SME on terminals whereever I was for much of that time.

I even wrote a complete (and I mean complete, every function coded as per the DEC documentation) VT52 emulation and a TEK4010/4014 emulation for the Beeb (did not do a VT100, as commercial products like Computer Concepts Communicator and Acorn Termulator came along that did a reasonable, although not perfect job).

Yes, Newbury, DEC VTxxx (40 through 420 including REGIS graphics), Wyse 50 and 60, HP2394, IBM 3151 (spit, bloody compatibillity [or lack thereof] cartridges), 3152, 3153, Beehives, TTY43, IBM Golfball Selectric typewriter conversions, Tektronix 4010-4125, AT&T 5412, 5620 BLIT and 630s, plus a huge number of compatible and near compatible terminals that I can not even remember. I could go through the BSD Termcap source and tick off having used or seen a significant number of the terminals listed therein!

And... I am still intrigued as to whether people still use that RS232 port on the back of the router.

Mine has the 1980 copy of the DEC Terminal hanbook falling apart in the pocket.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Coat

Does anybody still use...

...rs232 terminals, or even TTY emulators, to manage routers? Surely, SNMP, bespoke applications and web-based access rule nowadays. Can you even buy asynchroneus terminals anymore?

Oh well, must be the recycled stuff from the bin that they managed to re-use and sell back again.

I need my coat, it's raining here!

Open source release takes Linux rootkits mainstream

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Coat

Virtualization vulnerabillity

The extra features that AMD and Intel have added to the processor set include a new privilege mode on the processor, and some extra commands to enter this mode, and some commands that will only run in this mode.

It is like the normal/supervisor mode that most CPU's for multi-user OS's have implemented for over 40 years (think IBM 370, DEC PDP/11). It has just added an extra level ABOVE the operating system, together with a super-supervisor mode, which should normally be occupied by a Hypervisor (which treats OS images in the same way that an OS treats processes). The concept is quite simple to visualise if you think of the virtualised OS images, or LPARs, or whatever you want to call them as processes, and the Hypervisor as the OS.

There is supposed to be guarded access to this space, both at a memory level, and at program level. An OS is supposed to be able to request a service from the hypervisor, which can then vet the request and action it (or not). The OS making the request should NEVER be able to inject code into this space, and also should not be able to write into the memory in this space.

The sort of things that can be performed in this space include memory mapping to the OS memory space, scheduling of OS images, and inter-OS communication (used for virtual network and storage devices). Often, the hypervisor can 'look into' the memory space of a virtualized OS, and can monitor all traffic being sent between OS images. Scary, really.

If it is the case that an code in an OS, or even worse, and unprivileged process within an OS can compromise this divide, then there must be a serious design flaw in the CPU archetecture, or possibly a problem in the default state after IPL. This, in my view, shoud be a reason to avoid using this technology until it is fixed.

BTW, the earliest example of a hardware based virtualization system I came across was probably Amdahl's mainframe Multiple Domain Feature (MDF), which I used first in about 1985, although there were rumours of IBM doing a hardware version of it's normally software based VM earlier than this. The System/370 Advanced Function archetecture had hardware assists to allow VM to work better, include memory keying. IBM's software VM system first appeared in 1972.

Nothing is ever really new nowadays.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Linux

Runas

Actually, running a command using runas does not lead to the same level of access as running as an admin account. I don't know the full details, or how it differs, but I have had two occassions (acting as the defacto Windows sysadmin for my family at home) when a command would not run correctly when run with runas, but did when the same admin user was actually logged in.

I think it has something to do with the inheretance of the privilege by processes forked from the top level process, but it gave me a lot of grief until I noticed it.

In addition, things like auto-installers for devices probably won't work like this until you reverse engineer the autostart process on the install disk for a device. I would hope that the service that notices new hardware does not run with Administrative rights, otherwise you could ownz any Windows box with a rooted device install CD. Not good.

@Tom. OK you MD5sum the kernel, and all the kernel modules, and all the runtime bound libraries, and all the commands that you might expect root to run. Where do you store the expected sums? On the system? Off the system? And how about the MD5sum binary. Is that inviolate? Things like Tripwire and AIX's TCB have been doing this for years, but honestly, once you start thinking about it, you end up with recursive arguments, unless you have some trusted runtime environment like that proposed by Nigel.

To all Windows users. Have you actually checked to see how much of your C drive is actually writable by ordinary users? Do you even know how to check on XP home, or even know what the ACLs mean? Whereever I have seen Windows locked down hard, I have also found things like Word not being able to exit, because it thinks it has to write some information to a template or somewhere you don't have access to. I can't quote specific examples, but It's happend to me.

You might be surprised to find out how easy it is as even a normal user to change .dll files that are used by other commands.

I'm sure later versions of Windows are better, but why has it taken so long?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Linux

@Gordon Fecyk

I'm not saying it can't happen. It is possible to engineer root access to a Linux or UNIX system that is managed remotely as long as there is a single vulnerabillity, even a non-root one. BUT, using root as infrequently as possible rather than having admin rights all the time (typical Widows user) must be more secure, even if it is only by degree.

All the time you have the concept of escalated privileged to perform some function, you have the posibillity of this being abused. This will NEVER completely go away, regardless of the OS, until computers are so locked down that you cannot change anything. So, make it so that you use the escalated privilege as little as possible. No version of Windows I have come across has taken this line, with the result that too many people HAVE to run as admin for their apps to even work correctly.

So even though this development is worrying, I am still slightly smug, but cautiously so, and with some respect for the skill of the people writing the rootkits. They are MUCH cleverer than most of us who mearly comment on the effects of their work. Pity about the script kiddies, however. But you cannot control information the way you can a physical object. Once it's out in the wild, its out, whether by design (Open Source) or by accident (leak). The vector makes no real difference.

Acorn alumni to toast tech pioneer's 30th anniversary

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Coat

@Thomas

Not sure about your comment about the paged ROM area being faster.

The Beeb did use fast (for it's time) RAM, but I'm fairly certain that the ROM area was slowed down to 1MHz, while the processor clock was 2MHz (although this may only have been the early systems with the OS and Basic in EEPROM). The speed was required for the RAM, because the CPU and Display ULA had interleved access to the memory, so that both the display hardware and the processor could access the memory at (their) full speed without slowing down the other.

Where the memory was improved was by bank-switch the language ROM (8000-BFFF hex), and OS ROM (C000-FFFF) with the dispay. Acorn did this with the BBC B+, and Master 128 with the Shadow screen, but it introduced compatibillity problems with programs that did not use the OS routines for writing to the display. I think that Acorn copied the idea from either a Solidisk or Watford hardware add-on to the original Beeb.

But these systems never really reached the same popularity level as the original BBC B. Probably, it's time had just come. I still think that there needs to be an education system as accessible as the Beeb for our schools. PCs just do not engage the same degree of enthusiasm in kids or teachers.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Coat

One of my favorite subjects

Beeb.

Fast, flexible, fantastic.

Was blown away by an 8 bit micro doing 3-D hidden line removal wireframe graphics close enough to real-time to be useable for a game (Elite).

Not only a good teaching machine, but well made, with a consistent OS, and brilliantly documented. Modular, vectored OS calls, overlayed sideways ROMs. The way all home PCs should have bee made.

The only real criticism was that it had too little memory. When using mode 0-4, 20K of the 32K was used for the screen, with 3.5K used for various stacks, buffers, and character maps when using the Cassette fileing system, and an extra 2.75K used if using the Acorn disk filing system (DFS). Woe betide you if you also had Econet (NFS - though not the Sun offering), which took another 1K. Left you with about 5K for your program. Soon learned to turn off the fileing systems that were not in use.

And if you used ADFS, you lost even more. On a normal Beeb, you only really did this if you were running an Econet II fileserver, and you needed a 6502 second processor for that (yes, the Beeb could be networked even before it was popular to do so).

Terms to trigger nostalga. PAGE, RAMTOP, OSCLI, VDU, Fred, Jim, Shelia, OS 0.9E, OS 1.2, BREAK, Escape, Tube, 1MHz bus, Ferranti ULA, Teletext Graphics, Attacker, Snapper, Panic Attack, VIEW, and...

"A plastic flower in a Grecian Urn, Goodbye Peter, now press RETURN"

'Nuff said.

CERT: Linux servers under 'Phalanx' attack

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Linux

rootkits

One thing that needs re-enforcing is that unless you have a security hole that allows a non-privileged user across the security divide, it is just NOT POSSIBLE to install a rootkit on a properly run Linux system. Rootkits, by their very nature, need to alter/add code to the kernel, libraries or modules that are used to run the system. And this needs root permissions. This is why it is very important to make sure that you do AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE as root on a UNIX-like OS.

There are a number of well known ways to try to subvert a user currently logged on as root, but a reasonably savy sysadmin should be able to avoid these (you know, don't browse the internet as root, check that your path does not allow commands from the current directory, make sure that there are no executable script files with world-write, don't read mail as root, keep firm control of the permissions on directories in root's path, all the simple stuff).

If a rootkit cannot be installed, it cannot compromise your system, nor can it get access to SSH keys other than the user it is running as.

Please note that I am not saying Linux is totally secure, there have been, and will be in the future, code and design defects which could allow a system to be compromised. I firmly believe, however, that the open source model allows such things to be identified and fixed much more rapidly than a closed source model. Couple this with an effective notification and patch delivery system, and Linux just is more secure.

Contrast this to Windows, where many people by default use an account with Admin. privileges, or with the security notifications turned off? Asking for trouble as far as I can tell.

But the amazing thing is that the UNIX/Linux security and source model is decades old (I've been using UNIX for 30 years, and the Bell Labs. UNIX V6 and V7 code, and all the BSD code used to be available for inspection and modification to the academic community and others for at least that long). And Microsoft (who, in fact, have been UNIX licensees for at least 24 years - they did the original Xenix port to various architectures, before spinning off the original SCO) just don't seem to be able to learn.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Linux

There are things that can be done

Once you can get access to a system, the whole security requirements changes.

There is no system in existence that will prevent apparantly authorised users from doing some damage on a system, but the degree of damage is what is important. Where Linux benefits is from a strong divide between normal and privileged access. Sure, if your private key AND IT'S PASSPHRASE are compromised, then someone can get access as you to your system. But this is just your non-privileged account, isn't it.

Of course, if lazy admin's directly access root using SSH, or have passphraseless SSH keys, or have sudo rules that allow them to cross the security divide without further confirmation, or store both private and public keys on their boundry systems, or use the same private key throughout their whole environment, then these fools deserve to get their systems compromised.

So here are the rules.

- Use a non-privileged account for initial access any system

- Su or sudo to obtain root access, but use additional authentication steps

- Don't use passphraseless SSH keys, unless you tie down what can be run (see SSH documentation).

- If possible, use hardware based authentication to secure private keys

- Guard your private keys like your life depens on them

- Don't store private keys on systems that do not need them

- Make sure that the permissions on your .ssh directory only allow your ID to see the private keys (I know ssh does some checks, but 0600 is best on files, and 0700 is best on directories)

- Use different keys in different parts of your organisation

- Consider using passwords with SSH (with strong change and strength rules) rather than SSH keys for very critical systems (really)

- Be careful about storing your private keys on shared Windows systems, or systems that have remote users with administrator access (consider portaputty and store the keys on an encrypted USB key).

- If you are really paranoid, regularly change your private and public keys on all your access boxes (please note it is NOT enough just to change the passphrase!)

If you follow these, then even if one of your private keys is stolen, then the amount of damage can be limited. As always, you can run a potentially secure system in a non-secure way. Security is only as strong as the weakest link, and this is often the sysadmins!

Oh, and by the way, if you want to see a file that cannot be seen using a hacked ls, try "echo *", or "find /etc -print". Or maybe use filename-completion in the shell. This is UNIX (or close to it) so there is nearly always more than one way to do something

Mobile broadband: What's it for?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Stop

@John again

"BT are the only ISP who can serve my house".

You sure? Normally if BT can serve an address, they will also offer the service through BT Wholsale. This normally allows other ISPs to provide service, even though you are using BT "Last Mile" infrastructure. This is even the case if the ISP is not able to install equipment at the exchange "because of space or power restrictions".

I know that Virgin Media (spit, hold out Holy Cross for protection) used to offer no minimum period ADSL contracts, although having checked the current smallprint, it looks like they now have a 12 month minimum contract.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Thumb Down

but have noticed that...

... I sometimes forget to complete comments!

Doh.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Go

@John and others

I've been doing 3 mobile on Ubuntu (6.06 and 8.04) for about 6 months, and can confirm some of your problems, but they can be worked around.

When used with the supplied Windows software, 3 Mobile hard-codes the IP addresses of the DNS servers. If you can get the HSDPA modem set up as a managed network, hardcode the 3 DNS servers to be put in when you start the managed network, and make sure that the option to use the provided DNS servers is off. You can use Locations to condition different sets of DNS and default routes if you also use your system on other networks.

The throughput is probably being throttled by the USB TTY modules, which have an effective limit of about 60KB/S. Google for info on the hacked airprime modules and the Huawai modem. This allows reads and writes in units of more than one character at a time, and allows a higher peak rate. I'm using the ZTE modem, which is another kettle of fish, which requires re-compiling airprime to put the USB ID's in the code. Then all you need to put the right udev rules in to load the airprime module rather than the USB TTY module.

I regularly get more than 100Kb/S, but have noticed that

BBC iPlayer upgrade prompts new ISP complaints

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Linux

@Steven Raith about YouTube

Unfortunatly, a lot of an older system's resource (CPU/Memory) is taken up by the large animated looping flash adverts that YouTube now carries (ironicaly from Crucial, or maybe that is by design!) My EeePC701 used to play YouTube well, even at Higher Quality, but now stutters along. The newer releases of FireFox also appears to place a load on a system with this type of advert.

If you can find or make an embedded link for the video so that the adverts do not show, slower PCs can still work quite well. Alternativly, try full screen (I know this sounds silly). Or download the videos, and watch them offline.

I am happily running Ubuntu Hardy Heron on my EeePC.

Lag log leaks - Home Office contractor loses entire prison population

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Stop

Securing data is not genetic engineering...

... sorry, rocket science is too simple now.

Here are a number of measures which SHOULD be made compulsary wherever government held information is used.

- Put a robust RFID chip as an integral part of each official USB Flash drive.

- Put Shoplifter type security (or even make it prevent operation of the turnstyles) on all exits in secure facilities.

- Do not use generic RFID tags, track specific tags (to stop someone identifying a secure USB device as the holder walks around a shoping center).

- Have Official USB flash drives tracked, and holders made responsible for their loss.

- Do not allow official flash drives to be held for extended periods.

- Have a specific process to allow tracked USB flash drives to be removed from secure sites.

- Change the USB ID on the official drives so that they do NOT appear as a generic storage device, so it becomes more difficult to read on ordinary PCs.

- Put the required driver on all systems required to use the official stick, and have it use automatic strong encryption as the data is accessed.

- Don't allow the specific driver to be installed on non-official PCs.

- Regularly rotate the keys on the specific driver and flash drives (this can be done with the flash drives by making holders regularly check the drives in).

- Clean all data from checked in flash drives when they are checked in to prevent people from using them as a backup mechanism.

- Ban the use of personal USB flash drives (or the use of phones or watches, or whatever else provides this type of function) from secure sites as part of policy.

- Disable the USB storage device handling drivers in all systems that can access private data to prevent non-tracked USB flash drives being used (I know this is difficult, but it should not be impossible, even if it means you have to put PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports back into PCs).

- Enforce the already existing GSI Security requirements for all government held data.

I'm not saying that this will make our data totally secure, but it would be a step in the right direction. It would prevent casual examination of misplaced devices. It would not stop a concerted attempt to steal data, but what would.

Very little of this is particularly complex or expensive, as most of the barrier security and procedures already exist in secure government locations.

BTW. This counts as Prior Art in the unkilely event that I am the first person to put all of these ideas together.

Scientists unravel galactic spaghetti monster

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Alien

@vincent himpe

The being was the Great Green Arklseizure, you blasphemer. All of you unbelievers bow down and wait for the coming of the Great White Handkerchief!

Acer Aspire 8920G 18.4in laptop

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Flame

Who in the world...

... wants a 'laptop' weighing 4.1Kg. Surely it defeats the object of being portable.

If watching Blue-Ray is your primary requirement for a laptop then this may be the device for you, but I'd book for the body-building course now.

Royal Navy plans world's first running-jump jet

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Go

Fly-by

Having recently watched the Sailor episode where the hapless Bucaneer pilot took about 10 attempts to land on the Audacious class Ark Royal (the one scrapped in the early eighties), it is clear that deck landings are always fraught with problems.

I don't see why a F35B would not be able to just go to full thrust, possibly bounce, and get back up to flying speed before running out of deck. The ski jump will not get in the way (at least in the CTOL design of CVF), because the aircraft will be landing on the angled part of the flight desk, and this will always have to be clear for a non-vertical landing.

UK.gov loses 29 million personal records

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Stop

@THAD

I take it you don't work in IT then.

If you do, then I hope you don't have a site disaster, because you will lose (really lose, not 'share') all of the data that should have been backed up OFFSITE.

It's all a matter of control and process rather than location.

National DNA database grows on the genes of the innocent

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Unhappy

Can a DNA DB be kept safe

Do you think that whatever agency keeps the DB can prevent leaks, because I'm sure that Insurance companies, amongst others, would love to be able to screen health insurance applications against illnesses with a genetic component.

Also, think what scandals a complete paternity map of the UK population might show! What would the tabloids pay for such information.

Windfall taxing big oil: how to make the gas crisis worse

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Thumb Down

Profits

I agree about the high taxes that the energy companies pay, but when demand causes the price to rise, who actually ends up with the extra money?

Obviously, everyone who takes a percentage cut will take a slice (including the taxman), but has the energy become more expensive to produce as a result of the extra demand? Not if they offset their own fuel costs. Are the wage bills immediatly higher? No. Are the extraction licence fees more expensive? Not immediatly.

I conclude, then, as a result of the high demand, the energy companies do get a windfall, as most of the extra money goes to them. This can only be a benefit to their bottom line. But should they be taxed higher? Probably not, as the taxman already gets a cut of the sale of the energy, and THEN takes a cut of the over-all profits in corporation tax. So the governments win without an extra windfall tax.

It's really just governments trying to fill the gaping holes in their bugets caused by their policies, or trying to score votes.

Dell thinks young and colorful with business notebook refresh

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Thumb Down

Thanks Mike and Chris

I think I can understand programming having learned to program on 80x25 ASCII terminals. After this anything seems like a luxury.

On the keyboard front, as I look at my Thinkpad T30 (probably one of the best laptop keyboards around), which admittidly does not have a numeric pad, the 15.1" diagonal 4x3 screen allows sufficient width for most of the keys to be full-sized, and I'm used to the way that IBM place the cursor and other extra keys (which is actually reasonably close to a fullsize keyboard). This results in a laptop which is only marginally larger than an A4 pad.

Most of my time is spent writing documentation, and I like to see a whole A4 page at a time. This is why vertical size is important to me. I also use multiple terminal sessions for sysadmin, and can choose various font sizes to get 2 or 4 windows on a 4x3 screen at a res of 1024x760 without having to resort to a magnifying glass. I'm sure I could cope with a 1440x900 (more vertical space than my 1024x768), but I would prefer a 1440x1050 (a real Thinkpad resolution) with the screen filling the lid. Even more pixels!

Still not convinced.

Of course, maybe the extra horizontal space is actually required for the extra bumph Microsoft have put in Aero!

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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Screen aspect ratio

Can someone please explain why the computer industry is so keen on widescreen laptops. The only real reason I can see is to watch DVD's, but as the horizontal resolution of DVD's is a maximum of 720 pixels, I can cope with only using the middle two thirds of my existing 4x3 screen to watch them.

I cannot for the life of me see why you would want either a bulkier laptop, fewer vertical pixels, or smaller pixels for a business laptop that you carry with you all the time.

If anything, I would like *more* vertical pixels. Please, someone, enlighten me, because I'm mightly pissed off every time I wander anywhere that is selling laptops now.

16-card GPU bangs-per-buck mega shoot out

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Boffin

45 degrees?

No, not necessarily 45 degrees. Do a least square regression (or similar), and then all of the cards below the line show better than the average, and those above are worse. The further a card is from the line, the more extreme the perforance vs. price is from the 'average'. But the line could be any angle, depending on the scales you choose.

Secret of invisibility unravelled by US researchers

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Boffin

See and be seen.

Come on. I don't think that they have said that it is invisible in all directions. If you could make it so light from *behind* gets bent around to the front but light from in front gets absorbed totally (i.e. no reflections) and you should be able to see in front, and not be seen from the front. Of course this would not be full invisibillity (a la thermoptic camoflage to all of us GITS fans).

Anyway, if you bent 75% of the light, and prevented the reflection of the other 25% (by absorbing it, which could be in your eyes), you probably would be able to see well enough, and would be fairly well hidden (there would still be a 'dull' spot). The problem would be liniarity, making sure that the diverted light rays followed the same path they would if they were not diverted. And even then, there would probably be a detectable phase shift of the light due to the longer path!

Full invisibillity is still Sci-Fi, and will be for some time.

BT slams bandwidth brakes on all subscribers

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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BT retail or wholesale

It's funny. I am a Virgin Media ADSL customer. The service comes via BT wholesale. What is being described is exactly the situation I see, and I have been blaming on Virgin. If BT are applying this policy to their wholesale customers (i.e. you buy your ADSL service from another ISP, but the ADSL link to your local exchange is run by BT), then I have been unjustly accusing Virgin. At almost presicely 23:00, the overall download speed jumps up from around 50-60KB/s (as measured by my firewall traffic monitors) to 200-600KB/s (and sometimes faster). I would suggest that it was people going to bed if it were not for the abrupt change at such an obvious time. And I see a progressive slowdown in the morning as well.

My house's traffic (I don't call it mine, because we are a switched on-house of six internet users, with more than one computer/network device per household member) consists of Steam, WoW, Fantasy Star Unlimited (and other) games, Wii and DS internet connected games, Skype, Mail, torrents (Linux distros - honest), tunneled services through SSH (inbound and outbound including SMB file access and printing), BBC iPlayer, Sky Anytime, YouTube and other flash video sites, Internet radio, system updates (Ubuntu, Mac, and Windows), system updates for the purposes of my business (AIX and related fixes from IBM fix central), VPN access to my clients systems, and oh, I nearly forgot, some web-browsing.

So the vast majority of my traffic will be legal and justified (I can't always keep track of exactly what everyone is doing) use and much of it will NOT be done over port 80. I suspect that many people actually have far more non-port 80 traffic than they think. So if they are shaping all my traffic because od my torrent downloads, I think I have a right to be upset.

Official: Eee PC range to expand

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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eeePC 701

I bought my 701 on the day it became available, and I have used it nearly every day since to suppliment my IBM Thinkpad, for a whole host of different things.

For me, the primary thing is the size. It is still so small compared to almost everything on the market. I don't think I would have bought it if it was larger, or if it were more expensive.

I have dumped Xandros, however, as I keep getting the system in a state where it won't boot because there is a strange problem with the UnionFS commiting transient files to the read-only copy so that you cannot recover the disk space. I'm sure that there must be a config problem there somewhere.

I cannot believe that larger/more expensive models will actually have the same WOW factor of the original, and that is what sold it.

Microsoft to kill Windows with 'web-centric' Midori?

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Coat

@Mitch Russell

Not sure that it was the network bandwidth that killed diskless workstations from Sun, IBM, Apollo, Whitechapple et. al. After all, you normally only boot a system once every day (paging excepted).

The reason why diskless was appealing was that disk prices then were high. I remember being quoted over £500 to add a 60MB disk to a Sun 3/50. When it became cheap to put a disk into a diskless system, all the cost advantages went away, and you were left with all the bandwidth costs and no advantages. Add to that the increasing concern about the security of NFS, and suddenly things began to look scary.

As a sysadmin, however, the fact that you had total control of a diskless system (like implementing patches once for all your diskless clients) was very attractive. And it gave you a really good reason to say No! to users wanting root access to the system on their desk. Also, remember that all the systems looked EXACTLY THE SAME, so if a desktop system blew up, you told the user to switch desks, or dropped another one on the desk, and the user would not know the difference. Streets ahead of Roaming Profiles.

I'm really a little sad that no-one has resurrected the idea using a virtualisation technology, although I believe that it fits the UNIX model better than MS's current offerings.

I'm sure that you could have a kernel stored in flash that would check on boot to see whether it needed to update itself, and then attach all it's resources from LOCAL servers. Sounds like an interesting Linux based research project, although I'm sure that some of the old X-Terminals used to do something similar.

Mine is looking verry tattered after having been worn for so long!

Lateral thought saves sizzling server

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Thumb Up

Random number generator

Come on all of you. All you need is a Bambleweenie 57 sub-meson brain attached to an atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong brownian motion producer, say, a really hot cup of tea! (RIP Douglas)

I had an expererience with an educational computer-controlled robot arm that used IR sensors to make optical shaft encoders for the motors (it was a really good design of arm that did not use stepper motors as was the rage at the time, but proper electric motors, so was much faster and more impressive, and with six seperate independent movements). It worked really well, but unfortunately, the IR emmitter/detectors were covered in translucent plastic, which when used in direct sunlight caused ALL of the active motors to run to the end-stops of the respective movement. The whole arm contorted, and dumped itself off the bench, and led to red faces and a difficult-to-justify repair bill!.

Microsoft slams 'sensationalist' Vista analysis

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

What I want to know...

... is how many of the machines that were surveyed are older than 18 months.

Most businesses will not upgrade the OS on an existing PC. It makes no sense for two reasons, one being that the system is already partway through it's lifetime (and asset depreciation), so why spend new money to replace the OS when the existing OS still works, and the other being that the machine will probably be less productive with Vista than it is currently with XP. Add to this the fact that buying a new system means it comes automatically with Vista, and may well be cheaper in real terms than the system it replaces, and you will realise that very few businesses will do anything other than moving to Vista when they replace the PC.

So the real question should be how many of the business systems deployed since Vista hit the market are still running XP. Anybody any idea?

How government will save you from P2P deviance

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Black Helicopters

@ all the ACs

There really ARE legal P2P uses. Linux Distro's being the one I use, but I'm sure that one of the major IT manufacturers proposed a P2P method to distribute fixes, and the BBC dabbled with the original iPlayer.

But for all you anonymous 'experts' out there, how do you 'ban' P2P? You can stop Grockster, Kazaa, eDonkey, Overnet, Torrent, limewire (does it still exist!) along with all the *CURRENT* P2P applications, but hey, TCP/IP, which the net runs on, allows point-to-point datastream connections from two machines. All you have to do is come up with another P2P protocol which has not been seen yet, and you have got around the filter. Or is there a magic piece of technology that I don't know about that can look at a random data packet and go "Ha, this is part of a P2P stream. Quash".

And if the P2P designers really wanted to be clever, it would be possible to devise a UDP/IP protocol using stateless connections, with out-of-order packets routed via multiple hosts using different ports, possibly with each packet encoded differently. Block that!

It becomes a technology war, where the side with the largest number and cleverist deep-hackers winning. I would place my money with the P2P designers, quite honestly, as these people work without financial reward (the other side needs salaried people). And if it is decided that such applications become illegal to write, then you end up with a locked down Internet, where a new technology like the World-Wide-Web (as it was when it was new) can never happen again. I think people forget what the Internet was like using ftp, Archie and Gofer. There *will* be new killer apps that will change the Internet overnight that we cannot yet imagine.

I'm sure Microsoft, Google et. al. would love it if they get given the decision making power to decide what we can run on the Internet by Governments. Think of the revenue generating power that they would be given.

And the AC who believe that they can be filtered at source just does not understand about how P2P and computers in general work. What constitutes the start of a transmission, if you are getting parts of the work from a dozen different P2P systems around the Internet? P2P is NOT a client-server model (the clue is in the name Peer-to-Peer).

Goodby freedom. Stop the planet, I want to get off.

Intel Classmate PC lands in UK for £239

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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@matt

You obviously have never watched an effective teacher teach a class using computers, even if you appear to be in education.

It starts up with instructions about how to start the app read from a crib sheet (or often the teacher or teaching assistant setting the programs up before the class starts), and then continues with using the app, which is probably OS agnostic. What use is detailed Windows knowlege in this type of class?

In the UNIX/Linux world, it is possble to set up specific user accounts that just launch the required application. So the instructions become "At the login prompt, type the name of the application, and watch it launch". No specific user ID's per child, you can lock the ID down so that even if the kids find a way to break out, they can do no damage, and the teachers DO NOT NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE SPECIFICS OF THE COMPUTER.

Your points about supportabillity only count if your support staff are only trained in Windows. Why should they not learn about Linux. It's not like your average teacher who uses Windows XP Home or Vista Basic at home is likely to be able to support a network of Windows systems without additional training. And unlike your average IT professional, they don't CARE about whether it is Windows or not, just that it works like the manual and procedures say it should. They are TEACHERS for goodness sake!

It is possible to lock Linux down so that it will never change until some deliberate action changes it. Try doing that on XP, or even Vista where some programs or other will require Admin rights, and this is likely to open vectors for system corruption in the classroom. If you are really that concerned, you can effectivly make your Linux PC a thin client, or even both thin and fat, determined by what user you login as.

And as for applications, UNIX/Linux programs work from network shares much better than Windows ones, and have done since Sun said that "The network IS the system" in the 1980's. There are LOTS of people who understand how to write applications for UNIX-like OS's that can pick up all of their code and configs from relative or non-specific paths, making the way that the shares and mounts are accessed less important. This means that the apps DO NOT EVEN HAVE TO BE INSTALLED ON THE PC's. Just mount the share or remote filesystem read-only during system boot, and go.

And the best teaching software is bespoke, or at least written specifically to support the subject. The BBC micro, rest it's silicone chips, had huge amounts of subject led programs available, often written by the very people who used it. When schools started installing IBM compatibles, many, many teachers found that there were too few subject lead programs available, and the PC was too complex and had too few development tools available to allow the teachers themselves to write the simple but specific programs they needed. This may have changed now, but there was a generation of teachers who cut their teeth on BEEBs but felt that the new computers in their school were in-accessible or of limited use for their subjects.

I've seen too much "Computer" teaching ending up being teaching particular packages, often Windows ones. Computers SHOULD be used as a tool to support other subjects, not as an end to themselves, except in ICT classes. And these should teach more about HOW computers work, rather than just how to use them.

I've now left the education field, but I have three children in various levels of education, and nothing much seems to have changed since I was there. I have heard of schools who have embraced Open Systems very sucessfully, and only use Windows for a few packages that there are no representative alternatives available, but in most schools, the Windows momentum is difficult to deflect.

World fails to end as Palm ships Treo smartphone with Wi-Fi

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Alert

Where's the PalmOS version?

Call me a bigot, but I won't buy anything for myself running any type of MS Windows unless I have no option. And I'll think long and hard about it even then.

Roll on the Linux version with a PalmOS frontend and a Dragonball or ARM emulator, but hurry, my 650 is beginning to go west.

IBM's eight-core Power7 chip to clock in at 4.0GHz

Peter Gathercole Silver badge

Elite?

Don't know how many people remember Elite on the 32K BBC B, but it was a revelation when it first came out. Realtime hidden line removal on an 8-bit micro running at 2MHz with not a GPU in sight! When I first saw it I was amazed, as I had been playing around on the BEEB in assembler to do 3-D wireframe, and I could only get simple objects (cubes mainly and other regular objects) without hidden line removal running at 2-3 frames a second. But I think that the main problem was that I was using the OS linedrawing primatives, whereas Elite used a quick and very dirty algorithm.

I would love to know how they did the hidden line stuff so fast on a limited system. They wern't even using colour switching to hide the drawing (Elite ran split screen, with the top 3/4 running effectivly in mode 4 [actually a hybrid mode 3] 1 bit per pixel == 2 colours, and the bottom running in mode 5 2 bits per pixel == 4 colours) except when you were using a 6502 second processor, when it ran in mode 1 all the time. Really used the available hardware to it's best.

This Power7 monster IBM is proposing sounds like you will need serious communication skills to get the best from it. Make the p4 and p5 stuff I am working on at the moment look a bit lame.

US retailers start pushing $20 Ubuntu

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Coat

@Gerhardt

I don't think that anything in the Ubuntu package manager will actually uninstall modules that you have built, but what it will to is update the kernel and not rebuild the modules that you have added. New kernel versions mean new modules directories which will not contain your modules. The old ones will still be there in the /lib/modules/<version> directory, and if you boot the relevent kernel (ever wondered what all those extra entries in the GRUB boot screen were), they will still work.

I do agree that this is difficult behaviour to get to grips with. I put 8.04 on my main laptop (previously running Dapper 6.06) the weekend after the full release, and have had at least 4 minor kernel upgrades since, which have meant that I have had to re-compile (or at least re-copy) the aironet module that I use for my Three 3G network dongle to speed up network access (it's patched with the USB id of the dongle).

Provided that the kernel update is a minor release (4th number of the version number) there is an extremely good chance that your module will work without re-compiling. Alternativly, you can lock the kernel and kernel modules packages so that they will not be upgraded, but this means that they will not get any patches. Fire up the synaptic package manager from the System->Administration menu, and press <F1> to get some help.

To locate where the module you want is installed, assuming you know the name of the module, then you can use "find /lib/modules -name '*mod-name*' -print" (where mod-name is the name of your module). You can then identify the version of the kernel with "cat /proc/version", and workout from this where to copy the module. Please note that this is all command line stuff, and is not a full procedure, but with the correct amount of applied thought, you should be able to work it out.

Sorry, I know that this is not a tech-assistance forum. I'll try to just keep to comment in future.

Alan Sugar leaves Amstrad

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
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AMSTRAD and VIGLEN

Sir Alan bought Viglen out when they got into financial difficulties sometime in the '90s as I recall. All of the BBC stuff was pre-Sugar, although it was the BBC stuff that made them famous. I still have a working 40/80 switchable double sided drive that I bought back in 1983. Bare TEAC drive with a plastic sheath case, plastic back plate, and 2 cables with the correct ends on.

Viglen became a reputable supplier of reasonable PC's to business after they moved from BBC stuff. I was surprised when they had one of the first 486-DX systems reviewed in the UK.

Amstrad used to make real Hi-Fi seperates before the card-boxy-things. I had an IC2000 amp and IC3000 tuner which were paper covered chipboard and plastic, but the metal chassis and electronics wern't actually that bad. Beef up the power supply with a large electrolytic capacitor to knock out the hum and you had 25 watts RMS per channel which could drive significant amounts of current.

Following that, they had metal cased seperate amps, tuners and cassette decks, in silver and black, but I thought they looked a bit tacky.

They also did a strange turntable, which looked a little like a Rega Planar (wooden plinth, speed change by moving the belt by hand, external belt drive), but had a strange three-armed turntable with hexagonal pads on the ends of the arms that did not support the LP at all. I wondered what one would have sounded like with a Rega glass platter sitting on it.

You really need an Old Fart icon here!

Intel says 'no' to Windows Vista

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Thumb Up

Steam

The Steam games are very difficult to pirate, as they are tied to single use product activation keys. It is possible to install them on more than one computer, but if you are connecting to the Steam servers for multi-player games, then you have to log on, and each activation key is registered against a single sign-on ID. It won't allow you to register a key against two accounts.

If you try to set up a LAN game with the same copy on two PC's, again they will tell you, and the second one won't start.

Trojan heralds OS X's 'new phase of exposure to malware'

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Stop

Pi is Pi Gordon?

It will be equal to itself (this is axiomatic), but it is NOT 3.14159, although you could make this statement true by saying it is 3.14159 rounded to 5 decimal places, or to 6 significant figures.

Pi is a non-repeating irrational number (i.e. it cannot be represented as a fraction, and as far as we know, the sequence of digits does not repeat), so it is not possible to be completely accuratly represented on paper or computer.

But, back to the story. All of you who state that it is impossible to have a completely secure OS are generalising. It should be possible to make a completely secure OS, but the costs of doing it make the feat impractical. But UNIX-like OS's have a distinct advantage over pre-vista versions of Windows because the security model that has existed in UNIX-like OS's for over 30 years expects that most work is done as a non-privileged user that does not have access to large parts of the system.

Even a patchy webserver can be made to run as a non-privileged user, with read-only data, so the system as a whole is unlikely to be compromised.

Of course, if you have a means to administer/patch the OS, social engineering can ALWAYS be used to compromise the system. I'm not saying that these OS's are completely secure, but they have fundamental advantages.

If you were to have a system with no mechanism to patch the OS, and the OS was stored in ROM and could not be changed, and there was no way to re-vector OS calls, and you were not able to run any code that was not shipped with the OS, and you made the system functionally frozen, and you put an encrypted filesystem in place, encrypted by a physical dongle then it is unlikely that anybody would break in. But this would be more like an appliance that a general-purpose computer. But maybe that is what is needed by the majority of current users.

Putting any ease-of-use feature in an OS (although you could argue that the user interface is seperate from the OS proper) puts a system at risk. Obviously, any remote desktop tool has the scope to be a way into a system, and having a general purpose scripting language could also make a system vulnerable.

Lenovo throws arms and legs around SMBs

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Thumb Down

Think's ain't what they used to be!

I agree.

I've had Thinkpads for 10 years or so, mainly bought re-conditioned, and everything after T23's are flimsy. I still have a 10+ year old 380XD running as a firewall.

Granted, bits always fell off eventually, but none have ever let me down by not working onsite until I got a T30 (the first model built in the far east, I believe). T41s and T42s appeared a bit better, but I do not like the T60s at all, especially the widescreen ones, which is why I havn't bought one!

I really don't know what I will get next. Never mind. My current machine (again a T30, because the disk and DVD-Writer could be just swapped over) runs Ubuntu 8.04 quite well enough for the moment, as long as the one remaining working memory socket stays soldered to the MB. Won't be upgrading the Windows partition to Vista, though.

What I learned from a dumb terminal

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Happy

How about this true story

About 15 years ago, I was working in a major UNIX vendors support centre, and took a call about the colours being wrong on the screen. After going through all of the X colour (color?) maps and everything else I could think of, we found that red was coming out blue, and vice-versa. Green was OK, I suggested in desparation, that the customer unplug the monitor from the computer, and plug it back in.

After some noises from the end of the phone, an amazed customer came back on the line, saying that when he removed the plug, it was incredably stiff, and he found that it was plugged in upside down! Quite how that could have happened by accident is beyond me.

P.S, it was not a 15 pin high density D-Shell VGA connector, it was a D-Shell with three mini-coax connectors in it, one each for red, green, and blue, with sync on green, like below.

---------

\ o o o /

-------

When plugged in upside down, the mini-coax plugs connected, but the surrounding D-Shell must have been well and truly bent out of shape!

IBM 'advises' staff to opt for a Microsoft Office-free world

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Thumb Up

@Mark Rendell

It's funny, all the collaborative things you mention were pretty much invented by IBM. The document sharing, mail, and shared calender features were first seen in the PROFS, or NOSS internal office system that IBM used. At the time, it was all done on mainframes and 3270 terminals, but it eventually was ported to OS/2. I'm talking about a product (the mainframe version) that existed BEFORE PCs were actually made.

It's funny that it took a long time for some of the features to appear in Lotus Notes, which was supposed to replace PROFS. But I think that most things now appear in Domino, when used with an up-to-date Notes client. The problem is that most people see Notes as just a quirky mail client, rather than the revolutionary collaborative tool and application platform that it actually was and is. But I will admit that Notes used to wind me up when the replication I asked for didn't happen, leaving all my outgoing mail stuck on my Thinkpad.

Peter Gathercole Silver badge
Linux

History

I was in IBM 12 years ago, and at that time, it was OS/2 and Lotus SmartSuite that came loaded automatically on any Wintel system. If you wanted Windows and Office, you had to have a really good business case, and Office on OS/2 was not really well supported (probably due to Microsoft using secret API calls when running on Windows).

When OS/2 fell out of grace at IBM, there was a time when SmartSuite on Windows was tried, but as most of IBM's customers were Office users, document exchange became a problem (there were SmartSuite filters to open and write Office formats, but they were not included by default, and were not 100% effective). There became a straight choice for users between SmartSuite and Office, and Office won, like in the rest of the world.

IBM then tried to make SmartSuite (and Lotus Notes client, the Email part of Notes) more popular with a giveaway program on magazine cover disks, but that did not work either, so the package died, albeit a slow, lingering death.

So for about 10 years, IBM has been using exclusively Office, buying corporate licenses at whatever cost Microsoft felt like charging them.

If IBM can make even some of their own users give up Office, so that a smaller license fee needs paying, then they can only gain. And with ODF being a hot topic at the moment, it gives the possibility of some free news space. Not sure how the targeted users will react, however.

I avoided Office, using SmartSuite after I left IBM, and switched to StarOffice and then OpenOffice when I decided to use Linux as my primary OS (I'm a Unix consultant). And now, when I have to use Office as part of my work on client provided systems, you cannot imagine how annoying and difficult I find it. The lack of any common sense in things like font handling, and styles when cutting and pasting between documents, everything moving around when new releases come out, and some very strange behavior when trying to adjust complex numbered lists just astound me. I could list at least 50 things that I cannot stand. Quite how the software passes ergonomic testing escapes me.

So I think that IBMers should embrace a move from Office. Let's break Microsoft's monopoly. Of course, I would actually like to move back to Memorandum Macros and Troff, or possibly LaTeX for documents, and who needs spreadsheets anyway!

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