Doug's Mailbag: XP Problem Needs More Information, Google Crosses the Line?

In response to Doug's warning of the McAfee/XP crash problem, one reader discusses his overall thoughts on XP's reliability:

I have been running XP since it came out, and since Service Pack 1, I have exactly one crash. It was caused by a bad driver for a junky USB device. This has been only one fifth the number of crashes on my Windows 7 machine. Are you sure your check isn't issued in Redmond? We actually had the McAfee issue all over our state because we use the enterprise approach for our network. We did not see the never-ending reboot cycle, but we do not scan on boot either.

OK, I am done ranting, but I hate sound bite oversimplifications. I prefer to know exactly what happened and why. I know that doesn't play to your least common denominator crowd, but it is how we in the trenches get things done. At least you can get me going once a day. Thanks for the effort.

With Google now recording public and private Wifi hotspots by documenting MAC addresses, is this a legitimate threat to our privacy? Here are some of your thoughts:

If a company offers Wifi as a service to the public, they should be able to submit that info to Google for inclusion on the maps. But for Google to automatically record and publicly include every hot spot they happen to pick up is going too far. They are making the presumption that the signal is intended for public use. Yes, they are public airwaves, and it is legal for Google to do it, but I do not think they should publish it to the world without some sort of check.

Google certainly likes to push the envelope. I understand that they are now going to go inside business buildings to film them and add that data to street view. Again, it is a space that is open to the public, but what is the upside and what is the downside? Who benefits and who loses?

Here in America, the government is generally cast as the bad guy (big brother) and we have created a lot of rules to restrict government actions. In Europe, business is generally viewed as the bad guy. Despite good intentions, Google may end up teaching us the European view. Legal precedent has been established that it is OK for businesses to collect info about us, even info that the government cannot collect. However the government has access to all that info just by issuing a subpoena.

Not sure why this is a big deal. El Paso County in Colorado already does the same thing, except the Wifi, pictures, location info and the geographical location are all public record.

Google needs to be stopped. They should be fined for invasion of privacy and distributing sensitive information to the public. What will they be snooping into next? I am upset about this.
-Concerned Citizen

Even though we have past the point of information saturation, where should the line be drawn as to what is acceptable publicly and what SHOULD be strictly private? Google has become such a tool for exploration that it's become a standard verb in our language. What's more alarming is that NO ONE seems to care. The more we lose our privacy, the more we become equally mesmerized at the instantaneous access to information at our fingertips.

Privacy shouldn't be dismissed as paranoia. MANY people have lost their lives (physically and emotionally) upon seeing their personal lives displayed publicly for all to see. Even journalists have been abused because someone has a cell phone capable of snapping quick pics.

The loss of privacy may well become the definition of "Being Googled." This has gone way too far.

Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on April 28, 2010 at 11:53 AM4 comments

Doug's Mailbag: Computer Heroes, PC Sales Doesn't Equal Recovery

With the news of computer pioneer Ed Robers passing away last week, Doug wants to know some of your tech heroes:

Ken Olsen -- Digital Equipment Corporation. With a $60,000 loan, Grace Hopper as an adviser and the notion of time-sharing computers in his mind, he built DEC into a $13 billion corporation. Even at its peak he would land at a table in the cafe and eat lunch with whoever was at the table.  He never behaved as though he was better than anybody else.

More than 10 years after it was broke up and sold off I still miss that company.

An old timer still going at it.

I'm sure many people will rightfully cite Donald Knuth ("The Art of Computer Programming"), Brian Kernighan and Ken Thompson (Unix), Dennis Ritchie ("C"), Bill Gates & Paul Allen (Microsoft, MS-BASIC), C. Wayne Ratliff (dBase), Mitchell Kapor (Lotus 1-2-3), Charles Petzold (Windows Programming), and even Steve Wozniak & Steve Jobs (Apple) as their heroes.

I'd like to throw in Anders Hejlsberg as my hero for authoring one of the most influential programs of all time: Turbo Pascal. Until then, the only programming environment most people had access to was some version of BASIC or hand coding assembly language programs. Other environments were available (COBOL, FORTRAN, C, Pascal) but at the cost of hundreds or thousands of dollars putting them out of the reach of most hobbyists.

The introduction of Turbo Pascal was significant not just because of its technical prowess and speed but also because of its price point -- less than a $100. Not only did this expose many developers -- both hobbyist and professional -- to a great language and tool set at little expense, but it also opened the door to other lower cost development tools and inspired the creation of such cousins as Turbo C, QuickC, QuickBASIC and MASM that helped forge a cottage industry of software houses that lead to where we are today.

Without Turbo Pascal who's to say how long it would've taken to get here, if ever, and to make so many of us nerds rich? So my hat's off to Anders Hejlsberg. Thank you!

Does the recent news that PC sales are on the rise mean the economy is recovering? One reader says no:

Doug, that figures out to a PC for every 126 people on the planet, so you should get that the economy is not back on track. We are not replacing any PCs this year because there is no money to do so. Sales on some equipment is better, cheap net books and such, but no one is buying a lot. Windows 7 doesn't even factor into the equation. We are only replacing equipment that fails. Nothing else. And that will continue for the foreseeable future.

Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on April 26, 2010 at 11:53 AM0 comments

SharePoint 2010 Partly Out

If you subscribe to MSDN or TechNet Plus, you can be one of the first to get your hot little hands on SharePoint 2010 -- and you can choose your poison today -- either 32 or 64 bits. And if you are new to TechNet Plus, you can get 25 percent off SharePoint.

Software Assurance customers can get their mitts on the new SharePoint tomorrow.

Do you use MSDN or TechNet? Do you read the magazines? Share your opinions with us at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 26, 2010 at 11:53 AM0 comments

SQL Server 2008 R2 Nearly Due

If you've been jonesin' for the latest and greatest version of SQL Server, you have only a week or two to wait, depending on your circumstance. As with SharePoint 2010, MSDN and TechNet Plus customers get first dibs and can download R2 on May 3. General release is a full 10 days later.

Microsoft won't be content with you just upgrading to R2. The company also wants you to buy Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010, stitch them all together and build an intuitive Business Intelligence system.

I've seen all these in action, and there are a lot of pretty cool things you can do through integration. My only question is how much effort does it take to integrate and make these tools really work for your shop?

Have you looked at these tools? What are the implementation issues? Send your best guidance to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 26, 2010 at 11:53 AM0 comments

Egregious Google Crosses Privacy Line

I am astounded at the latest Google news. I already knew I hated Street View -- where Google vans take pictures of our homes, shops and neighborhoods. This is a huge invasion of privacy, in my opinion, and Street View has even been used by thieves to stake out houses.

Now, come to find out, Google is also recording if we have a WiFi hotspot, and if so takes down our MAC address.

The German government is trying to get Google to stop this practice, but Google is a stubborn company when it comes to privacy.

Is Google better or worse when it comes to privacy than other vendors? Should we try to restrict the data Google collects and what they can do with it? Shoot your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 26, 2010 at 11:53 AM25 comments

Doug's Mailbag: Supporting Service Packs, Outsourcing Dissected, Ribbon Hate Continues

We start Friday's mailbag with a comment on the shelf life of Windows' Service Pack support:

Service Packs are FREE and operating systems which are not at the latest patch-level -- including service packs (which are mostly bundled security patches) -- pose a threat not just to the users of those systems but to all systems on the same network.

Despite the naysayers, Microsoft has always been reasonable about troubleshooting support, has (unlike Applicationle) always provided free patches and service packs. Aside from emergency troubleshooting, Microsoft is right to tell mean to install the latest service pack. There is no reason not to.
- C. Mark

One reader gives insight on why a huge company like Microsoft would start outsourcing its IT help desk:

My company has started to outsource a few internal IT application locations. A couple being Blackberry Support and Spam filtering. I am sure there will be more to come.

As far as Microsoft outsourcing their IT, I am not surprised at all. Look at Microsoft PSS support; it has been so poor for the past couple of years, what's the point of calling when you can get most issues resolved by using Google or other third-party sites like Experts Exchange?

And finally, here are a couple more responses to the Office ribbon hot-topic Doug wrote about in April's Redmond magazine:

I thought, way back when, part of the sales pitch for Windows was that all applications were going to have the same interface and look, making training easier. You know in general what's under file, edit, view, etc. so you were going to be more productive. Now they throw that away. Count me in for "classic" Office, not "new" Office. I do think they make these changes just to have something else to sell. How much grief and costs are involved with forced upgrades? Win 7 on your new machine? Now you need to buy a new printer, new version of that application you've been using for years, etc. Oh, and now that file you mail to someone else won't open because they have an older version of that same application.

Sometimes I am embarrassed being in this industry. Like new tax laws, accountants and lawyers -- job security is for the friends of legislators. 

I've used Office 2007 for over a year now, so I feel comfortable that I have "given it a fair shake." I like a few things, but despise most of it. And this is after reading extensive blogs and interviews by Jensen Harris and other Microsoft employees who foisted this upon us, to try to understand their rationale and vision.

Here's what I like:

  • The size of the buttons change as the window size changes -- no more "buttons off the window" problem for any reasonably sized window. This was the one really good idea.
  • The previous worst idea ever: the Office 2003 menus that were different every time you open them, defeating muscle memory quite handily, has at least been killed off.

Here's what I hate:

  • The organization is illogical. For example, to insert a slide into a PowerPoint deck, do NOT go to Insert; instead, go to Home and select New Slide. Add-ins go onto a special "Add-Ins" tab, instead of where the functionality they represent would logically be found as with the old menu system. (For example, SnagIt should be under Insert, since it "inserts" a screenshot -- get it?)
  • The ribbon is memory-deficient. For example, if I resize the object palette in the Drawing section of the Home tab in PowerPoint, the next time I open it, it's back to Microsoft's favorite size and shape. Why am I permitted to resize it if it just snaps back to the way it was when I let go?
  • The implementation is inconsistent. The ribbon eliminated menus -- except that the round orb with the Office logo is now used for the File menu, it's just a lot harder to find now. Using Office 2007 means using the ribbon when editing an e-mail instead of using the tried-and-true buttons when managing e-mails.
  • Critical features are now hard to reach. For example, aligning objects is now three clicks down. And if I want to align the top and the left, it's a total of six clicks. This is not more efficient than having buttons right there when I need them.
  • It's almost customization-free. I can't move the object alignment buttons to somewhere sane. I can't create a new tab with all of my key macros on it -- only what I can fit on the little bulb thingy next to the secret File menu. I can't move New Slide to the Insert tab. Every brain-dead decision Microsoft made is chiseled into ribbon granite.
  • It infantilizes the user. With the menu system invented by Xerox, keyboard shortcuts are clearly spelled out on the menu itself. Thus over time, for example, a user learns to hit Control-B for bold, or Control-V to paste. People are allowed to learn. The ribbon ensures that the user must rely on his mouse for the rest of his life -- unless, I suppose, he pays Microsoft for a class in how to become more computer-literate.
  • The menus are just too freaking big. Just as Microsoft is intent to more than consume increasingly fast processor power and memory with bigger software, they seem determined to fill up my larger monitors with even more of their stuff. So I get a faster computer with more memory and a huge display, and it runs slower, exhausts memory sooner, and displays less of the stuff I bought the computer to actually develop. Isn't this backwards?

Whenever I complain about the many problems with the ribbon design, I'm told "in time you'll get used to it." No I won't. The ribbon is illogical, not configurable, inconsistent, inefficient, insulting to learning-capable adults and just too darned big. It was a bad idea that Microsoft should abandon.

Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on April 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM3 comments

Third-Party Report: Starwind Software

Virtualization Review magazine was born in two Framingham, MA-area restaurants -- Legal Seafood and Minado, an insanely great Japanese buffet.

Entrepreneurs are forever coming through Framingham (which ironically where half of the Redmond Media Group is based). These folks have to predict the future; otherwise they would blow their and their investors' money.

So selfishly I'd always ask what market they'd launch media in if they were me. Nine out of ten said virtualization. I mentioned this to my boss, Henry Allain, and before I knew it we were in full magazine and Web site launch mode.

Once the word was out, heads of virtualization startups started coming through town, and haven't stopped since. It's been a real education in technology, entrepreneurism and even culture. Turns a good number of these companies have roots in either Russia or Israel, and sometimes both! Learn more here.

That's a pretty long prelude to this item on Starwind Software, and my sushi lunch with CEO Zorian Rotenberg. Starwind is all about uptime for virtual machines, be they VMware or Hyper-V.

Like Virsto, which I covered recently here, Starwind helps IT replace expensive proprietary disk arrays with commodity white box disks made sophisticated through software.

Starwind takes industry standard servers and turns them into SANs using iSCSI rather than Fibre Channel, making it easier for the average IT Joe to handle.

There are a lot of smart people behind Starwind. Rotenberg used to work for Walter Scott, then CEO of Acronis, which does a lot of development in Russia. And Ratmir Timashev, founder of Aelita and now Veeam, is an investor and board member. Timashev was chosen as a Windows guru 3 years ago by Redmond magazine.

Posted by Doug Barney on April 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM0 comments

Microsoft Knocks it out of the Park

To the Microsoft naysayers and economic pessimists, I have but one thing to say: $14.5 billion. That is how much money Microsoft brought in last quarter setting yet another revenue record (wish the stock would do the same).

Windows 7 and the Windows division led the growth charge. In fact, the Windows division brought in $4.4 billion. I've got to watch this puppy more closely.

Microsoft is also benefiting from its strong consumer brands such as Xbox (I've spent more on this for my kids than I spend on computers for myself).

What is the financial future for Microsoft and why isn't current success reflected in its moribund stock price? Wise advice and wild speculation equally welcome at [email protected].

Also, what do you buy for you kids and is it better than your own technology? Complaints and explanations readily received at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM1 comments

Security Software Does the Opposite

Security software, such as antivirus, is supposed to prevent infection and keep our machines up and running -- just like a good tune-up on the family Caravan.

But an antivirus update from McAfee has the opposite effect. It made XP-based machines crash more than XP itself (I've had a million XP machines and it is the NASCAR of operating systems)!

This glitch only impacts VirusScan Enterprise customers and concerns its new virus definition "DAT 5958" which mistakenly believes that a key Windows file is itself a virus (given my XP reboot problems over the years, DAT 5958 may just be right!).

With the Window's driver file disabled, XP goes into a never ending cycle of rebooting (that sounds like my old Amiga 3000).

McFee is building a new virus definition file that should make XP crash at its normal rate.

What is your favorite antivirus tool? Is XP as reckless as I think or I am just a poor administrator of my own PCs? Let 'er rip at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 23, 2010 at 11:53 AM12 comments

Windows a Mainframe Alternative -- No Duh!

In 1986 I covered microcomputing for ComputerWorld newspaper. At the time micros, from companies like Vector Graphics and Altos, along with rudimentary LANs, drove the downsizing movement where mainframe apps were moved to these cheaper systems.

Twenty-four years later IDC claims that high-end versions of Windows (with clustering, HPC, etc.) are taking on apps that used to run on mainframes. Where have they been for the last two and a half decades?

One area where Windows servers on x86 chips are making inroads is non-Intel architectures such as RISC, Power6 and Itanium-based servers, IDC says.

Posted on April 21, 2010 at 11:53 AM1 comments

We'll Miss You Ed Roberts

My IT director, the awesome Erik Lindgren, wrote me recently about the death of Ed Roberts who created the first ever PC -- the Altair, and propelled Microsoft into the stratosphere with a rewrite of Basic. Oh, and he later became a medical doctor too!

Bill Gates never forgot the pioneer who made Microsoft what it is, so on Bill's personal Web site he and Paul Allen penned a touching tribute. Here's a quick excerpt:

 "Ed was truly a pioneer in the personal computer revolution, and didn't always get the recognition he deserved. He was an intense man with a great sense of humor, and he always cared deeply about the people who worked for him, including us. Ed was willing to take a chance on us -- two young guys interested in computers long before they were commonplace -- and we have always been grateful to him. The day our first untested software worked on his Altair was the start of a lot of great things. We will always have many fond memories of working with Ed in Albuquerque, in the MITS office right on Route 66 -- where so many exciting things happened that none of us could have imagined back then."

Who is your computer hero? Nominations readily accepted at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 21, 2010 at 11:53 AM1 comments

Third-Party Report: Virsto

Virsto, short for virtual storage (finally a new company with a name that makes obvious sense!), came into town recently to introduce themselves and their first product. CEO Mark Davis sat down over a plate fine local seafood (I had salmon, very rare) and explained where his company came from and what it intends to do.

Virsto, as the name implies, is in the storage virtualization market, but with a twist. Its solution is based on a hypervisor. Virsto's two claims to fame are ease and speed of VM deployment through thin provisioning and maximizing I/O throughput. The whole idea is to avoid expensive proprietary disk arrays and turn white box disks into sophisticated virtual storage.

Virsto is betting on Hyper-V as it ships as a Hyper-V plug-in.

Like an array of virtualization startups, a good portion of Virsto's management team has a Russian background.

Posted by Doug Barney on April 21, 2010 at 11:53 AM0 comments