Saturday, March 12, 2005

Microsoft Visual Basic Developers Revolt Over MS' Decision to Kill VB

Microsoft, which has actively been courting increased developer interest in the Windows platforms has decided to end it's support for Visual Basic, probably the most widely used language for coding Windows applications, in favor of Visual Basic .Net, a fundamentally different language. Some developers are protesting and would like VB maintained and developed alongside VB.Net.

This may be a cautionary tale about investing one's programming career based upon a proprietary language. Then again; it might just be that folks don't want to transition to the future when the tools they are currently using are apparently still viable. You be the judge. I surely don't know how to call it. But when I code, I code in languages that are not the property of one company, such as Python. Though I only program in the smallest of ways, the cross-platform capabilities of Python and Java are attractive to me. Okay, Java is proprietary (though perhaps Sun will heed calls to open it up) but Java runs everywhere, which makes it special. And Sun doesn't demand a license to use it, which makes it different in my eyes and those of many others.

Many programmers are moving to languages which run on many platforms, not just Windows or another one (Intel's Itanium?). VB had coders locked into the Windows platform, was and is a viable language, and MS should probably keep supporting it, lest they lose the support of programmers completely within their fold. There is no effective way, short of a complete re-write, to move VB applications over to VB.Net. This effectively strands the VB developers as MS will no longer be updating VB6 (the most current version) for security or other important shortcomings.


Microsoft Enterprise Engineering Center WebLogs

The Microsoft Developer's Network web sites are fascinating places to cruise. The link above will take you to a part of it which contains blogs by MS employees. While there's a huge amount of "rah-rah" for MS, there's also a lot of interesting information. Some of what I've read there has actually helped me in my work and much of it is entertainingly informative.

Not only is it a human face to a company I rarely perceive in that way, it also tells us a lot about where MS is heading; meaning where all of us will be, soon enough.


Friday, March 11, 2005 - CompUSA settles rebate complaint - Mar 11, 2005

If you have any unresolved rebates from Compusa, you might wanna submit them, within the next 75 days.

Specialized Processor for PC (Game) Physics

Startup Ageia announced a chip dedicated to improving virtual world physics. The immediate use will be in game consoles and PCs to more rapidly compute real-world Newtonian issues for hard and soft bodies, clothing, and particles. Such dedicated chips will do a job that is now handled in software on the main microprocessor. If Ageia gets to market by Christmas like they promise, they have a "first-mover" opportunity to get built into next-generation games and gaming consoles, not to mention graphics boards, PCs and notebooks.

Ageia's work leads us another step closer to photo-realistic virtual worlds running on mainstream PCs (including game consoles).

Interestingly, I had dinner last night with a venture capitalist who makes a convincing case that specialized hardware chips -- and I bet he would agree what Ageia is doing fits the description to a T -- are a growth opportunity for early stage investors.

The microprocessor giants, Intel and AMD, will argue that the rapid deployment of multiple CPU cores starting this spring will obviate the need for dedicated physics processors -- or sound processors for that matter -- in the battle to control silicon and computing functions. I'll weigh in on the side of the VC: there is a role, albeit yet to be proven in the market, for specialized processors.

Peter S. Kastner

Google Converts Your Phone Number Into a Map to Your House

Google has implemented a new feature where you can type someone's telephone number into the search bar and hit enter and then you will be given a map to their house. Everyone should be aware of this! Note that you can have your phone number removed or blocked.

The safety issues are obvious, and alarming. In order to test whether your phone number is mapped, go to Google. Type your phone number in the search bar (I.e. 555-555-1212) and hit enter.

If you want to BLOCK Google from divulging your private information, simply click on your phone number. Removal takes 48-hours. If you are unlisted in the phone book,
you might not be in there, but it is a good idea just to check. If your number does come up, then if you click on map, it will show you a direct map to your house...

Then again, some folks will consider this capability a feature. But the choice should be yours.

Peter S. Kastner

Spyware Infects IE Through Alternative Browsers!

This is important! While I suppose it was only a matter of time before the slimeballs attacked the alternative browsers like Firefox, Mozilla and Safari, it has happened in a big way. Read this and watch for follow-ups. Fixes are in the works, but this attacks via fundamental code in browsers and may take a while to fix.


An update to the HP saga

Just thought I would pass along a little update on the saga I posted last week. The machines that were on order finally arrived. I must say that I was suitably impressed with the hardware. The AMD 64 processor was mindblowingly fast, this machine was the snappiest laptop I have ever had the pleasure of tinkering with. They also came with the docking station, whoever designed these things my hat is off to them. This was my first time using one, the quality of the hardware was very impressive. I didn't even need to use the install discs, it just plain worked folks. This is the way that computers should be, right out of the box. Despite HP saying to the contrary, they did arrive with restore discs. So I am still very unsure of what customer services issue was with telling my friend that they did not send them anymore. In closing, I honestly believe with customer service issues aside. My friend should be very happy with the high end performance and durability of the machine.
Till next time...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Gizmodo - News from CeBIT

CeBIT is a tech show in Hannover, Germany. This blog has some cool pictures from CeBIT, and I think that there would be general interest in what it covers, for most of our listeners. Enjoy!

See E-Week's coverage here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

AOL Tries to Become VOIP Gorilla

After startups like Vonage, brand names like AT&T, and freeware like Skype, AOL is into the voice over Internet (VOIP) market for telephony. With millions of customers, AOL has to be taken seriously. However, many customers are still using dial-up, and VOIP brings nothing to those customers.

Whether AOL can become the next gorilla in VOIP is problematic. The key takeaway from this announcement, which follows on the not to subtle plug for VOIP by Intel last week at its developer forum, is that the VOIP saloon is open, and customers can belly up to the bar. I expect several million more broadband customers will try VOIP this year, further cratering the landline business. The real gorillas to watch do not include AOL: watch how SBC and Verizon play with the VOIP revenue hand grenade.

Peter S. Kastner

New Version of BitTorrent Debuts!

The popular open source BitTorrent file sharing software has received it's first major revision in a year. Version 4.0 is out. There's a new license and many functional improvements. Check it out at the link above.


With Interchangeable Parts, Notebooks Will commodities

The do-it-yourself (DIY) market of hobbyists fiddling their own desktops has gained considerable momentum in the past couple of years. Enough so that I call it a market segment.

But DIY notebook enthusiasts are presently plain out of luck: I know of know standard "kits" that would allow a consumer to build -- let alone customize -- a notebook. may create the catalyst which enables a DIY notebook market. By focusing on standards which will allow for interchangeable parts, the organization will accomplish five things, wittingly or not:
  1. With standards for, say, heat exchanger dimensions and dissipation characteristics, OEMs will be able to build fewer models in more volume -- driving down prices. [Heat exchangers are typically custom parts for each OEM notebook today]
  2. As Colt and Ford proved with rifles and cars, respectively, interchangeable parts will allow Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) in Taiwan and China to offer generic "white box" notebooks, without OEM orders and at lower costs -- the design and test costs will be much lower with interchangeable parts.
  3. To supply second- and third-tier OEMs, the ODMs can offer off-the-shelf designs. Parts can be sourced locally, spurring geographic innovation.
  4. Once an ODM-OEM business gets started, parts manufacturers in Asia will gear up to crank out now-standard notebook parts, which will be stocked and sold online.
  5. Consumers will then be able to buy notebook parts just like they buy desktop cases, motherboards, optical, processors and OEM software to build a custom desktop.

I see nothing to stop this trend from happening. The notebook OEMs lack the clout. The parts manufacturers will have to do standardized parts to keep up with the competition. And the big component makers such as Intel and Microsoft will consider a sale a sale as nothing is lost to them -- low-volume prices may be higher than the big OEMs like Dell and HP pay. Moreover, some consumer hobbyists will want to do this.

But be warned that there is a lot less room to maneuver inside a notebook shell than there is in a gamer case. And you will have to clean up your cables in order to screw the case shut.

IBM & Lenovo PC Deal Jumps National Security Hurdle

With approval from the U.S. government in hand, IBM and Lenovo are free to complete the sale of IBM's PC buiness to China's Lenovo. The hiccup was caused by concerns about the Chinese government, a Lenovo investor, having control of technology widely used by federal government agencies, especially the intelligence and military departments.

After all is said and done, a second-quarter close is still on track. That means a state of limbo where customers get antsy is unlikely to occur, so Dell and HP are unlikely to scoop up many IBM PC customers.

The real proof in the pudding of this mega-deal will be how well Lenovo expands out of its China box, where 97% of sales currently come from. IBM's own sales force and channel pertners will also have to stay the course. The success or failure of this deal cannot be measured in a year (the agreement runs five years as IBM's PC source). Inherent competition between IBM's xSeries and Lenovo's nascent server capabilities is inevitable, and a likely source of considerable friction.

Peter S. Kastner

Waiting for the Second Coming Will Probably Pay Off Faster Than Waiting for HP Printer Software to Work

I've had a love-hate relationship with HP products, over the years. I like their printers, but the price of consumables for them is prohibitive, in my opinion. HP support has been spotty, at best, for me. Sometimes, they shine, but often they're condescending to nearly the point of rudeness. It's as if I have to prove my credentials as a tech before I'm entitled to a straight answer. They do make some very desireable computers and I've bought a few. Two in this last year, as a matter of fact. And HP servers are often what I recommend for my clients because they're as reliable as refrigerators and fairly priced.

Try downloading drivers for a 3 year old laptop, though. They don't offer them. At least I've never found them and you would be hard pressed to look harder than I have. They're not real hot on supporting products outside the warranty period. It would be easy and cheap to leave them on a server somewhere, for those of us who need them. The return in customer good will would probably pay the costs. They don't do it, though.

I recently disinfected my wife's parents' computer, which was chock-full of spyware and was functioning as a spam bot. During the course of the job, we decided they needed to upgrade the OS from Windows ME to Windows 2000 Professional or XP Home. We ended up choosing W2K Pro, as licenses were already at hand, where we would have had to pay for XP, as I had no more licenses. The machine is an HP desktop with an 800 MHz Celeron CPU and I added some RAM so it's possessed of 256 MB. This is surely good enough specs to provide a machine capable of doing everything they do in a snappy manner and, indeed, I was very satisfied with the results of the upgrade and installation until I got to the printer.

The unit in question is an HP psc750 xi. It's a printer, scanner and copier all in one kind of thing. Attractive and nicely laid out, I think it would be something which added to one's work if it performed as I expect. It doesn't, though. It's a pig, when using the software HP provides with it. The installation of software from the accompanying CDs, takes up over 200 MEGABYTES on the hard drive. The sheer size of the installation is apalling! I don't care if disk space is cheap, these days. That's just too much.

The size of the installation shows immediately when the application is launched. It takes forever to open. A full ten minutes on this machine. Yes, a Celeron with it's smal cache and low internal bus speed is not the best computer. But with all other applications, it performs well enough. This one is just too big. Clicking on the "scan" button requires a several minute wait until the machine is ready to start the actual scan. If you rush it, the application locks up. You have to wait and take it slow. It's slower to open than The GIMP, for Heaven's sake! And The GIMP is a huge application with dozens of plug-ins that have to be loaded. This is just a printer driver plus a few functions.

I complained about this on the show and Peter reminded me that HP never claimed to be a software company. Darned right they aren't!

The machine itself is not slow. I hooked it up to my Linux laptop and used all it's functions via the drivers included in most current Linux distributions and it performed quite briskly. The problem is definitely the software. HP offers a "driver only" package for it. That's nearly 50 megabytes in the download and over that when installed. Other applications can be used for the interface and that helps noticeably. I wish I had a really good one and am actively looking for one. I'm sure there are some out there. Right now, they're only printing from other apps, such as Open Office, and doing all their scanning with PaperPort, with which they are not too happy.

What the world needs is good software for this sort of task and the machines we use for it. God knows HP isn't providing it.


Buying a Computer; The Unhurried Approach

We see a lot of folks who don't get the computer they want or need because they buy in a hurry. No, they don't mess up. It's just that they go out to buy when they really need a new computer that very moment and can't get a deal on the "right" machine. Buying in a hurry is sometimes necessary. But if you can avoid it, you can do a lot better for the amount of money spent. I know this sounds like simple stuff, but you'd be surprised at how many people can't or don't pay heed to it.

The great deals offered by Dell that Peter mentioned a few entries below this one are a case in point. If you were at the point where you were going to need a new computer soon and were already sitting on the money, this would be the time to jump in and buy. If you are forced to buy at a given time, it's bad odds againsti you won't be able to get a deal. It's simply thinking ahead, but it is going to pay off more in the next few months than at any time in the recent past.

Why? Well, all the PC and notebook makers are going to be offering different models in the next 3 or more months. More new models than they usually introduce in a short period. New single and dual-core processors and peripherals are going to dictate this. Any company who doesn't bring out models based on the new parts in a hurry is going to lose brownie points, so they'll all be doing it. And because they can't afford to have too many different models floating around (for store inventory reasons and limited available display space, mostly) there will be sales to move the "old" merchandise.

Now some of use just won't be able to live without the newest, fastest computers. Most of us, however, have no problem existing with a slightly out-of-date machine. (I'm typing this on a 500 MHz AMD K6 powered desktop. It's still a very useful box to me.) There is still a LOT of life left in both single processor and 32 bit computers and computing. Many of us-perhaps most of us-can get on just fine with these machines. The geek in me wants the hottest new gear, but the truth of the matter is that I can live and do my work just fine on a single cpu, 32 bit machine. Newer, 64 bit hardware would float my boat, but I don't need it.

I suspect notebook buyers will have it best in this, because notebooks have a longer lead time; meaning the time between manufacture and arriving at the point of sale. The new lines of slim and yet high performance notebooks will likely replace a higher percentage of stock than those desktops that premier will.

So, if you're going to be in the market soon and can live well with models currently offered, rather than the newest stuff coming along, put the money in the back of your wallet now and start watching for spot sales. There's going to be a lot of them; some big and some on only a few machines. A bit of judicious shopping will really pay off in the next few months.


Monday, March 07, 2005

OC Podcast

This is the On Computers podcast for 03-06-2005. If you prefer, you can download the same file here via ftp.

Good Deals at Dell

Every once in a quarter Dell has great deals for a week or so. This is the week to splurge if Dell is your choice.

For instance, $839 gets you:
Dimension 8400
Pentium® 4 Processor 630 with HT Technology (3GHz, 800 FSB)
Microsoft® Windows® XP Home Edition
FREE UPGRADE! 1GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 400MHz (2x512M)
FREE UPGRADE! 160GB Serial ATA Hard Drive(7200RPM)w/ Native Command Queuing
FREE two-day shipping

There are other desktop and notebook deals in the 20% range, all at Dell.

Peter S. Kastner

Unwanted Software Installations with Peer-to-Peer Applications

Benjamin Edelman operates a very good, very informative web site regarding security and related topics. He's analyzed the End User License Agreements (EULAs) along with the hundreds of registry keys written and extra software installed by 5 P2P applications. One license agreement ran well over 22,000 words! No wonder folks don't read them. It's an interesting and eye-opening read. Screen shots and comparison charts are well thought out and clearly convey what's up.

Actually, everything on the site deserves your attention, in my opinion. This one in particular, though. If you don't understand the issues of unwanted software installation, this one is for you. If you do already get it, the details will still knock your socks off.


Is Linux Ready for the Desktop?

Yet another article of the genre. This time by James Cherryh, who is no slouch. His points are valid, no matter where you stand on the notion.

In the next little while, I'll be posting as my wife, a first time Linux installer, partitions her laptop and starts dual booting different distros, looking for one which suits her. Stay tuned. Hopefully, this will provide some insight as to whether you and yours could use Linux as a primary desktop OS.


SP2 is Coming, Automatically

Starting next month, the grace period for deferring the install of Microsoft's SP2 update expires. That means those who have their Windows XP machines set to automatically install Windows updates (a good idea) will find themselves updated.

You can turn off Automatic Updates, but the OnComputers team recommends consumers install this important security and stability improvement to Windows XP.

Those software application developers who have not yet updated their apps to play nice with SP2 should not be surprised to start getting more help desk calls starting April 12th.

Peter S. Kastner

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Media Sites: Say No to Pop-Ups

I enjoyed reading this article from Wired. I think it does a good job of analyzing the whole pop-up thing. However I'll go a little further with this question: What is the worst thing about pop-ads (pop-ups/unders)? You may have a different answer, but for me it is having to close the danged things.

So say there are 20 pop-ads and out of that 20, one truly interests me (and I'm being generous here). That means that in order to recieve that one "good" ad I have to close 19 "bad" ads. When in reality it is more like 1 out of 100 or 1 out of 1000, the ad I may be interested in gets closed without looking at it because it is just another annoyance invading my desktop, which is my personal space, -- an important point that seems to elude the pop-ad peddlers.

I haven't been bothered for 4 years or so, since I started blocking pop-ads about that time. I have been blissfully unaware of what any of them may be trying to sell me. Annoy me enough -- invade what I consider my space enough, and I will blot you out of my world any way I can.

So what about ad supported sites? There is no free ride right? Everything costs something, right? I have no "blanket" ad blocker in place except for pop-ads. I still have flash turned on and I use Adblock (a Firefox extension) which is selective for flash, graphics and I-frames. Frankly, I only bother with Adblock when an ad is annoying and flashing in my face. Adblock is effective, but it takes work. So I see the ads on ad supported sites that respect me as a possible customer and I don't see the ads that don't.

There is another problem with online ads these days. I may see an ad that is a great offer from a Web based business that I know and trust. But with the prevalence of phishing, am I going to click on that ad link? Not without thinking about it. I'm much more likely to type in the URL of the trusted site and rummage around to see if the "deal" is available without having to click on the ad link. If not, I figure I can do without. This is one very real way in which the criminals are further ruining e-commerce. A way that I've never seen discussed anywhere, but I can't be the only cautious surfer who does not trust every link I see. I wonder how many of us think twice about following a link in an ad?

We live in a world in which advertising is becoming more and more intrusive. Marketers keep trying to find new ways to get in our faces (or ears in the case of audio only media). There are limits. Just like the telemarketers overreached until the American public demanded legislative relief, all advertisers risk alienating the very people they are trying to reach. In the pop-ad arena, this level of alienation was reached several years ago, as evidenced by the popularity and proliferation of pop-ad blockers. Some marketers are backing off while others are working hard to get around pop-up blockers. To what end, the accidental click in a effort to get rid of the thing? It is time for the pop-ad purveyors to give it, and us, a rest.