Technology

This is going to be a short rant even though Dr. Data is mightily honked off. I have been hard at work on two interviews, a couple of book reviews and who knows what else. Today, I had a completely clear lunch break as well as some chunks of thumb-twiddling time while I repeatedly waited for a CGI process to finally time out and thus made the best of it by wrapping up one review and starting to work on formatting the interview for publication. I made a lot of progress on the interview and was looking forward to getting ahead of the game this evening.

I have been using Ubuntu 1, DropBox, and Microsoft’s SkyDrive to shuttle documents, scripts, images, etc. between work, home and the ancestral family estate in Hopewell, VA. On this particular day, I was using SkyDrive for my cloud storage. After the CGI process timed out one last time, I shut my work machine down, and headed for the parking lot secure in the knowledge that this evening would be super productive.

After supper, I fired up the Dell Studio and opened my SkyDrive folder so I could get to work. There was one wee problem; my work from earlier today was NOT in the folder. Apparently, the software never synched things between my work machine and the couple of gigabytes that I call my own somewhere out there. The stuff is still on my work machine. I’m not particularly worried that I have lost the work as the same thing happened with DropBox a while back. Then, as now, I had really hoped that I could catch up on things at home.

Remember folks, man’s best friend is a flash drive!

You’ve probably heard about it by now and I’m already tired of hearing about it;  the story broken by the UK’s Guardian newspaper – it figures -concerning the surveillance being carried on by the NSA (National Security Agency) on Verizon’s phone call meta-data as well as other aspects of internet communications like e-mail. For those of you who may not quite get it, meta-data is information about data; not the data itself.  The NSA does not give an R.A. about calls to your mistress/boyfriend or your predilection for phone sex. By the time they get the meta-data, your 3:00 AM call to Jake at Snake Farm is long over. Instead, they are looking for patterns like calls to the local 7-11 from Abbottabad, Pakistan that occur only when Achmed is behind the counter on the grave-yard shift.

There is the predictable hue and cry that this is the end of America as we know it or that the Government has done the “freshy-fresh” with the Bill of Rights. No-one seems to give a fig about the Police running your licence plate when they spot you parked at the Achmed’s 7-11 at 1:30 AM. Indeed, La Polizia have run the plates of a certain Mitsubishi pick-up with a canoe on top driven by a bearded, kilt-wearing, pipe-smoking, Scotch-drinking, hippy freak in ear-rings more times than I care to think about. They probably needn’t bother because no-one in their right mind would use a 23 year-old pick-up with an “I brake for Mermaids” bumper-sticker on the back as a get-away vehicle.

Yes, it’s a shame that things have come to this but it’s the price we pay for being under siege by sub-humans who would gladly suicide-bomb a day-care just to inflict a bit more pain and terror on Americans. Dr. Data can remember the common cries of “Protect us! Protect us!” in the wake of 9/11 and the Boston bombings. Well, the NSA, et alia, are trying to do just that. Moreover, the government has been doing that for a lonnng time. Back during the cold war, a certain female-type person with whom  Dr. Data has had a more than nodding acquaintance for nearly four decades, had relatives on the east side of the iron curtain. Letters arriving at her grand-mother’s house had already been read and redacted by both sides. Her brother – like Dr. Data – was into short-wave radio during that time and a Federal agent showed up at their house wanting to check his QSL cards . . . no doubt looking for coded messages.

So folks, let’s turn down the histrionics and hope that the NSA does its job before the next airliner flies into an office tower. If  you’re worried that the intelligence community may want to know about your relationship with that visiting professor who works part-time as a dominatrix, then do the following:

  1. Get rid of your phones – smart and not so smart
  2. Get off the internet
  3. Blow up your TV
  4. Pay for all transactions with cold, hard cash
  5. Read only old-fashioned books printed on real paper
  6. Travel only by foot or bicycle
  7. Hope and pray that Achmed does not hijack a Cessna and fly it into your house.

Resources:

NSA PRISIM programme spied on e-mails, searches

We have a few news items for you today so let’s get crackin’.

Microsoft Surface Pro – When Windows 8 launched at the end of October, 2012, so did Microsoft’s new tablet known as the Surface RT. The RT received mixed reviews – from good to wretched – with some writers claiming that it was a laughable/forgettable product. Among the points its favour were assessments stating that it was a good, solid performing tablet but not a spectacular one. There were a few more negative items including the fact that it could be somewhat lethargic loading programmes as well as the fact that it would not run programmes that a PC could. If you wanted an application to do something or other, you would have to go to the Windows Store to find one designed to run on the RT. Given the fact that the shelves in the Windows Store were somewhat bare at that  point, it was easy to see why many reviewers were less than enthusiastic.

To be fair, the Windows Store opened with more RT apps than Apple’s App store had iOS apps when the iPad launched. Microsoft’s prediction that there would be 100,000 apps available 90 days after the launch has failed to come true with slightly more than 25% of that landmark ready for downloading in the waning days of January. There were complaints that the RT apps were mostly crap but from my experience, there’s plenty of crap to be found in Apple’s App Store as well.

Comes now the availability of the Surface Pro, a tablet that can run PC programmes as well as those designed for the Pro platform. The  price is somewhat dear with the entry-level version costing just over $ 1,000 when all is said & done. Will the price come down? Probably in the same way that the iPad has come down in price; a noticeable reduction but still nothing to write home about. Consumers are more likely to buy Android based devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Note or Google’s Nexus 7 or 10 than the Surface Pro . . . at least for now.

ZDNet’s Ed Bott has penned a pretty good review of the Surface Pro that is well worth reading. Meanwhile, ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley is ready to tell us why she’s not trading her RT for a Pro. Finally, TechRadar’s James Stables has a mostly favourable review of the RT, published not at launch time as so many reviews were, but instead 90 days post launch. Read them and decide for yourself.

DELL Plans To Go Private – It’s a goal for many small and not-so-small companies to grow to the point that shares are publicly traded on of the major exchanges. Dell did just that back in 1988. Well folks, the days of “Dude, you’re getting a Dell” are long gone now and the company is starting to move towards buying itself back. The price is $24.4 billion and includes a $2 billion loan from Microsoft.

What does all this mean? How will you be affected . . . if at all? Here are some stories that will – hopefully – begin to answer those questions:

HP Contemplating A Break-up – The long, strange trip of Hewlett Packard is taking yet another turn. According to one report, executives are mulling a company break-up as well as other options. Of course, other sources say that there is nothing of the kind going on. This is not the first bout of indecision for the company. You may remember that HP was going to get out of the PC business until they changed their mind and decided to stay. They introduced a well-received tablet only to drop it 5 months later; not unlike Microsoft dropping its Kin smart phone after a similar length of time. The trouble is that the Kin was a deeply flawed device while the HP Touchpad was quite good and now suffers from a lack of applications as well as other support.

For more on this latest development in the HP saga, read HP reportedly considering company “breakup” on ZDNet. Even if does turn out to be a faux report,  consumers might want to weigh their hardware options carefully if their choice include HP.

 

KCAPTCHAWe’ve all had to deal with them in some way at one time or another. The CAPTCHA; a brave attempt to prevent spam-bots from filling out things like the contact form on your website and sending you e-mails telling you about cheap Viagra, Nigerian Princes seeking to recover their fortune and busty blond bimbos who have been oh so lonely and are looking for a man just like you in order to have a meaningful, fulfilling relationship and/or a good time.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” align=”right” width=”150″ mleft=”5″]Wikipaedia has an excellent article on CAPTCHAS. [/stextbox]Though they are there on the front lines of spam defense, they more often frustrate than protect. How many times have you filled out a web form only to be baffled by the distorted letters and numbers you are required to read and enter before you hit “Submit”. Is that a “1” or an “L”, an “O” or a “Q”, an “R” or a “K”? You give it your best guess and click the “Submit” button only to be told that what you entered is incorrect and are then redirected to an empty copy of the form that you’ll have to fill out again. Not only are they driving you mad but there are serious questions as to their efficacy.

The hey-day of the CAPTCHA may be over. Ticketmaster is dropping them in favour of entering common phrases or answering things like multiple choice questions. A New York based outfit named Solve Media claims that it takes the user half the time to comply with the new approach than it did to try and decode a CAPTCHA. Solve Media also believes that this method is better at blocking bots than the old way which often proved quite successful at blocking humans.

Only time will tell whether this approach will be the answer to a form-filler’s prayer. In the meantime, you can read all about it in PC Magazine.

I am on the horns of a dilemma. My Dell Studio XPS  machine – which will be 4 years old in May – is suffering from applications not playing well with the Operating System. Some of this is the result of installing and un-installing a multitude of applications over the past few years and a contributing factor is having forgotten applications still hanging around long after I stopped using them. That is, of course, if I ever did use them in the first place. Even the best PC clean-up utility available will still fail to get everything. Believe me, I’ve tried a number of them over the years.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ mright=”10″]Nuking is a technical term used by trained professionals to describe the process of wiping the hard disk and re-installing the Operating System.[/stextbox]A PC which has been around a while can definitely benefit from nuking the system and starting over.  One of the advantages of doing this  is that you have the opportunity to inventory your software applications, determine which ones you don’t like/need/want and vow not to re-install them on the pristine copy of the OS you’ll have after you’re through. This, of course, gives you the freedom to install new software applications that  you don’t like/need/want.

I am on the cusp of wiping the slate clean and starting over and my dilemma is that of deciding which OS to install once the hard drive has been sanitised. I have my choice of installing:

  1. Windows 7 – I currently use this OS
  2. Windows 8 – I’ve got this on my test machine and have found it not to be quite as bad as anticipated
  3. Linux – I have Ubuntu dual-booting on my test machine and Mint running as a virtual machine on the Dell Studio XPS

So which one should it be? On one hand, Win7 works for me. On the other hand, I hate to get Win 7 all set-up, configured & applications  installed only to have to do it all over again in 12 to 18 months time because of Win 8.

I could just go ahead & install Win 8 since there are work-arounds for most of the major interface complaints but there are still a few “why in the hell did they do that?” items – like scroll bars -that I am somewhat loathe do deal with on a daily basis. Hopefully, someone will cobble a work-around for those.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ mright=”10″]Dr. Data tried this approach on his test machine and – after hours of trying to make things work the way that they ought to – wound up Nuking the system and starting from scratch.[/stextbox]Before you say “Why not save time and trouble by upgrading Win 7 to Win8 and thus avoid having to re-install the world?”, I should mention that such an upgrade also migrates the bad settings, misconfigured applications and other gunk  from Win 7 to Win 8, often with less than desirable results. So much for the ease of migration between Windows Operating Systems.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” width=”150″]WINE stands for “WINE Is Not an Emulator”. [/stextbox]Finally, I could do exactly what I’ve wanted to do for many moons and make the move to Linux. The problem is that I’ve got plenty of $$$ invested in Windows applications for which there is not a Linux version. Even when there is a version of, say,  XYZ available for Linux, I would most likely have to buy the Linux version as if I was buying the software for the very first time. Linux does have WINES which allows one to run things like MS Outlook in an X environment but it does not get along well with the Windows software. It’s dollars to doughnuts that Dr. Data has a bunch of applications that fit into this category.

Where will all this end up? It’s hard to say right now but sooner or later, Win 7 on the Studio XPS is going to get to the point where Dr. Data’s hand will be forced in one direction or another.

I’ve never been a huge Apple fan. They make some good stuff but price points keep me away. I do have an ancient iPod and an iPhone, however. I have the iPod simply because my former employer – who, like Lord Voldemort,  shall not be named – offered it as a gift for 20 years of thankless labour. I got the iPhone because it was less than $100.00 as an upgrade from my late and unlamented Blackberry. I probably should amend the bit about the iPhone because we became a two-iPhone family in the last days of 2012.

My wife had been using the same cell phone since 2003 and the technology was old even back then. We signed up for Nextel because of the push-to-talk feature. I could never get my wife to use push-to-talk in the nine or so years that we had the phones. (Heck, I can barely get her to turn the thing on!) In early Feb. of 2012, I gave up & moved over to the Sprint network. Well, the Nextel network is going bye-bye around the end of June so it was time to find her a new phone. Sprint was offering a $100 dollar upgrade for the iPhone 4S so we did as switcheroo and I got the newer iPhone & she took my old – but still perfectly good – iPhone 4. At this point, she still hasn’t gotten the hang of touch-screens and Siri is not speaking to me. (Was it something I said?)

The preceding has be a circumlocutory way of leading in to the three bits of Apple news I have for you today so let’s get down to business.

  • Apple is rumoured to be planning a cheaper iPhone. Since Cupertino has seemed to finally grasp the idea that ordinary folks don’t have the cash to splash out on their hardware, they are said to be considering a polycarbonate plastic rather than the standard aluminium case and possibly using parts from recycled iPhones. Since refurbished keyboards. headphones and mice are a so-so kind of experience, Dr. Data is not too keen on having to rely on recycled phone parts. Read the full story on ZDNet.
  • Apple + Internet = Mess or so says a former Apple Engineer who is a die-hard dyed-in-the-wool Apple fan. The ZDNet article by Charlie Osborne – no, she does not appear to be related to Ozzy even though she is British – goes on to list a plethora of Apple internet services that aren’t up to snuff. The aforementioned Apple engineer also indicates that Android is gaining a significant advantage over iOS. Read the full article on ZDNet.
  • Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you. The former CEO of Apple’s big Israel acquisition, Anobit, shares his experiences of Apple culture and how the company’s 1990s ‘near death experience’ still shapes it today. OK, I “borrowed” the article summary from ZDNet but nonetheless, the story is well worth your time. Read it on ZDNet.

Well, the holidaze are over and the last of the bowl games – at least the ones that really matter – have been played so it’s time for me to get back to blogging and annoying readers like you. Here are a few items concerning Windows 8 that have come across my desk over the past week .

  • Not for Old-at-Heart PCs – Walt Mossberg is a regular contributor to the Personal Technology column of the Wall Street Journal and those columns are echoed on the Dow Jones’ All Things Digital site which is, BTW, powered by WordPress. While I don’t always quite agree with what Walt has to say, his opinions are well wroth considering. In his column for Jan 8, 2013, Walt discusses the perils of upgrading to Windows 8 on not-so-new hardware. By way of example, he mentions his trials and tribulations in upgrading a 2008 Lenovo laptop and a 2009 Hewlett-Packard touchscreen desktop. To cut to the chase, Microsoft’s Windows 8 Upgrade Advisor told him that both machines were good to go when in fact, they were not. Why am I not surprised? In the case of the Lenovo, 4 years is a good run for a laptop and by this point in time, the hardware is old by PC standards. The HP has – in theory – a couple more years left in it but in both cases, the manufacturers have apparently decided not to update the various drivers to handle Windows 8. Reading Walt’s column on this subject is well worth your time.
  • Windows 8 hardware ‘overpriced’ – Microsoft, Dell, Lenovo, et al have launched a slew of new devices to take advantage of Windows 8. Market analyst, Shaw Wu, believes that growth in the PC market as a result of Windows 8 will only be 2% rather than the 7 – 9% that everyone else is predicting. The reasons include confusion because of all the different form factors that have been put on the market to take advantage of – or cope with; your choice – Windows 8, the price points for this new hardware – Microsoft’s Surface tablets are a fine example – and the fact that these new machines offer “no clear benefit in switching from iOS or Android.” ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes will fill you in on the details.
  • Coping with Windows 8 – Adrian has also published a post that features two down-loads that make Windows 8 work as nature intended. One is Classic Shell which Dr. Data uses on his test machine and the other is RetroUI. Classic Shell is free but does not have all the features that RetroUI offers but it still has plenty of options. RetroUI, however, is not free and costs a budget busting $4.95! Either way, these add-ons are a big help if you use Windows 8 on a desktop or laptop sans Touch. Read Adrian’s post on ZDNet.
  • Dr. Data contemplates moving to Windows 8 – Yes this is a shocker but I have reasons that will be discussed in a future post. (Talk about a teaser!!!)

I mentioned sometime last week that my Windows 8 installation DVD finally arrived. I found some time on Saturday afternoon to try & complete the installation that I had begun 1 month ago. I wasn’t expecting it to be painless but I was not expecting what I did encounter either.

To begin, I unplugged the Linux OS hard drive. I dual-boot on this machine and Windows & Linux are on separate internal hard drives.  I did a clean boot & (re)started the installation from the DVD. The process went through the initial stages until a screen popped up asking if I wanted to check online for updates. Since this was recommended to ensure a smoother installation, I clicked “Yes”. There was another question asking me if I wanted to share installation information with Microsoft. Figuring that my installation could help make things easier for someone down the line, I clicked “Yes” as well. Once I was all set, I clicked the button to proceed.

After taking what seemed forever to look for updates, the installation process suddenly threw up a screen saying that it was unable to install Windows 8 and that I needed to close out the installation and restart it. That is exactly what I did. After a clean boot, I restarted the installation and guess what? I got the same message again.

After doing this cycle for five installation attempts, I decided that I would try something different. I said “No” to looking for updates and sharing information with Microsoft. This time, I didn’t get the message and as the installation process chugged along, it . . . looked . . . like . . . it . . . was. . .  going . . . to . . . go . . . all . . .the. . . way!!! Not. The installation got as far as the spot where I was to select the background colour for the infamous Start screen. I made my selection & clicked “Next”. The installation process threw up a screen saying that the installation had failed and that it was rolling back everything to Windows 7.

Once again, I rebooted. This time, there was an automatic CHKDISK session that was apparently initiated by the rollback procedure. CHKDISK found a few things wrong with the HDD but nothing major and the repairs went smoothly. When I restarted the installation process – remembering to just say NO to updates and sharing information – it finally did go all the way.

Overall, the entire process took between 5 & 6 hours.

The moment the process was done, I downloaded and installed Classic Shell. This is a freebie which doth restoreth what Microsoft tooketh away. The interface will not win any beauty contest but at least it’s useable. Everything looks flat; no depth to icons, windows, etc. This is probably great if you’ve got a tablet but if you’ve got a desk/laptop, not so much. Like I said, it’s use-able.

The one thing that makes me want to consider moving to Window 8 on my main machine is the free app for London’s Daily Telegraph. It gives you selected stories from the most recent editions and I really like what it does and how it does it.

I have noticed a couple of problems:

  1. I am unable to type the “@” sign into any browser-based web form. I tried this with both Chrome & Internet Explorer; No Joy. I can type an “@” in something like Notepad and then do a cut & paste into the browser form but that’s going around your elbow to get to your thumb.
  2. Windows updates fail on installation. I’ve tried this 3 or 4 times but with no luck. My main machine – Windows 7 – has been doing the same thing for a couple of months so now I’ve got two machines to sort out instead of one.

I’ll keep you apprised of further developments.

At last, some numbers are starting to emerge from Redmond, WA. To date the only sales figures Microsoft has released were about the 4 million upgrade licences sold within the first three days after Windows 8 became available. During her talk at the Credit Suisse Annual Tech Conference held on Tuesday, the Chief Marketing & Financial Officer for Windows – Tami Reller – stated that 40 million licences for Windows 8 had been sold in the past month. By way of comparison, Microsoft sold 60 million Windows 7 licences in the two months after the launch of that OS.

Does this mean that Windows 8 is on track to out perform its immediate predecessor? A wee bit of analysis is in order here. First and foremost, computer manufacturers are not like you and me. While we as individuals may purchase one or two upgrade licences for our machines, the manufacturers buy their licences in bulk; hundreds of thousands if not millions of copies of Windows x – along with crapware and adware – which are sprayed on to desktops, laptops and now tablets as they roll off the assembly lines and are pushed out the door.

The second item to note is that tablets are the hot thing at the moment and will be for some time to come. Manufacturers who have not been able to offer a Windows-based tablet before are now adding them to their lineups and to do that, a Windows 8 licence is required. It is obvious that the anticipated tablet stampede is driving the purported sales figures. The manufacturers are banking on the hope that tablets will be a big seller over the holiday season and thereafter.

You may have noted the use of the phrase “purported sales figures” in the paragraph above. Microsoft has been known to use creative accounting to come up with sales figures for new software and operating systems. If you add this, that and the other thing together, yes the numbers will come out around 17, 40 or 60 million. What Microsoft has yet to reveal is just what exactly this, that and the other thing are. After all, a sale is a sale.

The real test will come with how many of those 40 million licences are actually implemented. In other words, the OS is used for an extended period of time and the machine is not downgraded to Windows 7. Windows tablets have no downgrade options available but many could be transmogrified as Android devices.

It is natural for companies to juggle the numbers in order to look good to investors and potential buyers of their products. Microsoft is no exception. It will be some time, however before we get a complete picture of just what 40 million really means.

Sources:

One measurement of the success of an operating system is how quickly it is adopted by the user community. If adoption goes like gangbusters then it will most likely be a roaring success. On the other hand, if the pace of adoption is slower – or even glacial – then its success is doubtful and it may even be possible that the operating system is unnecessary or will only serve a certain niche market.

So how does Windows 8 fare? Is it something of a success? The answer appears to be: “Not so much”. Unfortunately, figures don’t lie and at this point, Windows 8 is looking like an “also ran”. After three weeks on the market, the share claimed by Windows 8 is an astounding 1.19 %. If this were a NASCAR race. the crew chief would pull the car off the track and take it back to the garage. Even Vista has a larger market share and Linux is not quite the underdog it was earlier.

After one week on the market, Windows 7 had a 2.15 percent share and now claims the largest slice of the pie with 45.5 %. Windows 8 does have some good points in that it runs just as fast as its predecessor, Windows 7 and is, overall, a more stable platform; it shows the blue screen of death – BSOD – much less Windows 7 or XP. For the record, Dr. Data has yet to see the BSOD on either his main machine or on the test box. But will these factors matter in the long run?

It seems that Windows 8 is crippled by the turkey of an interface that was formally known as Metro. Usability experts – the folks who scientifically prove stuff that the rest of us already know – cite the confusion occurring from Windows 8 trying to use a start screen geared to tablets and a desktop geared towards PC’s. This schizophrenia was pointed out by Dr. Data over this past summer as more and more geeks got their hands on the consumer preview of what is quickly proving to be an interface failure of epic proportions.

Windows 8 has been referred to as a “disaster of design” and a sure candidate for being “Auf’d” on Project Runway. Companies like Stardock Corporation have been turning out add-ons to bypass this or that and restore features that Redmond dumped in the interest of looking more cool and hip. As good a job as Stardock does with add-ons, they really should not be necessary. Instead of providing additional features, these tools are actually retro-fitting Windows 8 so that it will be more useable from a base state.

The central question is: “Where does Microsoft go from here?” Does it admit defeat and correct things with the first Service Pack or will Redmond try to tough it out hoping that consumers will come around? The hand-writing may well be on the wall now. The Desktop/Laptop market is shaky at the moment because tablets are the big thing. Many good tablets have either failed or own only a minuscule market share because they are simply not an iPad. There is still a good ways to go for Windows 8 though it may very well earn the dubious title as the only operating system that is loved less than Vista.

The president of Microsoft’s Windows division has already been shown the door. Whether that was a scheduled change or retribution for a looming debacle is debatable. Dr. Data is of the opinion that some design engineers in Redmond, WA may wish to dust off their resumes.

SOURCES:

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