IT not interested in Windows 7? Hardly a surprise

You might be expecting an anti-Microsoft rant about how IT folk aren’t that keen on upgrading to Windows 7 (hat tip to twitter friend CXI) because of all the trouble they expect. The problem is that you could poll the IT community for almost any OS and you’d probably get the same response.

The problem isn’t that new operating systems are so poorly designed – most aren’t, even though I suspect Windows probably is – it’s that IT isn’t paid to improve things. They’re paid to avoid unexpected costs and problems, and keep employees from abusing the system and their employer. Unpgrades mean change, change means risk, risk by definition entails the unexpected, and the average professional IT manager is about as risk-averse an animal as you can find. They don’t get hurrahs when things are working great, they just get blasted when they aren’t. If I worked in this world I’d fight any upgrade because people don’t miss what they’ve never had. That’s why IT is called the ‘business suppression unit‘.

Whether it’s Ubuntu, Windows 7, or OSX it doesn’t make much difference.

At some point a more enlightened management, combined with a more tech-savvy workforce will demand innovation from IT, and will be willing to sacrifice the handholding and 99.99997% uptime commonly demanded today to get it. Those early pioneers will lose some sleep, but they will be rewarded. Then we will get past the industry of professional IT that IBM and Microsoft built, and see the innovation we see on the web in common business.

Tools

Adam over at Printmode recently wrote about the tools he uses, and invited me to do the same.

I have quite a few I guess, as a lot of the work I do is research oriented. I’m not sure I could name them all, but I can name the ones that I find especially useful:

First, I use Windows (I have to, as it’s what we use at work), Mac (bittersweet), and Ubuntu Linux (also bittersweet). I use Linux mostly because I feel I’ll end up there eventually, so I might as well start getting my feet wet. I also find a bit of delight in using very high quality software on a high quality OS, when neither has cost me anything. I do find that Open Office just doesn’t measure up to Excel, however, so I stick to MS Office for most documents.

Firefox. Without this browser I wouldn’t have had tabbed browsing for all the time it’s taken Microsoft’s geniuses to figure it out. During that time I’ve become quite hooked. I haven’t yet upgraded to 2.0, I’m still using 1.5.x on a U3 usb key. This way I have my environment on any computer I sit at, at home or at work, including the full Open Office suite, Thunderbird (if I desire), and lots of other apps.

Performancing
& Adsense Notifier are two Firefox plugins I use regularly, to write blog posts and see what my adsense ads are doing. No, adsense doesn’t do much more than defray hosting expenses, but I can dream, can’t I? I’ve used Blogjet and Ecto on Windows and Mac respectively, but most of my posts don’t have pictures so Performancing works just as well and is in the browser where it’s handy.

As for website platforms, I use WordPress for blogs (the non-hosted kind), phpBB for SpeakStrategy, soon to be upgraded to something that handles spam users better, Drupal for a work site, and SugarCRM & pmwiki for managing some personal stuff. It’s truly a pleasure to work with such high-quality, open source software and I’d recommend these packages (ok, phpBB with many caveats) to anyone.

For email, it’s gmail and fastmail.fm. Really, gmail does what I need these days. I have two accounts, one that is hooked to my email domain, which forwards to another because only non-domain accounts have real-time push to blackberry (I don’t rate a corporate blackberry, so I use my own). For encryption I use both the built-in digital-id based encryption using keys from Thawte, and PGP, although frankly neither sees a lot of use.

At work it’s the ubiquitous Outlook, with draconian quotas and attachment policies. I use Nelson Email Organizer to help maintain my sanity.

Google Calendar takes care of my non-work related events, and it’s easy enough to copy events from outlook to google calendar just by inviting myself at the appropriate email address.

Joe’s Goals lets me track a few things I’d like to control better. It allows me to put a graph here on Lornitropia to let everyone else see when I’m letting myself down ;-). Speaking of graphs, I use a neato graphing package on my run blog to track mileage, weight loss and other stuff.

Stat Counter
and Google Analytics allow me to see how my various sites are doing.

Google Reader is now my preferred RSS reader.

Linkedin, xing, Plaxo, and several other sites provide both good networking tools and good research tools, along with Zoominfo & Jigsaw. Anagram makes it easy to suck contact info out of anything and into Outlook’s contacts. The Linkedin and Plaxo toolbars for Outlook are both really handy, but are both pretty buggy.

Search engines used are Google, of course, but also Ask. Frankly, I keep hearing that one needs to use more than google, but I find it’s pretty rare that I find something that Google didn’t have. I also use Copernic, desktop for finding stuff on my machine, web for doing very thorough searches outside Google and Tracker for keeping tabs on websites I monitor.

Highbeam
is pretty useful, although they don’t have many printing industry publications. LexusNexus and Hoovers also provide some value, albeit at a very high price.

iTunes
and iPod mean the difference between listening to podcasts and not for me. Both are awesome products that just work like crazy.

As a main CI database I use Strategy Software, which is pretty darned cool.

Photos – Adobe Photoshop or The Gimp. For storing them, iPhoto is what I use now, but Picasa was very capable when I was using it.

Who’s Next?

Hmmm…

Dr. Joe Webb
Mike Rohde
Des Walsh

Goodbye Linux

Like the crib project that received its 4th coat of varnish today, Linux is another subject I’ve let run cold. Actually, its run cold for a good reason. I’m no longer using Linux.

It’s not that I dislike Linux. If I had to run a web server, Linux would be my first choice. If I had to run any kind of multi-user system, I’d choose Linux. But that’s not what I’m doing. I’m doing your normal home-computing stuff, and that’s where Linux is challenged the most.

The pro-Linux folks will tell you that you can do everything in Linux that you can do in Windows. Mostly it’s true, in a technical sense, but not always in a strict cool-to-use sense. The interoperability between peripherals and the system is still primitive in many cases (including my Epson multi-function printer) and everything always seems to require just a bit of tweaking. Not a lot, and not more than most people should be able to handle, but enough that I never got to a place where being able to do a particular thing in Linux quickly was something I could count on. Sometimes you want your computer to be a hobby, and you enjoy it. Sometimes you need it to be an appliance. In these cases Linux tends to fall short. Still, it is, and should be amazing that a free product should be comparable to one you have to pay for. In what other industry can this be done?

If I had more time to spend on it I’d probably still be using it. If I didn’t have a wife who has to be able to use my computer, I’d probably still be using it. In my current situation it just didn’t work. I tried, I kept at it for a while. I even wrote that I couldn’t hardly remember using Windows much anymore, because I hadn’t needed to print any photos, or scan anything, or any other of a small number of things at the time. After a while the thrill wore off, and when I just needed to get something done and done quickly, I ended up in Windows.

One thing that surprised me was how much the lack of visual design in Linux disturbed me. Linux is a distributed development, and each application has it’s own look & feel. Some are quite good, some aren’t so good. Some are very techno-European, and some are just a bit primitive. At first this is campy and fun, and makes it an adventure. After a while you start to yearn for fewer fonts on the screen, more consistent colors and frankly just a more pleasant and consistent visual experience. 

Of course, I’ve got a nice alternative to Linux. Windows XP is as good as it gets in the Windows world, and if I was stuck in Windows Mostly Excrement, or in 95 I think Linux would be superior.

I would like to end this with a request: If you’re one of those people who haven’t tried Linux, give it a try. You may not “switch”, but the experience is interesting, and it’s no longer that painful from a technical perspective. At the least, it will give you something to talk about and will expose you to world you haven’t seen. At the most, well, you’ll switch 😉

Microsoft: Linux more expensive – bad marketing?

I confess I have no idea how old this is, but I found it rather odd that Microsoft has a page under “Get the Facts” explaining how Detailed Financials Show Total Linux Costs Higher Than Windows Costs by 5 to 20 Percent. There’s a .pdf to download if anyone’s interested.

The reason I found it odd was the wording: It’s basic marketing that you don’t bash your competitor directly, so instead of saying “Linux is more expensive”, you would say “Windows is more cost effective”, turning a negative into a positive.

Things are getting almost homey – more Living with Linux

I was checking my email this morning, and I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I went into Windows, or why. I figure it must have been last weekend, but I honestly don’t know. Things on my laptop are getting almost homey, and I haven’t had any need to leave Linux so far.

Yesterday I decided it was time to sync my Palm to Linux. I wasn’t very optimistic, and I expected that while the software would be there it would be buggy or very tricky to install. I’m delighted to report that it worked the first time â?? almost perfectly. I’m talking about Kpilot, although there’s also Kitchensync and Unison â?? all three came with SuSE. Near the end of each sync, I get a window saying it crashed, but the program behaves normally. My data’s where it’s supposed to be, so I haven’t done anything about it yet. The really nice part was that the window that came up to tell me something was wrong contained a complete explanation, along with recommended action, as well as some data to send the author to help with a fix. That beats the snot out of â??Sync error â?? conduit failedâ??

I also got XAMPP set up so that I can do some layout development for this site, without working on the live version. XAMPP is what they used to call LAMPP, which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. It’s this all-in-one web server package that makes all those tools available in a quick single installation. It’s not meant to run a real site, just for development, but it has everything I need for WordPress. I’ve used it on Windows, and I’ve been looking to get it working on Linux. It’s nicer on Linux because on Windows you have to live with an open Command Tool window while it’s running, where on Linux it’s just another process running in the background. I hate anything that takes up screen real estate unnecessarily.

I’m using version 1.5 of WordPress, which has a built in editor for the templates and style sheet. It’s pretty primitive as editors go, but it’s very convenient. So I can edit the template in one browser window, and refresh the site in another. I’m sure more experienced bloggers are yawning, but I think it’s pretty cool. Of course, I have a lot to learn about CSS and whatnot, but that will come in time.

I write my posts in OpenOffice, and post them by cutting and pasting â?? I haven’t gotten around to finding a blogging client yet.

It still haven’t figured out the jumping cursor problem. I’ve checked my mouse config to see if the same device is referenced more than once. I’ve updated everything. Still, it jumps. However, I believe it jumps a lot less when my regular mouse is not plugged in.

Now for the odd part. Some things are so much faster on Linux it has me wondering about Microsoft conspiracies. Usenet is extremely speedy. Web downloads are often blazing. But some things are really, really slow and I’m not sure why. DNS lookups are really slow. I might have munged something other day when I was looking at setting up a local caching DNS server, but I don’t think so. It took 15 minutes to transfer about 1mb via FTP using Konqueror â?? it kept starting and stopping. I was actually downloading the files for this site, and I know the server is pretty responsive. Like I said, odd.

Turning the corner with Linux

Well it’s been a busy weekend, and my knowledge of and enthusiasm for Linux have increased a bit even if my actual progress hasn’t so much. I’m in the middle of a bathroom remodel, and with a pregnant wife and only one bathroom you can imagine there’s a bit of pressure to get it finished. However, thanks to the extremely long cure time on some of the materials I was using, I had some time to try and address the issues I’ve been having to continue my experiment with SuSE Linux.

First, the mouse issues. I believe they may be my fault. After I booted my new system I was presented with a small dialog box that was telling me that the system had found a mouse, asked me if I wanted to be notified about new hardware in the future. I seemed to recall in the last installation that after seeing this box many times I finally decided we had discovered enough mice, and shut it off. Not sure why that action killed my mouse, but hey, sometimes you just treat the symptoms. I have not shut it off, and I still have a mouse.

Second, I need some education. As I mentioned before, I administered a small network of old SunOS machines back in the very early 90’s, so I’m not completely ignorant. However, like foreign languages and higher mathematics, if you don’t use it you lose it pretty quickly. So I went looking for some books. I think I’ll save a review of them for a different post, but two of them (by O’Reilly) proved to be what the doctor ordered. I even dug out my ancient copy of Unix Power Tools, and had immediate flashbacks to my old job. While configuring something I even used VI, and pulled out an old book for that as well, which also produced the thousand-yard stare for a while.

Third, I’ve learned that Evolution along with PPTP will allow me to get work email on the road, one of the major things that would keep Windows on my laptop. I’m not quite there yet (need to gather server names and whatnot) but everything I need is installed if not configured.

Fourth, I’ve got Samba running on my desktop machine (which will act as our server), and as soon as I can get the computers resolving host names my wife’s Windows laptop should be able to access printers & stuff. This is an area that I haven’t figured out yet – my router is doing DHCP, and is issuing IP addresses to the machines, but it seems the only way to get the host names resolved is to use host files, which require static IPs. I’m thinking that when either of us travels, we’d prefer not to have to change network settings to connect to different wireless network, and won’t hosts files cause cause us to do that?

Then there are some minor things: Kmail seems like it might be nicer than Thunderbird – I like the layout better, I think, and it seems more straightforward and faster. I still have the cursor jumping problem in OpenOffice and elsewhere. Every once in a while my cursor just jumps up a few lines with no warning. I haven’t done a huge amount of writing, but enough to know it’s not just OpenOffice. I have no idea what to do about this one. It seems my comments on boot time caught a lot of attention by those who are very fond of Linux, and while I think it’s still pretty slow, I’ve been using suspend since then and that’s proving to be acceptable. At some point I do plan to dig around and figure out what can be shut off to speed things up a bit. However, I’m not thinking that’s a good idea right now, with my current state of ignorance.

Yep, I reinstalled Linux…

After looking for a bit online, and checking the Linux books at the local bookstore, and still not finding any solution to the mouse issue I’ve been having, I decided to reinstall SuSE Linux. Now, if I can believe some of the comments from an earlier post of mine on living with Linux, SuSE may not be the best choice for a speedy system. But I already have a DVD for it, which makes for pretty fast installation.

The installation went fine, and everything’s pretty much back to normal on my laptop. I even got Linux installed on my desktop, which was kind of a trick because for whatever reason, during the earlier steps in the install process the hard drive would thrash madly for 5-10 minutes between each step. None of the various install options had an effect, and once I just let it do it’s thing (it took about 3 hours) it worked fine.

But that’s not the impressive part.

I have an old HP Laserjet 5l. It’s a parallel port printer, and my desktop computer is one of those Sony slimtop computers that doesn’t have a parallel port. So I use a Belkin USB to parallel converter. When I bought it, I very nearly returned it because I couldn’t get Windows to recognize it, and it didn’t come with any disks or instructions or anything. It basically creates several virtual LPT ports, but it for whatever reason prevents Windows from recognizing the printer attached to it. So, in order to get the printer working, I have to manually add it, and then change the port it uses to each of the virtual ports to figure out which one it’s attached to. It’s a pain, but less of a pain than buying a new printer to replace one that works fine.

But, on my desktop Linux picked out the Belkin, and asked me to config the printer. Not only that, but once I selected the correct model, it worked. The test page came out fine. I’m in the process of setting up Samba server to get my desktop to make that printer available to our laptops. So far no luck, but I haven’t fiddled with it very much.

Will I install Linux again?

Yesterday I went to boot my laptop, and it stopped halfway through. After pressing the escape key to see what was going on, I find that it is hung on a line stating something about the ReiserFS and some kind of activity log. A short search on the web reveals I need to reboot with ACMPI=off or something like that, and once again my system was willing to boot. I promptly shut down properly, and boot again before I get lulled into thinking anything is fixed. It does seem to be working.

Now my mouse doesn’t work. For whatever reason, the system boots without a mouse driver. I can install one after the fact, but as anyone who’s tried it knows, operating a windowed operating system without a mouse is like spreading peanut butter with a Twinkie. I know there is a setting in an rc file somewhere that will fix this. The question is whether I risk breaking something else to fix this, or just go through another install – after all, I’ve haven’t had much time to get anything on the machine to lose.

I’m guessing that these problems are the result of running YOU – Yast Online Update. One of the secret pleasures of Linux is that every name is either a nutty acronym or has some kind of historical significance. Or is just silly. Anyway, I don’t recall what Yast stands for, but it is the program that is similar to Control Panel & System Device Manager combined. By entering Yast, and tabbing and arrow-keying and entering I can get to a place where I can select that I have a Microsoft Intellimouse USB, and all is well. At least until the next reboot. So, I figure an hour to reinstall, another hour of getting a few things set the way a like them versus 4 to 6 hours learning and fixing….hmmm…

On the plus side, my Windows installation is also acting funky. My wife’s computer has no trouble whatsoever with the new router. Mine decides it doesn’t like the WEP settings. Either that, or it doesn’t like mixed mode – 802.11b and 802.11g at the same time. I’m not sure I’ll go to the trouble to figure out which it is. It’s stuff like this that makes a guy wonder if an OS is capable of being jealous and acting out of spite.

Yep, it’s slow – living with Linux

You know, I remember when Linux was touted as the small, fast operating system — able to turn even an old slow machine into a useful computer again. That’s what got me to try it a long time ago. That and, of course, some Windows versions of old that left a lot to be desired.

But while this new Linux seems to be pretty capable, it doesn’t seem to be either small or fast. It comes on a DVD, versus a CD for XP. Actually, Suse 9.2 Professional, the box edition, comes with two DVD’s and 5 CD’s (they duplicate each other). To be fair, it does come with an office suite and quite a lot of other software that XP doesn’t come with. My Sony laptop’s recovery disks, which include both Works and Office (trial edition) total 8 disks to create the image. Ok, maybe isn’t so big. They claim it can live in 2.5GB for a “standard install”, my Windows directory is just about 2.5GB. Not much of a comparison I guess.

I did finally get the suspend to disk feature working. It does bring the boot times down to something close to reasonable. Still not as fast as XP, though. In order to get it to work I had to reinstall the software, although that’s how *I* knew how to fix it, so it’s not fair to say it was the only way. For whatever reason, the first time I installed the OS a swap partition wasn’t created. This is necessary for suspend. So I created one, and although I could suspend I couldn’t resume. I ended up wiping the drive, restoring both XP and Linux in a different partition arrangment. Not terribly difficult, but time consuming.

I did some checking with a stopwatch, not exactly scientific, but more than guessing. Linux suspends in about 25s, with about 70s to come back versus 12s and 20s for Windows XP on the same computer. Boot & shutdown are 120s & 40s for Linux, and 85s and 12s for Windows. However, I haven’t tuned Linux at all to speed things up, where Windows XP has received some attention in that area. Still, those are some pretty big differences – not just fumble fingering the start or stop on the watch.

In spite of this, I sitll think about switching over to Linux – I mean actually switching, where I wouldn’t even have windows on my laptop anymore. The number of applications I would have to live without is pretty small, and I’m sure I would gain a few, yet to be discovered. but I’m starting to have doubts about performance. Plus, my touch pad doesn’t work very well – the movement is sluggish, and tapping and scrolling don’t work. I haven’t yet dug into the configuration of it, perhaps there is a fix.

Last but not least, web performance doesn’t seem to be too speedy. Again, this is something that can vary quite a bit from one day or time to the next, so it will take some time to be sure, but it just seems to take a lot longer to bring up a page in Linux than Windows. I didn’t do any timing here, as we just got a new ‘g’ router ($20 after rebate at Best Buy) and either it or the net was a bit funky last night. And again, I’m sure there are settings or configs somewhere to play with.

More later!

Ain’t seen you in a Linux boot!

“Ain’t seen you in a Linux boot!”

Somewhere between “it’s been a while” and “a coon’s age”.

Seriously, it takes a very long time to boot this version of Linux. So far I have not been able to get suspend working. It suspends just fine, I just don’t know how to get it going again without a reboot.

I’m starting to think that Linux is suffering from the same “code bloat” that seems to afflict all software projects. Otherwise, so far so good:

  • I still haven’t found a way to pull my RSS feeds from the windows version of Thunderbird to the Linux version…not really looking to retype all that stuff. I suppose it’s time to find a dedicated reader that supports OPML, but I’d like one that’s available for both platforms.
  • While typing, my cursor seems to frequently jump up several lines unexpectedly. I believe this is a feature of X-windows, left over from the days when the VI editor was king, and users loved comands like “move up one line, back two words” with a single keystroke. I’ll have to go find out how to shut it off, now that I’m a mouse-monkey.
  • I like real estate on my computer screen. I cannot make the fonts small enough, or have enough resolution. I rather like the way Linux tends to use smallish fonts for things as the default. It allows for more info in less space.
  • My Sandisk Cruzer USB flash drive is recognized, and opens a file manager window. Cool! Of course, I’ve encrypted most of the drive with TrueCrypt, which isn’t supported under Linux. I’ll have to find some cross platform encryption.
  • My touch pad is acting very strange – it’s basically unusable.

I’m still using it as my primary system, although lately that means a little writing here, a little surfing, and a little email so it’s not an exhaustive test.