Sunday, November 19, 2006

My experiences with NetBeans 5.5 and the Visual Web Pack Preview Release

This all started with an email at work. The gist of the email was a question concerning free (as in beer) web page development tools. Most people, when they think of web development, think along the lines of content creation using (X)HTML and CSS. Because I've been exposed to multi-teer web development over the past 10 years, I tend to look for tools that manage and organize the entire web application development, including data binding with databases as well as services that are invoked from the web page. The only real experience I lack is the creation of a deep AJAX application.

I say deep, because in 1997 I worked on a project named Theater Telemedicine Prototype Project, or T2P2. It was a Windows technology based distributed system that ran over the web. It used early versions of XML, DHTML, Javascript, and Java (all Microsoft written and running within Internet Explorer 4) on the client side and C++-based services on the back end. We used bleeding-edge MSMQ for sending information between distributed servers. The only reason it can't be called AJAX is because every time you wanted to update the page, you called back to the server. The dynamic update via Javascript was missing. I thus call my initial experience with the AJAX technologies 'shallow' or at best incomplete. And as a final footnote, I learned early on to avoid the headache of multiple implementations of DHTML and Javascript within different browsers by focusing exclusively on Internet Explorer 4. Netscape Navigator 4 was just too horribly broken at the time.

But how times have changed. I'm using Java on the client side for services; Java powers the HTTP server (Tomcat), the database (Derby), and the IDE (NetBeans). The client is the remote descendant of NN4, Firefox 2.0. And if I want to test between other browsers, I have Internet Explorer 7 and Opera 9, and they all pretty much behave the same. Nine years does make a difference.

Setup

I'd already installed NetBeans 5.5 along with the Enterprise Pack and the Profiler. Along the way I'd also installed the Derby database via NetBeans' Update Center. When the question was asked about web tools I took that as a excuse to install Visual Web Pack and give it a go.

NOTE: The Visual Web Pack is a Technology Preview. It is not meant for production applications. Any comments and criticisms I may make are made with that in mind.

The Visual Web Pack seems to add all the bits necessary to create complete web applications using a visual design philosophy similar to Matisse; that is, you drag and drop web page controls to a blank page, which can then be moved around and manipulated before being displayed. Before you can begin the process of page construction you have to create a Visual Web project. You do this in the standard way (for me anyway), by right clicking on the project view to create a new project. When the New Project dialog appears, you then select the Web category and the Visual Web Application project, as shown below:



By this time it should be obvious to the regular NetBeans user how to fill out subsequent dialogs. If you're unsure of yourself, you can check out the Visual Web Pack section of the NetBeans website. There, you'll find documentation, tutorials, and blogs covering all the key features of Visual Web.

The next few views show my results in following the tutorial, "Using Databound Components to Access Databases." I won't go into the details of creating it, but I will list some of the gotchas I discovered while working with the Visual Web Pack.



As you can see above, it's easy to lay controls on the page. I find it interesting that they use a very good grid layout to position the controls. This after the commentary about how Matisse was created and why grid layouts were a bad thing. Oh well. The drop down list at the very top and the table in the middle are bound to data tables in the Travel database hosted by Derby. It was trivial to drag and drop a database table onto a control, with one notable exception. It appears that dropping a database table on the drop down control is a bit touchy with this release. I had troubles binding a table to the control when I dropped the table in the center of the control. After a few false starts I found that I had to pay attention to the visual cues when dragging over the drop down control; I had to make sure that the outline was highlighted before releasing, otherwise the binding failed and I could not select specific columns for the drop down as was illustrated in the tutorial.

Once all the controls were in place, I then attempted to launch and test my pages. That's when I ran into my second problem. The embedded Tomcat HTTP server failed to find the JDBC driver. I'd seen this problem with my earlier experiences using Tomcat. I went looking for where Tomcat was located within NetBeans, and sure enough, I had to find and copy the file 'derbyclient.jar' into location netbeans-5.5/enterprise3/apache-tomcat-5.5.17/common/lib. I restarted Tomcat and when I tested again, Tomcat could create the necessary database connections and my page displayed the data.



You may notice what appears to be a small Google map on the display. That's because I imported some AJAX controls, one of which was a map. I just dropped a map control on the page and fired it up to test it out. That created several interesting problems of its own:
  1. My first attempts to use the control resulted in a dialog popping up informing me that I had to acquire a new Google key to use the control on my web page. I found directions for fixing the problem on the Sun site after googling for the problem (look at the bottom of the page in the section titled "Troubleshooting"). You can get your Google map key here. I didn't hack the raw web.xml file so much as use the much easier editor to enter the parameter and name value. Once I did that the map started to work.
  2. Which led to the second problem. The default location is 0 latitude, 0 longitude, which puts the map displayed dead center on the Google location. I wanted something closer to home, in this instance the University of Central Florida. First I found it's location by using regular Google Maps. Then I clicked on the page link to create a coded URL that contained the latitude and longitude for UCF. I then copied that into the mapviewer's properties. I took a little poking around on the IDE to find it; it certainly wasn't intuitive. The top image of the IDE shows the mapView1_center highlighted on the left, with the properties on the right. I hope they clean up and combine all the various related properties before the final release.
Final Thoughts

Overall, I found a lot to like in the preview. The emphasis of easy page creation using drag-and-drop AJAX controls and databinding is quite powerful. There's a lot to investigate, and I've just barely begun to scratch the surface. The glitches can get be annoying, but it is just a preview after all. I'm going to be very interested in following how the Visual Web Pack evolves until its release. I'm interested to see how standard web page creation can be merged with the powerful control features that are currently available. Will it be a one-stop development tool, or will I need a second editor for web page content development while using this tool to add the necessary AJAX controls? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Large" public-sector Linux project flops

From ZDNet.co.uk:

Here's how the project started in May 2005.

And here's what happened.
Birmingham City Council began the project — one of the largest public-sector Linux projects in the UK — in May 2005 to evaluate the potential of open-source software. The council, the largest local authority in the UK, intended to deploy open-source software on 1,500 PCs in libraries across the city.
I would not consider 1,500 PCs a large number of machines.
But the project has fallen vastly short of expectations, with just 200 Linux PCs being deployed. Even some of those have been migrated back to Windows, council executives have told ZDNet UK.

"We have deployed open source in some libraries. We have worked on the basis of 200 PCs. In some cases, we have migrated back to Windows," said Les Timms, project manager at the city council. "1,500 was the original plan. It was a figure plucked from the air at the time," Timms told ZDNet UK.
A figure plucked from the air? I wonder what else was "plucked from the air"?
Timms said the council had compared the cost of the Linux desktop migration with an upgrade to Windows XP, and had found that a Microsoft upgrade would be cheaper. Most of the difference was made up of costs attributed to "decision making" and "project management", largely brought about because of a shortage of skills in open-source networking and the changes to IT processes that would result.
OK. They thought that "free" meant free-as-in-beer, and thought they could update all their machines on the cheap. And they soaked up the savings with meetings and overhead (decision making and project management). If the software was free, then everything else would be free, right? And to be blunt about it, because they were a Microsoft shop, they failed to realize that setup and management would be different between Linux and Windows. A shortage of skills and a change in IT process, indeed.
The Linux project cost £534,710, while the equivalent XP upgrade would have cost the council £429,960. There were a range of problems with the open-source implementation, Timms said, including desktop interfaces and lack of support for removeable drives.

In the light of the findings, the council has taken the decision to mothball the project.

Timms has now moved jobs to work for Service Birmingham, a joint venture between Birmingham City Council and Capita, which is focusing on increasing business efficiency. Responsibility for the day-to-day running of the council's IT now rests with transformation chief Glyn Evans. Evans told ZDNet UK: "We will continue with a mixed economy [Microsoft and open source]." But he warned, "I'm not an open-source fanatic."
Interesting. Sounds like no real attempt was made to determine if the Linux WIMP would match the Windows experience they were used to, and what, if any, special training would be required. Testing would also have shown the problems with hardware support (or the lack thereof). I can sympathize with their hardware problems. I have also experienced problems with thumb drives and other USB devices. It has only been within the last year with the latest distro releases (Ubuntu 6, Suse 10, and FC5) where plugging in thumb drives even approached reliable detection and automatic mounting.

It's a shame to see this happen, but it's going to have to before we can run off the noisier and more useless Linux zealots and get down to the task of delivering on most, if not all, of the hype.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Firefox vs. Opera visual quality on SLED 10

I was working on SLED 10 this morning, and decided to compare the visual quality of Firefox 1.5 vs. Opera 9.1. This is SLED 10 AMD64 binaries. What I discovered is that Opera has noticeably inferior text rendering compared to Firefox's. The screen shot below has Firefox above with Opera below, looking at the same page at the same time. Both are running on the Gnome desktop.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

FC6 live running on my Gateway

I downloaded the FC6 live CD ISO and booted it on my Gateway M685. It was just a quick look to see if there was any chance of it replacing Suse 10.1. I found good and bad news during the trial. Unfortunately the bad news overcame the good.

The good is that the kernel (2.6.18.1) enabled audio on the notebook. Audio has been broken under Suse 10.1 on this machine since day one. That means no music and no DVD playback under Suse. When FC6 booted on this machine it found it and I was able to successfully test and play back test audio. The bad is lack of wireless (802.11g) support. I don't know if this is a problem with the FC6 live CD or a problem with FC6 in general. But I need wireless support, and Suse 10.1 gives it to me out-of-the-box without any special tweaks or installs. It Just Works.

Other features I found pleasant were
  • The recognition of the proper screen resolution of this notebook (1680 by 1050). As you can see by the two screen captures everything started up and used the full screen at its best resolution. Ubuntu has been able to do this for some time now, so it was good to see this capability in another major distribution.
  • Full recognition of USB devices, including my Western Digital Passport portable USB drive. The recognition of such as large capacity device along with a live CD makes checking and using new releases extremely easy.



Thursday, November 09, 2006

We Won

I am a Democrat living in Florida. For the last eight years I've suffered under a Republican governor, that other Bush, Dubya's older bubba Jeb. We got another Republican this time, so we're still held hostage to the Republican ideal of bad government. But I take solace in the knowledge that at least we Democrats swept through both houses of Congress, and that was a very good thing indeed.

I waited before gloating over the Democratic national victory because of the hard lesson learned during the presidential election debacle of 2000. I wanted to make sure all the votes were properly counted, especially in Virginia. Patience is a virtue.

We Democrats have both the national House and Senate. President Bush's legislative rubber-stamp is gone. I was especially pleased to see how Bill Nelson stomped Catherine Harris: he got 60% of the vote compared to her 38%. I'd say that's a serious landslide, and Harris got buried good and deep. The other welcome Democratic win was Tim Mahoney over Mark Foley. Foley was forced to resign when it was revealed he sent lurid emails and instant text messages to teenage boys working as congressional pages.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Love those slugs

I went to see "Flushed Away" today with the wife and youngest daughter. It was a really fun movie and worth the time and money to see it.

Every character was well defined and it seemed that the humans behind the voices were having a lot of fun performing. The plot was decent for a cartoon and the pace was continuously fast from start to finish. The funniest characters on the screen were all the little slugs. They enhanced (and sometimes stole) every scene they appeared in. Their singing talents are second to none.

Outside of the slugs my favorite characters were Roddy (voiced by Hugh "Wolverine" Jackman) and The Toad (voiced by Ian McKellen, he of Gandolf and Magneto fame). That's not to say the others were bad; they were all excellent. But the slugs, Roddy, and The Toad just took my fancy.

There was obviously lots of English humor in the film. A sub theme to the whole movie was the World Cup, and at one point Roddy cries "The English are winning! Anything's possible!". Then there were the French frogs led by Le Frog (Jean Reno), cousin of The Toad, who has the obligatory mime in their midst and who at one point hold up their hands in surrender when mis-interpreting an order from Le Frog. And of course the movie made fun of Americans and their inability to understand 'real' football.

Little visual cues from other films were scattered throughout the picture. For example I saw stuffed rabbits in Roddy's room from the movie "Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" along with a stuffed Alex the lion from "Madagascar". I'm sure there were many others, and it's those kind of little "easter eggs" that makes you want to sit with the DVD and the remote looking for them.

"Flushed Away" is hugely funny, and worth at least one trip to the movies. I'm looking forward to getting the DVD when it comes out.

Ransom Love hammers the final nail in SCOG's coffin

Groklaw has posted the readable version of Ransom Love's voluntary declaration in support of IBM. Let me repeat that. Ransom Love wasn't deposed, he volunteered. Ransom Love was the co-founder and former chief executive of Caldera before it renamed itself to The SCO Group, so he has plenty of knowledge about the company and what it knew before Darl McBride replaced him as chief executive. You need to read Love's deposition to fully understand every lie that the current SCO Group has attempted to sue IBM and other Linux users over.

Here is the link to his deposition on Groklaw: http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20061104213326242

I'd rather be insulted by a botched joke than die in a botched war

It's the punchline for cartoon I found on the Times website this morning, and I think it sums up the general mood in the country about how the war has been properly managed from the start. So what if Kerry botched his joke? At least no one was killed in the delivery (except maybe Kerry's ego and future political ambitions).

The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is no joke. The deaths of thousand of American servicemen and women are no joke. The injury of tens of thousands more is no joke. The spending of hundreds of billions in support of the two wars is no joke. And the current prosecution of the war is no laughing matter either. It isn't a joke, it's a slow horrible grinding disaster, especially for those we've asked to go into harm's way for our sakes. Kerry's mistake was trying to make light of a very serious matter. He should have not even attempted the effort. Instead we need to keep focused on the continuing failure of our overall foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, all of which comes from the current Republican administration, especially from Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. And of finding the right men and women to replace them and their flawed policies.

Links

New Nokia 330 is Linux-less

With all the chatter about the supposed Nokia 870/880 came the announcement of the Nokia 330. The 330 looks to provide GPS navigation (the image to the right shows this) as well as multimedia capabilities (MP3 audio, DivX movies, and photos). But its primary function appears to be as a GPS navigational aid for drivers.

It should be noted that the 330 does not use Linux. As quoted from the linked article:
Dr. Jaaksi said, "Nokia 330 is not an internet tablet -- nor it is a connected device. It has nothing to do with the 770. It is a stand-alone navigation device... [and] has a proprietary OS. No Linux."
In a way the lack of Linux on other Nokia devices such as the 330 doesn't surprise me. The creation of quality applications for the 770 has been less than spectacular, due in no small part to the complex development environment required to create deployable applications (via Debian's deb package format).

I've had experience writing for similar devices, specifically the Palm-based Handspring and the Windows Mobile-based Axim 5. It was very straight-forward to just create the application and move it up to either device - under Windows. I still find it amazing that I could download a version of GCC, along with the necessary header files for Palm OS, that allowed me to write applications in C and execute them on my Palm-powered Handspring PDA. Six years ago. In 2000. And that technique was already established long before I got involved.

Links

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Nokia 770 notes from the field - 2

While rummaging about the LCARS theme and the LCARS sound pages, I stumbled across this intriguing comment on the sounds page:
  • Have lcars-sounds 1.0 installed and want your original sounds back
    • On the new (Nov 2) 2006 OS
      • You should re-flash (you couldn't have had it installed for long yet anyway... ;)
Yep. Nokia released a November update to the 2006 OS for the 770. So I went over to the download area on maemo (http://maemo.org/downloads/nokia_770) and downloaded SU-18_2006SE_2.2006.39-14_PR_F5_MR0_ARM.bin. I used the Windows updater to install the image. The update went without a hitch and I was up and running with the November release in about two minutes.

I can't see any big differences between the June and November 2006 releases. I did go ahead and install the LCARS theme and sounds so I can be even more of a Trekky dweeb. More to follow.

Update
  • Opera seems better behaved. The browser identifies itself as Opera 8.02 (MSIE 6.0 compatible). I know that Google Mail seems better behaved.
  • If applications are open and if they are using swap, then a dialog will pop up on the 770's display stating that the device's flash memory card will not be visible. You have to close all applications before you see the flash card from your PC as a USB drive. This is the first time I've seen that explicit warning.
Update 2

Well, that was short lived. I went to Google and attempted to run Google Calendar and Google Spreadsheet in Opera. Opera tried to run Calendar (very poorly) and explicitly stopped me from running Spreadsheet. When I attempted to move back to Google Search with the browser's back button, Opera crashed, and then 10 seconds later the 770 rebooted; it shut down and then came back up again. So much for hope eternal with the 770.

Nokia 870 - replacement for the 770?

I found all sorts of chatter on the web via Google about the super-secret Nokia 870. The story seemed to hit around October 27th. No official details and only one blurry picture (see right). It's supposed to have a camera and VoIP capabilities built-in. I hope that latter VoIP capability means better placement of the microphone and speaker. I hope it also means a faster processor (something at least 400MHz in the Arm processor), more memory (256MB), more flash (1GB), and a more stable version of embedded Linux. I would sincerely hope that Nokia takes a clue from other cellular developers and uses Trolltech's QT for embedded systems as its UI rather than Nokia's home-grown Hildon interface. That requires an X server as well as a modified version of Gnome. And finally, another way to create applications that doesn't require a complete development environment running chrooted under Linux. Something like Mono (for .Net) or even Python.

Update

This link has more information, some of it deciphered from documents submitted by Nokia to the FCC.

FC6 successful upgrade: rhea

When I failed to upgrade my home system europa to FC6, I went back and installed Suse 10.1, and then installed all the patches. That was 24 hours ago. Earlier today I threw the same DVD at rhea, my 'lesser' system. I say lesser because it's a DYI system built with a low-end nVidia nForce2-based motherboard with an Athlon XP 2500+ Barton-core processor, 512MB of DRAM, and a budget ATI 9600 video card with 128MB of video memory. It drives an old Sony 19" E400 tube monitor. Before the upgrade it was running Suse 10.

FC6 installed without a hitch. Not one single problem reared its pointed head. Now that I've had a chance to play with it I'm going to put it on my other 'lesser' system, tethys, and see how tethys behaves. Tethys has only 384 MB of DRAM, but it currently dual boots Windows XP Pro and Suse 10. I put Suse on that machine so that the girls could get used to Linux. Besides, Linux rips the latest CDs regardless of the funky ways the music industry creates the CD file system. The girls like that, especially when they can copy their CD songs to their players without hassle.

Here's some FC6 eye candy.


After the install, I got a message that I needed to install 47 updates to everything I installed. That too went without any problems.


Here I've fired up a few quick applications; Firefox 1.5.0.7, a few terminals, glxgears, and KDevelop C/C++. I tweaked the terminal to set the background (partially transparent) and font for my tastes. You'll note that even with software updates going on one desktop and these little applications running here, that I've barely touched swap (192K). Response and performance were still quite nice on this 'old' system.

Of particular interest is how USB behaves on this old system. So I grabbed my 1GB USB thumb drive and plugged it in. It was detected and I was able to use it without any problems.


As is usual, I have to learn the peculiarities of Nautilus all over again. The view in the background is the view you get if you click on the desktop links to file systems. The view in the front is what you get if you open one of the folders from the view in the back. It turns out that the front view is what I want, not the back view. So now I have to go hunt down how to make the front view my default view when I open Nautilus. This isn't an FC6 issue. It's a bloody Gnome issue. Why the hell can't the Gnome/Nautilus developers leave the default view well enough alone? I'm up for a clone of the Mac OS X file explorer anyway.

Microsoft cares more for money than principal in China

First came this statement from Microsoft legal:
Earlier this week, Microsoft senior counsel Fred Tipson said concerns about repression in China might make it reconsider its presence there.
Then came Microsoft's corporate response:
"Microsoft is not considering the suspension of the company's internet services in China." ... "On the contrary, it is committed to continuing to offer services and communications tools in China as it believes it is better for customers that Microsoft is present in global markets with these tools and services as this can not only promote greater communication, but can also help to foster economic opportunity and social collaboration." (emphasis mine)
Translation: There is too much money to be made in China, and we'd be idiots to do anything to upset that "economic opportunity". Did you really expect Microsoft to act any different?

Eight track blast from the past

You know you've lived too long when you find part of your old eight-track tape collection buried in a box. A box you haven't seen since before you were married and moved to Florida (both in 1984). So what did this cardboard time capsule contain? Well, there's coolness points (I suppose) for Jethro Tull (Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll: Too Young To Die!), Janis Ian (Miracle Row), a couple from Phoebe Snow, Chuck Mangione, Herb Alpert, Art Garfunkle (Watermark), Diana Ross and Ramsey Lewis. Many of those names are still out there, and I hear about them on WLOQ primarily. But then I lost all my coolness points when I found one (1) Discomania (Original Hits!) eight track.

I owned and listened to eight track tapes while I owned my used 67 Chevy Nova from 1973 to 1978. It was in 78 that I finally had enough cash and a decent enough job to buy a brand new 1978 Honda Civic CVCC (how I still miss that car). I think that's when the tapes went in the box, on the off-chance that one day I'd have suitable stereo equipment to move all those songs off the eight tracks and onto reel-to-reel tapes. Of course that never happened; soon after that my money started getting sucked up by personal computer equipment.

Now my project is to find an old eight track player (ebay maybe?) and rip them to MP3s. Yeah. What a combination.

Nokia 770 notes from the field

I'm still toting my Nokia 770 around, and it still garners the occasional "what is it" question when I'm using it, along with the "will it make phone calls" question. When I have to tell them they have to install a VoIP app and find a wireless access point to make calls, interest quickly dries up. That's when I notice all the Treos and Blackberries being carried by everybody standing around.

I've started to get random crashes again. I don't know if it's due to bad web sites (a lot of them occur with the browser) or slowly aging hardware (some of them just occur when I pull the cover off). I've uninstalled MediaStreamer for the second (and final) time. It's just pure junk. I grabbed and installed LCARS PADD v1.0.1 theme via maemo. It was kind of fun to see it in action, but it's not completely thought out, especially with its black background. There were some applications that did not show up very well. What follows are two of the better screen shots.





The only real problem with this theme is the inability to switch away from it. I tried to go back to my original theme and background, only to see the left side icons disappear. The only way to completely switch away from LCARS was to remove the package and then select my prior setup. I don't know if this is a problem with the package or the 770 software.

Microsoft and Zend (PHP)

With all the hoopla over Microsoft and Novell, this little story got buried. On Halloween no less Microsoft and Zend announced a collaborative effort to boost PHP running on IIS. It would be a good thing to have happen, considering that I like to write on PHP and deploying non-trivial PHP (or at times, even trivial PHP) content to PHP running under IIS can be a royal PITA, especially with regards to performance:
"The way PHP's run on Windows up to today is in a way that does not perform," Gutmans said.
Ahmen, brother. Been there, seen that, and have the results to show it. I will say that over the last three months it has improved on one site (Incose.org), but I can't say if it's due to updates in PHP or a better understanding of the Incose sysadmins on how to properly manage PHP under IIS.

Why is Microsoft after PHP? Because it hits multiple targets with just one very big, well placed stone. First, lots of web developers use PHP. Add up all those who use it on both Windows and Linux, and PHP tends to dwarf ASP.NET users. Second is that PHP's one of the key drivers in the LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) platform. Microsoft already has the OS, web server, and database. All Microsoft has to do is convince a sizable group of PHP content creators to move over painlessly to WISP (Windows/IIS/SQL Server/PHP).

LAMP vs WISP. Hmmm... You use a LAMP to bring light into darkness. But a WISP is something thin, frail, or light-weight. Yes. I think it fits.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Remember the Sun/Microsoft deal?

Over two years ago, on April 2nd 2004, Sun and Microsoft announced a cooperative deal worth $1.95 billion to Sun ($700 million to resolve anti-trust issues, $900 million to resolve patent issues, and an up-front $350 million royalty payment) [1] [2] [3] [4] . This deal was cut back when Microsoft was sliding into deep trouble with the European Union, and Sun was Microsoft's strongest opponent in that issue. The broad goal of the pact was to improver interoperability between the two companies' products. That sounds a lot like the Novell/Microsoft deal, but with a lot more money being tossed at Sun. And yet, in spite of the big announcement I have yet to see anything come of that deal. Have you?

The continuing usability issue with Linux

I found this on Slashdot of all places:
Your entire post misses one of the main facts that Linux zealots regularly overlook: [Typical User]: "I do not have the time, nor the inclination, to figure out how to set the clock on my VCR. I don't care. What I do care about is watching this movie. That's it. I just want to watch a goddamned movie. Why do I have to (set my clock / install and configure WINE / use the console / download dependencies / switch to root) in order to (watch my movie / play my video game / change the way a program behaves when it starts / get this stupid thing to execute at all / look at the files in directory XYZ)."
You're right, it -is- a matter of laziness, but most of the time, it is -not- on the part of the user. There are ways of solving these problems in Linux. I've seen it done. But *nix geeks don't want to solve them; they want to continue to lazily assume that everybody is a Linux expert so that they can say that the usability failures in their software are the user's fault.
Let me add my twist to that. After reading about how Novell has "sold out" to Microsoft, and reading RedHat's response to what Novell did, I decided to wipe Suse 10.1 off of my main home machine and install Fedora Core 6 in its place. I'd already burned a DVD ISO of FC6, so I dropped it in the machine and booted it up. It passed the DVD inspection test. I started the installation. I selected the general install with Gnome as the desktop. I modified the disk manager's selections to re-install on top of root (/) and /opt, but to leave /home alone. Everything proceeded without error up to that point. The installer re-formated the two partitions, and got ready to install the software. That's when disaster struck. In the middle of installing an RPM (readline) the installation stopped because either the RPM was missing or corrupt. No amount of fiddling could get it past that point.

OK. Plan B. I had also downloaded and burned the Suse 10.1 Remastered DVD ISO (the 10.1 installation with all the fixes rolled in since the initial release). I figured that since it had 10.1 installed on it before, then I'd be that much farther ahead installing the remastered version. Version 10.1 initially came out with a few faults, such as the Zen updater not updating. Dropped in the DVD, booted into the installer, stepped up to the point where I could select packages, and the installer couldn't see the packages (or the DVD drive). I'd seen this problem before with older Suse versions (10 to be exact), and I was in no mood to try and find the magic configuration switches for the boot loader that would allow the DVD to be seen after boot.

Plan C. I grabbed my SLED 10 DVD and booted it up. Everything worked fine, except that SLED absolutely positively does not want to honor prior disk partitions. SLED wanted to delete everything and use its own layout. The only other SLED installation I have is on a Boxx system where I work, and I just let it take over. I refused to do that here because I wanted to keep /home untouched. I keep my information on /home, so that I can wipe the installation off of root and /opt.

Plan D. I went back and grabbed my original Suse 10.1 DVD from the boxed set I purchased at Best Buy, knowing full well I was in for a long period of downloading patches and updates. But at least it installed and behaved on the system. What do I have to look forward to? Adding the ATI driver URIs to the updater so that I can go and install the ATI drivers for my ATI 9700 PRO AGP card.

I also have Ubuntu that I could install, but I have a long standing aversion to Debian that Ubuntu has yet to totally erase (or Knoppix 5, for that matter). I could have installed FreeBSD 6, but it's a year old (having been released November 2005), and that would have caused yet more problems as I fumbled around trying to get it to work on a dual-boot system using Grub.

I'm not sure I'm a Linux geek any more. Yes, I can pull out my old Slackware 2 installation, or Yggdrasil, or Redhat 3 (remember InfoMagic?), but that doesn't mean anything any more. Yes I've got Linux running on six systems (three at home, two SPARTA notebooks, and a Boxx at AT&T). In spite of all that current experience I have to agree that the world isn't ready yet for Linux, at least on the desktop. My own experiences support this in large part. And switching between distros (as well as versions in the same distro) is getting progressively painful as time goes on. It's enough at times to make you want to stick with Windows.

Microsoft and Novell

I've been sick the past few days, but not so sick as to have missed the Microsoft and Novell detente that took place. The one where Microsoft and Novell agreed to cooperate. Where Microsoft agreed to support Novell. All sorts of reasons were given, and you can read about them just about everywhere. So in the interests of adding One More Opinion (OMO), I'll throw in my two cents.

SCOG vs IBM

In case you haven't noticed it, the three-year-old case continues to drag on and on. And slowly but surely SCOG (SCO Group, formerly known as Caldera) has had, effectively, all its evidence and claims debunked, one by one. It's now obvious to everyone who has bothered to follow that SCOG was in it as a shakedown of IBM. And IBM said no. So over the past three years IBM has systematically demolished every argument SCOG has presented, and in the process has slowly pulled Linux from under the cloud of 'infringment' of SCOG's supposed 'intellectual property' that it supposedly purchased from Novell. I won't go into details of all of this; you can get your fill of facts at Groklaw, if you can ignore Pamela Jone's bias long enough to do so.

Microsoft, sitting silently on the sidelines of the case, fighting Linux on other fronts (servers and embedded devices are two hot areas), was watching SCOG slowly being crushed. And this was dangerous to Microsoft because it would put Microsoft's software patent portfolio at great risk. Keep in mind that IBM is after more than just getting rid of the SCOG nuisance. If IBM succeeds in the lawsuit (and there is no reason to believe it won't), then nearly every idea embodied in Linux will be considered clean and unencumbered. Keep in mind that Unix is the predecessor not only of Linux and the BSDs but of just about every other operating system out there, including Windows. It embodies ideas and concepts that many, having forgotten the history of Unix, would like to claim as their own. It was Microsoft that first created and marketed Xenix before selling it to Santa Cruz Operations, the old SCO. Unix itself has roots that go back to Multics and other operating system concepts of the early 60's. I believe Microsoft's entire software patent foundation is at risk, and Microsoft is extremely risk averse, especially any risk to Windows and Office. If Linux is proven clean and unimpeachable, then Microsoft has no way to formally launch a lawsuit against any user or vendor of Linux for infringement. There is none.

Novell as a poor steward

Novell is a sick company, a faded image of past glory when it marketed NetWare and was king of the NOS hill. In the 80's Novell sold NetWare and network interface cards from 3Com with its own brand on them. Then Microsoft recognized networking as the next important front and started to chip away at Novell's dominance in PC networking. It opened the battle with Windows for Workgroups, where Windows 3.11 was given the ability to create peer-to-peer networks. The next (and final) shot was with Windows NT 3.1. With a server release of Windows NT, Microsoft could offer a much cheaper alternative to NetWare for printer and file sharing, and that's pretty much what NetWare was being used for.

As NetWare usage shrank, Novell panicked and tried to counter Microsoft. They purchased Word Perfect and Quatro (a spread sheet) from dying Borland. That didn't work, so in the mid 90's they purchased Unix from a withering AT&T to create the Univell Labs and Common Unix for the x86. That was a disastrous move, so Novell sold its Unix business to old SCO in 1995.

Then, in 2003, to the surprise of many, Novell stepped back into Unix (like) operating systems and made the decision to go open standard and open platform. They purchased Suse, a German-based company selling Suse Linux world-wide. I use Suse, and have since 7.3 I was happy to see Novell purchase Suse and begin to put a professional polish on the distribution. I've always purchased a final copy of every version of Suse I've installed, if for no other reason than to support Linux with my wallet as well as my mouth. There really is no such thing as a free lunch, and if you want diversity, you have to invest in it. It doesn't just happen. But Novell has not been able to make the kind of money its investors wanted Novell to make with Linux, and I'm sure they put pressure on Novell management to 'do something'. After years of management turmoil over lackluster Novell earnings, this is the latest stab at 'doing something'.

The current stage

So now we have Microsoft attempting to extend control over Linux through it's new-found proxy, Novell. Microsoft has gotten Novell to tacitly agree that Linux is somehow infringing Microsoft's intellectual property, in spite of growing implicit evidence to the contrary in the SCOG vs IBM case. One other fact to keep in mind, and one that I'm sure bothers Bill Gates in particular: if IBM comes out a winner (and it will), then IBM will be the 800 lb gorilla in the Linux market, having gone the distance to put SCOG and others like it in the dustbin of history. Novell is Microsoft's hedge against that future success, and against its competitor, IBM.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Washington trip

I went to Washington the last full week of October to QualNet training. QualNet is a network simulation tool produced by Scalable Network Technologies. QualNet is used on our program already; as lead architect, I thought it a good idea to learn how to use the tool to drive out a better set of requirements for future iterations, as well as learn how to use it for current development.

While there I was 'entertained' by three other members of the program; John Chludzinski, Bob Hall, and Josh Auzins. John was there with me for the training, while Bob and Josh were there to present a paper at the business track that ran in parallel with the training. Thursday evening we had a really good dinner and guest speaker. Before the festivities Lucinda Brown, tireless and long-suffering Scalable Network Technologies Director of Marketing, was handing out some most excellent swag; knit shirts in white and cyan and insulated hot drink cups. The following photo is greedy John attempting to steal one shirt too many from poor long-suffering Lucinda.



From left to right: John, Bob, Josh, and Lucinda.