Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Microsoft Improving the Enduser Experience

I still haven't figured it out. Those who know me know I am a GNU/Linux advocate, so when I see news on how Microsoft is working on making their end users experience better, I have my doubts on who Microsoft is really looking out for. Ok, I’ll give Microsoft the benefit of doubt, I'm all for a better user experience. Tell me, how is it Microsoft is making the end user experience better? Are they improving the performance of the new Vista release? Maybe making their software a little more secure? No? What’s that you say? Microsoft has a new classification of user? Hmm… ok… what’s the new classification? “Maybe a pirate.” Awesome! However... how does that make my experience using a piece of software better? I would think that being labeled ‘maybe a pirate’ would make me feel that Microsoft ‘maybe doesn’t get it.’

This new user 'experience' helps user of Microsoft Windows by having a dialog box appear indicating your new status of 'maybe' being a software pirate, and gives you the option to help correct the problem, which is, according to Microsoft, usually attributed to a system or network error. How does Microsoft help you, other than labeling you as 'maybe a pirate'?

Microsoft would have instantly labeled you as a pirate of their software if there was a glitch with the validation of your install of Microsoft using the Genuine Advantage service. Instead of instantly labeling you as a pirate Microsoft will now display a dialog box indicating your new status of 'maybe being a pirate' and gives you an opportunity to click through to help diagnose why the Genuine Advantage Notification wasn't able to validate you as a rightful user (remember, you don't own the software that you purchased, you simply own the right to use the software as Microsoft deems you should use it). Granted, you can also either ignore or suppress the messages so you don't see them anymore, which the majority of users will select to do. After all who wants to see themselves labeled as 'maybe a pirate' every time they turn on their computer? However, what is the probability of Microsoft changing it's mind on the people that suppress the warning as being relabeled as a pirate instead of 'maybe' being a pirate/

Don't get me wrong… if you're going to use a Microsoft product, I think you should pay for it. If instead you decide you don't want to pay for the privilege of using Microsoft’s products how Microsoft (not you) decides, there are plenty of alternatives that treat you, the end user, with the respect that you deserve.

Creating Large (>2GB) DVD Backups Under Linux

I recently created a large tgz backup archive (4.2GB) and wanted to burn it to DVD. No problem, I thought, standard DVD's hold 4.7GB. But the Gnome desktop CD/DVD Creator kept silently failing. I jumped down to command line, and tried to manually make an iso image with mkisofs. I kept getting this error:
mkisofs: Value too large for defined data type. File backup.tgz is too large - ignoring
After some digging, I found that mkisofs won't handle files greater than 2GB. There is a workaround, however - growisofs can burn files directly to a device, skipping the ISO9660 filesystem creation step (I'm assuming here that /dev/dvd is a symlink to your real DVD burner. If not, the real device name could be /dev/hdc or /dev/scd0, for example. A 'dmesg | grep -i dvd' should tell you what device to use):

growisofs -dvd-compat -Z /dev/dvd=backup.tgz
This worked fine, however now the files on the DVD have to be accessed directly, as if they were on a tape device (you can't mount the DVD, since there is no filesystem on it). Here is how you can test the DVD you just created, if it works you should see the list of files in the tar archive displayed on standard output:

tar tzvf /dev/dvd

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Article Roundup

The Simple Dollar gives us Live Free: Seven Pieces Of Open Source Software That Transformed My Life.

A couple of good PostgreSQL articles, PostgreSQL for MySQL users and Postgres for the Win!.

Jim Sampson gives up on Linux after trying for 10 years. I have to say, I've been using Linux for more than 10 years, and never thought of giving it up. He does have a point about Evolution/Exchange connector simply not working...but I say get rid of Exchange, not Evolution.

Geeks who are crossword puzzle fans will have fun with this, from the latest Linux Gazette.

Ah, nothing like a good flame war.

HP15C Goodness

At UMASS Amherst in the late 80's it was pretty common for Engineering and CompSci students to buy HP calculators for their math and physics classes. My freshman year, I bought an HP15C and promptly got hooked on RPN, doomed to forever hate calculators that limited the user to "algebraic entry". So I was happy to resurrect my HP calculator with a new set of batteries (Energizer 357 silver oxide batteries were the cheapest I found at about $3 each). The last set lasted literally years, but finally died last year and I'd been putting off getting new ones. You've got to love a piece of hardware that lasts for over 20 years with just battery changes. Oh, and for those that used to love RPN, but don't have an old HP laying around, Emacs has a wonderful Calc mode.