Microsoft and Office Innovation

As a thought for today, Microsoft really hasn't managed to add too many compelling features to their Office monopoly. On top of that their recent licensing games have certainly given customers an incentive to look elsewhere. At the high end Office is still the best there is. But the majority of customers are no where near the high end. There are now a large number of competing products, many available for free, that more than meet the needs of most users.

The irony is that Microsoft has traditionally killed off the majority players in any market they enter by offering a product that is 'good enough', lower priced and leverages their existing monopolies. The Office alternatives has reached the point where they have certainly nailed two out of three. Given Office's institutionalized refusal to base any of its code on Windows it doesn't even get to take advantage of the Window's monopoly beyond getting first access to new versions and getting its bugs fixed NOW. But given how mature the office market is and given the generally low rate of new features it isn't clear how much of an advantage that really is.

In the short term none of this matters, no body gets fired for buying Microsoft. But in the medium and long term the change of events spells interesting times. How long until some CIO becomes a hero by slashing the company's Office budget to near zero and the pattern is set? I realize training and support is a bigger issue but anyone who knows Office will be comfortable with the alternatives and I suspect the support for the free/low cost choices are generally better then anything Microsoft can offer.

Microsoft's lack of innovation and pricing games is exactly the sort of help its competitors need.

Debian… oy.

This weekend I installed Debian on an old computer. Most of the install was just blindly pressing return but I ran into a problem getting X to start. It turned out that in the configuration they suggested uses a frame buffer setting that doesn't work on my machine but it took me an hour or two to figure this out. I am still setting Debian up with features I was able to trivially get on Windows. For example, I have a utility called Tardis on windows that uses NTP to set my clock. Of course I could get the NTP client for Debian. It was just a matter of doing a quick package search and then using apt-get. But I then had to go find a list of suitable NTP sites and type them in manually. Tardis came pre-configured. Tardis also shows me that it is working but I can't be sure the NTP deamon is running (I haven't checked) and even if it is I'm not 100% sure that the KDE clock is listening to it. I'm sure everything works just fine but there is no pro-active indication of this. (BTW, I like KDE a lot more than Gnome) No, none of its a big deal, it's just that everything is a little harder on Debian. Still, with crossover I'm hoping to become Windows free within the next few weeks. I need the crossover plugin to get things like Quicktime and Crossover office to get access to Quicken. I'm happy to pay the software fees required to get Crossover. Other then that there seem to be reasonable alternatives for everything else. I will keep y'all informed.

Yaron's Rules of Standardization

Most of my job for the last few years has been working on standards. In that time I noticed a fairly obvious pattern for technologies that tend to make successful standards, they meet three criteria:

Yaron's rules of standardization:

  • The technology must be very old and very well understood
    • 20 years is a good rule of thumb
  • Everyone must implement the technologies in essentially the same way
    • A good rule of thumb is, how hard would it be to build a bi-directional proxy between the various players implementation of the technology?
  • Standardizing the technology must provide greater advantage to the software writing community then keeping the technology incompatible
    • Even in the open source world standards can fail if there isn't enough advantage in it, just look at the fights over RSS.

Darik's Boot and Nuke & Mandrake 9.1

I have an old computer I finally want to get rid of and I need to destroy all the data on the drives before sending it to be recycled. There is a simple GPL solution called Darik's Boot and Nuke which does the trick. But the directions on the Website don't quite work for Mandrake 9.1. Here were the changes I had to make:

To copy the image to a floppy I had to use dd if=dban-*.img of=/dev/fd0. [1] I had trouble with /dev/random generating enough bits. The easiest workaround is to substitute /dev/urandom for /dev/random. But there is a more paranoid choice. [2]

[1] In most system apparently /dev/floppy points to the floppy device but in Mandrake 9.1 it points to a directory with the floppy's contents. /dev/fd0 is what Mandrake uses to point at the actual floppy image, it's a link to /dev/floppy/0.

[2] /dev/urandom uses a crypto grade hash to extend the amount of random data collected by /dev/random. This should be fine but I'm really paranoid so instead what I do is first run dd if=/dev/random of=MySeedFile bs=512 count=20. This will give me more than the 512 bytes required by DBAN. You will have to play with the mouse a bit to generate enough random data to fill the request. Once the dd returns then I execute dd if=MySeedFile of=MySeedFile2 bs=512 count=1 and then delete MySeedFile.

Joining the Free Software Foundation

I recently joined as an associate member of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and was shocked to discover that the total number of associate members is well under 2000. The FSF is the protector of the GNU Public License (GPL) and the steward of the GNU Project that organizes and helps to deliver GNU software. I suspect one would have to look long and hard to find anyone in the computer industry, hardware or software, who is not producing software with or using software developed using GNU or GPL'd projects. Even Microsoft ships GNU software. So show your gratitude and help protect your own future by joining the FSF. And while you are at it get your company to join too.

RSS Feed

I tend to update the site sporadically so to make it easier for those who care to keep track of my latest ramblings I have set up an RSS feed for my page. Much thanks to Mark Nottingham and his most excellent page on RSS. Using RSS you can subscribe to my page and your RSS reader will notify you whenever I create an update. Read Mark's page for more information about RSS.
For what it's worth I use Amphetadesk as my RSS reader. Picking a reader was a pain because there aren't that many out there for Linux and most of them have sucky UI. I'm also paranoid and cheap so I didn't want to use a web based RSS reader service. My favorite reader from a UI perspective was NewsMonster. But it sucked up huge memory (usually around 80 megs) and made Mozilla 1.3.1 crash at random times. So I then tried Amphetadesk which is missing some really important features (like the ability to mark a feed as read) but it is cool enough in other ways that it is usable. I will check out NewsMonster again when I upgrade to Mozilla 1.4 to see if it has become more stable and less of a memory hog.

Palladium and What You Use Security

A good article explaining Microsoft's Palladium initiative. What interesting about Palladium is that it provides a mechanism to not just authenticate who you are but also what software you are using. For the purposes of this article I will refer to this as What You Use (WYU) security. In reading this article please keep in mind that I know nothing about Palladium so the following comments only apply to WYU style security systems in general and in no way reflects Palladium's past, present or future plans.

Continue reading Palladium and What You Use Security

Patents, Open Source and GPL

Lots of commercial companies are getting very worried about Open Source. They view Open Source as a direct threat to their success. After all, how do you compete with free? I think these companies are missing the point, Open Source is just another commoditizer and anyone who has succeeded in the technology business long ago learned how to deal with being commoditized. In fact, as commoditizers go Open Source is not a bad way to go. In the old days when a technology became commoditized it would disappear into some dominant platform that no one could access. With Open Source when a technology is commoditized it instantly becomes available to everyone which is to everyone's benefit, except of course to the dominant platform owners.

Continue reading Patents, Open Source and GPL