Computing’s Big Birthday

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of Windows 95. An operating system that changed the very fabric of society. Hyperbole? No. Pre-Win95, computers were for business, the elite, and a handful of geeks. Win95 along with (comparatively) cheap Intel processors introduced the era of the $1000 PC and began bringing to fruition Gates’ vision of a PC on every desktop.

A monumental release it was. However, today marks an even bigger anniversary in computing history. Today is the 24th anniversary of Linus Torvalds’ unveiling of his eponymous OS, Linux.

While Linux never gained traction on the desktop, it has taken the rest of the computing environment by storm. Powering most of the internet infrastructure, the vast majority of smart phones, it is running in everything from satellites to automobiles to air traffic control to nuclear submarines.

While most of us toil away on Windows PCs or iOS tablets, it is Linux which has become the foundation upon which our entire computing experience relies. Today each of us should raise a toast to the little OS that can did.


Windows 8 a Desktop User’s Experience

While we are still two months away from general availability, Windows 8 was released to MSDN and Technet subscribers yesterday.

Much has been written about the juxtaposition of the new Modern UI (the user interface formerly known as Metro) and the legacy desktop.  One is for touch and the other for traditional PCs.  Since I have a traditional PC, I do what I can to avoid the Modern UI; thankfully it is a fairly easy accomplishment.

First though, Windows 8 is polished in the same way that Windows 7 was.  You may disagree with the design philosophy, but there is no arguing with the implementation. It is stable and fast and there is no need to wait for a service pack to make the transition.

But should you upgrade?  On a traditional PC I don’t see enough prominent changes to justify the expense and time involved in upgrading from Windows 7.  XP era computers will not be fast enough to run it and if you have held off upgrading your Vista box to 7, then wait a little longer and get 8.

First, what’s missing or replaced in Windows 8?  To name a couple of obvious examples; the start button, the start menu, aero glass, gadgets, Media Center, and DVD playback.  The start button and menu have been replaced with hot corners and the start screen, these operate the same as their predecessors did in earlier versions of Windows.  If 5 minutes doesn’t familiarize you with these changes, then you may want to get checked for early onset Alzheimers.  If the test is negative, there are lots of OSs available with a traditional desktop.   Aero and gadgets will not be missed while missing Media Center and DVD Playback is a boneheaded move to save a few dollars.  To my knowledge the price of adding these multimedia features back has not been announced and the upgrade is not yet available.

Since I don’t have a touch enabled device, following is what’s new for traditional desktop users.  The log-in screen has been altered substantially, I don’t know if it is better or worse than previous versions, but it is different.  While multi-monitor support is improved (hello multi monitor taskbar) I still find the need to use Display Fusion to manage my monitors.  File Explorer has been incrementally improved, the ribbon is masterful in its implementation (I had my doubts).  The ribbon can be hidden, its features are not needed 99.75% of the time, it both saves screen real estate and aids in feature discoverability.  The task manager has seen vast improvements in both usability and responsiveness.  MS account integration has been added to make syncing settings between PCs easy, iso (and other image files) files can now be mounted without the help of third party utilities (about time).  The recovery options have been revamped but I haven’t had the need to use them yet.  Also, Hyper-V virtualization is baked in but I haven’t played with that yet either.

I’ve installed Stardock’s Start8  which transforms the start screen into a smaller version of itself which overlays the desktop, it also allows you to boot to the desktop.  This free (so far) utility is necessary fare for those without touch enabled devices.

The new theme is so much better than any that has come before it.  Gone are the bloated transparencies, the pseudo-3D effects and gradients.  This leaves a polished and unobtrusive layer of chrome.  While it is entirely subjective, I like the new flat squared look.  The taskbar and selected window bar can be set to change with the background, a nice touch.  There are still a couple of areas that could use some clean-up, I would like to see the transparency removed from the taskbar and the goofy glow removed from hovering over taskbar items (at least they don’t jump;-)  Some settings windows have been updated to the Modern look, a nice improvement over the Windows 95/98 look they have had for 15 years.

I have not had any problems with hardware or software that ran on Windows 7, I think it is safe to assume that this stuff will just work.  Hardware wise, I am really wanting one of MSs upcoming surface mice (or is it mouses?)

In conclusion, I think Windows 8 is a solid incremental update to Windows 7.  I think that this is one where the supposed technorati will hate it while most users will like it.

More interesting is wondering what Windows 9 will be like.  Will it flesh out Modern UI to make it a desktop replacement or will both UIs be maintained in duo?

Towards Defining the Post-PC World

PC; before it became politically correct it stood for Personal Computer.  At first it only applied to IBM compatible systems, but anon it became synonymous with a class of computing devices regardless of provenance.  Historically, PC refers to a general purpose computing device designed to be used by one person at a time.  But more broadly it has also come to refer to a multi-user device that runs arbitrary code.

With the advent of smartphones, tablets, and other computing appliances; there has been debate about whether or not these devices are in fact PCs.  In some ways these devices are much more personal than traditional PCs.  Generally designed for a single user, these devices sometimes forgo the ability to run arbitrary code.  So, are they PCs?

I would argue that they are in fact PCs, but PCs of a special type.  I propose adding “Appliance Computer” (AC) and “ultra-Personal Computer” (uPC) to the lexicon of computing definitions.

An Appliance Computer can be defined as a PC meant for a specific purpose or without the ability to run arbitrary code.  ACs would include devices designed to only run a web browser (ie ChromeOS) and devices designed to only run a manufacturer’s defined code set.

An ultra-Personal Computer would be a device which meets the standards of a PC, yet whose size, purpose, and/or usage scenarios make it predominantly a single user device.  By this definition, AT&T Android devices (which lack the ability to run arbitrary code) would be ACs, whereas Verizon Android devices (which retains the ability to run arbitrary code) would be uPCs.

Windows RT (the upcoming ARM version of Windows) lacks the ability to run arbitrary code and, at best, can only be considered an appliance.  The same applies to Apple’s iDevices.  However; root, jailbreak, or otherwise hack these devices to run arbitrary code and they  become uPCs.

These ideas are simply formed and may not hold up under rigorous (or even cursory) debate.  Just getting out some things that have been percolating in my brain recently.

apple lisa article at Modern Mechanix

There is a posting of a 1983 article on the apple Lisa.  Quite the impressive product from Apple in its day.

The lisa was without a doubt a marvel for its day.  However, I don’t place it in the lineage of the Personal Computer due to its price…$9995!!  That is around $24000 dollars in today’s money–6 months pay for a computer, not much personal about that.

I would take it a step further and state that we are only now–as computers edge below $500–entering the “personal” computer era.  The Lisa was in the “business” computer era, $1000 computers cemented the age of the “family” computer…and now we near the end of that era.

Things like the  EEEPC herald the age of the personal computer.  It is an exciting time.

Fake Mac v PC comparisons

Mac vs. PC System Shootouts – $3,200 Workstations 08/09/06

The above link claims to be a fair comparison of the new Power Mac and the Dell Precision 690. Why is it that the Mac fanboys are always wanting to make these”comparisons”? The same thing that makes Steve Jobs play dog and pony show with Apple releases, the same thing that makes Mac fanboys so vituperative…Insecurity.

Go peruse the article linked above. Then go to Apple and Dell and price a typical configuration.

For typical I used, dual 3Ghz, 4GB RAM (4 dimm), dual 500GB drives, comparable video cards, 20 inch LCDs, etc…

My pricing came up with the Apple being $5698 and the Dell being $4975.

Don’t trust my numbers? Draw up your own config and go check it out. But draw it up beforehand, don’t try to make the Dell match the Apple default…how about be creative and make the Apple match the Dell default?

Nobody configs a new machine on what one company offers as default.  First you figure your needs, then you go price shop based on those needs.  I wonder how many of these work horses will be bought by fanboys and used only to surf the net?
Did I mention the free shipping with the Dell? Include that and you can up your CPU’s to 3.73 GHz and still break even with the Mac as configured.

The Mac is probably better in many ways…but Apple can not price compete with Dell. Why don’t these people take the sane road? You can probably show the Mac beating the Dell on styling, noise levels, software…

But to claim that Apple can undercut Dell on price is assinine. Just because Poppa Steve made the same assinine comment on stage does not make it less assinine. Get over it, you insecure fucks.