Sunday, May 21, 2006


Seems they're anticipating a hard sell for the latest version of Office.
Microsoft's main problem is that Office already has more than 400 million users, and the general opinion seems to be that it is "good enough". Getting users to pay for something better is a challenge...

Well, quite. I haven't bothered checking out what the latest version will do. I switched over to OpenOffice a while back, which is the free, open source clone of (presumably) an older version of Office. I've never used more than some small percentage of its features, and apart from a handful of 'power secretaries', I doubt anyone, anywhere ever has. So what's the point of loads of cost and disruption to get more features I don't need? In fact I preferred WordPerfect, simpler and easier to use, but Word became a de facto standard, so like many others, I was lumbered with it. Let's not forget the annoying animated paper-clip st this point...

Similarly, I haven't bothered finding out what the new version of Windows, Vista, will do. All I've heard so far is better graphics and controlling technology such as DRM (digital rights management) more closely tied. For which your pc will need a gig of memory and a good graphics card. In order to give Microsoft more control of your pc? Frankly, I already find their EULA outrageous. If you want to sell your pc or even give it to a charity you have to wipe Windows from it if you want to stay within its bounds. By way of analogy, if you want to sell your car, do you have to rip the dashboard out first?

The pc where this blog's being written is dual boot, Windows 2000 and Mandrake linux. I've no interest in upgrading Windows past 2000. In the days when I had my internet cafe on Samui, my pc's there came with XP pre-loaded. After a couple of months of being horrified by its sluggish performance, I went to Bangkok and bought legit copies of 98SE for all my machines. Shortly after, Microsoft announced they were no longer supporting 98. XP is, granted, excellent in the way it handles drivers, and if you turn off all its features and have at least 256MB of memory it works reasonably well.

Which brings me to another objection, upgrading hardware to run software that does more stuff I don't need. I don't mind getting more hardware on board to run applications, I don't mind throwing memory at applications like Photoshop (although, again, I started with version 4 and there's very little from the later versions that I use a lot, the history palette would have to be the best advance that Adobe have come up with in all those years). It's an attitude that probably dates from being an RSX-11M systems programmer. It was a multi-user, multi-tasking operating system that in practice, ran in about 90K words of memory. I nearly laughed out loud when I came across MS-DOS, primitive by comparison, yet needing 640K bytes to run.

The supreme irony, here, is the main man behind RSX was a guy called David Cutler. From RSX he went on to be the brains behind another great OS, VMS. Microsoft then poached him to work on Windows NT, which incorporated some of the ideas from VMS (there was a law suit over it) from which 2000 and XP are descended.

Does good software inherently need more hardware to support it? Not at all, I use AnalogX (free) products a lot. They're all small, lightweight and do discreet functions rather than create huge, clumsy architectures.

Windows 2000 won't last forever. One day I'll push myself down the linux route completely. I use Windows purely to use Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Illustrator. I don't suppose Adobe will ever port them to linux, so I'll have to get used to the Gimp and find a new HTML / PHP editor. Some of the stuff I currently use is already cross-platform, such as Firefox and Eclipse, so it won't be that much of a hardship.

I like my software small, clean, well-written. It goes back to the RSX-11M experience, getting to know the code intimately, I was amazed just how tight and efficient it was. I once discovered a place right in the core of it, where with a change of an instruction, it was possible to save a word of memory and the tiniest smidgeon of execution time using one of the most exotic addressing modes (I actually used it on the project I was working on at the time, a driver for use in factory automation software. "You flash git" was my project leader's comment on discovering it).


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