* Posts by Gerald Wilson

12 posts • joined 26 Oct 2007

Royal Navy completes Windows for Submarines™ rollout

Gerald Wilson

History for the record

Just to clarify, for the curious:

The first version of SMCS, built for the Vanguard boats, used Ada on distributed processors. Hence the "OS" was the chosen Ada run-time, together with the special message-passing middleware which strung it all together. No COTS there.

The next significant version was modified for the Swiftsure/Trafalgar attack boats. The consoles (i.e. the client systems) were converted to COTS UNIX. For the Astute class design, the servers were also converted to COTS UNIX. So by 2000, the entire SMCS design had been converted to use COTS hardware and OS foundations, albeit not PC architecture.

In 2002, some bright spark decided the future would only contain cheap PC hardware. Management thought that "PC"="Windows". Wonder where they got that idea? So SMCS-NG was proposed as Next Generation SMCS to be rebuilt on a Windows NT OS foundation.

But another bright spark (okay, me) pointed out that the logical and low-risk evolution was to convert the COTS UNIX version of SMCS to use open-source-UNIX, and still reap the benefits of commodity PC hardware. Personally I favoured BSD over Linux, but I wasn't that bothered, so long as it wasn't Windows. So I proposed SMCS-OSS instead (Open-Source-Solution?), explaining why this would be cheap, simple, safe and swift to do. Simpler code migration, hardware-independence hence retro-fittable, zero licence costs (CALs wot CALs?), zero licence dependences, heaps of dev tools, supplier-independence, foreign-supplier-independence, low on vulnerabilities, heaps of available programming graduates schooled on Linux, and so on. I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.

I knew one simple fact: "PC" not= "Windows". Two years tops, I reckoned, to make SMCS-OSS. All over by Christmas 2004; after that, we'd own the code forever.

However, BAE and the MoD rejected the suggestion of SMCS-OSS and chose instead to wed themselves for the next thirty years to the notion of Windows-for-Warships. SMCS-OSS got tossed. As did I, of course.

As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

Scottish firm pays £120,000 over unlicensed software

Gerald Wilson
Gates Horns

Stiffing it to M$

Of course, I heartily endorse the many plugs for open source et al. But where I now work, for historical reasons, there's a legacy use of M$ Office for 100 users. So I was naturally a bit concerned when - earlier this year - I couldn't find the licences - and I was getting "friendly" sighting-shots from FAST and the like... Visions of shelling out forty grand in emergency Software Assurance purchases just to get "legit".

But a few hours' trawling through the archive boxes and I discover a) perfectly good purchase records for M$ licences going back more than a decade - result - and b) a full set of valid upgrades to Office 2003 bought six years ago, lost and then forgotten - RESULT. I download my vintage keys from Micro$oft and they work - ASTONISHING. And I don't have to pay M$ a single extra $ - ASTOUNDING.

Moral: keep your IT receipts. For ever.

Thanks Micro$oft for a stonking Christmas present. You've made an old IT manager very happy. Ho Ho Ho.

Microsoft spits out ODF plans for Office 2007 SP2

Gerald Wilson
Paris Hilton

OOXML vulnerabilities

My problem with OOXML is all the unpatched vulns it creates on Windows boxes.

I have lots of Office 2003 (and older) users. So they get the MS compatibility pack, so they can read Office 2007 files. So far so good. Except that the compatibility pack brings in snippets of Office 2007 code. Which need periodic patches to cope with new vulnerabilities.

Now here's the rub: if I manage the OS on these boxes with Windows Update, it finds the Windows problems - fine. And Office update finds the Office 2003 problems - also fine. But neither of these finds the Office 2007 compatibility pack vulns. All those unpatched boxes, with all those unpatched vulnerabilities. Tut, tut, tut.

By chance I've found out the the new-fangled "Microsoft Update" will find the missing patches and apply them. Phew. So I'm forced to use it against my will, but what's new?

So, the OOXML compatibility pack looks like a golden opportunity for crackers worldwide. Get cracking, I say. Happy Christmas.

Even Paris gets violated less than a Windows box.

Dave Cameron pledges to Open Source UK.gov

Gerald Wilson

Road to Damascus, anyone?

How odd. Cameron didn't seem too keen on endorsing open-source when I wrote to him about it two years ago. Well, he didn't bother to acknowledge the missive, anyway. Ah well; things change.

But then Labour didn't seem too keen when the then Minister of Defence was told that OpenBSD might be a tad sturdier than Windows-for-Warships for the command systems of his shiny new destroyers, and that was in November 2002. Of course, we now know with hindsight that the minister was busy planning an invasion at the time, so I guess software reliabilty was the last thing on his mind in those days. Perhaps things change for Labour, too.

Local councils dish out shoddy computer recycling advice

Gerald Wilson

But it's still a prob for the general populace...

Let's face it: I still find I frequently have to explain to others the difference between a computer's memory (as in RAM) and storage (as in HDD). I still have users who refer to something they call "the hard drive", by which it turns out they mean that big tall box under their desk with the little green lights on it, as distinct from their "terminal" by which it turns out they mean the big screen thing on top of the desk. Gawd knows what they make of an iMac. Since so many folk are clueless about what bits make up a Personal Computer, it's no wonder they're clueless about how to erase data terminally with extreme prejudice. So give Which? a break. As long as people can buy cheap computers in Tesco without needing to show their ECDL, this ignorance will prevail.

As for me: why would I ever want to trash a working component? Green computing means there's always a repurpose for it somewhere. If I had a dead HDD, I'd trash it physically before dumping it, and it's pointless being paranoid about data recovery after that - realistically, the Spetznaz have better things to do with their time and budget.

Microsoft opens APIs and protocols to all

Gerald Wilson

This helps Microsoft more than it helps World

Well, given Vista's droopy sales, and the EU's continued pressure, MS needed to do *something* to make Vista, Office 2007, and other new products more attractive. This move can't hurt. Does it help the vast installed base of people who happily manage with XP, Office 2003, and so on? No. Does it make me more likely to recommend Windows-for-Warships? No.

So let's see: where I work, we have a substantial network of older Windows machines, running older Office, which we try to integrate with newer apps. We can get the new-found benefit of MS interoperability for all the stuff we've already licenced, bought and paid for by, uhhh, paying MS loads more money to upgrade to Vista and Office 2007. Riiight. Which means we'll also have to replace half our fleet of PCs to manage the extra load. Riiiiiight. Green, or what?

Or we can gradually convert what we have to use existing open products which conform to existing open standards, with no extra payments to MS. And free our documents and data for ever more.

Put like that, it's not really a decision, is it?

MS bundles Vista SP1 and Server 2008 out the door

Gerald Wilson

OS stability

The fact that there are stll so many bad stories about people's bad Vista experiences is itself a bad sign of badness.

Potentially, anything can be made stable. I have a Mac OS 8 system in my basement which runs limited router and server software 24/7 for months on end without problem. I have a UNIX server which is rock solid. At work, the Win 2003 server is mostly ok, but then it don't do much either. The XP desktops are mostly stable, and if they suffer a hiccup, we just restart them and things are ok again until next time.

I always come back to this question: would you let this OS run your own life-support machines in intensive-care? Linux, yes. BSD, yes. Other UNIX, yes. VMS? probably. OS X Tiger? maybe, but not yet Leopard. But I've never, never met a Windows admin who'd want to be under Windows control on life-support. Nor do I ever expect to.

After nearly two decades of NT development, that's just pathetic.

Sorry, but until the bad stories cease, Vista's not Fit For Purpose.

Garmin takes on iPhone with satnav mobile

Gerald Wilson

Re: Garmin GPS-40

The problem is always when it's your own real money. I paid close to GBP 200 of my own taxed income, more than ten years ago, to try out GPS via Garmin's hand-held. In essence, I bought a fancy non-functional electric paperweight. I know things have improved vastly since (I have a USB GPS receiver which can get a fix from cold within two minutes INSIDE a concrete house - just amazing), and I'm prepared to believe that eTrex's and other units now work well. But no-one from Garmin has ever come round to say sorry and to repay me my hard-earned cash, so they're just - how shall we express this - no longer on the preferred supplier list. When there's competition in a market (this is not like MS Windows), you only have to give a consumer one dreadful experience for that consumer to buy another brand for the rest of their consuming life.

Gerald Wilson

What - Garmin still trading?

As an early adopter, I bought a Garmin GPS-40 handheld years ago. It was not a success. Permanently lost. Useless when amongst buildings, trees, mountains, hedges, small dogs and other tall surroundings. Pathetic battery life. Not AFAICT Y2K compliant. Impossible for me to patch. The only way I could persuade it to get a fix was to stand unmoving for half-an-hour on the flat, clutter-free, concrete top of a tall multi-storey car-park. Which rather defeated the object of GPS, because I knew where I was at that moment.

Admittedly, GPS has improved somewhat in the last decade. I still keep the Garmin in my sock drawer. I pull it out whenever I get the urge to buy something new and fancy. It reminds me why never to be an early adopter of anything...

Autothrottle problems suspected in Heathrow 777 crash

Gerald Wilson

Autothrottle problems my arse

Well it is some years since I wrote avionics software. And that was A310s, which were pre-Ada. And I did fly in them, too - trusting, over-confident, arrogant, or what? And it's also some years since I wrote Ada. But nothing in the AAIB's update suggests an Autothrottle problem, so the Reg's headline is rubbish: you should let Lewis Page do these bits. Software in FADECs is still in the frame. But it looks more like a Mysterious External Influence on the electronic signals sent to the engines.

Notice that AAIB reports a five-second delay between one engine spooling down and the other following suit. So which went down first, Port or Starboard? and which road route was Gordon Brown's motorcade following? You see how this works: aircraft is on finals from east; motorcade crosses under flightpath at an angle; malign electromagnetic influence reaches first one engine and a few seconds later the other... I think a bit of sketch-work with Google Maps and a stopwatch is called for here...

But then, I failed to persuade BAE against Windows-for-Warships (TM), didn't I, so what would an old avionics programmer know, anyhow.

It was the MacBook Air sub-notebook

Gerald Wilson

Flat cube?

Sad to see so many ill-informed comments. Makes Reg readers look thick. Bad for publicity... Just read the descriptions, and check the tech BEFORE you flame next time, please.

Obviously, this is an unusual device. Its target market is unclear, because it's somewhat radical. It's pitched at wireless use only - anything else is a kludgy compromise - and Apple do appear to have thought out what this implies. Read the specs. Watch the demo. Pause to think. Being a touch radical, it's getting the same cool reception that met the iPod when that was launched. (Check the history.) So maybe this device will succeed, too.

Or maybe it's a cube squashed flat. Have to wait and see.

eBay employee 'torpedos' fraud trial

Gerald Wilson

mostly harmless...

..but frauds do happen. After 100 happy trades - mainly tech stuff - I bought a "new" laptop. Except it wasn't new. Seller was passing off used (but recent) stock as "new" - hence jacking up price by 20%. A nice scam if you can run it. A trawl through seller's history showed that he had this nasty habit (as well as having multiple online identities). I followed all eBay's permitted dispute procedures. Got nowhere with them. Got neither help nor interest from eBay. Finally got my money back from seller by threatening recovery through the courts.

But eBay themselves were utterly useless. Their own feedback records showed that this guy had been ripping buyers off for an age. They didn't want to know. They didn't want to help. They didn't want to shut him down. Let's face it: eBay's interests (more sales = more commission = more profits) are in direct conflict with users' interests (remove fraudsters = fewer sales). So why would eBay care?

Ah well. Caveat emptor.


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