* Posts by Philip Storry

180 posts • joined 28 Nov 2007

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What's the top programming language? It's not JavaScript but Python, says IEEE survey

Philip Storry
Coat

Re: What do electrical engineers

Yeah! You may as well go and ask the guys who defined the standards for wired and wireless networking, floating point arithmetic, software requirements specifications and the software development lifecycle!

Oh, wait, that would be the IEEE.

I'll get my coat, and yours too whilst I'm there...

Good news: Google no longer requires publishers to use the AMP format. Bad news: What replaces it might be worse

Philip Storry

Re: Well said

If it wasn't Google, it would be someone else.

Let's go way back to the mid 90s, and what Microsoft was doing. Remember the Active Desktop? And the Channels that you could put on them? They were kind of like RSS feeds, but less well supported.

Let's imagine for a moment a world in which Microsoft got what it wanted. Your phone runs Windows CE/Mobile, just like everyone else in the world's does. Active Desktop and Channels weren't a glorious failure. Web sites all have Channels because that's what you have to do - if you don't, then Bing won't promote your content in its results.

Does anyone here want to say that the Channels spec won't be being fiddled about with by Microsoft in this scenario? That they won't be shipping "improvements" that mean work for everyone else?

I don't think this is anything but capitalism. Swap Google out for some other company, and the same thing would probably be happening.

The names of the players may change, but the play itself remains constant...

Lotus Notes refuses to die, again, as HCL debuts Domino 12

Philip Storry

Re: Domino

Out of genuine curiosity - do you really think that this person had a smart host and an Exchange Server in the corner? That they'd deployed Notes to 45,000 people across 80 countries, but that they kept their own little shadow mail service just for themselves?

Whether sysadmins or developers, pretty much everyone I know that worked with Notes also used it themselves. Alternatives were available - DAMO (for the short while it was available), IMAP/POP3, but nobody really used them because there's value in using the same platform that your colleagues outside of IT are using.

You seem to think that the users are poor tortured souls, but that the staff in IT are somehow unaffected by the very same platform.

So the question arises - why do so many in IT have a more positive view of Notes? My belief is that it's training. IT staff are better trained, even if just self-trained. But that's a discussion for some other day. (Short version: Training is key, we stopped doing it around the mid-2000's, it was a huge mistake for our industry. A hammer is easy to use, you still don't let people loose with them without clear directions on what you want them to hit with it...)

Philip Storry
Trollface

Re: Notes was the past.. and the future!

Bloody hell!

Are you telling me that after 26 years Microsoft have finally figured out how to copy files over existing files and how to upgrade a database?

Took them long enough!

Philip Storry

Re: Domino

Yep, it's very reliable.

I can't say I've never seen corrupt Notes databases. When you work with a product for over fifteen years you see a lot of things. But the corrupt Notes databases I have seen were usually client-side, and caused by crashes - mostly on laptops, not always even Notes itself crashing.

The server-side corruptions were exceptionally rare - the only ones that spring to mind were mail.box databases. That's the mail queue that the router uses, and as you can imagine with every single email being written into it and then deleted it takes a pounding, especially in larger environments. Even then, these were rare and were usually caused when a third party tool like McAfee crashed.

Our solution was to move them elsewhere and let Domino generate new mail.box file(s) - then to run the database fixup tools and manually copy any unprocessed mails into the new queue DB(s). On at least one memorable occasion that proved that it was indeed McAfee dying whilst scanning something, and I can't blame the Domino database engine for that failure!

(Plurals in parenthesis because most of our servers actually had more than one mailbox queue DB for performance reasons. This doesn't change the story.)

I can honestly say I've lost more work to Word crashing or corrupting its files than I ever lost to Notes doing the same.

Philip Storry

Re: Domino

I'd dispute your first statement on a technicality - Domino was an excellent mail server. It was a mediocre mail client, true - but the mail server was excellent. It had good routing controls (including least-cost routing across multiple paths), it was robust, and it was fast.

But the one I want to really take up is that it was a mediocre database. By what measure? What other non-relational database are we comparing it to? Does that database engine have transaction logging for integrity & performance? Does it have a cluster replication engine capable of syncing a database across up to six servers? Does it have 64Gb and later effectively unlimited database sizes? Does it have a replication engine capable of field-level replication? Does it have robust security that allows access control down to the field level? Does it allow encryption of the database? Or field-level encryption? Does it allow single-object storage of attachments across multiple databases? Compression of objects within the database? Honestly, I could go on for quite a while here.

The Domino database engine is far from mediocre. It was one of the first non-relational databases to get widespread deployment, and it did exceptionally well. If there's one thing that Notes should be remembered for getting right, it's that database engine. Modern NoSQL databases are only just beginning to catch up to what it could do.

Philip Storry

It wasn't all bad

I do think that Notes' time has passed. Just as Outlook's time is running out.

But sometimes when I'm trying to get things to work in this wonderful web-based world, I realise I could have done whatever it is I'm doing both more easily and faster in Lotus Notes. It was a remarkable platform.

And the knots Microsoft tied itself into to compete with it would have been amusing, if they weren't so damned awful for us all to implement and administer. Even when delivered via Microsoft 365, SharePoint is something of a rushed dog's dinner by comparison. I know which one I'd rather have to use!

Microsoft demotes Calibri from default typeface gig, starts fling with five other fonts

Philip Storry

This is bad typography.

Not the fonts themselves. The very idea - one default font for Office.

You pick the right typeface for the purpose.

Word is likely to be used for longer texts, so something like Skeena would be the best choice, with perhaps Bierstadt for headings & titles.

Excel is likely to have lots of small text that you need to get exactly right, so Bierstadt or Tenorite would be more suitable, but they should consider Consolas as it's very good for numbers and its fixed width nature might help in a sea of numbers...

PowerPoint is about short, clear bits of text - so Bierstadt or Tenorite are suitable.

But this idea that there should be one typeface that's the default across all Office products is just terrible typography. It smacks of marketing taking the lead - "We must have a consistent brand across the products!" - without actually realising what buffoons they're making of themselves.

This is why we can't have nice things, and why people say Microsoft has no style.

39 Post Office convictions quashed after Fujitsu evidence about Horizon IT platform called into question

Philip Storry

Re: Having been a customer of and worked alongside Fujitsu

I worked for an ICL division back in 1995-1998. I was young and very wet behind the ears, but looking back I can see a very unhealthy management system.

I can fully believe that there would have been massive pressure to get stuff done. The senior management wanted to try to prove to Fujitsu that their purchase of ICL was justified - but they had no clue how to do that.

The management would no doubt blame unions and 1970's working practices. But when I started with them I didn't realise that the empty building over the other side of the car park was also owned by ICL. And that the huge building across the road was - you guessed it - owned by ICL. I was told that the joke in the UK IT industry was that ICL should just quit doing IT and become landlords, as they had so many assets sitting unused. So I think it's fair to say that it couldn't have just been the employees.

Personally nothing demonstrates the dysfunction of ICL like the time I was removed from the org chart for six months and didn't have a manager. Genuinely. I was living the dream! If the dream is having no support and doing everything on a shoestring...

I just kept doing my job, and then one day someone arrived looking for me and my colleagues because they wanted to know what we did and why ICL was paying us. This had happened simply because a manager wanted to cut their costs, and did so by removing us from the paperwork as much as they could...

Sadly this meant I did get a manager. We queried the grapevine, and it turned out he'd been involved in a failing project 200 miles away, and we were very probably his punishment. He seemed to have no intention of moving and was simply driving down and staying in hotels every week. How very cost effective!

Remember, this would all have been at the time that they were doing the early development and test rollouts of Horizon.

I have no idea what ICL/Fujitsu is like now. But I do know that a friend of mine worked at the same site after I left, and the stories he told didn't make me think it got any better.

Ruby off the Rails: Code library yanked over license blunder, sparks chaos for half a million projects

Philip Storry

This won't even be the worst of it.

At some point, someone's going to die and their estate will go to a relative that's an arsehole. The kind of arsehole that thinks free software and other community projects are communism.

And that relative will seek to claim the copyright of that person's code, and pull it from all the projects. (Mostly in the mistaken belief that they can and should profit from this.) If it's widely used code, then all hell will break loose.

This is why companies like Canonical had copyright assignment requirements. Many in the open source community don't like them, and think it's some kind of corporate trap. But legally, they're almost certainly the right thing to do. In fact the community should really think about setting up some kind of "clearing house" to process & store copyright assignments for its own protection.

If you do contribute to open source, make sure you put a paragraph in your will about what you want done with your works when you're gone. Just in case...

The torture garden of Microsoft Exchange: Grant us the serenity to accept what they cannot EOL

Philip Storry

Re: Progress

I'm going to throw a counterpoint in here...

The fact is that a lot of companies rarely update their email system. I know - I worked in messaging for over 15 years. Email is a fantastic tool that companies take for granted. But it's also low on the list of budget priorities for most companies.

In that regard, Microsoft's obsession with the cloud is a good thing. Far too many companies have old, unpatched Exchange Servers. They're not interested in keeping them current because the impact of a failure in patching is high and the perceived benefits are low.

Why is this? Well, there are plenty of people out there with Exchange Server on their CV who have never so much as run eseutil, let alone know how Exchange works. All they've done is manage mailboxes and distribution lists, and maybe turn IMAP/POP3 on/off and do some mail relay configuration. This is important because those people will find an Exchange upgrade a major project - one which they may not be prepared for. Worse, with each version of Exchange Microsoft likes to make small changes that mean that experience with a previous upgrade is not necessarily as useful as you might think... Basically, a specific Exchange Server version has a low TCO in the middle of its lifespan but very high overheads at the start/end that most businesses won't want to meet. That encourages a "leave it alone, it's too important to fiddle with" attitude, both in the technical and management staff.

If there's one product that Microsoft has which is perfectly suited to being replaced by the cloud, that product is Microsoft Exchange.

(Or SharePoint. SharePoint has similar problems, now I come to think about it!)

Philip Storry

Re: Having used most versions of Exchange since Version 4.0

Thanks!

I should probably note that Notes did do some caching of design elements - the definitions of views and folders mostly, but possibly also some forms. All view/folder data and documents were fetched on demand though.

I'm not going to say that Notes couldn't have trouble with replication, but I never saw much. I worked with it for 15 years, across four employers - one of which was a small consultancy . So I saw a lot of Notes infrastructures, ranging from small standalone servers to multinational behemoths. Just like AD or other systems, a lot of it is down to the planning and topology. Get that wrong and you're going to have issues...

As to the interface, well nothing is perfect. I may prefer composing an email in Outlook, but I prefer working with the calendar in Notes. Both have their pluses and minuses. If Outlook could have a proper tab system, it'd be so much better!

As for "Microsoft standards" - the one that seemed to get the most complaints in Notes was the use of F5 for locking the client. F5 is the refresh key, right? Actually, no. F9 is the refresh key. It recalculates in Excel, refreshes fields in Word, and fetches mail in Outlook. Only in Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer was F5 the refresh key. It should have been F9...

Am I saying that anyone who complained about F5 was secretly wasting all their time browsing the web? Well you might think that, but I couldn't possibly comment. ;-)

Philip Storry

Re: Wait.... what?

Having used most versions of Exchange since Version 4.0, I'd disagree with you. Exchange has at least one serious architectural issue.

Setup is certainly easy, as is day to day administration due to its integration with (or reliance upon) Active Directory. But Exchange has always had issues with its storage systems. In the early versions they were fragile and slow, and in the current version they're just slow.

The other product I've used for email was Lotus Notes. Which is much maligned, but has an excellent storage system. I've managed servers with over 1200 mailboxes on them and there were no performance issues. We migrated the users from those servers to Exchange, and newer and more powerful hardware managed the same number of mailboxes - but only because of cached mode in Outlook. If we turned that off, it couldn't cope. For reference, Notes does no caching.

That's been my experience with Exchange at every step of its life - the storage is the weakest point, and is a considerable weakness.

Microsoft have had 25 years of development, and gone through at least one major redesign of the storage system, and yet it's still not good enough. I still have my phone's Outlook app ping to say there's a new email and then the email arrives a short while later in Outlook on the desktop. It's a small and constant reminder that the Exchange storage system is not up to scratch.

In most other respects Exchange is fine. Not brilliant, but fine.

(Oh, and with regards to PowerShell - yeah, administration via PowerShell can be lovely. Though I'd still like to have words with the twit that decided on its typing system. The bane of any work beyond the basics is almost always that you'll end up dealing with loads of data types that should be interoperable but aren't - like AD group members and Exchange Distribution group members. I swear if I took a profiler to some of the scripts I've written they'd spend most of their time storing $_.Name as a string so that I can do a comparison without getting a type error! It's not insufferable, just annoying. And partly a problem because Microsoft's own teams can't agree on some kind of standard object type for users, groups, group members and so forth across their systems. Still, it keeps us all employed!)

Upgrade from .NET Framework to .NET 5 can be hard. New official tool may help... slightly

Philip Storry

Remember, no complaining folks!

OK folks, remember the rules.

No complaining.

This is job security. This is what will keep you employed for the next cycle of your career. And the best part is that even if it's not, your employer will have to pick an alternative which you'll reskill into and redevelop everything - which will still keep you employed!

So no complaining. Well, not here, obviously. You can complain to your management. They need to know it's a problem, but not an insurmountable one. A significant change. The kind that can't easily be handled by offshoring either, as knowledge of the existing codebase is critical to the success of the project.

Yes, if you play this well, it's basically an assurance of future beer tokens... and what's not to like about that? ;-)

The wrong guy: Backup outfit Spanning deleted my personal data, claims Cohesity field CTO

Philip Storry

Such bad planning!

Terabytes stored ONLY in cloud backups? That's bad planning.

Sure, you need an off-site backup for the worst possible case. For many large companies, it can be at another site that they own or have long-term secure access to. But for small companies and individuals, the cloud is fine.

However, you should always have a local store as well. Because a large amount of data is going to be faster off local spindles than down through your internet connection. Sure, your worst case is that fire or flood means you have to go with offsite. But onsite is what you should be reaching for in most situations.

To not have that for 36Tb of data is baffling. Is it actually a backup? Or is it an archive? If it's just an archive, then it needs its own backup.

Either way, it's bad planning. Hopefully he's learned a lesson here...

Financial Reporting Council slaps Autonomy auditor Deloitte with £15m fine over audit 'misconduct'

Philip Storry
Joke

Is this the system working?

It's been so long since I last saw a professionally regulated system working, I'm not sure I recognise it.

But this does seem vaguely familiar...

Sure is wild that Apple, Google app store monopolies are way worse than what Windows got up to, sniffs Microsoft prez

Philip Storry

A false equivalence

Google and Apple have something closer to a "natural monopoly", in that they own the platform that their Store grants them a monopoly on.

We don't see Google or Apple entering into licensing agreements saying that they'll demand a license for every phone a manufacturer ships, even if it's shipped without their OS. Microsoft did that.

We don't see Google or Apple extending other company's technologies in incompatible ways to try to extinguish them. Microsoft did that.

We don't see Google embedding functionality into their store that's designed to drive the use of only their technologies, at the expense of competitors. We do see that from Apple (not allowing alternative web renderers, billing) and did see that from Microsoft.

Google is the least offensive in this comparison - they're relatively laissez-faire. Their billing cut of 30% for the Play Store is a monopoly, but their standards are the least rigorous and their enforcement is the loosest. Most complaints from Devs I see whose apps are pulled are either mistakes or they were flouting the rules.

Apple is the new Microsoft. They've only recently allowed the replacement of their own default apps, and exercise tight control of both the platform and what Apps can do on it. Fans who excuse it because "Apple are keeping the platform secure and easy to use" are no better than the Microsoft fans who tried to justify Internet Explorer's deep embedding into Windows.

But Apple still aren't going as far as Microsoft ever did. Microsoft may well be a recovering Monopoly Addict these days, but pointing at new addicts doesn't allow them to pretend that they weren't once high on the power & profits...

'One rule for me, another for them' is all well and good until it sinks the entire company's ability to receive emails

Philip Storry

I use Aquamail.

In the many, many options there's the ability to force plain text format, to force replying at the bottom and to determine your quote prefix.

It may not be entirely what you want, but it's not bad. You can back up the settings to a cloud account so once you've got it configured, which is handy.

Philip Storry

Even the scheduled agent OOO went away - I think in Release 7. There had always been a trigger for agents to run "on new mail", but the concern was that an email to everyone would overwhelm the agent manager queuing system, and not all of them would get processed. IBM did a little work so that the Router could run simple agents itself, rather than sending a trigger to the agent manager process.

That meant that OOO became effectively instant without large load on the server.

And the Notes OOO had, since version 4 at least, kept a list of who it had already replied to. By default, it was set to only send one reply during the entire duration. That really helped keep email storms at bay. Of course, there's always someone who'll turn that off, but Notes made it easy enough to spot and react to because you had decent logging and a server console you could look at...

Anyway, enough rambling. I'm showing my age. ;-)

Philip Storry

Lotus Notes gave me a career for 15 years, so I'm not usually one to bad mouth it.

That website was out of date even when it was published, as it mostly deals with Lotus Notes 4 - 5 shipped in 1999.

The biggest problem Notes had was just that IBM underinvested in it massively. The backend was superb, and didn't need much more investment. The client needed some improvement, but only got it in fits and starts. Classic IBM management failure, really.

Its day is past now. You don't have to use the same app for mail, calendar, to-do and so forth. Notes as a platform was ultimately killed by what's also slowly killing off Outlook - the web browser. Outlook took some Notes mail seats temporarily, that's all. ;-)

(And we still don't have any great mail clients. My feature list for a mythical "perfect mail client" has features from about five different email clients, and would be hard to build. Especially as I'd like it to be cross platform on desktop, web, Android and iOS. Ultimately, we muddle through with what we've got.)

Philip Storry

Bytes? BYTES?

We had bits, and we felt lucky.

Our father woke us up at one o'clock, two hours before we went to sleep, murdered us in cold blood, made us install Computer Associates middleware before eating a breakfast of cold gravel, then sent us t' mine via Lotus Notes. In the hot inky blackness of the netherworld we'd wind individual bytes of memory with razorwire, whilst the Foreman read aloud from a selection of early PHP code. Then at ten o'clock they'd kill us by flooding the mine with SPX packets as the salespeople played illegal copies of DOOM. Our corpses would float up, where they'd revive us and make us fix a field full of HP Laserjets with "PC Load Letter" errors. At the end of week, we'd be expected to pay a shilling for privilege.

And you try telling that to the kids of today. They won't believe you!

Go on, hit Reply All. We dare you. We double dare you. Because Office 365 will defeat your server-slamming ways

Philip Storry

It won't help.

The universe will just build a better idiot.

It always does.

It's how we got here. :-(

What do you call megabucks Microsoft? No really, it's not a joke. El Reg needs you

Philip Storry

"The Monopolist Formerly Known As Evil"?

Extra knobs and dials for Microsoft's Productivity Score while Azure Active Directory lays on the freebies

Philip Storry
Big Brother

Oh goody...

A metric that neither Management nor Staff understand - heaven sent for micromanagement morons!

This can surely only end well...

Bose shouts down claims that it borked noise cancellation firmware to sell more headphones

Philip Storry

Re: Er ...

Let's assume that there's some battery-backed RAM or non-volatile SRAM in the device, and it's used to store settings.

Now let's assume that the later version of the software has additional functionality that either:

a) changes the data structure.

-or-

b) stores values that are valid for new or improved features, but would be invalid for old firmware.

When you roll back to a previous firmware, this could cause problems. Well written software will hopefully ignore invalid values and revert to defaults. If data structures are invalid, that may be more serious - it could cause very odd problems.

This is not an insurmountable problem, and good engineering can help mitigate it. But there's always going to be one smartarse who decides to revert from the very latest firmware for a device to the very first - and if the time period for that covers a couple of years, and several versions, is it really so simple to know that it'll work? Especially if a lot of new features have been added and that storage area now looks quite different...

Should Bose (or anyone else) really be testing such extreme downgrades? Testing a rollback by one version makes sense, but multiple versions seems harder to justify...

I doubt they've even bothered doing much testing for reverting firmware. Why should they? It's not a commonly expected user procedure, and the preferred way to fix any issues with a firmware upgrade should be to issue a new version with the fix.

So this statement seems perfectly reasonable to me, despite its somewhat "blanket legal boilerplate" nature.

I heard somebody say: Burn baby, burn – server inferno!

Philip Storry

How about a nice long hot summer?

We thought we were fine, because we had decent aircon in the server room and nobody else could control it. But then we had a hot summer.

Very hot. Specifically, the 2006 heatwave hot. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_European_heat_wave#United_Kingdom

And it turns out our aircon had a serious flaw. The exhaust port was in direct sunlight, and at the wrong angle. The warm wind and the warm air rising from the (black, naturally) roof isn't blowing heat away, it's blowing it back down the exhaust pipe...

Yep, our server room aircon kept cutting out due to overheating, despite the room being freezing. It just kept tripping the internal sensors on the units. We were very puzzled. We were also somewhat frazzled as we kept having to come in early, spend long days nursing minimal systems along in a room cooled with one inadequate portable air conditioner. Clusters ran on only one node. Some servers were powered up only on demand.

I've just realised that in some ways we spent that week as a crappy physical version of AWS or Azure. Damn, we should have patented the concepts! ;-)

Each night everything except email and network/AD servers were powered down, to try to cool the room as much as possible for the next day. Staff were advised that systems were strictly 08:00 - 18:00, due to the emergency. I suspect most were grateful for an excuse to leave early and get some sun!

After a little over a week the exhaust port was temporarily fixed, and later in the year a more permanent fix was put in place. But I now have much more respect for HVAC engineers and the work that they do, because it seems that there definitely some cowboys out there!

'Developers have lost hope Microsoft will do the right thing'... Redmond urged to make WinUI cross-platform

Philip Storry

I don't see the point.

Most applications I've used that were "cross-platform" felt like a second-class citizen, unless they were web-based.

It's hard to get the chroming and feature integration right across multiple platforms. So I'd rather that Microsoft focused on doing a good job on just one or two.

I'm tempted to say that they could lead a charge for some kind of universal markup. Reach out to Google with Android, and to Apple, and see if they can get something done there. But the big problem is that both of them are now committed to declarative UI systems (Jetpack Compose and Swift UI), so for them a standardised markup might be seen as a step backwards compared to their current efforts.

But without the support of the platform vendors, any cross-platform UI will always be lag behind the platform itself, and risk going against native conventions. Basically, the same problems that Java had with its UI toolkits...

So given that history and current politics suggests any attempt at cross-platform UI is highly likely to fail, I'm rather sceptical. But I'd love to be proved wrong.

25 years of Delphi and no Oracle in sight: Not a Visual Basic killer but hard to kill

Philip Storry

Language!

You should at least warn us if you're going to use language like P*w*rB**ld*r in an article.

Some healthy robust Anglo-Saxon is of course expected on El Reg, but we surely have SOME standards here? I mean, some people have had to work with P*w*rB**ld*r, and are still scarred.

(And others have had to work with products built by in-house P*w*rB**ld*r developers, and are more broken than scarred...)

Ever had a script you just can't scratch? Excel on the web now has just the thing

Philip Storry

Re: ODS Compatibility?

For a while now, I've been saying that they want to kill the offline/local binary versions of Office programs.

These programs have issues. Their codebase is very old - parts date back to the mid-90s. This came out a decade ago during the OOXML specification debacle, when it became clear that Word has compatibility modes with names like "autoSpaceLikeWord95". No explanation was immediately forthcoming on what that meant though.

Which means that somewhere in Word there's an entire code branch for spacing that can be activated, but only exists for compatibility purposes.

Let's be honest, that's a problem. Ignoring the bloat, there's the security aspect. A bunch of code nobody is touching, fewer people understand as they leave/retire each year, but can still be activated by an OOXML document despite being 25+ year old code...

Word, Excel and PowerPoint are overdue a rewrite. And if you're going to rewrite it, you may as well make it a web based application. Local "cached" versions can still be provided - look at Teams as an example.

Whether we want it or not, this rewrite is happening. And the desktop apps will be matched by the web apps, then left behind. It's a stealth rewrite.

I actually think it's probably a good thing in the long run. And long overdue. But I don't expect it to be popular...

Built to last: Time to dispose of the disposable, unrepairable brick

Philip Storry

Re: Reduce, re-used, recycle

When the graphics card died, I replaced it with a budget job.

The original card was a beast. It was close to top of the line in 2010, requiring two power leads and being double height. I don't recall the cost, but I think it was hundreds of pounds.

The replacement was about £90. Several years had passed, and what I got was basically a revised version of that same beast. Same number of compute units, similar amount of RAM - but half the physical size, only requiring one power lead, and running much cooler.

I was already happy with the graphical performance of my games. I'm struggling to think of any major graphical advance since 2010 that I simply must have. So any non-budget card will probably be fine.

Heck, half the budget cards are probably fine by now too!

Back in the 90's, and around the turn of the millennium, every step forward was huge. Let's put it in terms of games. Command Keen, Wolfenstien 3D, DOOM, Quake, Quake II, Quake III. Each of them is noticeably superior to the previous game in terms of graphics.

Since 2010, it's been incremental. The rate of progress has slowed. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I'm still playing Borderlands 2, and it still looks great. It was launched in 2012.

Reducing the footprint of software would be nice, but the fact is that the hardware has been sufficient for quite a while now...

Philip Storry

Reduce, re-used, recycle

The old adage is to reduce, re-use and recycle - in that order.

In terms of reduce - my desktop machine is an old Core i7-2700K (I think) in a big tower case which still manages just fine. Bought in 2010, and delivery was delayed due to the motherboard being affected by the Sandy Bridge southbridge chipset bug. (Remember that?)

It's a bit of a Trigger's Broom today, having had a new power supply, new graphics card, replacement RAM and an upgrade to an SSD. All except the SSD were replacements due to failures, but the big tower case means maintenance is quick and easy. It might need replacing soon - but it'll have served me for 10 years, which means ten years in which I haven't bought a new PC. Or even felt like I needed to.

For re-use, it's my laptop. It was more for budget reasons than anything else that I bought a second hand Thinkpad. They're reliable and durable, so are excellent candidates for that. Again, performance is just fine and it meets my needs amply. I put Ubuntu on it, all the hardware (except for the fingerprint reader - which I wasn't going to use anyway) was supported without issues.

I'm sure that the Windows 10 Refurb Edition installation that was on it would also have been OK. But I do have more reservations about running Windows as a sustainable OS on older hardware. Linux just works - no need for manufacturer's drivers. And that's where Windows falls down IMO. I remember installing Windows 7 onto my desktop tower 10 years ago. Windows failed to find almost all the hardware - it booted into a low res, had no sound, no network, nothing. Ubuntu found everything but one of the network adapters (the built in one on the motherboard). I didn't even realise that the motherboard had Bluetooth support until I saw the icon next to the clock in Ubuntu! Then I had to reboot into Windows and spend an hour or two installing drivers for the motherboard - most of the time spent rebooting after each driver install, of course.

It's no doubt better now. A decade has passed. But as the Sonos issue shows, companies want to sell you new hardware. So sunsetting driver support for newer versions of Windows is going to continue to be a thing. Ironically, hardware support in Linux is now becoming superior to hardware support for Windows, especially if you want to still use old hardware.

Until we can convince vendors to have longer support periods, anyone attempting to reduce/re-use is probably better off moving to Linux.

Starliner snafu could've been worse: Software errors plague Boeing's Calamity Capsule

Philip Storry

How things have changed...

This article has stuck with me since I first read it well over a decade ago:

https://www.fastcompany.com/28121/they-write-right-stuff

It shows a mature, confident development process that understands the risks and chooses to minimise them.

For example, if they find a bug they don't just fix it. They check what kind of bug it is, and if it's one they've not encountered before (certain types of arithmetic for example) they then check the whole code base for the same issue.

This is why the Shuttle never had a software problem that killed people. Culturally, they took it seriously.

By contrast, the management at Boeing evidently have a different culture. One of cost cutting and what could charitably be called "personal development".

If they encounter a bug, they're probably wondering whether they should fix it or just rewrite in Node.Js. The latter buys time, and looks good on the CV when the inevitable failure happens anyway...

This would be amusing, if people's lives weren't on the line.

Tech can endure the most inhospitable environments: Space, underwater, down t'pit... even hairdressers

Philip Storry

Re: Ex fruity genius...

Back in the 90's, I worked for a company who had a major tobacco seller as a client.

The tobacco company's offices in London simply had packets of free fags lying around. Not packs of 20 - the actual strips of packs of 20. Everyone in that office smoked. And smoked a lot. Because they weren't paying for it (financially, anyway).

We had staff who refused to go back to that site. Everything was covered in a patina of smoke and tar. EVERYTHING. Your fingertips were yellowed after a visit. Your clothes would need a thorough wash. Some people even reported wanting to shower after a visit, so pervasive was the smoke and tar. It was simply disgusting.

We were only supporting the email system, but we spoke to the company who supported the PCs occasionally. Apparently, the PCs had a lifespan of around a year before the tar buildup killed them. They'd given up trying to clean and resurrect them, not because it wasn't possible, but because it was simply too time consuming and too disgusting for the person trying to do it.

I've never smoked, so I'm biased against the habit. But even our MD - who liked a fag and often had a pipe going whilst in the office - thought that their office was a bit too smokey.

It was a site I dreaded. When we got remote support capabilities and I could simply hop onto the server without visiting, I was incredibly happy.

In the red corner, Big Red, and in the blue corner... the rest of the tech industry

Philip Storry

Re: Undocumented APIs

Undocumented Internals was superb.

And don't forget Ralf Brown's Interrupt List. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralf_Brown%27s_Interrupt_List

A treasure trove of information, much of it about what other programs were doing - helpful in ensuring anything you were writing wouldn't conflict (too badly) with anything else.

Or so that you could do things like send commands to disk cache TSRs, and so forth...

Microsoft boffin inadvertently highlights .NET image woes by running C# on Windows 3.11

Philip Storry

Re: "Visual Studio is a paid-for product"

Microsoft's prices are certainly a bit insane.

I think that QuickBASIC 4.5 cost me ~£130 back in the early 90's. As a hobbyist, it was perfect. I should stress that this is the full QuickBASIC that could produce compiled .exe files, not the cut-down interpreted IDE that shipped with MS-DOS 5 and higher.

The alternatives were PowerBASIC (which I eventually moved to) or... Turbo Pascal, I guess?

Actually, the real alternatives were things like the C compilers, which I think cost more like £300 and upwards. You could start cheap with Borland or Microsoft C, but if you wanted something like Watcom you were going to have a very light wallet afterwards.

So what that purchase of QuickBASIC 4.5 got me was the ability to write little programs that I could share with friends without requiring any runtime or installation. (This was DOS, though, so that's not saying much.)

A decent dev environment costs money. I understand that. Compilers or runtimes take time and effort to develop. But free software has been going for over 30 years, and has accumulated millions of man hours of work - it's at least 90% there.

I just checked the prices of a Visual Studio Professional subscription. $1,199 for the first year, $799 renewal after that. I understand that you get a lot there - Azure credit, dev/test licenses for some Microsoft software - but that's still a very steep price.

By contrast, a couple of years ago I treated myself on my birthday to a subscription for all the Jetbrains products. All of them - IntelliJ IDEA, GoLand, Rider, PyCharm, Datagrip, and more - and it cost me £200 a year. It went down to £159 for the second year, and will be £119 a year this year and onwards. That's a lot of IDEs, and a lot of expertise.

For £119 a year I can write in Java, Go, Python, Ruby, C#, C/C++, Ruby, SQL, JavaScript or PHP. That's great, because if I do get a head injury at least I'll have options. (Insert your own joke about which ones require a head injury.)

If Microsoft wants to attract new developers, they need something that's down at the £250 mark.

Visual Studio Code doesn't cut it, by the way. It's great for PowerShell, and not too bad for C# - right up until you want to compile to an executable. Getting Visual Studio Code to do decent compilation is a bit of a pain.

Certainly more of a pain than anything from JetBrains.

If Microsoft want more developers using C#, they need to drop their enterprise-style pricing and make Visual Studio much more attractive. I know that there's a Community Edition, but the cost of the jump from free to non-free is incredibly high, it's no wonder everyone just goes off and uses something else...

I am broot: The Reg chats to French dev about Rust tool that aims to improve directory navigation

Philip Storry

Re: As an old UNIX hacker, strangely enough ...

Second this. Midnight Commander is incredibly useful, and seems to have crept on to all my Linux systems somehow...

When I was using DOS, I preferred XTree Gold - but have grown to prefer Midnight Commander over the various XTree clones that *NIX has seen over the years.

I'm not sure why, other than the two pane paradigm is incredibly useful...

LibreOffice 6.4 nearly done as open-source office software project prepares for 10th anniversary

Philip Storry

Re: Usability

You suggest not showing items not in the document.

Isn't that throwing out discoverability?

I'd agree with greying out items not in the document. But just not showing them? How am I supposed to find out that I can navigate by, as you say, OLE objects, if they never show up until I have them?

Remember, this pane isn't necessarily open all the time. So when it is, it needs to convey a lot of information quickly...

I fundamentally disagree with your approach because you remove discoverability. It's as bad as, if not worse than, the "hide menus" approach that was discredited when we tried it in Office 97 and 2000.

Philip Storry

Re: Choice

I agree - Office has hit the IBM stage for decision makers...

Anecdote time!

Word has lost me more time and work than any other program I've ever used. But I trust LibreOffice Writer.

I'm reformatting and editing a long document at the moment. 400 pages in, out of ~2000. (That's an approximation for how many pages will be there when it's finished - it's a document that originated as an OCR job, with all the errors and dodgy formatting that entails. At the moment, I have another 3000+ pages to get through.)

I wouldn't say that saving or opening the document is fast. But it is reliable. And I'd not want to lose 400 pages of effort.

I would never - and I mean NEVER - trust Word with this job. Once I get near 100 pages in Word, I start to get twitchy...

Also, the Navigator pane is awesome for this kind of large document!

Philip Storry

Re: Usability

I find LibreOffice far more usable than Office.

In particular the navigator is a big boon when editing long documents in Writer. Being able to name tables and images is a big boon over how Office handles that.

Speaking more generally, the side panes are a far better use of space than the Ribbon on modern monitors.

Also, one person's clutter is another person's invaluable feature. I use some of the recently added (in version 6.3?) typography features occasionally, and am very grateful for them. To many, those features may just be an extraneous button that leads to a confusing dialogue box.

I guess it comes down to individual use cases and preferences.

Frankly, I spend about as much time hunting around for infrequently used features on the Ribbon at work as I might spend hunting through the menus at home on LibreOffice.

Which leads me to suspect that this is one of those hard problems that doesn't have a good solution available. You either have the features and a crap interface, or no features and an easy interface...

(I haven't experienced the flicker you mention - although I don't doubt it happens.)

Philip Storry

Re: I think you underestimate it...

Yep, there's a reason I don't rely on O365 for my personal needs.

I have LibreOffice for the big documents (> 10 pages) and the free tier of Google Drive for convenience. I use a third party tool to download the Google Drive stuff and convert it to ODF, just in case Google have some kind of accident or change of business plan.

But then, I've learned my lessons from almost 25 years in the industry. I'm hardly a typical customer. ;-)

Philip Storry

Re: "Has LibreOffice succeeded?"

I've never been that impressed by Excel's charting.

But then, I was spoilt by Quattro Pro's chart engine - which makes Excel look pretty pathetic. Also, my personal experience - just anecdote, of course - is that tweaking graph options is the second easiest way to crash Excel. (The first being to load a very large file.)

I'm not so sure that options are the answer to why Office is so popular. If so, Quattro Pro would be the default instead of Excel by now.

Also reporting tools like Crystal Reports, SRSS and so forth would be dead right now. And there'd be little interest in tools like R, Grafana etc.

Desktop office suites only need to be "good enough", in the wider view of things.

The answer is much more likely to be a combination of things, including integration with Windows/BackOffice, billing, and so forth.

Philip Storry

I think you underestimate it...

"LibreOffice then has not changed the software world, but it has perhaps made it a better place."

When I first start Office on my work desktop, I'm asked which format I want to save my documents in. That's a pretty significant change for Microsoft. Remember, they're a company that once destroyed Netscape simply because they might be a threat...

I have far fewer issues opening OOXML documents than I did a decade ago. Interoperability is still best served with a format like PDF, but we're in a much better place than we once were.

I think LibreOffice's impact is far greater in the personal computing market. I do know people with individual or family O365 subscriptions. But I still remember when Office was around four hundred bucks a CPU. By comparison, when you look at the OneDrive storage and the always up-to-date nature of Office 365, it's quite a bargain.

And I'm pretty sure it's not just GSuite that's driven that price down. Most folks I know who are casual users have LibreOffice installed by a relative, because it's "good enough" for their light use. That's got to have had some kind of impact at Redmond.

Who loves Brexit? Irish distributors ... after their sales jump by a third

Philip Storry

Re: "the country has an advantageous business and digital tax environment"

Thank you for your reply. And Japan?

Because I genuinely hadn't looked up anything before then. I couldn't, because I didn't know which goods would be picked.

Let's ignore unicycles, because you must be joking there. Hardly a huge benefit for our society.

Apples and coffee - I googled "Japan tariff <product>", and it looks like Japan has tariffs for both. (The first hit for apples was a news article on a trade deal with the US, lowering tariffs. The one on coffee showed a table with a 20% import tariff on the type of coffee you'd picked.)

I did the same for Russia, and found that it's banned the import of apples due to counter-sanctions. So I apologise for including them on the list - I'd forgotten they were under sanctions.

But the fact that I asked for MULTIPLE countries and you're only quoting the ones that you found a 0% tariff - and ignoring issues of sanctions - suggests that you're not arguing in good faith. You're cherry picking your data to try to support your predetermined conclusion.

We are not, as you say, all consumers. We are also all participants in our own economy. Would British orchard owners be able to survive a 0% import tariff on apples? I certainly have no wish to sell them out. I don't know any orchard owners, but that won't stop me from asking if a 0% tariff is bad for them. That's called being a decent citizen.

You have not convinced me. You cherry picked data, and therefore have lost all credibility on this issue.

Philip Storry

Re: "the country has an advantageous business and digital tax environment"

There's many things in your comment that I think are wrong, but I'll focus on just one:

"For example the EU is a huge isolationist block of high tariffs and refusal to accept outside products."

To help me understand, can you give me three examples of goods with high tariffs? Also, please prove that the tariffs are high by showing the comparative tariffs of the following countries for those same goods: USA, Japan, Russia, South Africa, India, China, Australia.

(Please quote your sources.)

I'm genuinely curious. I hear this said a lot, but I never see any proof. Yes, the EU is protectionist. So are almost all countries and trading blocks in the world.

So I'm unsure what the point of leaving such protections behind is. These figures would help me greatly. Thanks!

Philip Storry

Re: @DontFeedTheTrolls

That last sentence is the real truth - it will always be someone else's fault. The Leaders of Leave don't have the integrity necessary to do anything but blame others.

Philip Storry

This "majority vote" - would that the the 2016 Referendum that saw the largest electoral crimes this century? The one where Vote Leave purposefully funnelled $675,000 to other campaigns in order to bypass spending limits?

That's almost a 10% overspend, which is pretty unheard of in our democracy. And it was done in the final three days, used to fund millions of Facebook ads - so it's not like we can say "Well, it had no effect".

The referendum result shouldn't be respected. Not unless you approve of electoral crime.

And it would be very odd to be going around wanting a democracy for which electoral crime is a cornerstone.

If it weren't advisory, the referendum would have been re-run - just as a council or constituency election would be if such crimes had been found. But it was advisory. So we have a simple choice - approve of electoral crime and "respect the result", or not approve of electoral crime and reject the result.

Philip Storry

The possibility of No Deal did not "bring the EU to the table".

Asking them to tweak the deal got them to the table. May didn't ask because she had her deal, but she couldn't get it approved in Parliament. Johnson took that as a sign it needed to be changed.

The fact that it couldn't get through Parliament is what got the deal changed, not the ravings of the ERG.

Oh, and the "new" deal is just the old deal, but worse.

All bets are Hoff: DXC exec is standing for Brexit Party in UK General Election

Philip Storry
Coat

Obligatory

Bloody foreigners, comin' over 'ere, standing in our 'lections...

Telstra chairman: If those darn kids can earn $5m playing Fortnite, why can't execs?

Philip Storry

Let's settle this empirically.

We'll replace the execs with a simple randomiser that returns Yes or No.

We'll replace the Fortnite players with bots.

If, in six months time, the companies are still there and making money, then the executives are overpaid and pointless.

If, in six months time, people are still watching the streams in the same numbers, then the Fortnite players are overpaid and pointless.

Full disclosure: I'd like to place all of my money on executives being overpaid, and Fortnite players not being overpaid. Providing I can find someone dim enough to give me good odds, that is...

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson moves to shut Parliament

Philip Storry

Re: About Time

I never said trade without deals was a unicorn. You're putting words into my mouth. What I said was that countries still do deals. I was implying that deals are preferable.

The Leave campaigners made that same point - deals are preferable to not having deals. They said as much in 2016, when they said we'd get great deals.

Now they're saying that no deal is what they promised.

These two are mutually exclusive. They were either lying in 2016, or are lying now.

(With the exception of those like David Davis, who have the unenviable but believable excuse of ignorance.)

That's the unicorn. The whole project is one single unicorn. Not individual trade patterns - the whole of Brexit.

So no, not unicorn enough for me.

Here's a suggestion for what you can say in a few years' time though: "I thought I was being a patriot. It turns out they were lying to me about that too."

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