* Posts by Philip Storry

214 publicly visible posts • joined 28 Nov 2007

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RIP Fred 'Mythical Man-Month' Brooks: IBM guru of software project management

Philip Storry

I first read The Mythical Man-Month in the early 2000's, and it was a revelation.

Its descriptions of technology and the process of programming were laughably outdated - like stumbling across a charming time capsule.

But on time estimating, project management and even on the ability of technology to magically fix things via "silver bullets", it was spot on. And has never been bested.

The last person I lent my copy to handed it back saying "I now understand why my last project was so late". That was two decades after I first read it, and over four decades after it was first written. Fred really hit on something in that book, and we are in his debt for it.

RIP Fred Brooks. And thanks.

He's only gone and done it. Ex-Register vulture elected to board of .uk registry

Philip Storry
Pint

Congratulations!

Given your lamentable bubblegum situation, I hope you find solace with a sturdy pair of boots.

Good luck!

Don't mind Facebook, just putting its own browser in its Android app

Philip Storry

We found a large attack surface area, so we increased it...

Good job, Meta.

You found a problem - people not accepting updates meant a larger attack surface area. So you chose to try and fix this by... increasing the attack surface area.

Yeah. That's a good solution.

Honestly, just be honest and tell us it's about tracking. Or if you actually cared about the issues of updating software, perhaps lobby for some kind of regulation in that area?

I hope that this has an off button so that I can reduce my risk by opening links in WebView, which I always update...

White House to tech world: Promise you'll write secure code – or Feds won't use it

Philip Storry
Flame

The first blow has been struck...

This is just the first blow in what could be a long and difficult fight.

But only if software developers want it to be.

These problems have been solved before now. In the 19th century there were plenty of people swanning around calling themselves doctors. And killing people through incompetence and ignorance. Doctors (real Doctors, hence the capitalisation) simply shrugged and said "What can we do? We're *proper* Doctors who do things properly, they're charlatans and snake oil salesmen who call themselves doctors."

Then the government said "Well, we could regulate you."

And suddenly Doctors were remarkably interested in doing something themselves. Associations were set up, accreditations required, boards put in place to review conduct... all so that they could then say "Hey, Mr. Government Man, how about just using what we have already rather than having to do it all over again to regulate us?"

The same thing happened with engineers. People who knew a bit of woodworking were wandering around building larger and larger things, without knowing quite how to do it at that scale. Buildings and bridges collapsed. People died. The government stepped in and said "Hey, maybe we should regulate this?" Engineers chose to organise rather than accept that.

Make no mistake, the same thing will happen for software development. People's lives now depend on software. Assisted driving and self driving has already claimed at least one life, probably more. At some point it'll get too much, and the politicians will be looking for a scapegoat. Rather than attack the companies, they'll realise that they can attack the developers. They're highly paid, they often associate with fringe groups in society, and some (not all) aren't very skilled socially. A perfect target for the ire of an angry public.

The software industry needs to get ahead of the game and organise. Not unionise - but have professional bodies as Doctors and Engineers do. Because in 50 years time people will look back as this and say "It all started when the Government realised it needed higher standards for its software. But they were purchasing guidelines, not regulations. Then, after some high profile deaths, things got shaky and there were calls for more Government action, so they took those guidelines and proposed regulation. Software developers weren't happy with that..."

Software developers can choose how that story ends. But the sooner they make the choice, the better the outcome will be for them.

Philip Storry

Re: Software is flakey and full of holes, get over it

Surely this is what a Software Bill of Materials is for?

And it'll just end up with companies having to make a choice - adopt open source projects and actively participate in them, or build their own. The former is much cheaper, so this might actually improve FOSS participation and support.

Frankly, it's long overdue. Whilst some companies are good citizens, too many of them have been freeloading for too long...

Nadine Dorries promotes 'Brexit rewards' of proposed UK data protection law

Philip Storry

Re: UK rejoining the EU?

Yes and no.

This article shows that it was seriously considered, but the housing market and some other differences kept us from joining:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_economic_tests

It's an interesting read.

It's probably also worth pointing out that all of that research is well over a decade old - once joining the Euro was ruled out by Blair, I suspect everyone stopped bothering to research it. You certainly shouldn't quote that as though it applies to our current economic clusterf... er, situation.

(Phew! Close call at the end there!)

Philip Storry

Re: UK rejoining the EU?

You're either purposefully twisting my words or you're misunderstanding them.

"The EU project is so amazing and glorious that we should join but then refuse to meet the conditions or outright lie so as not to join the EU proper."

Nobody said refuse. There are already conditions for joining the Euro, we likely won't meet them.

The simple fact is that whilst our economy benefited from being in the Single Market, it's dissimilar enough that we may not benefit from the Euro. The last thing that anyone in the EU wants is a repeat of Greece, where a country lied to get into the Euro club. The mere mention of that will have everyone happily accepting a more cautious approach.

So we don't need to refuse or outright lie as you state. We can be reasonable partners who understand each other's positions and agree on a pragmatic compromise.

"If we voted leave even when we had out exceptions and opt outs why would we want to join fully?"

Because the people who told us it would be great to leave were either liars or incompetent.

Go speak to fisheries and farmers about their happy fish and sunlit uplands. Go speak to small and medium businesses about how we have all of the benefits of membership, but none of the drawbacks. Go speak to hospitality and entertainment about red tape.

Boris Johnson led one of the campaigns, and he's a liar. Not even an accidental liar, but a man who lies as easily as he breathes. His name is attached to the Brexit project. Farage is the other campaign leader, and he's not exactly a shining beacon of honesty and truth.

I remember the Iraq war. Before we actually went to war the public was roughly 50/50, and on any given day you could have had a vote go either way. That was because nobody knew who they could trust. Which side was right - the USA/UK governments, or the wider international community?

Once people saw how badly wrong the planning and intelligence had been, support simply fell away. Sound familiar? Seeing anything like that happen recently? The people are fickle, and I'd bet money that when the histories are written Brexit will be seen as a doomed failure sold by liars and incompetents.

Either Brexit's supporters start delivering all those promises, or Brexit will continue to be a failure.

What quitlings fail to understand is that it won't just be a campaign to rejoin, it will be a campaign to regain what we lost. What they gave away. And that is far more quantifiable than "sovereignty" and "control" ever will be - as this article so amply demonstrates.

Philip Storry
FAIL

Re: UK rejoining the EU?

You're right and wrong.

We will be required to join the Euro.

And that won't matter.

Because Sweden has been required to join the Euro since 1995, and has done bugger all about it. We'll just do exactly the same.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweden_and_the_euro#:~:text=Sweden%20does%20not%20currently%20use,they%20meet%20the%20necessary%20conditions.

Initially we'll just claim we don't meet the conditions (which is likely anyway), then we'll just drag our feet.

And the rest of Europe won't expect us to join, so they won't care. We'll all just get on with things that are more important.

Honestly, this "We can't rejoin we'll have to join the Euro" rubbish is exactly that - rubbish.

AI detects 20,000 hidden taxable swimming pools in France, netting €10m

Philip Storry

Re: If it steers boots on the ground to double check

It'd never work in the UK.

We could easily buy satellite photography and train an AI to try to identify buildings and match potential land registry data. We could even then buy more data next year and look for new buildings and construction.

But there are two main problems. The first is that local planning permission system may not feed accurate data back. As an example, remember a certain Dominic Cummings? The starting point for his notorious eye checkup was his parent's farm, but there were questions about whether the building on it was kosher: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-52911605

At the time I heard all kinds of statements about this being an outhouse because it lacked a kitchen, or other stupid loopholes in planning law. I'm not qualified to judge such things, but this did teach me that determining such things will be way beyond what an AI with some photos and a database of coordinates can be sure of.

The second issue is related.

The moment a donor to the Conservative party gets a visit about their new "outhouse" and what it means for their tax bill is the moment that the project dies. This government condones corruption, and would always stand with its friends and donors rather than have them pay their due.

Huawei dangles developer incentives to sell Harmony OS around the world

Philip Storry

An Alibaba font? Mischief incoming!

Does it have emojis?

Because I reckon even if it doesn't, pretty soon a variant will appear that does. Some people are going to want to cram a Taiwanese flag in there ASAP...

Technically it would be a breach of copyright to do that. But it's fine, because they can't complain about it without acknowledging Taiwan exists, so they'll never complain about it. It's the perfect political crime!

Linux may soon lose support for the DECnet protocol

Philip Storry

This is anecdote and opinion, but what I think really killed Novell wasn't the protocol switch - you could get a Netware server to speak TCP/IP.

What killed Netware was Windows NT.

The vast majority of clients were running some version of Windows by the mid 90's. But nobody in their right mind would run their printing and file sharing on Windows for Workgroups 3.11 - it was fine for small offices, but lacked the security controls and stability you needed for a larger site.

Then Windows NT arrived. And suddenly you could feasibly replace both your file/print server AND run applications as services so replace your UNIX servers if you had them too. (Software availability allowing, that is.)

Windows NT wasn't perfect. It wasn't as good as Novell for file sharing - in particular it didn't do complex file permissions well until Windows 2000 shipped, and the workaround was using the unsupported CACLS command. But it ran applications a lot better than Novell did - a heck of a lot better.

So Windows NT was Good Enough(TM, Patent Pending) and due to the ongoing lowering of storage prices per MB you could consolidate several expensive old Novell machines onto a set of fewer, cheaper new Windows NT machines.

And those new servers also worked very with all those new Windows clients. In fact, why not just bite the bullet and set up a Domain at some point, maybe migrate everyone over to that too?

Novell Netware's file sharing was brilliant, but they were not that good at anything else. (Except directory services with Netware 4.x, but that's a different story.) The Windows NT/(Windows 95|Windows for Workgroups) combo landed at a time when people expected more from computers, preferably for less money. Windows NT delivered that, Novell didn't.

The death blow was probably the atrocious Netware protocol/logon drivers for that Novell shipped for Windows 95 - for a while the advice was to use the "bare basics" drivers that shipped with Windows 95 itself! The official Novell drivers were buggy and unreliable for quite a while, as well as being rather a resource hog.

That story was then repeated with the drivers for Windows NT4, which didn't help at all.

But I think that the move away from Novell had started long before that, when people saw how easy it was to create a file share whilst also running a service on a Windows NT machine. It made it viable to run a branch office from one server without hassle. In theory Novell could do that, but in practice Novell just couldn't do it reliably enough so everyone moved to Windows NT.

Philip Storry

Re: IPX/SPX

Gaming was the last refuge for SPX.

I had a couple of customers that used it for that, and then moved from DOOM/Quake to Half Life - which used TCP/IP. So they then removed SPX from the network.

Of course, this generated errors whenever the Notes server started because it was trying to bind to an SPX driver that was no longer there. Easy fix - remove the protocol from the server document in the directory, remove the driver from the line in notes.ini, restart the server. Well, easy when you know how...

It was an interesting conversation with the technical staff at the company, and we had to slightly modify the problem description and solution so that neither their nor my management realised that the whole problem was caused by LAN gaming! The words "legacy file server access" got used a lot...

Philip Storry

True, but IPX/SPX was still being deployed for several years after that in businesses.

By 1999 or 2000, nobody was deploying anything but TCP/IP, and maybe AppleTalk if you had a marketing department in the building.

Hindsight is 20/20. For a while in businesses it did look like IPX/SPX might win, then Novell tanked and the protocol went with them. Eventually SPX was only deployed for access to file servers we were decommissioning, and being used for cheeky gaming sessions by technical staff.

When Half Life replaced DOOM/Quake, SPX had absolutely no use and got stripped from the network. I was working for a consultancy at the time, and had conversations about this with a few customers. ;-)

Philip Storry

Absolutely.

Early in my career I specialised in Lotus Notes. Which had network drivers for all kinds - TCP, NetBIOS, SPX, Banyan VINES, serial connections... I don't specifically recall DECnet being in there, but that's probably because VAX was one of the few server options Notes never had...

I met Notes back in 1996. I think I only ever had one production server that used SPX - a Notes server running as an NLM on a Novell Netware server. Very very rapidly everything went to TCP/IP. A decade later, those drivers were already a historical curiosity for 99% of computer professionals working with Notes.

They got removed from later versions shortly after that.

(Yes, there were later versions of Lotus Notes, no matter what it might have seemed like. Companies just took their own sweet time deploying them...)

I'd say that TCP/IP had won by the year 2000. Everything since then has been mopping up operations...

GitLab plans to delete dormant projects in free accounts

Philip Storry
FAIL

A year seems a bit too low... Three years maybe?

On the one hand I see where GitLab is coming from. Inactive projects can be a risk to the general software ecosystem, so this could be seen as a good move.

But in my experience working for larger companies, there's no agility there. The idea that anything gets updated to a later version more than every few years is laughable. So a one year timeout is useless.

Even in personal computing, it's only Macs that get yearly software updates. Most Linux distros (rolling ones excepted) ship a new update every two years or so at best. So if I'm using one of these projects and it doesn't work on the latest version of Python, how am I going to know before the project's repo gets pulled? I have literally no chance of finding out and reporting it, which leaves the developer in a very poor position.

And before someone says "Well, they could always just make a change every year" - really? An unnecessary change just to keep the repo open? Time flies past, a year can feel like the blink of an eye. And if the developer regards the project as complete - or has just moved on to another personal project - a year could easily feel like a month for that project.

After a few years and a few projects, this will become quite a hassle.

Frankly, a year feels way too low. Three years feels more reasonable, given the cadence of software development these days.

(As an aside, I was evaluating GitLab and GitHub for deployment at my work. I'd already picked GitHub, but it was very close and this does nothing to make me think I was wrong.)

PowerShell pusher to log off from Microsoft: Write-Host "Bye bye, Jeffrey Snover"

Philip Storry

So much hate here!

There does seem to be a lot of hate for PowerShell here, which I find odd given the state of managing and automating Windows before it arrived.

So I figured I'd throw my tuppence out here.

PowerShell's biggest strength is that everything is an object.

PowerShell's biggest weakness is that everything is an object.

Some days everything being an object is great - to the point where you take it for granted. On UNIX based systems you might get back a stream of text from a command that you then have to strip text from with sed or split into fields and and recombine them with awk. That can be fragile if your regex isn't good or the data doesn't quite match your expectations. By contrast in PowerShell each item will be an object with properties - it's trivial to get back only the parts you want from an item, to the point where we take it for granted.

Some days everything being an object sucks because objects are more memory intensive and a bit slower than a text stream. Good old sort.exe can handle thousands of lines of text with minimal resources, but Sort-Object working on an array of a similar size can be slow. And I've also seen it almost kill machines due to memory usage. This sometimes means your script works just fine when you're writing it on your desktop with some test data but then fails on a server - because your workstation has four times the RAM that the server has. (Yeah, that can happen especially with smaller edge/management servers.) I've seen people get called out by the ops team because a critical RAM usage warning was issued, and the culprit was a PowerShell script with a Sort-Object a bit too early in the pipeline... Nobody is going to laud a technology that woke them at three in the morning for a callout!

All tools have their own strengths and weaknesses, and tools have a tendency to amplify the strengths and weaknesses of their wielder. Nothing's perfect, but I've enjoyed using PowerShell and I think of it as a valuable part of my toolkit, despite occasionally having fought and cursed it. In the end, I'd rather work with it than rail against it, because when it works it really works...

Philip Storry

Re: Enjoy your retirement Jeffrey

My apologies!

Enjoy your summer off, and I hope that your new gig is everything you want from it.

There do seem to be a lot of ignorant haters here, I hope you can ignore them. "A bad workman blames his tools" - and PowerShell is more a very large toolkit than a single tool, which unfortunately gives people a lot of room for manoeuvre.

Thanks for the clarifying reply - always good to see that the Reg forums are read by people at all levels!

Philip Storry
Pint

Enjoy your retirement Jeffrey

I remember well the Monad Manifesto coming out in 2002. It caused quite a stir on a little website called Slashdot, which had some mild popularity at the time...

And coincidentally in 2002 Microsoft was busy trying to migrate Hotmail - which it had bought a few years earlier - from its legacy platform of Solaris/FreeBSD to Windows 2000. It did not go well initially, partly because if you need to make a change to Apache on change 500 machines running Solaris/FreeBSD it can be easily scripted. Whereas to change the IIS configuration on 500 Windows machines you had to manually log on to 500 machines... Your only other option would be to write a script for WSH that connected and changed registry entries remotely. Which isn't very appealing.

The with the next release IIS suddenly gained the ability to use a config file, which was quite the coincidence...

So when Microsoft execs were saying "Admins don't want command line interfaces", I suspect that they simply weren't yet hearing what their own admins in the Hotmail division were saying whenever they tried to manage the test Windows environments.

PowerShell isn't without its flaws, but it is far better than what we had before. Thanks Jeffrey - if you're in London and want a pint (or a dram), I'll stand you one. Cheers!

Vivaldi email client released 7 years after first announcement

Philip Storry
Meh

I loved the Opera mail client

But that horse has long gone, and the stable door can't be closed because the stable has fallen into disuses and since fallen down.

Now I do most of my email via apps on tablets and phones, or via webmail. I do fire up Thunderbird at least once a week - but only to then back up my emails. Frankly I need to set up some kind of script to do that instead sometime...

A binary email client in 2022 just feels like a throwback. I wish them well, but I can't see myself switching unless this mail client is so good that it outweighs the convenience of apps & webmail.

Microsoft delays next Exchange Server release to 2025

Philip Storry
Joke

Three years?

Surely all they need to do is make the installer run the uninstaller for the old version of Exchange, then display a message thanking you for "upgrading" to Office 365?

I suppose they'll also need to produce a second version titled "Exchange for Governments, Banks and Pharma" which is four times more expensive and is just the current product with the version number incremented, but those customers won't mind a delay so there's no rush.

Three years does seem rather a long time to accomplish these simple changes...

Lawyers say changes to UK data law will make life harder for international businesses

Philip Storry

And nothing much will change for 95% of companies

GDPR doesn't apply to territories. It applies to EU citizens.

Given that we have Northern Ireland as part of the UK, no company can operate there as an employer without having to adopt GDPR as their minimum standard for data processing.

And given that the Common Travel Area allows Irish citizens - who are also EU citizens - to work in the UK, this then extends to the rest of Great Britain.

The only way to avoid GDPR in the UK is to simply not trade with, employ, or provide services to anyone Irish. Which is hardly practical.

Of course, the hardcore Brexit supporters may see this as part of the return to the Glorious Past. No doubt they're eager to break out their old "No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs" signs and are eagerly awaiting legislation on the latter two groups to follow.

Meanwhile everyone looking to the future will just follow GDPR because anything else would be a waste of time.

This is the most prominent example of how we'll be rule takers, not rule makers - until we rejoin the EU. Quite ironic really.

Only Microsoft can give open source the gift of NTFS. Only Microsoft needs to

Philip Storry

I'm not convinced

I'm not convinced that Microsoft could - or should - do this. My reasoning requires a little knowledge of filesystems to understand...

Filesystems are composed of two things - the filesystem layout; and the software stack.

The filesystem layout is the actual bit written to persistent storage - everything from header blocks to identify versions and features, disk maps (if used), directories/inodes and so forth.

The software stack is the actual code. And it's complicated. It's not just a bit of code that reads and writes the filesystem layout, it also has to interact with a variety of other operating subsystems. Memory management, buffered I/O, block storage drivers, caching systems... Security can be handled at a higher level, so I'm not adding it to that list, but it's also a possible complication.

Open-sourcing the current stack would be pretty useless, as it's Windows-specific. Who knows what oddities lie within its internal APIs to handle file locking or caching systems that are Windows specific?

Because of this, it would be a fairly major job to write and then release an open-source driver.

Hence me not being convinced.

What they could do, though, is release two documents that would help immensely. Documentation for the filesystem layout, and a technical note confirming the order of operations would both be very helpful to those in the Linux community who want to write and maintain an NTFS driver.

Don't hate on cryptomining, hate the power stations, say Bitcoin super-fans

Philip Storry
Facepalm

Wow

Well this just has to be them chancing their arm...

Here are some other ways that they could use this logic to chance their arm:

"I don't see why I'm to blame, the car manufacturer made the car. I just drove it through the crowd because I was late for a meeting!"

"I'm pretty sure it's the chemical company's fault, I just thought arsenic would bring a nice almond taste to my bakery's bread!"

"Hey, don't blame me - it's the knife manufacturer that's responsible for the stabbings!"

Fancy a remix? Ubuntu Unity and Ubuntu Cinnamon have also hit 22.04

Philip Storry
Thumb Up

I have to agree with the author on Unity being a superb desktop environment, so I will be trying this out very soon.

I'm currently using Ubuntu MATE, with the Mutiny panel configuration. It's fine, but not as good as actual Unity. In particular I miss the searching...

I had figured I'd simply move to something else when Unity was left for dead, hence moving to MATE as a least-worst option. But it seems that Unity is forming - or has formed - its own community and momentum, and I'd like to add some more to those user numbers.

Here's hoping that there's a long future for this particular remix!

Apple has missed the video revolution

Philip Storry

Re: Microsoft Teams as it's about the most crappy bit of software Microsoft have ever flung together

An excellent call.

Don't forget SQL Server 4.2 and Exchange Server 4.0. Both from a similar era, where it felt like if it compiled and worked on Microsoft's network then it was shipped...

Philip Storry

Re: Apple had spectacularly bad timing

My company is part of a larger Group, which is itself part owned by a multinational. So I don't choose Teams. It's part of a set of standards that I have to deploy.

Beyond that, I don't actually think it's that bad. Compared with the many previous attempts from Microsoft at messaging, it's pretty good. If you tried to drag me back to Skype for Business (no persistent chat history, FFS?) then I'd definitely tell you where to go...

Teams is big, heavy and occasionally unstable because it's effectively a giant website wrapped in Electron. But that means that Teams is also easy to support because you just delete the user's cache/profile and it gets downloaded again. Swings and roundabouts, really.

Where Teams has really been great for my company is its integration with OneDrive/SharePoint. There is no way in hell that I could have gotten my colleagues to use SharePoint to store files without Teams. I could have read my colleagues the mandate from Our Glorious Owners all day long, and I'd have been ignored. But putting stuff in the Files area of Teams? Sure thing! And then they can sync them locally with OneDrive? Well they love that!

Nothing is perfect, but I've found Teams to be quite adequate, even advantageous at times.

I'm all for using free software, but sadly I need more than just videoconferencing and I have corporate standards to adhere to.

As to the worst software Microsoft has ever flung together... No.

Someone else suggested Proxy Server 2.0, which is a great candidate. I'd throw in Windows 8/Server 2012, for forcing a touch interface on desktops and servers. But my real candidates are Exchange Server 4.0 and SQL Server 4.2.

Exchange Server 4.0 had stability issues and talked to practically nothing, so we nicknamed it "Estranged Server". And SQL Server 4.2 had a habit of not returning data on queries even though you could prove it was in the table/view. We nicknamed that "Squirrel Server" because in winter it spent all its time failing to dig up data it had stored in the autumn...

And, of course SharePoint. SharePoint has its own special place on any list of bad software from Microsoft, simply because it tries to do so many things and manages to do them all badly...

Philip Storry

Re: Apple had spectacularly bad timing

Yeah, the move to SOCs is one that troubles me.

My current home machine is a decade old, but it's the classic Trigger's Broom. Only the CPU, motherboard and case/cabling is unchanged, everything else is upgraded or changed.

Given how long I've made it last I reckon that my next new machine - to be bought either this year or next - might well be the last where I can upgrade the RAM without also throwing out the processor.

Both Intel and AMD are going to be happy to move towards SOCs as it's still money in the bank for them, so unless the professional Mac community revolts against SOCs in their desktops everyone will have to do it just to compete with Apple's products.

It feels like we're in a moment of transition that I simply must seize, lest I be left unsatisfied in the brave new world...

Philip Storry

Re: Apple had spectacularly bad timing

Oh, I really wouldn't feel too bad about this.

I'm no expert myself - I only knew because of my experience with Teams. Let's face it, graphics card manufacturers have entire departments funded with millions of dollars to convince us that it all just gets offloaded to their product! So it's a perfectly reasonable understanding to have.

And it's not like Apple would be shouting about it, is it?

This is one of those "it's more complicated" situations where we all get to learn. And El Reg readers are decent enough to want to learn. Frankly, this is one of only two communities on the internet where I'd bother to post this kind of thing, as everywhere else I'd just get shouted down by graphics card fanbois...

Philip Storry

Re: Apple had spectacularly bad timing

They're typically Sales, Media or Management.

We've been moving most people away from Macs simply because of the cost - and because of edge cases over M1 chips. We'll never have none though, and for some people they are still a status symbol. So we have to deal with them as a reality of life...

They really do make compliance with security difficult though - which is quite ironic give the mid-2000's advertising that Apple had!

Philip Storry
Linux

Apple had spectacularly bad timing

The problem modern video - and many multimedia pipelines - is that it's much more CPU specific than you'd think.

People assume that the work is just offloaded to a GPU, and for much of the video encoding/decoding that's correct. But for things like audio processing and some graphical effects, the CPU multimedia extensions are used. Stuff like MMX (remember that?), 3DNow!, SSE, AVX.

In my own experience we've been avoiding deploying any M1 Macs at my workplace because the noise cancellation in Microsoft Teams relies on Intel CPU instructions - so the option just wasn't there on M1 Macs at first. The x86 instruction set emulation is great, but only covers the core features of the CPU.

(Native noise cancellation on M1 Macs is now in testing from Microsoft, but we'll hold off until it's stable. We don't need Teams crashing on Macs due to this, especially as those with Macs are more likely to be in a position where their meetings are a bit more important.)

None of this is unsurmountable. It's also completely understandable - I'm not blaming or slating Apple for this. I'm just saying that it is, in many ways, the worst timing that they could possibly have had. The M1 Mac that couldn't cut it for our correspondent wasn't a bad machine, it was just that the software isn't yet optimised to use it. In a way, Apple's excellent work at compatibility gave him unrealistic expectations.

Further to that, on Windows you can definitely expect those multimedia extensions to be on any modern CPU, so all the software is using it. It's not so much that it comes from a gaming background (which it does), more that there are very safe assumptions you can make about what hardware features will be available to any PC running gaming software. Ironically, the same software ported to an old x86 mac might have done much better.

Apple - and the ecosystem of software for their computers - will no doubt get there. But a CPU change right before a pandemic really hasn't helped in this particular use case, and serves as a reminder of just how complex computing is these days, and how many edge cases there can be.

(Note: I am not a huge Apple fan. They have their strengths and weaknesses, but I don't personally use their kit and I find them more problematic to support in a business environment than Windows machines. Please don't assume I'm a fanboi, I'm just trying to point out that Apple's compatibility efforts can only go so far, and that is probably why Mark's attempts failed. I shall make my true loyalties clear with my choice of icon...)

UK's antitrust watchdog is very angry and has written a letter telling Apple and Google how angry it is with them

Philip Storry

Re: I kind of stopped reading...

What you've missed is that all browsers on iOS are just skins over the Apple Webkit rendering engine.

Apple does not allow third party rendering engines on their non-desktop platforms. Alternative web browsers are just skins with a little functionality (synchronisation, other features) added.

This would be less of an issue if Apple were still leading with their webkit engine. In the early days of the iPhone they definitely were, but since then they seem to have de-prioritised webkit development. New features are slow to arrive and often incomplete or buggy. Bugs linger for far too long. And Apple have a few standard excuses for this which people are tired of hearing.

Here are two decent summaries I found with a quick search:

https://httptoolkit.tech/blog/safari-is-killing-the-web/

https://infrequently.org/2021/04/progress-delayed/

Both of them make reference to the Web Platform Tests dashboard. I checked that to ensure that their arguments were still valid, and was surprised to see it now looks pretty good for Safari:

https://wpt.fyi/compat2021?feature=summary&stable

It's on 90, 1 point behind Firefox and 5 behind Chrome - not bad, eh? So surely those earlier links are outdated?

But look at the graph below the figures. That sudden huge lurch forwards! Webkit had languished in the high 60s/low 70s for ages, and has suddenly jumped up - can anyone really think that there aren't bugs in those newly implemented features? Does anyone really want to make an argument that this is a sign of healthy, safe development for webkit?

The sudden recent improvement doesn't negate the points web developers have been making about webkit holding them back. Indeed, it bolsters them - now they have a large number of features that they may need to look at implementing, whilst knowing that they're new enough that they may be too buggy to implement. Not an enviable position. So most won't bother, and webkit will continue to hold back web development.

And that's why Apple's webkit-only position worries so many people. It's not healthy, and there's no good reason for the restriction. If Chrome or Firefox could use their own engines on Apple's devices, things would be much better.

(Disclaimer: I am not a web developer, I just know/work with web developers and am reflecting their views.)

Philip Storry
Angel

Ironic?

Page 21 of the interim report [PDF] details how Apple ensures non-Safari browsers on iOS must use its WebKit engine, and even then are disadvantaged by the operating system. The overall goal seems to be to make web apps less attractive to use, and native apps obtained from Apple's app store more appealing.

Huh. I find that quite ironic, given that the original iPhone had no app store and we were told that everything would be delivered via the web...

It's almost like the sudden influx of a 15% cut of all sales when they released an SDK and app store (alongside the iPhone 3G) was addictive for Apple.

The "web first iPhone" definitely didn't last very long, did it? One model and OS version. Was the original iPhone a rush job and shipped incomplete knowingly? Or was the success of the app store a genuine surprise that required a change of history for Apple?

As for the finding of the report - surely the Holiest of Holies and Purest of the Pure couldn't possibly be putting preserving its profits ahead of providing practical productivity for its customers?

(I shall no doubt now be corrected by those who bask in the Reality Distortion Field...)

Data transfers between the EU and the US: Still unclear on what you're supposed to do? Here's an explainer

Philip Storry

Pointless

I genuinely don't see the point in lowering standards or deviating from them.

GDPR applies worldwide. If my employer works with a company that's doing business in the EU, then GDPR kicks in. From a practical point of view, that means that all the work I do assumes GDPR is in force.

All of the tools and services that my employer buys have to be GDPR compliant. We work to the highest standard, not the lowest - so that if a client suddenly expands into the EU, we're ready for it. If we switch to a new "GB-DPR" standard, it won't save any money or time - we'll still work to GDPR because it'll cost us more in time and effort setting up/working with multiple standards than we could possibly save through lower standards. Worse, not working to GDPR has significant potential opportunity costs in that we we could end up losing new or existing business due to not being GDPR compliant.

So what is the point?

Perhaps if all I'm doing is selling manure to the locals in Crawley, I might find my life ever so slightly easier. But if I grow that business to the point where I'm selling my agricultural supplies into NI or anywhere else in the Single Market I suddenly have to overhaul my business to be GDPR compliant anyway.

Any business with ambition and drive is going to ignore this. They have to if they want to grow. GDPR compliance is just part of being a business these days.

Obligatory political comment: This is a microcosm of why Brexit is a failure. The people behind it don't understand how the world works. They think that they are now rule makers, but in actual fact the rules they make matter very little because it's not 1951 anymore. Meanwhile we've lost our seat at the European Council and our MEPs so can't change GDPR any more. People are slowly discovering that they still have to work to EU rules in many areas anyway, so we are now a nation of rule takers! And this was done to satisfy a tiny number of people - most of whom are retired or work in politics/journalism and don't know what they're talking about.

(No offence meant to the fine scribblers at El Reg, naturally. Not all journalists, etc. etc...)

Twitter's machine learning algorithms amplify tweets from right-wing politicians over those on the left

Philip Storry

Alternatively, it could be the opposite - that right wing politics has deviated from the centre too far, and is not representative at all.

It depends on how the algorithm was trained.

If it's just looking at the numbers of likes, replies and retweets - without context - then it's easy to see how more controversial and extreme content would get higher numbers. More moderate content just gets a few replies & retweets from those that agree and a small number of extremists replying. Extreme content gets many more replies as mockery and disgust generates replies/retweets too.

Therefore the algorithm would mistake activity for popularity, and provide a boost to content that's further from the true political centre of the country. When it evaluates a tweet from a right wing source it sees markers that it will be "popular" (read: generate activity), and boosts it accordingly.

This might also explain the apparent anomaly of Germany, if their left wing is more proactive and pushing policies which might be more controversial.

If I may done my old man hat and start a quick rant, this is the problem with ML systems. Nobody can read the models that they produce, nobody knows how they work - they're just a black box.

Back in the 90's when "artificial intelligence" meant "expert systems", things were a horrible mess of rules and filtering/bayesian evaluations. But you could at least sit down and trace data's path through those systems and know what each step was doing. By contrast very few people understand the actual ML model sets and how they work, and sitting down and tracing a data point's path through it for evaluation is neither practical nor useful in almost all situations.

It'll be very interesting to see what happens the first time an ML model appears in a court of law. How will a judge take to a company or government department saying "We have no idea why it does that, nor do we know how to stop it from doing that."?

Machine learning no doubt has its place, but we're still learning what that place is.

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...

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