Archive 3

Even being the richest man in the world doesn't stop you from getting a pie in the face.

"But godliness with contentment is great gain."
1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV).

Yet Another Biased Mac vs PC Review

There are really only two ways to have a completely unbiased Mac vs PC review. One is to have as identical as possible setups (including clock speeds). The other is to have two systems priced (nearly) identically. This test had neither - it just had almost identical total test times.

Apple Power Macintosh G3/400

  • Single 400-MHz G3 processor
  • 128 MB of RAM v 9-GB Ultra2 SCSI hard disk (runs at 7,200 rpm)
  • Apple 21-inch Studio Display

SGI 320 Visual Workstation

  • Single 500-MHz Pentium III processor
  • 256 MB of RAM v 9-GB Ultra2 SCSI hard disk (runs at 10,000 rpm)
  • SGI 1600SW 18-inch flat-panel LCD
List price as tested: US$4,498 List price as tested: US$7,629
Total time to complete benchmark tests: 185 seconds Total time to complete benchmark tests: 179 seconds

Note this interesting quote from the test write up:

... opening and saving files was about 30 percent faster on the SGI machine.

That's not really surprising - the disk drive itself was 39% faster. In other words, if the two systems had identical hard disks the Mac would almost certainly take the lead in the disk section of the test. Despite this hindrance (and the disparate RAM amounts) the Mac was only 6 seconds behind overall.

Thus, a not unreasonable conclusion for the review would be that the G3 Mac gives fantastic performance for the price.

As a sideline, my own conclusion (partly from extra information given in the review) is that to definitely get the "fastest PC around" (an SGI 320 with dual PIII 500MHz CPUs - at just 40% faster than a single CPU) one would need to spend almost exactly twice the amount of the fastest Mac.

Big Brother Tactics

Posted 14 August 1999.

Monday November 9. Windows crack'd? Product ills exposed, SP4 for NT 4.0 cumbersome, short on documentation.

By Bob Trott - SAN MATEO

Users who follow Microsoft's advice to blend all of its products into one harmonious enterprise mix are starting to feel burned as the software behemoth struggles to address issues ranging from piracy to bug fixes to slipping ship dates.

The broad release of Office 2000 -- which for Microsoft will usher in a new method of ensuring that its software products are registered -- has been pushed back to the second quarter of 1999, company officials have confirmed. Meanwhile, many Windows NT 4.0 users who downloaded Service Pack 4 (SP4) for the OS in October -- an update that was more than one year in the making -- complain that it is cumbersome and is woefully short on documentation.

The company is also finally addressing some key year-2000 concerns with Windows. Windows 95 requires several patches to make the OS year-2000 compliant, with "minor exceptions" in Microsoft's words. Microsoft currently offers those year-2000 fixes only for English versions of the OS, although officials said they are testing fixes for all of the international versions.

Other potential problems on the desktop stem from Beta 2 of Office 2000, which was prereleased to a group of testers this week. Microsoft introduced a new feature to Beta 2 that steps up already insistent registration policing. If a copy of Office 2000 is not registered after 50 uses, it cannot be booted on attempt No. 51 until the user has contacted Microsoft about registration.

Microsoft billed the feature as a way to help customers register so they can best take advantage of updates and other Office resources. But clearly, the main goal is to curtail software piracy, an area in which Microsoft has stepped up efforts in recent months.

The company recently began compiling reports that outline how individual states are losing millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs each year due to software piracy.

"Some Symantec products continually prompt you to register and it drives you nuts, but as far as turning it off, I haven't run into a product doing this," said Rob Enderle, a senior analyst at the Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, Calif. "The problem Microsoft has is people buying one copy of Word in an office and everybody copies it."

The registration wizard -- which John Duncan, Office product manager, said could be added to other Microsoft products in the future -- likely will have to be tweaked for corporate multiuser scenarios, one beta tester suggested.

"Certainly, Microsoft will have to deal differently in shops that have users working off of the server," said the tester.

Beta 2 of Office 2000, with features such as the capability to let users save documents in HTML, is set to enter widespread testing in the next two weeks. However, final shipping of the product has been delayed until the second quarter of 1999, although it could be in the hands of the company's biggest customers earlier.

"You will see Office 2000 RTM [release to manufacturing] in the second quarter of 1999, and we actually expect to have the product available to volume-license customers shortly thereafter," Duncan said. "Broad availability likely will be in the second quarter of 1999."

The extra wait for Office 2000 will give IT managers time to figure out Windows NT 4.0 SP4, which was released in October.

"SP3 was auto-install and it was no hassle, but you have to move slowly on SP4 and do a lot of things manually," said a user who requested anonymity. "You can't have a fresh Windows NT install and put on SP4 -- you must have SP3, Internet Explorer 4.01, and its Service Pack 1 before you can begin to put it on. It really ties the browser to NT more than ever; they've really linked it up even further."

SP4 also is designed to apply bug fixes only to what is currently installed on a system. So if an IT manager adds an NT service later on, SP4 will have to be reapplied, according to one disgruntled user.

Customer service? What's that?

Clear Rip-Off

Posted 14 August 1999.

At the beginning of December last year Microsoft announced something it called ClearType - "a revolutionary way to sharpen screen text" - that it was trying to patent. Strange that Apple Computer (specifically Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak) came up with the idea 20 years ago. It's based on pixel splitting, using the different coloured dots on LCD and similar screens to sharpen the horizontal resolution based on the idea that to make white (for example) you just need three adjacent colour dots (R, G, B) all lit. It doesn't really matter if they belong to the same pixel or adjacent pixels (eg, G, B / R). The technology is now public domain, and the typically unoriginal MS is trying to patent it.

Microsoft has declined to release technical specifications or white papers explaining ClearType in detail, citing its pending patents.

Not surprising that they don't want to say what they've got. If the patent application fails they will very likely just make the thing go quiet, although perhaps still using the idea. Here's the full ClearType article. Anyone got an update to this?

More Windows Privacy Worries

Posted 14 August 1999.

Tuesday March 9. MS to avert Win 98 privacy issue. Microsoft will offer free utility to Win 98 users.

By Nancy Weil - BOSTON

Microsoft will modify future releases of Windows 98 to allow greater user control over a feature that could be used to collect private information on users of the popular operating system, the company said today in a letter to customers.

The software giant will offer a free utility to current users of Windows 98 who want to delete the feature, called Registration Wizard, which sends to Microsoft a globally unique number that is tied to a given user's hardware configuration when the user registers. The objective of having the hardware information on file is to shorten customer service call times, Microsoft said.

However, the company learned on Friday that "the Registration Wizard might inadvertently be sending a specific hardware identifier to Microsoft during user registration, regardless of whether the user chose to send his or her hardware diagnostic information," Yusuf Mehdi, director of Windows marketing said in a letter today posted on the Microsoft Web site.

"This hardware ID is only used by the software system and is not used for customer record-keeping purposes," he wrote. "Nonetheless, there are hypothetical scenarios under which this number could be used to learn something about the user's system without his or her knowledge."

Microsoft, meanwhile, will sift through its own database and delete information that had been "inadvertently gathered" through the Windows 98 numbers, Mehdi wrote. The company also will modify the feature in future Windows 98 versions so that hardware ID information is not sent to Microsoft unless a users checks the option to provide it.

The number was first discovered by a programmer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who contacted Microsoft last week, according to published reports.

IE5 Feature or Bug?

Posted 14 August 1999.

If concerned about privacy and/or "the need to know," we present one more reason to go for Netscape Navigator:

An obscure feature in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.0: Web browser informs Web sites when users bookmark their pages.

Software development manager, Kevin Cooke, discovered the feature during an audit of Wired Digital server logs. It was confirmed Thursday by Wired News. A Microsoft spokesperson said that the company is investigating the issue.

MS FrontPage Security Issues

Posted 29 August 1999.

From MacOS Rumors:

Did you know that FrontPage is banned from SIPRNET, (Secure Internet Protocol Router Network) the government's separate, secure network? The reason for the ban is that there may be huge security holes created by FrontPage code in HTML that makes it easier for hackers to break into and edit the existing HTML.

In fact, this is such an issue that one of the "features" of FrontPage 2000 (which is not expected to be released for the Mac, cutting out more than 60% of all Webmasters) is that you can use it to create pages free from any FrontPage extensions: "HTML pure." If you currently use FrontPage 98 or earlier and you don't manually go through it line by line and strip out the FrontPage specific code, you run the risk of getting hacked through the huge security holes caused by FrontPage extensions.

Far superior HTML authoring environments include BBEdit, GoLive, Dreamweaver, Freeway, and PageSpinner.

Moral: Do NOT use the aforementioned product if you interested in creating quality HTML or secure HTML.

MS Windows Security Insecure

Posted 7 September 1999.

From a secret ianman info source:

Yesterday reports broke out that the NSA has a backdoor key into the crypto software found in Windows. This is because the NSA requires this backdoor in exported versions of strong encryption software and Microsoft did not bother to change this in the US version.

In other words, all Windows strong encryption has a backdoor key. Anyone for paranoia?

Bill's Big Briefs

Posted 11 September 1999.

Came across a news report on the MS vs DoJ case, which is in its late stages now. It had the following passage in it:

Microsoft has vigorously denied the charges, arguing that there is no evidence it has violated any laws. It will file its most detailed opposition to the case yet later today in a brief that is expected to be more than 600 pages long.

I don't know the words "Microsoft" and "brief" really can be put together in the same paragraph like that. Microsoft is the most widely known creator of "Bloatware" - software that is far bigger (bloated) than is normally sufficient to do the job.

MS Hotmail Needs Help

Posted 11 September 1999.

You may have heard of the big security breach Microsoft's Hotmail email service suffered recently. What I haven't found out yet is why it took Microsoft about ten hours to pull the plug (for two hours) on the service after being told of the problem.

According to a CNET article, Microsoft needs help in making sure it doesn't happen again.

Microsoft is turning to an outside auditor to test the security of its free email service, Hotmail, after a breach was discovered last week that threatened its users' privacy. The potential damage varied from allowing unauthorized parties to see a user's list of messages to allowing them to take complete control of an account.

Read the full article here. But does Hotmail really work when it is up and running (without security problems)? Here is what Sharon Greenspan, a Hotmail user since 1995, said in an email correspondence with CNET

I don't recall having many problems in the beginning, but as of the last year, they are so many I've lost count... Sometimes mail takes hours to get to me... Sometimes I never get mail that people say they sent. I constantly have problems logging on. People have told me they get a message back saying that their message was undeliverable, when they have the right address. I've often gotten mail a week after people have sent it.

I've personally found that free email services such as Hotmail will bounce email if the user's in-tray is full - either of read or unread messages. Shop around. There are email services that grant more storage for messages than Hotmail.

IE 5 Bug Leaves Computers Open to Invasion

Posted 13 September 1999.

This is getting very serious:

By Paul Festa
Staff Writer, CNET
September 13, 1999, 9:40 a.m. PT

Microsoft is warning users of its Internet Explorer 5.0 Web browser about a security hole that could let an attacker take the user's computer hostage.

The vulnerability is in IE 5's ImportExportFavorites feature, which lets users import and export lists of commonly accessed Web addresses. The trouble is that the feature lets a malicious Web site operator run executable code on the computer of someone who visits that Web site.

"The net result is that a malicious Web site operator potentially could take any action on the computer that the user would be capable of taking," warned Microsoft in a security alert.

Microsoft said IE 5 users can disable Active Scripting to protect themselves pending the release of a patch. Scripting lets Web authors run mini applications, or "scripts," on a visitor's computer that operate without the user's interaction. Scripting typically is used on Web sites for functions like launching pop-up windows or scrolling text across the screen.

Microsoft posted a list of frequently asked questions, which includes instructions for disabling Active Scripting.

Microsoft acknowledged Bulgarian bug hunter Georgi Guninski for discovering the security hole. Guninski has been credited for discovering numerous security holes in Microsoft and America Online's Web browsers, many exploiting unintended effects of Web scripting capabilities.

Guninski reported a similar hole in IE two weeks ago. Microsoft patched yet another hole in IE's armor the same week.

Bug after bug after bug. And all with serious security flaws. My advice: Just say NO to Microsoft. It is possible. Simply refuse to have anything to do with them until they have demonstrated that they can write secure code.