CQuirke’s Long View

Long lead times need long forward planning

Hello World!

Posted by cquirke on 11 September 2007

Another day, another blog, eh?

Well, I liked the look of this blog host, and I get the feeling it’s one that I can grow into.  There’s a lot more apparent “depth” to what one can do, compared to the blog hosts I’m used to, and much of this may be on target for a blog that also functions as a web page.

I’d want to post from Windows Live Writer, just so I don’t have to learn another online post editor, and be able to back up the entire blog.  This host seems to support that via the “export to XML” function.

I’m currently looking at Linux (again), as I do from time to time.  I’m prompted by some unsettling moves within Microsoft’s Windows platform; poor documentation of product activation and WGA, combined with false-positive activation demands, a recent WGA service failure, and the switch to diskless “air box” products seen with OEM MS Office 2007. 

These things raise the impact of the commercial software model from a one-time payment for a product, to an ongoing vendor dependence that is structured on the vendor’s terms.  I don’t mind paying for good software, but my ability to use that software should not hinge on real-time vendor politics, or whether their on-line services are working properly or not. 

If I was prepared to accept that sort of fragility, I might opt for the third software model; the use of web-based applications, such as this blog hosting service.

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11 Responses to “Hello World!”

  1. Dan Weiser said

    Hi Chris. I currently am considering trying out Unix/Linux as well due to Microsoft’s failures with not extending the 9x source code and the consumer operating system 98 Second Edition is still my favorite. Microsoft has been foolish to stick with only business NT (New Technology) because it lacks the protections that 98 Second Edition had. If you examine the secunia.com website you will see that 98 Second Edition has 3 less critical vulnerabilities compared to many in XP Professional. Vista is fairly secure for now but I think it will only be a matter of time before hackers are able to exploit one of the many services Vista offers. The appeal to me of 98SE is that it is not that big, if configured properly it is an awesome backwards compatible operating system that can run educational programs like Space for Windows 3.1 that XP and Vista cannot run and is important to the Albuquerque Public Schools where I currently work. The computers at Painted Sky Elementary were messed up big time while I was gone working at Camp Stoney, a Christian camp as a camp counselor. During this time all the 98SE computers were taken out of commission and it ended up that a fraudulent account was set up via remote access of a help desk employee at building 6400 of APS where Ken Cole the director of technology works. I am in frequent contact with him regarding web issues and security issues of the computer network. Anyway, I investigated this account and my email at weiser_dan@aps.edu was hacked even though it was protected by 128 bit encryption. Thus my great appeal of Mozilla Firefox with its ability to support 256 bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). Now only if more web sites would support it like Bank of America and Citicards and not just Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Charles Schwab. It gets worse. An ethernet cable was removed from the IDF (substation) room according to a help desk technician that diagnosed why the Windows ME computer I was using could not access the Internet. In addition, someone hacked through my custom-built dual boot 98SE on C:\ drive in Fat32 and XP Professional on D: drive in NTFS. I now have a Toshiba Laptop with Vista Home Premium that I am using while I am on paid leave from work until September 24, 2007. I think my home computer got hacked via the Cisco VPN (Virtual Private Networking) which I installed on my computer with Ken Cole’s permission because I wanted the convience of accessing the APS intranet from home. I will not make this mistake again. Have a nice day!

  2. cquirke said

    I’ve sat with a pile of 12 “old” Linux optical disks that all boot on an older test system, but not one would boot on a new Intel G33 chipset motherboard using IDE optical drive, with or without S-ATA hard drive present.

    The test set included: Ubuntu 3.1a, 4.10, 5.04 and 6.06; Red Hat 9; Fedora Core 2; Novell Linux Desktop 9; Mandrages 8.0 and 10; Mandriva 2005; Suse Desktop, and PCLinuxOS.

    The point is, old OSs such as Win9x and these Linuxen are likely to die on new-generation hardware changes that invalidate their core assumptions. The best host for Win9x may be a VM running on a modern Linux.

    Ubuntu 7.04 looked better; it booted, it installed, but the HD installation failed to boot thereafter (and in a way that suggested it had tried, i.e. not an easy MBR, partition not active etc. thing to fix).

    As to encryption, I’ll blog about the “meta level” of this some day – but for now, just realise that any effective unbreakable “black box” component can pierce frontier defences and confound recovery.

    For example, VPN links the core of disparate systems to the point that the inside of one is as intimate as the inside of the other. No frontier defenses can scan or manage the material in that solid black pipe, so the perimeter dissolves.

    For another example, consider a BitLocker’d installation that can be read only by the ?infected code within that installation. How do you manage that malware without running it first?

    Moral: Be careful what you wish for :-)

  3. Dan Weiser said

    I see your point, Chris. Thanks. BTW, Microsoft Support Professionals in India do the same thing as I do with 2 hard drives with 98 Second Edition on one in Fat 32 and XP Professional on the other in NTFS. I guess they still realize the 9x consumer source code is still worth something. I still think it was a whole bunch of cr_p that Microsoft realeased Windows ME that was terrible and removed items such as easy access to DOS and was just annoying how it did its windows with IE where you needed to click an arrow to sort between the windows although this may be able to have been changed in the IE options — I did not get a chance to investigate since this machine at school had a hardware issue where it would not shut down properly. I now see more clearly about how dangerous remote access is to XP Professional computers as well as having VPN access on your home computer. Thanks again for making this so clear to me. Have a nice day!

  4. cquirke said

    MS India Support prolly need constant access to both OSs in order to take support calls and shadow walkthroughs, etc. (a need that can be met via a PC and multiple VMs, but needs more RAM) and also to test things (where a “real” rather than VM PC may be better).

    On WinME, see http://cquirke.mvps.org/9x/winme.htm that I wrote at the time. It can be made into the nicest Win9x (if only because native support for USB storage takes it ahead when all else is equal) if enough work is put into it, and much of that work goes about ripping out 1.0 prototype features (SR) and undoing gratuitous damage to mimic NT’s limitations (retrofitting DOS mode).

    On retrofitting DOS mode to WinME (aka “ME-DOS”), see http://cquirke.mvps.org/9x/me-dos.htm

    In some ways, I “live in a world of my own” in that certain changes are made immediately to all PCs I work on, so this becomes the standard. Having solved some OS shortcomings in that way, I never have to bother with them again.

    It particularly amuses me when folks claim these things will “never work”, when in fact they’ve worked so well on so many PCs that I’ve stopped thinking of them as different or extras to the way things are usually done. This goes for both ME-DOS and Bart as maintenance OS. It’s like mentioning “we can take a lift there in my car” and hearing “are you sure it’s safe to travel without a horse in front? What if we run out of gas, or the engine stops?”

    VPN’s great if used appropriately, which is to link remote systems that are equally trustworthy and/or are both managed by the same folks in the same way. For example, if you have set up 2 PCs the same way, so that both are equally well safeguarded and secured, and they just happen to be in different places, then VPN’ning them together is just a different way of LANning them together.

    The paradox is that though further apart than conventional LAN mates, they are actually more intimately connected if the VPN pipe precludes edge management that is still applicable between LAN mates.

    The other VPN-like need is to reach and use Web 2.0 services safely from public environments, such as WiFi hot spots, and https: is a better answer there. See http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=651 on that one.

    See you around ;-)

  5. Dan Weiser said

    Solution 3: My own method

    This is built on the shoulders of the “MVP method”, and you should start there as the same file set is required to implement it. The difference is that the problem of overwritten Config.sys and Autoexec.bat is side-stepped by using other files instead.

    Pros:

    Safe; involves no alteration to Windows code
    Fully effective DOS mode
    Atomic swichover, minimal “window of failure”
    No overlap between WinME and DOS mode settings
    Cons:

    Requires files from a previous Win9x version
    Cannot choose which OS to boot on startup
    Requires editing of two DOS mode code files
    Not offered “on a plate”; some tech-savvy required

    The above is from your own website of course. I don’t like not being able to choose which os to boot on startup. That makes a big difference to me. I am very interested in seeing how your Linux experiment will work. I am very tempted when things quiet down in my life probably after the new year in 2008 to try out Linux and perhaps even Apple’s new os. Only time will tell — I guess but Unix/Linux interests me much more than Apple currently. Let me know how your testing goes and which Linux flavor(s) you like best so perhaps I can narrow it down to trying out 3 Linux flavors —

    See you around too ;->

  6. cquirke said

    Hi Dan!

    Yes, IKWYM about not being able to choose the retro-fitted DOS Mode at boot time when using method 3 (a problem common to the method 2 on which it is built), but I couldn’t see a way to do that.

    In fact, because WinME splats Config.sys and Autoexec.bat, I still can’t; IOW, I can’t build a [pause, file-shuffle and continue boot] logic into the startup axis at the Config.sys [Menu] or Autoexec.bat level, and after that it’s too late as Windows will start hammering away at the file system.

    Remember, method 3 doesn’t hack WinME’s code, so it can’t take the approach that method 1 does. This is one reason I prefer it, and why it doesn’t impact on Safe Mode as is the case with method 1.

    If you don’t mind booting a diskette first, then you can do the file swap over from there, then reboot ME-DOS after that. The advantage over just booting DOS Mode off diskette is you have full pathing to HD contents and you aren’t tied to a diskette that causes issues when ejected, etc.

    I dunno how “deep” that page…

    http://users.iafrica.com/c/cq/cquirke/me-dos.htm

    …explores the support files for method 3; I don’t think it includes the batch files etc. but the ones I wrote will work (i.e. swap the next OS to be booted) irrespective of current context. This was important for survivability in possible “version soup” situations. For instance, when it applies attribute fixes to files so they can be operated upon, it repeats the Attrib command with explicit pathing to both WinME and ME-DOS versions of Attrib.exe, knowing that one will fail on a version error and one will succeed.

    If you want more of this stuff, just wave; maybe I can throw a separate ME-DOS category and (if this site supports file hosting) pop the .BAT there? You’d have to do the binary edits to the DOS Mode code files yourself, I don’t want to post source-less object code (assumes too much trust on the reader’s part), especially when that code “belongs to” someone else.

  7. cquirke said

    Hello Dan (again)!

    On Linux; yes, I’m getting enough traction to take the “Linux Curve” thing seriously, as I’ll have a story to tell, even if it’s only the reasons why I bounced off it yet again ;-)

    On MacOS vs. Linux, I hear that MacOS is based on BSD rather than Linux, which I found interesting. It’s worth watching in case Apple siezes a particularly good moment and opens the OS to competre on generic PCs. By this stage, there’s little technical reasons why this would be difficult, as modern Apple computers are effectively PCs; it’s only Apple’s artificial hurdles that stand in the way.

    But that’s Apple for you, or perhaps one could say it is the inevitable consequence of a mis-match between vendor interests and user interests that goes with the commercial software model in particular.

    Such political pressures occur in Linux too, e.g. end-users would like de facto “standards” such as MP3, DVDs etc. to “just work”, whereas many Linux distros make a point of including code support only for truly free (as in “free speech”) standards, requiring the de facto (non-)standards to be retro-fitted.

    Digital systems are made from analog parts, and both the digital and analog parts are made by humans – who bring all their human baggage to the party :-)

  8. cquirke said

    Hi James!

    Sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier and took a while to moderate it (I still can’t see it in the site, yet). Yes, I’m the same dude, and you’re welcome… DPF is one of those “modified view” things where there is indeed a corresponding file system directory, but when you look there via a true file system browser, “it’s files, Jim, but not as we know it” ;-)

    See also History, Control Panel, certain aspects of Temporary Internet Files, and similar but more subtle impact in a number of shell folders in Vista.

    Murky. Don’t like.

  9. Dan Weiser said

    In the Wall Street Journal, Walt S. Mossberg reviewed Ubuntu and had some interesting things to say about it. He also talked to the South African founder of Ubuntu Linux and here is a quote from the article.

    Mark Shuttleworth, the South African-born founder of the Ubuntu project, told me this week that “it would be reasonable to say that this is not ready for the mass market.” And Dell’s Web site for its Ubuntu computers warns that these machines are for “for advanced users and tech enthusiasts.

    Here is the web-link as well and it is worth reading and seeing the quick clip if you get the chance, Chris, at least in my opinion. BTW, the European Union really hit Microsoft hard. I just hope the European Union can force Microsoft to start supporting Windows 9x consumer source code again, thus providing 2 code sources of NT (New Techonlogy) and 9x (best form imo is 98 Second Edition) that thou costly to Microsoft at first will provide schools with being able to easily load older computer software that was written for DOS and Windows 3.1 that will not or at least not easily run on XP Pro/Home or all types of Vista since they all are NT business based source code.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118963540721725614.html?mod=DCS

    Hopefully, the web-link works properly with no issues. Thanks again, Chris for all of your hard work. Please keep it up and maybe some day Microsoft will understand the huge mistake they made by allowing only 1 source code it provided an easier target for hackers although it did save them money but it may cost Microsoft the market in the long term. Microsoft also seems to forget that Windows XP and even Vista has a larger surface area for attacks and do not figure these into their plans for some reason. Anyway, I am back to using my old 486 frequently which is not Net-Enabled so it cannot be hacked unless someone breaks into my parent’s house and hauls away the PC or tries to load virus code via a floppy 3.5 inch drive.

  10. cquirke said

    I don’t see Win9x running natively on new systems, because the core OS is unable to manage new hardware or scale up as required for today’s RAM, HD capacities, etc. The newest motherboards have no parallel, serial or PS/2 ports, and only USB; there’s hardly any overlap between what a new PC is, and what the Win9x core can understand.

    It would be better to develop a consumer Windows (i.e. a “true” Home product, rather than a reduced-functionality network client spin-off of NT) from the current NT code base, than re-develop Win9x. Server Core and Embedded variants of NT indicate this is possible, etc.

    That sort of thing is a lot easier when the code base is free to develop your own way, as Linux is, as long as you can find enough willing coders who share your vision. But when push comes to shove, it’s far harder to meet urgent coding needs (say, patching exploits) if such coders are not committed to working for a paycheck. There are also problems related to distributing such patches; how do you know they aren’t malware, cashing in on a recent exploit crisis as SE?

    Ubuntu’s a relatively recent variant of Debian Linux. Other Debians include Knoppix and several other “Live CD” Linuxen. Along with Mandriva (formally Mandrake), Ubuntu is one of the distros I’ll be looking at in the most detail.

    As usual, politics abound. While being derived from Debian, Ubuntu has broken away somewhat by including non-free (as in not open source, though still free of charge) and diverging its package installer, AFAIK. The first is a practical necessity if things like nVidia and ATi drivers, MP3 support, etc. are to be available out the box – in fact, AFAIK MP3 and DVD support is still something that has to be “added on” for licensing reasons.

    Ubuntu is backed by Canonical, who would presumably be the source of patches. Their own servers were hacked recently, which doesn’t engender confidence in that process… switching to Linux may be effective only until growing market share attracts Windows-level volumes of attack, but that may be long enough to see out the remainder of the “personal computer” model’s lifespan, or until a re-orientated Microsoft or Apple rediscovers the need to put users first.

    I’m currently busy on a slew of data recovery jobs, having bought R-Studio (which rocks, along with Runtime Software’s tools) to do these. The plan, when time permits, is to try out several Linuxen, documenting the process as I go, but there will prolly be a few op-ed waffle posts before that ;-)

  11. Dan Weiser said

    Wow, it seems like everyone is being hacked everywhere currently. I am glad that I am switching my important work to an off-line PC. It is getting to be very difficult to have even decent security when connected on-line with a Windows XP PC in this day and age. You are correct that Microsoft and Apple must be willing to put the end users first and stop worrying continually about appealing to businesses where I feel there level of greed increases and the consumers gets shoved to the wayside. Anyway, thanks for your responses and I hope Linux begins to really do well and take off among consumers. By the way, what do you think of the Apple deal with slashing $200 off the Iphone now available to consumers but only giving $100 in the form of an Apple rebate to be used at the store. It certainly does not sound very consumer friendly to me and hopefully will give all the Apple fanatics pause before they keep declaring that Apple is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Thanks so much for the continuing conversation. I find it very interesting and fascinating to discuss technology especially in the area of computers.

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