Thursday, March 23, 2006

Why Skip Vista?

I’ve been a Microsoft MCSE for almost a decade and a fan since I first bought stock in 1987 (if only I had kept it!). I’ve been a beta tester since Windows 95 but I plan to skip the next version of the Windows Operating System called Vista. Here’s why.

First, this is not a new operating system, but yet another rehash of Windows 2000 like XP, Media Center Addition, etc. The core stuff is still basically Win2k. OK, a lot has changed since 2000 and the progressive improvements have added up to a truly useful, relatively secure, hardware and user friendly OS. But it doesn’t do anything new for me that I can’t do in Windows 2000. I have a DVD burner, scanner, pen drives, and can run any software out there except high end games. If you want to digitally record TV get Media Center Edition now for less.

Windows 2000 or XP run great on my 512 MB of RAM, 2.4 GHz AMD CPU, and built-in 128-bit 64 MB shared video card. That won’t cut it for the new Vista (Aero) desktop. So I’d still get an XP desktop. There are few other new features. IE 7 is available for XP so that’s no reason to upgrade. Personally, I’ve tried tabbed browsing and don’t find it any more useful than separate windows that minimize to a taskbar list in XP. Except for XP’s built-in pop-up blocker, IE 6 in Windows 2000 (free download) works just as well on the most complex web pages. Few web pages use pop ups anymore anyway but you can always add a free popup blocker. More useful in IE7 is the phishing protection. That has also been available as a Third Party download for years. Spoof Stick for IE adds an address line that shows the true root domain you’ve reached. That’s about it for significant new features.

If you aren’t running XP SP2, you will really notice an improved user experience and a huge demand for system resources. Like all new Windows operating systems this one will be a memory and resource hog. Each new version since Windows ME has doubled the need for system resources. This one goes beyond requiring a new Intel CPU & motherboard, requiring a game class video card as well. Why spend an extra $600 or more for extra hardware just to run Vista? I think Microsoft realized they may be sitting on a huge flop and decided to wait until the new file system is ready so they could point to some really new feature to help justify the huge hardware expense. Pricing will have to start at $200 for this OS to break even considering the years of development invested. Wholesale prices may even double to PC makers who will have to sell these expensive new systems to users accustomed to ever cheaper, faster PC’s. Vista will be a huge step backward in the price/performance race.

If only Linux had a comparable desktop there would be a wholesale switch away from Microsoft. But I don’t see that happening. SuSe Enterprise 10.0 is the closest competition and they have no comparable Directory Services to enforce policies, distribute software and manage patches. Perhaps one day Novell will add these features, but not anytime soon. Home users will be the first to switch to Linux and save hundreds on their next PC. Notebook users will come next as the major [Asian] hardware makers included Linux drivers for future hardware and offer the OS with free Open Office as a way to keep costs down. End users will make the minor transition to save five hundred bucks and remain compatible with previous versions of MS Office, the established business standard. Microsoft’s next version of Office will have a different, proprietary file format that governments and big companies are likely to reject.

Most importantly, the next version of Windows will not be secure from snooping by Microsoft (MSN), the government (with MS provided encryption keys), and the movie and music industry to which Microsoft has sold out on digital rights management. Everything on your Vista PC must be licensed and registered over the Internet or it won’t work and you may even be reported as a criminal. Big Brother has arrived via Microsoft Digital Rights Management. Nothing connected to your next PC and no Internet activity will be exempt from profiteering and scrutiny by big business and big government.

DRM takes the personal out of computing. It was a great 25 years, but the rich and powerful are taking back control of digital information and communication. Hang onto your VCR. It is the last content medium you can still control without paying a fee. Even radio will be a pay service soon even as the number of commercials continues to increase. We are doomed to be controlled like cattle by powerful forces that run today’s global economy. The next Internet will be tightly controlled and fully monitored. Enjoy free movement, the free Internet and free software like Linux and Open Office while they last.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Port Deal

Blocking of the Dubai Ports World deal is a sad commentary on the American electorate. While selling our strategic resources isn't good for national security, we've ceded control of our ports and shipping to foreign powers long ago. The Chinese Secret Police (like the KGB) own and operate numerous industries and businesses including the global shipping company COSCO, and the arms manufacturer Norinco. Cosco owns and operates one of our largest port facilities on the West Coast along with companies from Singapore, South Korea, and other nations.

DP World is widely recognized as one of the most modern and efficient port operators in 41 other global ports. They would likely have upgraded our aging port facilities and modernized the operation. It is anybody's guess how they would deal with longstanding mob corruption and the Longshoremen's Union. Such activity is hardly unique to the US. In any case, blocking this deal didn't improve security one iota. It simply eliminated one port operator that has a reputation for doing everything first class.

The minimal Coast Guard and Customs security we have on our ports would not have been reduced. We spend only about $750 million to secure our 37 international shipping ports but over $20 Billion on airport security. Like all our border security the top priority remains “maximize commerce”.

Theft security on the average $100,000 container load is up to the port operator and DP World tracks their containers as well as anyone. The simple truth is that Homeland Security knows we are not going to stop the flood of consumer goods into the US for the sake of national security, so they put their money and efforts elsewhere. Realistically, for nuclear security we need to inspect and secure cargo containers as they depart overseas ports, and pass through others, not upon arrival. Miami understands this and at least scans the hulls of all inbound ships well before they enter the Miami port area.

Congress and everyone elsewhere in the world learned long ago that as a group Americans are arrogant, ignorant, more greedy and wasteful than any civilization since ancient Rome. Having lived abroad for many years I was regularly embarrassed by my fellow white countrymen who treated everyone they encountered the same way they treat Blacks in America or worse. Most Americans think all Arabs are “stupid camel jockeys”.

Americans seldom venture abroad except to kill people. But when we visit we make no allowance for any language or customs other than our own, assume other nations are backward, poor and uneducated, and expect everyone to deal with us on our terms, in English, and for US dollars. Every glare and overly loud remark carries the implied expression “after all, we saved your butts and rebuilt your miserably little country after WWII. We are the Super Power.” News flash: that ship sailed sixty years ago. Get over it. It is a 21st Century global economy and we aren't the producers anymore. We're just dumb consumers. We no longer control our own destiny let alone our security.

It is a new Century and we have a hard lesson to learn. We borrow more than we make to buy crap we don't need from people who may use this money against us or to buy up America's assets. Like this port deal, we just don't get it. Our unwise Free Trade made it an open global economy where the developing World rises at the expense of the old developed world. Us. If you don't like foreigners buying up America, get used to it. Our excessive life style depends upon the continued selling of America to others.