The Difference Between Apple and Microsoft

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On this week’s TWiT they talked briefly about the original, 5 GB, hard-drive-based iPod, and Dan Shapiro said:

I was working at Microsoft when this came out, and everybody was clustered around one of the first ones that somebody brought in.  And the thing that got everybody, just, their heads spinning around, was they put a speaker in here just so that they could make it click when you turned the wheel.  That was what blew everybody’s mind.  And everybody around the table said, "We would never do that here."

Leo responded: "No.  Because it’s bad engineering!  It’s crazy!  And yet, it’s great UI.  It’s brilliant UI."

Posted by Anthony on at 03:29am

More Advice for Windows Users: Stop Using Windows

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Brian Krebs, writing for the Washington Post:

Quoting Avoid Windows Malware: Bank on a Live CD:

I have interviewed dozens of victim companies that lost anywhere from $10,000 to $500,000 dollars because of a single malware infection.  I have heard stories worthy of a screenplay about the myriad ways cyber crooks are evading nearly every security obstacle the banks put in their way.

But regardless of the methods used by the bank or the crooks, all of the attacks shared a single, undeniable common denominator: They succeeded because the bad guys were able to plant malicious software that gave them complete control over the victim’s Windows computer. [...]

The simplest, most cost-effective answer I know of?  Don’t use Microsoft Windows when accessing your bank account online.

The ideal solution is to permanently switch to a Mac (or Linux).  But as Krebs suggests, booting a Linux-based Live CD is a quick & cheap solution.  You just download the latest version of Ubuntu and burn it to a CD.  Then reboot your PC with that CD in your CD-ROM drive, which will temporarily turn your PC into a Linux PC that is far more secure than Windows.  Use that to do your banking, and when you’re done, remove the CD and reboot again to get back to Windows.  The Live CD doesn’t touch your hard drive at all, so it doesn’t mess with your existing system, and any viruses or other security threats that surely are might be there on your hard drive cannot activate themselves to infect the Linux-based Live CD environment.

Posted by Anthony on at 11:12pm

Microsoft Security Essentials

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Microsoft has released their new Microsoft Security Essentials application, which supersedes Windows Defender and also includes an anti-virus component.  If you use Windows, I would recommend dumping whatever anti-virus program you’re currently using, and installing MSE instead.  It’s free, and coming directly from Microsoft, it should do a better job of protecting Windows without accidentally killing Windows, as third-party AV products have done occasionally.  And many of those third-party AV apps have become huge bloated monstrosities over time, whereas MSE is small and quick.

You can check out Ars Technica’s writeup for more details.

Note that it’s a bad idea to have multiple AV products installed at the same time, so you will need to uninstall your existing one first.  But MSE does do a Windows validation check before installing, so before uninstalling your existing AV app, you should launch the MSE installer and go through the first few screens to make sure your Windows installation passes the validation; then cancel the installation, uninstall your current AV app, and finally re-start the MSE installer.

Posted by Anthony on at 03:58pm

Windows 7 Launch Party

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This can’t be real, can it?  Ridiculous doesn’t begin to describe it.  It’s actually embarrassing.  It’s nearly painful to watch.

Posted by Anthony on at 11:10am

Zombie Zunes

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Yesterday, a large number of Microsoft’s Zune portable music players spontaneously died in their owners’ hands.

After spending much of the day digging into the problem, Microsoft said that it had traced it to a software bug "related to the way the device handles a leap year."  Apparently the Zune was expecting 2008 to have 365 days, not 366.

Though this does suck for Microsoft and for their customers who bought the Zunes, it makes me feel a little less bad about any bugs I’ve had in any of my applications.

The fix for the glitch?  Patience.  The company said the internal clock on the players should reset itself at 7 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday.  [...]  Those who were hoping to provide the soundtrack to New Year’s Eve parties had no choice but to find a friend with an iPod.

Realistically though, there’s probably not much overlap between "people who’ve bought a Zune" and "people with enough friends to host a party."

At least the Zunes came back to life a day later.

Posted by Anthony on at 03:54pm

The Microsoft / Seinfeld / PC Ads

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So apparently I’m in the minority with my opinion of the new Microsoft ad campaign.  I think the first and second ads, with Seinfeld, are great, and the third one is totally lame.  Everyone else seems to think the opposite.

The Seinfeld ads were ads about nothing, which was of course the whole point of Seinfeld’s TV show.  The ads weren’t trying to sell Windows or PCs.  They were just Gates and Seinfeld hanging out, trying to be normal guys.  The ads were pointless, but they were funny and interesting.  And they sure as heck got people talking about Microsoft.

The new "I’m a PC, and I’ve been made into a stereotype" ad is whiny and pathetic.  It’s basically saying "please don’t listen to what Apple says about me!"  The ad shows lots of politically-correct multicultural images of people around the world saying "I’m a PC", which when you think about it, just means that the PC is pedestrian, in contrast to the Mac, which is special.

The new ad also fails because, technically, every Mac is also a PC.  And furthermore, Microsoft doesn’t even sell PCs, they sell Windows, which isn’t mentioned at all in the ad.  So what’s the point again?

The Seinfeld ads were bold, new, interesting, and subtle; and they made Bill Gates a little more accessible to us, even if only for pretend.  The third ad is utterly unoriginal and boring.

Posted by Anthony on at 05:01am

Practicing Safe Computing

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Encodable.com has a great new writeup (ahem) on how to avoid viruses, spyware, and other malware on your PC.  I posted it on the tech blog but wanted to specifically mention it here too, since it’s a topic of general interest.

Posted by Anthony on at 08:12pm

Man gets Windows Vista to work with printer

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When I first saw this headline, I thought it was saying that the guy got Vista to run ON the printer, like, in the printer’s firmware.  Ridiculous, yes, but interesting.

But no, it’s nothing that exotic; it’s actually a story about how a guy was able to print stuff from Windows Vista.  It’s... touching.  Inspirational, really.  I mean, being able to print, from your computer, to your printer... welcome to the future.

Posted by Anthony on at 07:24pm

iTunes on Windows

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Steve Jobs was interviewed last night at "D", the All Things Digital conference.  Best line:

Quoting RSJ:

We’ve got cards and letters from lots of people that say that iTunes is their favorite app on Windows.  It’s like giving a glass of ice water to somebody in Hell.

Since I run Linux I don’t have much use for Mac OS X nor Windows.  But I used to be a Windows user, and unfortunately I still need to keep it around because of friggin’ IE, and I can say that it’s certainly the closest OS to Hell that I’ve used.  I also need to keep a Mac OS X system around because of friggin’ Safari, and we’ve now watched quite a few episodes of The Office on it, and it really is quite a joy to use.  iTunes really is pretty sweet, it’s awesome to be able to download a whole 350 MB TV show in 8 minutes, and the interface for the video player is totally lickable.

Update: check out the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates interview.  I’m only halfway through it so far and it’s been really interesting.  (Note: the video embedded in that page is just the prologue; scroll down for links to the rest of the presentation [i.e. the actual interview].)

Posted by Anthony on at 02:14am

Concerning Operating Systems

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recently said to me about cleaning out a Windows install vs reformatting:

"It’s like getting rid of a zombie in a building, you can walk around looking for the zombie and take a while, or you can just burn the entire thing down."

Posted by andy on at 09:04pm

Apple's Marketshare

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It’s easy to make fun of Apple for having such a small share of the computer market -- I’ve done it myself a few times -- but when you look at revenues and profits, it becomes clear that Apple is not only wildly successful, but arguably more successful than many of its competitors, especially considering its market share:

From Can Apple Take Microsoft in the Battle for the Desktop?:

Quoting RDM:

While Apple is cited by Gartner and IDC as selling around 5% of all the computers in the US, it isn’t obvious that Apple’s 5% share is the cream of the market; it’s actually worth more than the same or larger percentage of shares held by rivals.

There were 9.8 million Macs sold in the last two years, up from 6.2 million in the previous two year period. Those numbers don’t compare with the stunning volume of PCs shipped by HP and Dell--which each sold 38 million PCs in 2006 alone--but Apple’s profits do.

In the forth quarter of last year, HP and Dell combined sold 10 times as many PCs as Apple in the US, earned 5.5 times as much revenue as Apple, but together only ended up with 2.2 times as much net income as Apple.

In other words, Apple earned nearly half as much net income with its 5% share of the market as HP and Dell together, with their combined 55% share of the US PC market: $1 billion for Apple vs $2.2 billion for HP and Dell together!

From Market Share vs Installed Base: iPod vs Zune, Mac vs PC:

Quoting RDM:

In the final quarter of 2006, Apple earned $7.1 billion in revenue, compared to Microsoft’s $12.5 billion in total revenue. Yes, that’s right, Apple brought in more than half as much money as Microsoft, despite Windows owning 98% of the PC market.

Even stripping Apple of its iPod revenues, which PC pundits love to do, the company still earned $4.4 billion on its Macintosh business, over a third as much as Microsoft brought in from its entire Windows, Office, and server operations combined. Apple’s 2% of the PC market doesn’t seem so small anymore.

Of course, Microsoft actually lost a lot of money on all of its consumer electronics products, so looking at profits, Apple earned $1 billion compared to Microsoft’s total $3.4 billion in profit.

Posted by Anthony on at 02:05pm

Browser Upgrade Stats

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Microsoft released Internet Explorer 7 in October, and started pushing it out via Automatic Update in November.  But this is a phased push, i.e. not everyone will get it at the same time, and some estimates say that it will take months before everyone gets it.  (Of course you can avoid the wait and just get it manually if you want to.)

Here are the percentages of my visitors who’ve upgraded to IE7 (and those who’ve upgraded to Firefox 2, which was also released in October), broken down by week:

Encodable.com:

20061008-20061014: IE6 34%, IE7 04%, FF1.5 40%, FF2 03%
20061015-20061021: IE6 32%, IE7 04%, FF1.5 40%, FF2 04%
20061022-20061028: IE6 34%, IE7 05%, FF1.5 26%, FF2 16%
20061029-20061104: IE6 35%, IE7 07%, FF1.5 23%, FF2 19%
20061105-20061111: IE6 34%, IE7 05%, FF1.5 23%, FF2 21%
20061112-20061118: IE6 33%, IE7 06%, FF1.5 22%, FF2 25%
20061119-20061125: IE6 35%, IE7 08%, FF1.5 17%, FF2 22%
20061126-20061202: IE6 32%, IE7 09%, FF1.5 19%, FF2 25%
20061203-20061209: IE6 30%, IE7 10%, FF1.5 18%, FF2 26%
Updates:
20061210-20061216: IE6 30%, IE7 11%, FF1.5 15%, FF2 27%
20061217-20061223: IE6 27%, IE7 13%, FF1.5 16%, FF2 27%
20061224-20061230: IE6 28%, IE7 11%, FF1.5 15%, FF2 29%
20061231-20070106: IE6 27%, IE7 13%, FF1.5 14%, FF2 28%
20070107-20070113: IE6 25%, IE7 14%, FF1.5 14%, FF2 29%
20070114-20070120: IE6 25%, IE7 13%, FF1.5 14%, FF2 31%
20070121-20070127: IE6 24%, IE7 13%, FF1.5 14%, FF2 30%
20070128-20070203: IE6 27%, IE7 13%, FF1.5 13%, FF2 29%
20070204-20070210: IE6 26%, IE7 17%, FF1.5 12%, FF2 29%
20070211-20070217: IE6 26%, IE7 16%, FF1.5 10%, FF2 33%
20070218-20070224: IE6 28%, IE7 16%, FF1.5 09%, FF2 30%
20070225-20070303: IE6 25%, IE7 17%, FF1.5 10%, FF2 32%
20070304-20070310: IE6 27%, IE7 15%, FF1.5 09%, FF2 32%
20070311-20070317: IE6 26%, IE7 17%, FF1.5 09%, FF2 33%
20070318-20070324: IE6 25%, IE7 17%, FF1.5 08%, FF2 35%
20070325-20070331: IE6 26%, IE7 17%, FF1.5 08%, FF2 32%

NoDivisions.com:

20061008-20061014: IE6 44%, IE7 01%, FF1.5 15%, FF2 00%
20061015-20061021: IE6 48%, IE7 01%, FF1.5 14%, FF2 01%
20061022-20061028: IE6 53%, IE7 02%, FF1.5 13%, FF2 02%
20061029-20061104: IE6 49%, IE7 02%, FF1.5 10%, FF2 05%
20061105-20061111: IE6 43%, IE7 03%, FF1.5 09%, FF2 07%
20061112-20061118: IE6 43%, IE7 04%, FF1.5 11%, FF2 08%
20061119-20061125: IE6 41%, IE7 05%, FF1.5 08%, FF2 08%
20061126-20061202: IE6 38%, IE7 06%, FF1.5 09%, FF2 09%
20061203-20061209: IE6 40%, IE7 06%, FF1.5 08%, FF2 11%
Updates:
20061210-20061216: IE6 39%, IE7 09%, FF1.5 08%, FF2 12%
20061217-20061223: IE6 34%, IE7 11%, FF1.5 08%, FF2 10%
20061224-20061230: IE6 34%, IE7 08%, FF1.5 08%, FF2 12%
20061231-20070106: IE6 35%, IE7 09%, FF1.5 09%, FF2 13%
20070107-20070113: IE6 35%, IE7 10%, FF1.5 07%, FF2 13%
20070114-20070120: IE6 34%, IE7 08%, FF1.5 06%, FF2 13%
20070121-20070127: IE6 28%, IE7 14%, FF1.5 07%, FF2 14%
20070128-20070203: IE6 30%, IE7 10%, FF1.5 07%, FF2 14%
20070204-20070210: IE6 31%, IE7 13%, FF1.5 07%, FF2 13%
20070211-20070217: IE6 33%, IE7 14%, FF1.5 07%, FF2 15%
20070218-20070224: IE6 36%, IE7 13%, FF1.5 06%, FF2 14%
20070225-20070303: IE6 34%, IE7 13%, FF1.5 06%, FF2 14%
20070304-20070310: IE6 36%, IE7 10%, FF1.5 06%, FF2 14%
20070311-20070317: IE6 34%, IE7 11%, FF1.5 05%, FF2 15%
20070318-20070324: IE6 29%, IE7 13%, FF1.5 06%, FF2 17%
20070325-20070331: IE6 34%, IE7 11%, FF1.5 05%, FF2 13%

Relatively slow uptake thus far; or maybe it just seems that way to me, because the world can’t be rid of IE6 soon enough for me.

In other visitor-related news, earlier this week NoDivisions passed 200,000 visitors and Encodable passed 150,000.  They’ve been averaging ~200/day (ND) and ~600/day (Enc).

Posted by Anthony on at 02:19am

Microsoft Zune

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Microsoft released the Zune today.  This thing looks totally sweet, but unfortunately it only comes in a 30 GB capacity.  I only have about 70% of my music collection copied onto my computer in MP3 format, but even that is 32 GB, already larger than the Zune’s capacity.  That would leave me a) no room for my existing collection, b) no room for future expansion, and c) no room for any photos or videos at all.

Once they release a new version with an 80+ GB hard drive, and with the ability to access the internet wirelessly (it already has wireless hardware, but only to connect to other Zunes -- lame), then I’ll really be excited about the Zune.

Posted by Anthony on at 01:07pm

Public Service Announcement

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If you’re using Internet Explorer -- which you shouldn’t be, because you should be using Firefox -- then you should upgrade to the new version (7) that was just recently released.  You can get IE7 from microsoft.com.

Posted by Anthony on at 12:35pm

I HATE WINDOWS

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Why does Windows have to be such a buggy freaking piece of crap??!?

I’m sitting here editing some text files, and all of a sudden, when I open a file in my text editor, the window is off-screen somewhere totally inaccessible.  It has a taskbar button, and it’s pushed in indicating that the window has focus, but there is no window.  If I right-click on the taskbar button and choose Maximize, the window appears, maximized; but if I then Restore it, it’s gone again.

If I right-click the taskbar button and choose Size or Move, my mouse cursor jumps to the screen’s upper-lefthand corner and turns to the arrow-cursor as if it’s on the edge of the window, ready for me to drag; but when I drag, nothing happens.

Now every single instance of my text editor that I start is invisible.  And this has happened to me many times before, so I know from experience that this problem won’t go away until I reboot, which means I’ll have to close all my open windows -- about 20, which is typical for the way I work.

ARGH, this is so annoying.  Someone please tell me you know a way to fix this!

Posted by Anthony on at 09:42pm

New Apple Ads

3 replies

Apple introduced some new TV commercials on Monday and I think they’re pretty funny.  You can watch them on the Apple website.

It’s kind of annoying how they present it as "The Mac vs. The PC" when it’s really about Mac vs. Windows.  I run a PC, yet none of the PC-based problems mentioned in the ads affect me at all, because my PC runs Linux, not Windows.

But other than that, the ads are good -- they’re funny and they’re pretty much completely accurate.

Posted by Anthony on at 11:09am

Yet Another Reason...

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Yet another reason why Microsoft Internet Explorer is the worst browser of all time:

posted image

It’s bad enough that the error message tells me nothing about what the error actually is (an element ID?  a line snippet?  anything?  throw me a fricken’ bone here...).  But on top of that, line 49, where the error with "character 3" supposedly exists, is a blank line.

Posted by Anthony on at 09:18pm

Super Villain

6 replies

Remember those old Apple "switch" ads?

Check out this switch to Linux video.

Posted by Anthony on at 03:53pm

New Pittsburgh Photos

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I finally posted my photos of the city from on Mount Washington last week.  There are some pretty good ones of the city skyline and of Point State Park.

In unrelated news, I had to upgrade to a new version of Quicktime the other day to view a video clip, and I discovered that you can’t get Quicktime without iTunes anymore.  Product tying, anyone?  Microsoft gets buried in lawsuits for including -- horror of horrors -- a web browser with their operating system, yet Apple can force me to run iTunes all day long, when I don’t even own an MP3 player?

Posted by Anthony on at 12:51am

WiFi

2 replies

A few weeks ago I switched our Linux systems to wireless network cards.  Since wifi on Linux is still a big pain to get working, I wrote up a couple of start-to-finish HOWTOs in the hopes that others might find them useful.

Wireless success: Netgear WG311, madwifi, wpa_supplicant Wireless USB success: Netgear WG111, ndiswrapper, WPA

If you’ve got a wireless network card but aren’t having the best reception, make sure to give the WiFi Spray a try.

On an unrelated note, in case you weren’t sure that Steve Ballmer was completely insane, here’s more proof.

Posted by Anthony on at 02:53pm

The End Is Near

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Signs of the apocalypse:

Pope dies.

German Pope elected.

Apple moves to Intel.

Microsoft moves to PowerPC.

Debian stable released.

Apple releases multi-button mouse.

(From a couple of Slashdot & ARS posts.)

Posted by Anthony on at 12:16am

Blasted Windows!

4 replies

On the off-chance that anyone might have seen these issues, here are two as-yet-unsolved Windows XP mysteries that I’m seeing on a system I’m working on:

1. The system’s network connection is absurdly flaky.  I’m running SSH, VNC, and HTTP servers on this system, and when I’m logged in via SSH or VNC, the connection dies at least once every 5-10 minutes, sometimes as often as 2 or 3 times per minute.  When accessing the system’s web server, I get an incomplete load on maybe 1 out of 10 visits to the exact same page.  (But I’m not entirely convinced this isn’t a Verizon DSL issue, or an issue with the Westell modem+router they provide.)

2. Most systems automatically switch to StandBy mode after a period of idleness, and then stay there until you move the mouse or hit a key.  This system switches to StandBy whenever it feels like it, even when you’re actively using the keyboard and mouse.  But then it realizes right away that it’s made a terrible mistake, so the StandBy screen just flashes up for a second and then goes away.

And this Westell modem/router does the same stupid thing as the Belkin router that I returned a couple months ago: it won’t let you access a server on your network from a system on your network through the public IP address.

It’s mind-boggling how many companies can exist and make money by producing such utter crap.

Posted by Anthony on at 01:05am

Google Gets Cooler; Microsoft... Is Still Everywhere

1 reply

Google bought the mapping company Keyhole last year, and now Google Maps can show you aerial satellite photography of whatever location you’re mapping.  As if Google Maps wasn’t cool enough already!

Google also recently added support for natural-language search queries (like the one I just posted about).  But according to the article:

Quoting internetnews.com:

Google Q&A has strengths and weaknesses, Norvig admitted. ... For example, asking, "What is the population of India?" returns rock-solid results in the form of links to Web sites that answer the question.

On the other hand, the top result for the question, "What is the capital of France?" was "Investment Capital and Banking in France."

... But the queries don’t have to be full sentences. The system identifies both query words, such as "who" or "what," and fact-type terms such as capital, director, population. "To find out who directed "Finding Nemo," you don’t have to put in the ’who is,’" he explained.

I think this is more marketing hype than anything "new" from Google.  Their existing search already ignored common words (like "is") anyway; I don’t see how this new "natural language" support is fundamentally different.

In other tech news, Microsoft’s approach to Windows system security may be changing (which can only mean "improving" at this point) when the next version is released in a year or so.  One huge problem with the current design is the fact that, although Windows supports the concept of different levels of user privileges:

Quoting pcworld.com:

...90 percent of Windows software can’t be installed without administrator access to Windows, [and] 70 percent won’t run properly unless the user is an administrator.

The whole point of having restricted user-level accounts is that you don’t want your users to be able to break critical parts of the system -- even when "your users" just means "you."  You don’t want to use the powerful administrator account for your day-to-day activities, because 1) even if you’re good with computers, you could accidentally delete something crucial, and 2) you run lots of programs written by other people and companies, so you don’t want to give them access to critical parts of the system either.

But as the above quote shows, it’s simply not practical to run Windows with a user-level account, because like so many things in Windows, this security feature was hacked on as an afterthought and doesn’t really work yet.  Until it gets fixed, we’ll continue to be plagued by myriad viruses and otherwise-malicious programs that hijack Windows systems and then modify the system to prevent the user from removing them.

Posted by Anthony on at 01:47am

Speaking of Reasons to Hate Windows...

7 replies

The thing that most frustrates me about Windows is its lack of command-line remote administration.  You can hack it in via OpenSSH for Windows but it’s far from perfect -- you can’t use any interactive commands because of problems with STDIN/STDOUT mapping, which cuts out a pretty large swath of the programs you’d like to run.  And it lacks tab-completion as well as command history; pressing the Up key actually makes the cursor move up on the screen.

Even if it worked perfectly, Microsoft makes some things impossible via command line.  For example, I recently discovered that you can use Scheduled Tasks (in the Control Panel) to run a program at boot without having it attached to a window.  That’s awesome for background programs that you’d like to keep running all the time but that you don’t really want cluttering up your taskbar because they take no user input (like Eponym).  But there’s no equivalent command-line way to access the Scheduled Tasks functionality.  There’s "at" but it can’t schedule an event at boot nor multiple times per day.  There’s "schtasks" which actually IS equivalent to Scheduled Tasks in the Control Panel, but it’s not included in XP Home.

The unxutils package improves the situation drastically, giving you lots of the most handy Unix tools like grep and wget.  And of course you can use VNC to do remote administration via the full Windows GUI.  But that’s inconvenient because most internet links are slow, and because you often can’t or don’t want to take over a system that someone else might be using just to do a task that should only require the command-line anyway.

I say that MS should take after Apple: admit that the only thing going for their OS is its nice looks and ease-of-GUI-use, and then get to work building that on top of a REAL OS with nice internals (i.e. Linux or BSD).

And also, Superunknown is still a really good album.

Posted by Anthony on at 10:54pm

... and another thing

2 replies

Man, your preview thing for the posts isn’t working.  I go to preview and I see it for a split second before the font size decreases and the text disappears.  Then I can highlight with my cursor to see the text but something else weird happens.  When I highlight down page it disappears again after I click somewhere else on the page.  If I highlight up page and click somewhere else the text stays and your highlighted spell correct is fine. 

I am using the unholy IE so it may be attributed to that.  I just don’t have Mozilla at work and I rarely use it at home because most normal web pages are designed for IE.

Posted by kaiser on at 09:10am
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