Important updates from Microsoft (KB970653)

I’ve been on vacation for a couple of weeks, trying first to battle the Evil Overlords (details on that later) and then spending some time at the beach (and yes, that’s the actual beach.. ) but this afternoon, when I laid my sunburned hands on the keyboard, I encountered the friendly (and highly obnoxious) icon in the system try telling my that I had new updates for my Vista system. Including one “Important” update for windows, and two “recommended” updates.  I thought that was a little odd, since I’ve just installed a bunch of updates a couple of days ago. Every time I install updates it\s a pain because I have to stop everything I’m doing and restart my machine. So it was with some trepidation that I clicked the system icon, and sure enough, it told me I would have to restart after I apply these changes. Yuck.

Well it doesn’t do to leave your system unpatched, I thought, and if Microsoft has updates for my machine, and labels them “important” I should probably install them right away, right? Especially if they have gone out of their way and released a second update package in the same week, got to be crucial.

Not so much. Turns out that KB970653 – the update in question – was an update to the time zone feature in my windows system. Apparently the people at Microsoft were so worried that I’d get the time wrong on my system that they felt the need to push out a special update package, and make me restart my system, just so that the timer wont be off.

Now I agree that the system time functions are important, especially if you are running database systems or servers. But for most of us, simple mortals who just use our computers for everyday life. Is all this hassle really necessary? Couldn’t this wait for the normal Update Tusday cycle? It makes me wonder what other junk Microsoft pushes down the pipe just because no one actually bothers to check if those “important” and “critical” updates really are all that crucial. Those of use who were around a few years ago probably remember Microsoft’s “Critical” update KB833404 that was put out in 2004 for every MS Office product there was. You’d think that a “critical” update for ALL of Office meant that they found and fixed some gaping security hole or something, but no, that critical update did nothing more than remove two swastika symbols that ended up in the wrong font. I’m not making this up.

Personally, I opted not to install the important update just yet. When I’m done with my vacation, and the laptop gets shutdown anyway so I can take to work, then I’ll do it. Until then I will stay with me, alas, not accurate time zone info. In the meantime, if anyone in Microsoft is reading this, I’d like to offer one thought: Before you randomly label updates as important and critical, you might want to take a moment to re-read the story about the boy who cried wolf. Not every update deserves panic mode treatment. Thanks.



Google ChromeOS – a non-event

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The net is abound with buzz nowadays about the aannouncement of a Google “Operating System” due to come out the second quarter of 2010. Yawn..

Beyond the discussion of what qualifies this as an Operating System, for which I will direct you to two excellent articles by TechCrunch and The Register (Caution: colorful language), there is also the question of what the product actually is. According to Google, the Chrome OS is “Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.” In other words: Install Linux, Install Chrome, take away anything that isn’t Chrome, and expect who ever is using this to only use tools that run in Chrome. Seems to me this should take about a week for a competent System guy to do, assuming he has to write his own scripts.

So what’s the big deal here? The “new Windowing system”? Gnome, KDE, and the rest aren’t good enough for you, you need something that will launch Chrome automatically without showing a Desktop first? I mean seriously, what are they going to be spending a year on?

The answer is as simple as it is sad: they are going to spend the next year on trying to make Chrome do things the way a real OS does, and on trying to make Web-apps function like real apps. With all kinds of hocus pocus like HTML 5, Google Gears, and G-D knows what else, they’re going to try and develop a comparable platform for running the programs you need inside a browser.   I doubt they’ll succeed, and I seriously doubt that they can do it in a year.

And that’s the bottom line. No one really cares is the OS they use come from Microsoft, Mac, Linux, or Ed’s computer shopp and live tackle, they simply want to install their applications (that they’ve been using for years) and have them work. Period. This is the reason that after a great valiant run at Linux, I came back to Windows. It let me do the things I wanted, and have been doing for over a decade, without having to re-learn and re do everything. Trying to get everyone to shift paradigms and move to Google Docs is one thing (and a daunting task at that). The fact that Google Docs can’t do everything that office can is completely different. In the larger scheme of the corporate world, a $200 saving on a computer with a free OS is nothing compered to the amount of time, and hence money, wasted on trying to relearn years of established ways to do things.

There’s even more to is than that. As the Register points out:

But it’s not just Office that will keep Microsoft’s hold on the PC market. Can you replace Active Directory with a web app? Is there a site I can visit to connect to my office’s shared printer? What do you mean World of Warcraft doesn’t run in the browser? How do I play a DVD in Google Chrome?

And he’s absolutly right: The greatness of a true OS is that it can run ANYTHING, not just thing that are written in the limited context of the Internet. And if a program is installed on my hard drive it will run with or without a network connection, and can access and modify the files on my drive without the fear that sudden server congestion will break it. Until ChromeOS can claim even a little of that, it is not Operating System, it’s a non-event.

Good Weekend,


Upward mobility

These past couple of weeks have been significant in the world of mobile communications. With the introduction of the Apple IPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre (in addition to the already-out Backberry storm) it seems that the days of the cell phone as a true  “Mobile computing platform” are finally here. Hooray Hurrah! it’s 1983 all over again!

Except that it’s not. 1983 saw two major advancements in the field of personal computing that complimented each other: First the IBM-XT personal computer. A truly flexible computing platform that combined power (such as there was at the time) and a price attractive enough for regular people, the XT (and it’s successor the IBM-AT based on Intel’s 80286 cpu) was not only a great computer, but the fountainhead of a whole new industry: IBM clones. These “PC-compatible” machines took what was just one of many competing computing platforms, and made it into the de-facto standard for computing till today. Even though IBM no longer makes personal computers, the x86 architecture on the desktop has endured magnificently over the last three decades, in large part due to the availability of cheap, inter-compatible  hardware, readily bought from your nearest distributor.

But hardware is only part of the story: 1983 also saw the announcement of MS-Dos version 2.0 – the first Operating System that was both truly usable and (more importantly) cross-platform compatible. You could buy Ms-Dos separately from the computer, install it on the PC-clone of your choice, and IT WORKED! You did not have to get your hardware and software from the same place any more. You weren’t locked into whatever your vendor offered and that’s it. For the first time ever, you had true flexibility in computing. This was astounding. Still is, if you think about it.

The situation in today’s cellular market is the same as it was in the PC world before 1983. We have good platforms out there, and they have a tremendous potential as the computing platforms of the future. What we lack is a PC-Clone and a Microsoft. We lack a platform that is so convincing that it would sweep all others before it, and so easy to build that everyone (except Apple, as always) will build versions of it. That, coupled with a company that would bring it all together, and develop the definitive Mobile OS that would run on that platform. I had (and still have) great hopes for Android as being that OS. But so far this seems not to be happening.

One final thought: We don’t HAVE to have the hardware platform. You can port an OS to any number of architectures. Linux does it, and it works. But we do HAVE to have ONE (or at most two) mobile OS. The one platform that would sweep the market and create a standard. When that happens, when you can run any application on any cell phone, when the brand of your cell phone becomes a matter of price and convenience, not a question of what that brand can and can’t do. Then – only then – can we party like it’s 1983