Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the month “January, 2007”

The scourge of spam

Is it still fun to run a forum or a weblog? Yes, of course, but I am seriously wondering whether it is fun to allow non-registered users to contribute to them. My weblog is driven by WordPress and -fortunately- there is a nice plugin called Akismet. Akismet is a spam trapper and it succeeded in catching about 30 spam posts a day. Both WordPress and Akismet were updated a few days ago (on a sidenote, the new WordPress 2.1 is great). The number of spam posts has increased to 150 a day.

At the same time, the forum on the main site is swamped with spamposts as well. No spam catching here so I have to remove all posts manually. And -frankly- I don’t want to do that. Since the forum was not active I decided to disable the posting feature. I am waiting for Joomla 1.5 to be called stable so I can upgrade the whole thing and in the mean time most traffic will go to the blog anyway.

Unfortunately there isn’t much to do about spam in whatever form it comes. I get about 100 emails a day and most of it consists of offers for penny stock, tablets or cheap software. The spam posts in the forum and the blog deal with music, sex and tablets. Thunderbird is doing a great job in filtering out the junk in the email traffic, but I wouldn’t want to see this problem if I were running a dial-up connection.

Weblogs are about interaction and communication, but that is seriously hindered by all the spam posts. I have put all on moderated posting and only those who are previously approved can post without moderation. It works okay, for now.

Why Linux will never beat Windows, According to The Inquirer

I don’t mind seeing opposing arguments and The Inquirer seems to be on a roll in the Linux versus Windows debate. First an INQ writer explained why Vista would help him to make the transition to Linux. He is thinkering with his hardware all the time, each thinkering running the risk of needing a new activation of Vista. To quote:

Vista forces you to re-activate, or so I am told, if you look at it in the right way. Microsoft, in possibly the most shortsighted move in the company’s history, decided to lock Vista down to the first PC it is installed to and not allow you to move it legally. If you call it up, whine and lie, you can socially engineeer a few reactivations, but technically this is a licence violation. I won’t do that.

So, when I change the mobo on my box, or an unspecified other bit of hardware or three, Microsoft decides that my box is a new computer and my $399 copy of Vista is a doorstop – I must spend another $399 to continue working. Bill Gates does need the money, he gives away a lot of it on trips to cities thinking of moving to Linux.

For me, hardly a week goes by when I do not change the mobo on my machine, I keep getting new ones in the mail. Hard drives get swapped in and out, and video cards change on an almost daily basis. CPUs change slightly less often. If a week goes by when by Microsoft’s standards I do not get a ‘new’ computer, it generally is a sign that I have not been home for a week.

Well, that was easy enough, but the discussion continues with the following article entitled Linux is not an option. The key argument here is that most people won’t ever open their box and leave it happily running without any hardware upgrades untill they buy a new box.

The vast majority of PCs spend their entire lives unopened and most of them – the home boxes, anyway – still run the operating system and apps that were installed when it was new. Normal people don’t swap motherboards, processors and graphics cards. Normal people don’t add extra RAM. Normal people don’t upgrade hard disks. For them, a PC is a consumer item like a TV or DVD player – they use it until it breaks then throw it away and replace it with a new one.

While for businesses, prepared to fund a basement full of geeks to keep their IT running, Linux is an option. For home users, it isn’t. Home users rely on a bloke in the pub to pop round to kick their PC if it misbehaves and reward him with a couple of pints or, if he’s lucky, a bottle of Scotch. Monetary remuneration simply doesn’t enter into the equation – home users simply aren’t prepared to pay for support.

I have been one of those blokes in the pub for years  and I can assure you that trying to talk an ordinary person through an impenetrable command line interface over the phone isn’t something I’m prepared to even contemplate. By comparison, giving telephone advice to someone running Windows is a piece of cake – it requires zero technical aptitude at the far end.

I wouldn’t go that far. I tried to help some computer illiterates over the phone and it is a challenge to keep them clicking on the right icons and not veer of with a “hey, this is interesting”.

The next contribution by the last writer deals with the question what it would take for Linux to become as viable for the desktop as Windows. The Why Microsoft will offer an Open Source OS article takes the viewpoint that this is not going to happen. Support, marketing and advertising all cost money and -according to the author- you can only make money if your distribution has something other don’t (and keep it that way).

But, in order for a company to market a product successfully, ensure it is properly supported and isn’t stolen, you also need to differentiate it from all the other flavours of Linux. This means including features that aren’t available on other people’s versions of Linux. Programmers, designers and consultants will have to be hired to develop these features and drivers. These people aren’t cheap. Even games cost $50-60 a copy mainly because they need to include all this stuff, and an OS is far more complex. Pretty soon, you’ll be looking at Linux price tags that are just a few dollars behind basic Windows products. Whoops.

And if that’s the case, will users be prepared to throw away decades of familiarity, know-how and training and learn something new just to save $20, or will they stick with something familiar? In order for Linux to rival Windows, it will have to become the very thing it set out to destroy.

Well, if money were the only argument to yes or no switch to Linux he might have a point. It’s just that money isn’t the whole side of the equation. With more and more consumer items running on Linux already (hello, TiVo anyone, routers, new Nokia cell phone) and having more and more servers in the basements running our favorite distro, the presence of Linux continues to grow.

True, support needs to get a lot better but we are working on that.

Office 2007: time consuming installations

I did not feel like writing today. There were still a few Technet disks I wanted to install and this was as good a time as any. On the list were: the Dutch language pack for Office 2007, Business Contact Manager 2007, Small Business Accounting 2006, Accounting Express 2007, Visio Pro 2007 and Professional Pro 2007. All together about 3Gb of install (give or take). Well, it took me about 2,5 hours to finish it all. That’s a lot. I can have a complete net-based install of Debian on the old iMac in that time. Or finish five consecutive installs of the Ubuntu DVD.

So, Microsoft will not win any prices with speedy installs. Besides that, my laptop is definitely way slower at booting up, which is -I think- partly due to the SQL server that is needed for the accounting software. A quick look at Small Business Accounting and the Business Contact Manager made me go “wow” nonetheless. Too bad SBA isn’t available outside the US, because I know at least one friend who is looking for this. The BCM has really turned into a center for keeping an eye on your sales. Well, a closer look will have to wait.

Split second updates

Man! I just finished downloading version 3.25c of SabayonLinux, when I noticed the newsitem that 3.26 is about to be released. Last night the release was there on Linuxtracker, so I jumped on that bandwagon as well. The press release gives some more information about this bugfix release. It isn’t really necessary to download 3.26 as well, but I like to support the seed of SL.

In the mean time I booted version 3.25c (still steaming from the download) on the laptop. One good thing is that it recognized my wifi, something I couldn’t get Ubuntu to do up till today. There aren’t many other visible changes, but it still is a great distro. Time to re-install it on the laptop, but not right now. I still need Ubuntu for the book writing.

Office 2007: First Impressions: Excel 2007

Correct me if I am wrong, but I do believe that Excel is one application that is often used in business circles. To take such a program to a next level is definitely a challenge. How often are open source spreadsheets like Gnumeric or OpenOffice.org Calc not compared to Excel. Calc had exactly the same size in terms of rows and colums and serious efforts are made to make sure Excel sheets can be imported flawlessly. And now Microsoft is moving Excel forward.

It is also one of the ‘ribbonized’ applications. The worksheet size has increased to 16.385 by 1.048.576. Wow. More than one million rows… This should be enough to calculate my life’s savings.

I am beginning to get a liking to the Microsoft Office Online feature. When you want to open a new spreadsheet it is definitely useful to browse throught the categories and the various offered templates. Both home users and business users will find something of their liking.

The ribbon is more complex than under Word. It is both the former menu with various categories of functions, where the ribbon shows what is possible. The naming of the standard menu is logical: Insert, Page Layout, Formulas, Data, Review and View. I am seeing lot’s of functions for the first time and I guess that is exactly the purpose of the ribbon. You can link Excel to a SQL server. Maybe it was possible before, but I didn’t know that.

One feature I like is the WYSIWYG mode. You can change the header, the footer and the content of your worksheet in this mode instead of only checking how it will look on paper. Maybe it is only a small thing, but I know already for sure that editing a series of reports in 2007 will be a whole lot easier with this.

If you are not so expert under Excel you will like the tooltip screens. On the laptop it takes about a second for them to appear. Slow enough for the experienced users, fast enough for someone who is browsing the functions to see whether they are useful. If you are not an expert yet this feature will help you to the next level.

In short, I look forward to using Excel in the workplace (where I will have to use it most). Microsoft did a great job on the interface and the accessibiltiy of functions. At the same time I do hope that the OpenOffice.org team will sit down and start rethinking their project. Up to now they have tried to imitate Microsoft Office as much as possible. That made sense but it doesn’t anymore. It will make sense to come with an even more intuitive menustructure that sets OpenOffice.org apart.

Office 2007: First Impressions: Word 2007

The Office2007 Ultimate edition makes sure you have a wide range of Microsoft software available. I have been using Word and Excel since Windows 3.1, which makes for a lot of hours of experience. And I guess that is true for a lot of people. For that reason alone it is interesting to see whether the transition to 2007 is easy enough to make. Up to 2003 the interface did not change that much. The Menu was mostly the same and -though maybe not easy to use- it was familiar. With 2007 that has changed. The default menu is replaced by The Ribbon, a menu bar that changes according to what you want are doing at the moment.

What do you get with Office 2007 Ultimate? Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook to mention the usual suspects. Access, Infopath, OneNote, Groove and Publisher make up the rest of the package. Expression Web (the package previously known as Frontpage) appears to be missing. I went for the upgrade option to make the transition from 2003 to 2007, which went smooth enough as far as I can see. Let’s have a first look at Word 2007:

 

You have to hand it to Microsoft. They know how to make things shine. The first impression should make you go “Wow”, at least for a bit, and Word 2007 did that for me. The new default font, Calibri, is pleasant for the eyes. The ribbon takes up about one fifth of the screen horizon. The big Office logo in the top left corner is where you open and close your documents. I did not like that in the beta and I still don’t like it. The ribbon was meant to make functions more accessible and more intuitive to use, but without any explanation you would have no idea what the logo is about (other than being a logo of course). I like the ribbon, I really do. The color palet could have been better. The various shades of blue are okay, but to use letters in other shades of blue (besides black) on top of that…. The moment you start working on your documents and start editing them you can see the ribbon change and offer you the various functions that were previously hidden for instance under the right mouse button.

The new Word was supposed to come with PDF export ability, but Adobe isn’t playing along. Where open source software has that function for years (with Adobe’s approval), Microsoft is not allowed to add that by default. Even the new XPS format –meant as a competitor for PDF- is not added to Word 2007. When you try to save a document, Word tells you these two options are not available but it is wiling to guide you to the website where you can download the package that adds them. Seems fair enough. Microsoft wants to check whether you have a genuine version of Office 2007 and you have to download the OGA plugin first. This works fine with Firefox and kudo’s to Microsoft for that. The OGA check also opens the way to the Office Online option, where you can find an interesting collection of templates.

Blogging from Word is very well implemented. It is as simple as opening “New blogpost” and set up your blog url. Like with Windows Live Writer this works very smooth. The categories are recognized and you can add them to the blog post with a pull down menu. I tried the blog extension under OpenOffice.org, but that required way more fiddling. GTKBlog wouldn’t recognize the categories. Again I find it strange that Microsoft is better to implement this open source feature into it’s flagship software than true open source projects.

The first few hours with the new Word 2007 left me with a good impression. The logo menu (for lack of a better term) has various interesting options that are explained for new users or users that didn’t know the options existed. For instance, the Document Inspector which you can use to check out whether personal information is hidden in your document. Use it whenever you need it. When I saw the beta I was wondering whether power users would not have problems with the transition to 2007. Well, the right mouse button options are still there and you can modify the quick access bar in the title bar ad hide the ribbon. The final implementation of the ribbon is nicely done, so I wouldn’t recommend that option.

P.S. After uploading the post to my blog I noticed that the image was not uploaded as well. Tsk, tsk… No can do. Now I have to find a way to report this.

Bringing Windows and Office to 2007

I have been using Ubuntu Linux since a few months now and I have no plans to move back to Windows any time soon. But I do like to keep a close eye on what 2007 will bring for the average desktop user. Fortunately Microsoft is giving me all the opportunity I need to do that. No, I wasn’t one of the lucky bloggers who got a completely loaded new laptop (but, Bill, Steve, Ray, anyone, feel free to contact me). Nope, since I also have a small IT business and am registered at Microsoft I recently got the offer for a two month free subscription of Technet Plus without any obligation to continue the subscription after that (or being dragged in automatically). With the Technet Plus access comes timebomb free downloads of all the Microsoft goodies.

I am not greedy and wouldn’t know any sensible purpose for all the packages in the Microsoft Dynamics series, but I am interested in Windows Vista and the whole Office 2007 system. Download heaven. I am now the owner of Vista, Office 2007, Project Professional, Visio Professional, Acounting Express and Small Business Accounting. This blog post is written with the new Word 2007 blogging feature. Vista will come in handy when I write about setting up a multiboot system.

Finally I can get the “Experiencing Vista” thread under way as well. I am curious as to how everything will work. My laptop is supposed to be Vista Capable, but I will test it out on a separate harddisk first. Office 2007 has replaced Office 2003 and I am trying to get used to the ribbon. Stay tuned and keep reading. Oh, and… thank you Microsoft.

Post Navigation