Archive for Computers/Technology

Remembering a Dead Operating System

I was cleaning out a closet tonight, and I found a couple of copies of Novell Netware 5.  It got me thinking about Novell, and how great a server it was at the time.

Now, I was never a Novell engineer or anything, but we had several clients that had Novell servers, so I got to mess with them on a regular basis.  For those who don’t know or remember Novell, it was an awesome file and print server back when Microsoft was still struggling with the whole “network” thing.  There were a few file and print sharing systems at the time, including Novell, Banyan Vines, and Windows NT.  The difference between them was that NT was a bootable OS, while Novell and Banyan ran on top of DOS.  This had the advantage that if something happened to the network server’s partition, you could still boot into DOS and run recovery tools.

Of the three systems, I liked Novell the best.  Granted, I came into it late (’98), but I still was working on Novell 3.12, 4.11, NT 3.51, and NT 4 systems.  We did have one customer that had a Banyan system, but I only worked on it a couple of times…and that was more than enough for me!  NT systems usually couldn’t stay up for more than a week or two before it needed to be rebooted.  In fact, at the time, Microsoft recommended a reboot at least once a week.  Not to mention it would freeze a lot.  Granted, quite a bit of that instability was from the poor quality windows software, but a lot of it was still due to the OS.

On the other hand, it was nothing for me to go to a Novell server, and see an uptime of months.  I believe the longest uptime I saw on a Novell server was 1.5 years.  Compare THAT to a Windows system!  Now, you can get IBM mini systems like the System36, or AS400 systems with uptime in the years easily, but Novell was a system that was being deployed on commodity hardware, was relatively inexpensive, and in some not-necessarily prime locations (like a hot garage).  For the price, you couldn’t beat the stability, and security of a Novell system.  And not once did I hear of a Novell virus.  Not once.  You could drop a virus onto a Novell volume from another station, but it wouldn’t affect the Novell system itself.

Unfortunately, Novell fell to the M$ juggernaut.  It didn’t seem that way at first.  In the early-to-mid 90’s, it was a tie between Novell and Unix systems on servers.  NT came a distant third.  Novell did everything NT did…but better.  File and printer sharing and file security was much more robust on a Novell system.  Novell even had a comprehensive network directory system (called Netware Directory Services) when Active Directory was flailing.  But as Windows 2000 started gaining ground, it was obvious that Novell wasn’t innovating fast enough.  Small businesses were quickly moving beyond needing just file and print sharing.  They needed internet connection sharing, email services, and firewalls.  At the same time, software designers were moving away from the client running all software, and only data on the server, to the server running some kind of service that the client connects to.   Novell either couldn’t or wouldn’t keep pace.  Novell attempted to add these services, but couldn’t do it for the same price as competing Windows products could do it.

After the release of Windows 2000, Novell’s fall went fairly quickly.  Novell tried to rally by buying Suse Linux back in 2003, but it was too little, too late.  By that time, Windows had pretty much trounced them.  Despite a clear (and by all accounts smooth) upgrade path from Netware to Suse Linux, customers continued to migrate to Windows.  Now, very few installations of Novell remain.  It’s a little sad, but the current market simply outgrew what Novell could provide.

I still have a copy of Novell Netware 5, though.  You never know when you’ll need it.

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Jury-Rigged USB host dongle

One of the new features of the Nokia N810 is it’s micro-USB OTG A/B connector.  If you’re not familiar with USB OTG, it stands for “On The Go”.  It’s a new USB standard which is supposed to do away with all of the proprietary mini-USB connectors out there.  Essentially, it’s a way for USB connectors to determine whether they are in host or slave mode by the type of connector that’s plugged in.  However, as with all new tech, there’s not a lot of penetration as of yet.  That means there are a few OTG B connectors (slave connectors), but very few A’s, which allow the n810 to function as a host.  So I built this little dongle myself.

I bought a USB OTG cable from Amazon.  This one right here, in fact:  USB micro-A cable.  However, as you can see, it has one problem…a male A connector.  Now, I’m not sure why this cable is being produced.  According to the OTG specs, the micro-A connector is for host-mode operation.  Since usually the male A connector is ALSO used for host-mode operation, the effort really seems futile.

Anyway, so I took a USB extension (a Male-A to Female-A cable), and cut the female end off, then spliced it onto the micro-A end of the OTG cable.  Voila!  Instant OTG host-mode goodness.  In fact, I’m writing this using a standard USB keyboard, with my n810.  Works awesomely…if I could stop misspelling things.

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RE: We Want A Dead Simple Web Tablet For $200. Help Us Build It.

Original Article: We Want A Dead Simple Web Tablet For $200. Help Us Build It.

Michael Arrington wants a web tablet for $200.  Looks like he wants a Nokia n800 or a n810.  The n800 is now LESS than $200, and though the n810 is $400, it adds built-in GPS, free turn-by-turn directions using Maemo Mapper, sunlight-readable screen, and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.  Why does he want to re-invent the wheel?

I’ve been using a n810 for a couple months now, and I absolutely LOVE it.  The ablility to tether to a bluetooth phone and use it for internet access is awesome.  It gives me cellular provider independence.  Change providers, change phones, but don’t have to change the Nokia Internet Tablet.  And the super-sharp screen is amazing.  The only problem I’ve had is finding someone to test the video calling with.  No one I know personally uses Skype or Gizmo.  So I’m stuck testing the VoIP audio alone.

Here is a picture of Gizmo5 running on my n810:

Gizmo5 on Nokia n810

I had to take it with my phone, then transfer it via bluetooth to the tablet, then email it to my desktop, because I get NO cell phone signal down here in the dungeon.  Still, it only took a few seconds to do.  I like Gizmo5 because it is a nice multi-protocol chat client, PLUS does the VoIP thing like Skype.  Video calls, callout to landlines, etc.

The tablet actually belongs to my employer.  I use it to VPN to the company network for administrative purposes.  I can remote desktop servers, workstations, unlock user accounts, etc.  The screen’s too small for complex stuff, but is fine for the majority of simple operations that I do on a nearly daily basis.  Throw in the fact that it’s an excellent ebook reader, email client, web surfer, and GPS, and you have the device that I have a hard time doing without.

It’s not without it’s flaws.  The user interface needs work.  It’s clunky in places.  The buttons in most programs (including the home screen and control panel) are too small for fingers.  And the built-in apps are spare to say the least.  Still, there’s a great developer community, and each iteration of the Nokia Internet Tablet (NIT) continues to improve.

So stop trying to re-invent an already incredible product.  Just go buy one!

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Science Fiction & Fantasy from Baen Books – Home Page

Science Fiction & Fantasy from Baen Books – Home Page

I’ve talked about Baen Books in passing before, but I thought I’d  devote a whole post to them.  Baen Books has been my favorite publisher for years.  Their stable of authors has included some of my all time favorite SciFi/Fantasy authors.  Mercedes Lackey, David Weber, and more recently John Ringo and others have kept me entertained for years.  Baen has always been a progressive publisher, but with the rise of ebooks, they’ve catapulted into readership stardom.  Check out what people are saying about them on Amazon.com…Link to Reviews.

The biggest thing about Baen Books’ ebooks that push them far ahead of all other publishers, is the fact their ebooks are released DRM-free, with no restrictions on who you can lend them to, or any other encumbrance.   Additionally, the ebooks cost LESS than the print version.  When I look on Amazon or other publisher sites, the ebooks always cost the same or MORE than the printed version of a book I’m wanting to buy.  What foolishness is this???  Ebooks are cheaper to distribute.  They shouldn’t cost MORE than a book that costs much more to make!  Also, Baen books pays higher royalties to authors for ebooks.  That’s right, they pay MORE to an author for a book that costs LESS to produce.  Of all current publishers, it appears that Baen is the only one being run by people with some common sense.

I’m a devoted reader of their ebooks, and in fact I own every current Webscription month.  I go to the local public library, and I still buy paper books, but every month, I pay $15, and get FOUR to SIX currently released novels.   Try to do that with Del Rey, Tor, or any other publisher.  Won’t happen.  With their ebooks priced at around $8 (the same price as a paperback), you’ll only get two for that price.  And they’ll be locked down to one device/computer, with DRM dripping from the seams.

All-in-all, Baen Books is my favorite publisher, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

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Amazon.com: Kindle: Amazon’s New Wireless Reading Device: Kindle Store

Amazon.com: Kindle: Amazon’s New Wireless Reading Device: Kindle Store

Kindle A nice product idea marred by absolute stupidity…

I want to love the Kindle.  Just as I wanted to love the Sony eReader.  But when I see what’s actually come out of Amazon’s labs, I want to scream.  Does anyone that designs these things actually have a real life and job?  Or do they all make a million dollars a year, and read NOTHING?   Every one of these “ereaders” that have hit the market the past couple of years have been long on gimmicks, and short on practicality.  It seems that no one wants to design an ereader for wide adoption.  Everything seems to only be designed for a niche market.

First, the positives (yes, there are a few):

  1.  It uses e-ink.  Like the Sony product, the Kindle uses e-ink (or as Amazon calls it, electronic paper).  This means long battery life, and much better contrast, for a better reading experience.  The best thing about e-paper is that it doesn’t use ANY power except to change the image.  So you can leave the device on for hours, and it won’t use any power until you turn the page.
  2. It has built-in EVDO.  This means you can download books and stuff directly to the device through the cell phone network.  Well, a proprietary part of it, anyway.
  3. It has a built-in keyboard.  Some may see this as a negative, but I think it’s a positive.

And, now the negatives (of which there are many):

  1. IT’S $400!  I think that’s the biggest downside.  This thing is way more expensive than it should be.  For widespread adoption, the price needs to fall in the $50-$100 range.  $400?   Only the real gadget geeks will buy it.  It MAY make money, but not a lot.  How can any device manufacturer hope to gain widespread use if you overprice your major markets?
  2.  The only wireless is EVDO.  This may be a positive, but it’s also a major negative.  Amazon, not everyone lives in an urban area.  Not all of us have EVDO access.  Some of us don’t even have good cell phone access.  Put a 802.11 g radio in there, for goodness sake!  Heck, they make T-SHIRTS with 802.11 receivers in them!
  3. No expandable storage options.  What?  No SD card slot?  What are you, Sony?  Put in a SD card slot for items we already have.  Of course, that would mean we’d have to have BOUGHT books, which leads into…
  4. DRM’d up the wazoo e-books.  Unreal.  Only one major publisher seems to get how e-books should work.   E-books should be CHEAPER than their print counterparts, due to reduced production costs.  Only Baen Books gets it.  And Amazon…good Lord, I don’t know what went through their heads, but it wasn’t intelligent thought.  Books cost as much if not more than their print counterparts.  You can’t lend them to other people.  You can’t even read them on other devices.
  5. It’s ugly, with bad ergonomics.  Not necessarily a deal-breaker, it’s nonetheless something to think about.  This device is clunky-looking, bland, and basically looks like it was designed by someone determined that they would NEVER use it.

I’m sorry, Amazon, but no matter how much I may WANT to like the Kindle, I don’t.  I might have given it a chance, but the price is out of reach for me, and I abhor your DRM scheme.  Thumbs down, way down.  If I’m going to spend $400, it’s not going to be on a uni-tasker like the Kindle, but something more like the Nokia n800, or the soon-to-be-released n810.  Now THERE’S something to spend your hard-earned salary on!

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