OS Blog: Windows, Linux Highlights From Around the Web

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In other PHP news, PHP 5 has moved from beta to "release candidate" status -- meaning it's "stable enough for everyone to start playing with," according to the official PHP Web site. However, it's not yet suggested for mission-critical apps. PHP 5 features revamped support for XML and a built-in SOAP extension so it works with Web services and a bunch more updates.

March 23

Carla Schroder looks at Linux kernel 2.6 and whether it's "primed for the enterprise." Conclusion: "2.6 rocks -- how's that for an executive summary?" she writes on earthweb.com. "This kernel is improved in every way -- for everything from PDAs and other wee embedded devices, to desktops and workstations, to high-demand servers. Improved multimedia, networking, journaling and distributed filesystems, RAID, LVM (Linux volume manager), more RAM, more users, more devices, and more speed...."

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You've gotta like the concept of a tech book that started out life as a tutorial for someone's Mom. Especially a book that aims to to be Linux for Non-Geeks, an alleged plain-English guide on how to set up and use Linux for basic, real-world tasks like e-mail and Web browsing.

(Aside: Slashdot had a highly amusing thread on the perils of doing free tech support for your family. Makes it easy to see why someone would be inspired to write a support manual for their mother.)

Based on the sample chapter posted by publisher No Starch Press, Linux for Non-Geeks is almost painfully true to its title: This book is definitely NOT meant for, say, Windows power users looking to move to open source. But if you're a Linux jock being peppered with queries from family or friends dabbling in the open-source OS, you might want to point them here.

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Speaking of books, BarnesandNoble.com's Dick Hartzell passed along its current OS best sellers this week. Topping the list: Windows XP For Dummies, followed by Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, Panther Edition, Microsoft Windows XP Inside Out (Deluxe Edition), The Mac OS X Conversion Kit: 9 to 10 Panther Side by Side and Wicked Cool Shell Scripts: 101 Scripts for Linux, Mac OS X, and UNIX Systems. I'm a big fan of shell scripting, and expect to get a review copy of the book soon so we can publish an excerpt.

March 22

Microsoft has released a beta version of XP Service Pack 2 - the one that may not work with some older applications (see story) -- called "Release Candidate 1." Unlike a lot of Microsoft beta software, SP2 RC1 isn't just available to "official" pre-approved beta testers; anyone can download a network install of this early SP2 version from the Microsoft Web site.

Microsoft has also posted a good deal of information about what's in SP2, including details about a slew of security enhancements (see story). SP2 also supports Bluetooth, the first time Microsoft offered direct support of the wireless technology within XP. Microsoft says it added the feature at customer request -- a statement perhaps meant to head off critics who say Microsoft's bundling of ever-more features within its OS is a misuse of its desktop OS monopoly.

PHP inventor Rasmus Lerdorf is keeping a blog of his latest cool gadgets called Rasmus' Toys. Recent purchases (and reviews): Philips DVD727 player, Linksys WRT54G ("a terrific generic Linux platform to run just about any networking code on") and Linksys WRT54G wireless gateways ("Linksys has released all the source to the Linux-based firmware. . . . People have taken this code and created their own customized firmware.")

March 17

Novell's Chris Stone opened the Open Source Business Conference yesterday with a blast at SCO, Gavin Clarke at ComputerWire reports. Stone also argued that open source will not destroy the software industry. "We spent money building the infrastructure but the value is in the services - identity, security and office," Stone told the conference.

March 16

HP may soon begin selling Linux PCs in Asia, according to numerous reports. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun business daily said HP will launch the non-Windows PCs in 12 markets, including China and Japan, by June for up to $360 less than comparable Windows-based systems, according to Reuters.

Update: Actually, HP has been selling PCs with Linux in Asia for almost a year, Tapei-based IDG News Service reporter Sumner Lemon informs me. The news service reported on this last July (see story). It's unclear why several media outlets suddenly picked up on this story as HP starting to sell Linux desktops in Asia. TurboLinux yesterday announced that HP will be selling Compaq desktop systems with its OS in 12 Asian countries, but that's not an HP Linux first in the region.

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The Open Source Business Conference kicks off tomorrow at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. I do love the event's ad line: "home of open-source capitalism." Speakers include Stanford University professor and popular tech blogger Lawrence Lessig, Novell vice chairman Chris Stone and O'Reilly & Associates founder and president Tim O'Reilly.

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Our sister publication PC World notes that you don't have to wait for Longhorn if you want the functionality of one cool feature in the works: a configurable panel offering easy access to lots of different information. Reviewer Scott Dunn suggests downloading freeware "Desktop Sidebar" for Windows XP -- a configurable panel that includes everything from time, e-mail and calendar to auto-updating news headlines, stock prices and weather reports.

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Close to one-quarter of IT professionals attending this year's Computerworld Premier 100 conference said Linux is replacing their Unix systems (see additional poll results; registration required). Twenty-three percent said Linux was a cost-effective, stable alternative while 15% said Unix systems have capabilities that Linux doesn't. The largest number, 45%, said Linux is moving into Unix shops but in a limited way, on the network's edge. Another 9% reported they're increasing their use of Unix. (An additional 9% opted for the smart-aleck "What's Linux?")

March 12

Although Microsoft's latest database incarnation, dubbed Yukon, will be delayed for at least six months (see story), that won't affect the planned release schedule for Microsoft's Longhorn, according to ENT News.

Why would a database affect a next-generation Windows release? "Longhorn also contains a storage technology, called Windows Future Storage, or WinFS, that is shared technology with the Yukon database," the ENT news explains. However, a Microsoft official told ENT that many of the shared technologies "are pretty much baked and done." So the Longhorn roadmap is on track for 2006 (at least for now). The company is currently mulling an interim Windows release before then (see story).

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I'm glad to see a security firm point out how ludicrous some of these "which is the safest OS?" stats are. Zone-h has posted graphics outlining the number of Web-server intrusions that show "Linux is at the moment far more attacked than Windows." The firm then concludes: "YOU SHOULD SEND ALL THIS ANALYSIS AND THESE GRAPHS [TO] /DEV/NULL."

Problem one: "Somebody might argue that the data should be re-evaluated and proportioned to the total amount of worldwide installations." Someone indeed (see earlier blog installment). In addition, many attacks are "at database or application level," regardless of OS.

"Don't trust anybody who is 'lecturing' about the inherent vulnerability of a particular Operating System," the firm concludes, a not-so-veiled swipe at competitor mi2g.

I wouldn't go that far -- some operating systems may be more inherently secure than others. What you shouldn't trust is statistics without context.

March 11

Microsoft did help steer $50 million of private investment SCO's way, Business Week is reporting this afternoon. BayStar capital managing partner Lawrence Goldfarb told Business Week that two Microsoft executives contacted him a couple of months before Baystar's investment in SCO, asking if he would be interested in such a move.

A leaked memo that surfaced recently stated just that, but SCO said the consultant who authored that e-mail was misinformed (see earlier blog item).

It appears not.

Update: You can see the IDG News Service story on this issue here on Computerworld.com.

For more on SCO's Linux Fight, see our special coverage page.

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The U.S. Army has ordered all National Guard and Reserve units to migrate from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 or newer operating systems by next year, according to Federal Computer Week. Army European Command announced that Quest Software Inc., based in Irvine, Calif., will help in the change over, including implementing Active Directory.

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Think open-source operating system, and chances are you think "Linux." But Linux magazine points out that there are several more established and mighty fine open-source OS alternatives out there, "including FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD, the commercial BSD/OS, and Apple's BSD-based MacOS X." Author Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols then goes on to take a detailed look at BSD, including several major derivatives and the strengths of each -- such as security and licensing. BSD is an attractive option for developers, he notes, in part because its licensing terms allow users to modify source code and keep the changes proprietary (i.e. just sell compiled code without releasing the source).

March 9

There's been lots of buzz recently about a leaked memo that appears to show Microsoft helped SCO bring in tens of millions of dollars from private investors.

You can see the memo at opensource.org (complete with lots of misspellings). SCO has acknowledged the memo is authentic but says the consultant involved in the discussion misunderstood what was going on, and in fact Microsoft wasn't raising money for the company (see story). That consultant, Mike Anderer, was working on a different project, and was told at the time the memo was wrong, a SCO spokesman told the IDG News Service.

It's certainly is possible that Anderer simply didn't know what he was talking about. Anyone who's worked with an inept consultant would admit that's plausible. But it is fair to wonder how a consultant would be so clueless as to send a memo to his client's CFO and a divisional vice president saying things like "Baystar is easy as they were just a Microsoft referral," if Microsoft had no role in suggesting Baystar invest in SCO. BayStar Capital invested $50 million in SCO last year.

Opensource.org notes that Anderer, CEO of S2 Strategic Consulting LLC, signed the independent contractor SEC filing between his company and SCO.

Microsoft-is-backing-SCO's-efforts-to-crush-Linux theorists already believe their suspicions were confirmed last year when Microsoft purchased some Unix licenses (see story). Skeptics wondered why Microsoft needed Unix licenses from SCO worth more than $10 million.

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This isn't exactly about "operating systems," but as a PHP fan, I can't help mentioning a new book on the language that's aimed specifically at large-scale corporate Web sites and applications: Advanced PHP Programming by George Schlossnagle (Sams Publishing). It's not just about adding more interactivity and personalization to Web pages; this book delves into hard-core enterprise development issues such as object-oriented programming, change control and "defensive coding." Schlossnagle is a contributor to the PHP project, has worked on the Apache module and served as senior architect for CommunityConnect, overseeing a system that handled more than 130 million dynamic PHP requests per day.

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O'Reilly has just published a $9.95 Linux Pocket Guide -- although at 200 pages, you probably need a fairly substantial pocket. The guide aims at getting up-to-speed on Fedora Linux, a Red Hat spinoff. O'Reilly says the book covers most-used commands, and is organized by function such as files and directories, shell and X windows.

You can see a couple of sample excerpts, on file properties and programming with shell scripts, on the O'Reilly Web site.

March 5

From the "Experts" Wonder Why Corporate IT Doesn't Always Immediately Apply the Latest Patches Dept: Some software apps may no longer work on Windows XP systems after Service Pack 2 is installed. "Microsoft has made something of a trade-off with the update, focusing on security improvements at the expense of backward compatibility," according to the IDG News Service.

"It may surprise some of the developers that we are changing some defaults, and that may affect the way some of the older applications run," Microsoft product manager Tony Goodhew told the IDG News Service. Some end users are likely to be surprised as well.

Microsoft is asking all developers to test their code against SP2 beta. Anyone interested in learning more about SP2 technical specs can head to Microsoft's Web site.

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"After a long gestation period -- and against all odds -- Linux is finally gaining a toehold in Microsoft's back yard, office desktop computing," says a recent story in Business Week (access online to subscribers only). "Linux is becoming a viable alternative to Windows on desktop and laptop PCs for companies willing to put up with the trouble of switching."

A surprising 43% of corporate purchasers told Merrill Lynch they'd consider replacing Windows desktops with Linux. "I had expected governments to be interested, but now it's on the radar of corporate chief information officers," says Merrill Lynch analyst Steven Milunovich of Merrill Lynch told Business Week.

Still, Linux is only expected to snare 6% of the desktop market by 2007, according to IDC. But that's still enough to capture the attention of a monopoly. "Clearly on edge, Microsoft is working overtime to protect its crown jewels," the article notes.

March 4
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