OS Blog: Windows, Linux Highlights From Around the Web

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"We believe that Microsoft's share of server units grew modestly in fiscal 2004, while Linux distributions rose slightly faster on an absolute basis," the company notes. "The increase in Linux distributions reflects some significant public announcements of support and adoption of open source software in both the server and desktop markets in the last year. To the extent open source software products gain increasing market acceptance, sales of our products may decline, which could result in a reduction in our revenue and operating margins."

There's nothing in there about the software market that would surprise anyone in IT, although Microsoft's admission that its revenue and profit margins might decline due to open-source is interesting. Then again, this could be akin to a political campaign's attempts to dampen pre-debate anticipation on how well the candidate will perform, even though they fully expect their guy to blow the other one out of the water. Hard to say.

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Sybase announced a "free enterprise-class database for both development and production purposes -- Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) Express Edition for Linux." The software will allow "enterprises, the developer community, and small businesses ... to build, test and deploy new applications with no license fee," Sybase says.

September 2

Financial Services Bureau COCC is migrating "several of its mission-critical applications from Microsoft Windows to Linux to improve security and reduce administration time," vendor Novell boasts in a recent press release. COCC provides IT services to 125 banks and credit unions, servicing about 6,000 workstations and 500 ATMs. Novell claims COCC cut its hardware costs and administration time by "more than 40%."

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Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) is hosting its first Enterprise Linux Summit, Jan. 31 - Feb. 2 in Burlingame, Calif. Featured speakers include Linux creator Linus Torvalds, well-known Linux kernel contributor Andrew Morton and Apache co-founder Brian Behlendorf.

August 31

OK, I'm forcing myself to move on and look at some other topics in addition to XP SP2 ... such as Microsoft's announcement late last Friday that it won't include the planned WinFS data-management infrastructure in Longhorn OS when it first ships (see story).

Instead, WinFS should be in beta test when the Longhorn client, the next-generation Windows operating system, is released sometime in 2006.

"Longhorn without the plumbing?" is the title of O'Reilly author Preston Gralla's article on the change. Still, Gralla says, "I'd prefer that Microsoft set aggressive technology goals, and then be forced by market forces to reign them in, than that it be complacent about new technology and be content to merely fix Windows at the edges ... let's just hope that the new file system eventually makes it in our direction."

"While the WinFS delay may be a loss, the promise to offer key Longhorn technologies for current operating systems and a commitment to deliver Longhorn in 2006 are important gains, analysts and users said," according to the IDG News Service.

That very well may be, although if this was an overall positive, I'd expect Microsoft to time the announcement differently, instead of a Friday afternoon -- too late for any of the major enterprise IT weeklies to get a story in this Monday's issues.

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"Microsoft has upgraded the operating system for Tablet PCs," BetaNews reports. "Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 offers a redesigned input panel, in-place correction, better integration with Office System, and wireless improvements."

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Just 4% of Unix users and 10% of Windows users "have any desire to switch platforms," according to a new report from the Yankee Group.

The survey is based on interviews with two dozen IT managers and "c-level executives" (CFOs, CEOs, etc.). A Yankee spokesman says this was not funded by any outside vendor.

This study concludes that "no operating system is right for everyone," and "advises corporations to delay a Linux migration -- or any software migration -- until they can satisfactorily answer how a software operating system migration, upgrade or wholesale switch to another platform can deliver tangible technology benefits, better return on investment (ROI) and improve the total cost of ownership (TCO)."

In other words: Don't migrate for migration's sake. Kind of hard to argue with that.

August 27

Only two of 30 IT managers interviewed by a Computerworld reporter this week said their companies have deployed SP2 -- "and in both cases, they did so as part of Microsoft early-adopter programs," according to an article running on the front page of our Aug. 30 edition. "The vast majority said they're still testing SP2. . . Thirteen of the 25 respondents who now have at least some XP in their desktop environments indicated that they would wait until next year or that they hadn't even considered a date when they expect to start rolling out SP2."

In our completely unscientific QuickPoll this past week, 11% of about 700 respondents said they've installed SP2 problem free, 5.5% said they've installed it with minor problems and 4% with major problems. Another 27.5% said they plan an installation "soon," while 34% are delaying as long as possible (18% aren't running XP).

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Meanwhile, British security firm mi2g Intelligence Unit claims that "hundreds" of companies, academic institutions and government agencies that have either installed or are testing XP SP2 "are reporting problems with their security software suites in the last 48 hours. This is a serious problem because some firewalls, antivirus tool kits, intrusion detection systems and anti-spam filters appear to be malfunctioning in a serious way."

The company says versions of BitDefender, BlackICE and ZoneAlarm are encountering problems, as well as some antivirus software from Kaspersky and Symantec, among others.

"SP2 no longer appears to be a 'silver bullet' patch or another critical update to CIOs, it is clearly a new operating system with major backward compatibility issues when it comes to existing security software and applications," mi2g chairman DK Matai said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

However, the Symantec Web site says, "Installing Service Pack 2 will not affect Norton AntiVirus. The Windows Security Center will be aware that you have Norton AntiVirus installed, but it will not be able to determine its working status due to Symantec's tamper-protection technology." A Symantec spokesman said he'd check into mi2g claims of problems, but hadn't immediately heard of any.

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A spokesman for Dantz, which makes Retrospect network backup software, writes in to emphasize the importance of doing a full backup before rolling out something like SP2. She also points out Dantz's support article on running Retrospect with SP2, which seems to advise that it's easiest to just disable the firewall that comes with SP2. However, the article does offer step-by-step instructions on how to run the software with the XP SP2 firewall still enabled, since that's what Microsoft recommends.

August 26

Microsoft has published an application compatibility guide for XP SP2, which you can download free from the company's Web site. ... except it's not simply a text file, but in MSI file format -- "actually little databases laid out in a structured storage file," according to a blog on the Microsoft Developer's Network. So, in order to read the XP SP2 compatibility guide, you've got to install this little Microsoft database on your system.

If you do want to do the MSI install, the guide "discusses the security technologies, an application testing process, incompatibility symptoms, mitigation techniques, and deployment scenarios" for Service Pack 2.

August 20

"Microsoft Windows XP's service pack 2 (SP2) may go along way to improving the security of the operating system, but the ease with which it grants users administrator access is still a concern for network managers," notes our sister publication, Computerworld Australia.

"Engineers Australia CIO, David Pruss, said SP2 'still can't save users from their own stupidity.

"'[SP2] continues to grant people 'administrator' access to a computer. One mistake can take down the entire machine,' Pruss said. . . .

"Having standardized on Windows XP Corporate Edition as its primary desktop over the past three months, Engineers Australia has downloaded SP2 and will quarantine it before it's installed in production."

Meanwhile, researchers say they've found two security holes in the service pack (see story).

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Linux creator Linus Torvalds tells Business Week that he's not worried about Microsoft trying to kill off its open-source competitor with intellectual property suits: "I think their mode of operation isn't through the legal system. I think they hate lawyers more than most companies. They've been on the receiving end."

Torvalds also sees the contrast between open-source and proprietary software as akin to "science vs. witchcraft. In science, the whole system builds on people looking at other people's results and building on top of them. In witchcraft, somebody had a small secret and guarded it -- but never allowed others to really understand it and build on it."

August 17

If you're wondering exactly WHICH of your applications might go flakey if you upgrade to Windows XP Service Pack 2, Microsoft has compiled a working list of such software, under the rather neutral header Programs that may behave differently in Windows XP Service Pack 2. However, the list doesn't explain what behavior is different, instead advising users to "Contact the software manufacturer or vendor for more specific details."

There's also a more specific list of programs that "seem to stop working" with SP2 because the built-in firewall blocks needed port connections. The solution is to open the ports manually.

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O'Reilly, publisher of the Linux Pocket Guide, is offering a free PDF download of what Guide author Daniel J. Barrett considers most useful Linux commands.

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Parts of the Internet community are already deriding reports that the London Borough of Newham is staying with Microsoft instead of opting for open-source because the Microsoft software is cheaper.

"[W]hen the announcement was made at a press conference in the UK that Newham, a borough of London, had just decided not to go open source after all and instead to sign on with Microsoft because their software was cheaper than open source and more secure, the room spontaneously burst out laughing," says a posting on Groklaw.

Officials said it will cost 68% less to migrate from NT to newer Microsoft software than going open source, according to an "independent study ... conducted by professional services firm CapGemini," Computerweekly.com reports. But while "CapGemini makes a big noise about being independent from Microsoft, the study was indeed funded by the software firm," says The Register.

August 12

Not ready for Windows XP Service Pack 2 just yet? Microsoft has posted what it calls a "mechanism" by which users can block automated download and upgrade of SP2 for up to four months -- an acknowledgement that many companies want time to test first in order to uncover potential problems with their installed applications. The SP2 blocker can be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site.

Microsoft is limiting the time the blocker works in order to ensure all users eventually download SP2, which it considers an "essential security update."

August 10

Microsoft released Windows XP Service Pack 2 to manufacturing last week (see story), although it's still unclear when end users will get the upgrade via Windows Update. Microsoft plans to pace automated updates so as not to choke the Internet (the full XP SP is 265MB, although the company estimates many users will only get about 100 MB of that if they've done interim upgrades).

Microsoft's official information for IT professionals about XP SP 2 is here.

Many corporations probably won't install it immediately, though, as Microsoft has warned developers it could break old applications (see story). "Just this week, for example, the company disclosed that a version of its customer-relationship management software for businesses won't run properly after installing the service pack without also installing special updates and manually changing the configuration of the software," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes.

Most organizations will want to conduct some testing first before deploying SP2 across their networks. IBM, for one, advised employees not to install it right away (see story).

So far, it seems there are reports of some small glitches bubbling up around the Web.

"I work with a CRM finance program named Made2Manage. We were informed by them that this service pack breaks the connection between them and SQL. We have heard the same thing from another software vendor for a SQL based e-mail system," said one Slashdot poster. "So be warned. If you are running third party SQL based software this service pack may break it."

And, The Inquirer says they've heard of problems with SP2 for machines with the ZoneAlarm firewall installed.

In a fairly detailed review of the upgrade, Associated Press found that some antivirus software will need to be updated in order to communicate with XP SP2.

Service Pack 2 "makes some aspects of Windows use significantly less convenient -- but a lot safer," writes Stephen H. Wildstrom for BusinessWeek.com. Many major changes involve Internet Explorer. There's a new version of IE just for XP SP2, and Wildstrom says it "behaves very differently," adding a number of security features aimed at blocking unsafe downloads.

The Mozilla Foundation issued a statement today criticizing Microsoft for offering enhanced browser security only for up-to-date XP users. The group also noted that its Firefox open-source browser had features like built-in pop-up blocking (new in IE for XP) two years ago.

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