I just spent a few days at the Embed­ded Lin­ux Con­fer­ence. I get that it’s prob­a­bly one of the largest com­mu­ni­ties of desk­top Lin­ux users assem­bled any­where, but I am sur­prised to see that Microsoft-bash­ing is still a thing.

The fact is–and I don’t know how they’re doing it–Microsoft is fir­ing on all cylin­ders these days. Win­dows 10 is actu­al­ly real­ly nice, to the point where it feels like a sub­tly col­or­ful, human-cen­tric breath of fresh air next to Mac OS X. They are increas­ing­ly embrac­ing open stan­dards, inter­op­er­abil­i­ty, and open source in sur­pris­ing ways, while Apple and Google move the oth­er direc­tion.

Mean­while, Lin­ux as a desk­top is still pret­ty ter­ri­ble in 2016 for all but con­sole-dri­ven pro­gram­mers. (I say this as a seri­ous user of the Lin­ux com­mand line.)

April 6, 2016 April 6, 2016 computers by Scott No Comments

I don’t like web­mail, but desk­top mail clients have real­ly lagged behind their online coun­ter­parts (e.g. Gmail). Desk­top mail, in the­o­ry, should be faster, more respon­sive, and more use­ful when the net­work is down.

With­in the last few weeks, Post­box final­ly fixed the main bug that was pre­vent­ing me from using it. (Pre­vi­ous­ly, large image attach­ments would extend off the screen instead of being dynam­i­cal­ly re-sized to fit.) It’s pret­ty great and full-fea­tured, but I’m not real­ly using it yet.

Post­box has some strong com­pe­ti­tion from Air­mail, which is more attrac­tive and is being devel­oped at 50x the pace in Italy. But it’s bug­gy.

I still don’t use Mail.app.

I used to con­duct my e-mail in Mutt. Those were pret­ty awe­some days. I wish I could go back.

June 8, 2014 June 8, 2014 computers by Scott 3 Comments

I was sur­prised to notice this morn­ing that my com­put­er had received its very own IPv6 address. Some­time in the last cou­ple of weeks, Com­cast final­ly enabled IPv6 in my neigh­bor­hood and [mirac­u­lous­ly] my home router was con­fig­ured to run with it.

IPv6 has been around for 15 years, but for rea­sons I can­not divine, the Com­casts of the world decid­ed to wait until the IPv4 pool was exhaust­ed before start­ing to deploy it.

In any event, here’s to the end of NAT. Time to secure your com­put­ers!

May 6, 2014 May 6, 2014 computers by Scott No Comments

Keyboard on desk

They key­board on my Mac lap­top has nice keys–they got that part right–but the over­all design is a human-fac­tors night­mare. One’s wrists rest on a cold, flat alu­minum sur­face and a too-sharp met­al edge cuts against the band of your wrist­watch.

The typ­ing expe­ri­ence on Mac­book lap­tops has made me pine for my old Thinkpad. If only Leno­vo built lap­tops with dis­play qual­i­ty, bat­tery life, and per­for­mance that were in the same league as Apple’s.

I don’t usu­al­ly plug prod­ucts here, but this one is pret­ty great: the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonom­ic key­board. I’m still on the fence about the bizarre-look­ing mouse that’s bun­dled with it (though I con­cede it’s pret­ty com­fort­able). But the key­board is amaz­ing and com­fort­able beyond my imag­i­na­tion. I appre­ci­ate the clever use of mag­nets for the bat­tery doors and the height-rais­ing stand (pre­sum­ably includ­ed for the ben­e­fit of stand­ing-desk peo­ple). It is also pret­ty easy on the eyes. Glad I tried it!

Note to Microsoft: why don’t you sell this prod­uct in your Microsoft stores?

November 10, 2013 November 10, 2013 computers by Scott 1 Comment

I real­ly wish Gmail wouldn’t obscure the dif­fer­ence between the To: and Cc: fields of my e-mail mes­sages. This is most annoy­ing at work, because I like to dis­tin­guish the pri­ma­ry recip­i­ents of my mes­sages (peo­ple who must take action) from peo­ple who were copied for infor­ma­tion­al pur­pos­es.

E-mail wasn’t meant to resem­ble instant mes­sag­ing.

January 8, 2013 January 8, 2013 computers by Scott 3 Comments

Tru64 UNIX screenshot

Last week­end I retired my trusty old Dig­i­tal AlphaS­ta­tion 200 4/233. When it was intro­duced in 1994 (retail price: $15,595 with UNIX and a 1 GB hard dri­ve), it was one of the first 64-bit com­put­ers intend­ed for desk­top use. At that time, a 90 MHz Pen­tium was con­sid­ered top-of-the-line for desk­top com­put­ing, and this suck­er was scream­ing at 233 MHz! When I bought one sec­ond­hand from a co-work­er for $200 in 1999, it was still a rea­son­ably fast machine.

At some point, I out­fit­ted it with a 9 GB Ultra2 LVD SCSI dri­ve and it became my pri­ma­ry work­sta­tion. I briefly ran Lin­ux on it, but soon dis­cov­ered that Tru64 UNIX not only ran more reliably—in fact, it nev­er crashed once—but that it con­tained some inter­est­ing secu­ri­ty, clus­ter­ing, and filesys­tem capa­bil­i­ties that were way ahead of their time.

I have always had a soft spot for the DEC Alpha archi­tec­ture. I am a big fan of ele­gance and sim­plic­i­ty in engi­neer­ing. Which made me a RISC per­son. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, DEC’s engi­neer­ing didn’t real­ly sur­vive the sequen­tial acqui­si­tions by Com­paq and then HP. And even­tu­al­ly the mar­ket proved two things: that ulti­mate­ly, nobody cares how ele­gant a proces­sor design is, and that nobody can out-spend Intel on inno­va­tion. Thus the Alpha took its place on history’s long list of tech­no­log­i­cal­ly supe­ri­or alter­na­tives that got left behind.

Some time around 2003 or 2004, I start­ed using an SGI O2 for a desk­top machine (anoth­er fla­vor of retro-tech!), rel­e­gat­ing the Alphas­ta­tion to a cor­ner to live a qui­et life as a Web serv­er. There it ran for anoth­er 6 or 7 years. I moved most of my impor­tant files (includ­ing this Web site) to a more mod­ern PC sev­er­al years ago, but it took me until this year to final­ly tran­si­tion the Alphastation’s last duties to oth­er servers.

I sold my-com­put­er on eBay this week for a whop­ping $382, which, even fac­tor­ing in infla­tion, rep­re­sents a sol­id prof­it. How many of your com­put­ers have appre­ci­at­ed in val­ue over time?

I shipped it off to Texas this morn­ing. So long, my-com­put­er. It’s been a good 11 years.

November 12, 2010 November 12, 2010 computers by Scott 5 Comments