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