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Losing my MS Mojo just a little bit more

Despite my well know dislike of Microsoft Operating systems, strategies and most Microsoft products, there are a few that I am traditionally quite fond of.

Microsoft Excel has always been the best spreadsheet around - it's even slightly more warm and fuzzy due to the fact that it's roots are in Exel Macintosh v1.0 (which one of my friends at TramTown has in a still-shrink-wrapped box).

Microsoft Word has also been one of my long time favourite Microsoft applications. Many large documents have been effectively managed since Macintosh MS Word 4 (which was in around 1990 I think). I even didn't mind Word 6 on DOS. Macintosh Word 5 was a real winner because I could use the equation editor instead of the old school ./ equation commands in earlier versions (who else remembers those?!)

I don't write too many documents in word any more. I'm either composing text in Emacs or laying out complex pages in various Adobe products. On the odd occasions that I do myself, or help my wife, I am disgusted by how hard it is to do things that had such good user interface in Mac version 5. Mac version 5 was the high point. Subsequent to that, Microsoft merged their Mac and windows Office code base and released code that ran on their own virtual pcode machine. Needless to say, most of the inspiration came from the Windows Office, even though it was way behind in features and useability.

I do need to deal with Word documents though, and I don't like Open Office. Open Office is like the worst parts of MS Office without the good parts.

I was therefore very happy to discover that there is a MacOS native version of Abiword. ( http://www.abiword.com/ ). It's user interface reminds me a lot of Mac Word 5 - simple menus, clear (and large) toolbars with only genuinely commonly used tools. Some modern conveniences like inline spell checking is also welcome. I do still miss the customisable menus of Word 5, and non-typeable style and font drop-downs are a sore point. It doesn't support Applescript, but it does have it's own plugin api and some form of scripting support. According to top, it's using about 30 Mb of ram. A lot more than Word 5 (which used about 2Mb from memory), but not bad for a modern app.

So - what MS Applications do you have a soft spot for, and are they as good as they used to be or better? If you're weening off them, what do you use instead?

Please, be my guests and comment away!

02:10 AM, 30 May 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (2)

iCon, uCon, we all Con!

To anyone who hasn't noticed, Steve Jobs is the re-discovered 'new cool' when it comes to high tech personalities.

Of course that means there's money to be made in publishing articles and books about him personally. Recently, a new biographical book titled iCon has been launched amid controversy. Form my understanding, the main controversy has been about the title - Steve didn't like it, John Wiley & Sons (publishers) refused to change it - Apple removed all Wiley published books from the shelves of their stores - Wiley got more publicity than it could have hoped for.

Nothing too new about that sequence of events, but Alan Deutschman, the author of another recent biography of Jobs, is claiming that vast swathes of iCon seem to come straight from his work. Now biographies are necessarily going to be similar - they are semi-factual representations of the same event - but Deutschman points to almost sentance by sentance similarities.

Whoever is on the con, the article itself is interesting:

The tight fist clenched around Apple

PS: Two Steve Jobs related posts in a row - that's some kind of blog record!

02:38 AM, 23 May 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Scary - I'm more like Steve Jobs than I thought. Juat ask my friends about my philosophy on washing machines and other whitegoods!

08:28 AM, 19 May 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (1)

Longhorn arrives with a whimper [blogs.law.harvard.edu]

Happy thoughts about Microsoft Longhorn from Philip Greenspun. I would add that developers actually are smarter (well, better equipped) than in the early 1990s - look at how good BeOS became with so few developers and so little time. It actually did have some innovations in core functionality like the file system.

Come on Microsoft, and Apple for that matter.

Oh yes - frequent readers will be surprised - I can find fault with Apple as well! While I LOVE having MacOS X based on Unix, it would not have been necessary had MacOS 8 worked (the real MacOS 8 - ie. Copland). Mmmm, OpenDoc...

And of course no-one would be using Unix at all if Apple and IBM had have actually pulled off Pink aka Taligent... sigh. At least my fonts are anti-aliased under X.org ...

08:48 AM, 18 May 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Faster than a hunted fox, more powerful than a raging fire

I had to build a new linux box on the weekend as I was worried that the random crashes of my beloved SGI workstation were caused by something sinister like dying ram or disks.

Luckily I had a spare motherboard lying around (thank's Julian), unfortunately I only had a celeron processor. I also had to do some nifty soldering work to attach the right pentium power connector to the power supply ;)

I took the opportunity to install Fedora Core 3 - my first ever post-redhat installation. And I must say I am very impressed.

But of course I had to create a whole new set of settings. Thankfully I keep my emacs configuration in CVS, so that's most of my environment set up! I was lucky that the day after I installed, Firefox 1.0.4 hit the main Fedora repositary and was updated by up2date. I wanted to share with you some absolute essentials to a lovely firefox experience.

First is speed. I used to be disappointed that IE was always faster than Firefox, but not with the sweet performance tweaks I researched (see the recent links tab to your left). For your reference, I settled on the following changes in about:config ...

firefox
network.dns.disableIPv6: true
network.http.pipelining: true
network.http.pipelining.maxrequests: 8

I also can no longer live without Pimpzilla ;)

I was soon frustrated by the lack of standard unix keyboard shortcuts (ie. emacs/bash keys). I mean, MacOS X has them ... if one of the world's leaders in UI thinks they are ok, then why on earth would a primarily unix distribution disable them! They are the one consistent set of keys I can use on every platform (except windows). Fortunately you can still revert gnome/gtk applications to real unix behaviour. Run gconf-editor and navigate to the desktop/gnome/interface key (if gconf-editor makes you feel dirty, you've spent too long in regedt32 ;) and set it to "Emacs" (no quotes). The change is immediate - not even any need to restart applications which is quite amazing.

07:56 AM, 18 May 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

On Quality [perlmonks.org]

Simple post with links to some core Extreme Programming concepts.

I used to think that my coding days would be numbered, but the art of software development becomes more intriguing the deeper you go.

My favourite new concept is Aspect Oriented Programming:

http://www2.parc.com/csl/projects/aop/

07:41 PM, 11 May 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

A History of the GUI [arstechnica.com]

Covering Englebart, Xerox Parc through to BeOS and MacOS X, this is a nicely written casual introdution to some of the history behind the GUI computer metaphors still used today. Including (somewhat unsatisfactory in the case of Bush) introductions to two of my all time favourite scientist/engineers, Vanevar Bush and Douglas Englebart.

If you have any involvement in the IT industry and names like Douglas Englebart and Xerox Parc mean nothing to you, you really *must* read this article.

Despite all my prior knowledge, I learnt some new tidbits from the arstechnica article. For instance: "The author of Bravo [the original Xerox Alto word processor program -- Mark], Charles Simonyi, would eventually join Microsoft and recreate his work as the original Word for DOS.

Addendum:

If you, like me, are fascinated by Bush's amazing foresight and innovation, From Memex to Hypertext: Vanevar Bush and the Mind's Machine is an amazing (albeit dry) read. It includes Douglas Englebart's letter to Vannevar Bush "On Human Effectiveness". No-one titles letters like that any more!

Addendum 2:

I have spotted a number of minor incorrect facts and anecdotes in the arstechnica article, so don't believe everything you read. It is notoriously hard to get some of those historical facts especially as sometimes the well known involved parties often have conflicting memories themselves.

10:50 AM, 10 May 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Buffet and Munger on real estate, the economy and the auto industry

Tough talking from Berkshire Hathaway (when you're that successful you can afford to have a bad website). Link from Philip Greenspun.

On the US trade defecit:

It seems to me that a $618 billion trade deficit, rich as we are, strong as this country is, well, something will have to happen that will change that. Most economists will still say some kind of soft landing is possible. I don't know what a soft landing is exactly, in how the numbers come down softly from levels like these....

On the American auto industry:

Some people seem to think there's no trouble just because it hasn't happened yet. If you jump out the window at the 42nd floor and you're still doing fine as you pass the 27th floor, that doesn't mean you don't have a serious problem. I would want to address the problem right now.

On the real estate bubble:

Buffett to Munger: "What do you think the end will be?"
Munger: "Bad."

On the NYSE's merger with (electronic exchange) Archipelago:

I think we have lost our way when people like the [board of] governors and the CEO of the NYSE fail to realize they have a duty to the rest of us to act as exemplars. You do not want your first-grade school teacher to be fornicating on the floor or drinking alcohol in the closet and, similarly, you do not want your stock exchange to be setting the wrong moral example.

With investment guru's talking like this, it might be time to buy gold bullion!

10:31 AM, 10 May 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

My Beta tolerance is back

I used to be a lover of beta software - the fresher the better. I fondly remember being a beta tester of some Mac Utilities including a virtual desktop package.

I have grown far more pragmatic in my old age, and now only put up with Beta versions of the following software:

  • Software I am developing (hard to avoid)
  • Open source projects where I am either an involved developer or at least intimately familiar with the internals and don't mind getting into the code.
  • But egged on by the fact that current development builds of firefox have built in SVG (like I'll ever need that) and that my pre-1.0 firefox is way out of date, I downloaded and installed (to a different directory) the latest nightly build of firefox (for linux) onto my (relatively out of date) redhat 9 box.

    Rarely are you rewarded by beta versions with greater speed, but it is noticeably much faster. Even on my PIII sgi, firefox is starting to approach the speed of Internet Explorer (ducks).

    I'll let you know how stable it is and how the nightly build of thunderbird are go.

    Update: I can't actually *start* firefox now, but if I run the installer every time (about 40 seconds), it automatically starts firefox for me ;) It's quirky, but installing and launching together is still faster than launching my Firefox 1.0!!

    Oh, and the occasional segfault...

08:36 AM, 03 May 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Tufte on powerpoint

I was looking through some old draft blog entries, and came across this collection of links that are interesting. Tufte on powerpoint is interesting enough:

Powerpoint makes you dumb -- [nytimes.com]

Edward Tufte : The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint -- [edwardtufte.com]

But his site runs AOLServer on linux server that hasn't been rebooted for nearly 400 days! Unfortunately linux uptime wraps at 497 (only the number - it doesn't randomly crash after 497 days, unlike the infamous Windows 95 and 98 bug that cause EVERY Win 95/98 box to crash after exactly 49 days, 17 hours, 2 minutes and 47.296 seconds of continuous operation - if you could keep it up that long ;)

http://uptime.netcraft.com/up/graph?site=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.edwardtufte.com%2F

08:34 AM, 03 May 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

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