Vista

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First, let’s set the stage.  I first became aware of this issue—network slowdowns when playing multimedia files in Microsoft Windows Vista—when this article by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes at ZDNet popped up in one of my NetNewsWire subscriptions.  I read the article and found that I was apparently coming in on the middle of an ongoing story, so I read Mark Russinovich’s response to the slowdowns with Vista.  As usual, Mark’s work was concise, clear, very informative, and well-written.  Seeking more information, I then turned to an article by Larry Osterman (apparently a Microsoft multimedia developer) with more details on the issue.

Basically, the issue is this:  when playing a multimedia file under Windows Vista, network slowdown is intentionally throttled so as to allow the multimedia subsystem to have priority on the CPU, thus preventing any interference with the multimedia playback.  Granted, this is a gross simplification of the various issues; I encourage you to read Mark’s blog entry for complete and concise details.

Something about this just doesn’t seem right.  So you’re telling me that this next-generation operating system that took thousands of man-years of developer time and many millions of dollars to create has to throttle network traffic in order to ensure smooth multimedia playback?  You’ve got to be kidding me.

Now, before I could just assume that this is a Vista flaw (which I believe that it is), I felt like I had to do a little bit of additional research.  It didn’t take long to come across this article by Robert Love (author of Linux System Programming by O’Reilly and Linux Kernel Development by Novell Press) which makes it pretty clear that Linux doesn’t suffer from this sort of problem.  Any Mac OS X programmers care to verify for us if there are similar issues in OS X?

With stuff like this in Vista (but not in previous versions of Windows, such as Windows XP), is it any wonder why people are so hard on Microsoft?

Oh, yes, one other thing—if you’re already running Vista and being affected by this issue, check out this fix.

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Microsoft just can’t seem to shake off the perception in the industry that it will do whatever it takes to kill the competition, even if that includes unfairly leveraging a monopoly on the desktop OS market—an act which is criminal in nature and violates US anti-trust laws.  It was those laws that landed Microsoft in trouble for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows in an effort to kill Netscape.  (I’ll leave for another day the discussion of what is right and wrong for a company to do in a competitive marketplace.)

Now we see Microsoft doing it again:  limiting ways in which users can utilize functionality provided by competitor’s products and restricting customers to utilizing only Microsoft virtualization technologies.  VMware’s white paper on the subject lays out clearly the ways in which Microsoft is actively attempting to block competitor’s functionality and lock customers into Microsoft’s products only.  Sadly, I have to say I’m not too terribly surprised.  Neither is Alex Weeks of Virtual Infrastructure 411:

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. I said that Microsoft would find a way to unfairly restrict or cripple VMware.

John Troyer of the VMTN Blog really points out what an obvious ploy these recents moves are:

Do you think that when Viridian, Microsoft’s hypervisor, eventually comes out and has “live migration” that they’ll find a way to decouple licenses from physical hardware? That when Viridian can do the equivalent of DRS and HA, they’ll suddenly become advocates of putting your enterprise software in virtual resource pools for manageability and reliability? Funny how that works. It’s all bad for the consumer right now in 2007.

C’mon, Microsoft!  Have you learned nothing?  Compete on the basis of your products’ quality, not your marketshare!  Make the Windows Hypervisor the best virtualization platform out there and people will use it.  Why are VirtualPC and Virtual Server losing to VMware?  Because VMware’s products are better.  All you need to do to win is make the best product, and doing anything else—especially stuff like this—only makes your customers mistrust you.  That trust, once lost, is unbelievably hard to regain.

I know I said I’d leave the topic of right vs. wrong in a competitive situation for another day, but I do have to speak to one phrase I saw while reading the NY Times article on this issue:

“This seems to be a far more subtle, informed and polished form of competitive aggression than we’ve seen from Microsoft in the past,” said Andrew I. Gavil, a law professor at Howard University. “And Microsoft has no obligation to facilitate a competitor.”

Facilitate a competitor?  I don’t think VMware is asking Microsoft to facilitate them.  What VMware is asking is that Microsoft stop changing license policies in a way that specifically prohibits actions that were once allowed.  VMware wants Microsoft to stop saying that customers can only use Microsoft software with other Microsoft software, which is essentially what these EULA changes are doing.  That closed attitude, in my humble opinion, is what has helped drive Linux and the open source realm to its current level of adoption.

Personally, I hope that VMware does launch an anti-trust lawsuit (like Mary Jo Foley seems to think they might).  It’s wrong for Microsoft to use a monopoly in one market (desktop operating systems) to extend marketshare in a different market segment (virtualization).  I’d say the same for VMware or Apple or IBM if they tried to do the same thing.

What about you?  What do you think?

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Windows Defections

As expected, there are lots of comparisons between Mac OS X and Windows Vista.  This relatively recent article by Network Computing takes the two operating systems head-to-head; in most areas, Mac OS X takes the win.  These comparisons are fully to be expected, and I imagine there are as many pundits, experts, and analysts that claim Windows Vista is the best as there are that claim Mac OS X is the best.  It’s just another phase in the Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux holy wars.

What’s more interesting to me are the long-time Windows experts that are defecting the platform for the Macintosh, even as Microsoft is releasing the latest version of Windows—a version that is supposed to represent the next generation of usability and productivity.  Why is this happening?  Why, when Vista is now available, are Windows experts forsaking the platform?

The latest is Scot Finnie, who in this latest article states:

Bye-bye Windows! My three-month Macintosh trial has ended, but my permanent gig with the Mac is just getting started. Apple’s MacBook Pro and Mac OS X are now my computer and operating system of choice.

A while back, there were rumblings that a couple of high-profile defections from Mac OS X to Linux were “canaries in the Mac OS X and Red Hat coal mines” and that Apple should be worried.  When Mac OS X first started gaining ground, lots of “alpha geeks” adopted the platform; but, honestly, most of these were already UNIX-heads or Linux-heads to begin with, and I think they were really just looking for an alternative to Microsoft.  That is, people who were already inclined to a Unix-like platform were more likely to jump ship than those firmly entrenched in the Windows camp.

Now, though, we are seeing the Windows die-hards switching platforms.  This isn’t simply moving from one UNIX-like platform to a different UNIX-like platform.  Mac OS X is nothing like Windows, and switching from one platform to another is a pretty significant effort.  Clearly, there must be a reason why these long-time Windows users are switching.  These aren’t your average Windows users—these are Windows power users, users who have championed the Windows platform for years.  Now they’re switching to the Mac.

I find this very interesting.  I don’t know; maybe I’m just reading more into it than is really there.  But I can’t help thinking that this may be the start of a much larger trend.  When the Mac is winning marketshare from Windows at a time when Windows is supposed to be at its strongest, and when those switchers are the former champions of the Windows platform, there’s something more at play here.

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Cancel or Allow?

I know that no operating system is perfect, that every operating system and application has its security flaws, and that no vendor should be casting stones at another—you know, that whole “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks” thing.

Now, having said all that…this is just plain funny.

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Windows and OS X

There are lots of industry pundits out there proclaiming that the introduction of Boot Camp—Apple’s new beta application that simplifies and streamlines the installation of Windows XP (and presumably Windows Vista as well) on Intel-based Macs—is simply the first step in a complex scheme that will eventually culminate in something much bigger.  I’m not so sure about that.

The predictions range the whole gamut of possibilities.  Some are predicting that Apple will begin reselling Windows XP pre-loaded on its Intel-based Macs, much in the way that MacMall is now doing.  In this scenario, Apple differentiates itself from other x86 vendors in that it offers the only solution that will also run Mac OS X.  This is something that Dell won’t be able to do.

Others are predicting that Apple will implement a Win32-compatible API, such as Darwine, so that Mac OS X will become a “better Windows than Windows” (quotes mine).  Does anyone remember OS/2?  Towards the end of OS/2′s life, IBM started positioning OS/2 as a better way to run Windows applications than Windows.  Not too terribly long after that, OS/2 died.  Will Mac OS X follow the same fate?  No, there are too many differences between OS/2 and Mac OS X (and between IBM and Apple) to believe that these two technologically superior operating systems will take the same path.  However, I do believe that it would be a mistake for Apple to try to position Mac OS X as a better way to run Windows applications than Windows itself.  Microsoft’s “embrace and extend” philosophy rarely works against them, and often backfires.

The most likely approach involves virtualization.  Making it possible to run an instance of Windows under Mac OS X (using a hypervisor and built-in Intel VT technology), so that users can run those “legacy” Windows applications that don’t have a native Mac equivalent.  This makes the switch seamless and no risk.  (Note further that Boot Camp additionally reduces the risk of switching, since a user can go back to Windows whenever needed).

I could be way off here; it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.  What do you think?

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Vista Failures

I’ll have to say, this one came as a bit of a surprise to me.  Paul Thurrott, maintainer of the WinSuperSite and a longtime reporter of Microsoft and Windows (he’s the author of the WinInfo UPDATE newsletter that’s been out for years and years) has published an review of Windows Vista that outlines some of Vista’s significant failures.  He speaks honestly about Vista and how it will not meet the expectations that Microsoft is setting for the product.

That Thurrott is criticizing Microsoft and Vista is not the surprise; he’s disagreed with Microsoft on a number of areas and has made his feeling known before.  I have to say, though, that I was taken aback by some of the imagery and the comparisons he made in the article. For example:

Windows Vista, in other words, has been an utter disaster. And it’s not even out yet.

Well, that was putting it bluntly, to say the least.  But check out this comparison:

But we do not and should not expect to be promised the world, only to be given a warmed over copy of Mac OS X Tiger in return. Windows Vista is a disappointment. There is no way to sugarcoat that very real truth.

Comparing Vista to Mac OS X Tiger?  It’s not the first time, but what’s really telling is that he’s comparing a product which is not yet released and is not yet feature complete (Windows Vista) with a product that has been out for quite some time (Mac OS X Tiger).  In my mind, that’s quite a statement to make.  (Makes me wonder how “Leopard” will compare with Vista.)

Thurrott does maintain that he doesn’t hate Vista, and that Vista will deliver a few major updates and many minor updates that will make life easier and more secure for those Windows users who adopt it.  (That’s assuming you have hardware capable of supporting Vista, but that’s a different story entirely.)  But the fact that he speaks so honestly about what are clear failures in Windows Vista (WinFS, User Account Protection, Glass Windows, etc.) means that Microsoft has truly failed.  Not failed to deliver a viable product, but failed to deliver the product that it has been promising users for almost 6 years.

I strongly encourage everyone to read the entire article as well as see Thurrott’s other articles regarding Windows Vista.

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Even Microsoft Knows It

I hope Microsoft Vista is going to address the malware problem that is plaguing Windows users worldwide right now.  Even Microsoft knows it’s bad.  How bad?  Read on.

In this article from eWeek, Mike Danseglio, a program manager in the Security Solutions group at Microsoft, is quoted as saying:

“When you are dealing with rootkits and some advanced spyware programs, the only solution is to rebuild from scratch. In some cases, there really is no way to recover without nuking the systems from orbit…”

Doesn’t this say something?  If a program manager at Microsoft says what everybody else already knows, then even Microsoft has gotten to the point where they’re admitting that Windows has a problem.

This related article, published in early December 2005, notes that as much as 20% of all malware removed from Windows XP SP2 systems are considered stealth rootkits.  Considering that some of the Internet Explorer security flaws have allowed malware to be installed by simply visiting a web site, that’s pretty serious.

Microsoft has taken an excellent first step in Vista by making sure that the browser runs in a reduced-privileges environment.  Let’s hope they don’t stop there.

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Paul Thurrott, a longtime reporter on Microsoft and its products, wrote today in “Windows IT Pro UPDATE” (I couldn’t find a link to the article online) that Microsoft’s innovation in their upcoming products, Windows Vista and Office 2007, will lead to a decrease in productivity, not an increase.

The basis for his argument (a position with which I agree, personally) is that Microsoft’s innovation in both Windows Vista and Office 2007 will cause confusion and disorientation for experienced users in an effort to actually make things easier.  Vista’s much-touted Aero UI, while sporting oustanding visual effects, apparently makes it much more difficult to tell which window has the focus.  In an attempt to match the visual effects found in Mac OS X, Microsoft has made the UI more difficult and more confusing.

Likewise, the new “Ribbon” that replaces standard menu bars and toolbars in Office 2007 is a radical departure from the user interface that Microsoft introduced years ago in Office 95.  That interface has since been the model for the user interfaces in office suites such as WordPerfect Office (from Corel), OpenOffice (from OpenOffice.org), and StarOffice (from Sun).  Again, in the name of usability, Microsoft is creating an entirely new interface that will cause experienced users to be unable to perform tasks as easily and as quickly as with prior versions of the Microsoft Office suite.  In fact, it may be easier, as Paul suggests, to migrate to an entirely different suite (preserving a familiar UI) than upgrading to Office 2007.  Microsoft’s mantra with Office vs. other suites has always been cost of ownership and training; now they’ve created a situation in which their own marketing has convinced users to use their competitors’ products.

This situation highlights the difficulty that Microsoft currently faces—innovate and differentiate itself from the competitors, possibly alienating its own customers, or preserve compatibility and familiarity with previous versions and risk getting left behind.  It’s a very delicate balance.  In this situation, however, I think that Microsoft tipped the scales a little too far.

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Apparently, there are some rather heated arguments occurring in certain circles about the inability to boot Microsoft Windows Vista on the new Intel-based Macs (as a side note, I seriously do not like the term “Mactel,” so I’ll instead be referring to them as “Intel-based Macs”).  While I can see both sides of the debate, I personally feel that holding Apple to blame for not being able to run Windows is a bit of a stretch.

I reviewed portions of a rather lengthy thread in the comp.sys.mac.system Usenet newsgroup regarding this issue, and it basically comes down to the fact that (according to reports) Vista will only support EFI (Extensible Firmware Image) on 64-bit platforms.  Of course, the new MacBook Pro and iMac use EFI, but these are 32-bit platforms.  As a result, Vista won’t boot.  Also according to reports, adding BIOS support (to allow non-EFI-aware operating systems to run) is as simple as adding a module to EFI to emulate BIOS.  So, a number of people are holding Apple to blame for failing to load the BIOS emulation module in EFI on the Intel-based Macs, saying that it intentionally prevented Windows Vista from booting on the new Macs.

Well, I suppose you could put it that way.  Then again, Apple did say that they weren’t going to do anything to make sure that Windows ran on the new Intel-based Macs, nor were they going to support it on their hardware.  Is Apple intentionally preventing Vista from running on their hardware, or are they just doing what they said?

As to the argument that Apple is missing potential sales by not making the Intel-based Macs capable of booting Windows Vista, I can’t say that I agree with that one.  Yes, it might be possible to increase value for Apple shareholders by spending extra time and effort to make their hardware more compatible with Windows.  But why burden down your hardware with legacy technology that your own core products don’t really need?  Mac OS X doesn’t need BIOS support, so why add BIOS support to Mac hardware?  On the chance that you might gain marketshare via that small percentage of people who want to dual-boot Windows Vista?

If Apple really wants to increase marketshare, the fast, best, and cheapest option (in my opinion) involves promoting virtualization and emulation.  No, these aren’t conflicting directions.  First, support virtualization by promoting open source and commercial virtualization products, such as VMware, Q, and others.  (I’ve mentioned the use of virtualization to drive marketshare before.)  Second, support emulation of the Windows API via such projects as WINE and Darwine, which allow Windows applications to run on non-Windows operating systems.  Think about it:  If the only reason you want to boot Windows on your new Intel-based Mac is for a couple of applications that don’t have Macintosh equivalents, why install an entire OS?

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