31 March 2005

Quote: On "DOS vs. Windows"

Norman L DeForest posted this response to considerations of "DOS vs. Windows" in the alt.comp.virus newsgroup today...

>The difference:

>DOS takes you between ten minutes and an hour to learn how to get it
>to do something. Windows takes weeks to learn how to get Windows to
>stop doing what you don't want it to do.

30 March 2005

Tip: New use for Bart's PE

Users of Windows XP may be familiar with Bart's PE, which is a free utility that builds a bootable CDR that can operate as a maintenance OS for stricken XP systems.

Like CDR-booted Linux, a Bart's PE CDR can support USB sticks, but only as long as they are present when the CDR boots up. It won't detect a USB stick inserted mid-session.

A less-obvious use of a Bart's PE CDR is as a means of trasferring material between older versions of Windows with poor native support for USB sticks, and such sticks. For example, let's say you carry around your latest updates and anti-malware tools on a USB stick, but are confronted with a Win98 PC in the field. Either you don't have your USB stick's driver CD-ROM with you, or you don't want to pollute that PC with drivers for a device it will never see again.

So you can insert the USB stick, then boot that PC off Bart's PE CDR. Using that OS's native support for USB sticks, you can do the transfers that way.

Today's links for Win98 / IE 6 users:



I may have more on the issue referred to in the first link in a day or few!

Today's remembered music albums are a beautifully depressing pair: Lou Reed's "Berlin", which I regard as a singular achievement that puts him up in the firmament even if he did nothing else, and Nico's "The End". Though what we played at tonight's Bridge was an album by The Mediaeval Baebes, as no-one felt like getting depressed :-)

29 March 2005

Wish: Telephone Messaging on XP

Telephone messaging seems to be the creature the world forgot - something that many of us need, but which isn't done very well. In fact, I'm still using Win98SE in deference to the crusty old Bitware 3.03 bundleware that seems the best of a bad lot.

Traditionally, this software has always been served up as bundled with the modem, so there's not a lot of incentive to create a killer phone app. I'd settle for being able to manage more than 100 messages without falling over, and the ability to seek, pause and play from arbitrary points in the message, much as one does with .WAV or .MP3 files; that doesn't seem too much to ask, given that some phone messaging apps already save the messages as .WAV files?

I wish MS would come up with something here... then again, if anyone knows of something in this line (preferably free), do let me know!

Today's fun link: http://www.dilbert.com

Today's fondly-remembered band: Jayne County and the Electric Chairs. Famous as Wayne County in the punk era for shockers like "Toilet Love", folks had wandered away by the time thier third album came out - which is a pity, because that one was a keeper.

25 March 2005

New web site content

A wish for Windows (all interactive settings dialogs to have a Manage button from which these settings can be imported/exported as a .REG), some photo-laden hardware maintenance topics, and the start of what will be the "Gallery of Contentious Assertions".

Today's biopsy to
Google: "draped across the piano with some surprise"

Today's fun link: http://topicdrift.blogspot.com

Please MS, can we have LESS?

My curious colleagues over in the pro-IT world ask for "less" all the time; less new features in Service Packs, less things left for the "managed" user to play with, and so on. Here's what I'd like less of, and I suspect I'll have supporters in both home and pro camps on these:

Less scrolling!

That means, make every dialog resizable and it would be nice to either start with a sensible size (Win9x era hint: Find often finds more than 5 items) or remember the size the user sets. XP has several badly-sized fixed dialogs, e.g. the one that lists detected hardware driver choices; you can't see whether "Fast-o-matic SVGA FT-5000 Series 1.04.00..." is "...05 Beta Do Not Use", "...04 Win98SE", "...04 XP" or "...04 XP Brazillian Portugese". Join the dots on what happens next.

Less underfootware!

Trust me: Unless your software lays golden eggs every 10 minutes, I do NOT want it running all the time underfoot. In fact, I'd prolly want to set that golden-egg-lating software to lay 100 eggs an hour between 03:00 and 06:00, thanks. And yes, this definitely means no background indexing; we hated it when it was called Find Fast as inflicted by MS Office, and I don't expect we'll like it any more if it's embedded as an OS or post-FATxx file system "feature" either. And if that indexing service autoruns dropped malware via some exploit, we will hate it all the more.

Less wastage of screen space!

A program isn't easier to use just because the dummy buttons are 200 pixels high. Screen area is a performance resource, just like RAM or HD; please don't squander it on rubbish! We don't buy big monitors and run them just to have everything take up as much space as they did a few years ago at 640 x 480; we either want to see more stuff, or we have to run things larger (low res on big glass) because our eyesight is the limiting factor.

Less functionality!

Testing has to start at the projectorware phase of development, like this:

Dev1: "We need to enrich email with bold, italics, colors, funny fonts..."
Dev2: "Hey, HTML does all that! Just pass it over to MSHTML.DLL"
Tester: "Are you mad? HTML also autoruns scripts and active content!"

Guess which team member missed that presentation...

Today's fun link:


Today's fondly-remembered band: Frankie Goes To Hollywood. A biopsy to Google on:

"...put them outside, but remember to tag them first for identification purposes"

23 March 2005

Copying files around

A good 80% of what I do - including data recovery - is copy files around. Pretty basic stuff for an OS, but I find Windows isn't as good at this as you'd expect it to be! Imagine how much nicer Windows would be if you could:
  • Drop a sick HD into a system, knowing it would be safe from the risk of Windows automatically trying to "fix" it, write to it (e.g. new SR subtree) or automatically handle material on it (risk of malware infecting the host)?
  • Do a bulk file operation and leave it unattended, without having to click through ad-hoc prompts for each of read-only, is-executable, system-file, etc. e.g. if you could pre-set those responses in a single dialog at the start?
  • Trust what you see to be directly connected to file system reality - names not "editorialized" a la name space, file sizes that don't vary when the same material is copied from one hard drive to another, a Properties that shows actual file names including 8.3, etc.?
  • Trust the OS to handle disk errors gracefully, without locking up, bogging down in retry loops, or trying to "fix" at-risk material on the fly?
Here's how I'd try to deliver the above...
  1. When a new HD is first discovered, and before anything is done with it, pop up a dialog that checkboxes whether the user wants to; integrate the HD into the system (enables SR if HD is not read-only), allow writes, and trust content. The last is required before any auto-handling of content (\Autorun.inf, desktop.ini, indexing services, persistent handlers, display intrafile icons etc.) is enabled.
  2. Add a new "Fast / Safe List View" that is is the fastest and safest way to list large numbers of directory entries in a given window size - perfect for bulk copy operations. This would have no (x,y) icon position info bloat (like existing List View), but also; no waiting for icons or other persistent handlers, no malware risks from these, and no problems with content lookahead bogging down on bad sectors. This view would be the default in Safe Mode and where the initial dialog box had marked a volume not to be integrated into the system, and/or to be considered unsafe for auto-content handling.
  3. Show actual file info as part of Properties of a file (or, in Fast / Safe List View, as tooltip), i.e. the raw info from the classic dir entry, with no metadata or content processing. LFN and 8.3 name (yes, there are times when you need both), path, size in bytes, etc.
  4. New confirmation dialog that pops up which checkboxes responses to read-only, is executable (hint: .DLLs are important parts of programs too), is system file, already exists and is newer, already exists and is older, etc. Resist the urge to make these "sticky" for future file operations (dangerous). Button to this dialog from the in-progress dialog, and from the initial "are you sure you want to delete?" dialog for deletions, where a "recycle bin" checkbox is also present.
If all of the above were in place, one could use Windows itself to do more tasks that currently require a mOS (maintenance Operating System).

21 March 2005

Meta: How to find what

I reckon I'll be doing this blog thing, but it may be a mix of stuff; mostly PC related, but not entirely so. I'll do PC stuff in black, self-referential "meta" stuff in grey, and more general-interest stuff in brown. I've also been getting into wiki, and wikipedia in particular. I'm likely to try out prospective web topics here, before migrating them to my main site. I do assert authorship rights over what I'll post here :-)

20 March 2005

Captain's Log, Day Zero

There may or may not be any further content here - too early to tell :-)