Something's been bothering me...

I've heard a lot of people recently refer to Windows 7 as a service pack for Vista. I didn't really think this fair, particularly as the same criticism is often made of Mac OSX releases. However, after using it for some time (only because I get paid to, not for fun or anything), I'm starting to come around to this idea.

Without going into the whole Mac OSX release schedule, and what counts as an upgrade and what is a service pack, I'm beginning to realise that, at least with respect to the UI, Windows 7 is not really much different from Vista. It has the same version of the Start Menu and task bar, it has Aero, has a few extra interface features (Shake a window to hide others? Who is actually going to be able to do that reliably enough to use it?), and otherwise, looks just like Vista. So, is it just "Vista done right"?

I'm not convinced there, either. Vista's chief problems seemed to be the change in the security model, with the Windows Firewall, and particularly UAC. Maybe I'm looking at it from too much of an enterprise perspective, but that is where I use Windows, in a large enterprise, and part of my job is doing the sort of thing UAC tries to stop, without UAC trying to stop it. Vista's security model was a significant factor in our organisation not upgrading. (The others were a lack of funding, and the fact that everyone else was avoiding it.) It was just going to be too much effort to bypass all of the bits and pieces we needed to so that we could install software and/or hardware without bothering our users. So we made a decision to wait for the next version.

This is quite different to our move to XP. That started out as a plan to move to Windows 2000, and a lot of work was done to prepare for that. When it was changed to XP, most of the work was already done, the only difference was the client operating system.

The problem is that we abandoned all the work (which was not much) that had been done on Vista before Windows 7 was available (because of the funding problems), so we hadn't been able to work out many of the issues prior to our current plans for Windows 7. (And, now we're rushing through it for a number of reasons, including the fact that our OS has fallen significantly behind our hardware.)

In any case, my point, and I do mean to get back to it, is that Windows 7 might actually be a service pack release for Vista, but I don't think it counts as Vista "done right". At least not from an enterprise perspective, and shouldn't Microsoft be more concerned about their enterprise clients? Especially if they're going to give us 7 different versions of Windows including Business and Enterprise?

Recent telephonic developments

I just lost a brilliant diatribe on Copy and Paste on the iPhone, thanks to the network authentication at the National Library, which is a load of crap. Auto save said it had saved the drafts, but apparently it didn't.

In any case, my point was that Copy and Paste, and also background applications, were difficult due to Apple's attempts to prevent memory overflows or protection faults from being a vector for viruses or other nefarious purposes. This seems to have eluded most people, who have been complaining about how they "need" these things.

Be that as it may, I am more interested in the potential for tethering that the new iPhone OS provides. I am constantly frustrated that I am not able to make the most effective use of my 3G data allowance because of what seem to be QoS restrictions put in place by AT&T. Very few podcasts, for example, are less than 10MB, so this limit makes the ability to download them directly to the iPhone less than useful. (Being able to "Refresh" a podcast feed from the iPod application would be even better, but one step at a time.) It is possible that my local carrier has placed similar restrictions on the network, but I've not heard anything from them about it.

In any case, I look forward to being able to use the tethering feature, unless of course my provider doesn't let me. While Virgin Mobile is a wholly owned subsidiary of Optus (itself owned by SingTel), there is a warning that such use of a mobile phone may violate the Fair Use Policy (under the clause that prohibits using the service with a device that automatically retrieves data or something, it's not entirely clear). Plus, Virgin Mobile have not yet updated their website with any information about the iPhone 3G S (I'm also interested in what they might say about upgrades, although I'm still not sure if I want to bother; I'm sure I could use 32GB, and the new camera sounds good, but I could just wait to upgrade at the end of my current contract instead). Of course, if they do allow it, there's the matter of whether it will be an additional cost, or whether I will be able to just use my existing data allowance with it.

In closing, I'll just quickly go back over the comments I made about the Pre before they were lost. I don't want the Pre to fail, unlike some people. Although I don't expect to ever use one, myself, I do see a place for it. Then again, I think there's still a place for a normal "phone" phone, which doesn't have a camera, or play media, or do any of the ridiculous number of things that the iPhone, the Pre, Android, or Windows Mobile allow you to do. Conversely, I also see a place for a device that does all of that, but doesn't necessarily make phone calls. I hardly ever call anyone on my phone, but I'd be lost without SMS, e-mail, web browsing, and an IRC client.

This was a lot better when it had my 600 word diatribe about memory protection and security in it. Damn you Wordpress! Damn you to Hell!

Who is he, and what is he on about?

Where I work, we get this interesting little tech newsletter called Computer Daily News. The most interesting thing about it is that it seems to be put together by someone working out of their garage. It has no web presence to speak of, and the contact e-mail account is the editor’s personal e-mail from a service provider. The best explanation for this is that it is a subscription service, and the editor wants to avoid having people just read it from the website for free. (And he clearly has no idea or interest to set up a website with the appropriate restrictions.)

The newsletter is not necessarily the greatest source of tech news, but it does give more coverage to local events and news, which is probably why my work subscribes to it.

However an odd note turned up in relation to their speculation on the anticipated Apple tablet device.

New iPad a goer, says Powell

SYDNEY – Apple's handheld reader/media pad – reported to be nearing release after the design was worked on by CEO Steve Jobs while on sick leave (CDN yesterday), definitely exists, says CDN special reporter Gareth Powell who adds he's seen, and held, a prototype.

CDN had noted a Business Week report that said the device – larger than an iPod Touch or Kindle, but smaller than a notebook – would be called the "iPad", and reckoned they were probably guessing.

Writes Powell: "They may well be, but it exists already in prototype as I have had one in my hands. Think Newton only larger. I think it a certainty – it will kill the Sony market and hammer the Kindle market -- and I want one. For the record, I read Hornblower and the Hotspur on a demo version inside a factory where they were ironing out the bugs of making it in quantity.

"Which is well down the line from concept but well away from certainty of launching. But mate, it does exist, and I will be the very first customer. And possibly the very first Australian/Welsh user."

Now Gareth Powell is something of a bete noir of many in IT in Australia. This gives some background on it. Or you can try looking up the FAQ for aus.flame.gareth-powell. I was somewhat alarmed when I found out that he wrote for CDN regularly, but kept reading it and just tried not to take his contributions too seriously. This aside, there are a number of interesting things about this report.

Firstly, Gareth Powell, despite being a “Technology” “Journalist”, has no discernible web presence, like CDN itself. He has a column in The Australian’s IT section, but that’s it. There is a web site for a Gareth L. Powell, but he’s a British Science Fiction novellist. This absence from the tubes makes it hard to verify anything he’s said.

Secondly, how did Gareth get access to a prototype device from Apple. He was well known for his dislike of Apple back in the day, and he’s a barely recognisable writer from Australia. Was the factory he used it in Sydney? Singapore? China? San Francisco? Cupertino? Which Apple employee is to blame?

Thirdly, what the hell is he (and David Frith, editor of CDN) doing violating a Non-Disclosure Agreement? He’s unlikely to get further access to equipment from anyone, if he goes blabbing his mouth off at the drop of a hat. An experienced journalist should know better than to bite the hand that feeds him information. If he didn’t sign an NDA, we’re back to how he got access. Was he visiting a plant in China that has been making the units for Apple? And isn’t blabbing about what he’s seen putting his source at risk?

Finally, where is the other coverage of this story? I personally forwarded it to AppleInsider and CNET (including the contact information for CDN), and have heard nothing back. Neither has either of them used it. I suppose without a website to link to, it might be difficult for a modern organisation to credit such a rumour. Or it could be that they are all in the know on the device but have signed NDAs and are honouring them. Or it could be a well-known fake that’s been doing the rounds, and I (and probably Powell as well) have been suckered. Be nice to get some acknowledgement that they got the e-mail, though. Maybe they didn’t get the e-mail, in which case they need to update their contact information.

In any case, I hope Gareth is right about the device, although it sounds exactly like what I wanted before I got my iPhone. (Hell, I still want it, but I won’t be buying it before my iPhone contract is up, or if my MacBook dies.)


Macworld, CES, VMWare Fusion, and Windows 7

Of course, the big news this week has been the two huge tradeshows. The last Apple attended Macworld, and the first post-Gates CES. The big question is: Was the Phil-note better than the Monkeynote?

In previous years, I have attempted to watch both the Steve-note and the Bill Gates Keynote. Usually, the difference was clear. Steve has on-stage presence which Bill doesn't. Plus, in 2007, everyone was agog over the iPhone, while watching Bill demonstrate a Windows Bus Stop was hardly thrilling. (It's a bus stop! And it runs Windows!)

I dare say if Steve had given the keynote at Macworld, he would have clearly given a better presentation than Ballmer could hope to. (Or is that my bias showing? Maybe it is.) But it was not to be a battle of the Steves. Perhaps Steve was worried about being compared to Monkey-boy. Maybe he felt that Apple didn't have the product to compare with news on Windows 7. Or perhaps he was, as they said, ill and just not up to it this week. (Although, in a bit over a week I expect to see him on stage at Cupertino. Probably wanted to conserve his strength.)

Anyway, I haven't actually watched either keynote (although I have seen the edited highlights), and I will thus reserve final judgement until I finally get around to it. I'm in no rush. I often feel that you should actually be at a keynote, or at least watching live to make it worthwhile. If it's actually going to be worthwhile. I regret I will never have been to a live Steve-note, and will never get the chance now (unless I maybe get to WWDC, but I'm not actually a developer, so not much point in spending the money).

Anyway, what I did do as a direct result of the announcement at one of the keynotes, was download a copy of VMWare Fusion and install the Windows 7 beta on my iMac. As an IT Professional, I have some experience installing copies of Windows on PCs, even Virtual PCs. I have to say that Microsoft have been (slowly) getting better at the OS install process. Windows 95 was horrid. You had to sit there and constantly reassure it and pick things from menus, then wait for it to fall over, reboot and recover. (Well, we did because of a hardware issue with our PCs, but it was still a pain.) XP wasn't nearly as bad. (I don't remember 2000 much, and never had anything to do with 98 or ME.) It seemed with XP they'd finally realised that you could collect all the information up front, then let the user go away for a bit. Plus we started using disk images to deploy instead of having to run Setup every time.

The Windows 7 install, as it now stands, seems to be fairly straightforward. It possibly ran slower than normal since I was installing on a virtual machine with limited resources, but it ran without much interference on my part. And what I've seen of it so far looks to be an improvement on Vista.

Anyway, it's getting late, and I need to work in the morning. I wish to examine the whole Windows upgrade paths and installation issues thing further. Maybe I'll remember to do that soon-ish.

And now the end is near...

Final day of MS TechEd. Last night's party was, perhaps, a failed effort. Unless free beer and wine appeals to you, I suppose. (It wasn't all bad, but I think some of the acts were lost on the audience.)

Last night was more interesting from the viewpoint within my own organisation. Some of the topics discussed at the bar afterwards, to my mind, showed up typical biases between the various branches of the organisation.

But, as for the conference, it continues. Not many interesting sessions today, so hopefully I'll get a bit of wandering done.