Index Musings on computing MS Windows

Packages to avoid

Garbage software

AmiPro 3 for OS/2

I've lost more hours work with this than any other package. It's OK for small documents, but for large, heavily edited documents it's a disaster. Not only does it crash a lot, but many of the features simply do not work. We've all experienced "File import" features that do a dubious job. Well, AmiPro can barely read its OWN file format, for files that have had many hundreds of hours of editing.


I don't lose much work when Netscape crashes, but it does crash a lot. When it isn't crashing it tends to get stuck in a loop doing nothing but eating CPU cycles. I do wonder what the Netscape people do with all the GreatCircle debug information they receive. It doesn't seem as though the quality has been improved by the AOL takeover, either. They've added stupid things like the Instant Messager, but they can't get the basic quality right. I'm no fan of Microsoft, and I dislike their perversion of standards (Java and HTML). However, Internet Explorer seems to do a much better job than Netscape. People may whinge about Microsoft bundling IE, but I reckon that if Netscape were a markedly superior product, then they wouldn't have lost the enormous (60% ?) chunk of market share that they have.

The most recent versions of Netscape that I've been using (4.76 to 4.78 on Solaris Intel and SPARC) do seem to be getting a bit better. I took one look at Netscape 6.0 and instantly uninstalled it. Even slower than 4.x, and buggy as hell. Perhaps by the time 6.08 is out, it might be usable. The other member of the family, mozilla, does show some promise. However, I'm unconvinced that the "million monkeys" approach of the free software brigade is going to result in a 'killer' application. I have the impression that the bugs that are fixed are more or less balanced by the incomprehensible need to add new features (and introduce new bugs). See below for more on the same subject.

Update July 2004

For the past couple of years I've been using Mozilla (currently 1.7[.7]). Whilst I wouldn't say that it is exactly sleek, it has gotten a lot better. It doesn't crash very often, and the bugs aren't too noticeable. Each release usually has one or two things that I notice, but I can lie with them. On the rare occasions that I have to use Mircosoft IE, I find it very annoying to use, especially the lack of popup and advert blocking. I'd also add that I presume that Netscape 7 is also probably tolerable, as it's more or less based on the same code as Mozilla.

Oracle 8 for Solaris Intel Universal Installer

What does an installer do? Copies a load of files from one place to another, and does some configuration. There might be a bit more to it than that, but in essence, that's all. Certainly not rocket science. According to ps, the Oracle Installer uses approximately 120Mbytes when it is running. 120Mbytes in order to copy some files! Flaming heck! Incredible. It does do a few more things, admittedly, and it does them with extreme slowness (at least on a relatively RAM underpowered PC). It writes log files. It tries to work out how much space it needs, and how much is available, and it gets it completely wrong (it says it needs 1.01Gbytes for a standard install, in reality if you don't create any databases, it will install in about 600Mbytes. Of course, if you don't have 1.01G it repeatedly coughs up errors. There are a couple of times during the installation that it links libraries, and at these points, the linker can require 100Mbytes or more. I suspect that the trio of X, the linker and the bloated monster java installer combined are enough to bring even the speediest PC to its knees.

Macromedia Dumbware

Before I get a full head of steam, I should point out that my esteem of Flash is particularly lacking in height. It epitomises the low-brow point-and-drool side of the WWW. Comparing Flash to real content is like comparing a pop-up book to a real novel.

Back to the bashing. I loaded a web page that has some flash content. As there's no reader on this PC (at the moment running Solaris 8 Intel), it pointed me to the macromedia download page. Here it downloaded
"Macromedia Flash Player 4
Netscape Plug-in for Solaris
25 August 1999"
Oh-oh, no mention of either SPARC or x86. My stupidity detector pricked up. After following the installation instructions and rerunning Netscape I got some errors that it couldn't link to the library. So, I looked a bit more at the file:
$ file ELF 32-bit MSB dynamic lib SPARC Version 1, dynamically linked, not stripped
Duh! So the Macromedia web page proposes that Intel Solaris users download a flash player for SPARC Solaris. On top of that, the FAQ page says "Your OS is not supported", which makes asking questions difficult, let alone frequently. Double Duh!

Update July 2004

I believe that there is now a Flash player for Solaris x86. Not that I have the slightest intention of trying it.

Codename Fever

It seems to be highly fashionable these days for a software package to have a codename. For high profile products, the code name is often bandied about in the media. It's good (free) publicity for the producer, and it can smother sales of competing products, especially if the product manages to ship not so late that the hype can be maintained. It's a rule of thumb that if a software package has such a codename, it isn't going to be a very good product. The ultimate in the codename stakes seems to be Mozilla. Every last module and version seems to have a codename (Seamonkey, Gecko, Necko, ...). How soon will it be before there's a codename for each line of code?

And speaking of Mozilla, it seems as though Netscape have done their usual trick with Netscape 6. They've taken something that is too buggy to be fit for public use, and added a load of crap (AOL signup, Take5, Instant Messenger) that makes it even worse. The fact that the only real alternative is Microsoft Internet Exploder only heightens the tragedy of Netscape's shortcomings.

Windows 3.x, 9x and Me

Windows is in a league of its own so it deserves a page by itself.

Solaris fdisk, Intel platform

People moan about Microsoft imposing their "standards". They aren't the only ones. Sun have come up with an fdisk that does not treat partitions in the same way as the fdisk tools of all other OSes I have ever used (which I reckon is at least 5, if I count all versions of DOS/Windows as 1). This tool is certainly in the same league as large disk support extended partitions, Windows 2000 boot manager and Joliet. This has cheesed me off so much that I'm now writing my own Solaris fdisk tool.


They aren't strictly software, but they are strictly crap. I'm talking about the "Download Centers" (note the annoying American spelling) provided by Microsoft and Sun. I don't use them so much that their tedious nature is too annoying (like the Microsoft one that always has too look for the nearest server, but there's only ever one and it's always in the USA). What I do object to is that if they don't work (and I insist, the fault of not working is squarely with them, not me), then you're shafted. Not working usually means that they are inaccessible through a proxy, or they are accessible through a proxy, but you have a slow and unreliable connection, which forces you to use a crappy Windows download package, which of course, won't work with your proxy. Sun is probably the worse of the two, with their web site that is full of javascript and cookies. Sun's SDM does seem to work, in its java way. Copy/paste of the URL is a little tedious.

Good Stuff

Just to prove that I don't spend all my time carping and picking faults, here are things that I've found particularly good or impressive

Microsoft Encarta 2001 DVD

I'm never the first to sing the praises of the Beast of Redmond. I wasn't too enthusiastic when I saw the customised Internet Explorer user interface. The content and the excellent integration (links between articles, dictionary definitions, atlas...) seems to be very well done. I've also used the IBM World Book (not too bad, but it was the free version on a single CD, so it couldn't really compete with Encarta's content) and the Larousse Encyclopaedia (I suspect that the UI was written by a donkey, the UI is so atrocious that it's hard to tell whether the content is any good). Anyway, a big thumbs up for the Microsoft lads and lasses that produced Encarta.

Norton Ghost 2001

I was thinking of buying a DAT drive in order to be able to backup my computer without too much pain. The cost, though, was rather off-putting. I had been doing some backups using either cdrecord or Adaptec EZ-CD. These are OK for the occasional blundered file deletion. They're no use for those occasions when you say "oh <expletive>, that wasn't the partition I wanted to format" as there's always some key file that was exclusive write-locked. Ghost seems to be able to get around all that. Firstly, it boots from a floppy. Next, you can backup either a whole disk, or single partitions. You can save the partitions to a local disk, a network disk or to a CD-R(W). In the last case, you can make the CD bootable (so you can restore from the backup CD). It all seems to work like a charm. The really good thing about it was that it cost £40 instead of £400 for a DAT drive.

A couple of moans though. You can backup over a network, but only to a hard disk. In other words, you can't have a ghost client on one PC reading off the disk/partition to backup, and a ghost server on a 2nd. PC archiving to a CD-R(W).

I just bought a new CD-RW, and ghost plain and simple does not work with it. Symantec support say "the next release will support more drives" but they can't say which ones. Their web site listing supported drives is very out of date (16 months old as of July 2001).

Anyway, this has kind of pushed me into the arms of their competition. I've downloaded PowerQuest's DriveImage demo. First off, it detected that the partition table contained errors. Next, it seems to work a treat (it's writing to the CD-R as I type this). So, PowerQuest one, Symantec nil on that score. It does make me wonder whether the problem is really with Ghost, and it wasn't simply a problem with the partition table that Ghost couldn't cope with. These days, MMC-2 compliant CD recorders are pretty standard.

Update July 2004 Symantec have bought PowerQuest, so I guess that DriveImage's days are numbered. Later versions of ghost do seem to support more hardware (even DVD).

Copyright © Paul John Floyd 2002, 2004.

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