Cougar is Coming

I’ve applied to be a beta tester on the next version of SBS, codenamed "Cougar".  There’s been a buzz about Cougar, and Eric Ligman writes about What is going to be in "Cougar?"

Read the whole post, but two things to know about Cougar:

  • Cougar will be 64-bit.  This is required by Exchange 2007 which is 64-bit only
  • ISA Server will not be included in SBS.  Eric doesn’t mention this, but this has made the rounds in the SBS blogosphere for the past year.

64-bit machines aren’t going to be a problem.  I am already running 64-bit on both my home machines.  By the time we plan a new server at SATV in a year, we will be buying 64-bit, and most likely a quad-core machine at that, assuming there are no eight-core CPU’s in the meantime!

What is going to hurt some is losing ISA.  ISA Server is the best security software I’ve ever used.  I can understand what MS is doing though–they need to balance capabilities versus ease of integration.  ISA is a very hard piece of software to  coexist with (and on) the SBS domain controller.

The logging features of ISA are beyond compare and I will miss them.  But I’ve only once ever been asked to mine the logs for questionable web access, and I’ve almost never had to do log analysis.  I, and a lot of other small business IT professionals, just don’t have the time to see who is banging on port 11345 for two hours on a Sunday morning.  (I used to have ISA page me for port scans.  That didn’t last long.)  ISA has wonderful reports, but I never read them!

I expect to be able to live without ISA one way or another, by using the firewall features of our broadband router, or by using m0n0wall, or something of that sort.  But it is something SBS shops need to be aware of as you look towards Cougar.


Webcasts and SATV


[SATV studios, before the Haunted Happenings Parade]

SATV gets a mention in a Boston Globe article in the North local section of Sunday’s paper:

Salem Access Television is currently offering some limited on-demand programming on its website, said its executive director, Sal Russo.

The organization plans to expand that feature next year, when it has completed computerizing its cablecast playback operation, and to eventually offer Web streaming, he said.

"The initial reason to do it is to make your programming more available to your community members who cannot watch it when it’s on the channels," because of their schedules, Russo said. "But the ultimate benefit is that anyone can see it once it’s available on the Web, which is a good thing."

I’ve written about our cablecast operation before.  We’ve done experiments with live streaming, the most recent being the Haunted Happenings parade, but we’ve never been able to offer this full-time.

There is a lot of material we could air over the web if we had the means to do so.  Right now, we’re using for live programming, after looking all over for a streaming provider we could afford.  I want to put the Salem Commission on Disabliities meetings online and am trying to move things forward with the city on that goal.

We have Windows Media Services on our SBS box.  It works great.  We just don’t have the bandwidth to self-host our operations.  (Per usual best practices, our web site is hosted at a third party.)

For us, and most other access facilities, we can only move in baby steps as our funding permits.  I’m not comfortable relying on a Web 2.0 provider like Ustream, but that’s the best we can do.  The facility in Newburyport uses so we’re not alone.

Our engineer is supposed to arrive to start construction on the new cablecast in January.  I have promised to be the first to take a sledgehammer to the old, and fervently hated, wooden cabinets.

Original article:  Webcasts bring local access cable TV shows to the world – The Boston Globe

[Crossposted to A Salem Blog]

Well, this bites!

My SBS box is down!  In the immortal words of Duke Nukem, "Well, this s—ks!"

All due to a $3 piece of plastic!

The clip on the CPU heatsink retainer broke violently on Sunday sometime between the 4th quarter of the Patriots game and the 1st inning of the Red Sox game.  (Hey, I’m a Boston sports fan through and through!)  I heard the snap but didn’t realize what had happened until the system overheated and shut down.  Even then, I didn’t know what happened until after I rebooted the system, noted the high temperatures, shut it down and found the heatsink was loose. 

Though this heatsink retainer is standard and works with the stock AMD CPU coolers I use, it is a surprisingly hard item to find.  Tyan would not send me a new one, so I ended up getting one from an eBay merchant and am waiting by the mailbox for it.

Unfortunately, I use the server to stream police scanner audio, and tonight is Halloween so I have to scramble for a replacement.  I miss my server!  At least Vista works great offline without a domain.

Palm’s Sneakwrap Warranty

Ed Foster’s latest Gripelog is about my "favorite" product, the Palm.  A reader of Ed’s bought a Tungsten E2 for his mom, and soon after he bought it, unknown to him, the digitizer broke.  The E2 is a $200 product.  The warranty was for just 90 days.  Of course it was after day 91 that it broke.  The real problem is that Palm "hid" the warranty information in a small slip of paper in the box.

It’s hopeless to think that a user is going to be able to test a modern PDA out thoroughly for 90 days and find everything that went wrong with it.  A nightmare of mine, which has happened to me before, is buying a device, using it and not realizing a function is broken on it until I need to use it.  After Day 91.  ("You mean it’s not supposed to do that!?" or "It should have done that!")

I’m convinced the customer is really supposed to say, "Oh well, $200 down the hole.  It’s only credit!  I’ll buy another!"  (That certainly works for Apple!)

A friend of mine bought a refurbed Palm T3.  Normally, I like buying refurbs, and I figured he got a good deal.  But it was a lemon that never worked properly from the start.  He’s been cursing Palm ever since.

Contrast with my iPaq.  My model was obviously a display model and much beat upon for several years before I got it.  It’s probably the same age as my Palm Tungsten E.

The iPaq is in much better condition for its age.  Its power button isn’t broken, unlike my Palm, and I’ve never had to worry about its digitizer.  I’m not a fan of HP in general but they have more or less perfected the PDA.

What of Palm, the originator of the PDA?  Well, what about them?

Source:  Ed Foster’s Gripelog || Palm’s Sneakwrap Warranty

Resolved: nVidia NIC problems with Realtek HD audio in Vista

I’ve written before about my nVidia NIC problems and I’ve tentatively fixed things:  the nVidia NIC driver and the Realtek HD chipset driver apparently have a conflict, resolved by an update of both the NIC driver and the Realtek driver.

Here’s the background:  I have an MSI K9N Neo-F Athlon 64 motherboard.  This board has an nVidia chipset, the 550 series.  Like almost all nVidia boards, it has an onboard NIC, in this case a gigabit NIC.  It also has a Realtek HD audio chipset, which is important to the story.  nVidia doesn’t bundle any particular audio chipset with its chips, so the problem is very dependent on what audio chip goes on the motherboard.  MSI uses Realtek for this and many of its AMD-based boards.

In Vista Business, I was able to use the NIC with the Vista drivers "out of the box", the ones included in Vista itself.  I wanted to get new Vista drivers.   But ever since I’ve had Vista, I could never get the nVidia-provided NIC drivers to work.   The network connection would be disabled, and the only way I could restore my network was to roll back to the original driver included in Vista.  

The (then-new) driver would only work in safe mode with networking.  This tipped me off that perhaps there was a conflict with another driver, probably audio since sound is not on in safe mode.

When the system was run normally, Device Manager reported that the NIC was working, meaning just that the driver loaded and started without error.  But when I tried to change settings such as duplex, or when I tried to roll back to the previous driver, the system would hang.  This also implied a conflict of some kind.

I ran many tests with various combinations of drivers.  I had suspected the audio driver from the start, but I was never able to conclusively prove that.  The NIC driver would sometimes work properly with the audio driver and sometimes not.

nVidia drivers have had frustrating, well-known, teething problems under Vista.  Their RAID drivers did not work out of the box, and their other drivers were not well-performing.  The nVidia disk drivers that came with Vista weren’t optimized at all, and between crashes, were not especially fast.

(My video card is an nVidia product as well, but it’s not been a factor at all in my driver troubles.  nVidia did resolve their disk driver problems and eventually, they published a very good driver on Windows Update that fixed my disk problems, after I had to swap a cable.)

My NIC problems persisted, even after I swapped the network cable for a new one and replaced my 10/100 switch that makes up my network with a Zyxel gigabit switch.

I had had to update my audio drivers;  I was running the driver that came with Vista and couldn’t get it to recognize my line input.  I regularly feed the audio from my various ham radios to do things like decode packet and RTTY through my sound card.  I got the latest driver from Realtek, all went well.

Later on, I did my usual routine check through Windows Update to get updates that weren’t on my WSUS server (my SBS box), and noted a new NIC driver. 

I was expecting the worst.  Windows Update drivers have had a bad reputation for installing themselves on servers, through inattentive sysadmins who leave automatic-update settings at their defaults, and then dying horribly.  I was so not looking forward to a system down situation, but I knew my computer well and knew I could get it running again if I had to.

I installed the NIC driver and it worked.  Power down, power up, still worked!  Powered down and turned off the power supply, turned it on and powered up:  still worked. 

It’s been three days and no problems noted.  I conclude that my problem must have resolved itself.  I’ll never know for sure, but I believe there may have been a race condition between the NIC driver and the Realtek when the system was booted and both devices were initialized.

With all the anti-Vista memes running around out of control, I’m very happy to close the book on this problem on a positive note!

Digital TV Transition Gains Speed

According to a report in Betanews, Best Buy is phasing out old analog NTSC sets.  The transition to digital is getting well underway.  The analog shutoff date is February 2009, and it appears to be a firm date that may prompt other retailers to set their own dates.

It reminds me of when Circuit City stopped selling prerecorded VHS movies.  To this day, though, Wal-Mart still sells VHS movies, albeit discounted. 

BetaNews | Best Buy Sells Its Last Analog TV Set

Why SATV doesn’t use Linux, Part 2

Continuing my rant on Linux, with a few more of Wolfe’s points and some of my own:

Disclaimer:  Salem Access Television has no institutional opinion on Linux, and neither does its staff, board or membership.

3. You can’t make money on the operating system

Wolfe quotes from an article from by Con Zymaris, How To Make Money from Open Source,

Marketing your offering
What does it take for your product to get noticed? Obviously, by using open source attributes when marketing your product: Market the fact that you give your customers the complete source code to the system; market the fact that the code does not have a use-by date or sunset clause. If you and your business collectively fall under a bus, your customers can continue to use and have third parties provide ongoing support. Leverage the fact that local business and government consumers are risk averse, and that you, unlike a group of coders in Iceland or Brazil who produced the original codebase, can indemnify your customers using your professional and product liability insurance; market the fact that you are local or regional and can provide same time zone business support.

By commercial support, I mean commercial support. Charge the customers $200 per hour for it, but make sure you deliver the goods. You should also play the perpetual code escrow card. Many potential customers of vertical business applications need to be guaranteed that they will not be left stranded when deploying a new line of business system.

OK, say we do get a Linux-based solution in our field, and we get code escrow for our Linux-based app and our consultant happily forks (changes) the code.  And he is run over by a bus?

Then we have to find some other consultant in our field.  Neither I nor SATV have the resources to maintain the code ourselves;  it is not our business.

How is this really different from proprietary code?  At $200 per hour? 

SATV pays for its software;  we don’t get it from Bittorrent and we do expect to incur licensing and support costs.  But we are a small nonprofit with an equally small budget to match.  When a product costs us that much to have supported, I must be discerning and look carefully at the TCO just as much for open-source products as for proprietary.

The meme around open source is that support is "special" and doesn’t need to be considered just because it is open source.  Open source software is subject to the same "laws" and market forces as proprietary software and no amount of ideology can change that in my mind.

There are other points that Wolfe and his commenters touched upon that I want to address:

"Well, you can subsitute <y> for <x> in Linux!"

The Linux community often hypes substitutes for proprietary software.  "You can run Open Office instead of Office!"  "The GIMP instead of Photoshop!"  "Run WINE to emulate your Windows apps!"

In my other life, I’ve designed graphics for broadcast at SATV for 12 years.  I’ve used The GIMP for 9 of those years.  I loved it.

Today, I’m all but ready to dump it and get Photoshop or at least Photoshop Elements.  There have never been a large number of GIMP users, and while the GIMP team has served me well for 9 years, I’m missing the potential of Photoshop.  All those Photoshop techniques that I can’t adapt to the GIMP have caught up with me.  I’ve been using the same techniques as an artist that I used 10 years ago and I hate it.  Tools are very important to creatives;  for example, Final Cut Pro will not make you a brilliant videographer, but if you’re merely a good videographer, iMovie will only get in your way.  The GIMP is in my way. 

I don’t look forward to having to budget even for Photoshop Elements but I don’t feel I have a choice.  Elsewhere at SATV, I tried to make GIMP our standard, but at the time it integrated poorly with Windows and I couldn’t get the staff to be comfortable with it.  We bought Paint Shop Pro.  It cost us, but at least our staff could get work done without tinkering.

Linux application Y is not like Windows application X.  At best, it can be a very good usable copy.  At worst, it can be an unusable knockoff.

And WINE?  Sure.  I’m going to add another unknown abstraction layer to our software.  I might use WINE if I loved my distro and I loved even more that shareware app that only existed under Windows, but I don’t love Linux enough to inflict that kind of pain on us.

Computing for People with Disabilities

Through personal experience, I’m sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities.  SATV has been host to our city’s Commission on Disabilities;  I have been their liason to SATV for 8 years and just recently became a commissioner myself.  We have staff, interns, volunteers and members using our computers and they must be usable by a wide range of people.

I looked at Ubuntu recently;  Ubuntu is probably the most well-realized desktop Linux distro to date.  It has accessiblity features for people with disabilities, including a magnifier, an on-screen keyboard and a screen reader. 

I have low vision, so I often use a screen magnifier.  I installed Ubuntu 6.06 LTS on Virtual PC and tried it out. 

It was terrible!  There’s a six-letter term I wish I could use if it were only work-safe!

First, some background on the Windows magnifier:  When it’s activated, it sits on the top of the desktop like this: 

You can configure the magnifier settings.  The only bad part is that it disables ClearType and interferes with the Aero desktop.

This is Ubuntu’s Gnopernicus:

The magnifier is on the top center.  You can’t adjust it and it covers any icons you may have on the upper part of the screen.  It looks terrible.  I’m mystified by this, as screen magnifiers are not a new technology and I know of several Windows freeware magnifiers that are perfectly useable.  I can only wonder if its shortcomings are due to the (ancient) X Windows subsystem.

Windows has a very useful feature that helps me avoid using a magnifier:  Font sizes can be scaled to any arbitrary figure.  This has existed since Windows 95 and for 12 years I have run Windows with its fonts scaled at 130%–virtually unchanged across Windows 95, XP and Vista! 

Ubuntu doesn’t have this.  I can, of course, change each of the fonts, but based on my experience with SuSE a few years back, it would only make things worse as I upset the proportions.   That’s a deal-killer for me.

At least Windows has JAWS and ZoomText.  No Linux versions, though.

Conclusion:  Just too many risks upon risks

Going to Linux on the server, let alone the desktop, would not simplify my job.  At a minimum I would still have to support Windows and Macs.  I’m not going to add a third major platform just to satisfy ideological concerns.

I’ll gladly consider using Linux for certain things, like firewalls (m0n0wall) or monitoring (Groundwork Monitor), that Linux is best suited for anyway.

But not as an ideology or a religion.



7 Reasons Why Linux Won’t Succeed On The Desktop — InformationWeek