28 April, 2009

Stuff, or fluff?

Is it stuff, or is it fluff?

Yup. What's it really worth? That stuff you've collected over the years? People will debate this topic like, forever. Compare, a 1946 Austin 7 against a 2008 Ford Falcon. Just doesn't compare. One goes faster than the other. One uses less petrol than the other. One is a darn sight easier to repair - guess which one. Yet will you find the ardent Austin owner willing to give his precious vehicle up for a modern vehicle instead?

Uh, no.

Then there's just uh, fluff.

A 1995 Pentium I 90Mhz machine with four 72-pin memory slots. It's got four PCI slots, two VESA slot and two ISA slots. It's just been consigned to the tip because it only supports a maximum of 128MB memory, and that's only Fast Page or EDO. No SDRAM support here. Its keyboard controller is shot, though fixable with another chip from a similar machine, it's just an 8042. The internal inbuilt CMOS battery is shot, resulting in the CMOS clock being reset to 01/01/1980 every time it's powered on. Even if the CMOS were to retain the time between power ups, it fails the Y2K test. The hard drive controller doesn't support a hard drive faster than 8.4GB from the BIOS - yep, that's that 1024 cylinder limit kicking in. The CDROM drive is double speed. The floppy drive stopped working about seven years ago and hasn't been cleaned of dust bunnies in nearly that long. The IDE cable only works if it's twisted in a figure eight around the power cable to the hard drive, and even then requires the occasional kick to make sure it stays in place for longer than 15 minutes. Hence the rubber band holding the connector onto the drive. Oh, hang on, that's perished.

At least Linux boots on it. But really, it's for thin client use only. Oh, hang on - NetBSD boots on it too. Remember? NetBSD runs on everything. But definitely time for the recycling plant. Oh, wait a minute, this doesn't conform to ROHO guidelines for minimum levels of exotic chemicals used in the manufacture. So we can't even recycle the components.


Another piece of fluff: a hand scanner with a proprietary 8-bit ISA card that plugs in and only has drivers for Windows 3.1. God, that is SO fluff.

Then, there's my own piece of fluff that I actually still own, because it hasn't canned over yet. It's an XT. Not a true blue, not even close. It has a Hercules card AND a CGA card. It has TWO XT drive controllers, I'm not sure which one works and which one doesn't. I have two 20MB drives. Yes, that's Mega bytes. Not Gigabytes. And they're both MFM. I think the CGA card has a serial port on it too, which leads to a bit of confusion when plugging in the sickly green monitor I still have. It's destined to become a classic, though not a very good example of the class of XTs available. It even provides a 10MHz Turbo!

I'm sure I don't have to provide any more examples.

Are we on to the good stuff yet?

Then, there's stuff. Like the current batch of netbooks coming out. The previous generation of these didn't have much memory, and only had a 2GB SSD drive to store the whole OS onto. Not a lot of room, I think you'd agree. And probably destined to become the year before's fluff. Or hand me downs. Or something like that.

The more modern incarnations however, feature the later Atom processors and a decent amount of drive space. Smaller than a laptop, they also take less power than a typical laptop, yet they have features that most good laptops have, like a crystal clear screen that's literally gorgeous to look at. It's only 1024x600 on an 8.9" screen, but that's still large enough to display documents on and not get eyestrain. It's eminently portable, folding down to not much larger than my FX9750 calculator, but a darn sight more powerful. I'd be happy enough to receive one of these in about four years time, as I've been looking for a machine that I can read ebooks on, type up the odd source code file, or perhaps even listen to some MP3 tunes. Trouble is, I probably won't end up with one, as they'll probably be retained by their owners.

So—what items of fluff or stuff can you provide? How low can you go to provide a horror story of a machine touted as the best thing since sliced bread, yet ten years later (or less) has ended up simply being the biggest lemon of its class? What would be your current dream machine or geek item? Nothing too weird, it might end up being next decade's lemon.

I'd love to hear your comments.

12 April, 2009

A fast bit of chrome.

Wow - I've got my cake and I can eat it too!

I've been taking the latest Google Chrome browser for a spin recently, and I'm frankly pleasantly surprised. There's only one thing I've found that I can't do in it, but more on that later. It's fast, there's minimal "fat" with it (no superfluous stuff) and it renders content accurately—or seems to, anyhow.

Let's apply the ACID test

Google Chrome's ACID3 test picture

I ran Chrome through the ACID tests, and it seemed to pass all but the ACID3 link test with flying colours. Chrome passed every element of the ACID3 test but took too long, which is about standard for my machine (Duron 1GHz, 1256MB, VIA motherboard, ATI Radeon 7000 AGP card). For some reason the linktest seems to show up as failed too. However, I can probably forgive these few failings. This is definitely a plus for the toolkit that Chrome is based on (WebKit, otherwise known as KHTML, used inside KDE's Konqueror.) Firefox 3.0.10 managed 71 out of 100 tests, and was quite slow in the process even on a Celeron 2.8GHz machine, though I'm not going to screenie it here, as this article's already too bulky.

Picture of IE7's ACID3 test picture - oh dearIn a not surprising comparison, Internet Explorer 7 looks like a dogs breakfast, I can't even tell how many tests it uh, passed, neither can I click on the letter A to find out. I really really hope for Microsoft's sake that IE 8 fixes some of the bugs with the renderer, because frankly in the mode I had IE7 in (fairly much untweaked, how you're supposed to have it), this response to the ACID3 test is totally useless. Incidentally, from what I've read on the current-at-the-time Wiki page on ACID3, apparently Microsoft don't actually intend on making their browser achieve a perfect score.

Microsoft, developers of the Internet Explorer browser, said that Acid3 does not map to the goal of Internet Explorer 8 and that IE8 will improve only some of the standards being tested by Acid3.[17]

Aww, I found a bug(let)

As I said before, I've only found one thing I can't do - and that's to delete entries off the list of downloaded files. In comparison, Firefox shows a list of downloaded files, and if this list becomes overly large, it affects how fast Firefox loads and displays documents. However, I'm able to delete entries from that list, unlike Chrome. Will Chrome fall foul of that same problem? I rather hope not.

There's not really much more I can say on the subject, but well done, Google. I'm impressed enough to have made it my default Windows web browser, supplanting poor old Firefox 3 in the process. The only questions I have left are:

  1. when is it going to appear on Linux, and
  2. when is it being open-sourced?

Apparently, as WebKit is open-source, we already have the basic codebase of Google Chrome now... just not the source code to the Google tweaks they made to make it so screaming. I imagine that Safari may well have similar results to Chrome, due to its use of the Webkit codebase.

June 8th 2009

Further to the article, I finally got a copy of Internet Explorer 8, and fired it up on ACID3. It has improved on its godawful previous score of 12/100, and now the picture at least looks a bit like the reference page. Now there are boxes of about the right shape, though they don't appear to have any colour in whatsoever. *sigh*. Never mind. We can take hope that eventually, Microsoft will come up to par. IEX, maybe?

Oh, sorry. You wanted to see what it looks like on my computer? Doesn't this article already have enough heartbreak in it?

08 April, 2009

Finally, SQL Server Express 2008 is installed

It was a bit of a struggle

... but I did it. After a couple of false starts, that is. I initially selected SQL Express 2008 for download and installation, (that's Microsoft's server for those not in the know) and then found that I probably should be installing the SQL Express 2008 with Advanced Tools. Well, I tried. I really did. The problem was, the file wasn't playing ball. Either I'd download it and attempt to install it and find that it was broken when it was decompressing, or I'd not even manage to get it to download. So I gave up and went ahead and installed just the plain server from media I already had. Then there was the little debacle I had just getting the Management Tools working. I also wanted to install some sample databases I'd seen on a Microsoft website in relation to the SQL Server, but every time I kept trying to install it, it kept failing stating I needed to enable Full Text search. That particular facet is only supplied (at least in the Express versions of SQL Server) with the Advanced version.

I had a feeling that Full Text Search was an option that I could tweak by installing the Management Tools, so I gave that a go again. That eventually got installed today, after I downloaded the standalone executable for the tools to add to the standalone SQL server. I did have a struggle when I tried to execute the management tools executable the first seven times, but all I kept getting was the SQL Server Installation window. What I hadn't realised is that because I hadn't (apparently) completed the install of the SQL server the first time, I had to complete that step first. Once I actually did that, then things started working. I ticked off the box for Management tools, then waited while it spun the drive platters, and installed. Whew. Finally I had them installed. I tried the tools out, but found out that I did really have to install the Advanced version, just to get the sample databases installed.

So, I decided I was going to give the Advanced install a try, given that I'd had success with the installation of the Management tools. So, I clicked the executable that I needed to run, chose "Advanced", and waited. Finally, it actually installed properly. So then all I had to do was choose the facets I needed. I ticked off the Report module, and the Full Text Search boxes, completed the process, and sighed after I saw the two "Success" boxes.

Another struggle

... I'm going to end up with (now I have the AdventureWorks databases) is simply getting my head around how to use Microsoft's variant of SQL; either as a simple SQL server (which is normally how I'd use it) or in any other aspects of how to get it running better. I'm used to that, though I'm pretty new to the whole SQL scene. My only previous experience has been creation and maintenance of databases and tables in a PostGreSQL environment, as well as issuing queries against that database. I've also tried out two GUI front ends to browse databases.

Other issues include how I can make full use of the whole Visual Studio environment (at least the Express portion), and how I can compare it with the equivalents under Linux/FreeBSD/Solaris. Namely, that's gcc for Linux and FreeBSD, and Solaris' compiler suite in addition to gcc running on Solaris. Once I get enough programming experience under my belt, I eventually want to get to the stage where it really doesn't matter what environment I'm using or what compiler, I should be comfortable with the tools in use.

I'll let you all know what luck I have.