Can you kick the shared document habit?

When good document control systems exists, its mind-boggling that anyone still uses network drives to share documents.  While just saving a file is super convenient, you are punting on activities that provide long term value.  These include version control (no more versioning via file names1), retention policies, and better management of the collaborative editing process (who has it open?).

Network drives have never been good places to manage documents, nor will they ever be — yet that is where most of them sit.  It's depressing really, but nevertheless it is reality. Network drives (or shared drives as they are often referred to) give the illusion that you are doing something constructive to store and manage documents, but really they are just dumping grounds, expensive trash cans.  The only difference in practical terms is that trash cans actually get emptied at some point. Shared drive trash just grows until they become overwhelming mountains. 

CMS Watch > Blog: Shared Drive Addiction

It really is an upgrade

Much like my dad has done, another Windows Vista customer has "upgraded" a Vista machine to Windows XP.  So, I guess the PR Lady was somewhat correct? BTW – annoying that apple doesn’t let you link directly to one of its ads — its free advertising, mactards!

To be honest there is only one conclusion to be made; Microsoft has really outdone themselves in delivering a brand new operating system that really excels in all the areas where Vista was sub-optimal. From my testing, discussions with friends and colleagues, and a review of the material out there on the web there seems to be no doubt whatsoever that that upgrade to XP is well worth the money.

What is the difference between a router and a switch?

On our way to dinner Friday, my Dad and I were wondering what is the exact difference between a router and a switch.  Sounds like something basic most anybody with a home network should know, but at best all we could do was guess/BS our way through the answer.  Wikipedia to the rescue.

Router

A router connects networks together, by extracting the destination for a packet and selecting the best path to that destination, then forwarding data packets to the next device.  We were pretty spot on with our deduction of a router, that it is a device smart enough to connect two subnets (logical networks) like your home network and your ISP.  A commodity linux PC can be used as a route.

Switch

The term switch is a little less specific, sometimes used interchangably with "router", and is really more of a maketing term than a technical term.  On the low end, a switch is similar to a simple hub, with enough intelligence to inspect packets and route them only to the destination device.  Your run-of-the-mill linksys or netgear hub isn’t so smart and just broadcasts packets to all devices on the network, letting them sort out what packets are intended for each on their own. 

By the way, if you don’t think a switch makes much of a difference, when I replaced our hub with a switch at home, there was a noticeable increase in file transfer speed between computers on the switch.  If won’t make your internet connection faster, since switches and hubs are faster than what your ISP provides, but with less packet noise flying around among computers you should notice a difference too.

Cleaning Up Windows Spyware

As much as we’d like to bash Microsoft, or whatever software vendor is affected by exploits, the truth is that user behavior also contributes to the poor security on some machines.  Jeff Atwood details his own experience with a PC that was infected because he surfed 1 website with an old version of IE6.

I recently upgraded my dedicated racing simulation PC, so I was forced to re-install Windows XP SP2, along with all the games. As I was downloading the no-cd patches for the various racing sims I own, I was suddenly and inexplicably deluged with popups, icons, and unwanted software installations. I got that sinking feeling: I had become the unfortunate victim of a spyware infestation.

The simplest thing you can do to protect your machine is run your operating system’s automatics updates service.  Windows has the Update app that sits in the icon tray, Mac’s have the Software Update option in the apple menu, and Ubuntu provides update notification in the notification tray via an orange icon.  You should be in the habit of running updates frequently, no matter which system you run.  I was dismayed a while back by a colleague who felt they didn’t have to run updates in Ubuntu because essentially "Linux is secure enough". 

Another good practice is to always run the latest version of your browser of choice.  If you use Windows Update, you’ll keep Internet Explorer’s patches up -to-date, although there are still unpatched vulnerabilities in the wild.  A better option, and my recommendation especially for Windows Users, is to run Firefox 2, which automatically updates itself.

What’s the hottest thing in your computer?

Before reading Jeff Atwood’s post about Hard Drive Temperatures, I would have thought the the CPU is the most temperature sensitive component in a PC.  That’s what I focused on, when I was selecting parts for a new desktop at home.  Jeff’s article is full of details but he makes a solid point that is often overlooked – if your CPU or video card are fried, its not a huge deal.  Sure its an inconvenience and a hassle to order new parts to replace them.  If your hard drive fails – you lose data. And HDD are usually rated to work at up to 55C, 15 degrees cooler than most CPUs – and temperature seriously affects the reliability of the drive.

…increasing HDD temperature by 5°C has the same effect on reliability
as switching from 10% to 100% HDD workload. Each one-degree drop of HDD
temperature is equivalent to a 10% increase of HDD service life.

If you don’t have good or recent backups, your looking at the situation my Dad thought he was in earlier this week.  The hard drives on his PC were locking up windows, refusing to boot, and overall just causing random errors the whole time.  Of course, he tried reinstalling windows (and surprised me by saying he’s also leaving a partition free to install Ubuntu) but the problems wouldn’t go away.  Using an external usb connection, he was relieved to confirm that the drives were actually ok and the problem is more likely a bad ATA controller on his motherboard.  A potential disaster averted.

What can you do to keep your Hard Drive cool?  Jeff points at a small window applet that can monitor it for you.  If you don’t have a fan on the front of your case, you can pick one up and install it fairly easily if you have a plain vanilla case.  Hard drive coolers are also available but a little more involved to install.  I put one into my computer and found it didn’t add any perceptible noise when the computer is running.

MS Linux partnership?

Dad passed me along the link to the slashdot discussion of Microsoft’s partnership with Novell.  (Usually, its me sending him the slashdot link).  On the face of it, the major part of the announcement concerns patent rights MS holds – specifically that it will not assert them against open source developers.  The Technology Liberation Front has a good overview of this angle.

What is Microsoft doing here? It’s trying to put SuSE developers at
ease that they won’t be sued. So there’s no need to obtain a license
from Microsoft. Furthermore, there’s no need for sublicensing – which
is particularly important for the decentralized nature of open source
development.

More Desktop Thoughts

Sandy made some excellent points, as expected, arguing for a Mac – "So count that as $150 for a really good environment and some nice apps, which retail all together for about $200." No doubt cause he just bought himself a shiny iMac. OS X is definitely a very nice operating system. After 2 years with a Powerbook, its worked great. iLife is definitely a nice suite but if I want to do some comfy video editing, its either get an iMac, and render my current dual LCD system useless (Staci could use one, I’m sure) or go up to a Mac Pro (or whatever the top of the line is called). Either way we’re talking about another $700 or $2,000 dollars to spend. Which is just too pricey for me.

On a whim, I decided to see if I could pick up comparable parts at a local retailer. How do these guys stay in business? The largest, Microcenter, has a pretty slim variety. Similarly, the smaller Advanced2000 has less parts and are more expensive than newegg. I put items in my shopping cart, but i has well over the $725 newegg would charge, before shipping. I’d swapped out for a less expensive case. Plus, they’re missing user-submitted reviews and advice for each part, which was a great research tool on newegg’s site.

Update: In the comments, Jason asks if the AMD quieter than the better performing Intel chips. I just ran across Anandtech’s article, measuring the power usage of Core 2 chipsets – which came in at 130 – 170 W. They mention AMD’s Energy Efficient line as an alternative. The AMD X2 processor I’m looking at is from that line, and is rated at "only" 65W (for the CPU). Since quieter operation, is directly proportional to the operating temperature of the system, using lower power (and hence cooler) components is one way to make a quieter system. You’ll notice, in my newegg list, that I also chose a decent, but passively cooled video card to help reduce noise.

Desktop Upgrade Choices

I stayed up way too late last night researching a potential desktop replacement. I’m torn between a DIY AMD64 PC vs an Apple. Up front, the biggest decider will be price, as I want to keep the price at or below $1,000. That rules out iMac’s and MacPros, leaving the Mac Mini as my choice from Apple. That fits nicely with my plans to keep my current LCD displays, and keyboard and mouse. The only other real requirement, is that World of Warcraft has to run nicely on it. I’ve picked out the parts on NewEgg and also looked at the Apple Store, here’s how they stack up. Where possible, I’ve tried to keep the configurations as similar as possible.  On the PC parts, I did steer towards parts that got good reviews for operating quietly and coolly (is that a word), that’s why I chose the lower poer consuming AThlong 64X2 and a passively cooled video card.  I don’t want a computer that sounds like, in Staci’s words, "You’re running a jet engine".

Component
PC
Apple
Processor
2.2 GHz Athlon 64X2 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo
Memory
1GB 800 DDR2 1GB 667 DDR2
Hard Drive
250GB Serial ATA 160GB Serial ATA
Video
nvidia 7600GS Intel GMA 950
Other Components
  • Re-using my current DV Dreader/CD burner
  • Bluetooth & Wifi
  • Superdrive DVD Writer
Software
None, I’ll dual boot ubuntu and windows on it.
  • OS X 10.3
  • iLife Suite
Price (not including shipping) $755 $1,074

Is this a fair comparison? Clearly, if I can’t reuse my existing Windows license, I should factor in the cost of Windows XP ($90 OEM version), that bumps up the price to $840. Still a $200 difference. And that’s not factoring in the time to put it all together and the potential driver hunt, configuration issues, etc. On the Max side of thing, not having iLife means no iMovideHD, which has been real easy to work with. It would be nice to edit my home movies on a desktop with more diskspace and display space instead of on the powerbook. But the hardware available on the PC side, especially more hard disk space and a much, much better video card, is more compelling to me. I’m leaning towards the AMD system, but would appreciate any insight to the contrary.