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Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Windows XP Service Pack 3 Looks Like OS Life Extender

January 4th, 2008 by iDunzo

Way back in 2004, Microsoft released a little OS upgrade they called Service Pack 2. Windows XP owes much of its current popularity to the changes made in SP2.

Although Vista is grabbing all the front page attention with its soon-to-be-released Service Pack 1, XP hangers-on are hopeful that the upcoming Service Pack 3 can solve the nagging problems of software middle age.

Early results show that SP3 might even provide a performance boost. So Vista may be hip, but XP is getting a hip replacement.

The XP SP3 Release Candidate is available now, with the final version set to ship in the second quarter of this year. Whatever the actual date, you can bet that Vista SP1 will ship before XP SP3)

XP SP3 adds four new features. Only two seem really significant, one for corporate environments and one for the small-business/consumer side.

For the corporate world, XP SP3 will support the Network Access Protection (NAP) feature that is already available in Vista and Windows Server 2008.

It allows IT managers to deny a PC access to network resources based on whether they are configured according to company policies.

For example, if a PC does not have the latest antivirus signatures installed, NAP can limit its access so that it can only contact a remediation server that contains up-to-date signatures to be downloaded.

Given the concern that many companies have about security, the NAP feature could have been one that pushed them to upgrade to Vista. Now, they can stay put with XP and still reap the benefits.

It seems so much like the right thing to do that I can hardly believe that Microsoft has done it. Perhaps the goal is to sell more Windows Server 2008 licenses?

Consumers get a Vista feature transplant in XP SP3 with the ability to install without the need to enter a license key during setup.

Within 30 days of installation, the user needs to enter a product key or XP will go in to a reduced-functionality mode similar to Vista.

The final two XP SP3 features seem relatively trivial: additional cryptographic providers, and enabling black hole router detection by default.

XP already has the ability to detect black hole routers with a single change in the registry, so the feature here just seems to be that the setting will be enabled by default in SP3.

So if these are the only new features and the rest of the changes are patches, why would SP3 be faster? It’s a bit of a puzzle.

Maybe the tests were anomalous, or perhaps there is a benefit from several non-security-related patches rolled into SP3 that haven’t been previously released.

Whatever the reason, it actually leaves me looking forward to this mid-life OS boost.

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AOL Kills Netscape’s Future, Leaves Firefox To Battle IE

December 28th, 2007 by iDunzo

Netscape LogoAOL earlier today stopped development of the Netscape browser, saying the respected brand that launched the commercial Internet in 1994 had little chance of ever regaining market share against its archival Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

The Web portal, which took over Netscape Navigator in the $4.2 billion acquisition of Netscape Communications in 1999, said development on the browser had recently devolved into a “handful of engineers tasked with creating a skinned version of Firefox with a few extensions.” Firefox is the open source browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation.

While internal groups within AOL have invested a great deal of time and energy in attempting to revive Netscape Navigator, these efforts have not been successful in gaining market share from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

-Tom Drapeau, director of development

While once commanding 90% of the browser market, Netscape Navigator now accounts for less than 1%, and AOL had no interest in spending what it would take to revive the brand.

Instead, the company, which was once a subscriber-supported portal, preferred to spend its resources on its transition into an ad-supported Web business.

The change left “little room for the size of investment needed to get the Netscape browser to a point many of its fans expect it to be,” Drapeau said.

Instead, AOL said it would leave it to the Mozilla Foundation to do battle against IE. When AOL acquired Netscape, the latter company was working on converting its browser into open source software that was later called Mozilla and became the foundation of Firefox.

Mozilla also was the underpinning of version 6 of the Netscape browser released in 2000. The Mozilla Foundation was formed in 2003 and AOL continued to develop versions of Netscape based on the work of the foundation.

Given AOL’s current business focus and the success the Mozilla Foundation has had in developing critically acclaimed products, we feel it’s the right time to end development of Netscape-branded browsers, hand the reins fully to Mozilla, and encourage Netscape users to adopt Firefox.

As of November 2007, IE accounted for 77.35% of the market, and Firefox 16.01%, according to Internet metrics firm Net Applications. Netscape had 0.6%.

AOL planned to release security patches for Netscape Navigator 9, the latest version of the browser, until February 1, 2008. After that, all active product support would end for all versions of the browsers.

AOL, however, planned to post a Netscape Archive link for people who wanted to download versions of Netscape without support.

Besides the archive, two other sites offering information would continue to exist: UFAQ and the Netscape Community Forum, AOL said. Netscape.com would also remain live as a general use Internet portal.

The Netscape browser made the commercial Web possible by providing a ubiquitous platform to view and interact with Websites.

The browser was based on the Mosaic browser developed by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina at the University of Illinois. Andreessen and James Clark, former patriarch of SGI, founded Netscape Communications in 1994.

The Web software maker was among the stars in the dot-com era of the mid- to late 1990s, becoming the most successful public stock offering of its time. Netscape Communications forced Microsoft to restructure its entire product line to become Internet compliant.

Microsoft’s tactics in grabbing market share from Netscape Navigator with IE was one of the main issues in the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust cast against Microsoft.

Microsoft was found to have abused its Windows monopoly and was forced to make changes in its business practices.

For any users feeling nostalgic for the days of old can install Netscape’s theme and extensions pack for Firefox.

Source: Netscape blog post

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Better Living Through Open Source: The Directory

December 28th, 2007 by iDunzo

Open Source Living is a recently-established directory of open-source software.

Basically it’s stuff you can use without having to pay for it and without worrying about proprietary software issues.

Most of the criteria for inclusion in the Open Source Living revolve around the nature of the licensing for the product — it has to be freely redistributable, not discriminatory in its licensing, with source code available, etc.

To that end, the programs already listed in the Open Source Living Directory are something of a “who’s who” of open-source success stories: Firefox, OpenOffice, 7-Zip, and so on.

A fair number of Mac-specific open-source programs are also featured: Camino, Vienna, and NeoOffice.

The layout and design of the site are friendly and clean; it doesn’t look like something that was thrown together in an afternoon.

The Open Source Living was originally derived to list free programs regardless of their source or licensing provisions, and so there are still a few programs listed in the Open Source Living catalog that are free without being open source like Irfanview.

Over time, though, they will be dropped in favor of applications that are entirely open and since I’m an Irfanview user I’m curious to see what could eventually replace it.

I like resources like this for two reasons. One, even someone like me can remain unaware for a long time of a well-developed and highly useful open-source project, and it’s a pleasure to stumble across such a thing in a forum where other people have already vetted it for quality.

A listed project that I’m now curious about, Haiku, picks up where BeOS left off, and if done right could be a serious desktop contender. That’s a long way off and won’t come without major hurdles, but my attention has definitely been captured.

Two, it’s a way for newcomers to open source — people who simply don’t know what’s out there — to get introduced to the available applications without having to dig through an installation repository or just stumble around.

They can find out relatively quickly what’s worthwhile, what other people are using and benefiting from, and what applications cover what sort of duties like the difference between OpenOffice or Scribus.

Perhaps in the future we’ll see features like detailed community feedback or comments on each entry, but for now the forums on the site are handling that job.

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VectorLinux: Save An Old Computer From The Dumpster

December 27th, 2007 by iDunzo

From time to time I’ve mentioned Linux distributions specifically designed for low-end systems — some of which I’ve used to save machines from the dumpster.

Today I’ve got a new release of one such Linux distro: VectorLinux version 5.9.

VectorLinux, built using the ever-popular Slackware distribution and now using the / kernel (depending on which edition you’re using), has been designed to work as well as possible on an older system, although it comes in a couple of different editions to take advantage of newer hardware whenever possible.

Because of the fact that VectorLinux been written to run on older hardware, a lot of legacy device drivers have been kept on board — for instance, by using the older IDE drivers rather than the cutting-edge libata kernel driver set.

If your system is old enough that it doesn’t even boot from CD, there are instructions for creating a bootable floppy and using that to bootstrap the CD.

The Standard edition uses the Xfce desktop environment, and can also run FluxBox or JWM if you’d rather use those. I prefer JWM — not too bloated, not too minimal.

The whole thing’s been configured to run in as little 96 MB of RAM and 2GB of hard disk space. I love their statement about processor requirements: “a Pentium w/200 Mhz or better.”

The SOHO edition uses KDE and likewise requires a slightly better machine: a Pentium running at 750 Mhz or better, 256 MB RAM, 3GB hard disk space, and a 1024x768x24-bit color depth display.

Bootable live CD versions of both Standard and SOHO are also available, and for those with the video hardware to run it, there’s the Beryl / Compiz Fusion desktop available as an option.

5.9 has been built from Slackware version 12 and includes pretty up-to-the-minute versions of everything you need — for Internet browsing, for instance, there’s Firefox, Opera 9.5.0 beta 1, and the SeaMonkey suite (1.1.7) , all available from the CD or from the repositories.

The package-management system is slapt-get, Slackware’s package system, so if by some chance you have come from the Slackware side of things you ought to find this pretty familiar and you can even point VectorLinux at the Slackware repository if you want to get packages from there instead.

One really intriguing feature, new to 5.9, is “Vlpackager”, a way to package source code to be built on demand, although this is the kind of feature that only the more really adventurous users will want to mess with.

Like Puppy Linux (my other current favorite “small is beautiful” distribution), Vector is designed to be tiny, swift, and to get the job done, and it seems to succeed nicely on all three counts.

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Windows XP SP3 Release Candidate Now Available

December 19th, 2007 by iDunzo

Microsoft XP SP3Microsoft has released to the public a near-final version of a major update to its Windows XP operating system.

As of early this morning, the ‘Release Candidate’ for Windows XP Service Pack 3 was available as a 336 MB download from Microsoft’s Web site. The software had previously been available only to participants in Microsoft’s official test programs.

Microsoft says it considers the Release Candidate for Windows XP SP3 to be trial software and warns users to download with caution and at their own risk.

This pre-release software is provided for testing purposes only. Microsoft does not recommend installing this software on primary or mission critical systems.

Microsoft recommends that you have a backup of your data prior to installing any pre-release software.

For the adventurous, however, Windows XP SP3 Release Candidate offers a number of enhancements over the current version of the OS. It includes all updates issued since Windows XP Service Pack 2 was released in 2004, and some new elements.

Among them: A feature called Network Access Protection that’s borrowed from the newer Windows Vista operating system. NAP automatically validates a computer’s “health,” ensuring that it’s free of bugs and viruses, before allowing it access to a network.

Windows XP SP3 also includes improved “black hole” router detection — a feature that automatically detects routers that are silently discarding packets. In XP SP3, the feature is turned on by default, according to Microsoft.

Windows XP SP 3 also steals a page from Vista’s product activation model, meaning that product keys for each copy of the operating system doesn’t need to be entered during setup.

The feature should prove popular with corporate IT managers, who often need to oversee hundreds, or even thousands, of operating system installations.

Microsoft is in a bit of a Catch-22 with XP. The more it strengthens the OS, the less reason users have to upgrade to the newer Windows Vista, which by many accounts has failed to catch on with computer users in both the home and office since it debuted in January.

A final version of Windows XP SP3 is expected to ship early 2008.

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Google Takes Mobile Fight To Microsoft’s Doorstep

December 13th, 2007 by iDunzo

Google’s latest mobile software offering takes aim at the heart of Microsoft Exchange.

Google has made it possible to sync your Gmail, applications, your own domains, and now your Google calendar with your BlackBerry’s on-board calendar application. No pricey Exchange servers and licenses required.

Recently I’ve started using Google’s calendar application to schedule meetings.

Even though Google made the calendar available to smartphones via mobile browsers, it was a little awkward to use and you couldn’t sync it with your mobile device.

Well, now you can. Google has added calender syncing to its list of mobile capabilities.

You can now sync appointments, meetings, and events from your Google calendar to the calendar application on your BlackBerry smartphone.

Excuse me for a second while I say, “Woo-hoo!”

All interested users need do is install a calendar update patch from BlackBerry and go to Google’s mobile services page.

Google will walk you through the steps and before long, Bingo! You’re all set to sync your calendar wirelessly to your BlackBerry.

Does Microsoft already offer this functionality to BlackBerrys? Yes, it sure does but at a price.

Not only do you have to buy the servers (which start at $700 and jump to $4,000 very quickly), but you have to license the software to each user, starting at $67 a pop.

Google offers all this for free, gratis, nada, zip, zilch, nothing.

Google has really stepped up the pace of innovations of late. Microsoft, are you paying attention?

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