Microsoft does listen to (some of) its users

Two weeks ago, Infoworld magazine launched a “Save Windows XP!” campaign. Within 5 days, over 164,000 people signed it, demanding that Microsoft do not end OEM and shrinkwrapped sales of Windows XP on 30 June 2008 as announced, but keep it on the market indefinitely. Microsoft did not seem impressed, as the following quote in PC World shows:

The spokeswoman said Microsoft is aware that some customers are pushing for an extension to the deadline — more than 160,000 people have signed a “Save XP” petition launched by Infoworld magazine, for example. But the company has also done its own research among partners and customers, and feels that “the dates are right,” she said, speaking on behalf of Microsoft.

“We feel we’ve made the right accommodations for customers in certain segments who may need more time to transition to Windows Vista,” she said. “But as [Microsoft CEO] Steve [Ballmer] noted, we maintain a constant stance of listening to our customers and our partners. That’s what is guiding our plan, and will continue to guide us going forward.”

I don’t know who Microsoft listens to, but personally I don’t know a single person who prefers Vista over XP. Some of the comments I hear are unprintable. Yesterday, a friend of mine allowed Windows Update to install some updates to his copy of Vista and since then he’s been unable to access the network. Many coroporates still maintain a blanket ban on it and stick with XP.

On the other hand, quite a number of Mac and Ubuntu fans are simply thrilled how much Vista has contributed to driving up interest in their platforms of choice.

Still, I suppose amongst hundreds of millions of Internet users there must be some who are genuine fans of Vista, despite its well documented shortcomings. When Microsoft claims that its death sentence for XP was based on user input, it may not exactly be lying: I suppose most Microsoft shareholder are Microsoft software users too.

Forcing people to buy a more expensive operating system may boost Microsoft’s revenue in the short term. In that sense, it may be in the interest of those users who also happen to be its shareholders. In the long term however it never pays to ignore your customers’ needs. About twenty years ago, IBM tried to force the PC market to switch to its proprietary Micro Channel Architecture (with IBM PS/2 range). The result was that IBM lost control of the PC market place to Compaq and other companies who took over. Microsoft is every bit as arrogant now as IBM was back then and it will suffer the consequences.

Ubuntu 8.04 LTS released

The latest version of Ubuntu, the most popular desktop version of Linux on the market, was released on Thursday, 24 April 2008.

New versions are released every six months and labelled after the release year and month, therefore the latest will be known as 8.04, replacing 7.10. The “LTS” suffix stands for “Long Term Support”, as this version will be supported for three years.

The new version, code named “Hardy Heron” bundles the new FireFox 3.0 web browser, updates to photo management and video and music-related features. It can also install on top of an existing copy of Windows without the need to repartition the hard disk. This lowers the barrier to entry for new users who, if they’re not happy with Ubuntu, can always remove it using the Windows Control Panel, just like any other Windows application.

If you have a bittorrent client such as uTorrent, you can download ISO images of install CDs and DVDs via this page:


Iraq, five years later

On occasion of some spring cleaning in my office I stumbled across an old copy of The Economist (April 5-11, 2003) published as the US forces were marching on Bagdad during the invasion that eventually swept Saddam Hussein from power.

I was opposed to that war at the time (it’s not hindsight, you can ask my wife!) and still am, but with the benefit of five years of experience of how things actually turned out it is interesting what the editors had to say then. I still respect the Economist as (overall) a relatively unbiased source of information though I’m no longer a subscriber.

The defect of these comparisons [with Vietnam and Palestine] is that Iraq is nothing like Vietnam, not much like Palestine or Afghanistan, and, on present evidence, no quagmire. (…) In Vietnam the Americans fought for ten years. The Soviet army spent ten years in Afghanistan. This war entered its third week with the Americans battering through Iraq’s Republican Guard divisions to the gates of Bagdad. At this rate, it will be a surprise if the Americans have to fight for ten weeks, let alone ten years. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has lasted for 36 years. If America has its way, its occupation of Iraq is more likely to last for fewer than 36 months. And there is no reason why America should not have its way: unlike Israel and the Palestinians, America and Iraq have no territorial quarrel. America’s stated aim is to remove the regime and its mass-killing weapons, allow the Iraqis to replace their dictatorship with a representative government, and then depart.

Well, those 36 months (3 years) already expired more than two years ago and no departure is in sight yet. Even someone who would (if elected to the highest office in the country) withdraw the troops after roughly twice that time has to face accusations of wanting to “cut and run”, while John McCain is talking about staying in Iraq for a hundred years.

Not only the time scales have shifted: Before President Bush decided to invade Iraq, his country was the only remaining superpower, having lost the Vietnam war but won the cold war. Following September 11 his people and country had an enormous amount of good will on its side from people and governments all over the world. Now the country is bleeding hundreds of billions of tax dollars and hundreds of lives every year in an undeclared war it can’t win. The Iraq war is deeply unpopular at home and abroad, not to speak of Iraq, where tens of thousands have died in the resulting civil war and “ethnic cleansing”.

The biggest winner of the US effort in Iraq so far has been the unfriendly regime in next door Iran, which saw one of its biggest enemies destroyed at the hands of the US, allowing its closest friends and allies to take over in Iraq.

I am looking forward to a new leadership in the White House that will have the courage to face reality: When you’ve taken a wrong turn you don’t then “stay the course”, especially when you’re heading into a dead end.

Recommended reading:

Yahoo! Mail “0000-00-00 and 9999-99-99” bug

You may have noticed emails from Yahoo accounts recently that include the string “between 0000-00-00 and 9999-99-99” at the bottom of the email. Apparently it gets added to outbound email only on new emails that were composed.

It’s a bug in Yahoo which crept in on April 15 during an upgrade. It’s an issue related to accessing the MySQL database and a date / time comparison. There is no way for Yahoo! Mail users to fix the problem, but it also doesn’t appear to cause any harm beyond thoroughly confusing everyone.

Yahoo is aware of the problem. Their current statement on it is:

“Please be assured that we are aware of this issue and have escalated this to our Engineering Department for further investigation. We hope to have it resolved as soon as possible”.

Toyota Prius hybrid versus BMW diesel

The Sunday Times did a road test, driving a BMW 520d SE and a Toyota Prius from London to Geneva. The BMW used 49.3 litres of diesel, versus 51.6 litres of petrol (gasoline) used by the Prius.

While the BMW’s results are clearly respectable, the figures quoted in the Sunday Times article do not tell the whole story.

For a start, about 40% of the trip were on motorways, another 40% on B-roads and the rest in urban areas. A driving mix that includes only a token 20% of urban driving is hardly typical for usage patterns of most motorists in our largely urban / suburban societies (for example, 79% of the US population lives in urban areas, with most European countries having similar rates). This unusual mix seems almost purposely designed to ensure that the advantage of the hybrid drive train of the Prius would lie mostly idle: Driving at constant speed on a flat road, you are not going to see any real benefits from a hybrid system, which really thrives in stop-and-go rush hour traffic with lots of traffic lights, as most of us experience on the way to work or home.

Secondly, even with these skewed parameters, the BMW lost out on greenhouse gas emissions. It burnt 10.84 Imperial gallons (13 US gallons) of diesel, while the Prius used 11.34 Imperial gallons (13.6 US gallons) of gasoline. Because of diesel fuel’s 15% higher carbon content by volume, the BMW added 131 kg of CO2 to the atmosphere versus 120 kg by the Prius.

Personally, I see no reason why in the long-term efficient diesel engines can not be mated to a hybrid system and have the best of both worlds. Sure, it may not yet be cost-effective at current fuel prices, but things may look very different 10, 20 or 30 years down the road.