Windows 7 versus Linux on netbooks

“Does Linux stand a chance now that Windows 7 will run on netbooks?”, Shane O’Neill asks in an article in ComputerWorld on 15 January 2009 that overall sounds fairly optimistic on Microsoft’s prospects. However it largely avoids one crucial subject that matters for Microsoft in the struggle over market share in the booming nettop market: Money.

In 1985 Jack Tramiel, head of Atari Corporation came to visit Digital Research Inc. (DRI) to license its GEM graphical desktop environment for the new Atari 520ST. It was going to be a low-cost machine based on the same Motoroloa 68K CPU as Apple’s much more expensive Macintosh, which itself was a low-cost derivative of the Apple Lisa (that was long before Microsoft Windows became a viable product). Tramiel had a reputation as a fierce negotiator, so his counterpart at DRI, then the main competitor of Microsoft and Apple, was only half joking when he said to Tramiel: “Jack, I know you’ll probably start off by offering us a dollar per copy.” – “No,” replied Tramiel dryly. “50 cents.”

Tramiel knew that by coming out with a fully-functional product at rock-bottom prices he could grow the PC market. In the segment he envisaged there simply was no margin for a $50 operating system license. What was true when an Atari machine cost around $1000 is even more true today with $250-$450 netbooks, and future netbooks will be even cheaper than that. Soon we will also see netbooks based on the same low-power, low-cost ARM processors that power virtually all mobile phones.

Commentators cited by Computerworld on Windows 7 don’t really talk about money:

Analyst Rob Enderle, president of technology research firm The Enderle Group, agrees that Microsoft doesn’t see Linux as much of a threat and that refocusing on the netbook market is more about “Microsoft addressing the problem of having to keep shipping Windows XP long after its expiration date.”

Enderle says that getting XP on netbooks was clearly a response to Linux gaining traction, but that Microsoft is not afraid of consumers or OEMs having a preference for Linux.

“The problem was that Linux could run on a netbook and Vista couldn’t, not any consumer or OEM love for Linux,” he adds.

But Microsoft’s real problem wasn’t just that Vista was too big to fit on a 4 GB flash drive and too slow and bulky to run on an Intel Atom with 512 MB of RAM. It was also too expensive. So Microsoft could save face by charging next to nothing for its 5 year old Windows XP, but it didn’t make any real money on it. So what’s going to happen when Windows Vista 1.1 aka Windows 7 hits the streets in volume maybe a year from now?

Does it really matter to Microsoft shareholders and employees if the 21 million or so netbooks expected to be sold this year (and the even bigger numbers in 2010) will be running some version of Windows or a version of Linux (which is free), if previously those buyers would have picked up a more powerful machine that netted Microsoft $40-$100 per license?

Whether Windows 7 will run with decent performance on low-cost machines is really only half the question. The other is, how much Asus, Acer and the other netbook OEMs will offer to pay Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. Is it going to be $1 or 50c per copy? That is no way to sustain a business with a market capitalization of $150 billion and almost 90,000 employees worldwide (Jan 2009 numbers), as Microsoft is realizing to its horror.

Google Groups spam – abuse reporting broken

You can tell that an anti-spam tool is becoming too effective when spammers start trying to work around it.

Such is the case with Spam URL Blacklists (SURBLs), which list domains advertised via spam. Spamfilters will intercept emails that mention blacklisted domains used in clickable links. The spammers can use fake sender addresses and send email from cracked hosts and cracked third party mail accounts, but they still get caught as soon as they mention their websites. This hurts spammers because they only make money when people go to their websites and hand over their credit card details to order fake Rolexes, pills, porn, etc.

To get around this, spammers have been using pages created at free webhosting services and other third party sites where content can be uploaded. The links only mention the free hosting site, which then redirects to the final spam site.

One service abused for this is Google Groups. Other services recently seen used are Google Docs, Microsoft Spaces Live and Geocities. In the case of Google Groups the spammers create mailing lists and upload a spam link to the home page of the new group. They never use the groups for their intended purpose, i.e. mailing lists. This effectively makes it impossible to report the abuse via Google’s abuse handling procedures: Any archived posting or uploaded document on the Google Groups service has an abuse reporting link, but the home page of the group itself does not! Obviously, Google never envisaged that spammers would create groups only to have one page of web content that can be advertised via spam.

Here is an example of a spam:

Received: from (HELO []
by mymailhost (mx077) with SMTP; 21 Jan 2009 04:21:47 +0100
Message-ID: <>
Date: Mon, 21 Jan 2008 03:21:45 GMT
From: arturo <>
User-Agent: Thunderbird (Windows/20081209)
MIME-Version: 1.0
To: mymailbox
Subject: Brighten Your Day
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

After trying out tooth whitening system AT NO COST TO YOU you’ll realize that your smile is irresistably contagious! 😉

(Add S+H)

The page advertises “Click Here – Free Credit Score & Debt Help” which is a spam link using the domain hosted on IP address in China. It is listed on four sub-lists of SURBL (WS, OB, AB and JP). Its name servers are and Other domains by the same spammers are and

At the very least Google should add an abuse reporting link to its Google Group pages. It would be even better if they were to check uploaded Google Group content and checked any URLs in it against spam blacklists such as SURBL. This would stop the spammers in their tracks.

What’s that “Yanga WorldSearch Bot v1.1/beta”?

A few days ago I received email alerts notifying me of abnormally high web server traffic. Naturally my first thought was that this might be a Denial of Service attack (DoS): My sites have been attacked before, including by botnets consisting of several thousand rogue computers. This time, during a one hour period, traffic exceeded the same period one week earlier by 800 MB, which works out as 20 GB per day if sustained.

A search of the server logs showed numerous requests like the following, requesting up to 50-60 documents per second: – – [09/Jan/2009:19:20:39 +0000]
“GET /emails/2008-06/30/00209262.117.htm HTTP/1.1” 200 12928 “-”
“Yanga WorldSearch Bot v1.1/beta (”

All originated from the same IP address in Russia ( owned by Gigabase Ltd in Moscow. I found it very odd that this search bot listed the URL of a commercial UK website as its reference, but the company that operates the service does so from Russia. A visit to yielded little information – the UK website turned out to be little more than a placeholder page, with no UK street address and only a non-geographic phone number. I grew very suspicious at this stage.

A Google search found a thread on in which “Alexey”, who introduced himself as the CEO of Yanga, responded to criticism. He didn’t give his last name, but perhaps he is Alexey Tarasov who is listed in the Gigabase Ltd WHOIS record.

While it is good to see that Yanga WorldSearch / Gigabase are concerned enough about their reputation to respond to public criticism, they would do well to take steps to raise fewer suspicions in the first place. They could definitely be more open about their identity and their purpose, as well as trying be a good citizen when visiting other people’s websites (e.g. complying with robots.txt, sticking to reasonable traffic levels). Trust is social capital that is hard to earn but quick to burn. No business can succeed on the web without it.

USB turntables: Sony PS-LX300USB

This week I bought myself a late Christmas present, a Sony PS-LX300USB turntable and there is a story behind that. I have a fairly large LP collection which I acquired mostly in the 1980s, mainly reggae and African music. Most of the about 450 LPs I found in record stores in the UK, others were bought in Harare, Zimbabwe or in Germany.

My friends in Zimbabwe used to joke that I had more Zimbabwean music than was available locally. It was half true: When I went record-shopping in Harare back in 1988/89, I found that the predominant type of music available was Country & Western, because that’s what sold best amongst white Rhodesians who had the money.

Paul Simon’s Graceland album brought Southern African music to a wider audience, but when most consumers in rich countries switched from LPs to CDs in the late 1980s and 1990s, African artists and their music were left behind again. Much of what I bought then never made it onto CD and is unavailable today.

One of my long term projects therefore was to archive my vinyl collection onto hard disk, to keep it from disappearing altogether. Recently, I wanted to continue with that after a pause of about two years, but my trusty old Dual CS-503-1 which I had bought around 1987 had stopped working due to a broken drive belt. Even after I installed a mail-ordered replacement belt it didn’t sound right.

Then I started thinking about USB-enabled LP players. There are models that will record directly onto a USB thumbdrive, but I was more interested in USB turntables that can be connected to a PC using a USB cable because they offer much more control over the recording process. The host operating system sees them as a line input on a sound card. You can record 44.1 KHz 16-bit stereo samples just right for burning a CD, or you can compress to MP3 after whatever editing and digital cleanup you fancy.

I can say that I am quite happy with the sound quality of the PS-LX300USB. There are other USB turntables that are cheaper, but I did not want to get the cheapest player that does the job. I won’t have the time to digitize my large collection twice. Having said that, my old Dual probably was a better player than the Sony. It has an adjustable anti-skating weight on its tone arm and its wow and signal-to-noise values look better on the spec sheet. On the other hand the Sony has start and stop buttons (the Dual’s mechanical controls are more basic), but more importantly the A/D-converter is built into the turntable (along with a pre-amplifier). With the analog Dual I had to use a sound card to digitize the analog line input coming from an amplifier hooked up to the phono output of the turntable. There is bound to be more interference inside a PC and most PC sound cards are cheaply made. Analog cables can pick up some noise too. That’s what makes USB turntables a worthy consideration, apart from the ease of use.

The mechanical setup wasn’t too difficult. I ignored the bundled Audio Studio LE and instead downloaded open-source Audacity off the net, which is working fine for me.

On the first evening after I unpacked the turntable and set it up, my 13-year old daughter looked at the spinning vinyl disk, which she had never seen in action. We listened to old favourites of my wife and me and it brought back many memories. Now I will be able to enjoy those tunes in the car or anywhere away from home, after I gradually record them one by one off a now largely obsolete medium.

Skype Auto-Recharge and currency changes

Checking my PayPal details today, I found that three of my most recent payments for Skype involved a dollar to euro conversion. This surprized me, since quite a while ago I had changed the currency of my Skype account from euros to dollars to match the currency of my PayPal account, in order to avoid conversion losses.

When I went to my Skype account I found that my currency indeed was set to dollars, however the recharge amount was set to €10. Auto-recharge is a convenient feature. With it turned on, whenever your account credit balance drops below $2, an automatic purchase using your credit card or PayPal account takes place to top it up again. As I use SkypeOut for all my international phone calls to landlines and mobile phones and also occasionally for call-forwarding from a SkypeIn number to my mobile phone (especially when I’m travelling), it helps me never to run out of Skype credit.

Evidently, changing your Skype currency does not change your account recharge currency (or amount). What’s more, the system would only let me pick a recharge amount of €10 or €25.

The only way to switch recharges from euros to dollars is to cancel auto-recharges and then re-enable them. However, the only way to enable recharging appears to be by topping up your balance – you’ll have to spend some money!

Thus if you have changed your Skype currency from euros to dollars and want to use auto-recharge in the new currency, you will first have to cancel the recharge and then buy another $10 worth of Skype credit, with the “enable auto-recharge” option checked.