Father's Day, 2004

Submitted by Bill St. Clair on Sun, 20 Jun 2004 12:00:00 GMT
It's Father's Day, so I'm off to the range, with son Christopher, who hasn't shot traps in a long time. Come to think of it, neither have I. The image to the right is from grabbe. Hehe.

# Author unknown - Squirrel Encounter - a ROTFLMAO (rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-my-ass-off) story. Fictional, I think. [smith2004]

# Jim Smith at The Philadelphia Inquirer - Tax protester faces kiddie-porn charges BugMeNot - Larken Rose was arrested because the i.r.s. claims they found illegal images on the PC they stole from him over a year ago. If you don't want to create your own (free) account, use email: johnson@johnson.com, password: johnson. [claire]

IRS agents seized 10 computers from the Hollywood home of Larken Rose more than a year ago, but have yet to charge the tax protester with any tax crimes.

# I downloaded Knoppix-MiB, a Linux distribution that boots from CD-ROM on IBM PC hardware (PPC version in the works) without any configuration needed. It can use a hard-drive resident swap file, but encrypts it so that it is unreadable once you shut down. It can also use removable media, e.g. a keyring USB flash drive, as an encrypted volume. It took about four hours to come from France over my DSL line. I burned a CD-ROM on my wife's Powerbook.

The CD-ROM booted on my Dell Inspiron 8100 without a hitch and nearly as quickly as XP from my hard drive. It got the video right, it knew how to talk to my Linksys 802.11b radio network PC card and connected to my home network without any help from me, and it's the most full-featured Linux installation I've played with to date, though I haven't played with one in a year or two. It knew how to read from but not write to my NTFS-formatted hard drive (the docs say it can write to FAT and FAT-32). It looks like configuring it to have your home directory on a USB flash drive isn't too hard, but I don't have one, so I didn't try it. It's got Open Office and KOffice, and The GIMP, and Emacs (Alt properly mapped to Meta), a bunch of games, Python and TCL, Konquerer and Mozilla, and it runs FAST!!! My only complaint is that it was compiled in French, so, even when booted in English, many menu items are in French. [smith2004]

# Joel on Software - How Microsoft Lost the API War - they lost their backward-compatibility religion, and HTML is taking over the world. I'm as sad as Joel about the latter, but I'm solving it with a system that uses the same user-interface code to generate a Java Swing GUI, an HTML web interface, and a character telnet interface. We're shipping the Swing interface, and we've done a proof-of-concept prototype of the web interface. The telnet interface will require some additional UI code, but I think most of it will be reusable. [joel]

Outside developers, who were never particularly happy with the complexity of Windows development, have defected from the Microsoft platform en-masse and are now developing for the web. Paul Graham, who created Yahoo! Stores in the early days of the dotcom boom, summarized it eloquently: "There is all the more reason for startups to write Web-based software now, because writing desktop software has become a lot less fun. If you want to write desktop software now you do it on Microsoft's terms, calling their APIs and working around their buggy OS. And if you manage to write something that takes off, you may find that you were merely doing market research for Microsoft."

A lot of us thought in the 1990s that the big battle would be between procedural and object oriented programming, and we thought that object oriented programming would provide a big boost in programmer productivity. I thought that, too. Some people still think that. It turns out we were wrong. Object oriented programming is handy dandy, but it's not really the productivity booster that was promised. The real significant productivity advance we've had in programming has been from languages which manage memory for you automatically. It can be with reference counting or garbage collection; it can be Java, Lisp, Visual Basic (even 1.0), Smalltalk, or any of a number of scripting languages. If your programming language allows you to grab a chunk of memory without thinking about how it's going to be released when you're done with it, you're using a managed-memory language, and you are going to be much more efficient than someone using a language in which you have to explicitly manage memory. Whenever you hear someone bragging about how productive their language is, they're probably getting most of that productivity from the automated memory management, even if they misattribute it.


And yet, people aren't really using .NET much.

Oh sure, some of them are.

But the idea of unifying the mess of Visual Basic and Windows API programming by creating a completely new, ground-up programming environment with not one, not two, but three languages (or are there four?) is sort of like the idea of getting two quarreling kids to stop arguing by shouting "shut up!" louder than either of them. It only works on TV. In real life when you shout "shut up!" to two people arguing loudly you just create a louder three-way argument.


Unfortunately, these Brave New Strategies, things like .NET and Longhorn and Avalon, trying to create a new API to lock people into, can't work very well if everybody is still using their good-enough computers from 1998. Even if Longhorn ships when it's supposed to, in 2006, which I don't believe for a minute, it will take a couple of years before enough people have it that it's even worth considering as a development platform. Developers, developers, developers, and developers are not buying into Microsoft's multiple-personality-disordered suggestions for how we should develop software.


I'm actually a little bit sad about this, myself. To me the Web is great but Web-based applications with their sucky, high-latency, inconsistent user interfaces are a huge step backwards in daily usability. I love my rich client applications and would go nuts if I had to use web versions of the applications I use daily: Visual Studio, CityDesk, Outlook, Corel PhotoPaint, QuickBooks. But that's what developers are going to give us. Nobody (by which, again, I mean "fewer than 10,000,000 people") wants to develop for the Windows API any more. Venture Capitalists won't invest in Windows applications because they're so afraid of competition from Microsoft. And most users don't seem to care about crappy Web UIs as much as I do.


None of this bodes well for Microsoft and the profits it enjoyed thanks to its API power. The new API is HTML, and the new winners in the application development marketplace will be the people who can make HTML sing.

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