Archive | December, 2006

It's all about … choice

LXer points to a page with logos of 352 Linux distributions. So little time, so many possibilities.

Choice is good, and choice is bad. Edubuntu, for example is a distribution designed specifically for young children, with approachable games, education and entertainment. TrixBox is a distribution focused on small- and medium-sized business phone management (PBX).

So how can choice be bad? David Pogue reviews Vista in last Thursday's New York Times. Vista will be available in 5 different versions, and it's not so much about what's added as what's taken away in the lower priced versions. That's not a feature. Pogue goes on to say:

So after five years, how is Windows Vista? Microsoft's
description, which you"ll soon be seeing in millions of dollars' worth
of advertising, is “Clear, Confident, Connected.” But a more truthful
motto would be “Looks, Locks, Lacks.”

So, choice can be bad when it's between evils. A better choice if you're facing Vista? Mac OS X? Stay the course with Win2K or XP? 352 Flavors of Linux?

It's your choice.

Eben Moglen keynote from Plone 2006 conference

On the way back from a client this week, I got to listen to an audiocast of Eben Moglen's keynote speech from the Plone conference. Darned if I can find the link that brought me to the MP3, but there's a video and audio link here. Mr. Moglen is Chief Counsel for the Free Software Foundation among several other notable tasks, and has some remarkable and far-ranging insights into the importance of Free Software. Worth a listen.

Skype announces long-distance plans for 2007

Over at Ars Technica, Ken Fisher writes, “Skype unveils yearly long distance package. Skype's promotional free long distance deal was time-limited from the start. What happens when the two-double-o-seven arrives?”

“Now Skype hopes to turn those users into paying customers, as the
company has now announced its intention to sell long distance packages for a yearly rate.
When the free long distance hangs up on Near Year's Day, Skype will
begin a month-long promotion: $14.95 for one year of long distance. The
promotion will also include 100 minutes of SkypeOut for International
calls and over $50 worth of coupons for purchasing Skype-certified
hardware products. After January 31, the yearly fee will increase to

Fifteen bucks a year is a deal for long distance, even if it has to route through a computer. Interesting market offer.

I used Skype for 3-way interstate conferencing on a project this year, and we probably racked up 100 hours of voice time this way. At five cents a minute that still adds up to a few dollars. For solo businesses, this could be the way to go. For slightly larger SOHOs, TrixBox might be a bit more scaleable, with a bit more investment up front. 

It's Patch Tuesday, again!

The SANS Internet Storm Center publishes Microsoft Black Tuesday – December 2006 overview — looks pretty grim. Seven patches focused on the OS: Internet Explorer, deeply embedded in the Operating System, and still generating monthly flaws, Outlook Express, Microsoft's bundled email client, Windows Media Player, Microsoft's bundled application as well. Other flaws include crss, SNMP, RIS, and one in Visual Studio 2005. All Windows users should review and patch asap.
So, for 2006, MS released 78 patches for Windows and included software, as well as some not included in this count for Office and other tools. That doesn't stack up too well against previous years. The “Trustworthy Computing” memo is getting long in the tooth, and Microsoft should have enough time to review and audit its software and remove a lot of these flaws. Instead, we see “new” versions of their software like Server 2003 still affected by common components with flaws. Hopefully, with the release of Windows Vista and Office 2007, many of the flaws will finally be plugged. But Microsoft's customers have to be growing tired of this.

How to improve productivity 153.87%

This one almost slipped by: another classic Joel on Software: “

“A management consultant at Bain wrote me a nice email, that included the following sentence: … I didn't understand a thing he wrote.”

An excellent riff on the management par-a-dig-m of the day.


I installed HylaFAX yesterday on a Fedora Core 4-based staging server, in preparation for installing on-site at a client. Installation was pretty easy, thanks to the clear RTFM provided on the website's documentation links. Then, I needed to test remote access to the server, so I installed PDFCreator and WinPrint HylaFAX, a Windows printer driver that prints to the HylaFAX server, on a WinXPPro workstation and confirmed I could create PDFs and “print” a fax directly out of Windows. Again, installation was pretty easy and configuration straight-forward. Now, to figure out where the errors could crop up – network disconnection, bad fax numbers, no answer – and ensure I understand where they appear and how to notify the operators about them.

LPI discontinues lifetime certifications

“All certification designations earned before Sep. 1, 2004 will no longer be considered “lifetime” designations”

Shades of TiVo! What is it about “lifetime” that the Linux Professional Institute doesn't understand? Ah, they meant the lifetime of the certification, not of the certificate holder. LPI missed the boat on that one.

Over at Linux Watch, Stephen J. Vaughn-Nicholls outlines the changes to the LPI certification program. IT professionals who've been through the ringer with Novell and Microsoft and Cisco and A+ will recognize the tune: the program gallops along at first, realizes that they might be allowing holders of “legacy” knowledge to claim currency, and cut off their own revenue stream. Consequently, they beef up their renewal requirements.

I ran the certification hamster-wheel with Microsoft in the nineties: 16 exams in over 7 years, earning the MCSE designation for NT 4.0 and MCSD for Visual Studio 6. The certifications along with a liberal sprinkling of the logos on business cards, web sites and correspondence certainly helped the marketing efforts of my employers, and I worked hard to maintain the credibility of those programs.

The problem that happens with these kind of designations is that the effort to maintain the certification begins to exceed their value. With four, five or six exams needed to stay current in a single year, you can start to devote more time to studying for recertification than is practical. Staying current for the sake of your clients also means maintaining systems that are four to ten years old. Despite the vendors best wishes, old versions just don't go away, with “Don't fix it if it ain't broke” as a good engineering practice. At Ted Roche & Associates, we continue to support clients with applications that date back to the 80s in a couple of cases. We support clients with FoxPro 6, 7 and 8 applications (a couple of them ported from FoxBASE), PHP4, PHP5, MySQL 3.23, 4.1 and 5.0 applications, and lots of stuff in between. While there's sometimes an opportunity to jump onboard with the latest stuff, it's often the case that a couple of years pass before a new development opportunity comes along that provides the practical hands-on time to master new features and hence qualify to pass the new certification.

Microsoft faced wholesale mutiny when they attempted to discontinue some titles, or force the expiration of some titles like MCSD in favor of a .NET-centric specialty, long before the .NET platform had a reasonably large base in the real world. Certification authorities need to think long and hard about the way to support the lifecycle of their certifications. MS split off new certs, like MCAD, to distinguish the old from the new as they chose the road less traveled into DotNetLand. With Linux, it can be trickier to quantify: are you getting certified on the 2.4 kernel or the 2.6 kernel? XFree86 or Fedora, Kubuntu or OpenSuSE?

I'm in favor of ongoing continuing education or the equivalent; many professions have CEU requirements. However, certifying agencies have to recognize the balance needed between ongoing certifications and the value of their cert. Lawyers would find other professions if they needed to pass their bar exams every year.

OpenCD version 4.0 released

As I mentioned when talking about last years Software Freedom Day, the OpenCD is a great collection of Open Source utilities for Windows. I've passed this on to many clients for the PDFCreator and the handy collection of other features such as and many others. The OpenCD project team has recently released version 4.0. By dropping the Linux LiveCD sampler from the disk, they opened up enough room to add several great programs like the vector drawing Inkscape and the desktop publishing program Scribus. Rease their release announcement here.

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This work by Ted Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.