Wednesday, August 23, 2006

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BOOK Reviews

 It started with a comment about turning in your Widows OS for a refund. I was a bit flippant about it, and perhaps I didn't take it as seriously as I should have. And then the mail began,

And poured on. This was picked up in the conference (   and where a number of people said things that were both less than kind and less than truthful. Some sent me mail, then a number of my readers responded. The whole thing was a bit of a tempest in a teapot but some interesting comments about operating systems and commodity pricing came out of it all. Alas, it so swelled up the mail page that it got far too long; so I am moving a mess of that stuff here, and I hope I have got the indexes right. Most of this happened between Wednesday, January 27 1999, and Saturday, January 30, 1999.

There is more on this subject by Harlan Ellison on another page.


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Dear Dr. Pournelle,

I am writing to you, as a person who has always held your views in the highest esteem, while reading 10-odd years of your "Computing at Chaos Manor" columns. I am saddened, however, by the way in which I feel that you belittle the OpenSource movement, and particularly the Refund Day event. I’d like to state up front, that I will not be participating in this event, as I don’t own a copy of a microsoft product, that I do not use. I do applaud, however, that many people want to avoid "the MicroSoft tax", when they buy a new computer and install Linux (or *BSD, OS/2 or some other OS) on it. Case in point: I work for the County of Nothern Jutland, and when we bought a new Compaq Server about 2 years ago, they didn’t believe that we didn’t want one of the OS’s they offered to preinstall on it (NewWare, NT and SCO Unix, as I recall). We wanted to install Linux on it, and proceeded to do so. Although it didn’t concern me personally, I didn’t want to pay for something we’d never use, as I found that morally wrong. At that time, I had no doubt the salespersons from Compaq considered me to be nothing more than a software pirate, when I in fact wasn’t. This was most unsettling to me. The story has changed now, the Compaq people even offered to preload Linux for me, when I placed an order with them last week. The morale to this story?

Please don’t think that all Linux users are software pirates (many would never use a Microsoft product, as it is not free software (free as in free speech, not free beer ;-)))

Also, the news coverage at Slashdot is not quite that bad, just avoid reading the comments from the readers, if the rantings of immature people upset you.

Kind Regards,

Mads Bach

"It is better merely to live one’s life,

realizing one’s potential,

rather than wishing

for sanctification."

- Lao Tzu, "Tao Te Ching"

Either we have a language problem or I am a worse writer than I thought, because I have never in my wildest moments sought to "belittle" the Open Source movement, and I have in fact written a number of pieces I thought were very much in support.

Now I don't think the "turn in your Microsoft OS" thing is going to go far, but you may notice that I posted their web site here and put up some comments. If not belittling something requires that I read a very great deal of rant by people who aren't making sense, then I am guilty; but I don't think that just because one has some respect for a movement one must laud all those who hang on to it.

Larry Niven's laws include this one: There is no cause so noble that it will not attract fuggheads, and the fuggheads often get most of the publicity.

I have no idea why someone would consider you a software pirate. I have a box with Linux on it, and others that don't. I fear I am not understanding you well at all.

Look: at the discounts that Microsoft gives in quantities, Windows 98 is just about free with a new machine. The "manual" and the "certificate" and the CD cost at most a couple of dollars to make, and the box vendor pays whatever it is he pays; unless he gets a lot of orders for boxes without an OS it's a lot easier to deliver the boxes as made with the pre-installed software. Of course. If I want to buy a FORD without a transmission because I want to put in a special one, I expect it to cost me more than a car without my special requirements.

That is what mass production is about, and one reason why we can now buy $800 boxes more powerful than what we paid $8000 for not all that long ago. If the price for that is that I must take an operating system I don't want, then so what? I could pay more to get a box without Windows. Why should I?

So I fear we misunderstand each other considerably, but why you think I am "belittling" the Open Source Movement is a mystery to me.


Jerry, I think that you missed the mark with your comment about OS refunds. I bought a new Gateway about a year ago and I could not buy it without an ‘Operating System’. Dell also refused to sell me one. So I basically had to give Microsoft approx. $100 for an OS that was immediately erased and replaced by Linux. Now I do not know exactly how much Gateway paid MS for the OS and therefore I do not know exactly how much I could have reduced my cost of the computer when I purchased it.

Enough to say that MS is forcing a monopoly even if I use an alternative OS such as Linux.

This is not fair. To compound issues... many individuals ended up purchasing systems that had a Win modem within and as such is useless (far as I can tell) on any OS other than MS windows.

I sense that Microsoft is coming from a place of fear and greed. Well maybe that is repetitive for greed is fear of not having enough. Anyway, my point is that eventually MS will torque enough peoples jaws and create the very situation that they fear... that is the loss of great market share.

In a very real sense I guess that the situation is already created and now the drama is being played out to its finale with many companies embracing Linux and Open Source™.

Sure there will be those individuals who jump on the band wagon with the refund thing, however many such as I will not bother further with it. All in all, MS should recognize and realize that those they cheat are their very own customers and clients, not their guinea pigs nor slaves. MS has become very arrogant.... they will, like IBM has already done, fall from grace and thus fall from the limelight.


Sanat Etom

Sorry, but if the Open Systems movement depends on silliness like that then I guess it's doomed. Look: you pay less for a box with Windows 98 today than you paid for all the components of that system with no OS a year ago. Not only less, but a LOT less. Why? Because lots and lots and lots of systems are being sold. Would they have been sold if they came without an OS? Don't be silly. If they came with LINUX? Why they might have sold thousands, thousands I tell you.

This is silly. Microsoft wants a computer on every desk and in every home and in every classroom. IBM never wanted that. OS2 was never going to allow that. Linux at the moment isn't going to allow that. Linux has benefited ENORMOUSLY from the great fall in the price of computers. That price drop is largely due to mass sales, and that is pretty well because of Microsoft. Again I say: IBM never wanted a computer in every home. And you will not have mass sales without a mass user OS.

This is silliness on stilts. I am all for Linux and Open Source and have been for a long time, but I find the corresponding anti-Microsoft attitude at best amusing, and often irritating. I want competition in OS sure; but I have that now because the computers cost so little. When I can buy a 8 gigabyte system with a 200 mhz processor and 64 megs of memory for $800 with a monitor and keyboard, why do I care if the manufacturer paid $50 bucks for Windows 98 that I don't need? Would I rather have seen Microsoft not do its thing so that I can pay $2500 for that computer without an OS?

Nonsense on stilts. And if Microsoft can't adjust, then someone will take their place; but it's not likely to be affected by sideshows like "turn in your Windows" movements. Yes, the license agreements are silly. Yes I wrote about that 20 years ago. But for the most part you and I and all of us have benefited greatly from Microsoft's mass marketing and their goal of a computer on every desk at a price each can afford. Keeping Microsoft honest is one thing. And I have nothing against people playing funny games. By all means if it amuses you to turn in your Windows certificates, go ahead. But don't try to make that the heart of the Open Source movement.

The true enemies of Open Source are those who use it for goals far removed from having Open Source Software available.


From: Moderate your conflict circuits, Maximals []

Subject: Respectfully Disagree re Windows Refund Day

Mr. Pournelle, I have a great deal of respect for you as a writer, but sometimes your opinions rub me the wrong way.

How, pray tell, does the use of the appellation "Windoze" imply that one says nothing worth listening to? These people simply don’t mince words about their likes or dislikes; I’ve noticed that you do the same—does that mean we shouldn’t pay much attention to you?

Regarding Windows Refund Day...I have little doubt that some of the refund-seekers are less than honestly, but I also believe that the majority of them are honest people who simply didn’t want Windows on their machine, and didn’t want to pay for something they weren’t using. If you read the articles and messages in question, you would see that there are lengthy explanations of what to do if you want to qualify for the refund—you must not boot your computer into Windows _even once_. The refund-seekers have to be prepared to show _proof_ that they have not used Windows on their machines. People who install it and then try to return it are, thus, ineligible.

Have you ever tried to buy a pre-built computer from a major vendor that did _not_ come with Windows pre-installed? Granted, you can build your own, and thus put only what you want on it, but not everyone has the patience or knowhow to do that, and you still can’t build your own laptop.

The fact is, Micro$oft has a de-facto monopoly on the pre-installed OS market, due in part to unscrupulous trade practices that were supposed to have been prohibited in a 1995 agreement, but in which they exploited a loophole. Whether they want it or not, users are forced to pay for Windows 95--even if they specifically ask _not_ to have it installed on their computer, they’re told that they don’t have that option.

However, the EULA claims they _can_ return it unused to the PC manufacturer...but when they try this, the manufacturers claim they can’t—because of their bundling license agreement with Microsoft. Something simply isn’t kosher here, and it’s got to change. I think that Windows Refund Day, by calling attention to this problem, can only help consumers’ choices in the market today.


Chris Meadows aka | Co-moderator,

Robotech_Master | Homepage: <URL:> | PGP: <URL:> | ICQ UIN: 5477383

Let me limp up and say it again. If you want a custom car, you go to a custom car dealer, not to the mass market dealers. If you want a custom computer, go to a custom dealer. If you have enough business for systems with no OS, then you can get one cheap. You don't.

You are complaining that to get cheap computers you must "pay" for an OS you will not need; if you don't want to pay for the OS, then you must pay more for a custom made machine. Does this not tell you something?

Get a market for machines without an OS and lots of places will sell you one. Until then, just what is this?

And I do not find that people who take the trouble to write Windoze in every sentence as if it were clever generally have much that is genuinely clever to say. Yes, some do. But I do not read much in the way of open forum internet stuff because the noise to signal ratio is so very high. I try to keep that to a minimum here, but I fear that the repetition on this subject has already got me bored stiff.

I will say it one more time. Cheap systems come with Windows. If you want a system without Windows, build your own, or buy one from a custom place and pay more. The fact that you must pay more for a system without Windows than one with one says a lot; but then if you want a car without a starter so that you can put in your own, I suspect you will pay more than one right off the dealer's lot.

Why is that so difficult to understand?

I just wanted to point out that the EULA does not have Microsoft refund you, it’s for the company that sold you your machine to refund you. Basically, if you buy a Toshiba, and go for the refund, it comes out of Toshiba’s pocket - it has nothing to do with Microsoft.

This is why Dell and a number of other companies have said "hah we won’t do this" and aren’t providing refunds.

Microsoft released a statement on this basically stating that OEMs are adults and can handle their own businesses and it’s not Microsoft’s job to police them on these things. However, expect a change in the EULA in the future.

Jason F. Moore []

Yes, of course, and thank you for making that clearer. This whole thing comes about from legalisms plus the rather silly consent decree Microsoft signed under FTC/DOJ pressure. What we actually have is a discount policy: you buy a lot of Microsoft OS licenses and your marginal cost is very low. Buy fewer and it's higher. The "per CPU" agreement was one of those; that one got forbidden, making the book keeping a lot more complicated, so now we have this.

It's all a bit of a tempest in a tea pot, amusing and not a lot more, and it's a bit sad to see so many intelligent people wasting this much time on a few bucks. The important thing is to get hardware prices down where we can all afford them. It wouldn't hurt to get Microsoft working harder on making Windows 2000 (which will be delivered in January 1901?) stable. For those who hate Microsoft this is a way to annoy them, or so they think. I just hope it doesn't have much effect on suppliers. I LIKE having $800 machines that will run Linux, and I really don't care if I have to scrub Windows off one first.


You touched on an important point that seems either not thought through, or completely overlooked, by the Refund Day movement. The final reality of this is not at all likely to be accommodation of easier Windows refunds, but a more entrenched license agreement that will close options and hurt us all—Windows users, as well as the OSS people who don’t want an installed OS.

I want a big backspace key over the ‘P’ like Jerry does, but I’m not suggesting a ‘Turn in Your Keyboard Day’ because most computers don’t come with it.

A good way to make a lion eat you is to start hitting him. Stop hitting Microsoft, and instead, group efforts together to locate and patronize (or establish your own) vendors who will sell OS-less or pre-installed Linux systems. That will affect Microsoft far more materially than any Refund Day, and yield more positive results for all of us in the long run. And it’s far more likely to one day lead all vendors to the water of offering an OS-less option, than is making trouble for them with what is already known to be problematic refunds.

-- Chuck Waggoner []

Pretty close to my sentiments. Thanks. Clearly there will an adjustment in the EULA, and clearly Microsoft will come out no weaker. Why expect otherwise? The thing we need to do is find real competition; cheap boxes with alternative OS do that. Open Source does that. Getting 'refunds' of a few bucks for a lot of effort doesn't, but if it amuses people by all means let them do it...


Subject: Commodity sales

I think one of the problems many readers are having on having on the subject of OS bundling is a misunderstanding of what business companies like Gateway or Dell are operating in. They are not offering distinct systems like an Apple or Commodore. Those companies engineered or specified to a vendor every aspect of their systems. A Mac or Amiga is/was a largely unique product within the industry. They might use the same CPU but couldn’t run each other’s OS and apps without special devices and a panoply of annoyances. (It was fun, though!)

The era when many truly distinct system were in the consumer market was more interesting in many ways but it was also much more difficult for developers and vendors to make a living. Many of you will recall how a profusion of Mac models became a terrible handicap for Apple’s inventory control. Opening up the market to third party vendors was a better solution because a small company could do well in a niche too small for a big operation like Apple to pursue. Of course, this required an attitude change that Apple was never able to master but that is a separate issue. The current management has wisely simplified the product line down to what one company can manage. You may not be able to get the exact Mac you’d like but at least there are new and better models coming to market.

The retail channel hated the days when a product came in half a dozen different SKUs. (Stock Keeping Unit) It makes their lives simpler when an entire wall can be given over to a single platform i.e. Wintel or Sony Playstation. When Sega seemed mired in a drunken stupor last year, many big chain happily eliminated the product from their shelves and gave the space to the expanding base of Sony and Nintendo.

The x86 market offers a dizzying range of choices because the hardware vendors have a single place to hook their drivers to the system. A commodity OS has alway been essential to hardware choice going back to the CP/M days and S100 boxes. This reached maturity when a single driver could written for the OS for all applications to use. Thus a new kind of computer company came into being, the Build To Order (BTO) commodity vendor. They did little or no engineering of their own. Their business model revolves around packaging and service. Dell can offer a high degree of customization to some parts of a consumer system becuase the most central elements remain the same. They are not really in the same business as Apple even though they compete for the same dollars.

What they are is a seller of Windows systems. This generic portion of the system allows for the most systems to be sold at the lowest price while still offering some choices for the customer. Some options will not be offered if they don’t represent better than a small niche of the market. This is the case for Linux in desktops. Servers, however, are a market where pre-installed Linux is much more in demand. The server market also has larger margins, which allows a vendor to offer greater customization while still making a profit. This is why Dell will happily sell you a server with Linux on it while showing great resistance to do the same for a consumer desktop. They don’t care if that winmodem ever works under any other OS because their competition is other Wintel shippers more than anything else.

Want a desktop without Windows? Be prepared to deal with a smaller company that probaly lacks the national reputation of the big brands. It might cost a little more but you’ll get what you want. It works that way in almost any kind of purchase of which I’ve ever heard. Rather than getting whiny with the big brands (many of the statements I’ve seen fit this adjective) vote with your wallet at a company that has what you want. If enough people make their choice in this way the alternative vendor will grow large enough to compete on price. At the same time those big brand companies will either follow the money or fade away.


Thank you. Much of what I was trying to get at. Maybe this will be the last word, and I am Marie of Rumania


Subject: See you got hit on Slashdot


I see today that you got hit on Slashdot over Windows refund day. Normally I dont’ read the comments on Slashdot (at least on controversial topics since they too often contain a lot of emotional thoughtless noise which I call the Slashdot no thought effect), but seeing your name I thought I should see what was up.

What I found was some reasonable opinions by you, although I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but nothing to get hysterical about. Dell is making noise they might offer Linux as an option, so I bet they have a cost effective way to do this. Dell only needs to buy one copy of say Red Hat, and could charge the same price as for Win98 or NT and start pocketing the difference. I expect the costs of putting Linux on won’t be much more than Win98 after they get it into production and will still make money.

The server your web page is on is probably getting a lot of hits (the better known Slashdot effect) so I hope it stays up, and I suspect you’ll get some needlessly rude half thought out email over the Windows refund issue.

Looking forward to the next Janisarries (sorry for the spelling) book,


Robert Leider

Apparently everything I ever wrote pales into insignificance over this; meaning that any support I ever gave to what I thought was real competition to Microsoft was unimportant unless I go along with this also. Well, enough. Darnell's servers run on Linux and if they manage to crash them it will I suppose be interesting. It also says a very great deal for the stability of that particular community.

Niven's Laws: "There is no cause so noble that it will not attract fuggheads and the fuggheads will attract all the attention."

Stay well.

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

It seems to me that you are attempting to use logic in response to what has become an almost religious hatred of Microsoft, with the expected results. Logic and reason rarely affect "religious" fervor.

While I personally have no love for Microsoft, I can see the merit of your views and agree. But those who truly hate Microsoft are, I fear, blinded by their hatred.

Your views are logical and reasonable and lost on those blinded by emotion.

Like you, I believe in the free market.

I think that eventually Microsoft’s success in placing "a computer on every desk," will either force a dramatic change in the way they write their software, or doom them.

As computers become as common as televisions a vast opportunity will exist for someone to write a truly stable OS. I’m old enough to remember a time when televisions (still something of a novelty) used unreliable vacuum tubes. I can still recall standing in line to test a handful of the tubes in order to find the bad one (the replacement tubes were even sold at convenience stores). Who today would put up with that from a television? When computers become as common as televisions, how many new users will long tolerate the problems with Windows?

I believe we are nearing the point where computers in the home are becoming just another appliance. As the novelty wears off, so will the tolerance for unreliable software. When that happens, either Microsoft will shift their focus to stabilizing their products (rather than rushing to sell new, unstable versions) or someone else will take over their market.

Claud Addicott

Thanks. Agree completely.

I bopped over to to see what the fuss was about and found that you were a Microsoft bootlicker. In all the years I’ve read your stuff enlightenment never came. Further, I’m told that you’ve published huge numbers of inaccurate statements and that it is likely that you do so deliberately! My gosh, if you only had an EULA, I’d ask to have my subscription refunded.

Further, I found that my intelligence is suspect because I enjoy and appreciate your efforts and because I sent you money. Never dawned on me that a suspect intelligence was the root of so many of my problems.

On a more serious note, do you or any of your readers have suggestions for a keyboard/video/mouse switch? I’ve a mechanical switch which is distressed that I’ve asked it to work with linux and NT boxes. There are gazillions of them available and I’m not able to find a review. I’d prefer an electronic box, not another mechanical.

Mark Huth

Belkin OmniCube from Fry's; works fine. I'll try to do a writeup. So I am a Microsoft boolicker who makes up his facts. I knew there was good reason to ignore that slashdot thing. Thanks. I have work to do.




Eric Pobirs []

Have you seen this yet?


I did a search of all the comments that referenced your name and found that someone had nominated your site for this honor. Apparently these folks think you have nothing better to do than study web design and HTML all the livelong day. Diplomacy is not an art practiced by much of the Slashdot forum contributors.

Of course, I’ve been anonymously honored myself, as "the kind of dweeb he relies on." The guy didn’t like the facts behind the reason Dell isn’t enthusiastic about selling Linux on consumer boxes. He insists that Windows is the only part that isn’t interchangeable. What he’s missing is that Windows’ driver support is what makes that interchangeablity possible. A consumer desktop based on Linux would be forced to use sound and video hardware that is dated and uncompetitive in the all-singing, all-dancing PCs sold in Best Buy or Circuit City.

A signal honor! So long as they spell my name right…

ALAS, I went looking for my page and it seems no longer there; and if there's a simple way to send mail to the site owner it wasn't clear to me. Oh well, for a minute there was glory.


Dear Mr. Pournelle:

Thank you for printing my diatribe about Win98 and Office 97 and the SR-1 update. Maybe someone will provide more feedback into what is going on and how to fix it.

I’ve been reading your email about Operating System envy/love/hate and am amazed at the lack of common sense. My feelings are—I think—what yours are on this issue: I don’t care what O.S. I use (or more correctly my clients use) as long as it does the job and provides the tools needed and is relatively easy to maintain. I think people forget "90% of everything is crap". I’ve use Win9x, Nt, Linux, and Unix. I learned programming on a PDP8 and mainframes which loved to consume punch cards (and God save us from that!). All I’ve learned is that the "best OS" is the one that will be available "real soon now."

People take shots at Microsoft for suffocating other OS’s but what is so different in what they do than the industry as a whole. I remember when IBM mainframes could only be leased not purchased and when you needed upgrading to a more powerful model the tech came in and changed a few connections on your current machine and presto! You were upgraded—because it was cheaper for IBM to build one box and then artificially downsize it. And remember IBM got started with the PC to protect its mainframe market—not because they thought we needed a powerful computer on the desktop.

Someone commented on Microsoft screwing over Digital Research and the GEM GUI O.S. Does anyone remember who took the first shots at it? Apple— because its "look and feel" were too like the Mac OS. Digital Research was reduced to one market for its true windowing version: Atari (I know: Who’s that?). And how come no one seems offended that if you want a MAC you get their O.S. Remember—it’s the "O.S. in ROM" (more or less!).

The simple fact of the matter is that Microsoft Windows is "good enough" in the eyes of the consumer. The bulk of individuals using (mark that USING!) a computer just want to get a job done and go home. Only people who love computers for themselves (and I am one --25 year of being fascinated and going strong) think otherwise. And this availability of "good enough" systems has driven the market to the point where anyone can go out and get system that 20 years ago even people in the industry wouldn’t have believed -- and all for $2000+. It has also convinced the average person that computers ARE "for the rest of us!" And that is good for all of us.

Think about it. What other system is "out there" that you can ask the high school kid next door and get a reasonable answer or the friend at work (or the neighborhood geek). They may "hate" Windows but they can answer your question. And for those who care—eliminating Microsoft is only an "fdisk/format" away. But you have to WANT TO DO IT AND KNOW HOW! Most people don’t.

Does anyone really think that Microsoft has to twist a PC vendor’s arm to deliver a system with Windows on it? Do you think the average family buying a PC would choose another OS over Microsoft (brand recognition!)? Look at most businesses—it's hard enough to get them to upgrade to the newer version of Win/Dos. Does anyone really think they want to jump to something completely new. Half the Y2K problem is legacy—" We don’t /can’t/costs too much /it scares the hell out of us to upgrade!"

It is fear of this tech support that drives vendors to provide Windows as much as anything. It’s this cost not OS cost driving vendors. Remember installation disks. Now it "pre-installed" and you’re lucky if you even get a Windows 9x CD. They have made it easy for us by creating a "restore CD." In other words, scrub the hard disk and put it back to the state it was in at purchase—their "answer" to a customer’s problem. Why, because it is too hard (read too expensive) for most other tech support. Imagine the situation if they had to support several OS possibilities on their average systems? "You wand Linux? Ok. Good luck! Got a problem, see our Web site for help and there is lots of other help on the Web, lots of Linux gurus. What’s that: PC won’t boot to OS so you can’t connect, well OK you need to buy another PC so you can connect and we’ve got a deal today on a Win2xxxxxxxxxx system for only..." (Of course, it’ll probably be the same pretty soon for Windows with only the OS’s reversed.)

We don’t need to get caught up in "MicroHate." What is needed is to emphasize the value in various OS’s. And point out the crap in all OS’s. And not be so touchy. I like Window98 till it zaps me then I hate it. I love Linux until I need to do a complete install then its antacid time. Windows NT is great and stable until I have to upgrade it or alter the network then my head keeps putting dents in the metal case. Macs are wonderful to use till I have to fix one.

If you don’t like Microsoft’s business practices say so, support changes and MOVE ON. Microsoft too bigºd, Netscape=good; come on. Netscape got market share by effectively giving away Navigator (how many really sent them money for downloads). They should complain that Microsoft noticed and emulated. Now that it is AOL/Netscape are they too big? Can we kick them? How simple do we think industry executives are (don’t answer that!)? Microsoft’s practices are the norm of a very aggressive, venture driven industry. Anyone think IBM, Digital, Wang didn’t walk this tightrope and eventually slip. Ten years ago would anyone believe that a PC clone vendor would eat Digital for lunch. Microsoft crime is gigantism—it is the biggest. How many remember "What’s good for GM is good for the country" and a guy (forgive me, Jerry) named Ralph Nader. We went from legimate criticism to fanaticism to nearly destroying a complete industry in the US. We lost our common sense and rather than fixing what was bad started a crusade.

My wife says it is a "guy thing." We just like to argue. She contents that when men started developing the spear we spent years debating which end of the stick the point needed to go on. (And anyone who doesn’t see the truth in this hasn’t read Swift.) She is an R.N. Administrator and de facto computer guru for the business she works for. She finds the men occasionally using the computers invariably want to know why the "latest and greatest" OS, program, hardware, etc. isn’t running while the women who are constantly using the system (nurses, office staff) just want it to work OK ("It works OK, I can get my job done and if you touch it we’re going to kill you!").

The hardware and software of today will be gone in 10 years. The Microsoft's of today will be gone to if they don’t change. But, human nature will still be here—both the best and the worst. And all those people pissed at you Mr. Pournelle for using common sense better look at the outside world or someday the concern won’t be what OS is better but what a government dictates you MAY use. Give the "government" a crack to step in and they will push it wider and wider "for our own good." Wishing to silence the "other guy" in ANYTHING is self-destructive because sooner or later someone will come to silence YOU.

Oh well, its amazing how quickly a criticism of ranting can turn into a rant (See, it is "a guy thing"). I just wish the children would grow up. Life is too short to hate and badmouth individuals because they don’t like your operating system! They should get out into the world and look at the really bad people: the dictators, the bigots, the hatemongers, those who want to REALLY take your freedoms away. Those who "have your best interest at heart" and "know what is best for you." Don’t hate them, despise them and do what you can to oppose them.

David M. Yerka []

A guy thing. I think you have something. And my fears regarding letting the government camel get its nose in the tent are well known…


Eric Pobirs []

David M. Yerka really nailed it. His letter echoed many of my sentiments exactly.

Watching how people get so worked up about operating systems makes it easier to understand how wars happen. If you don’t love my OS and don’t share my hatred of another you must be one of THEM and therefore my enemy. This is playing out an oft repeated tale. I can remember going to Amiga user meetings. Even though I was someone with an A500 system on my desk, if I mentioned something about the Commodore machine that didn’t work or even worse pointed how the same function was done much better on the Atari ST, you’d think I brought a plate of dog excrement and offered it as a snack. I could get the same reaction by reversing the roles at an Atari group. Or a Mac gathering.

The most rabid types seemed to have a few things in common. In particular, they were never the guys who coded on this stuff for a living. Having to wrestle with the internals of any system seems to lend a calmer demeanor to their perspective. If asked, the guys who had written on multiple systems could explain how every one of them was really cool or just horrible, depending on what you were doing. Kind of like people. I’ve tried to stick by that approach and not become emotionally dependent on any one type of machine. I’d rather be a bachelor and enjoy the variety.


I’m a regular reader of, the anonymous coward is a ‘nym used by people who either don’t want to be known, or are too lazy to login to the slashdot system so their name is displayed. I regularly read the articles posted on slashdot, and I used to post and read the comments, but now that slashdot has become so popular I don’t bother. It appears that once a site/system/foruem reaches a certain critical mass the S/N ratio goes to hell and it isn’t worth the effort to dig out the occasional gem from all the crap that gets posted (including lies, misinformation, etc.)

Don’t let the noise discourage you from your Linux explorations. Reading your trials with Linux has helped me realize how far it still has to go to become a ‘Windows Killer’. I’ve forgotten how difficult it is for a ‘normal’ user beause I’ve been using it for so long now. Actually, I don’t dislike the windows interface at all—my biggest problem, and the reason that I use Linux for everything other than Quicken and TurboTax, is that it crashes too damn much while doing perfectly normal tasks. I shouldn’t have to ‘baby’ my OS to keep it from eating my data.

As to the organization of your site, I must agree that its not too well organized—but I like it that way. Disorganization (or misorganization?) isn’t a bad thing if the information being organized is worthwhile, as your site is. And with you being as busy as you are its more important for it to be easy for you to update so that you can get back to more important matters instead of futzing around trying to keep everything cross-indexes, etc. Although I’m sure someone could come up with a way to automate the process somewhat.

Take care,

Brian Lane


Nexus Computing


Software &; Electronics for Linux


Inside is a comfortable 73.77 F and Outside is a freezing 36.67 F



As a regular reader of Slashdot, I guess I have to comment on this whole affair. There is a serious problem here, but it would be incorrect to oversimplify it.

It’s true that there are a lot of obnoxious and abrasive people who post to the Slashdot discussion forums. Part of the reason for this is that Slashdot allows anonymous postings (it’s a hacker site after all), and whenever you get a large body of anonymous people, the social order tends to break down. The comment in my current sig line, "Politeness doesn’t scale" refers to exactly this phenomena.

Note that there is more to Slashdot than it’s discussion forum, and these other parts are of a substantially different character. I generally only read the news articles, not the discussions. News articles are posted by the people who run the Slashdot site, are almost always interesting, and never contain personal attacks or abusive language.

Jon Katz has noted that whenever he has posted an article on Slashdot, about 75% of the public commentary is juvenile abuse. However, he also gets a large quantity of email from people who read his article, but chose not to reply in public. The large majority of these private messages are overwhelmingly supportive and polite. I suspect that you may be seeing similar ratios in your own mail.

Another thing to note is that IRC and Usenet are far, far worse than Slashdot in terms of impoliteness and abrasiveness. In other words, the problems of Slashdot are in fact symptomatic of the problems of the entire net. I wonder if perhaps one of the "benefits" that our modern telecommunications technology has brought to us is that it now allows adolescent males from all over the globe to engage in a continuous ongoing "pissing contest".

What I find interesting about all of this is that it relates strongly to the issue of cryptography and privacy. The extreme crypto-libertarian view is that everyone should be allowed to carry out every transaction or social exchange in perfect anonymity. However, without some kind of accountability, some way of tracing identities, any community (real or virtual) soon turns into a kind of inner-city jungle, a nightmare of recurring verbal vandalism. (This is what Brin’s book, _The Transparent Society_, is really all about, BTW.)

I suspect that if your site had the same loose editorial control that Slashdot has (i.e. if you allowed public discussion forums where anyone could post messages under an assumed name) you would soon find your own site in exactly the same difficulty.

There has been some discussions on Slashdot recently about strengthening the editorial function; There was some effort towards this last year, whereby a "rating" system was instituted, such that readers could set their "filters" to ignore postings that had a low rating. However, this has been mostly ineffective, in my opinion, because it does not offer enough of a disincentive for impoliteness.

In summary: anything that is posted to a Slashdot public discussion forum by an anonymous poster can be safely ignored. Don’t take it too seriously, because nobody else does either.


Talin ( Talin’s third law: "Politeness doesn’t scale."

I expect you've got something there, but from my view some places aren't worth the time investment, and I fear that this one, with demonstrable falsehoods by anonymous people "testifuing" in first person about incidents that never happened -- at least one of the encounters with me reported there took place but is just plain wrong in the description -- I fear that Slashdot has used all the time I could afford for it. I make no doubt that if anything important goes on over there one or another reader will make sense of it and tell me about it…


Dr. Pournelle,

Re: Mark Huth, Chris Measdows, Windoze and the whole slashdot mindlessness

What these folks don't seem to realize is that use of terms such as "Windoze" and "Micro$oft" makes the whole argument look juvenile and meaningless. Lord knows, I don't take them seriously when they act like kids sitting in a tree house, giggling as they write the rules for a secret society, and I'm firmly in the "Microsoft has a monopoly and has abused it" camp. What is next, a sign that says "No Gurls Allowed" tacked to the clubhouse wall?

They also don't seem to realize that behaving like religious fanatics isn't helping the cause; it just gives Microsoft great ammo to point the press at them and say, "See? Only the lunatic fringe is up in arms about this."

As for Slashdotcom: Revel in the award. One of the purposes of your site, as I see it, is to explore the technologies and write about what happened when you played around with each. I learn a lot about technology from your (sometimes maddening) experiences, which saves me the time and trouble of having to go through the same experience. It is no coincidence or detraction that the Web site is a work in progress.

At 1990 Origin game conference, the Academy of Game Sciences awarded Game Designer's Workshop's board game Space 1889 three of its annual Worst Of… awards. Instead of taking the AGS to task, GDW founder Marc Miller had thousands of gold stickers printed up, each saying "Winner of 3 Academy of Game Sciences Awards!" and plastered one on each Space 1889 box.

I would certainly recommend doing the same with your "award." <g>

Jessica Mulligan

Thank you. In contrast to Slashdot we mostly have good sense in this conference, and I am very grateful.

Gamergals. What kind of games do you prefer? I love computer games. Alas, as I spend far too much time with them…





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