Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Circle of (Computing) Life and the Second PC Revolution

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Vol. 10, #31 - Aug 10, 2010 - Issue #441

 The Circle of (Computing) Life and the Second PC Revolution

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Follow-up: Internet Security Training
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Why does XP still rule the desktop?
    • Gamers, behold: a newer, slimmer Xbox
    • Dual boot netbook with XP and Android
    • XP credited with "protecting" phones from mobile malware?
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to change the default wallpaper folder
  5. XP Security News
    • This Patch Tuesday sets a record
  6. XP Question Corner
    • Where's the XP installation disc?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • "Security log on this system is full" message
    • Extending a file fails with "Disk Full" error
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • ecoPrint2 Standard: Ink and Toner Saver- Saving Money And The Environment One Page At A Time.

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 Editor's Corner

The Circle of (Computing) Life and the Second PC Revolution Once upon a time, computing was centralized in gigantic mainframe multi-user systems. End users accessed the computing resources through "dumb terminals" and had little control over installing or configuring applications. Data was stored on the mainframe. In the earliest days of computing, the huge machines were so costly that most organizations couldn't afford to buy one of their own, so they rented time on a mainframe that physically resided in another location. The problem with this was that the companies had no control over those machines, on which they depended for critical business functions.

Then along came minicomputers, which were smaller and more affordable. Unlike the big mainframes, which filled entire rooms, their cabinets could be as small as a large refrigerator. And whereas the mainframes cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, a mini could be had for $15,000 to $20,000 (on the low end). They were still multi-user systems. Now companies that weren't huge corporations were able to own their own machines, which resided on their premises. This was considered a major step forward.

However, these systems still didn't offer the kind of flexibility and individual control that users wanted and needed to be more productive. So the next development in the evolution of computing was the microcomputer, which came to be called the "personal computer" or PC when IBM chose that name to market their single user systems. Early microcomputers were also sold by Apple and Radio Shack. These desktop computers allowed users to have more control over their machines and be less dependent on the data center.

Today, we seem to have come full circle and computers have gotten about as small and personal as they can functionally get. Smart phones are full fledged computers that are orders of magnitude more powerful than the first mainframes and can be held in the palm of your hand. But as they always say, change is inevitable (except from vending machines). Computing has slowly become more centralized again, with network-based storage, companies deploying server-based applications, delivery of virtualized operating systems to thin clients, and so forth. And now we're rushing headlong back to the off-premises computing situation from whence we came - only now we're calling it "the cloud."

And make no mistake about it, the cloud is the next big thing, whether we like it or not (and responses to my surveys indicate that most users and many IT pros don't like it at all). Microsoft has made the public commitment that they are "all in." Google is hard at work on a cloud-based operating system. IBM, Amazon, Cisco, Citrix, Novell, Oracle, VMware, Red Hat, Sun - all the "big names" in the business have their heads in the cloud to one degree or another. And a plethora of smaller, lesser known players are hoping to make their fortunes there.

But how does the cloud really differ from the old mainframe time-sharing system? Certainly, the technology itself is far more powerful and far more advanced, and the networks are faster and more reliable. And the hardware on which the cloud infrastructure is based is arguably less expensive, thus (in theory, at least) reducing the cost to the client companies.

And it's difficult to deny that having every user in complete control of his/her computing assets causes problems. When users can install their own programs, they can introduce viruses and malware, or just do it incorrectly and mess up the system. When users store their data on their own machines, they can accidentally delete it or leave sensitive files unencrypted. Total user control makes for a security risk and a tech support nightmare. Is it any wonder that IT departments have pulled back from that model?

But with the momentum now moving in the other direction, will we go too far? It makes perfect sense to use some cloud services but current thinking is that eventually all of our apps and data will be "out there." Will it happen? With all the big money folks behind it, I'd say yes - but I don't think it's going to happen quite as quickly as those with a vested interest in it are hoping. There's still a lot of resistance in the business world as well as among consumers. Nonetheless, eventually we'll all be dragged kicking and screaming into the cloud.

My real question, though, is how long will it last? Just as inevitable as the cloud is the second PC revolution, when companies and individuals rebel against having someone else control their data and user experiences and technology companies see that the next big opportunity is to market a "new" concept: decentralized computing. Just as the fashion world moves from short skirts to long, wide ties to narrow, the computing world will move again from the cloud back to the datacenter and to the desktop.

The likely answer is that this trend will emerge after the first two or three cloud disasters. When a major company has its confidential data exposed or lost, when a bunch of big organizations are brought to a standstill for hours or days because of a connectivity outage that keeps them from connecting to their resources in the cloud, when there's a big loss of money (or even lives, if an organization impacted by the cloud's limitations deals in healthcare or critical infrastructure) - that's when we'll see the second PC revolution begin.

What do you think? Am I wrong about the inevitability of cloud computing? Or am I wrong about the corresponding inevitability of a second PC revolution? If I'm right about both, how long will it take for each to happen? Will we be fully "cloudified" in five years? Ten? Will we be sick of the cloud in another five? Or will the cloud providers find a way to overcome the seeming limitations and keep us in the cloud for the foreseeable future? If ubiquitous 50Mbps Internet connectivity becomes a reality, would that change the game and make the cloud a "keeper?" Will that level of connectivity be widely available, at a reasonable cost, anytime soon? Where will this leave all those rural users who are still struggling with their 56Kbps modems today? We invite you to discuss these topics in our forum at

Follow-up: Internet Security Training

In last week's editorial, I broached the question: should Internet security training be mandated - either by the government or by company policy? And how about training and licensing for IT pros?

Some readers spoke up in favor of testing for IT pros, but didn't make it clear whether they were talking about a government testing/licensing program or what companies should do before hiring people for IT positions. There's also a big difference between saying what companies should and saying they must do it.

Doug1947 brought up a good point when he said: "A good way to lose control is to attempt to impose control" and noted that regulations on other industries have driven those industries overseas. And Piolenc pointed out another angle: "Instant, total surveillance and control of online activity! No more anonymous speech - if you say anything that those in power don't like, you are identified as the speaker and your credentials are revoked. Licensing would simply end Internet freedom, probably forever."

Joe A., in email, took this approach: "I seem to recall an argument being made in past issues to treat Internet connections as a utility, much like cable, phone, power, etc. Should we also be licensed to use these services?" I guess the better analogy would be to the public roadways, because you don't generally pose a risk to other people by your use of cable, phone and power. However, your Internet use does have ramifications for others, as does your use of your car on the road. Note that I'm not arguing in favor of licensing Internet users, just pointing out what that argument would be.

Another email, from Mike C., said, "When you said 'But it would be much easier for the government to enact laws requiring employers to provide training for Internet users', I had to reread to make certain I was understanding your statement. I am all for government control when it involves something that is beyond the means or understanding of a business/people....but this is something that, to me, comes down to a personal choice as to whether to do or not to do. To have yet another law/policy that basically takes away the responsibility from those who should have the right to choose what they deem necessary for their business also takes away the rights to do as one wants insofar as being able to decide how their business is operated."

Hey, Mike, I agree with you! Just because I think it would be easier doesn't mean I think it would be the right thing to do.

Thanks to all of those who participated in this week's discussion!

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it." - H. L. Mencken

"Advice to children crossing the street: Damn the lights. Watch the cars. The lights ain't never killed nobody." - Moms Mabley

"The knack of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss." - Douglas Adams

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 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without

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 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Why does XP still rule the desktop?

Windows 7 has been on the market for almost a year now, and it continues to steadily gain market share - but XP still has over 60 percent of the desktop market. Is it just the bad economy that has kept people from upgrading, or are other factors involved? ComputerWorld lists five reasons XP has stayed on top. Do you agree with them? Would you add others? Read the list at

Gamers, behold: a newer, slimmer Xbox

Microsoft's latest version of its popular Xbox gaming console is called the Xbox 360 Slim, and it includes the much-discussed Kinect technology that goes a step further than the Wii in detecting motion and making your body the game controller. Consequently, the new model has fewer buttons and that contributes to the sleeker look. It also has wi-fi connectivity built-in; this was something for which you had to buy an extra adapter with previous Xboxes. Read more here:

Dual boot netbook with XP and Android

Many netbooks don't have enough disk space for two operating systems, and most of those that do certainly don't come with two installed. But Acer has announced a new netbook that runs both Windows XP as its main OS and Android as a "quick boot" OS that you can use when you just want to look up a web page or check your web mail. Read more here:

XP credited with "protecting" phones from mobile malware?

Despite the claim that the vulnerability of Windows XP makes it such an easy mark for malware writers that they haven't bothered to port their evil wares to mobile phone platforms, this article does contain an important message: There may have "only" been 500 or so mobile viruses developed so far, but sooner or later the bad guys are going to set their sights on the millions of smart phones out there, and when they do, things could get ugly fast. One reason XP is targeted is because it has the largest market share of any desktop OS. What does that say for the iPhone's potential as an attractive target for mobile malware writers? Read "You will be filled $90,000 for this call":

 How To: Using XP Features

How to change the default wallpaper folder

Windows XP comes with a number of built-in wallpapers, but most of them aren't very exciting. You've probably customized your desktop background by using a photo of your own. It's easy to do this by right clicking a photo on a website and selecting "Set as wallpaper" but what if you'd like to be able to quickly and easily choose a photo from a folder of your own pictures on your computer? You can edit the registry to make XP look in a different folder for wallpapers when you change the wallpaper via the Display Properties dialog box, Desktop tab. First, make sure to back up your registry and then perform these steps:

  1. Open the registry editor and navigate to: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SOFTWARE \ Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion

  2. In the right details pane, double click the value WallPaperDir (if it doesn't exist, you can create a new string value and give it that name).

  3. Double click the value and in the Value Data field, enter the path to the folder you want to use as the default (for example, c:\ Documents and Settings \ username \ My Documents \ My Pictures).

  4. Close the registry editor.
No reboot is necessary. The next time you open the dialog box, the images in your My Pictures folder should show up, along with those default XP wallpapers.
 XP Security News

This Patch Tuesday sets a record

We've had some big Patch Tuesdays before, but never one that included so many separate security bulletins. A total of thirty-four security issues will be covered by the fourteen bulletins that Microsoft is releasing. Five critical vulnerabilities apply to Windows XP. Remember that you now must have SP3 to be able to patch your XP OS. Read more here:
 XP Question Corner

Where's the XP installation disc?

I have XP home edition, and have been told that there is no "fix it" disc anymore, and that Microsoft puts it in the "c" drive. Is this true and if so how do I find it? Thank you. - Mandy

The information you got is "sort of" correct - sometimes. Microsoft doesn't make/sell computers, just software. The "fix it" disc to which you refer is the XP installation disc (or a version of it that includes the system's drivers, usually called a recovery disc).

When OEMs (hardware vendors such as Dell, HP, Sony, etc.) sells you a computer, they usually preload the operating system on it. The OEM can provide you with an installation disc if they choose to do so. To save on cost, most have stopped doing that and instead, they may copy the installation disc files to the hard drive. This may be on the C: drive or they may create a separate partition for it, usually called the recovery partition. You usually access the recovery partition by pressing a function key (usually F11) during bootup. Some OEMs require you to create your own installation/recovery disc during the Setup process.

Bottom line: You need to read the manual that came with your computer, contact your hardware vendor or do an Internet search on your particular computer model to find out for sure what the recovery process is for that system.
 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

"Security log on this system is full" message

If you try to log onto a Windows XP computer and get a message saying "The security log on this system is full," this happens because no more events can be logged to the Security log. Only administrative accounts will be able to log on under these circumstances. To find out what you need to do to resolve the matter, see KB article 867860 at

Extending a file fails with "Disk Full" error

If you get a message that says "Disk is full" or "insufficient resources" or a similar error when an application tries to add a new record to a database or otherwise extend a file, and you know there is enough space on the disk, it might be because the file is extremely fragmented. To find out what to do about this, see KB article 957180 at
 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

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 About WXPnews

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