RIP my English blog

In the last 12 months I've managed to post whopping 14 articles into my English-language blog. That's six and a half times less than what I published on my main, Estonian-language site. Since the new Blogger has labels that you can use for filtering the content, I've decided to move all the articles over to wolli.blogspot.com and tag them as "english".

ppmotskula.blogspot.com is now officially obsolete.


Skype in parallel universes

Jaanus Kase bragged about running four [different] Skypes in one box, and Jim Courtney asked how would someone come up with (and have the time for) doing this.

Well, there are several reasons I could come up with quickly (in no particular order).

  • Testing. You may want to test the new versions of Skype (and/or Skype Extras) every now and then. On Windows, uninstalls are almost never complete and clean, so if you don't like your machine's registry and other places getting clogged with all sorts of leftovers of the stuff you've taken a look at. Furthermore, "scientifically" good tests must be done in controlled environment, and a system contaminated with random remnants of previously installed software would not exactly qualify.
  • Features. Skype does not offer identical feature sets on Windows, Mac, and Linux. While the Windows is still the most-used desktop operating system worldwide, there is a growing number of people who prefer Mac OS X or Linux. So if you're one of the "heretics" but still want to occasionally use the newest features that have only made it into Skype for Windows thus far, firing up a virtual machine with Windows on it would make sense.
  • Hack value. Hey, it's a freaking cool hack, isn't it? ;)
As I do have to test new stuff, and as I don't boot my computers into Windows (I've been on Ubuntu Linux for nearly two years, and see no reason to switch back — but that's another story), I have a VMware Server and a bunch of (licensed) virtual OSes installed. So it takes me less than 5 minutes to unzip and boot into a "virgin" Windows XP or Vista without ever having to go through the entire re-installation of the operating system.

One thing I can not do (yet) is using Skype for Mac OS X on my Linux box. Apple's licensing policy does not support running OS X on virtual hardware, and although several hackers claim they've got OS X to run in VMware on Linux, I've not taken the trouble.


Installing Vista in VMware on Ubuntu

After several failures and a lot of web browsing, I finally succeeded in installing Windows Vista Business in VMware Server running on Ubuntu 6.10.
At first, I just created a new VMware virtual machine with default settings for guest OS Windows Vista (experimental). Booted it from Vista DVD, answered a couple of questions, entered the product key, started the installation and got as far as "Expanding files (0%)". On the next morning, the installer was still expanding files at 0% (the process had not crashed, it just failed to do anything useful).

Then, I tried to play with the virtual machine settings. Googling around led me to a configuration with 512 MB RAM, 20 GB IDE HDD, NAT networking, and 1 CPU. Booted from Vista DVD, and ended up exactly where I did before.

Finally, I resorted to a workaround provided in VMware's Guest Operating System Installation Guide (with regard to Vista beta; I was using the officially released version, though), installed Windows XP Pro into a clean virtual machine, and then upgraded that to Windows Vista without any further major problems.

However, I had to conclude that Vista's installer is designed by morons — just as those of any previous Windows versions. While all the Linux installers I've come across recently ask all necessary questions first, and then allow you to safely go to have a cup of coffee, a lunch, or even sleep, the "geniuses" at Redmond have put a question about whether to allow automatic updates or not somewhere halfway down the installation process. Smart, eh?


HOWTO leave your computer

Joel Spolsky thinks that Choices = Headaches, discussing the OFF button in Windows Vista with its 7 choices and 2+n ways to access these choices.

The 7 choices are Sleep, Hibernate, Lock, Switch User, Logout, Restart, and Shut Down. By the way, I've got the same choices on my Ubuntu Linux.

If you've spoken to a non-geek recently, you may have noticed that they have no idea what the difference is between "sleep" and "hibernate." They could be trivially merged. One option down.
Agreed. Both choices are really about "I'm going away from my computer for a while, and want to find it in its current state when I return -- including the battery level." Leaving the decision when to hibernate a suspended/sleeping computer should really be left with the power management software.

Switch User and Lock can be combined by letting a second user log on when the system is locked. That would probably save a lot of forced-logouts anyway. Another option down.
Agreed. There is hardly any reason why one should switch user from a state other than locked. By the way, on Ubuntu the "Switch User" choice is there whenever the computer is locked.

Once you've merged Switch User and Lock, do you really need Log Off? The only thing Log Off gets you is that it exits all running programs. But so does powering off, so if you're really concerned about exiting all running programs, just power off and on again. One more option gone.
This is where I think Joel misses one really important point. Log Off does not exit all running programs. It exits all userspace programs started by this user (unless specifically set to survive their owner logging off), but keep the system running so that other users (or myself) can still use its shared resources over the network. Well, Windows has traditionally been a PC (personal computer) thing while Unixes are built to be used in networks.

Restart can be eliminated. 95% of the time you need this it's because of an installation which prompted you to restart, anyway. For the other cases, you can just turn the power off and then turn it on again. Another option goes away. Less choice, less pain.
"An installation which prompted you to restart" means kernel update. Oops, not in Windows where you may be required to reboot your whole operating system after installing another word processor or web browser. How pathetic!

On the other hand, there are cases where you don't have physical access to the power button to turn your computer back on -- for example, if you're accessing it over a network. That's where shutdown -r comes in really handy.

Of course, you should eliminate the distinction between the icons and the menu. That eliminates two more choices.
What distinction? There are different ways of doing things. Alice loves the simplicity of icons, Bob prefers the choice available in menus, Charlie appreciates the power of the command line, and Doris just closes the lid and leaves.


Many people nowadays think about "personalization" as ability to change your wallpaper, screen saver, and (if applicable) ring tones. I think that real personalization would mean the ability to modify your menus, keyboard shortcuts, preferred applications, and so on.

But then again, I'm a geek. And while I want to be able to fine-tune my working environment to my needs and likings, I agree that an IT specialist providing desktop support to 100 colleagues should really standardize the system configuration, and lock it up so that these support-needing colleagues would not be able to modify it. After all, they'd be calling in from a remote office, saying that their Word just refused to print, and you've got to be able to tell them which buttons, and in which order, to click.


Freewheeling leader

Personal DNA test says I am a freewheeling leader. I can agree to most results of this fun and quick personality test, but, heck, it's based on the answers I gave about myself. Want to assess me? Give it a try, and share the results with me if you dare ;) I would be happy to return the favour if you care.


Spam (1337)

As you can see, my Gmail spam folder just reached 1337 status :)



Did you know that IE7 is out?

Now you do ;)