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The Northern Spy
February 2004

To talk of many things

Rick Sutcliffe

'The time has come,' the walrus said,

'To talk of many things:

Of shoes-- and ships-- and sealing-wax--

Of cabbages-- and kings--

And why the sea is boiling hot--

And whether pigs have wings.'

--from The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll

The crows are back outside the Spy's igloo, and when number one son was over the other day to wash his car he spotted, not the owl of that name, but a pair of white tail deer, so Spring must be getting close. Time to get the tractor ready to haul manure to the garden.

Speaking of which, don't the latest shenanigans at SCO remind you of crows on a wire? (You thought he'd use the other analogy, didn't you?) Now an SCO website offers all and sundry a license to use Linux, as though they had already won their frivolous lawsuit against the rest of the real world. Back in the bad old days when then sole industry giant (big blue) employed FUD against the seven dwarves, it was a top down affair. This one is strictly from the bottom of the pond. But SCO jumped the shark back when they abandoned doing genuine business in the marketplace for their laughable attempts to make money solely in the law courts.

One could also conclude by reading the latest amendments to the actual suit, that SCO has shifted its focus from the original claim that code was copied from their licensed projects into Linux. Now, they appear to be saying that companies who wrote code for joint projects with SCO, and later abandoned those projects, cannot use their own code in other products. Who would consider writing a contract with them today? By the way, when the Spy tried to use the SCO web site to see how much the "license" would cost, it was broken. The story of their lives.

Little is broken at Apple, by contrast. The iPod mini comes to market with pre orders in the six figures, and the new Xserve looks good. Speed bumps on a wide range of machines are imminent (including a faster G4 Powerbook), the company is debt free and flush with cash. A good time to go shopping. Mind, the excitement elsewhere over the new Office suite brings yawns from the Spy. Perhaps something good will come of it though--like the first relatively bug free Excel since 1998, or a Word organized to follow Apple's guidelines. Or, is that too much to hope for?

On this side of the big speed bump called the forty-ninth parallel, Toronto is not only the self-proclaimed centre of the Canadian universe, but apparently Apple's as well. Cupertino is reportedly thinking of locating their first two stores in the TO area, one in Yorkdale, the other in the Eaton centre. Say, what about a store in beautiful downtown Bradner, Lower Economy, or Come-by-Chance? But, hello, contrary to what Torontonians think and Apple Canada apparently believes, most of Canada lies far outside the metro area.

News of a Cingular buyout of AT&T, meanwhile, reminds the Spy that Pixar, Steve's other toy, is apparently in play. So is Disney, on widespread dissatisfaction with current management and the fall out from failure of contract talks with Pixar. Say, whatever happened to those Apple-Disney-Pixar merger rumours? Suppose we threw Sony into the mix, combining fanatical customer loyalty, four top brands, three sets of consumer outlets, and today's most successful animator? Now wouldn't that be a combination to write a few headlines, not to mention a consumer powerhouse in the aftermath?

Can you imagine watching Nemo2 on a video-enabled PDA/cellphone while conferencing with New York and London on the split screen and automatically downloading documents via Bluetooth from the desktop into the portable OS X in the background? Wait a second? Do we need Disney in this picture? Maybe it would be better not to sell Macs next to Goofy dolls. Still, if reach is what marketing is all about, Apple could become a big time merchandiser by taking over Sony. Fewer stores than Radio Shack, but much tonier.

The Spy would also be derelict (it's debatable) if he failed to inject his own rumours of possible alliances with one or more makers of word processing products, and even to note that floundering Sun and Motorola could both use new leadership of the order Steve Jobs provides. Take it for what it's worth.

The flies in Apple's ointment are three. First, lawsuits by the Beatle's over the use of "Apple" in their music business, and another by rapper Marshall Mathers III (Eminem) over the use of one of his songs in an iTunes ad threaten to distract energy and money better spent on real business. But far more serious is Apple's own decision to reduce staff in the education division. Wrong direction, folks, and worthy of a "there oughta be a law against stupidity' award. It should be increased. Apple still doesn't get the education market, still doesn't understand that creative marketing in this sector is the key to long term growth.

Meanwhile, security is in the news again, with reports of a yet another (F) variant of MyDoom, which adds the ability to delete files on the machines it infests. A bigger yawn for we in the Mac world, but at the same time a languid back of the hand for the disingenuous pundits who claim that Macs are free of such depredations only because there are so few of them they're not worth attacking. Not. Hey, the script kiddie who first finds a way to break Mac security would be a cult anti-hero of the last order. Fact of the matter is, as many have noted in recent days, OS X (and other BSD systems) are inherently more secure than other OSs from the ground up.

Not that we on the light side ought to get complacent. It's only a matter of time before someone does discover a vulnerability. Still, with zero known OS X viruses, worms, or Trojan horses compared to between 50K and 100K such attacking the monopoly's boxes, you gotta wonder why people hang on to inferior products so long. 'Course, they don't really last all that long, but that's a horse of a different colour.

The same is true when it comes to attacks from the outside (that is, not from worms, viruses, or Trojan Horses). Macs are indeed inherently more secure. So say many studies, including a recent mi2g Intelligence unit study, which found that BSD systems like the Mac are the hardest to mount a successful attack against, particularly in the government sector, where there were no recorded intrusions, the first time that statistic had been recorded for an OS.

The percentage of successful intrusions against Linux has grown in recent months, but that may be due as much to the fact that newer Linux boxes (and there are a flood of new ones with this OS) are often not well configured for security purposes initially. Neither are Windows machines, but administrators have had more time to learn about the worst problems and take measures to prevent them before connecting to a network. Here again Mac OS X shines, as it comes out of the box with good security in place by default, so that vulnerabilities have to be created by the administrator, rather than the other way around (holes plugged before putting the box in service).

In this vein, the Spy recently noted that SMTP and POP traffic should always be encrypted by using the secure settings on eMail servers and clients. Of course the same is true of FTP, which everyone should replace by SFTP for the same reasons, even if only that passwords not be sent in the clear. Now, here's a tip for WHM administrators (resellers) on cPanel/Linux boxes. Have a look in "Tweak Settings" under Server setup. At the bottom is a new setting that will automatically redirect any traffic from the cPanel or WHM insecure ports to the corresponding secure ports. This forces both resellers and customers to use secure connections so their account passwords are not sent in the clear. All right, it falls in the category of legislating against stupidity, but when that stupidity could cost the box owner so much...

Assessing market share is a widely played shell game these days with the most Microsoft-centric sites reporting 94% share for Windows and about 3% for each of Linux and Mac OS. Corresponding commonly quoted server market numbers are 50-55% for Windows, 23% for Linux, 11% for Unix and 10% for NetWare. Others quote quite different numbers, especially when talking about marketing software to installed base, or training programmers to write that software. (Some cite 50% of programmers working on Linux projects).

Here's why such figures can vary widely, or be misleading. On the desktop, Apple had a much higher share in the past, and their machines, being a higher quality, they stay in productive use far longer, sometimes a decade or more, longevity cheap Intel-based boxes cannot match. Estimates of installed base share for the Mac therefore run as high as 10-15%., but even this does not tell the whole picture, because there are niches such as pre-press and publishing where the Mac still holds over 80% of the market, and they are certainly more common than advertised among professionals whose work depends on having no downtime.

Meanwhile, most Intel machines are indeed sold with Windows installed, (the way Microsoft likes to count) only to see it ripped out and replaced by Linux, often a free version whose installation is not recorded in any licensing database. Every such system should be subtracted from the units shipped with Windows, but no one keeps track, so the numbers are unknown. Hard figures for Linux desktop installed base (what matters for third party training and marketing) are therefore speculative, but certainly far higher than raw system sales might lead one to believe.

Server side, the Windows figures are highest among corporate systems, whose maintainers are often unable to move beyond the lowest common denominator. But among general web sites served, Apache has about 70% of the market, and this figure has grown steadily for several years at the expense of Microsoft servers. Not all of these are Linux boxes, but most are, with some running other versions of Unix. Again, many units are shipped with Windows, only to have it replaced by free BSD Unix or Linux with no records made. Industry estimates of market share among server systems therefore vary even more widely than do desktop numbers, but there is general consensus that Linux continues to gain rapidly at the expense of Windows.

The lack of consumer web site administrative appliances such as cPanel continues to hamper Macs in the broader server marketplace, but they are beginning to show respectably in the corporate setting. It will be some time before numbers are meaningful.

The moral: take claims of market share with a block of salt, especially when they come from those who benefit from the numbers they quote. Or, perhaps pigs do have wings, in which case the price of shovels is sure to rise. (You knew he'd get to the second analogy eventually, didn't you?)

In a couple of weeks, the Spy is off to Oklahoma City and EPICon, where he will give a talk to authors on web site design and maintenance, and also present one of the EPPIEs, given for the best electronically published books of 2003 in various categories. Two of his own books are in the running in the science fiction category. A win would be icing on the cake, as the hard thing to do is make the finals, but whichever way it goes, you can read all about it on the Arjay Books site.

Oh, and one more thing. If you're not into the electronic age, dead tree versions of the Spy's books are starting to trickle out through Booksurge, the print fulfilment house of industry powerhouse Bowker's. Retailers such as Alibris already have the first volume (The Peace), with Amazon and Half to come real soon now. ISBN's are on the Arjay Books site. Enjoy.

--The Northern Spy

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services.

URLs referenced

The Apple xServe Page: http://www.apple.com/xserve/

WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net

Arjay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com

mi2g: http://www.mi2g.net/

Booksurge: http://www.booksurge.com

Alibris: http://www.alibirs.com

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Last Updated: 2006 11 08