Loose cables is an occasional, irreverent look behind the scenes at testing computer products, in particular at IDG's InfoWorld lab in the US. Our insights are gleaned during the long hours spent testing products and even longer hours spent sorting through outrageous vendor claims and press releases. Some of the insights are technical, some are political, and some are just funWe're really feeling sorry for OS/2 these days. It recently lost InfoWorld's NOS comparison, which was probably as depressing an experience for us at InfoWorld as it was for those remaining hard-working people on the OS/2 development team at IBM.
OS/2 has always been a superior NOS in a few key ways and vastly inferior in several other areas. But unlike Windows NT, NetWare, and Sun Solaris, OS/2 is neither really improving on its strengths nor curing its weaknesses.
Installing OS/2 is still a hit-or-miss affair. During the comparison, we often had difficulty installing the NOS on identically configured machines.
Sometimes the installation would only work on Easy Setup, and at other times it would only work on Advanced Setup. With either setup, at times we just had to keep trying until it worked.
In addition, installing OS/2 using a disk controller that's not supported out of the box still requires manually deleting and adding driver files and editing the CONFIG.SYS on one of the disks. For shame!
Dealing with the IS department's reality has never been OS/2's strong suit, but the lack of a real NetWare migration strategy is an especially egregious lapse. It just isn't realistic to expect people to upgrade clients and servers wholesale; OS/2 desperately needs a NetWare emulation function.
What's worse, OS/2's interface - once light years ahead of the competitors' - has suffered from a near-total lack of development effort, leaving it looking outdated compared with Windows NT's freshly revamped interface. An interface can't make a NOS, but OS/2's dated look is definitely contributing to the operating system's death of a thousand cuts.
OS/2 has such a solid foundation that it's depressing to see it continually mishandled by IBM. Considering the treatment it has received from its own creator, it's amazing that OS/2 has survived as long as it has.
You have been warned
Recent CDs we've received from Microsoft come with an all-new, somewhat surreal admonishment. Printed right on the face of the CD is the instruction, "Do Not Make Illegal Copies Of This Disc." As if when you were about to make a copy of the disc and saw that, it would change your mind.
Someone up there in the grand kingdom of Redmond must have had the bright idea that, although people are aware that copying CDs is illegal, they were continuing to do so because there weren't any instructions not to. Or something like that.
If this actually works, we expect to see neatly lettered signs at our corner bank that read, "Do not illegally rob this bank."
The Net nuisance tax
The debate rages over whether taxing ISPs will choke out a growing business; whether Internet traffic should be taxed by the bit, by the second, or even by the value of the transferred information; and who should get the tax goodies.
Here's how we think it should work: let's institute an Internet Nuisance Tax that slaps levies on content according to its annoyance value. Under this scheme, normal e-mail and business trans-actions would be free. Any joke forwarded more than once to a mailing list would be taxed 10 cents for every such forwarding. Any Web page that included flashing text would be taxed $1 for each hit. And any download that included the word "netizen" would be hit with a $10 levy.
Eye of newt
We encountered an unusual licensing agreement on the home page of Alchemy Mindworks, a shareware house run by pagans (www.mind workshop.com/alchemy/alchemy.html). Alchemy Mindworks warns people who don't register their shareware: "Should you fail to register any of the shareware listed in this page and continue to use it, be advised that a leather winged demon of the night will tear itself, shrieking blood and fury, from the endless caverns of the nether world, hurl itself into the darkness with a thirst for blood on its slavering fangs and search the very threads of time for the throbbing of your heartbeat. Alchemy Mindworks accepts no responsibility for any loss, damage or expense caused by this, either."
Hmm . . . maybe we should draw a pentagram around our server and hang it with garlic before we try opening any of the files.
Dead simple mistake
Let's face it, just about everyone in this industry is an acronym junkie. We certainly are addicted to high-tech alphabet soup. We're also attached at the hip to the Internet. But the two are colliding in a way that sometimes makes us a bit uneasy.
A simple typo can send you to a totally unexpected place and add a touch of surrealism to the workday. Take the Internet Engineering Task Force and its server at www.ietf.org. Now consider the International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force and its server at www.iaetf.org.
We suppose we were bound to make that typo someday, but it's a bit disturbing to go looking for requests for comment and find stuff about Kevorkian.
At InfoWorld we're working on a comparison that includes hand-held devices and personal digital assistants. The devices are meant to perform a slew of functions - quite sophisticated technology, if not quite essential yet.
But we were surprised to see in the manual for our Casio Z-7000 three ways to back up the unit: transfer the information to a PC, save the information on an optional memory card, or write down the information in a notebook. Huh?
Let's whack some web!
One might hope that with the new drive to make the Internet more manageable, it might also become a more civilised milieu, but that's not the case so far. There's no doubt that trying to organise, compartmentalise, or generally tame the Internet has become a big-time obsession these days.
On the commercial side, we have the ForeFront Group (www.ffg.com) sporting the pretentious motto, "Taking the chaos out of the Internet." One of its main products is the rather suggestively named WebWhacker, an offline browser with a logo of a machete slashing through a web.
Same old spreadsheet at work got you down? Try this Easter egg in Excel: open Excel for Windows 95 with a blank worksheet. Scroll down to row 95, and click on the number 95 to select the whole row. Press Tab once to move to column B; then select Help/About. Hold down Ctrl+Alt+ Shift, and click on the Tech Support button: a window labelled "Hall of Tortured Souls" appears - a little monument the Excel development team created to themselves. (Note: it doesn't seem to work on Excel 97 - Ed.)Directly ahead of you are stairs with a scrolling cast list; go up and take a look around using the cursor keys. But there's more! Go back down the stairs and type excelkfa. The wall disappears, showing you a winding path to navigate between pictures. Tread carefully!
We'll admit it: we're hooked on www.inquiry. com. This cool IS-oriented site has up-to-date articles from practically every computer-oriented publication on earth, all searchable by keyword. Not only that, it comes complete with a nifty ability to group articles by subject.
It looks like Disney is buying an interest in Starwave, designer and operator of many Web sites. The interesting part is that Starwave is owned by Microsoft's other billionaire, Paul Allen.
Between Disney's newfound relationship with Allen and Gates' involvement in Dreamworks, we can only imagine the kinds of theme parties those two will be able to throw.
Testing our patience
Looking at intraware, we keep ourselves in close contact with the vendors. The goal is to make sure we know how to use their products and to ensure that they know which components to send us. Often, vendors will send us detailed suggestions on how to test their products to achieve the best results (not that we use these suggestions as the basis for our test plans).
We were amused recently when Microsoft sent us not only suggestions on how to test its Microsoft Exchange-based solution for use in InfoWorld, but also in-depth details of what our results would be. Microsoft sent us a grid with what we would find in each testing category written up in a style quite similar to that of our InfoWorld Report Card in the Comparisons.
Although we definitely appreciate vendor input, that's a bit much!