The Sun Continues to Set

Don’t get me wrong – I like Sun. They make good equipment, the Rolls-Royce of Unix machines (hey, hot swappable CPUs! Whoo-hoo!).

You often don’t need a Rolls to drive to the corner market.

As predicted in my beginning-of-the-year thoughts, Sun is in trouble.

And each quarter it gets worse.

And Linux keeps getting better, and computer boxes are becoming more and more of a commodity.

While Sun does appear to be circling around the black hole of debt, it’s still sad. But let’s face facts: The way software – and hardware – is used today has changed.

And yesterday’s SPARC Station has the processing power of today’s coffee maker.

Sun should have – years ago – woken up and smelled the coffee….

The Scripting News

No, this isn’t a review of a new E. Annie Proulx book, or an homage to Dave Winer’s blog.

It’s just some notes on scripting.

In my home office, I run two main computers – one a Win2000 box, with SQL Server on it; the other a Linux (RH 7.3) box.

I also own two domains that are currently active (such as the one that this blog resides on); like my home setup, one is Win2000 (but with Access databases; I don’t need SQL right now [if the same price, I’d be on it in a minute, however] ) and the other a Unix-type box (Concentric has a proprietary Unix; seems to be BSD-based).

At home, I run different things on different boxes, and then I need to do the following tasks:

  • Move stuff from one home box to some remote server (one of my domains), or
  • Move stuff from one home box to the other home box, sometimes to dupe the environment to test for quirks (example: I run PHP and mySQL on both Linux [mainly] and Window [quirk testing] ), or just as backup in case the one box dies, the important stuff (databases, personal files etc) are backed up for at least 10 days).

In other words, I have to shuffle a lot of data around at various times. In our networked times, this is normal.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that this is not what I do best: My skills(?) are coding dynamic Web sites that bind well to the backend (databases) and have a user-friendly front-end.

Maybe someday I’ll be really good at it, but – today – I have done more than the average Web developer with this type of scripting, but I need to do more to be really good. Just a reality. (Of course, some people download and modify a Perl script and think they are scripting wizards, but that’s another story…)

What I’ve discovered:

  • Windows scripting sucks – Yeah, this sounds like a typical MS-is-Satan statement, but it’s just a reality. Now, I’m more adept at Linux admin than Windows admin (I guess…), but the Windows scripting components are so fragmented and primitive it hurts. Is there a way to script basic operations (i.e. not though apps, such as SQL Server) like file copies except via batch files (.bat)? Seems limiting, and – frankly – it is.
  • Linux built-ins rock – By built-ins, I mean the basic stuff that is usually there (tar) or those easily installed and free (zip, gzip etc). For Windows, I had to buy a license to the WinZip command line so I could use it in batch files. I didn’t really mind this – was inexpensive (~$30-35) and I was glad to give back to a company that I’ve used free tools from for….forever – but with Linux, that’s not a cost.
  • CRON vs. MS Scheduler – PUH-LEEZ! While Crontab is a command-line thing that a lot of people don’t like (a negative), and the MS Scheduler has an expire date option (a nice), Crontab is just soo much easier, faster and cleaner (to me). One drawback of the cron system is you have to learn it, and maybe the syntax for repeated tasks (every five minutes instead of at 12:05) is not a pull-down box, but you get there. Once you do, you don’t want to go back. I don’t.
  • Both batch and shell scripts are hard – Unlike HTML, for example, scripting is a more exact science, and is not as flexible. Both seem at least loosely based on C, and C is not forgiving and not terribly intuitive (until you understand it, when it becomes great). Again, I have not done that much scripting, and most that I have done is on the Linux side, so I’m more ignorant of the Windoze scripting stuff, but shell scripts (I use the Bash shell) seems far more powerful than the DOS shell. Again, could be my ignorance.
  • Bottom Line – I do as much scripting as possible on the Linux side. I have scheduled tasks on the Windows side (zipping directories for eventual move to Linux box; SQL Server daily backups…), but whenever the task involves both boxes, I put the load on Linux…because the load ends up lighter. For example: Each day, I export a SQL Server database to an Access database and then upload the Access database to my Windows-based domain. But I currently do the first part – SQL Server => Access – via Windows Scheduler. However, I then pull that Access database to my Linux box (for backup) and then FTP it to my remote Windows box (because it’s easier this way). I’m sure I’m missing something, but…

Random Musings

Some random thoughts, that may lead to more in the future.

  • Language Firestorm – Not surprisingly, the comments by Phillip Greenspun
  • comparing Java to an SUV (not in a good way, for the most part) has ignited fierce debate on blogboards (such as /.) and personal blogs. Basically, he sees Java and JSP use pretty much overkill for most Web projects – much like a Hummer H2 is a little overboard for running to the mall and back. I tend to agree with him, but – of course – some people elected to take it a little too personally and seriously. “Slamming Java! You bastard! Java is the best of everything [blah blah…]”. Whatever. Massive Internet or intranet project? Java is a good language – the whole J2EE thingee, with calls to EJBs, not a bunch of embedded scripting code. But, for the most part (and most projects), overkill. Perl/ASP/PHP/ColdFusion are much faster to deploy and maintain for most programmers.

  • Good language != good coding – As Megnut pointed out in her observations of the preceding point, a message on /. sort of sums up a lot of what people, for whatever reason, were not saying: Bad programmers write bad programs regardless of the language. The right tool for the right job, used properly folks…this ain’t religion.
  • VeriSign Directing Typo Traffic to It’s Own Site – This doesn’t bother me as much as it should. I guess I’m not that bothered because I’m used to seeing the same behavior on the browser side with IE. That said, it’s problematic because it creates technical issues (spam filters et al). However, the worst part is that if ICANN lets VeriSign get away with this, it pretty much means ICANN is worthless. And that’s not a good thing.
  • The Object-Embedding Patent (Eolas vs. Microsoft) – This one is scary for the precedent. There are too many things wrong with the current suit (mainly, prior art), but it’s the precedent, or the potential for something like this to really happen: What if someone does come out with a valid, pre-existing patent for something like Apache or BIND? Then what happens? It’s scary. How scary? Even on the normally “Bill Gates is Satan” sites, there was actually a gruding bit of sympathy for MS. (Why? Because it affects us, not just MS…but still a rare [one-time-only] olive leaf of sorts to MS). (09/25 update: A article about the preceding pretty much supports what I’ve said.)
  • Bloggers Fired – Didn’t take too much to see this one coming, but as
  • Dan Gillmor points out, journalists fired for their blog’s content is not going to end with the two cases he points out in his story. And this will be true in other industries, as well (made-up example: Engineer at Lockheed talking – in broad terms – about a new project he is working on. WHAM! You’re leaking proprietary secrets!). One real danger I see here is the whole politically correct mode the country is for some asinine reason embedded in: People are going to be fired for posting on their own blogs when their personal views (on their own servers….etc…) conflict with the image the company they work for is trying to cultivate. Especially dangerous will be any remarks regarding co-workers (or others) that may be construed as sexist/racist, even if benign and fact-based – for example, if I said, in some story about a picnic I went to that the Franklin family ate 90% of the watermelon consumed. Oops! The Franklins are a black an African-American family. I’m fired! (even if everyone else there were African-Americans, because I’m not…) And so on. But that’s the life of a writer, which bloggers are, like it or not. Not always skilled writers, mind you, but we all are.

And the Sun Sets

There was an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle with Scott McNealy (CEO/co-founder of Sun) that was pretty interesting.

I don’t know, maybe he was just tired or the editors were peppering him right and left with uncomfortable questions, but McNealy came across as … as a “dick.” At the very least, cranky or testy.

And McNealy is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Sun, so how can you account for this statement by him (in response on what to tell kids who want to go into tech – good/bad?): “I’m not a great visionary.”

HUH? So what exactly is it that you do?

And, in case you think I’m taking one part of a longish interview too seriously, McNealy was asked to comment on a Michael Dell comment that the future of technology does not belong to proprietary systems (such as Sun’s Solaris vs. Linux on software, for example).

McNealy stressed the importance of R&D; (OK, but what does R&D; really have to do with proprietary systems?? IBM is doing a lot of R&D; on Linux..) and then uttered: ” How many extra people would be working in the auto industry if Henry Ford hadn’t figured out, ‘We’ll give you any color you want, as long as it’s black.’ ”

HUH (again)?? What does that mean?

Well, McNealy meant that there were benefits to keeping all technologies in the “flavor” (so there are no interoperability issues, for example), but this introduces (at least) two problems for McNealy:

  • Isn’t this an argument that supports the Microsoft juggernaut? (McNealy’s favorite bashing post) MS is all MS, all parts (OS, Office, SQL Server, CE etc….) – you buy into the platform, the rest will seamlessly integrate (the concept, OK?)
  • Isn’t this the Ford quotation that everyone holds up as an example of how Ford blew it: Yes, he changed (interchangeable parts/assembly line) the making of autos – but refused to acknowledge that others could do this as well (why not other colors?) and that the customer wasn’t always right, Henry Ford was, dammit! Oldsmobile came in with colors (red, I think, to start) and hurt Ford’s sales.


On the other hand, McNealy has always been this way – and, in many ways, it’s refreshing. While he always harps on the same things (MS, antitrust,Dell….), he doesn’t do as much weasel-speak as others in his type of position.

But I still see the sun setting on Sun sometime shortly…buy out, merger…Probably not bankruptcy, they have dough in the bank.


More Warren

I mentioned in an earlier post that Warren Zevon had finally passed away – I think it was a week ago.

I just got his new CD, which was written in the space between diagnosis (terminal) and death. It’s garnered generally very positive reviews.

I don’t know. I’m a Zevon fan (not fanatic), and I thought it was interesting – 2 or 3 strong songs – but that’s it. Obviously, hold a mirror of impending death to this picture, and the effort appears stronger/heroic or whatever.

But I think Zevon wouldn’t like that: The music should stand for itself – written in the lap of luxury or facing death, no difference. Shouldn’t matter.

That said, the last cut on this, the last Zevon CD (and he knew it) is both a brilliant song and a perfect closing to a turbulent, inventive musical life.

The song cuts; even if you didn’t know the circumstances, it would be a powerful statement – in a very understated, non-sentimental way. It’s simply a song of someone saying goodbye, letting go, understanding that the end is near.

Knowing what we all know – that this is not a device, it’s the truth – it’s even stronger.

But again, the music should stand on it’s own.

But how can you brush aside lyrics like this?:

You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse

Keep me in your heart for awhile

– Keep Me In Your Heart

For this cut alone the CD is worth owning.

Changing Business Models

OK, we’ve heard a lot of negative press – and industry bluster – about the actions of the RIAA against file-swappers and SCO vs. well, everyone it seems.

In both cases these companies/groups just can’t get grasp that their well-defined, years-old business models are, well, old.

As in outmoded.

However, instead of going with the flow and attempting to make a profit (not to mention make a good impression to the masses) by embracing and – potentially – expanding this new model (as Apple with iTunes and RedHat with Linux have done, for example), they are digging their heels in, strapping those business blinders on tightly and screaming bloody murder.

Or more correctly, having their lawyers say “I sue you … and you … and you…..”

But we all know about that, and we also know that – no matter the outcome of all this (music or open source software) – the genie is out of the bottle in both cases, and there is not going back to the old way. Sorry, the new horseless carriages are upon us.

One nice thing I’ve noticed recently is something I have not noticed: Even with the job situation in the crapper, especially for the tech industry, there has been very little hue and cry about jobs going overseas. For example, India (esp. Bangalore) seems to be getting every job that used to be in Silicon Valley. Wow.

Yet – fortunately – you don’t read much about this. News reports, yes, and many are concerned etc…but this is, again, a change in business models.

Tech can’t dig it’s heels in and scream bloody murder. It has to adapt. Right now, labor is so much cheaper overseas, and the global economy and wired world makes it almost the same to hire a group in India as one down the road to do whatever. You never (well, rarely) meet the employees who actually produce the work, just the talking heads.

So what’s the difference – in a general sense – where they are?

Really isn’t.

So it’s good to see this issue not blown all out of proportion.

Good for us.

And Now Warren Zevon Can Sleep

After a long illness, Warren Zevon died yesterday.

It don’t matter if I get a little tired

I’ll sleep when I’m dead

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

He seemed to take it all in stride, and kept plugging away at what he loved – music – till the end.

I don’t think that makes him a genuis, but it certainly embodies the soul of an artist.

Keeping with today’s theme….PHP Thoughts

I can approach this entry two ways: Be politically correct (geek-correct, in this case) and avoid the firestorm, or just say what I mean and hope folks get it in the context in which I’ve supplied it.

I’m opting for the latter, if for no other reason than….I’m not politically correct.

And it’s faster. If you’re upset by what follows…well, sorry. And OK. I’m not trying to please you.

I’m just giving an opinion.


I read an interesting bit of info on the Netcraft newsletter for September.

In a nutshell, it said that there was surprising growth of PHP on Windows; PHP is currently targeted to overtake ColdFusion on Windows as the second most popular scripting language (behind ASP) on Windows sometime next year (2004). From the looks of the graphs, CF use was increasing, but PHP was rocketing.

I found this interesting.

I posted this to the House of Fusion CF Talk Archive RE: a question about if CF use was increasing/decreasing.

My link to Netcraft and analysis (“does not bode well for CF in general”) was of course flamed. But it’s a CF list, so OK. Some folks were logical, some gave thought to responses, others responded in the best “{pick your poison} is the devil!” mode.


But I was thinking about all this today, and one thing stuck me that I had not thought about before: Most Linux distros come with PHP; often the default is to install this and mySQL (another freebie; a database). Obviously, CF – an expensive product ( ~$1,000 for single server; though a single IP server is free with most of it’s products) – is not bundled on the OSS disk – but it does run faster on Linux than Windows (!).


So, to run PHP on Linux is, well, either expected or the only choice beyond Perl (or JSP if you want to go that far; let’s not. No CF, no ASP are freebies).

So one expects PHP to be on Linux.

While PHP is free on Windows (ditto Perl), you still don’t expect to see it there. You expect ASP, which is supported by IIS, free from MS with all main products. PHP and Perl are NOT part of the normal Windows install.

Interesting Part: Yes, installs of Linux are happening right and left. Same for Windows (pick a flavor). PHP is part of Linux sorta; definitely NOT part of Windows…yet PHP on Windows is climbing.

You have to make an effort to put PHP on Windows; on Linux it’s usually there.

We are lazy folks…if we go out and seek the install it means we really want it (as opposed to, “oh, yeah, we have {blah} let’s use it..”).

Yet PHP is climbing on Windows. Huh.

Sure, it’s free – that helps a lot (can you say “IE”?). But PHP usurps a lot of what both CF and ASP does, and integrates nicely with IIS (I just installed; no brainer).

Better to run PHP and mySQL on Linux/Apache than on Windows/IIS? Sure (to me).

Same price on both? Yes – free (get beyond the OS cost; we’re talking installed base).

Is there something that CF offers that PHP cannot match? Hmmm.. simplicity.

Which is more powerful? Probably PHP, with it’s roots in Java and Perl.

I dunno, you can keep going on like this – and be right or wrong – for hours. The bottom line is that such questions are valid (not “Can I use my Window 3.1 box to run my E-commerce site???”); the knowledge that so may exist is … interesting.

I like CF. I’ve been using it heavily for years. It’s not perfect; is C? NO!

Right tool for the right job.

CSS Thoughts

There has been a lot of buzz about CSS lately, especially on blogs. RSS is the main subject these days, but CSS gets a fair amount of play, as well.

Interestingly, I don’t think I’ve ever read an article that said “Don’t use CSS” or “As supported today, CSS sucks” or whatever. That just occurred to me. Interesting…


I like CSS. I thinks it’s powerful; I know it’s the future (like it or not).

I also find it frustrating and limiting.

The frustrating part is familiar to anyone who has used styles, but I should explain “limiting”: By this I mean the things that CSS just can’t do – that it is not designed to do, and no matter your hacking, it won’t work.

An example of a limit would be that the code itself (a style sheet, say), cannot do browser detection. The server/scripting language (usually JS) does this. Something has to do it in many cases, in any case, as different CSS files are sometimes served up for different browsers/platforms. Not the end of the world; CSS is not supposed to be a proceduaral language – it’s just a formating sheet. (Note: I would not want CSS to support this type of programming. Why? Doesn’t belong there. I just use this as an example that is pretty clear.)


That said, I do miss variables in CSS files.

I really, really miss them.

For example, how many times have you built a style sheet using, say “#cc3366” as your “red” color. So it’s scattered all over the style sheet. Then the designer decides for a more pure red, so you change #cc3366 to #ff0000 all over the place.

No biggie, but let’s take this a step further: You’re building a portal type product, where users can customize the look and feel (i.e. the style sheet) to a degree. Suddenly, you’re changing the red, the bold blue, the green footer links and so on all over the place.

And how do you do this?

  • Each user gets his own style sheet (tied to a cookie ID, say), which is re-built and saved in the file system each time the user changes the UI.
  • Use of “themes” where a use can pick – but not alter – from a finite list of style sheets. Then the scripting language can merely include “meadow.css” or “metal.css” per user’s selection.
  • Base style sheet everyone uses that is actually – if using PHP, for example – a “.php” file. The user’s color choices are again stored in a cookie, and the style sheet is parsed and included with each page the user calls.

None are terribly good solutions (admittedly, a portal-type site is not a normal site).

I see a “metaCSS” file that contains variables that are used as defaults (where no overrides exist) in the given CSS file. A file might look like:

font-family: arial, helvetica;
$red: #ff0000;
$green: #99cc99;
font-size: 13px;

Or whatever – but these would essentially do two things:

  • Provide defaults (all fonts would be “arial,helvetica” and “13px” unless overridden
  • Provide variables: a line in the css file that reads “background-color: $red;” means that the background color there would be pure red (#ff0000).

Yes, you can pretty much do this now – with the third portal example (above) – but it requires parsing and including on each page. And one of the nice things about CSS is that is only loads once per session (unless changed); the parse-per-page ruins this gain.

I see a need for this coming, especially with XML on the ascent: XML is pickier, validation is an issue. By putting all the variables in one place, you can guarantee that each class/id will have a default font family etc…

But that’s a pipe dream (or is it?….)

First, let’s get CSS supported and working so positioning actually works well and consistently.

And that’s all I have to say about that…


While a little over the top at times, this dissection of SCO’s complaint against IBM is a great document. Or at least entertaining, from a Geek’s Seat.

It’s over the top because they (the authors, including ESR) don’t seem to fully acknowledge the damage that SCO could have suffered if (big if) IBM has ripped them off. While the code is old, outdated etc….you still can’t steal it if (another big if) SCO does have clear rights blah blah. That would be wrong.

However, I really don’t believe there was any theft (use of BSD code? Yes! And that’s legal); and outside of making perfect asses of themselves, I have no clue as to what SCO is up to except to 1) Pump and dump stock; 2) Get bought out.

But SCO is really – consistently – shooting itself in the foot.

Weird stuff; there are going to be books about this.

But read the doc; it’s a goodie.