Thursday, August 30, 2007

Microsoft buys persistent IMs

Microsoft has acquired a company called Parlano which creates whan they call a persistent chat. For some time now, Microsoft has produced Office Communications Server (previously known as Live Communications Server, LCS). This is a SIP-based system that allows users to (among other things) send IMs to each other, just like can be done using for instance MSN or ICQ. Indeed, the OCS/LCS client can also talk to MSN servers.

The SIP protocol allows both person-to-person communication and conferencing. I'm not sure whether OCS/LCS actually supports IM conferencing (what most people would call a chat room), but there are no technical obstacles.

What Parlano makes is a system that allows people who have been offline to read up on a conversation when they reconnect. You know, the kind of thing that ICQ users take for granted. The difference is that the Parlano system handles multi-person chats, and also that it handles multiple protocols. According to a Parlano product page, apart from LCS it will also handle AOL, Yahoo, and MSN. I can't find any mentions of SIP on the Parlano page, so I don't know whether their system uses that or some other homebrew solution to talk to LCS. Since this is Microsoft, I wouldn't be surprised if this was a non-standards-based solution. Rather the opposite, actually.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

The insanity of ATX power supplies

On Friday, the power supply for my work station gave up with a fizzle. This morning, a new power supply was delivered to me and I started mounting it. Doing anything hardware-related in a modern PC is painful, but this seemed unusually stupid.

The power supply in itself is mounted in the chassis with four screws, all of them easily accessible from the back of the computer. So far, so good. In the other end of the power supply, inside the computer, a tangled octopus of cables sprouts. Most of them are equipped with multiple connectors along the length of the cable. Lots of these cables are strapped to the chassis in hard-to-reach places or pulled through tiny holes that are hard to reach, and that force you to wiggle those damn connectors long and well before being able to pry the cables out.

One good thing should be noted: all the cables have different connectors that can't be forced into the wrong socket, and the connectors are not symmetrical to the only way the connectors fit is the right way.

A bad thing was that it wasn't possible to get the old power supply out or the new one in without using force to bend a couple of the petals of the huge cooler thingy that is attached to the CPU.

The old power supply has the following stuff coming out of it:

  • Big cable for the motherboard.
  • Smallish cable also for the motherboard, but in a different place.
  • Another pretty big cable that I don't know what it's for.
  • Very small cable which is actually labled(!): "PSU FAN MONITER CONNECTOR" (sic!).
  • Cable with two SATA disk power connectors.
  • Cable with two regular hard disk power connectors.
  • Cable with two regular hard disk power connectors and a floppy power connector.
  • Cable with three regular hard disk power connectors and a floppy power connector.
  • Cable with two regular hard disk power connectors, but labeled "FAN ONLY".

Not surprisingly, my work station does not actually have nine hard disks or other media devices, and neither does it have two floppy drives. There are several meters of cables here that won't ever be used.

I wonder how long it will be until someone comes up with the idea that a power supply only needs one cable, connected to the chassis. The cables can then be integrated in the chassis, with small cables sticking out in drive bays, close to the motherboard power connector, etc. Having to subdue an octopus just to exchange a computer component feels unneccessary.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Music downloading is here to stay

According to a new survey, pirating is up in Sweden. 43% now claim to have downloaded music illegally, up from 36% last year. One of the most common reasons given for people downloading music illegally instead of buying it online is said to be DRM.

Meanwhile, Karl Sigfrid (a member of parliament for right-wing party Moderaterna) has asked prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (also from Moderaterna) why the party is not adhering to its election-time promise of not hounding down an entire generation for copying. Neither the prime minister nor the minister of justice has deigned to comment.

The background to all this a proposed law that would require ISPs to give out personal data about downloaders. Sigfrid claims that Reinfeldt can't support this, since that would contradict his statements before the election. The EU's general lawyer has stated that ISPs don't need to give out this information unless local law requires them to, so there is nothing in the EU body of law that requires this change.

Sigfrid compares the police bust of The Pirate Bay with the copying of cassette tapes that was widespread 20 years ago, when double tape recorders were common. At that time, no one tried to make the police stop Sony from making double tape recorders. Today, only a few people are protesting when the police do exactly that; stop The Pirate Bay from providing tools for copying music. In both cases, music copying is wide-spread. The difference is in the reactions from the music industry and how the government has reacted to music industry lobbying.

Of course, there is no way back once the genie is out of the bottle. There is already a generation out there that are used to being able to download music from the net. They won't accept having that possibility taken away. They may accept having to pay for the service, as long as the service is better that copying, but downloading of music is here to stay. Music publishers will have to learn to live with that and make sure that their customers can buy their music in a simple, efficient, and DRM-free way. The alternative is illegal downloading, and that's free.

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