IBM Still Feeling Need for Speed

TOP500 causes a stir twice a year among the "big iron"-types when it puts out its bi-annual list of the world's fastest computers. The list, released yesterday, showed IBM continuing its dominance of this often-overlooked part of the market, placing some 210 of its systems among the top 500 (that's about 42 percent of the list). IBM had five of the top 10 machines, with SGI putting two in the top 10 and Cray and Sun Microsystems with one each.

It seems, however, that IBM was a bit lucky to have its speedy Roadrunner supercomputer topping the list. Sun Microsystems' Sun Ranger, which actually finished fourth, could've been the fastest machine had it not been for a delay by AMD in delivering its 15,000 quad-core Opterons. Ranger, which was designed by legendary architect and Sun co-founder Andreas Bechtolsheim, was on schedule to be completed by November and so would've qualified for this list's rankings. But with AMD slipping its delivery date, Ranger missed its chance.

The list made me think about Microsoft's intentions to enter into the supercomputing market several years ago. While Redmond's progress in this market has been rather slow, it appears to be making more advancements recently. A beta version of Windows HPC Server 2008 is now working on a system located at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Microsoft officials noted that the HPC Server 2008 has moved up on the NCSA list, hitting 68.5 teraflops with 9,472 cores and having no lower than a 77.7 percent efficiency.

This week's been full of good news for Redmond on the large-systems front. IBM and Umea University announced it was installing what it claimed is Europe's fastest Windows-based system the HPC2N supercomputer facility. This mammoth system, called "Akka," is capable of 46 teraflops and is also running a beta of Windows HPC Server 2008.

Microsoft never talks much about the role its supercomputer-based operating systems might play in its most important companywide initiatives like Software Plus Services -- probably because there isn't one yet. But maybe eventually it can scale this down to the point that I can afford one so I can run Vista with decent speed and performance.

Firefox 3 Still on Fire, But First Bugs Reported
As my colleague Lafe Low reported in yesterday's Redmond Report, the GA version of Firefox 3 got off to a rollicking start. The product continued to rock and roll, racking up 8.3 million downloads in 24 hours and surpassing the record set by its predecessor, Firefox 2, of 5 million downloads in late 2006.

The new version grabbed a full 4 percent share of the browser market in less than two days, according to Net Applications, a group that specializes in tracking browser usage. Net Applications attributed the stunning start to the fiercely loyal Firefox users, but believes it still has to be considered a remarkable development -- remarkable in that it's difficult for any software company to draw users to its products these days. Putting it in some perspective, Net Applications noted that in the month of May, Apple's Safari had a 6.25 percent share and Opera only had 0.71. Seems another company up in the Great Northwest with another browser has the rest of the market.

Spoiling the fun, however, were the first reports of bugs found in version 3. How critical the newly discovered flaws are has yet to be determined as of this morning. A few blogs reported that one is related to a buffer overflow. Mozilla is reportedly working on a fix.

Nevertheless, the pent-up demand for version 3 is dizzying. According to the Mozilla, downloads peaked at 14,000 per minute on late Wednesday. If you want a distraction from the routine tasks of your day, watch the Mozilla download counter as millions more continue to flock to the site.

Social Nets Get Down to Business
Over the past year, an increasing number of companies, both large and small, have been looking at social networks as serious productivity tools. These shops are using online communities such as Facebook and MySpace as a cost-effective and efficient way to not just recruit white-collar workers for a wide range of jobs, but also to initiate business partnerships.

Yesterday, LinkedIn -- which hasn't received the level of media attention as Facebook and MySpace -- did its part to enhance the business image of social nets when it announced that it has raised some $53 million in venture capital, pumping up the company's market worth to around $1 billion. To give this some scale, News Corp. purchased MySpace three years ago for $580 million.

LinkedIn officials said they intend to use the new infusion of cash for acquisitions and to bolster its business overseas. In a prepared statement about raising the new capital, LinkedIn CEO Dan Nye said, "We want to create a broad and critical business tool that is used by tens of millions of business professionals every day to make them better at what they do."

To further beef up its applications for business, the company said it will be adding a group calendar. And to attract more corporate and third-party developers, LinkedIn also plans to make it possible for them to kick in their own programs, including collaborative applications that allow employees to work together.

Mailbag: Ad Annoyances, Firefox vs. IE, More
After Microsoft's acquisition of a TV advertising firm, Lafe asked readers what they think of the growing amount of Web ads. Here's what some of you said:

It's not just the pop-ups. It's any ad with motion. They are so distracting, I narrow my browser window to avoid seeing them. The annoyance factor is too high for me to want to click on their ads -- even if it was for a Ferrari for five bucks!
-Anonymous

I think that is the biggest waste of money ever. Even when they show full-screen ads, they have to give you a click-through or they know you will never come back. There is a site I use which has them between every one or two page clicks. Last week, I got distracted and the ad actually started rendering on my screen. In over a year's time, that is the first time I ever saw the frame of the advertisement show. Needless to say, all I saw was the frame being established before I clicked.
-Norman

When it comes to Firefox vs. Internet Explorer, Bruce is firmly on Mozilla's side:

I started using Firefox after reading the FBI report on how bad IE was. I loved the way the tabbed browswer works, and the setup is a breeze. If you take a look at the options in IE vs. Firefox, Firefox is so much easier to understand. I've been in this business a long time and I still don't understand half the IE options. And, heck, it seems every month Microsoft is patching the damn thing for some obscure security hole. In contrast, there were only 14 updates to Firefox. The only reason I use IE at all is for MS patches; everything else is Firefox.
-Bruce

And Celia gives a thorough rundown of LinkedIn's pros and cons:

I am a recent member of LinkedIn. I have consulted for the majority of the last 14 years and used various Web sites for getting gigs. I feel that LinkedIn is smarter than these other Web sites. I enjoy going to my LinkedIn account and looking at the questions that other members are asking; I've even answered a couple myself. I find myself learning a little each time. Additionally, I enjoy looking through my network for job opportunities.

But it's not without its drawbacks. I have found it a challenge to get my previous management (who are also my references) to write up a quick recommendation for my LinkedIn account. They can't do this easily since these managers have to create an account (at least from what I can tell), making account maintenance time-consuming. Plus, some managers do not want to place their personal information on a Web application or other public/semi-public Web site. Another drawback is that you need to be aware of the information that will be placed on the Web. You really need to spend time doing your homework in this section if you want to have control. I didn't realize that my information was available by performing a simple Google search with my name (a rude awakening). I prefer to be more discreet for the simple reason of identify theft.
-Celia

Tell us what you think! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to llow@redmondmag.com.

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