Redmond Report: Ice Storm Edition
It's a minor miracle that this newsletter is landing in your inbox today.
I live in Northern Massachusetts, right next to the New Hampshire border. My cable TV, then the Internet, and finally my electricity all went down Thursday night during a vicious ice storm. I spent the night listening to all the trees around me disintegrate.
For three days, my family hunkered down around the fireplace, the only source of protection against 15- to 20-degree temperatures. Finally, we bailed, largely to warm up my 2-year-old daughter who, despite the plunging temperatures (standing six feet from the flames, I could still see her breath), refused to wear socks or a proper shirt. We all fled north to my parents' house in New Hampshire where there's heat, power and warm food -- plus a couple of swell parents!
Any New England stories you have the ability to share? Send 'em (even by Pony Express) to [email protected].
IE 8 Great
Reality check time. We're all led to believe that IE is far less secure than Firefox. I bought it, and have been in the Firefox camp ever since. But while this was clearly true for older IEs, it may not be the case for the latest incarnation.
IE 8, still in beta, appears to be taking the lead in Internet security. It's the safest, most bug-free browser, according to Utest, which invited users to submit their findings as part of a "battle of the browsers" bug contest.
Chrome, just out of beta, was found the least safe. My assumption is most tests were of the beta and Chrome hasn't had the gazillion-fix cycles that IE and Firefox enjoy.
The only problem for Microsoft: Few still trust or like IE. Maybe if IE lives up to the Utest finding, it can overcome the bad rap.
Meanwhile, Google Battens Down the Browser
Google recently unveiled a hunk of middleware code that speeds downloads and thus speeds the performance of Web apps.
The new Native Client is so fast that, apparently, you can even do fancy image processing over the Web. It's also meant to block malware. So far, though, the client doesn't work with IE. It'll be interesting to see if Google and Microsoft can come to terms and put these two tools on friendly footing.
Mailbag: Multi-Core Better?, More
Readers share their thoughts on multi-core processors:
Dual-core processors show promise, but it is up to the software to take advantage of it! Both OSes and apps need to step it up. My single-core desktop (AMD 2500+ 1.8GhZ cpu) streams video very smoothly (i.e., I can watch and record HDTV signals via USB tuner). My dual-core (Intel 1.8GhZ) laptop runs rings around the desktop when editing/rendering the recorded video. But try watching or recording with the dual-core laptop, same USB tuner. No way.
I would have thought the dual-core CPU would negate the video differences and the two systems. That leaves the OS. As it stands, I'll watch and record on the desktop, then do all edits and video ripping/burning on the laptop. CPU, OS or video problems -- you be the judge.
It seems the biggest benificiaries of multi-core CPUs are the makers of bloated anti-virus software. My dual-core laptop will frequently run a scan on start-up, which hogs one of the cores. But the other is free for other system tasks and applications. (Disk I/O still suffers.) But other than that, I don't see a big benefit over my previous single-core system.
I recently went from an Intel Pentium 4 3.4GHz with 1GB of RAM to an Intel Quad Core2 2.6GHz with 4GB of RAM at work. I definitely see a difference when I open apps such as Word, Excel, Access and Acrobat -- they launch faster. And the CPU fan does not kick in when I have 20 apps open.
The problem with the apps needing to be written to support numerous cores has been the main reason I have not purchased a Core 2 yet (along with price, even though it has come down a lot). I have always suspected that some apps would run slower like you said. I do use a Pentium D, but that's not really two cores; it's more like one-and-a-half. And at 3.0GHz, it's just as fast as many Core 2s I have seen, in my opinion. A fast Pentium D (with a nice L2 cache) with at least 2 gigs of RAM and a healthy FSB speed to match runs even Vista Ultimate with no issues; I haven't seen any difference in the Core 2s performance on similar machines.
And as far as playing games is concerned, your GPU is the bottleneck before the processor is when you're running at 3 GHz and your GPU core is only running at 650MHz. In my opinion, there's still no reason to get a Core 2 yet.
I just finished updating an IBM ThinkPad T23 (circa 2001) for a customer. It boasts an Intel Mobile Pentium III 1.2 Ghz and 384Gb RAM. Impressive! It is running XP Pro SP3 as snappily as any machine that I have dealt with. I thought I had gotten into one of those "under-powered machine, over-powered expectations" situations that our customers seem to have periodically. Was I wrong! On the other hand, I have an HP Pavilion dv4000 with a Centrino 1.6 and 1GB RAM and a Gateway Core 2 1.8 with 2GB RAM, and neither seem to perform as well. By performance, I mean I can't tap my fingers more than once waiting on the ThinkPad, but the other two are good for at least four or five taps.
Empiric reasoning and perception? I guess so, but perception is everything and I certainly perceive better performance from an eight-year-old machine than I do from the "vastly improved" four-year-old machine and two-year-old machine. Funny thing though: My customer probably spent twice as much for that IBM when he bought it as I did for either of its two technologically improved successors. So have we regressed along with the cost? Or better yet, what do we really need to get the job done?
And you know that recent Apple recommendation to get anti-virus software for Macs? Not so fast:
I thought your piece called "Macs Need Anti-Virus, Too" was interesting enough that I tried to find out what was available for AV protection for my Mac. Then, I ran across this gem.
Just in case you haven't received a torrent of flame-mail already.
Tune in tomorrow for more reader letters! In the meantime, let us know what you think -- leave a comment below or e-mail [email protected].
Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.