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The OS Quest Trail Log # 53: Attack of the SATA Ports Edition

As is typical, July has been a slow month in front of the computer and therefore on the quest. During the month I’ve had two minor, but annoying problems. The first was that one drive in my Windows Home Server wasn’t reporting SMART info, although seemed to be working fine otherwise. The second was a problem with a PC I was building – when it was powered on it would freeze when looking for the hard drives. Turning it off and immediately back on would resolve the problem after which it would run just fine.

In the case of the Windows Home Server the problem started after I did some hard drive maintenance and re-arrangement awhile back. Since I had pulled and re-arranged all the drive cables I figured it was a bad cable. So I spent some time last Saturday doing some troubleshooting. The bottom line is that SATA ports 5 and up had the problem, ports 1 through 4 were fine. Everything else seemed to be fine with the port but I rearranged the drives so I have only four internal drives and have four external. At one point I had retired the external bays to save power and space, but they slowly came back and are now here to stay. At least until Vail (WHS version 2) is released and I build or upgrade my rig for that.

The PC I was building ended up having a similar problem. I had figured it would be a hard drive issue since the problem started when I added the drive. But first I switched the cable to another SATA port and the problem went away. A little more troubleshooting and the problem was isolated to the port.

In both cases I had spent a lot of time mucking with hard drives in each box. In the case of the WHS this meant moving cables on the motherboard at different times. This was less so on the PC since I was just swapping drives for testing purposes. In the case of the Windows Home Server I know the ports worked in the past, so the problem was probably self inflicted. I can’t say I remember the PC port as ever working since I don’t remember ever using it. Unfortunately both boards are out of warranty. On the plus side I probably won’t need the failed ports during the remaining lifetime of those boxes,

New Software

Microsoft has released a beta for their next release of Microsoft Security Essentials. I’ve installed it on a couple of my test and play machines, It looks and acts a lot like the previous version. Which is good. I’ve been using Security Essentials as the anti-virus for all my PCs because it’s light weight and doesn’t get in the way. The next version seems to continue that tradition and avoids bloat.

I was also able to install it on my Windows 2003 Server box, something the earlier version wouldn’t do. I’ve also seen reports that it installs on Windows Home Server although I haven’t tried that myself. Hopefully this is expended support and not a beta “bug” that will get removed.

I haven’t installed it on my primary Windows Machine since it’s beta, but it seems stable enough to do so. If I see any benefits on my test machines I may go ahead and install it on my primary machine,

Not much else in the way of new software in the past month.

Commentary

I like Apple and Apple products (I’m writing this on an iPad), but the frenzy over iPhone 4 has got me avoiding Apple sites and news. I’m not an iPhone hater. If the iPhone was on Verizon when I upgrade my phone earlier this year I would surely have gotten the iPhone instead on my Droid. If the iPhone was on any network other than AT&T I would certainly have looked into switching networks, so I don’t hate the iPhone.

Enough already, the hype over iPhone 4 and the hype over it’s problems have sent me looking for iPhone free zones. But this isn’t one of those zones:

  1. Apple is now the leader in the smart phone market, if not in market share (numbers are easy to manipulate) but certainly in mindshare. Apple has always had a reality distortion field that gets them more press than a company their size usually warrants. So everything Apple gets hyped. Combine that with the fact that many people like to see market leaders fail, and news that makes Apple look bad gets twice the hype.
  2. Apple has two iPhone issues, only one of which is the grip of death issue. One is the proximity sensor issue that hasn’t gotten much press. The second  is the antenna issue which has blanketed the press and was the subject of Apple’s press conference.
  3. If either of these issues make the phone unusable for you then you have 30 days to return the phone for a full refund from both AT&T and Apple. Now is a great time to try and iPhone if your considering it. Just don’t drop it or lose the box & contents.
  4. Apples claims of “all phones do this” and the videos they’ve been posting don’t endear Apple to me. It comes across as a schoolyard slap fight and Apple comes across as having a product no better than the other guys. There’s a lot to like about the iPhone (at least based on my iPod Touch experience), so why say you are like other smart phones?
  5. I’m sure some survey will say that all these iPhone problems are making people reconsider. Now doubt there are some people out there who may reconsider buying an iPhone. But I’m also just as sure that the iPhone will continue to break sales records and continue to dominate mindshare.
  6. If the iPhone goes to Verizon it will be on my shortlist when it comes time to renew my contract, If that day was today I’d be getting one, but I’ll stop short of predicting my future actions. (Plus my own prediction is no Verizon iPhone, at least not while Verizon is still CDMA.)

Along the lines of people liking to see market leaders fail, first there was the hype back when Apple’s market capitalization exceeded Microsoft’s. This past week there’s was the hype when it appeared Apple’s revenue would exceed Microsoft’s. Apple’s revenue is still lower than Microsoft’s and Microsoft’s market cap popped above Apple last week (but is again lower).

I have two problems with these stories. Both numbers are meaningless as a comparison between companies. Microsoft still makes a ton more in profits than Apple does. That’s the number that matters. A company can have tons of revenue and still lose money. Market cap is perceived value (in as much as stock can by hyped or beaten down). While market cap may bring bragging rights and some prestige, it only benefits those who bought stock as the price rose.

My second problem with these comparisons is that Microsoft and Apple are not similar companies. Yes, they compete is some markets, but their primary markets are different.

Apple is a consumer products company. Microsoft is a software company that makes most of it’s money from the enterprise and through oem’s. Apple doesn’t even really compete with Microsoft in computers. Apple sells hardware that runs their own OS and software. Microsoft doesn’t sell hardware, only software. Hence the greater profit margins for Microsoft since they only sell bits and don’t need to deal with expenses associated with hardware.

Microsoft has tried to compete with Apple in music players and phones so there’s going to be comparisons. But Microsoft’s revenue and profits come from the enterprise and software platforms, Apple’s revenue and profits come from consumer electronics. Seems to me Apple is more like Sony and even more like Dell than Microsoft.

While it may be fun to think about Ballmer going nuts that Apple’s market cap exceeds Microsoft’s, it doesn’t mean much. Both companies make tons of money and they make most of it in different sandboxes.

End of Commentary

That ends the commentary and hopefully I’ll get back to having some PC fun on the quest. August will continue the dog days of summer, so probably not much quest activity next month either, but we’ll see.

Microsoft Marketing Powerhouse to Marketing Has-Been

Microsoft announced that they’re cutting Seinfeld out of their ads. Planned it all along. I didn’t say anything about the ads at the time but I thought they were unfairly disparaged at first. I kind of liked them, I chuckled a bit, and figured they were recreating Seinfeld’s sitcom about nothing in an attempt to try to make people feel good about Microsoft. I didn’t expect Seinfeld to pitch Vista directly, but rather promote the Microsoft brand to consumers.

Now they say they always planned to dump Seinfeld after two ads. Not that I buy it, but assuming it’s true then those ads did suck and had no point. I had hoped to see the ads through to the end, figuring they were going somewhere. Now it’s aapparent Microsoft doesn’t have a clue about marketing anymore (too many committees?).

Word is they’re going for a John Hodgman look-alike. My prediction is those ads will get slammed even more than the Seinfeld ads as being woofully inferier to the Apple ads which they’ll be compared to directly.

Microsoft Security Updates for July 2008

Padlock graphicMicrosoft has released four security bulletins for July 2008, two of which are for desktops.

MS08-038 addresses a vulnerability in Windows Explorer and is for Windows Vista and carries an “important” rating. The update includes the original Vista, Vista SP1 and Vista x64.

MS08-037 addresses a vulnerability in DNS and is for Windows 2000 SP4, Windows XP SP2 & SP3, and Windows XP x64 original release & SP2. it’s rated as “important”. [Updated: This patch is part of a coordinated, multi-vendor DNS patch.]

These patches, and the others, also affect server OS’s. There’s no Internet Explorer update this month.

Also, Microsoft will begin rolling out an update to Windows Update later this month. Last time they did this they catch grief for updating PCs that were set to “do not update”. This time around they’ll be doing things differently and won’t update PCs set to not update.

Microsoft Security Bulletins for April 2008

Another "Super Tuesday" patched this week but I just got around to firing up my Windows VM’s today (actually it’s been about 12 days since I’ve been in Windows). There were ten updates waiting for me on Windows Vista and eight on Windows XP Home, although not all were security related.

This month’s updates included:

KB945553 (MS08-020) – Vulnerability in DNS client could allow spoofing. This is rated as "Important" for all supported desktop OS’s except Windows Vista SP1, which doesn’t need the update.

KB948590 (MS08-021) – Vulnerability in GDI could allow remote code execution. This is rated as "Critical" for all supported desktop OS’s.

KB944338 (MS08-022) – Vulnerability in VBScript and JScript Scripting Engines Could Allow Remote Code Execution. This is rated as "Critical" for all desktop OS’s except Windows Vista, which doesn’t need the update.

KB948881 (MS08-023) – Critical security update for ActiveX killbits. This is required for all supported desktop OS’s, although the severity ranges from "Important" to "Critical".

KB947864 (MS08-024) – Cumulative security update for Internet Explorer. As expected, all supported versions of IE get the update and all are rated "Critical".

KB941693 (MS08-025) – Vulnerability in Windows Kernel could allow elevation of privileges. This one has an "Important" rating for all supported desktop OS’s.

There were also some security patched for applications. MS08-018 patches a Project vulnerability while MS08-019 patches a vulnerability in Visio. I don’t run either Project or Visio so I didn’t install the updates.

The Malicious Software Removal Tool, Junk Email Filter update (Vista only, in my case at least) and Windows Defender definition updates were also included.

I also received KB938371 (on my Vista SP1 vm) which is an updated needed to add or remove Vista SP1. Since I received Vista SP1 successfully I already had some of the components. According to the bulletin Vista SP1 install "will only install the new components in this rereleased update."

Non-security related patches included an update to Live Writer and a optional Group Policy patch. For some reason my Windows XP Home installation also received .NET 2.0 SP1 although it appears that it was released back in December and I installed the base .NET 2.0 in early January, two patch Tuesday’s ago.

As expected, a reboot was required. So far I haven’t encountered an differences or problems since applying the updates. A subset of these updates also installed on my Windows Home Server and I covered the WHS March Updates here.