[Beowulf] Sidebar: Vista Rant

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Tue Jul 17 06:33:39 PDT 2007

On Mon, 16 Jul 2007, Joe Landman wrote:

> Dude, I bought a Dell.  No kidding.  Should be getting it next week. Gonna 
> load it up with ram.  Has XP, will be putting Ubuntu 7.04 on it.

Dude, I'm working on a Dell right now.  Lenovo's are built better --
even a dirt-cheap lenovo has a case engineered to survive four or five
years of hard use, where I pretty much use up my Dells in their three
year onsite contract period -- but Dells are just fine, and yes the tier
1 hardware providers all have found it necessary to continue supporting
XP in part because Vista breaks a really amazing fraction of
non-Microsoft software.  So much that if they had any major competitors
left I'd suspect them of pulling another of their famous "break the
competition" moves, changing the OS so that their version of widget
indexing software works but their competitors fails so that customers
are driven into their waiting arms.

This is one of the first upgrades that reportedly breaks a lot of THEIR
OWN software too, though.  How blatant is that?  Sorry folks, but you'll
all have to repurchase the following applications, and gee, even with
our upgrade specials it somehow comes out at being a bit MORE than the
cost of an over the counter XP "upgrade" (read downgrade).

>> full retail.  But seriously, the market is being saturated with Vista
>> systems.
> Yeah... try to buy an HP or IBM/Lenovo or anything else at Costco, 
> BestBuy,... with anything other than Vista.

Even online it is getting harder.  I've seen configurators that no
longer had XP, although as you note a lot of them were more or less
forced to put it back.

> underwhelmed me.  XP x64 I found exciting.

XP in general, while I would draw the line short of "exciting", is
remarkably functional.  It's the first version of Windows ever that
doesn't ALWAYS require a reboot when one installs new whatever.  Most of
the time yes, always no.  It's also the first version I can recall that
actually can fix a network connection without a reboot -- I guess they
were pretty much forced into that by wireless (which remains a piece of
*!@$ -- in zones served by multiple WAPs it bounces back and forth
between the available networks every few minutes seeking maximum
strength even when the original connection is not really lost, trashing
connectionful network interactions as it does so).

The one thing that has "impressed" me is the terminal server's ability
to share memory.  I've got a single Win2003 terminal server running
maybe 40 remote desktops at any given time, each desktop running (the
same) application whose instantaneous memory footprint is maybe 65 MB,
and it consistently manages this in a physical memory footprint of maybe
600-700 MB.  Sure, sure, I shouldn't be impressed that "DLLs work" but
hey, it wouldn't have surprised me to see a memory footprint of 3 GB...

It's also been amusing to use "rdesktop" under linux to connect to it.
Given the cost of TSCALs (less than a full copy of WinXP Pro) and the
high administrative costs of Win-anything -- I have a sucker rod I plan
to use to school the next person who DARES to allege that Windows
networks EVER have a lower administrative TCO to compensate in any way
for their substantial price tag -- there is something almost endearing
about buying a single multicore server, loading vmware on it, installing
W2003 server with umpty TS CALs in a VM (to facilitate remote control
and image-level backup), and then putting linux with rdesktop on all of
the desktops.  You want to run Windows?  Connect up here...

As I've said before, Windows makes a lovely linux application.  Well,
not exactly LOVELY, but let's just say its attractiveness is maximized
when it is installed as a VM, the install VM image is frozen (so viruses
CANNOT take hold -- they simply go away when the VM is restarted), and
it occupies a nice little 256 MB "window" in your system resources that
you can turn on and off at will for those rare times that only Genuine
Windows software will do...;-)

> Ubuntu with Beryl on a powerful enough laptop (e.g. one with a graphics card 
> that is reasonable at OpenGL) is something to behold.

Oh, now you're trying to get back on topic, are you...;-)

Well, laptops and VMs are definitely on topic these days.  A multicore
laptop (or workstation, but laptops are more fun and convenient)
equipped with VMware workstation "is" a prototyping/development cluster.
Build a node image.  Clone it.  Crank up (say) seven 256 MB cloned VM
nodes plus the toplevel image, and you've got an 8 node "cluster" with a
simulated internal TCP/IP network, good for testing and development,
REALLY good for presentations and talks.

OK, I know, I know, stop ranting about Windows, it's off topic.  So I
quit.  But Microsoft's actions ARE a wee bit relevant to the future
history of clusters on this planet, and VMs are a stealth threat to MS
dominance because they make it so EASY to build multi-OS-image systems.
For as long as I can remember (which is back into the mid-80's) running
heterogeneous networks has been very expensive.  Supporting multiple
operating systems (even different flavors of Unix, even different
distributions of Linux) has a high cost -- it just doesn't scale well.

VMs radically, radically change the scaling of those costs.  It reduces
the cost of offering a Windows desktop in a Linux-only environment to
the cost of a single server and a bunch of CALs.  It reduces the cost of
offering a Linux desktop in a Windows-only environment to the cost of
VMware (in both cases plus a relatively small and bounded investment in
systems-person time to set up the single shared image and any required
account support and security) -- or vice versa, Win running under Lin
(where you have to mess with licensing compliance a bit more).  I've
heard that Macs can simultaneously support MacOS, Windows and a Linux

This is a disaster for MS.  Their market dominance is largely based on
the TCO illusion they have carefully crafted, plus of course the fact
that a true IT monopoly is self-perpetuating as a whole generation of
systems people have a vested interest in the continuance of the value of
their particular skillset in the marketplace.  This in turn has relied
on the high cost of running heterogeneous environments.  As the cost of
heterogeneous environments drops and they become more common, the smoke
will blow away, the mirror will crack, and corporate decision makes will
start to see that Linux can indeed do most of what Windows can do, only
securely and much, much more cheaply.  And they don't even have to
"choose" -- they can have both... for a while.


Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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