It’s official: Internet Explorer users are stoopid

Posted in Computers, Linux, Mac, Stupid trivia, Windows on July 29th, 2011 by Andy
A graph show IQ vs browser

IQ vs browser choice, showing trends over time

The browser you choose these days has become a bit of a fashion accessory, and poor old Internet Explorer has become like the manky brown corduroys of the net. Sure, IE users area  bit old-fashioned, but are they actually dumber than folks surfing on Opera or Chrome? Well, yes actually.

That’s the controversial result from a study (PDF) by Canadian brain-wranglers AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting. It turns out Opera users are the smartest surfers out, Chrome users are marginally smarter than Firefox users, and that you can apparently boost your IQ by a whopping 40 points just by installing Chrome Frame into IE6. Although from the numbers it looks like IE6 users would probably struggle to do up the buttons on a shirt, let alone install new software.

These results should probably be taken with a humungous pinch of salt, but they do provide a great opportunity for smugness if your choice of software marks you as one of the master race.

But what does it mean?

Well, the point of the study wasn’t really to make people feel bad about their choice of browser, it was the look at the link between resistance to change/upgrades and IQ. Browser choice was used as a proxy for that resistance to change, because people using Windows that resist change are more likely to be using the default browser, and more likely to be using an old version of it.

That’s actually an important insight. What it tells us is that defaults matter. A significant percentage of the user base won’t be changing the defaults regardless of quality. So if you care about user experience, you need to get them right. It also suggests that OSes that ship without a good set of default applications are causing a lot of stress for some users. A lot of users would be more happy to be given a Linux distro that bundled a good set of default apps for a wide range of uses (browser, word processor, IM client, email, music player) and that the absence of these apps on commercial OSes like Windows and OS X is probably a bit of a hassle for them. Moreover, these are not users that Linux traditionally targets itself at. Traditionally Linux efforts have either tried to go for (presumably) high IQ power users, or offered very minimalist experiences (eg: Xandros, Linpus) for mainstream use. This study suggests that what they low-IQ end of the PC using population really want is a good set of default apps, preinstalled and with an automated security update system that they don’t have to get involved with.

Stupid people may be an easy target for ridicule, but their money is worth the same as anyone else’s, and they’ve got just as much right to drive a computer as the rest of us. And as a casual glance over a newspaper shows, there do seem to be an awful lot of them.

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Why IE will win the Microsoft browser ballot

Posted in Computers, Windows on March 6th, 2010 by Andy

How do you build a better web if the majority of people cling to a crap browser?

Microsoft is evil incarnate, everyone knows that. But fear not, the European Commission will save us!

In all seriousness, Internet Explorer’s poor track record of security, innovation, web standards compliance and media support is bad for the internet. So in theory breaking the stranglehold that it has on the market is a good thing. The slight problem with that is that it won’t work.

The source of the problem is obviously the fact that IE comes bundled with Windows. Most people just use the browser that comes with their system. This isn’t a trait confined to tech-blind Windows proles, i’ve seen a fair amount of the same attitude from supposedly switched-on Linux users when Chrome was released. If the default does everything you ask it to, why try a new browser? New things are weird and scary.

While the browser ballot isn’t a bad idea, it won’t result in a major shift in behaviour for Windows users. The folks who are inclined to try another browser have mostly already done so, or at least know that it’s an option. The rest will stick with what they know. That’s fine, most people aren’t too fond of change and just want their computer to shut up and get on with it.

The real good that will come out of the ballot is that all IE6 and IE7 users will be upgraded to IE8 if they click on it. So ironically the biggest winner is likely to be IE itself. That’s pretty much the opposite of what the EC intended, but so what? Personally i’m not bothered at all. If the name of the game is getting rid of browsers that hold back web innovation, then switching from IE6 to anything else is still a win.

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All-singing and dancing Google notifier for your PC

Posted in Computers, Linux, Windows on December 12th, 2009 by Andy
Sod going to multiple=

Sod going to multiple inboxes, get it all from one place

Googsystray is a notifier gizmo for Google Voice, GMail, Google Calendar, Google Reader, and Google Wave. It sits in your system tray and notifies you by popups or sound. I particular like the way you can set a threshold of new items in Reader before it bugs you. It’s also the only decent Google Voice notifier out there. Having everything combined into one lightweight notifier is nice and tidy, too.

Available for Windows and Linux. No love for the Mactards sorry!

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How to double your SETI@home speed

Posted in Computers, Howto, Linux, Ubuntu, Windows on September 26th, 2009 by Andy
Seti@home analyses astronomical data for signs of life

SETI@home analyses astronomical data for signs of life

In fact, you might be able to do a lot better than double it, some people have reported a tenfold improvement from one simple tweak: CUDA!

Put simply, CUDA is a way of getting your graphics card to help out with computational tasks. And it turns out that in the hands of CUDA-enabled software the peculiar architecture of a graphics processor absolutely rocks at hardcore number-crunching like SETI@home.

What do I need?

  1. A compatible Nvidia graphics card. Generally speaking: Geforce 8XXX or better.
  2. The latest drivers for that card.
  3. The latest BOINC software.

How do I get started?

Simply update to the latest version of BOINC. If everything is ok you should see a message about CUDA and your GPU being detected as a coprocessor when you run the CPU benchmarks (done automatically after installing).

There are some problems. BOINC’s site claims in one place that 6.4.5 is ok for CUDA, but mine just wouldn’t work. Elsewhere on the site they say you need 6.6.36 or better, but the version in the Ubuntu repos is only 6.4.5. You can get the latest version here, just uninstall any existing copy of BOINC, extract the folder somewhere on your system and set the contained run_client file within to run at startup (System > Prefs > Startup Applications).

What sort of performance will I get?

BOINC say between 2 and 10 times the speed. But a picture is worth a thousand words:

Can you tell what day I switched to CUDA?

Can you tell what day I switched to CUDA?

Is it just for SETI@home?

No, you can also sign up to GPUgrid to do biological simulations, and users with ATI graphics cards will soon be able to crunch for Milkyway@home and Collatz Conjecture, all still using the BOINC distributed computing platform.

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Google confirms the rumours: a Google OS is coming

Posted in Computers, Linux, Tech, Ubuntu, Windows on July 8th, 2009 by Andy

microsoft-vs-googleThere’s been constant rumours of a Google operating system since the dawn of time. A while back they let slip that inside the Googleplex they use a customised version of Ubuntu (called Goobuntu, naturally). Lately they’ve developed their Chrome browser and the Android mobile operating system. Since they compete against the likes of Microsoft already, surely it was just a matter of time before they attacked Redmond where it hurts: the desktop OS?

Google says it’s all true

Chrome OS will be a lightweight Linux distro aimed at the netbook market. All they’ve said so far is that they aim for speed and focus on the web. Presumably that means plugging right into Google’s excellent range of cloud services, as Android does.

They’ve also said they will use a “new windowing system”, by which they probably mean this distro won’t be wearing either Gnome or KDE. Hopefully that isn’t going to break compatibility with the vast number of existing Linux apps, which would be a massive shame for users.

No word either on whether Google will be maintaining their own repo, or whether they’ll be piggybacking on one of the established distros. Also under wraps is which browser this web-centric OS will be running. Android runs Webkit and Google have strongly promoted Firefox for years, but the obvious choice would seem to be the Chrome browser.

So not a lot of detail, but tantalising news indeed. Netbooks pre-installed with Chrome OS should be available in late 2010.

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Windows 7 Release Candidate downloads

Posted in Computers, Windows on May 6th, 2009 by Andy

windows_7_graphicMicrosoft have unleashed the Release Candidate for Windows 7. It’s gratis and valid until the middle of 2010, after which point you’ll have to fork out some hard-earned if you want to keep it.

If you don’t want to download through your browser here’s some direct links for the downloads:

32bit

64bit

There are also a ton of torrents available but be VERY careful with these. Don’t install anything you’ve downloaded by torrent unless you check it against these SHA1 checksums:

32-bit: 7D1F486CA569EFFFFB719CFB48355BB7BF499712

64-bit: FC867FE1AB2E0A9796F9E4D155B44EA6998F4874

Enjoy!

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Jaunty boots 35% faster than Intrepid!

Posted in Computers, Linux, Ubuntu, Windows on March 18th, 2009 by Andy

Anyone that’s been using Ubuntu for the last couple of years can’t help but feel like it’s gotten a bit sluggish in recent versions. That’s probably natural, after all, over time you have to expect the hardware requirements of your software to steadily climb. But with the next version of Ubuntu (9.04 Jaunty Jackelope, which hits beta on 29 Mar) the devs have stated they want to put some lightning in the tank, and try to reverse the effects of creeping bloat.

Overall time (s) to each stage:

System Grub > Login Login > Desktop Desktop > Usable
XP SP3 17.33 43.08 61.38
Intrepid 47.47 65.60 99.03
Jaunty 35.89 55.77 64.85

XP is still king of boot times, but Jaunty is within a whisker of toppling it

XP is still king of boot times, but Jaunty is within a whisker of toppling it!

So have they succeeded? Hell yes! I timed to boot sequence of Jaunty compared to the current release, Intrepid. Just to make things tougher on Jaunty, I also included the copy of Windows XP I have on the same machine. XP is a pretty old system now, and boots ferociously quick on new hardware.

The system:

  • Intel E8400 Core 2 Duo CPU at 3GHz
  • Intel DG33FB Mobo
  • 2GB Generic RAM
  • Seagate Barracuda SATA hard drive

Jaunty root partition is EXT4, and Jaunty and Intrepid share a common EXT3 /home partition. XP is on NTFS.

I timed from hitting the right entry in Grub until the login screen showed, then from login to the desktop appearing, then to Firefox launched and ready to use. None of these are a fresh install. XP has to load all the usual antivirus, etc. The Ubuntu systems have a load of panel applets like CheckGmail,  as well as the AWN dockbar,  etc to launch. I could shave the times down  easily, but as they are these represent a usable everyday system.

Conclusion

Jaunty is fast! Fast enough to give an old system like XP a real scare. I’d have liked to test it against Vista or Win 7 to see what the margin is against more modern Microsoft OSes, but I don’t have either installed on this machine.

You can see from the graph why it’s important to keep timing all the way to a usable desktop. Windows is designed to throw up the login window fast, then show you a desktop while it finishes booting. You can’t actually do anything with that desktop, but it creates the impression of speed, which is nice little trick from Microsoft but can lead to misleading timings if you stop the clock when the desktop appears.

Overall, the speed improvements seen in Jaunty Alpha 6 are a 35% improvement over Intrepid. Some of this will be down to it’s new fast EXT4 filesystem, and you’ve got to wonder how much boot times would improve if /home was also EXT4, or if they were on a SSD instead of an old-fashioned magnetic drive like the Seagate Barracuda.

Oh, and shutdown times? Intrepid = 22s, XP = 11s, Jaunty = 11s. Nuff said!

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Tech Show Roundup: BBC Click, Category 5, Tekzilla

Posted in Computers, Linux, Ubuntu, Websites, Windows on February 28th, 2009 by Andy

BBC Click

BBC Click

Broadcast on BBC News and available online through the iPlayer, Click is a high-budget magazine-style show. As you might expect, it’s focused less on nitty-gritty details and tech problem-solving and more on issues. You get a lot of interviews with important people, and examination of the impact of technology. There are the obligatory tech and website reviews, but it’s focused more on providing a balance view of things than pushing the latest gadget. Interesting stuff.

Category 5 Technology TV

Category5 Website

Sandwiched between two big players like Click and Tekzilla this homegrown Canadian minnow might look out of place. But what it lacks in budget it makes up for in accessibility.

Broadcast from the home of alpha-geek Robbie Ferguson Category 5 streams out live for an hour a week and interacts directly with users in the site’s chatroom. They also answer emails from users, and even take phone calls (!). The focus is mostly on Ubuntu Linux, but there are hardware reviews, and they”ve recently started dealing with Macs and other Linux distros, as well as fielding the occasional Windows question. Robbie is a nice guy, and extremely knowledgeable and helpful. His co-host Carrie Webb is there to keep things grounded and stop Robbie from talking too much technobabble, so the show stays accessible to all levels of geekiness. I like.

Tekzilla

Tekzilla website

As the name suggests, this is a behemoth of a show. Hailing from the massive American web video stable of Revision3, this is a big show, with big production values. What I like about it is that they aren’t afraid to say if something is crap. A lot of bg shows seems like adverts for whatever latest gizmo the tech companies are pushing. Tekzilla aren’t afraid to tell you not to jump on the bandwagon if they think the technology isn’t quite right yet.

Content covers mostly Windows/Mac, although they’re not averse to talking about Linux. They also produce some handy short videos dealing with specific (albeit pretty basic) issues.

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Windows 7 vs Vista vs Ubuntu

Posted in Computers, Ubuntu, Windows on February 6th, 2009 by Andy

Following on from my review of Windows 7, here’s some interesting benchmarks:

Windows 7 vs Vista vs Ubuntu Benchmarks

Short version: Win 7 beta already outperforms Vista on most  benchmarks except for some types of file transfer.

One thing of note is that both Vista and Win 7 have a relatively large disk footprint, meaning they will both be of limited use on netbooks and laptops fitted with the new solid state drives. I suspect manufacturers will stick to slow and fragile old HDDs for Win 7 netbooks to avoid pricing themselves out of the market. Either that or Microsoft will have to extend XP availability again.

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Windows 7 Review

Posted in Computers, Windows on January 21st, 2009 by Andy

This is me, jumping on the Windows 7 Beta bandwagon:

Room for one more?

Room for one more?

Now, i’ve barely used Vista, and i’ve never installed it. Pretty much all my Windows knowhow is from XP, which is currently pensioned off as a gaming-only OS, while Ubuntu runs my PC on a day-to-day basis. So i’ll be looking at two things:

  1. How does Win 7 stack up against current Linux desktops?
  2. How far have Microsoft come since XP was released?

I installed Win 7 into a Virtualbox OSE virtual machine, using an image hosted on my network storage. Microsoft have been making noises about Win 7 having a lighter footprint than their endomorphic spawnling Vista, so I decided to give the VM 512MB of RAM, 64MB video memory and a 10GB chunk of hard drive space.

MS seem to have tidied their installer up a lot since XP. The partition editor was nice, although no word on whether this will play more nicely with multi-boot systems than previous incarnations. Windows’ habit of overwriting the MBR without asking is a particular pain in the arse on previous versions.

Visually, I like this installer. Plain black, with a pulsating Windows logo.  Nice. It also asks a lot less dumb questions than XP did.  For example, no long do you have to specify you locale, AND your language, AND your keyboard. Instead Win 7 just asks your location and presumably makes an educated guess for the others. In the vast majority of cases this guess would be correct, and the others can correct this after getting to the desktop.

In fact, up until reaching the desktop the overall experience is markedly improved over XP, and on a par with current Linux installers such as Ubuntu’s Ubiquity. Ubiquity asks a few more questions, but they’re good features such as migration of profiles from existing OSes, and the powerful partitioner Gparted is still better than anything Microsoft are offering.

Once into the desktop it’s pretty standard Microsoft stuff. A single panel at the bottom of the screen contains the familiar Windows start menu, task bar and notification area.

Windows 7 quickly identified the first spanner in the works: it had no driver from Virtualbox’s network adaptor. This is familiar territory for anyone who’s installed XP in Virtualbox, but i’m surprised that Microsoft still aren’t including drivers for all the virtualisation suites in the default install. Sure, it’s a Beta, and they may be in the final release, but if anything Betas are more likely to be installed into a VM.

Obviously, the network adaptor is a show-stopper these days, but it was a good chance to see Win 7 handling faults. The failed network kit popped up in the notification area, which offered a diagnostic scan. This correctly identified the lack of a driver as the issue. Overall this was pretty slick, and would have allowed a non-geek user to bottom out the problem easily. Nice work Microsoft.

Also of note is that Win 7 will nag the user to install antivirus, and even lead them straight to the downloads. Unfortunately we’re stuck with IE8 at this early stage. IE has always only been good for downloading a proper browser IMO, and I don’t expect IE8 to break this mold. On first run it spammed a lot of decision boxes about nonsense such as “accelerators” which seemed to be an MS attempt to tie your browser into their web services. Proving once more that Google really has them shitting themselves.

As for the much-blogged-about new UI, I found it poor overall. Their new taskbar makes no differentiation between launchers, shortcuts and running apps. Worse, the bar only shows logos, with no text title unless you mouseover. This is dock-like behaviour, but the difference is that users generally customise their own docks, so know what the various icons are.

The first real app I ran was from a disk image mounted to Win 7’s (virtual) CD drive. Bizarrely, it failed to take focus, and I actually ended up launching it twice, as I hadn’t noticed the icon appear in the taskbar. This is just plain bad UI, especially since the second instance I tried to run threw up an unhelpful “failed to run properly” error message. Notice to MS: if I run an app, I want it to immediately take focus. Who wouldn’t?

The other big dissapointment was the return of something I haven’t seen in a long time on Windows: the Blue Screen of Death. Sadly Win 7 sports the same incredibly unhelpful BSOD page as previous versions of Windows. In the course of installing antivirus, browser and Flash I had two BSODs, which is not good. Some of this may be my fault. Running a beta browser like Chrome on a beta OS like Win 7 is probably asking for trouble.

Rough edges aside, the OS looks like it has promise. The system was reasonably snappy, and the menus and tools, while not overly intuitive in themselves, were similar enough to previous versions to make them fairly straightforward to use. If Microsoft can sort out the stability issues and improve the taskbar it should make a good replacement for XP when it retires in a few years time. Needless to say, a lot of underwhelmed Vista users will look to switch, too.

Personally, however, I was very happy to shut down the VM and get back to Ubuntu. Windows 7 seems like a nicer environment than XP, but it’s still a long, long way behind Gnome and Compiz Fusion.

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