Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Alternatives to Windows 8

Since Windows 8 changes a lot of things like the user interface, many people are starting to consider the alternatives. But what are they?

First we have older versions of Windows, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000, and so on. The thing is the farther back you go in Windows the less likely you are to run modern apps. XP, Vista, and 7 run most apps, but soon XP and Vista will be phased out by Microsoft support and then we have Windows 7. Some people need older versions of Windows to run legacy software and in the case of video games and 3D support a virtual machine simply won't do. If it is just business apps a virtual machine runs just fine.

I have been testing Windows 8 Enterprise edition for 90 days on my PC, I am using it right now to make this blog entry. I always use the things I write about. I'm finding a lot of legacy Windows apps won't work in Windows 8, but hopefully they will be rewritten or have newer versions to replace the ones that won't work. Bad luck if you need Visual Studio 2002/2003, or you have a PLC RLL software to control your PLC devices. I'd pick Windows 7 over Vista any day of the week, and dual boot to Windows XP for those old applications that need it for a legacy Windows PC.

Linux is gaining a lot of support as a Windows 8 alternative, with the WINE (WINE Is Not an Emulator) program some legacy and modern Windows apps can run under Linux. WINE exists for other Unix like platforms. But Linux itself has countless free and open source software programs you can use for free, and others that are commercial you can buy. Ubuntu seems to be the favorite as 12.10 just rolled out.

The Macintosh, Mac OS X, well you have to buy a Mac to use Mac OS X to be legal. There are Hackintosh PCs out there that can run a modified Mac OS X but it is not as modern as Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, IIRC The Hackintosh Mac OSX86 is still 10.6.2 last I checked. Basically if you need Mac OS X apps buy a Macintosh, if you just want a Unix system try Linux like Ubuntu which can have the Cario Dock added and Mac OS X skins added to have a Mac look and feel for free without violating Apple's EULA/TOS.

ReactOS, a free and open source operating system that is trying to rewrite itself as a Windows 2000/XP/2003 clone, and might be sued by Microsoft if it gets too popular. Using the WINE program it tries to run Windows apps and use Windows drivers. It is still in alpha testing and not ready for prime time, but give it five to ten years and it might become something. Don't use it unless you run it in a virtual machine.

Haiku Project, a free and open source rewrite of BeOS. It too is in the alpha stage but it is more stable than ReactOS. It won't run Windows apps, but will run some old BeOS apps. If anyone remembers, Apple was going to buy out Be Inc. and base the next Mac OS on BeOS, but changed its mind and bought out Next, Inc. instead and got back Steve Jobs and turned the BSD Unix based NextOS into Mac OS X. Run this in a virtual machine because it is not stable enough for bare iron yet, and make sure you set a serial port for the debugging part or else the virtual machine boot will crash.

AROS, AROS Research Operating System, this is a much better free and open source operating system than ReactOS and Haiku, but it won't run Windows apps. It is an AmigaOS type OS that can run some legacy Amiga software, and they are developing new software for it. In a few years it might be worth installing on bare iron PCs once they update the drivers and add in a good and decent email and web browser to it. I can really see AROS ported to ARM chips and used in touchscreen devices.

eComStation, honk if you love OS/2! This is the modern day version of IBM's old and busted OS/2 operating system for modern hardware. Sure you pay a lot to license one but the right package has Lotus Smart Suite included and of course the OS/2 version of OpenOffice.Org and access to a suite of free and open source software ported to OS/2. OS/2 was a better DOS than DOS and a better Windows than Windows, but Windows 95 and up killed it dead. IBM eventually licensed an OEM of OS/2 to Serenity Systems International and a lot of legacy OS/2 code is still used in international bank ATM systems and banking systems. I was amazed when I visited Thailand, for example, that the ATM near me showed the "OS/2 Warp" logo after a reboot during a thunderstorm when we were at an island resort. I found out these are all over the world and not replaced and needs OS/2 systems to communicate with them as it was never ported to Windows. There is a thing called ODIN that functions like WINE to run 32 bit Windows programs on eComStation.

FreeDOS, yikes, you really don't like Windows 8 so much that you'd consider downgrading to DOS to avoid it? MS-DOS won't run on modern PC systems, or at least not access all the memory and other stuff? Try FreeDOS the 32 bit DOS that is free and open source. I think in some cases there is a FreeGEM you can run on top of it for a GUI, if anyone remembers the old DRI GEM that used to compete with Windows 3.X way back when?

SparrowOS, well this used to be LosethOS but it was renamed. Imagine if there was a hybrid Commodore 64/Amiga 64 bit operating system with C/C++ added instead of BASIC and of course no TCP/IP stack, no serial ports, no 3D support just 2D, and it was written by a mentally ill person on disability who claims you can talk to God in it. I mean it has hymns in it, that is how religious it really seems to be. You'd have to be really really mad at Microsoft to use this OS, or get revenge on your friend or boss by installing this OS on their PC and watching their face trying to figure it out. For recreational use only, if the government would only legalize it. :)

Android tablets, yeah they get very cheap these days. So cheap they forced Apple to make an iPad Mini. Ditch the PC unless you want to install Android X86 on your PC. That might just work as any device can become an Android device.

iOS devices, be it iPad Mini, iPod Touch, iPod Nano, iPad (Maxi Pad?), the iPhone or whatever else Apple comes out with, iToaster, iRefridgerator, iAutomobile, Apple TV, maybe even bringing the Apple Newton back from the dead as an iOS device? They can be used instead of a Windows 8 device and if you don't mind an on-screen keyboard they work quite well.

My favorite choice is Ubuntu, it is free, it is fast, and it is easy to use. It is the cheapest solution to avoiding Windows 8 if you don't mind a bit of a learning curve, well Windows 8's GUI causes a new learning curve so why not try Ubuntu out?

Don't forget if you buy a Windows 8 PC and reformat it and put on a new OS to ask for a refund and return the Windows 8 disk and license. Let Microsoft know that Windows 8 is the New Coke of Windows operating systems.

The 2013 Tablet Wars

By now Apple is ready to announce the iPad Mini, a 7.9 inch tablet for under $300. Something Steve Jobs once said Apple would never do. But the saintly Steve Jobs has passed on. Tim Cook is running Apple now. Many ask, why do this.

Well Google and Amazon had 7 inch tablets for under $300 for a while now, the Android based tablets. Apple saw it was a threat and since lawsuits didn't turn out as well as they wanted, they have to copy Android and make a 7 inch tablet. But of course Apple will be considered to be first with the 7 inch tablet. 7 Inch Android Tablets at Amazon for example you can pick from a lot of them.

Meanwhile Microsoft is ready to roll out Windows 8 on October 26, 2012. Why is that relevant? Well Microsoft has their surface tablets based on Windows 8 that compete with the Android and iOS devices. The kicker is that Windows 8 uses Intel/AMD chips that can run legacy Windows applications (well to be honest not 100% of them but enough) and have a docking feature to turn them into laptops with a detachable keyboard.

Microsoft also has Windows RT (RISC Technology) that looks like Windows 8, but uses the same ARM chip many Android and all iOS devices use. The Windows RT tablet should compete with the Android and iPad in price. The difference is the Windows RT tablet won't run legacy Windows apps, as it is not Intel/AMD X86/X64 compatible.

There is the 7 inch Android 4.1 tablet from China that costs $45 that hasn't even entered the US market yet. The so called A-Pad that All Winners and other Chinese companies are making. If the FCC approves it, and the federal government allows it, you will see cheap 7 inch tablets in discount stores that outsell the iPad, Windows 8, and Google and Amazon and Samsung etc Android tablets. Apple had to make something to compete with it before it hits US shores.

There will be a tablet war in 2013, make no doubt about that.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Big Law Firms need to use technology to cut costs


I used to work for Thompson Coburn, LLP in Saint Louis Missouri. I had developed a Docket Calendar and integrated it with a Practice Area Information System with several other programmer / analysts. It was a web based Intranet system based on Microsoft Active Server Pages ASP around 1999-2000. The system had cut costs by millions because it also had an IN/Out board for each lawyer, partner, employee and so they can find when they are out of the office on vacation or sick days and reassign cases to other lawyers, partners, employees to avoid missing court dates and not getting work done on time. It was shown at a LawNet conference as commercial quality, and there wasn't anything like it at the time.

It had used Microsoft SQL Server and IIS with Windows NT 4.0 Server and later Windows 2000 Server. But in this day and age many law firms ought to look into free and open source options. The XAMP platform for example, is the Apache, MySQL, and PHP solution that runs on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and etc. Rather than pay the thousands of dollars for Windows Server with SQL Server and IIS and Microsoft's high priced licensing fees, law firms out to consider a Linux based Server solution with Apache, MySQL, PHP. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it differently.

Now when I developed software, management was in control with using all Microsoft based technology. I had to use VBScript, ActiveX, and develop for Internet Explorer. This is, of course, a mistake and can lead to higher expenses for more server licenses, and more Windows workstations. The problems we had were that when buying out other firms they used Macs, OS/2, Linux, and other non-Microsoft technology and it cost a lot of money to convert them to Windows and buy more Windows Server licenses. The XAMP technology does not require licenses and if written properly will be able to support the other platforms.

I feel bad that I left the company in 2001, I was doing good but ended up becoming too sick to work from all the stress. They no longer required my services. I eventually ended up on disability in 2003. I had planned on working on a new system called CAMELS (Client And Matter Electronic Litigation System) for legal practice management and prototyped a system in MS-Access and Visual BASIC 6.0 to look up some data. It was primitive and not a complete system, but I ended up being sick again and put it on the shelf. I heard that no system developed would be used by law firms because several commercial systems already existed and nobody would want to use one written by a small business or individual.

I quite wonder if I should start work on a XAMP version of CAMELS, open source it, and see if others want to contribute to it. See if it can be freely used as a way to cut costs by providing a skeleton of a bare minimum system that law firms can modify to their own system and use it as a standard to share data between law firms? If there is a primary system in place, there would be a business for contractors to migrate data from one system to another. I used to do that as well migrate from one database or programming language to another.

The thing is, I don't know if there is a market for it, or if law firms will even consider it an option. I mean you have to cut costs, and when you are a big law firm locked into Microsoft's Server pricing you could end up spending millions of dollars to upgrade everyone to the newest technology be it hardware, software, server, training, and support and debugging costs just to get to the next level, and then repeat that every three years when new technology comes out. Perhaps I seem a bit crazy here, but an open sourced XAMP solution would save those millions every three years and cut it down to thousands. When you are pricing your services down to "Suicide Prices" you have to find more ways to cut costs and expenses. Putting all your eggs into the Microsoft basket will cost you dearly, putting them into other areas might not cost you as much.

Everyone is always looking for the killer app for the open source crowd, I think legal practice management software would be a good killer app. You'll have to excuse XAMP for not having Exchange and Sharepoint technologies, they are proprietary to Microsoft and Microsoft does not share them with others. Consider alternatives to MS-Office like LibreOffice and OpenOffice.Org, they still work with the old MS-Office format with some support for the new MS-Office format.  http://www.libreoffice.org/ http://www.openoffice.org/ Microsoft is going to try and make people and businesses use a "rental software" of moving MS-Office to Office 365 in the Cloud and paying on a per-year basis. There used to be a time when Wordperfect was the standard with legal documents, and then MS-Office took over. Well LibreOffice and OpenOffice.Org can still use your Word and Excel templates.

It is possible to manage a legal office with Linux based systems http://lawtech.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/managing-a-practice-with-linux/ but the trick is tying together the systems to integrate them into a more user friendly system. If anyone is interested in doing that and would like to help me start up a legal practice management open source solution on XAMP or Linux please let me know at normanking@gmail.com and what you would like to do. I think we as a community can pull together here to develop something to help cut costs and expenses.