30 Oct 1999 @ 5:12 PM 

My Windows DesktopSaturday

Well, I’m going to break with my trend of complete incoherence and go for a set of Software Reviews today… I’ve recently had to do some reconstructive surgery on my computer, so I have new toys. I also did some experimenting, as long as I had to start over anyhow.

My Linux Desktop in KDESo, although I’ve been very happy with Linux Mandrake for the past year or so, I thought I’d check out Caldera Open Linux, since they had a new version and I’d heard how simple it was to install. Changing into my "newbie" mode, I let it run the install as if I had no clue at all what Linux was. (Well, I did partition the HD, but if you bought the commercial version, it would do that for you too) WOW! It auto-ran from Windows, rebooted itself in DOS-Single mode, ran Loadlin, and started up a stripped-down version of X to install from. No more command line installations for newbies, no sir! OK, a GUI install is pretty, but how is the system? It gives you very few choices when you install the OS, kinda like Windows and unlike most Linux distributions. For most people, that’s good, since they will get less confused by the routine. In about 20 minutes (less than the Windows install I did the same week), I had Caldera Open Linux 2.3 installed and operational. It even recognized my wheel mouse and brand-new TNT2 video card. VERY nice install, and the system is set up for KDE as the desktop, which is good for most folks. Although many reviewers refer to KDE as Windows-like, I think of it more as CDE-like, but I’m familiar with Solaris, and most computer magazine writers apparently AREN’T.

Be with two animated windowsAnother fun little doodad I installed recently was BeOS. The Be Operating System was originally designed to out-Mac the Macintosh, and was built for the PowerPC chips. Now, they have had a version out for Intel-compatible chips for a while. I ran its install and poked around a bit. Like Caldera, the Be install is also Windows-aware, and it auto-ran from the CD in Be with a book of QuicktimesWindows, starting a DOS-mode install and setting up its environment. When it rebooted, it ran Partition Magic Special Edition, created its partition from freespace on the HD, rebooted into the Be install, and installed itself with nearly no interaction from me. In fact, there is almost nothing to decide on during the install, other than which partition to set up on. After it installed, I ran some of the demos, and tried to get online. *BUZZ* Can’t do it. Although Be’s web site claims that my ethernet card is supported, it did not recognize it, even after repeated attempts to make it go. So, it’s off my hard drive again. Maybe next year. The pictures I’ve posted show some of Be’s out-of-the-box demos. The images are NOT stills, they are animated and lighted in real-time, while showing multiple video images and real-time deformation. If you’re a graphics geek, you just said, "cool!" and the rest of you said, "huh?"
Some thoughts in comparison between Windows, Linux, and Be:

Operating System Installation time Boot time Gotchas/summary
Windows 98 SE 3 hours, including futzing around to make it recognize all of my peripherals simultaneously. 115 seconds (with my Startup group disabled) Supported by most software makers, but crashes WAY too much. I have to watch my resources like a hawk or the darned thing locks up on me. UDMA is supposed to work, but hangs my system 10% of the time, and it takes forever to startup and shutdown.
Caldera Open Linux 2.3 35 minutes, including the time waiting for Windows to reboot. 63 seconds, to a usable GUI desktop after logging in. Not too much software available off-the-shelf, but plenty available online and in book stores, etc. Great for heavy use, but not really a good game platform yet (except for Loki games). No decent Access-equivalent, but the rest of Office functions are available from StarDivision.
Linux Mandrake 6.1 40 minutes, mainly because I chose to select individual packages 73 seconds (more daemons loaded than I need) Same as Caldera, but Mandrake is better supported by "the community" since it has the same directory structure as Redhat, and Caldera is a little different.
BeOS 4.5 21 minutes, including Windows rebooting and re-partitioning the HD. 19 seconds (WOW!) Quite nearly no software support, with the exception of Macromedia’s promised support. Amazingly fast and flexible system, and based on Unix, so pretty darned secure and stable.

So, the final verdict is pretty ambivalent. All the OS’s have pluses and minuses, depending on what you want to do with them. Personally, I’m running a dual-boot system. I nuked Be, moved back to Mandrake instead of OpenLinux, and I spend most of my time in Windows. I’d like to spend more time in Linux, but the Gimp is not as friendly to me as Photoshop, I don’t know of a decent HTML WYSIWYG editor, and game support is kinda paltry. But, as soon as I can, I’ll jump to a stable OS, whoever makes it.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 05 Jun 2004 @ 07:48 AM

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 15 Oct 1999 @ 12:00 PM 

The Pine D’Music SM200C, the first major effort to sell a CD-based MP3 player with ID3 tag support, is a qualified success.

The ID3 support works, and shows you the Song Title only, not the artist (picture). If the ID3 is missing, the display shows a simple Unknown Tag message instead. Once the track scrolls across the display once, it stops and shows only the first 8 characters of the title.

The navigation system for the Pine is a bit unwieldy as well, with no method of negotiating directory structure at all. The directories work, but you can’t delve into them specifically, as you can with the RioVolt.

The Pine unit also has the unfortunate problem of being limited to ISO9660 filenames. So, if you burn long filenames, as most people do, the Pine player will only sort by the truncated 8.3 filename. And, as many people have noticed, that doesn’t leave you much room to add sorting information if you have a lot of files from the same artist. For those that are unfamiliar with 8.3 filenames (welcome back to DOS), the Windows system that most are using was built on older standards that had file limitations of 8-character main name with a 3-character extension. So, you may have a file named This is a cool song.mp3, but the Pine will see THISIS~1.MP3 or, even more inexplicable to the newbie, may see THISIS~4.MP3, and will get sorted after another track you have named This is nowhere near as cool.mp3, because that track has somehow ended up with the short filename of THISIS~2.MP3. This ISO9660 limitation also extends to directory names, and there are even more problems ahead there.

If your directory and filename together are too long, the ISO9660 system gets confused. I have some disks that will play 3 songs from one directory, move to a different directory and play one track there, move back to the original directory and play the same 3 songs again, then go to some third directory and play the entire contents of that one normally. All this while I have the player set to play “straight through” from beginning to end, no less. As I said, inexplicable at times.

In order to move through the tracks on your disk, you can use the Scan button, or use the +10 mode. Hitting Scan will spin through all the tracks of the disk, playing the first 10 seconds of each before moving on. The +10 mode is probably more useful to most people, unless you’ve memorized what the first 10 seconds of your target track sounds like. To jump ahead more than one track at a press, you put the D’Music into pause, then hold the FWD or RWD keys for a second or two, then they’ll jump 10 tracks at a time instead of one.

The equalizer function works well, with several presets to toggle through, as you see fit. Strangely, I found the Classical setting helped most of my Hiphop and Rock tracks sound best. Go figure.

The battery life for the D’Music is about normal for a portable CD player: 4 hours on fresh batteries. It does, however, include rechargeable batteries (picture) and is used as the battery charger for them. This is a very nice feature, as you can leave the D’Music plugged into your car’s cigarette lighter for day-to-day use, then unplug it and feel confident the battery is fully charged and ready to go.

Overall, if there were no better options available, the Pine D’Music is a decent MP3 player, with a few major bugs (ISO limitations the biggest). As it is, since the RioVolt came out, Pine has dropped the MSRP of the D’Music to 150USD, 20 dollars below the Volt. It would consider the Volt to be worth the 20 dollars.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 04 Jan 2019 @ 03:05 PM

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