Mozilla delays Firefox 3.1 again

January 29, 2009 (Computerworld) Mozilla Corp. has delayed the third beta of Firefox 3.1 for the second time this month, a company executive said today, citing troublesome bugs in the browser's new JavaScript engine as the reason.

It's not yet clear if the latest delay will affect the delivery of Firefox 3.1's final, which Mozilla has said several times would appear this quarter. "I can't tell you that we're 100% confident that we will hit Q1," Mike Beltzner, director of Firefox, said Thursday morning.

After a Firefox 3.1 status meeting yesterday, Mozilla noted that there are 18 bugs that still need fixing before it can move ahead with Beta 3. "At this time, we don't have a good estimate for when we'll be done," meeting notes read. "Many of the bugs are proving to be tricky and complicated to fully resolve."

Beltzner expanded on that theme. "The TraceMonkey team has 15 things that are priority 1 blockers," he said, referring to the JavaScript engine that Mozilla introduced last year in Firefox 3.1. A Priority 1 blocker is a bug that, if unfixed, would prevent the release of Beta 3.

Saying that TraceMonkey developers needed to "get a good handle on the problem," Beltzner said a revised schedule might be posted within a few days. "We'll check back with [the TraceMonkey team] in a couple of days, and see where they're at," he said.

There has been no talk of yanking TraceMonkey from Firefox 3.1, Beltzner said. "We really believe in the TraceMonkey engine," he confirmed. "It's twice as fast [at rendering JavaScript] as Firefox 3.0, and more than nine times faster than Firefox 2.0. People who are using the nightlies and Beta 2 just can't go back to the slower browsers," he said.

Mozilla has made much of TraceMonkey, and the performance boost it gives Firefox, since it introduced the new JavaScript engine last summer.

Firefox 3.1 has been pushed back several times. Two weeks ago, Mozilla announced that Beta 3 would ship on Feb. 2, a week later than previously scheduled. Last November, Mozilla inserted the third beta into its timetable to give more testing time to several features, including TraceMonkey.

Firefox 3.1 Beta 2, still the newest public release of the browser, debuted in early December 2008.

"The TraceMonkey bugs seem quite containable," said Beltzner. "They're the sort of instability bugs that don't affect a lot of people a lot of the time -- we're talking crashes that are affecting a small percentage of the Web [sites] -- but we don't want to crash on any."

Mozilla faces renewed pressure from Microsoft Corp., which is working on the next version of its Internet Explorer browser. On Monday, Microsoft issued IE8 Release Candidate 1 (RC1). According to Computerworld's tests, IE8 RC1, while still considerably slower than the current production version of Firefox, has closed much of the JavaScript performance gap that existed as recently as last month.

Living free with Linux: 2 weeks without Windows

January 21, 2009 (Computerworld) It's one of those perennial age-old battles that can never be resolved. Coke or Pepsi? Chocolate or vanilla? Linux or Windows?

I've been in the trenches of those wars for years. I've written about Windows since the days of Windows 2.0, including numerous books and hundreds or even thousands of articles, blogs and columns. Along the way, I've been called every name in the book -- and many you won't find in any books, either -- by Linux proponents, because I've extolled the benefits of Windows, while ignoring those of Linux.

So I thought it was finally time to confront the issue myself. How does Linux stack up against Windows? Which is really easier to use and less expensive? Which actually lets you be more productive? In short: Could I live without Windows at all and run my life on Linux for two weeks without spending a penny for software? Since one of Linux's great virtues is that it, and many of the applications that run under it, are open source, part of the attraction for me was to see if I could use an operating system and applications that were completely free.

To put myself to the test, I borrowed an IBM ThinkPad T41 with 1.5GB of RAM and a Pentium M 1.6-GHz processor. It already had Windows XP installed on it, but if I wanted, I could wipe the drive clean.

Choosing and installing Linux

The uninitiated (as I was) will most likely be initially overwhelmed by the number of Linux distributions available, many of which sound as if they were named by participants at a Star Trek convention after too much late-night carousing: Gentoo, Debian, Knoppix, Madriva, SUSE, Red Hat, Xandros, Ubuntu -- and that's just a very short list.

My goal was to live in Linux for free, so that ruled out commercial Linux distributions such as Xandros. I checked with a number of Linux pros and fans, and in the end, I relied on my most trusted expert, my 18-year-old son Gabe, who recommended that I go with Ubuntu, using the Wubi installer. Wubi creates a multiboot system on a Windows PC that lets you boot into either your existing version of Windows or into Ubuntu. You don't have to modify any partitions, and you don't have to use a different boot loader than the one Windows uses. As an added bonus, it can be installed and uninstalled like any other Windows application.

Living with Linux
Ubuntu has a clean, uncluttered interface.
Click to view larger image

At first, installation seemed straightforward. I downloaded the Wubi installation file and ran it, which in turn downloaded a 694.5MB file. The installation program told me it needed to reboot. I told it to go ahead.

The Hardware Gods, though, were not pleased; perhaps I had forgotten to sacrifice a goat. My ThinkPad T41 didn't reboot, even though the installer tried. So I took matters into my own hands and chose to reboot from the Windows Start menu. (At this point, the installation program was still running in Windows.) Once again, it stood firm and refused to reboot.

As a long-suffering Windows user, I'm used to this kind of thing, so I tried the three-finger salute and pressed Ctrl-Alt-Del -- twice. Again, no go. Eventually, I had to unplug the machine's power cord, take out the battery, then put the battery and power cord back in. Then I restarted.

At first, things seemed to go according to plan. After the restart, a dual-boot screen appeared, asking whether I wanted to boot into XP or Ubuntu. I chose Ubuntu and figured I was on my way. Wrong. I booted into a screen that looked like this:

BusyBox v1.1.3 (Debian 1:1.1.3-3ubuntu3) Built-in shell (ash)
Enter 'help' for a list of built in commands.

As a Windows user, I'm used to seeing incomprehensible screens. But this one put even Microsoft to shame. I rebooted again (this time it worked) and once again chose Ubuntu from the dual-boot screen. Once again the mysterious screen appeared. I typed "help" at the prompt to find the list of commands. The "help" was of absolutely no help. I got a listing of several dozen commands -- things like alias, break, continue, pwd, loadfont and so on -- but no information about what they did or how to use them.

I rebooted yet again. And this time, for reasons known only to the Linux Gods (perhaps they don't require goat sacrifices after all), I booted into a Ubuntu GUI that began configuring my system. Finally! Well ... not quite finally. After about 10 minutes, Ubuntu stopped functioning and the PC rebooted on its own.

After that reboot, though, all was right with the world. Ubuntu finally installed on the system as a dual-boot option and was absolutely rock-solid every time I booted into it. So solid, in fact, that it never failed to boot. So solid that I never experienced a single crash or Blue Screen of Death in all the weeks that I used it, either in the operating system itself or any of the applications I used -- something I certainly can't say about Windows XP.

Amazingly -- at least to a Linux novice like me -- Ubuntu recognized all the hardware on my T41, including the built-in wireless card, so I didn't have to fiddle around with drivers. If Microsoft had done this good a job with drivers on Vista, perhaps that operating system wouldn't be so troubled right now.

Microsoft beta lets old Windows apps run on Vista

January 15, 2009 (IDG News Service) Microsoft Corp. has released the first public beta of a tool that solves one of the chief complaints businesses have with Windows Vista: that older Windows applications aren't compatible with the new operating system.

The Microsoft's Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V) lets people run legacy Windows applications, including those built for Windows 2000 and Windows XP, on Vista by using virtualization technology, according to a blog post on The Official MDOP Blog.

"Our primary goal was to deliver an enterprise virtualization solution for the compatibility challenges that IT teams have with some of their line-of-business applications, during the upgrade to new operating systems (like Windows Vista)," according to the post, attributed to Ran Oelgiesser, a MED-V senior product manager. "With MED-V 1.0, you can easily create, deliver and centrally manage virtual Windows XP or 2000 environments (based on Microsoft Virtual PC 2007), and help your users to run legacy applications on their Windows Vista desktops."

By using MED-V in this way, people don't have to test or migrate applications that before would have been incompatible with Vista before running them on the operating system, saving companies money and time, he added.

To get the MED-V beta, people can sign up on the Microsoft Connect site.

The final release of the software is expected later this year, according to the post. Microsoft acquired the MED-V technology when it closed its purchase of Kidaro Inc. last May. It is included in a larger software package called the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, which rolls up several Microsoft virtualization acquisitions. In addition to Kidaro, the pack is comprised of software from Microsoft's purchases of Softricity, AssetMetrix, Winternals Software and Desktop Standard.

Microsoft is investing heavily in desktop- and application-virtualization technology as a way to alleviate compatibility issues that have especially hampered the adoption of Vista. Many businesses opted to skip Vista and continue to run Windows XP until Vista's follow-up release, Windows 7, is available, and application-compatibility was one of several factors affecting their decision.

Microsoft just released the first Windows 7 beta last week, and some expect the final release of the operating system as early as August or September, although Microsoft has not given a firm date for when it will be finished.

Early reports from Windows 7 beta users are that the operating system is more stable, runs faster and is more secure than Vista, and improves on some of the user-interface features Microsoft introduced in that operating system. Some are even suggesting that Microsoft not charge a fee, or charge very little, for Windows 7, since Vista should have the same high quality in the first place.