Wimminz – celebrating skank ho's everywhere

April 4, 2014

The Personal Computer – part one

Filed under: Wimminz — Tags: , — wimminz @ 11:42 am

Back in the day, I had an Acorn A5000, it needed an OS upgrade, so I contacted Acorn and they sent me, free of charge, a small packed with four EEPROM chips, and that was how you upgraded the OS, remove the four RISCOS 3.0 chips, insert the four RISCOS 3.5 chips, job done.

Speaking as an engineer, sticking the OS in ROM like this is a wonderful thing, it pretty much makes it immune to malware corruption and so on, so I can really *get* the fact that the designers of the Acorn / Archimedes range, being engineers first and foremost, saw this as a fantastic design feature.

The fact is, MS *could* do this, it’s not much different to having the gold build release which is now on DVD, and all the myriad updates downloaded separately, but, you couldn’t actually *apply* them to the OS, you’d have to LOAD them at boot, not PATCH the files in question, still, it could be done, if you were prepared to re-write windows from the ground up.

The middle ground here is flashing a BIOS with an updated later version, it’s not technically impossible, or even very hard to do, the only issue is once you start out from a different design ethos, which is what IBM did with the PC spec, you can no longer do it and remain within the PC spec, technically, you are no longer selling what was once known as an “IBM Compatible PC”

If you have read my recent shit about lightweight cheap craptops and windows 8 and downgrades to windows 7, you’ll be forgiven for having a lot of sympathy for what I am about to say.

The IBM PC spec included the fundamental principle that you could take a bunch of inert but compatible hardware, add initially on floppy, later on CD, now on DVD, the OS install media, and end up with a working PC.

*perhaps* you would then have to whack in some separate floppy / CD / DVD that contained drivers, to make certain components work, or work better, but, and this is crucial, these installers functioned from within a working PC with an already working windows environment and desktop.

*perhaps* your network card would not work without these drivers, perhaps your graphics card would not show the full feature set, perhaps the hard disk worked in PIO mode, but the bottom line was despite all these, you had a working PC, WIMP GUI and all.

So even if you had these relatively minor issues, you could resolve them, trivially, onsite.

Now, going back to the cheapola windows 8 craptops with UEFI etc, (if you haven’t read those posts, perhaps you should now, or this may not make sense) since by definition they utterly fail on every level to do what it says in red text above, particularly the bold underlined sentence at the end, and by utterly fail I mean it is outright impossible to do, not just difficult, or technical, or time consuming, but impossible, to my mind, these devices cannot be called PC’s.

Technically they have more in common with a tablet, forget the fact that they have a keyboard and come in a clamshell case and so on, the only way they can work is if you blow a disk image on to the disk, specifically tailed for that specific set of hardware, at build time.

  1. No longer is it a set of inert components, now the hard disk has an image blown to it.
  2. No longer can you get a functioning windows environment *just* from standard OS install media and inert components alone.

This is a pretty good description of a tablet, or a gaming console, or a set top box, or any other specialised device.

I will ask you to note that throughout the IBM Compatible PC period, which to my mind started with MS Windows 3.1, at no point where servers ever referred to as PC’s, even though they were in many ways broadly similar, and shared many common components, and even common physical characteristics, definitions, layouts, such as ATX etc.

People did not lie so much back then, even for example Dell and Compaq, who had a nasty habit of rewiring cabling a different way from the ATX standard, would correctly call their device a PC, but would not make the false claim that it was an ATX device.

Today, Toshiba and Samsung and probably all the rest of them too make a whole range of devices that are cheap and nasty, cut down UEFI, and are not PC’s.

I haven’t been able to say anything about this before, but thanks to Build 2014 Microsoft has finally let half the cat out of the bag, now you can choose between the truly crap Windows 8 “tiles”, or the classic start menu system, and Sinofsky is history.

See, the thing is, deals were done, and it is the nature of things that it takes a long time from deals being done to the final effects being manifested.

But one of the deals that were done was to do with the saturation of the PC market, nobody was ignorant of the fact that any old XP machine could be given a new lease of life with an SSD, and really, windows 7 only sold because is was pre-installed on new boxen, almost nobody went out and bought the DVD.

Intel wanted to get rid of the BIOS and go with UEFI, it’s cheaper, and allows for hardware to be made more platform agnostic, a north-bridge chip-set written for a X79 can’t be used in much anything else, a generic 32 bit wide bus controller could conceivably be used in almost anything, depending on size and power consumption.

ARM and Samsung were eating everyone else’s lunch, and the nightmare scenario for everyone was a practical and efficient and affordable FPGA, just whack a bunch of them together with interconnects and tell them, you will be the bus controller, you will be the CPU, you will be the gfx subsystem…

Meanwhile Asus and HP and Toshiba and everyone else are looking at the end of the PC hardware market, fuck it, XP and an SSD in an XP era box is good enough, so build costs have to be slashed, if fuckers won’t buy a 1,000 quid laptop, we’ll just have to build a 300 quid laptop, and don’t forget all the OLPC (on laptop per child) hoo hah was doing the rounds.

But, put a like for like OS on this new breed of hardware, and people are going to complain BITTERLY about how slow and crap it is, compared to for example a stinkpad T series.

In fact, the only way you could get marketing to make these things seem attractive is to build the same thing and put Andoid on them, oh.. wait…where is my IE?

And so it was, that the hardware sellers are the tail wagging the dog, responsible for the vast majority of MS operating system and office suite sales, so they say to MS, we want this NEW operating system to look and feel different to the OLD operating system, that way, people cannot compare the two, and secretly, even if they do, they will blame fucking windows, and not our sucky hardware.

Windows 8 is a *good* operating system, put it on *good* hardware and it fucking rocks, you do realise that Windows Server 2012 is just Windows 8 once the first stage bare install is done, then you start adding modules like DHCP / DNS controllers, AD controller, SQL server etc…. so Windows 8 is at heart a fucking server quality OS, it is not a piece of shit.

But, Sinofsky and others agreed to make it look “different to windows 7” because their biggest by far customers in volume terms, hardware builders, demanded it.

I was even told, though I give this somewhat less credibility, that Office365 came from the same place, because frankly trying to run a local copy of Office 2010 on these crapware devices is a lesson in pain and patience.

If you look carefully at the marketing, nowhere will you find these devices actually described as “Personal Computers”, instead they talk about mobile computing, which could as well be applied to my samsung phone… it’s the same as the dearth of “ATX” in blurbs that dell and compaq were punting out a few years ago when they were chasing the desktop biz market, and wanted to undercut everyone else by 200 notes a box.

And so, to conclude part one;

  1. It is important to realise that really good choices made by engineers (put the OS in EEPROM) can fucking bomb when it comes to marketing, because suddenly nobody ELSE can market THEIR shit, using your shit as their platform.
  2. It is important to realise that really clever choices such as the IBM Compatible PC and ATX allowed for a great deal of flexibility, Compaq could rewire the apparently ATX format molex cables and still legitimately claim IBM Compatible PC, they just did not claim it was an ATX, just like almost no craptop claims what chipset it used, but note the previous post on the tosh and stinkpad, the stinkpad DID list the chipset used, it said Intel QM77 Express.
  3. It is important to realise that what an OS looks like and what is does is as important as where you put it, so that other people can use it as their platform in their marketing shit.
  4. It is important to realise that for the bulk buyer, EVERYTHING is customisable, NO supplier, no matter how big, can say there it is, take it or leave it…. a famous example of this was Samsung LCD tellys bought through the Dixons/Curry/Comet group had a cut down operating system compared to the ones bought direct from Samsung or a smaller reseller, which is 100% of how the 46″ 7 series in the Comet window was 200 quid cheaper than the 46″ 7 series in the small resellers window…. you were not buying the same fucking thing.

Windows 8 is actually a great OS, better than Windows 7, IF YOU BUY THE FUCKING OEM INSTALL DVD and DIY, and it is the work of moments to kill the tiles and bring back the classic start menu.1451_35b3effb0e55fde0acf18553e6e3868480

Back in the day, there was a utility that Joe Public could use, to cut the Win98se installed disk footprint down to 17 megabytes, yes, you read that right, megabytes,it was magic for embedded systems that would otherwise have struggled to run windows 3.1…. those tools are still available, just not to joe public, and the win8 install on a new 300 quid craptop has very little in common with the one you get from an OEM DVD.

Even on a cut to the bone minimum spec Atom based device, the BIOS and chipset will account for 2% of the component cost…. call it ten bucks a unit, if your production run is 50,000 units, there is a half a million dollars right there to chip away at, and if you can leverage that and also buy a cut down and fucked up hard disk, with a weedier than wholesale onboard chipset and drive interface code, and save another ten bucks a disk, but it doesn’t matter, because you no longer have a requirement to do a bare metal install, and so on and so forth.

Now Microsoft, you want to come to this party, and be the per-installed OS on this range of 50k units, and the 5 sister ranges, which are basically all the same thing with some arbitrary marketing crippling going on, well, there’s  quarter of a million sales of windows and office up for grabs, OK, we just need you to go ahead and alter this a bit… cheers…

Device A B and C are identical, apart from the performance and price, and turning A into B into C is literally identical to remapping the ECU in your car, sure, pay the licence and we will unlock the other core, pay another licence and we will unlock the core clock multiplier by another two x.

The difficulty here is that you as the consumer will make only one single purchase, will not be aware of any of these back room shenanigans, and will do exactly what the craptop manufacturers want, THEY made a sale, YOU blame Microsoft and Windows 8.

… to be continued…



  1. the ibm pc was not intended to be an open platform. the bios was a failed attempt at lockdown. it took compaq doing a clean room reverse engineering of the bios to open the flood gates on compatible pcs.

    eeprom software distribution failed because it cost way more to burn a prom than toss a floppy in a box. follow the benjamins.

    firmware is hackable. linux booting out of the bios. openwrt routers. etc. all firmware hacks.

    as to the future of computing, everybody is trying to follow the apple lockdown model. cloud computing is mainframes for the masses. crippled access devices to somebody else’s cloud taking control of you and your data. the end of general purpose computing. governments outlawing non-closed devices. brazil for computing instead of hvac. bleak days ahead.

    Comment by hybrid short bus — April 4, 2014 @ 6:25 pm

    • I don’t see how and why the government will outlaw the sale of PC components. As long as you get those, you can build your own non-closed device. What I see is that the general population who doesn’t give a damn about the issues you raised, because they wouldn’t know a harddisk from a DVD drive if they opened a computer case, will still happily adopt anything the industry throws their way on account of how flashy it is and how ‘new’ it feels. Hasn’t it always been thus?

      Comment by zi4you2 — April 6, 2014 @ 6:15 am

  2. I also think the trend is to follow the apple lockdown model. Lockdown means the product ends up in the landfill that much faster. Imagine buying a car that wasn’t serviceable. As soon as the oil goes bad, the car is junk. Time to buy a new one.

    Comment by Joe — April 4, 2014 @ 6:53 pm

  3. Funny line I came across the other day: “Only Apple could make a $3000 laptop with no user replaceable battery”.

    I’ve grown tired of the cloud proponents. Its either a variant of “its what the consumer/customer wants” or “its green!” (no its often not). At least some point out that its just due to price/economy of scale which helps sell the fact that you’re given up control of your data.

    Comment by JFP — April 6, 2014 @ 1:25 am

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