Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Microsoft Free Antivirus is the #1 used.

According to OPSWAT an industry leader in software management SDKs, of the Free antivirus solutions Microsoft Security Essentials has pulled ahead in the free antivirus software game.

Microsoft Security Essentials has a 10.22% market share followed by Avast at 9.34% and AVG at 9.24%
I’ve started protecting all of my own computers with Microsoft’s offering mainly because it seamlessly works with Windows, updates easily, and doesn’t bug me with nag screen. It also helps that it works just as well as the others.

Yes, it does smack of the not so good ole days when Microsoft started making Internet Explorer part of their operating system, but I must admit that I like their antivirus software. Microsoft has been putting out some fairly nice Free software lately that they don’t really advertise.

I think Microsoft is trying to re-invent themselves on the consumer side of things, which is changing fast and not in a way that Microsoft is accustom to. They simply have to innovate quickly or end up only being significant in the business world. It will be interesting to see what Microsoft does in the next couple of years.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Why Do Computers Keep Getting Faster?

Computers have been steadily getting faster, but why is that? Most people shrug and tell themselves that technology is improving so personal computers are simply getting better. This is true, but have you ever wondered why? This is my feeble attempt to try and explain why personal computers keep getting faster in a way that most people will understand.  In my examples I will be representing data as a freight train. Everyone knows what a freight train is and that a freight train carries and delivers cargo from one place to another. The freight train will represent the 1s and 0s that travel around in the everyday computer sitting on your desk.
Imagine if you will a freight train traveling from NY to LA at 50 MPH. This freight train will take 60 hours to make the journey. But what if the freight train was hopped up and could now travel 100 MPH by improving the tracks, installing a new engine, and improving the aerodynamics of the train? Then the train would only take 30 hours to make the trip. The load of cargo will get to LA in half the time, or 2 loads of cargo could be delivered in the same amount of time as it originally took.
Increasing the speed of a computer gets data to its destination faster. Modern computers measure speed in gigahertz or GHZ. In practical terms a 3 GHZ computer is running 3 times faster than a 1 GHZ computer. The 3 GHZ computer is moving the same amount of data 3 times as fast as a 1 GHZ computer.
Number of bits 8 /16 / 32 / 64
Now imagine a freight train traveling from NY to LA loaded with 100 Toyota Camrys. This train may take 3 days to travel that distance. 100 Camrys are delivered in 3 days.
Now imagine 8 parallel train tracks, each with a freight train loaded with 100 Camrys traveling together from NY to LA. You would now be delivering 800 Camrys in 3 days.
Personal computers started out as 8 bit machines, think of eight freight trains running side by side. Today’s 64 bit personal computers have 64 tracks. The extra speed is achieved by the computer by allowing more data to be transferred around because the modern computer has more tracks.
Multi-core Processors
Maintenance work needs to be done at the train station. The station needs painting, the plumbing needs to be repaired, the grass needs to be mowed, and the station needs a new roof. If Frank does all of this work it will take him 100 hours to do the work. But if Frank had help from Joe then they could split up the work and all of the jobs could be completed in 50 hours.
This is how multi-core processors work.  One core can be running your word processor, and the other can be running Twitter. With the jobs split up the overall speed is increased.
Processor Size
Imagine a map of the United States and on that map NY is 3000 miles from LA. Now imagine if you made the map smaller, NY and LA became closer to each other, now instead of being 3000 miles away from each other they are only 1500 miles from each other. Freight gets to its destination in half the time as it did before.
”Crazy talk!” You may be saying to yourself, but if you looked at the circuitry of a processor under a microscope it would look like a road map with roads and tracks from one place to another. By shrinking the map –thus shrinking the circuitry- speed is increased by shortening the distance between places. This is because data is actually traveling on the microscopic map.  
3D Transistors
If you stacked freight cars on top of each other the 10 freight cars on the train now become 20. They take up as much room on the track but more freight is being transferred at one time.
A new technology called 3D chip technology allows for more transistors in the same space. It’s like having a 3D map that has more stuff crammed in the same amount of space. So it’s like being able to stack freight cars on top of each other.
So there you go, my feeble attempt at simplifying a complex thing. I hope you didn’t fall off of the train and join a hobo camp in the process.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Brain of a Middle Aged Computer Nerd

Yes, I am a middle aged computer nerd, which is not to be confused with other kinds of nerds. It’s true that most nerds use computers but that doesn’t mean that they specialize in computer nerdiness. There are science nerds who figure out string theory, there are nerds who are fascinated by the mating rituals of the Tanzanian pigmy worm, and there are nerds that can tell you what Gopher Girl said to her arch nemesis in volume 12 of the comic book Laser Beam Man. There are many types of nerds and even National Geographic hasn’t discovered all of the species.

I’m a hardware and software nerd, which is sort of like being bilingual in the computer world. Starting out working with electronics early on I was there at the dawn of the personal computer age. I remember the invention of the pocket calculator when I was in High School. I had to do formulas in chemistry with a slide rule, and then the next year –just in time for Physics- came the 4 function calculator for $100 Wow, what a bargain! You paid extra to have a square root button. You could do fancy stuff like type in numbers that read “Shell oil” when you turned the calculator upside down.

In the early 80s I remember seeing an ad for a Sinclair ZX-80. Wow the first personal computer that you could purchase for only $200! It had 1k of RAM, which I had to order. With no internet to place the order online I was forced to fill out an order form and send a money order via snail mail.
 Nerdy statement alert!
Today’s computers typically have 4GB of RAM, so that’s 4,000,000,000 bytes versus 1000 bytes. A byte = 8 bits, and a bit being a 1 or a 0.
The ZX-80 had no moving graphics, and programs were loaded via cassette tape.  I spent hours typing in a hang man program that I saved on tape. The membrane keyboard of the Sinclair ZX-80 was waterproof so if you spilled your beer on it no explosion followed.

Computer equipment used to be very expensive. If I wanted to upgrade my hardware I had to fork over hundreds of dollars. Now people throw away computers because they get annoyed with them. Yes they sometime get rid of them when the break, but sometimes they are simply filled with malware, viruses, spyware and other smelly garbage that some dweeb without the ability to feel empathy turned loose on the world for bragging rights. That would be the malicious computer nerd, not to be confused with the criminal master mind nerd that will try and steal your bank account information.

I like to feel that I’m on the right side of the force (most nerds use Star Wars references), using my light saber with the blue beam to write my Free Software and Computer Help blog. I do battle with the forces of the “Dark Side” that are always looking for innocent victims. I sometimes feel the evil presence of the “Dark Side” breathing heavily while reading my blog and plotting maliciousness to thwart my efforts. 

I love giving life back to old machines; giving life back to a once dead machine is like giving life to the Frankenstein monster. Yes, raising the dead is a strange compulsion but no brains need to be collected from the morgue. A better analogy would be like building C3PO out of scraps, and now having a friend who can speak Wookie. Yes there is a point where it just isn’t worth it anymore, but the parts can be recycled to be turned into new computers, or Vespas, it depends on where the materials end up. 

Helping someone solve their problem is very satisfying; it’s like giving away the old 1973 camper that fits into the back of a pickup to a family with kids, It makes my heart sing to take away a road block. I stand vigilant always searching for new ways to solve an expensive problem with free software, if I am trying to figure out how to do something with a meager budget then I know someone else is too.

Those Padawan learners that you rely on to solve your tech problems have nothing on me, but they are the future. By teaching them in the ways of the light side of the nerd force, balance will be achieved for the future. New technology will emerge and they will need to master it for good, because there will always be the dark side of the nerd force plotting to take over the world.