Microsoft

Microsoft's Office 2013 licensing changes

I recently gave a few price quotes for a client and in that process, I did some background research regarding the new Office 2013.

The licensing for Microsoft Office 2013 states that copies are installable on a single PC only, non-transferable. If your disk or motherboard fails, that Office installation was tied to the PC and you must purchase another.

I just don't know what Microsoft was thinking. As of last week, Newegg.ca was selling copies of Office 2010 Home & Student (3 user) DVD media for $144.99 and Office 2013 Home & Student (single user, non-transferable) for $139.99. If you ignore the non-transferability of Office 2013 and just consider the raw cost per user-license, then Office 2013 is 2.89 times more expensive! Then consider in the fact that should your PC ever fail, you would have to get another brand new copy for $139.99... The cost per user-license of Office 2013 could therefore rise to nearly 6 times as expensive per user-license compared to Office 2010 after your first PC failure.

Many (myself included) saw this as a money-grab and an attempt to force users to their Office 365 subscription-based service, a $99.99 per year subscription grants access to the latest Microsoft Office software for up to 5 users in a household. The pricing scheme for this is a little more reasonable per-user, but a static fee each year means that Microsoft inevitably makes more money... Say a PC lasts 5 years, then they're making 5 x $99.99 instead of selling a single copy of Office for ~$150.

Last week it look like Microsoft gave in to the massive outcry from users and announced an updated clause for the Office 2013 license agreement:

You may transfer the software to another computer that belongs to you, but not more than one time every 90 days (except due to hardware failure, in which case you may transfer sooner).

Well, at least that's a little more reasonable.

Nonetheless, given the recent release of LibreOffice 4.0, I recommend it to everyone looking for an excellent Office suite and a way out from Microsoft's vendor lock-in. LibreOffice is free and always will be.

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Boot Camp 3.0 + Windows XP Service Pack 3 = installation error

Seeing as I completely reformatted my MacBook Pro's hard disk, I also had to reinstall Windows via Boot Camp 3.0 today. Everything went well, however when the time came to install Service Pack 3 (my copy of XP is an SP2 OEM disc), I received an odd error I had never seen before:

An error occured while copying file osloader.ntd.  Cannot copy file to destination directory.  Click Retry to retry the operation or click Cancel.

A Google revealed that this error is caused by an Apple's new HFS+ drivers for Windows, as detailed here. Simply following the instructions and renaming the driver fixes the problem. After installing SP3, I restored the HFS+ driver to it's original state and all is well.

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Vista + Loose SATA cable = Bad news

So... Here's what I have been doing during the past 5 hours:

I was noticing some odd behavior from my PC, which runs Fedora Linux as its primary OS but it also has Windows Vista installed for gaming. The machine would boot without any indication of trouble, but once it had been up & running for about 5 minutes, the system would hang and the hard disk activity light on the case would stay permanently on. A soft reboot wouldn't fix the problem either - a complete shutdown was required. At first I thought it was an OS problem, so I rebooted into Vista but found it was affected too. I immediately thought, "hardware". I tried leaving the computer alone for an hour to see if it it would eventually come out of the freeze, but it clearly wasn't doing anything with the disk because the system remained frozen and I could not hear the disk heads moving (and on a 10K RPM drive, those are pretty loud). I ran memtest86+ and did a 3 minute S.M.A.R.T self-test on /dev/sda in Fedora, but oddly enough both came up clean.

Since my hardware seemed OK, I powered down the PC, opened the case and made sure there were no loose cables. Sure enough, the problem was the SATA cable which connected my motherboard to my hard disk. After disconnecting it, blowing off some excess dust and reconnecting it, everything was fine. But that's not where the story ends.

By the time I had reproduced the problem, tested the RAM & hard disk and reconnected the SATA cable, I had done about 15 power cycles. Linux handled the whole situation pretty gracefully - it logged the specific SATA errors (Result: hostbyte=DID_BAD_TARGET driverbyte=DRIVER_OK,SUGGEST_OK) and put the root filesystem into read-only mode. After reconnecting the cable, Fedora was up and running as if nothing had happened (it did do an automatic fsck upon booting, but the check came up clean). Vista, on the other hand, didn't take it so well - it informed me that I need to run CHKDISK upon starting up, so I let it repair C:\ and it orphans thousands and thousands of files... After CHKDISK completed I was (surprisingly) able to boot up, but many programs - including explorer.exe - were crashing. Judging by the amount of orphaned files, I'm guessing that quite a few system files were missing or corrupted.

So, long story short, if you have any SATA problems and Vista starts orphaning a tons of files during CHKDISK, save yourself some time by canceling the CHKDISK and make sure you have your Vista installation DVD handy.

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Lisa and Jackson get a Sony VAIO

I read an article on Ars Technica about the new Windows advertisement titled "Lisa and Jackson get a Sony VAIO". In the advertisement, Lisa and her 11-year old
son Jackson are looking for a $1500 computer, choosing a PC over a Mac. While I think it's good that Microsoft is recovering from the "Vista blunder" and starting to retaliate against Apple's aggressive ads, it bothers me that these ads are based on absolutely nothing.

After watching the ad (several times), the only valid point I could find was that Apple computer don't include Blu-ray drives (yet). Here are the things Jackson says he needs:

  • Speed
  • A big hard drive
  • A good gaming computer
  • Price under $1500

Hm, so we have one quantifiable objective and 3 other subjective ones.

Jackson starts by takes a look at the Macs and decides they are "a little too small" and immediately moves on. While I'll agree that the MacBook's 13.3" screen is a bit small (and the MacBook Pro is outside his price range), Jackson and his mother completely ignore all specifications! They move on to the PCs where they discover that they can use a remote to control the computer... Of course, no mention that Apple's computers have also this feature (and for years before it became mainstream on PCs, might I add). So in short, because the Sony VIAO Jackson is looking at has a Blu-ray drive and a 16" screen, he's sold. What happened to checking for "speed", "a big hard drive" or a graphics card? A large screen is always nice, but useless for gaming unless you have a decent GPU.

I did a quick search on bestbuy.ca (16" laptops, price range >= $1500) and it found two matching Sony VIAOs, so I took the more expensive one. For $1349.99, the Sony VAIO 16.4" Laptop (VGNFW275DW) (click for specs) features:

  • CPU: 2.26GHz Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo P8400 (3MB Cache, 1066MHz FSB)
  • RAM: 4GB DDR2 800MHz (2GB x 2)
  • Hard drive: 320GB 5400RPM
  • Optical drive: 2X Blu-ray writer, 8X DVD writer
  • Screen: 16.4" (1920 x 1080)
  • Display output: VGA, HDMI (not HDCP compliant)
  • Dedicated GPU: None (Mobile Intel GM45 Express, 1750MB shared system memory)
  • Battery: Lithium-ion (approx. 1-3 hour battery life)
  • Internal microphone amplifier
  • MS Duo & SD card readers

Here's the comparison with Apple's MacBook (click for specs), available for a very similar $1,399.00:

  • CPU: 2.0GHz Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo P7350 (3MB Cache, 1066MHz FSB)
  • RAM: 2GB DDR3 1066MHz (1GB x 2)
  • Hard drive: 160GB 5400RPM
  • Optical drive: 8X DVD writer
  • Screen: 13.3" (1280 x 800 LED backlit)
  • Display output: mini-DisplayPort (VGA, HDMI (HDCP compliant), DVI and dual-DVI available via $34 adapters)
  • Dedicated GPU: None (nVidia GeForce 9400M, 256MB shared system memory)
  • Battery: Lithium-ion (approx. 5 hours)
  • Multitouch trackpad (supports gestures such as three-finger swipe for back/foward and two-finger scrolling)
  • Extremely environmentally friendly: EPEAT Gold rating + more (see spec page for more info)
  • MagSafe power port: Magnetic power latch

I've left out any sort of software comparison since that is very subjective and opinions vary from user to user. As well, I did not list components which were equivalent such as the built-in webcam or wireless 802.11a/b/g/n.

Let's return to Jackson's original criteria:

  • Speed: VAIO wins by a tiny margin... The difference between the P7350 and the P8400 would be negligible during "real world" use.
  • Big hard drive: VAIO wins by a large margin, as Apple tends to be very conservative with their laptop hard drive size.
  • Good gaming computer: In reality, neither computer has a dedicated graphics card which is what really matters for gaming. Ignoring that fact, the MacBook wins by a huge margin. nVidia has reported that their 9400M is up to 5x faster than Intel's GM45 integrated graphics chipset. As always reports like that should be taken with a grain of salt since the "up to" can be a bit misleading. The 9400M, however, is still a much better choice than the GM45 even if it's only 2-3x faster on average and in one or two cases, 5x faster. Finally, we must also consider the RAM size and type. Sure, it makes the VAIO look great if you say "4GB of RAM!" but let's take a look at the bigger picture. The GM45 is using up to 1750MB of system memory, so that means that if you're gaming on the VAIO, you only really have 2GB of RAM... Just like the MacBook. The 9400M used in the new MacBooks only uses 256MB of system memory, which is much smaller than the GM45 - leaving 1.75GB available for system use. Let's not also forget that Apple is using faster RAM than the VAIO; DDR2 800MHz versus the DDR3 1066MHz RAM on the Macbook.

I'm not even going to compare the features outside of Jackson's criteria, I think you can see where this is going ;)

For your viewing pleasure, here's the ad:

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