JON HONEYBALL

AF­TER YEARS OF LOYAL SER­VICE, IT MAY BE TIME TO LEAVE DROP­BOX. PLUS, SOME WORDS ON THE BLIND STU­PID­ITY OF OF­FICE 365 AND THOSE WHO MIS­USE IT

PC & Tech Authority - - CONTENTS -

Af­ter years of loyal ser­vice, it may be time to leave Drop­box. Plus, some words on the blind stu­pid­ity of Of ce 365 and those who mis­use it

Don’t tell Intel, but Mi­crosoft is work­ing on a cus­tom CPU de­sign, called E2. Not much is known about it, but re­searchers have been work­ing on the project for some time. And they’ve ported Win­dows and Linux to it, along with a bunch of de­vel­op­ment tools. The big chip rm Qual­comm might be in­volved, too.

The work is be­ing done at Mi­crosoft Re­search, and it pub­lished a pa­per about it – it’s since been deleted (you can grab a view on the web ar­chive at­tinyurl.com/ yasp3br3). The pa­per says:

“At the heart of E2 is an ad­vanced Ex­plicit Data Graph Ex­e­cu­tion (EDGE) in­struc­tion set ar­chi­tec­ture (ISA), which, un­like con­ven­tional ISAs, en­codes the data de­pen­den­cies be­tween in­struc­tions, free­ing the mi­croar­chi­tec­ture from re­dis­cov­er­ing these de­pen­den­cies at run­time, and groups in­struc­tions into atomic blocks (sim­i­lar to trans­ac­tions), pro­vid­ing a larger unit of work, and al­low­ing the mi­croar­chi­tec­ture to tol­er­ate grow­ing wire de­lays. These two ISA fea­tures en­able E2 to utilise a data ow ex­e­cu­tion model, pro­vid­ing power-ef cient out-oforder ex­e­cu­tion.”

It also says: “E2 is con gurable to pro­vide many phys­i­cal cores work­ing in­de­pen­dently; many phys­i­cal cores work­ing in par­al­lel to per­form the same op­er­a­tions on mul­ti­ple data sets si­mul­ta­ne­ously; many phys­i­cal cores com­posed to­gether to form log­i­cal pro­ces­sors to ac­cel­er­ate sin­gle-threads of ex­e­cu­tion. Core fu­sion al­lows E2 to span a wide power/per­for­mance spec­trum, from power-ef cient em­bed­ded pro­ces­sors to high­per­for­mance server-class pro­ces­sors.”

Mi­crosoft has ap­par­ently said that this is all just re­search, the sort of thing that MSR does all the time. It has no plans to bring this to mar­ket any time soon.

How­ever, the words that keep leap­ing off the page at me are “power-ef cient”. Mix in the ru­mours that Qual­comm is in­volved, and we have an in­ter­est­ing pos­si­ble route for­ward. So let’s just spin in a big con­spir­acy the­ory, and a spoon­ful of con­spir­a­to­rial arm­re­la­tion­ship wav­ing.

De­spite the value of the to both par­ties, there’s al­ways been a love-hate re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mi­crosoft and Intel. Intel was bruised that Win­dows NT was de­lib­er­ately de­signed to be hard­ware-ag­nos­tic, orig­i­nally run­ning on Intel, MIPS and then Al­pha and Mo­torola. Let’s not ig­nore the in uence of Dave Cut­ler, head of NT, here – given his pre­vi­ous role at Dig­i­tal on both Al­pha and VMS.

Questions still linger about where the Intel x86 CPU de­sign came from, which al­most mag­i­cally ap­peared from AMD – Intel’s com­peti­tor – shortly af­ter Al­pha was can­celled for Win­dows 2000 and Intel was push­ing its Ita­nium plat­form. And then the whole screw-up by Intel over low-power chipsets, lead­ing to the world mov­ing to the ARM pro­ces­sor de­sign for mo­bile phones and tablets, which ef­fec­tively killed at­tempts by Mi­crosoft to push Win­dows into that space. Then the aborted Win­dows 8 RT port to ARM, which was qui­etly dropped be­cause the OS, tools and avail­able apps were a mess. And now we have the Snap­dragon chipset run­ning x86

code on Win­dows 10 – again, an Intel ri­val. Now, most ev­ery­thing in the pre­vi­ous para­graph can be viewed from many di­rec­tions, and spin ap­plied to suit any po­si­tion. But Mi­crosoft and Intel aren’t in a com­mit­ted, lov­ing and sta­ble re­la­tion­ship. With the move by Mi­crosoft to do its own hard­ware, in the shape of the Sur­face fam­ily, it makes sense to ask the ques­tion “why stick with Intel?” Af­ter all, it has money and re­sources in abun­dance: ef­fec­tively an un­lim­ited amount of both. Rather than work­ing with ARM, why not come up with a cus­tom chipset just for it­self? This makes for an ex­cel­lent Sun­day morn­ing con­spir­acy the­ory to pon­der over a large mug of cof­fee.

Of course, the re­al­ity might just be sim­pler: it is in­deed a re­search project, with no prod­uct de­liv­er­able in sight. But if I were run­ning Mi­crosoft, I’d want to fol­low Ap­ple’s lead into own­ing all of its own sil­i­con. Where does Mi­crosoft want to be in 2030? That’s the rst big ques­tion. The sec­ond: is Intel the ca­pa­ble part­ner to de­liver this?

TIME TO DROP DROP­BOX?

I’ve been a Drop­box user for years. We use it in the lab to sync be­tween work­sta­tions, lap­tops and servers, and it pro­vides ex­cel­lent trans­port for con­nect­ing to mul­ti­ple site ar­chive boxes, mostly run­ning on Synol­ogy. Al­most ev­ery­thing of im­por­tance is stored in our Drop­box for Busi­ness ac­count.

But re­cently, I’ve been get­ting some­what an­noyed with it. First, for rea­sons I’ll ex­plain in a minute, I had to re­build the Drop­box in­stal­la­tion onto my main desk­top ma­chine. That re­quired pulling down about 2TB of data. This wasn’t a big is­sue; the lab has a 1GB breto-the-premises line.

The process is sim­ple: in­stall the app, log into the ac­count, and sit back while a mir­a­cle oc­curs. Which is ne, ex­cept that the re­port­ing tools that ap­pear dur­ing this process are truly ap­palling. It will cheer­fully tell you that there are mul­ti­ple thou­sand les out­stand­ing. And then that there are 27 sec­onds left. Which counts down to 0, and then starts up again, but now at 14 min­utes. Or 2 days. Or 9 sec­onds again. Frankly, this is am­a­teurhour cod­ing and Drop­box needs a rad­i­cally bet­ter ad­min­is­tra­tive view of what is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing. The lack of any sort of mean­ing­ful log­ging and re­port­ing is a huge hole in the side of the boat, when work­ing with both a lot of data and a multi-ma­chine busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment.

Also a pain is the im­ple­men­ta­tion of shares. We use them all the time when send­ing data to a customer. Right-click on the ZIP le, choose Copy Drop­box Link, and paste it into the email. The customer can click on the link and down­load the

le. It’s sim­ple, it’s re­li­able and it works.

And that’s just ne for shar­ing some photos of your cat with your grand­mother. How­ever, in a busi­ness con­text you re­ally want to be able to en­sure that the link is valid only for a short pe­riod of time, af­ter which it ex­pires. Or is made sin­gle-use, so it works only once.

All of that is miss­ing from Drop­box. If you go to the web in­ter­face, you can of course set up a share, and here you can set such im­por­tant time-out val­ues. It’s just that the Mac and Win­dows client doesn’t sup­port that bit of use­ful func­tion­al­ity.

I spoke to Drop­box, say­ing that as ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Drop­box for Busi­ness ac­count, I should at the very least be able to set a de­fault for all share cre­ation. Say, three days and three uses, de­fault across all ac­counts. Drop­box wrig­gled and said that this wouldn’t be right for all users, at which point I re­minded them what the term “de­fault” meant – other cus­tomers could have a dif­fer­ent de­fault, in­clud­ing inde nite life for the link, if they so de­sired. Ap­par­ently the idea will be con­sid­ered, but I’m not hold­ing my breath.

So I’ve been look­ing at al­ter­na­tives. The ob­vi­ous rst place was Synol­ogy, be­cause it pro­vides the stor­age in­fra­struc­ture across all our sites. It has a rather neat tool called Synol­ogy Drive, which acts just like Drop­box or equiv­a­lent. The stor­age isn’t in the cloud, but on your lo­cal Synol­ogy NAS box. It, too, has a Shar­ing Link fa­cil­ity: right-click and the UI of­fers a cloud ac­ces­si­ble Share link via go le. me. You can set a pass­word on the link, and a va­lid­ity pe­riod that can in­clude a speci ed start date/ time and an end date/time. Plus a limit on the num­ber of ac­cesses, too. Frankly, this is far more com­pre­hen­sive and eas­ier to ac­cess than the dumb Drop­box ca­pa­bil­ity.

So I’m pon­der­ing: do I move the lab en­tirely off Drop­box? I’d be mov­ing to the Synol­ogy plat­form, but I like that. I could use Synol­ogy’s own sync and le repli­ca­tion snap­shots to keep the var­i­ous NAS boxes in sync across all sites. I get a bet­ter Share le func­tion. I get bet­ter resync and con­trol. And I don’t have to pay the thou­sand quid per year I’m spend­ing on Drop­box for Busi­ness. Oh, and my data stays on my servers, not on Drop­box’s servers in the USA. I’ll be ex­plor­ing this deeper over the next month or so, but Drop­box has, in my eyes, dropped the ball and lost its way on mul­ti­ple fronts. It might well be time to move.

EIGHT YEARS OF THUN­DER­BOLT

Some eight years ago, I bought a pair of 12TB (6 x 2TB) Thun­der­bolt ar­rays from Prom­ise. They’ve been do­ing to­tally re­li­able work for years, re­quir­ing only a cou­ple of disk re­place­ments. The pri­mary one started glitch­ing, throw­ing up re­ports that one of the hard disks had a mi­nor er­ror, and was restarted within the ar­ray. Then the re­ports be­came more fre­quent. I knew some­thing was wrong, be­cause the per­for­mance of my iMac had fallen through the oor.

I or­dered an overnight delivery of a drive to re­place the of­fend­ing item. When it ar­rived, I pulled out the dy­ing disk and popped in the new one. RAID re­build started, and pro­gressed up to 35% com­plete, where it sat. The mi­nor er­ror is­sue had now moved to a

dif­fer­ent disk in the ar­ray. At this point, I har­rumphed and de­cided to re­build the stor­age around a new ar­ray. Look­ing at the op­tions, I de­cided to try the new LaCie 6Big ar­ray on Thun­der­bolt 3. This im­me­di­ately pre­sented a prob­lem: the ar­ray is Thun­der­bolt 3, yet my age­ing orig­i­nal iMac 5K is Thun­der­bolt 2. Turns out that the Ap­ple Thun­der­bolt 2 to 3 adapter can be used ei­ther way around. You can con­nect a Thun­der­bolt 2 de­vice to a Thun­der­bolt 3 com­puter; or a Thun­der­bolt 3 de­vice to a Thun­der­bolt 2 com­puter.

I’m quite im­pressed by the LaCie 6Big so far. It has a good man­age­ment tool, the per­for­mance seems solid if not stel­lar, and it works. Why didn’t I go for the new Prom­ise Thun­der­bolt 3 unit? It wasn’t avail­able at the 36TB size I wanted at the time. I’ll be want­ing to re­place the sec­ond old Prom­ise unit in the next few months, and will al­most cer­tainly go back to Prom­ise for that one. Di­ver­sity is a good thing.

Talk­ing of di­ver­sity, the new Dell XPS 27 all-in-one desk­top unit I men­tioned last month has a Thun­der­bolt 3 port. So I bought a rather use­ful ex­ter­nal Thun­der­bolt 3 desk multi-port adapter. I’ve found it to be worth­while, and it seems that Thun­der­bolt 3 is at last use­ful on a PC.

And lastly on the sub­ject of Thun­der­bolt, long-term read­ers will re­mem­ber my ex­cite­ment at nally be­ing able to buy Thun­der­bolt 2

bre ca­bles some years ago. I ended up buy­ing three of these ca­bles, and they’ve proved to be very use­ful.

How­ever, two of them have be­come some­what un­re­li­able. At the re­cent NAB con­fer­ence at Las Ve­gas, I man­aged to speak with Mark Bradley, di­rec­tor of emerg­ing ap­pli­ca­tions at Corn­ing, the maker of the ca­bles. I’ve known Mark since the rst days of Thun­der­bolt, and he’s a ne am­bas­sador for its prod­ucts. I ex­plained the un­re­li­a­bil­ity is­sues that I was start­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence, and he sug­gested that the ca­bles might be wear­ing out. Well, not the bre it­self, but the su­per-clever trans­ceivers built into each plug. Five or six years of con­tin­u­ous op­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially on a prod­uct with a hot chas­sis such as an iMac or Mac Pro, can cause ac­cel­er­ated wear. Mark kindly of­fered to re­place all three ca­bles, which is a level of sup­port and kind­ness that goes beyond the nor­mal. The ca­bles ar­rived this week, and I shall be try­ing them out shortly.

BLIND STU­PID­ITY IN OF­FICE 365

A uni­ver­sity in Lon­don re­cently ap­pointed a new pro­fes­sor of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy. The press re­lease stated: “If peo­ple don’t un­der­stand IT, they will sleep-walk into more data-breaches, pri­vacy vi­o­la­tions and tech­no­log­i­cal mis­ap­pre­hen­sions than al­ready make the front pages. In this se­ries of lec­tures, I want to chal­lenge those mis­un­der­stand­ings and present a more bal­anced picture of com­puter sci­ence.”

Well done, sir. Clearly, there isn’t enough un­der­stand­ing about the sorts of data breaches and pri­vacy vi­o­la­tions out there. So let’s start with your com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager, who man­aged to send out this self-con­grat­u­la­tory pro­nounce­ment to hun­dreds of peo­ple, with all of their email ad­dresses listed in the CC eld rather than the BCC eld.

As you can imag­ine, this re­sulted in much bang­ing of my head. I replied, sug­gest­ing that it would be help­ful if the pro­fes­sor ex­plained what had hap­pened, given that he was an ex­pert on the mat­ter. Now, you’d think the com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager would say, “oh my good­ness, what a stupid er­ror, please let me apol­o­gise” and send this out to ev­ery re­cip­i­ent of the orig­i­nal email – but this time us­ing the BCC

eld cor­rectly. But no, clearly that isn’t the sort of com­mu­ni­ca­tions they like to man­age.

In­stead, I was told that they had ob­tained the list from Gorkana, a well-known me­dia data­base, and that they’d tell Gorkana that I wasn’t to re­ceive in­for­ma­tion from them in the fu­ture. No wor­ries, I doubt I’d lose any sleep at be­ing cut off. So I was some­what in­trigued to re­ceive an email from Gorkana ask­ing if I re­ally did want to have my ac­count closed, as re­quested by said com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager. I tersely replied not, copy­ing in the email thread. Gorkana replied, say­ing that my ac­count wouldn’t be closed and that “we’ll make sure our client un­der­stands how they should op­er­ate, so hope­fully a sim­i­lar is­sue won’t hap­pen again”. Which I think means “it’s spank­ing time”, both for the mis­use of the orig­i­nal data set and at­tempt­ing to have my Gorkana ac­count closed.

But it does raise the ob­vi­ous ques­tion: how is it pos­si­ble, in 2018, to put hun­dreds of email ad­dresses into Of ce 365 and splurge out such a mess? It turns out that there’s no set­ting in Of ce 365 to ef­fec­tively limit the num­ber of peo­ple who can be on a CC list, or to re-route the email to an in­ter­nal ad­min­is­tra­tor if some­thing goes wrong.

TIME MA­CHINE STOLE MY SPACE

My Mac Pro has 1TB of su­per-fast in­ter­nal stor­age, so it came as a sur­prise to dis­cover that some 700GB of it had gone MIA. Some tools sug­gested that this was hid­den space, and that the OS had swiped it for Time Ma­chine snap­shots. This is a new fea­ture of the lat­est ver­sion of ma­cOS, and I dis­cov­ered the is­sue us­ing the rather good DaisyDisk tool.

Some digging around the net gave me a hint of what to do. Open­ing up a ter­mi­nal win­dow and typ­ing “tmu­til list lo­cal snap­shots /” will tell you what Time Ma­chine snap­shots are lurk­ing on your disk. If you want to kill them off, use “tmu­til delete lo­cal snap­shots” fol­lowed by the date listed on each snapshot. Mag­i­cally, my 700GB of stor­age reap­peared. I’d sug­gest keep­ing an eye on this. ◆

I won­der what Mi­crosoft might be keep­ing un­der wraps…

JON HONEYBALL is the MD of an IT con­sul­tancy that spe­cialises in test­ing and de­ploy­ing hard­ware

I’ve been a loyal customer of Drop­box for years, but it might be time for a change

The LaCie 6Big ar­ray isn’t the fastest around, but the man­age­ment tool makes up for this

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