JP Vossen on 17 Mar 2008 11:28:57 -0700

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Re: [PLUG] Windows themes (ON-TOPIC, i promise)

 > Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2008 12:26:22 -0400
 > From: Matthew Rosewarne <>
 > Subject: Re: [PLUG] Windows themes (ON-TOPIC, i promise)

On Monday 17 March 2008, wrote:
>> I would be much more interested in it successfully mimicking the 
>> functionality. The problem is integrating proprietary programs to
>> run particular equipment such as Brother embroidery machines into
>> Linux. It would be nice if WINE did it all. I may have been the
>> person talking. I know that I asked about the issue earlier and
>> later made a crack about migrating to Linux only when my 486
>> dropped dead.

> For various reasons, approach of completely mimicking the form and 
> function of some proprietary software product doesn't tend to work. 
> WINE is amazing, but we can't really rely on it, since full
 > compatibility will always be a moving target. In the case of something
 > like the embroidery machine, the most success usually comes from
 > writing a Free driver + software from the ground-up, particularly in
 > the long run.

I agree with Matthew in theory, but in practice I'm not sure that will 
fly.  This is actually a large, if niche, problem and it's going to get 
bigger as hardware and OSs evolve.  But it's also broad and shallow in 
that there is a lot of affected hardware out there that is used by only 
a small number of people.  So finding people able to do that difficult 
and tedious reverse-engineering work and motivating them would be a big 

There is a lot of older, but still perfectly useful analytical and 
diagnostic equipment in use in smaller labs of all kinds, not to mention 
devices "handed-down" to second and third-world countries.  Some of it 
has only DOS drivers, some Win9x, some NT or newer.  As the ISA 486+ PCs 
running the stuff suffer hardware failures, equipment that was expensive 
then and perhaps even more expensive to replace now will become 
unusable, especially of the owners have lost the OS install media and/or 
driver media.  (And let's not even think about micro-channel!)

Many of the companies that created the hardware are now out of business 
and if if they aren't I'd guess that few of them would bother to write 
newer drivers for their older equipment.  But the equipment itself may 
be perfectly adequate for a high school or other small lab, or whatever.

In many cases, virtualization will be one answer.  There are some 
caveats though, since you may need to virtualize before there is a 
problem, so you can compare results, so you have the software, etc. 
Also, some of the hardware might require parallel or serial port 
dongles, or even ISA boards, that may not work in a virtual or PCI-only 

On the other hand, you can do some cool tricks with VMs, like having a 
non-networked DOS machine save it's results into a VM disk, then later 
mounting that disk under an up-to-date and networked OS to make the 
results available.  Add in the usual VM disaster recover/bare metal 
restore/hardware independence, and you've got something cool.

I've thought that someone with a small consulting shop could come up 
with a virtualization solution that would alleviate at least some of 
this problem, though there are issues with getting the word out to get 
the volume that something likely to be kind of low margin would require. 
  Getting and refurbishing old PC hardware from eBay and wherever could 
also be part of a solution.  And it might revitalize some of the old 
gray-hairs skills (like mine) for tweaking IRQs and running himem! :-)

As may be obvious, this is something I've given a little thought to 
since a couple of scientist friends came to me with this problem last 
year.  One suffered a hard disk failure on the 486, was able to replace 
the disk and had the driver software, but no DOS disks.  The other was 
worried about unsupported Win9x machines not allowed on the LAN per 
corporate security policy, but still required to drive equipment and be 
networked to deliver the fairly large result files.

Food for thought,
JP Vossen, CISSP            |:::======|        jp{at}jpsdomain{dot}org
My Account, My Opinions     |=========|
Microsoft has single-handedly nullified Moore's Law.
Innate design flaws of Windows make a personal firewall, anti-virus
and anti-malware software mandatory. The resulting software arms race
has effectively flattened Moore's Law on hardware running Windows.
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