Saturday, July 29, 2006

What happened to "Big Science"?

[Note: this essay is something I blurted out in reply to a Slashdot article. It is by no means a comprensive answer to the question I came up with as a title for this post; a question that seems to be roughly what I was trying to address when I wrote the following:]

What happened, as best I can tell, is that shortsighted corporate
executives forgot that (applied) R&D rarely produces new fundamental
knowledge about the universe while that is the main goal of pure
research. A lot of great research is done when true scientists are
given a budget that has already been written off by the bean counters,
as IBM and (the old AT&T's) Bell Labs demonstrated many times.

The problem is that such research tends to be very expensive and
non-geeks just aren't interested in results they can't understand.
The only reason we have nuclear power today is that the United States
was willing to spare no expense to develop a bigger and better bomb in
order to win WWII quickly an decisively. Nazi Germany sponsored a lot
of good science and then took some of the results with military
potential and did a tremendous amount of R&D to create amazing new
military that just happens to have had amazing
commercial potential. Jet aircraft and booster rockets come to mind.

You will hear NASA fans gripe because now that the Cold War is over,
NASA has to justify whatever it does to the drones in government who
get paid to eliminate government waste. NASA is no longer a great
source of new scientific and technical knowledge, but it probably
could be again. So could a lot of private enterprises if NASA and
other parts of the U.S. government didn't have a practical monopoly on
many interesting areas of research.

For major research projects to get significant funding now, they
either have to have tremendous (and fairly obvious) commercial
potential, or be extremely trendy, in a politically correct sort of
way. No expense (to the taxpayers) is spared protecting "endangered
species" that (AFAIK) have no real significance except that they are
about to succumb to Darwin's Law -- despite all the bleating of the
ecowackos, wasting money on the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker is not going
to produce new knowledge or improve the chances of Man surviving
another century. Having plentiful, cheap sources of energy would.

But try to get money on the scale of the Manhattan Project for the
purpose of finally developing nuclear fusion power plants... That is
not by any means pure research, but the amount of pure research that
can only be done with the kind of energy a large fusion plant could
produce is staggering. But why stop with fusion? Total conversion
seems about as likely to be a practical source of energy now as
utilizing light pipes and orbital spacecraft as the backbone of a
worldwide communications network did during WWII.

Do you think the U.S. might have fusion power plants online and/or
total conversion reactors in the lab by now if such projects had
received oh, say $100 BILLION dollars in additional research funding
since WWII? That's a Big Pile O' Money! It also happens to be
roughly what the U.S. has wasted on handouts to Israel since that
nation was created by fiat in 1948. Why not just cut all foreign aid
for non-humanitarian purposes (Israel gets only about 1/3 of the
U.S.'s foreign aid largess, after all) and use the proceeds to fund a
pure research lab or ten that are operated by private sector
organizations that have track records of doing cutting edge research
and producing useful knowledge?

Stop real government waste and use the savings to fund hard science
research projects that short-sighted bean counters consider waste
because they know no better, ignorant touchy-feely nitwits in search
of warm fuzzies and/or vote generating pork-barrel projects that they

[You can see my rant sort of fizzled out at the end -- I am constantly irked by the sort of lame but very PC research that gets government funding. I want to see more funding for the sort of research that expands human knowledge in new directions, regardless of whether or not it will result in anything that should be patentable (note the wording -- a lot of crap gets patented today that shouldn't be.) But I digress...]

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The United States' Israel error

Why is it that prior to the end of WWII, the forming of the UN, and the creation by fiat of Israel as a religious state, the Middle East was not much of a problem area as it is now (what is now Israeli controlled territory was certainly not a constant international hot spot) as far as the people of the USA were concerned? I think the U.S. made a huge mistake in aiding and abetting the taking of Arab land and handing it over to a small (largely European) group of people who had no right to it.

Why the very nonsecular government of Israel was formed by UN fiat (with U.S. complicity) to control an historically and culturally important (but insignificant from a natural resources perspective) in a part of the Middle East that has been historically Arab and populated by Muslims and Christians for the most part is a question people need to be thinking about.

If Israel the nation hadn't been created where it is for stupid and wrong reasons by the world's post-WWII superpowers, the Middle East would likely be a very different and much less threatening place. There wouldn't be a Palestinian Refugee problem because a very aggressive nation wouldn't have forced millions of people to flee their homeland. Yes, Israel is the aggressor. Israel has used and abused its bizarre relationship with the U.S. to bully its way into power in the Mideast.

The U.S. can correct the problem by declawing the monster it helped to create: just stop selling anything to Israel that could be used to build or maintain its overgrown military and then let nature takes is course. Israel would not be the obnoxious bully defending land it grabbed from the people who lived there. It would have to live up to its (no bogus) claim of being a democracy and allow all the refugees it drove out to move back and have a say in government there, lest it be overrun. Israel without US support would change its belligerent behavior almost overnight.

The U.S. ought to cease recognizing Israel as a nation, withdrawing all military and financial support, and demand that Israel pay reparations to those it has oppressed with its tyrannical behavior. Then, after truly free, open, and democratic elections, a new government of Israel, by the people who have a real historical claim to it dating to just before WWII (when the UN and US meddled in what was absolutely none of their business), Israel would have a chance at being run by its people for its people, regardless of any official religion.

The U.S. is in a perfect position to put an end to the ongoing problems created by Zionist Israel and help the people of that region get back to the relatively peaceful (by local standards) existence they were used to from 1776 to 1948. If the U.S. told Israel to clean up its tyrannical act, be fair and play nice, there would be a lot more peace in a land many people of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith consider holy. Why is the U.S. supporting Israel, a nation that is founded on religious discrimination and that exists by brutally attacking any people who don't agree with its bully boy behavior?

The U.S. can't undo the mistake it make in the creation of Israel in 1948, retroactively withdraw the massive military and financial handouts it has given to Israel every year since then, and remove all ill will it has created in the bulk of the Middle East with its political meddling in affairs surrounding Israel, but it can certainly act in the interest of world peace and democracy and its own security and economic interests, by admitting its errors and letting the region return to some semblance of normalcy on its own.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Microsoft Giveth and Microsoft Taketh Away: Private Folders

Microsoft hands out 'private' folders...
Microsoft shutters Windows private folders

As I like to do, I got involved on a discussion about the brief appearance of Private Folders, an option provided by Microsoft for Windows XP users who use computers in an administered IT environment. The original article can be found here:

Microsoft Retracts Private Folder Option

Someone's reply and my response (heavily edited for clarity) are as follows:

I always find it amusing when you have IT people developing features for Windows that really don't understand IT in the real world. Then they release something and are shocked when IT managers are furious over it. One would think MS would have a real good understanding of the IT environment and what is and is not a good idea. Good stuff :)

-- gasmonso on Saturday July 15, @12:51PM

Many IT administrators are barely-in-the-closet fascists. They enjoy making sure that their user bases have no privacy, cannot use their organizations phones or computers for anything that isn't "strictly business", are constantly under surveillance at the workplace, etc. These admins are often on power trips -- they are frequently hated by the users of the systems they (supposedly) support and those users often take pleasure in working against them in subtle (or at least anonymous) ways. These "Users versus IT Gestapo" situations are sometimes entertaining to observe, as long as one isn't part of the problem.

At the other extreme are the system and network administrators who allow (even encourage) users to do (or install) whatever they damn well please on their workstations (unless the action is obviously malicious or illegal). These admins must be masochistic -- the more computer illiterate the user base, the more likely it it is to figure out (read: accidentally discover) ways to create problems which require a week's worth of IT's time to correct, on a daily or even hourly basis. These nearly anarchistic computing environments are a lot of fun while they last -- which is rarely for longer than it takes for an oh-so-clever user to crash a server, delete someone else's files, sell organizational secrets, buy a drop-in pr0n site package and run it on the facilities at the workplace, make (what she thinks are) anonymous death threats, etc.

Somewhere in the middle are the administrators who can usually leave their work at the office at the end of the day but who don't mind if users want to access and maybe save personal email messages or other files from work (where the spiffy color laser printer sometimes gets used to print pictures of a worker's newborn baby or a photo that an employee wants to hang in his cube), and realize that most sane people don't truly compartmentalize their work and personal lives; that overlap is normal and natural, usually inevitable, and often beneficial -- that most folks want/expect some personal privacy in the workplace and to be cut a little slack when using office resources for personal reasons.

As someone who has tried to fall into that third, loosely defined group of IT administrators/managers when I've held such positions, I find it to be worth the effort to do the balancing/juggling act. Then again, I'm a practical libertarian and not a compulsive authoritarian by nature.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Circuit City and mail-in rebates

I went to the local Circuit City store because they often have Kingston Technologies memory at very low prices if you count their (mail-in) rebates -- lower than the best prices one can find on the 'Net at times.

I was going to buy a pair of 1GB memory sticks for a client's notebook computer that needed upgrading and reconfiguring, as well as a WiFi router/switch so he could network his home office. They had the memory I needed at a lower price than anyplace else, except that one had to mail in a rebate form to get that price. I was okay with that, since my client wanted to get his laptop computer working right ASAP. So I grabbed the two plastic display hangers with the memory plus a Linksys WRT54G WiFi router and headed to checkout.

There I met Ron. Ron was brusque to the point of being rude. He wanted my name, address, phone number, etc. I said "Just print the rebate forms -- you don't need any extra info as I am paying with plastic." He said Circuit City needed it for the rebate and got annoyed when I said I didn't want to be in their marketing database and didn't care what he said about them not sharing my info; that I didn't believe Circuit City's empty promises. We were coming to closure on the deal when he asked me to sign on an electronic tablet. I said just hand me the paper voucher and I will sign with a pen. He told me I *had* to sign using their electronic system.

We had a somewhat contentious conversation then and there, about mail-in rebates being a scam that Circuit City wouldn't use if it wanted to satisfy its customers. Ron coldly informed me that the mail-in rebate in question was from Kingston Technologies (the much nicer salescritter had told me to pay for each stick of memory separately since there was supposed to be only one rebate per household (mailing address) and had mentioned that it was a manufacturer's rebate), and Ron made damn sure I didn't blame Circuit City!

At that point, with plenty of people backing up in line behind me, I calmly told him I didn't have to buy a damned thing there and that they had just lost a customer who was already tired of their mail-in rebate racket and didn't like the way electronic signature systems are easily used to enable identity theft. Then I told him, "Cancel it. I don't want to waste my money here."

He had already charged my debit card, before I had ever "signed" anything. I was leery when he said I had to "sign" to get a refund, so I just scribbled my initials. While I was loudly but politely complaining about how mail-in rebates inconvenienced customers, he interrupted and said (I paraphrase), "Studies show that only 42% of the rebate forms are ever mailed in, so of course Circuit City and manufacturers prefer to advertise prices after mail-in rebates." I had him repeat the 42% figure, just to make sure I heard right.

I did get a refund for the amount charged on my checking account and have never purchased another thing from Circuit City, despite their often attractive prices on computer memory. I just want to thank Ron for being honest enough to admit that Circuit City likes taking advantage of its customers via burdensome mail-in rebates that involve intentional hassles.

Thanks for the brief educational experience, Ron! Now I guess it is official: Circuit City uses mail-in rebates to lure in customers because it expects only 42% of them will jump through all the hoops necessary to get their rebates.

The price on the memory after the mail-in rebates was significantly better than I ended up paying an online vendor Kahlon, for similar RAM, but Kahlon delivered the memory in two days, as promised and guaranteed the memory would work in my client's machine. Kahlon was very professional and didn't expect me to run a bureaucratic obstacle course to get their best price on my purchase.

The Linksys router cost much more at Circuit City than it did from another online vendor that I turned to as long as I was going to have to wait two days anyway. All in all, I saved a little money overall for my client and we both had the peace of mind that we had done business with reputable businesses not trying to weasel a few extra bucks out of us if we didn't stay right on top of the mail-in paperwork.

I read on CNET that OfficeMax has said farewell to its mail-in rebates. Best Buy is rumored to be doing the same Real Soon Now. Maybe other stores will get the hint if we make a point of explaining (in front of other potential customers) why we won't buy stuff that requires a mail-in rebate if one wants to get the best advertised price.

Take a stand and put your money where your mouth is: Just say "No!" to mail-in rebates.

Friday, July 07, 2006

eBay? No way!

I quit using eBay a few years ago for two main reasons:

1) eBay is not secure, safe, or fraud-free, despite all its highly touted, very annoying efforts to appear that way. I was almost ripped off by a scammer on eBay who tried and succeeded in fleecing about six other buyers. Luckily for me, the scammer was not very bright, as he accepted a personal check as payment. I stopped payment on the personal check (my banker was amused and didn't charge me a fee for that) minutes after I had used it to pay for the COD delivery at a USPS office and discovered that what I had been shipped was not what I had bid on. I got two 16MB SIMMs I found in the package, not the two 32MB sticks I had paid "COD" for with a personal check.

The seller had not thought to specify cash or cash equivalent only as a means of covering the COD delivery, and the postal clerk had actually preferred I write a check to save myself the expense of having her create a Postal Money Order for me that she could send back to the seller, as I initially started to pay with cash. I tried to contact the seller, even though I knew he had tried to swindle me, but, not surprisingly, he had disappeared. So much for eBay's safety and security measures!

How do I know he'd scammed others? I contacted everyone else who had a winning bid on any of his recent/only auctions under that username and warned them. They sent me back their horror stories about being defrauded/scammed on eBay by that seller. I got one email from a guy in law enforcement whose wife had been ripped off by the seller on eBay. He was going to contact a buddy of his in the city in which the seller purportedly resided, but did not have high hopes that that city's police department would catch the scammer.

Judging by my experience and that of his other victims I contacted, he was careful to ship something that was close enough to what was auctioned off to claim that it was a mistake -- not fraud (which might make it harder to get Postal Inspectors to pay attention to his scheme). His shipped me two sticks with half as much memory as I expected, the LEO's wife got a digital camera with lower resolution than was advertised in the eBay listing, someone else got a lower capacity hard drive than they bid on (IRRC), etc.

2) eBay is far too politically correct and is happy to impose harsh restrictions or outright bans on listings for things that might upset the sorts of mindless drones who get all excited about buying/selling "collectible" faux depression era Cobalt blue miniature tea sets.

Don't believe me? Try to bid on or list firearms on eBay. Since eBay is not a party to the transaction itself, why did it prevent firearms from being listed? They are legally bought and sold all the time in the U.S. and most civilized parts of the world. I guess eBay has something against a woman who might want to defend herself effectively against sexual predators, or a father who wants to sell the youth-sized .22LR rifle he bought for his daughter to learn how to shoot with, now that she is an adult and buys her own firearms.

I quote the following from the eBay Policies page:

Are you sure your item is allowed on eBay? Do you suspect that some one's item is counterfeit and aren't sure what eBay's policy is? You can learn more about prohibited and restricted items here. These items include alcohol, animals, credit cards, food, fireworks, tobacco and weapons.

Since eBay isn't actually buying, selling, or ever in posession of the items listed on its auction site, why does it get involved by prohibiting legitimate, legal transactions from being negotiated there? Does anyone with a clue really need or want eBay as a nanny?

3) [Yeah, that's more than two, but I found out about this yesterday, long after eBay had lost me as a customer.] eBay is not allowing Google Checkout to be used to pay for items bought through eBay:

Payment Services not permitted on eBay:,,,,,,, CCAvenue, ecount, e-gold,,, EuroGiro,, Google Checkout, gcash, GearPay,,,,, Liberty Dollars,,,,,,,, paypay, Postepay,,,,, stamps, Stormpay,,

(See: eBay's Accepted Payments Policy at: )

Now, since eBay bought PayPal (another reason to dislike eBay), I can see why eBay would want to engage in uncompetitive business practices and use whatever monopolistic powers it has to keep Google from making PayPal irrelevant. The Funny thing is that eBay gets a lot of its business from Google. I think it would be funny if Google returned the favor -- eBay needs Google a lot more than Google needs ebay, I suspect. But Google has a good reputation to uphold, while eBay has little to lose it seems, given all the cautionary tales one hears from users who have been burned on eBay.

One thing Google could do far better than ebay ever has is run a huge online auction site. Google has more than enough infrastructure in place and it need only buy one or more existing online auction sites that have been around a while, then scale them up to and beyond eBay size. That would serve eBay right and certainly fits in with Google's mission statement, since online auctions are very information intensive and often involve a lot of search. I wonder if Google could start a new auction service called Gbay? I'd do business there!

eBay tries to distance itself from transactions by claiming to be just a venue, while it strives to make its more gullible, technophobic users feel all warm and fuzzy, safe and protected, while they are actually very exposed and at risk if they trust eBay to prevent them from being taken by online auction crooks. Just Google "fraud scam ebay" if you want proof that eBay is rife with scam artists.

As a rule, one can find better, safer deals elsewhere on almost anything non-trivial than one can on eBay. Some fantastic (read: more useful, less noisy and less obnoxious) auction sites have sprung up all over the Web because eBay is so bad. For example, and provide popular alternatives to eBay for those who wish to buy/sell firearms and gun-related items that eBay stopped listing so as not to offend the shrilly vocal, but oh-so-PC fanatics opposed to our 2nd Amendment rights.

After reading and hearing about the rampant fraud on eBay, its pandering to the ignorant AOHell crowd, and its generally anti-competitive behavior, I find it easy to just say "No way!" to eBay.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What do you think of Microsoft corp?

[Below is how I answered that survey question posted on .]

Microsoft, along with IBM, played a crucial role in legitimizing the personal computer as a serious tool that can be useful to almost anyone. IBM was smart (or not greedy) enough to base its PC product lines on open standards. Microsoft took the low road and went proprietary with as much as it could.

I'm not sure that Microsoft could compete effectively on an even playing field, say one after it lost an antitrust case and was forced to "open its standards" to competition the way IBM did by choice. Would you really buy Vista from Microsoft now if you knew you could get a clone for free from Ubuntu or some other Linux vendor, where user-feedback is taken seriously and nobody is trying to invade your privacy with spyware such as WGA?

Microsoft has never been an innovative company. It didn't invent DOS (for PCs) but got the contract to do PC-DOS for IBM because Digital Research screwed up when they could have had DR-DOS become the standard OS on early PCs. The WIMP (windows, icons, mouse, and pointer) interface was invented at Xerox PARC, snagged by Apple then appropriated by Microsoft, as any serious student of the history of modern computing knows.

Microsoft makes decent developer tools (Visual Studio), mostly good office tools (Office; with Word, Excel, Access, Outlook (Outlook Express is not so good), and PowerPoint (yech! -- so one can bore people to death with business graphics? -- but hey, it does what some people want to do), and and an acceptable "heavy-duty" DBMS (SQL Server). But, the *only* reason Microsoft has achieved dominance in any of the areas it currently leads in is predatory business tactics.

WordPerfect is as good or better than Word. Oracle makes DBMS that rival the best Microsoft can produce at the moment (one of the few areas that matter to it where Microsoft has real competition). Lotus 1-2-3 / Symphony could easily have become the spreadsheet / office suite of choice, had it not been for the way Microsoft used its position as OS vendor to ensure that it could develop software for the latest versions of its OS more effectively than its competitors.

While IBM had a slew of clone makers to contend with and eventually changed its business model to do what it does best (consulting, support, and specialized development projects for corporate clients) rather than compete with Compaq, Gateway, AST, Dell, Quadram and the many other vendors who could make IBM PC compatible hardware better and/or cheaper. Note that some of the ones I mentioned are no longer household names, while others competed and thrived, especially when they delivered complete hardware platforms, just as IBM did.

I'd have little problem with Microsoft if anyone could market Microsoft compatible systems and application software and Microsoft made sure the specs that had to be met were very publicly available. Microsoft would be placed in a somewhat tough position if it actually had to compete with other companies on an even playing field, even if it set the (open) standards. I strongly suspect Microsoft has the cash on hand and the ability to gather/keep the resources it would need to stay very competitive over the short and long term. It would (probably) have to learn to play nice with the rest of the industry instead of being the monopolistic bully.

Competition breeds innovation and excellence. Microsoft is sorely lacking in both of those qualities, to the detriment of the computing industry as a whole. If Microsoft had to make its core products competitive on their merits rather than because it has exclusive control of the relevant standards, people all over the world would be better off and Microsoft probably would, too. More importantly, it might (this would be a first for it) win the hearts and minds of its user base. It might even stop losing its best thinkers to Google!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Turning the FUD tables on Microsoft, Big Time!

Wanna scare the crap out of giant, monopolistic software companies such as Microsoft? Tell your legislators that you want to see lemon laws applied to things such as Microsoft Windows and Office. If their products don't work reasonably well as advertised (in other words, taking all of Microsoft's marketing hype at face value and ignoring the carefully concealed (in fine print) disclaimers) then the companies should be held liable.

Take a look at the following excerpt from the Microsoft Windows XP EULA:


that the Software will perform substantially in accordance with the accompanying materials for a period of ninety (90)
days from the date of receipt.
If an implied warranty or condition is created by your state/jurisdiction and federal or state/provincial law prohibits
disclaimer of it, you also have an implied warranty or condition, BUT ONLY AS TO DEFECTS DISCOVERED
KIND. Some states/jurisdictions do not allow limitations on how long an implied warranty or condition lasts, so the
above limitation may not apply to you.
Any supplements or updates to the Software, including without limitation, any (if any) service packs or hot fixes
provided to you after the expiration of the ninety day Limited Warranty period are not covered by any warranty or
condition, express, implied or statutory.

17. DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTIES. The Limited Warranty that appears above is the only express warranty
made to you and is provided in lieu of any other express warranties or similar obligations (if any) created by any
advertising, documentation, packaging, or other communications. Except for the Limited Warranty and to the
maximum extent permitted by applicable law, Microsoft and its suppliers provide the Software and support services (if
any) AS IS AND WITH ALL FAULTS, and hereby disclaim all other warranties and conditions, whether express,
implied or statutory, including, but not limited to, any (if any) implied warranties, duties or conditions of
merchantability, of fitness for a particular purpose, of reliability or availability, of accuracy or completeness of
responses, of results, of workmanlike effort, of lack of viruses, and of lack of negligence, all with regard to the
Software, and the provision of or failure to provide support or other services, information, software, and related content
through the Software or otherwise arising out of the use of the Software. ALSO, THERE IS NO WARRANTY OR

Microsoft touts its buggy bloatware as being wonderful operating system software, business software, etc. Yet (despite massive advertising campaigns to the contrary in practice) it won't guarantee that its software is going to do much of anything in particular.

Wouldn't it be interesting if Microsoft was obligated to live up to its marketing blather?

When you buy or lease new a car from a major automobile manufacturer, you can reasonably expect that it will do the things that one expects a car to do and that any wacky, extremely contraintuitive disclaimers like the one in the EULA above that the manufacturers sneak in are not going to make a bit of difference if your new car just doesn't work the way we all expect cars to work, especially if it doesn't do the things it is portrayed doing in advertisements (such as start and operate, respond to the controls, not blow up burn up or release lethal quantities of toxic gases inside the passenger compartment, etc.)

What I am suggesting is that Microsoft be far more concerned that its products do what they as touted as being able to do and not have the time to waste on crap like incomprehensible EULAs and spyware such as WGA.

It would not take much to put a lot of public pressure on Microsoft to clean up its sorry act. A few million pissed off, justifiably unsatisfied, ripped off, mistreated or otherwise seriously unhappy users who are willing to take things to court, possibly with help from the hordes of greedy lawyers out there, are all that is needed to make Microsoft become more responsible and far less monopolistic in its behavior.

BTW, lest you think I welcome strict regulation of software companies or, even worse, licensing of IT professionals, I do not. I am very content to leave the government out of things, as long as companies such as Microsoft don't expect to go running to the government and have it help them stomp "the little guy" (read: you and me).

Microsoft's buggy bloatware

I tend to actually do math with spreadsheets, not produce pretty documents, although some of what I do involves linking multiple spreadsheets, written documents (boilerplate), and databases, to mass produce customized reports. I did a lot of that sort of thing in Symphony, and as with 1-2-3, I pushed it right to the limit. Running out of physical memory was almost always my main complaint working with 1-2-3 or Symphony, even when I had maxed out the memory expansion possibilities on a high-end PC.

The way Microsoft approached application integration was rather different, conceptually, than how Lotus did. Lotus' scheme was very memory bound but if I could do the same thing using a Lotus product and a Microsoft product, it would be so much faster with the Lotus product that Microsoft's programs looked like escargot.

Microsoft takes the "it's good enough for the masses, so let's make it shiny" approach. MS relies on improvements in hardware (PC performance) to cover up the poor design and implementation of their core applications. Look at IE versus Firefox. Firefox is more secure, faster, does what you expect it to do (as opposed to what Microsoft wants it to do) and is presently the browser of choice for folks who want to add functionality by writing their own add-ons and plug-ins.

Excel is much the same way. PCs have become so powerful that a program such as Excel, burdened with all sorts of bells and whistles that most people never use and even power users rarely use in combinations very often, is just a software pig. You're right, it is relatively stable, but that was not always the case. When it was competing with 1-2-3 and Symphony, it won not on technical merits, but via MS's marketing clout. Users were convinced that then needed all the frills and that the slow performance would improve when faster machines became available, and that "nobody ever got fired for buying a Microsoft Office product" (Microsoft learned a lot about FUD from IBM).

Now, the amount of work that can be comfortably done in Excel on a typical new PC has so far surpassed what the majority of users require that the performance difference between Excel and what could be done is best summed up "plenty fast" versus "Warp 7". When 1-2-3 and Symphony were in their heydays, one usually turned off auto-recalculation as a matter of routine when developing complex spreadsheets. Excel made that a necessity back then. Now, it is only spreadsheet power users who you'll see developing spreadsheets big enough to make auto-recalculation a practical necessity.

In fairness, I consider gaping security holes to be bugs. Excel is king of the spreadsheets in a different day and age than 1-2-3 was. Lotus never had to worry much about security holes in its spreadsheets (dirty tricks used to by people creating spreadsheets to commit fraud were making a little news, but not much). Having malware infested documents passed around the 'Net infecting other people's machines was not an issue.

I'd like to see a spreadsheet built more like Linux; a lean mean core on which one could hang whatever features and options one wants -- they wouldn't slow it down or use resources unless one specifically installed and enabled them. Excel's "core" is too big and slow, IMNSHO, which qualifies it as bloatware in my book. Buggy? Well, yes, but mostly because of the security holes common to the entire Office suite and IE. Let's face it, ActiveX is just one of many serious problems that plague Microsoft's premiere product lines.