[Beowulf] small-footprint MS WIn "MinWin"

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Mon Oct 22 19:35:40 PDT 2007

On Mon, 22 Oct 2007, Joe Landman wrote:

> It is, from what I am told, possible to run windows entirely from the command 
> line.  I have not been able to myself (haven't tried in the last few years).

I thought that this was no longer true as of xp, although maybe the
question is just what "run windows entirely from the command line"
means, or which version of windows.  The times I have to mess with
windows management on server or client I still almost always have to
work through a GUI, though I freely admit that I'm not a Windows god.

> It is possible to run sshd via cygwin (and I think through the unix services 
> bit).

You can do a lot with Windows via cygwin, as you say.

>> by MS for Windows (as opposed to Linux) is that they need to have well 
>> defined hardware abstraction and the VM to real hardware layer tightly 
>> controlled, because it very important for digital rights management (to 
>> make sure that nobody can put a shim layer in and tap off the protected 
>> content).  What is perceived as a virtue in the Linux world is viewed as a 
>> terrifying hole in the MS Windows DRM world.
> I am fairly sure that DRM wasn't on the mind of the designers around the 
> time of the Windows NT Alpha.  It was serendipity (for them) that they were 
> able to use minor display architectural shifts to enable this "needed" 
> functionality.
> I remember seeing the NT-Alpha version on some DEC boxen at SC95 or 96 or 
> something like that.  Someone was trying to convince me then that NT was the 
> death of Unix in supercomputing.  I didn't hear much about digital media 
> rights management.

Well, the DRM folks are all forgetting one of the essential features
shared by many complex systems -- Unix, DNA and evolution, dictatorship
and politics, cable TV.  Ultimately all of these things manage
information flow, and attempts to control information flow require
absolute control over all channels, which essentially never happens.
Even when it appears to have happened it probably hasn't.  This is the
part of the Internet's robust design (intended to survive nuclear war,
remember) -- the Internet views control as damage and routes around it.

So to be honest, it is and will remain nearly impossible for anyone to
prevent a shim layer being inserted in what is (after all) software to
tap off protected content.  Ultimately, that content has to be rendered
for human eyes and ears -- it has to be transformed from bits and bytes
into a signal that is a direct representation of the information
supposedly being protected.  And what are you going to do about that?  A
couple of banana clips, a second computer, and I've got direct access to
any music that could conceivably be played on my computer (presuming I
can't find a dozen ways to tap it and copy it lower down).  Any signal
that can be delivered to a display device can similarly be tapped -- if
necessary inside the display device with aforementioned clips.

The point being, they can never, ever prevent the Chinese from knocking
off infinity copies of any DVD ever made, any CD ever recorded, any book
ever published (electronic or otherwise).  It is a joke to even pretend
otherwise.  Nor can they control India, Pakistan, Iran, any African
nation, most of South America -- pretty much any really poor country is
going to pretty much turn a blind eye on attempts to rip off our
"intellectual property" richness.  For $1 per DVD, any visitor to China
can return with any movie ever made, including a lot that haven't yet
been released on DVD.

IMO, the DMCA and DRM in general is pissing into a hurricane.  I
personally actually try to mostly respect it, but find me one teenager
on the planet who does.  Find me a dozen humans under maybe 25 or 30 who
do.  Hell, most ADULTS I know only obey it to the extent that it is
convenient to them.  It is silly beyond measure to try to engineer an
operating system that more or less deliberately obstructs something that
a huge portion of your customer base views as a God given right,
whatever the "law" says about it.

And I'm not sure that's really what's going on here.  I think we're
really seeing a healthy thing that is perhaps driven by actual technical
considerations.  As has been indicated several times in the thread,
operating systems (including Linux, all versions) have over time been
"gooped up".  Given the temptation of unlimited memory resources and
ever increasing processor speed, it has been easy to add more and more
and more "stuff" down low, breaking up the original modularity of things
with overintegration.  Periodically it is good to decruft code and
reconsider the optimal split between core and UI across the board.

Sometimes this means fixing a big mistake with major changes.  I'm
really pretty amazed that Microsoft is taking the risks associated with
this (and with Vista in general).  Vista has almost certainly cost them
significantly in the business world, and I doubt that they've paid the
full price yet.  Redoing the core kernel and obsoleting the knowledge of
a whole generation of MCSEs is another huge risk, one that has cost big
companies major market share in years past, since if you have to retrain
in mid-career (when companies would just as soon fire you and hire new
young cheap replacements) you're likely to retrain with something else,
especially if it is something less likely to undergo that kind of
traumatic rearrangment.

Interesting times...


Robert G. Brown
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone(cell): 1-919-280-8443
Web: http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb
Lulu Bookstore: http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=877977

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