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A Star Is Born

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Security for virtualized datacentres

At first sight, it looks harmless enough. But we think we have another cult of Mahir ("I Kiss You!") proportions on our hands.

It's a column on ZDNet's Tech Channel: but don't be discouraged: it's a kind of technical Valhalla, where the remains of a great battle between ignorance and bad reasoning are dumped before the reader.

It reminded us of that Doom-style shoot-'em-up game [Serious Sam - ed.] in which the most terrifying opponents you'll encounter are headless men, who approach you screaming, with their arms raised in a victory salute with a grenade in each hand. "You hear the screaming long after you've finished playing the game," a fan tell us, and you'll hear the screaming long after you've finished reading this article, too, gentle readers.

"Your local hard drive is a file system," begins ZDNet's David Berlind, raising an impossibly high standard for what's to follow, "...as are the hard drives that are used by Web servers. Both file systems get accessed by users."

Go on, go on.

"A user should be fully insulated from the intricacies of that conduit by virtue of a common user interface. IE is one of just that," he asserts, in one of many semantic landmines hidden in this colossus of a piece (We're guessing that English isn't the author's first language, so we'll be charitable here).

Because Internet Explorer is a file browser, Berlind argues that it must be bundled with Windows. We've heard many reasons for bundling IE with Windows, but this is without doubt the most creative.

At this point you'll be thinking - don't you browse networked drives with the same program you use to browse your local drives - ie, Windows Explorer (or the Finder)? Hasn't the chap heard of Network Neighborhood? Or FTP? And when you punch the location of the New York Times into your browser, don't you expect to see a page of stories, rather than a directory listing? We know we do.

But Berlind is beginning to warm to his theme, and oblivious to such trivia as um, design and implementation, is gathering an ominous momentum.

The triumph of the drive letter

"The full name of Window's predecessor DOS -- disk operating system -- seems to drive this point home," notes Berlind, with the air of a Rosetta Stone scholar inducting a pupil.

"In the days when Unix still had a fighting chance [no bias there, then - ed.] against Windows, Unix vendors did little to deal with foreign file systems," he adds. Hmm, we recall the NFS plug-fests in some loving detail here, but we think we see his point. Ish. But that's only a dummy maneuver for the end run:-

Berlind argues that FAT succeeded because it was actually superior to Sun's NFS, which became the Unix standard. There's time for another swideswipe at those scary Unix people: "Bigots will argue that NFS and TCP were IEEE standards" (Ummm, we doubt that many bigots will, possibly because they're POSIX and IETF standards respectively.)

He's unstoppable now, and although the air's thick with the menace of unexploded errors, Berlind ploughs on through the noise and the smoke:-

"Making DOS adapt to other network protocols and file systems turned DOS into the most flexible network client on the market. Of the prevailing client operating systems--DOS, Macintosh, and Unix--that would need access to all of these network filing systems, only DOS ended up fully outfitted for the task."

What made it so? Drive-letter mapping! A system that proved itself superior to Unix's prune and graft paths and symlinks, according to our Dave.

By now, the corpse of his argument may be more holes than flesh, but Berlind has one more computer science paradigm to turn inside out before he's done:

"HTTP is basically just another file access protocol, and a standard one at that. It joins a long list of other file systems, both proprietary and standard, that any client operating system should expose via a single file-access interface."

Nurse, the sedatives

Alas, a chorus of disapproval meets this courageous epic in the form of readers' Talkback comments.

"This is the stupidest article I've ever read," Dan Hoggins writes. "I actually signed up in ZDNet just to say that this is the most ridiculous and laughable articles ever."

"My kingdom for a journalist with a brain!" laments Aaron Nielsen, who sums up the scale of the destruction thus:

"The most tragic part of this article is how ineptly its author missed the point of everything."

And an astonished Giordano Sagrati, demanding to know "Who commissioned the article?", echoes the stunned disbelief by asking:- "Do you really think that people chose DOS over a Mac, Atari, an Amiga or a Unix machine because they could name the drives by letter?"

We hope Berlind doesn't take these comments to heart. It's an epic of heroic proportions, and we can only salute it in awe. Send tributes (and anything else you know about this bold new talent) to the usual address

The piece itself, entitled 'Reality Check' (really!) can be found here. And so, a star was born... ®

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