VB6, HTML Frames … still going strong!

Oil IT Journal editor Neil McNaughton havers between Windows 10 and Linux and reflects on decommissioned PCs and on old programming paradigms. Reluctant to add to the junk in the basement, he revamps a 12 year old machine and upgrades www.oilit.com with an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach to software development.

It has been 15 years now since I paid tribute to Jerry Pournelle, now the late Jerry Pournelle, he died back in 2017. I was an avid reader of Jerry’s ‘Chaos Manor’ column in Byte Magazine which, like Pournelle is now deceased. My 2005 piece was a ramble around a dilletante build of a super (micro) computer, assembled from esoteric parts bought on Ebay. I never said what became of it. So, for those of you with long memories here is the end of that story.

When I finally assembled the dual Xeon monster with super-fast SCSI drives and found an OS that worked, I switched the thing on and immediately realized why servers live in server rooms. This thing made a noise like a helicopter. No way I was ever going to use it in the office. It was relegated to the basement where it still sits. Alongside, by the way, maybe a dozen other old computers that have for the most part been rendered obsolete by software upgrades.

My next couple of computer purchases, a Mac mini server and a black box Windows PC were made a couple of years after this experience in the late 2000s. The Mac mini reached its end of life (in software terms) a few years later and was mothballed – along with its super high-res display with its Mac-only connectivity. The black box, which I named, ‘BlackBox’ has been my workhorse ever since. Which meant that come January 14, 2020 and the end-of-life for Windows 7, I had to upgrade. To Windows 10.

I really didn’t want to add another piece of junk to my collection so, despite Microsoft’s warnings that I would probably need a new machine, I decided to stay with BlackBox, especially as I has just added a 1TB solid state drive (a great €100 investment). Windows 10 installation (from a bought USB stick) went fine. One curiosity though. At one stage the installation asked me ‘how I wanted my adverts served’. There was no option for ‘not at all’ which I would have been happy with. After some fiddling around I managed to keep Window 7 on a partition so that my ancient VB6 programs can run natively. I reboot to W7 without internet access so this ought to be safe, even if it is a bit of a pain.

During the process it crossed my mind that maybe this would be a good time to jump off the Windows bandwagon completely and downloaded Linux which is on yet another partition on BlackBox. I found that Linux installs are now as easy if not easier than Windows. Which made me think that there was more life in the old Mac mini. There was. I now have Ubuntu running on the Mac mini and the beautiful Apple 24” screen is back in action.

So why didn’t I make the switch? There are a few reasons. One because leaving things to the last minute does reduce one’s room for maneuver. But mainly, I didn’t make the switch because Microsoft has me by the short and curlies as they say in the UK. Windows 365, One Drive, Share Point are fantastic at assuring lock-in and I am still trying to find the way out.

I mentioned VB6 which may surprise you. In which context I have a few things to get off my chest. From the above you will have gathered that I don’t like to throw away old hardware. In fact, I am even more attached to old software. I figure that once you have solved a problem, written the code, then you should not have to write it again because the old development environment (hardware or software) is at its ‘end-of-life’. Unix shell scripts I wrote back in the 1980s run fine under today’s Linux. VB6 was officially obsoleted in 2008.

Which brings me to the Oil IT Journal website. This too uses technology that is not only old but the actually deprecated by the W3C. The deprecated technology deployed is HTML Frames and Framesets. I use these stubbornly because they involve a minimum amount of programming effort and they work (at least so far) in all browsers without fancy browser-specific coding.

The current Corona virus crisis has given me some extra time to spend on the website. I could have devoted this to a port to some fancy CMS or other. Instead I decided to double down on my Frames. On www.oilit.com you can now manipulate the frame boundaries to optimize your view of the main frame containing the Journal text, the navigation menu and the newly revamped Conferences page at the bottom of the screen. If you are new to the site, grab the frame boundaries, move them around and scroll through the text. You may notice how fast the site works (well I hope you do). This is because of another against-the-norm technology choice. No database. All the site is built from small files which the Apache server assembles in the twinkling of an eye. Oh, and another unconventional technology choice of which I am especially proud is … NO COOKIES! I think that web cookies represent one of the craziest facets of the internet. Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and just about every website you ever visit write stuff to your hard drive! Not Oil IT!

Speaking of the Conferences section this, and indeed our great relationship with the major conference organizers, is one of our main assets. We have put a lot of effort into this page, keeping it as up-to-date as we can, and tracking conferences as they move to online ‘virtual’ events or get re-scheduled. Let me know (info@oilit.com) how you find the tweaks to the site. Should I ditch the frames? I still have that project of a shift away from Windows and am looking at a more stable (and up-to-date) programming environment than VB6!

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