Archive for the ‘Windows’ Category

Foxmarks – A Must Have!

Posted on May 22nd, 2007 in Apple, Internet & Networking, Linux/Unix, Windows | 1 Comment »

Once in a while a widget/app/gizmo comes along that is so dang useful and cool that I simply must share. Foxmarks for Mozilla Firefox is one such plug-in.

Foxmarks is a nifty little cross-platform extension that will both backup and synchronize your firefox bookmarks. This is ideal if you work on multiple machines, and even across multiple Oses

http://foxmarks.com/

If you are a Firefox users and have multiple systems, simply put you need this Extension – Enjoy.

Outlook/Exchange – Best Microsoft app ever?

Posted on May 21st, 2007 in Business & Industry, Windows | No Comments »

So a fair amount of Microsoft bashing has happened here on the blog over the past few months.  And while there are plenty of opportunities to blame the evil Empire for their failings and missteps as of late, visa vie Vista, I thought it might be nice to chronicle one of Redmond’s major successes – Outlook and Exchange.

Outlook, especially when it is teamed with Exchange Server, is one of the most pervasive Microsoft applications on the planet – okay, well maybe not the planet but at least the North American business landscape. Sure, sure, I know what you’re going to say, “what about Gmail” or “there’s always Lotus Notes”, not hardly, the fact remains most business users remain ardent Microsoft Outlook aficionados.

While some might say this is simply because there is “no choice” or that “Outlook is too entrenched”, I’ll put forward another theory.  Are you ready for this?  Outlook is actually good!  No wait, it’s better than good, it’s actually the best Microsoft application available today.

Go ahead, take the cheap shot, if Outlook is the best thing: I’d hate to see the worst. But that is not the focus of this story. I will instead submit to you that the user community has actually selected Outlook as their preferred e-mail and personal information manager (PIM.)

Here are just a few reasons why Outlook is the best in class e-mail, calendar, contact, task manager:

Outlook is bloated in all the right ways – We all know about feature bloat and how most users will only need about 2% of all the functions available, and very few will ever use the other 98%.  Outlook is different.  From version to version; Microsoft has actually added usable, desirable, and downright needed new features to Outlook.

Excellent third-party integration – Just about every ISV and his brother has built Outlook based modules or plug-ins, from chat clients to PDF writers, CRM systems to custom database applications, vendors are leveraging the power and ubiquity of Outlook to extend their applications and create a seamless end-user experience.

Ease of accessibility – The goodness that is the Outlook client front end is taken to the next level when it is paired with exchange server on the server side. This configuration is extremely popular, and typical in the business workplace, and allows for the implementation of OWA (or Outlook Web Access), enabling users access to not just e-mail, but Calendar, Contacts and public data via any web browser.  And with the advent of Windows mobile phone devices, Exchange Server can seamlessly update e-mail and contact information for users on the go.

All together in one nice package – Microsoft has managed to brinig all of the most common tasks and functions together into one cohesive application.  Outlook is not the only game in town, but seems to be the one that strikes the right balance of integrated features and ease of use.

Now don’t get me wrong Outlook is not a perfect application, it’s simply the best one that Microsoft has out right now. It’s actually quite shocking to me that with so many alternatives Outlook remains far and away the most popular Windows-based PIM. And like so many other MS applications, once its delegates talons deep into your data’s heart, it’s hard to migrate elsewhere – but that’s another entry for another day.

Feeling the Linux Lovin’

Posted on May 4th, 2007 in Linux/Unix, Windows | No Comments »

If Microsoft had know that the best thing they would ever do for the Linux community is release Vista, I have to wonder – would they have rushed its release? Would they have every released it for that matter!

With this week’s major announcement from Dell, not only to support Linux, but to offer Ubuntu as an outright preload, you have to ask are the Windows alternatives that good or is Vista that Bad?!? I would submit that it’s a bit of both.

On my desktop Ubuntu 7.04 is now the default OS, and as soon as I can get the cursed ATI/AMD X1600 driver situation under control on my notebook, it will soon follow with Linux load.

Also some big props going out to the Linux Action Show podcast. If you have yet to discover this wonderful resource for all things happening in the Linux community, I strongly recommend you give them a listen.

These are a few of my favorite “Vista” things

Posted on April 17th, 2007 in Windows | No Comments »

As any of you have worked with me know I’m very pragmatic about operating systems, if it works for the app – good on you. Regular readers of the blog might question my OS agnostic attitude due to the frequent Vista bashing, so here is my list of favorite things about Vista. Promise, I’ll try to stay all positive; operative word here is “try.” 

 

            It Looks Great

 

Solitare 

 

Face it, if you can make a classic Windows productivity app like Solitaire look this good, it just makes you happy. From the new 3D effects to the simple addition of transparencies, Vista makes for a pleasant visual retouch of the windows UI. BTW, if anyone has a hack to adjust the transparency level for the contents of a CMD window, please share – I so miss that capability, visa vie KDE/Gnome.

 

The new user folder structure

User folders 

 After years of conditioning us to use the infernal “C:\Documents and Settings\XXXX” directory structure for storing My Documents and other user configuration, things are now where they should have been all along – \Users\XXXX.Not only is the Unix style top level user folder the “right” place for this type of data to be located, Vista has added some useful new default sub-folders as well. The new default downloads location is a welcome addition, as is the relocation of IE Favorates.

            Un-hideable Fields

 

While some will find this a lazy man’s feature, the ability to see and encrypted fields contents while entering them, I will argue this is a very useful feature. I can’t tell you how many times I have made typos while entering those long 128-bit WEP keys, not once but twice!  


           
Explorer Location/Browsing Trail Memory

 

In a world where terabyte drives are virtually common place, its easy to have dozens, or even hundreds of sub-directories in a folder; the Vista Explorer has taken this fact into consideration. Nothing is more frustrating then moving through a deep folder structure say I’m down in a folder named “Symantec”, realizing I need something back in the “System” folder, that is at the same level as the Symantec directory, I hit the back button, pleasantly I’m returned to the previous level in the “S” vicinity, in fact the Symantec folder is selected so I can even use arrow keys to move down to the System folder I want to open. This is a delightful, yet simple, addition; But I still miss the “up” folder icon.

                      Media Center and Windows Media Player 11

 WMP11 

As I said back in January, shortly after CES 07’, Vista’s new incarnation and integration  of Media Center Edition (formerly XP MCE), is truly impressive, while I have not quite killed off the TiVo yet, Vista Media Center is looking better all the time.

Powering Vista Media Center is Windows Media Player 11, which is still burdened with too much DRM crap for me give it an endorsement, I have to be honest – WMP11 performance is surprisingly much better then past versions I have avoided like the plague. 

 

The key point I’m trying to make about Vista is; it’s not all bad. While none of the above are compelling enough reasons to upgrade to Vista, they do fall into that “pleasant addition” category. Are you running Vista? Share your favorite new features in the comments, I’d love to learn your tricks. 

Widows Woes – When in doubt blame Bill

Posted on April 11th, 2007 in Windows | No Comments »

Trust Bill 

 

You know what I’m talking about, because you‘ve done it too! What, blame Bill you ask? Bill, as in Gates ala Microsoft; and blame, well I think you have a good grasp on that, suffice it to say any Blue Screen of Death, or driver incompatibility, heck just anything you don’t like about Windows! The response is always the same – Screaming “{Insert explicit of your choice} Microsoft!” followed by throwing random objects at and/or kicking the computer in question.

 

And I have to admit, 99% of the time it’s a safe bet to blame Mr. Gates. Most of the time it does turn out that if something on a Windows computer goes aria it can be traced to a Microsoft flax-paw.  If you want to drive that percentage of dysfunction and suffering to a virtual 100% failure rate, be sure to always adopt new Microsoft patches, service packs and 1.0 releases.

 

It’s against this backdrop I found myself a couple weeks ago. While consulting at my favorite “Garlic Capital of the World” customer, we were building up a couple of new Windows 2003 R2 servers to host Oracle 10 databases – pretty mundane right? The build was moving forward rather uneventfully; as part of the initial setup I usually hit Windows Update and pull down any critical updates (environments where SUS is available can skip this step.) Then the horror, Windows 2003 Server SP2.

 

Now there are a few of you that just love to install every brand-new “fix” that vendors put out, I have learned better. So not having seen 2003 SP2 and Oracle 10.2 I advised my client we might want to hold up on the new Microsoft Service Pack. But after talking it over, we elected to roll the dice and go for it, SP2 installed smoothly and on we went.

 

Completing the server build with Oracle 10.2.0.3, I built some databases, loaded up the necessary business apps and started testing client connections. Nothing. No connectivity to Oracle. After running through the usual trouble-shooting steps I conclude it can be only one thing – “Fracking Bill!”, I decry, as I angrily uninstall SP2. Reboot, and WTF Oracle was still broken! After another few minutes of digging I discover the problem was actually introduced with the Oracle SP, not Microsoft.

 

Shockingly I found the 1% of the time it actually wasn’t Bill’s fault!?!? So I’m stunned, but I guess it serves me right. And heck, I should look at it this way, if it’s not Bill, at least I can blame Larry. So take comfort Larry, in your efforts to be just like Bill you are now mimicking Microsoft service packs breaking stuff, way to go Oracle.

 

Ah, I’m going to keep blaming Bill, old habits are hard to break!

Can’t install Acrobat 8; Vista UAC Strikes Back!

Posted on April 7th, 2007 in Windows | 1 Comment »

As many of you know I actually reloaded Vista on my day to day notebook – thanks to a most inopportune hard drive crash (When Disk Failures Attack!), and the lack of a bootable XP disk.

 

But I figured, “Hey, I’ll make the most of this and force myself to use Vista.”Arrg! Vista, you continue to curse me!

Adobe Acrobat 8 Install Error

Today’s vignette of pain stars, yet again, the loathsome and talent-less Vista User Access Control or UAC. Regular readers of the blog will recall my first bout with the UAC from Vista UAC – this is “trustworthy computing?” – And since turning off the UAC is the first order of business on any Vista build I do, you can imagine my surprise when I encountered the following error while attempting to install Adobe Acrobat 8.

 

Regardless of whether you’re installing the full version or just the reader, if you have turned UAC off, you get this dialog “The Temp folder is on a drive that is full or is inaccessible. Free up space on the drive or verify that you have write permission on the Temp folder.”

 

Now wait a minute… If I have turned off UAC, why on earth should I get a permission error – that’s what I discarded UAC for in the first place! It seams this is part of the new Vista UAC pseudo-privilege elevation strategy. It turns out that you must re-enable UAC, reboot and then install Acrobat in order to be successful.


 

I found a good source of information about this phenomena at Scott Hanselman’s site, click here for a direct link. Great post, and work arounds, just a damn shame this UAC thing keeps driving me to the brink of insanity and then some.

 

64-bit Computing – A reality ahead of its time

Posted on March 22nd, 2007 in Apple, Business & Industry, Linux/Unix, Windows | No Comments »

There have been many great advances in desktop computing over the years; and some truly great ones, that fail miserably. The Apple Newton, IBM PC Jr, RAMBUS Memory, 64-bit implementations of software on desktop PCs come to mind – OK well, maybe not the PC Jr., but back on point. 64-bit processors, their respective OSes and more specifically the applications that are available for them, continue to make one ponder, “When will 64-bit computing become a reality?”

 

Alpha Chip

 

In that question lies the problem. 64-bit environments are a reality now, and have been for over a decade; we just don’t really expect them to be, so as businesses, consumers, enthusiasts and the industry as a whole, we propagate a self fulfilling prophecy that the technology is not ready for prime time.

 

And before I get barraged with, “Well, Actually….” responses about how you use 64-bit Oracle or other select server applications, this diatribe is focused primarily on the desktop, though an argument can be made about the sad state of adoption on the server side as well (I’ll just save that for another time.)   

   

Dispelling Myths

 

Contrary to all the industry press, bloggings, and snappy AMD/Intel ads and press-releases; 64-bit platforms have been available for some time. I little history lesson is in order.

 

My first experience with a true 64-bit box was in the early 90’s, the DEC Alpha AXP. Ah, Digital Equipment Corporation, I get a little teary eyed at the thought. Great company, superb engineering, solid performing systems and terrible marketing – so it should be no surprise that many of you might not even recall the AXP systems.  At 150 Megahertz the AXP was blisteringly faster than the flagship Intel chip of the day, you might remember that one a little better, this new thing called “Pentium”, it topped out at 90 MHz. And for an OS, you could run Windows NT (the now defunct Alpha version), OpenVMS, or DEC’s Tru64Unix. While most of these machines are now collecting dust in IT bone yards, a few continue to find life with 64-bit Linux distros for the Alpha.

 

Sun Ultra Sparc

 

The next 64-bit offering to grace the stage, Sun Microsystems Ultra Sparc. What’s that? You don’t remember who Sun is? That’s ok they seam to have a problem with their identity too, but back in the day, the 90s, Solaris was king of the go-go Unix powered internet bubble. The Ultra line of chips was to power 64-bit Solaris running from the largest datacenter on down to the “workstation” on your desktop. Heck, there were even a few OEMs who engineered notebooks with these. Still not ringing a bell? Humm, well that explains a lot about Sun’s current dwindling market share.

 

So if both of these have left you scratching your head surely you will recall the first major 64-bit offering from Intel.  Merced, or it’s current brand name – Itanium. Intel started hyping the crap out of this dog before the turn of the century (oh its so weird to use that expression to describe the 1999 – 2000 – 2001 time period.)  In case you missed it, we where all going to stop buying Pentiums, as they were scheduled to be discontinued shortly after the Itaniums started shipping. After all, why would anyone want a 32-bit processor when they could have a new 64-bit one running at a slower Megahertz that was both pin and code incompatible with the x86 architecture. Not so much.

 

Then there was Apple. Surely Apple with all their technical prowess, engineering experience, and marketing appeal could make this 64-bit thing work! Well they did get the science part right – partly. It was the Macintosh G5, billed as the worlds fastest micro computer and 64-bit through and through. And at it’s core, the G5 chip and memory interconnects have 64-bit data paths; but OSX, while certainly capable of running in a pure 64-bit mode, opted to go with only 64-bit extensions for large memory addressing. But never mind, it turns out that the PowerPC chips that were so fast, got replaced by those 32-bit Intel chips; those ones that were sure to be phased out by 2003, what where those called… oh yea Pentium I think it was. Been so long since any of us have seen one of those.

 

 G5 The Fastest?


Software –  cause I still haven’t found what I’m looking for..

 

Where are the Killer 64-bit apps? There lies the crux of the whole thing. In fact one could ask where are the sorta killer 64-bit apps, or where are the simply ok-but-working 64-bit apps.

 

In each of the previous 64-bit mis-steps, chronicled above, there was not the single quintessential force required to drive adoption, good software. And here is the sad part, since those ill-fated attempts of the 90’s – what has changed? Not a heck of a lot.

 

You think I’m exaggerating? AMD has offered its Opteron and Athlon 64-bit architectures for a couple of years now – how many of you are running the AMD64 version of World of Warcraft?  Oh that’s right, that product does not exist.

 

What AMD is not mainstream enough, too fringe – let’s look at Intel. Itanium, 64-Bit Xeon and Core based systems have been in production even longer, How many people do you see running Half Life 2 for XP Pro x64 version?

 

Frankly I don’t know what it’s going to take for 64-bit solutions to take hold! I’ve been hearing the rhetoric about how life changing the 64-bit apps are going to be, for over a decade now, and it’s just not happening. Its time the industry either gives up on 64-bit on the desktop or build something that makes users value this fancy “new” technology.

 

When Disk Failures Attack!

Posted on March 20th, 2007 in Linux/Unix, News & Updates, Windows | No Comments »

ARRRGG! Under the heading; yes it can happen to anyone – I suffered a catastrophic drive failure on my primary notebook this weekend.

 

Best I can tell it was from a corrupt MBR, very strange considering the system was not a multi boot or had multiple partitions. And of course it struck at the worst possible time as I’m on the road with back to back customer calls to make.

 

So here are the lessons to learn from my misfortune:

 

  • Always keep a current backup of anything you care about. Fortunately I had all “My Documents” form a few days before on a flashdrive.

  • Consider a partitioned drive separating your data from the OS, this is something I had been thinking about for sometime and will go into my next build.

  • If you are a road warrior, or find your self away form your office much, keep a copy of your OS installer and any hardware drivers with you. I did not have that special HP XP Pro recovery disk with me, so I was forced to rebuild with Vista…. Oh Vista, just when I think I’m out you Pull me back in!

  • Keep a copy of Ubuntu or some other cd image bootable OS with you. Thanks to my copy of Edge Eft (Ubuntu 6.10) I was able boot the system, browse the undamaged files and copy them off to an external USB drive. Needless to say, Ubuntu’s stock went way up with me!

  • Tools would be nice…. Before our airports went all medieval on having a screwdriver in your carry-on, I would always have at least a small Philips on me, and sometimes a Leatherman tool. After this debacle I’m seriously considering a packing a small toolkit in my checked bag, just in case.

At any rate, the mire fact that I can type up this entry today is a good sign that my system and work week are on the road to recovery.

Vista: I’m still waiting for the “WOW” to start

Posted on March 12th, 2007 in Business & Industry, Windows | No Comments »

This past week, after two months of regular use on my desktop system, I came to a conclusion regarding Vista. After endless dealings with driver and application incompatibilities, reduced overall system performance and considerable frustration with the new “more intuitive” UI, I finally found the fix for Windows Vista more usable – downgrade to Windows XP.

 

Any of you who have been reading the blog over the last few months know that I am not a rabid Microsoft hater, and that’s significant to consider when you weigh my assessment about Vista. I came into this evaluation very open and quite excited about the potential of Vista from the beginning. (See:  Vista + HDTV = Tivo Killer?) That anticipation, however, has been replaced with the dull aching reality that Vista simply carries too much baggage to offset any positives I’ve experienced.

 

What’s more, I have placed an indefinite moratorium of Vista deployment for any of our corporation’s internal systems. I’m also advising customers to do the same in their IT shops. This conclusion is in line with similar announcements from major firms and even government institutions like the DOJ and FAA – this past week these are just a few of the entities that have said “adios” to the Microsoft flagship OS.

 

Does this spell “Doom” for MS?

 

Not hardly, I’m sure the spin-masters at Redmond are working double-time on press releases and other propaganda designed to flood the market with rave reviews about Vista, ignoring the reality of its sluggish acceptance by real-world users.

 

The real test of success is going to be how we all feel about Vista in another year. Sure, early adopters are going to purchase and implement Vista now, and any new systems purchased are coming with it preloaded, but what will the preferred OS be in six months or a year?

 

Will corporations be satisfied with the time tested strategy of waiting for SP1 of any new MS operating system before wide-spread adoption? On the consumer side, will new DirectX 10 hardware and games be so compelling that users will upgrade just for specific titles? 

 

These are entirely possible outcomes, but so are the following:

 

  1. Feed up with the endless Microsoft upgrade merry-go-round, corporations move past the “evaluating” Linux stage to active desktop deployment.
  2. Riding the wave of consumer good will and enthusiast support, Apple, finally cracks past its single digit market penetration as OSX is perceived a better choice then Vista.
  3. Windows XP, now over six years old, remains the preferred desktop OS of choice. Both in corporations that have little incentive to upgrade from a cost and training perspective, and in the home with a large install base and questionable app and driver support home users hold back.

 

All three of these options are viable, and deserve to be explored in more depth. To that end, check back in the coming weeks as I expand on each of these and other paths. Whoever said the OS wars were over anyway? 

Nero 7 – Can I trust you?

Posted on February 23rd, 2007 in Windows | 1 Comment »

Considering the Nero Burning ROM logo is an image of the Coliseum in flames; maybe it has been naive to ever put so much stock in this application. Having said that, Nero’s CD/DVD burners have been the gold standard in burning software for several years now.

 

 Nero 7 Wizard

 

All that, however, was called into question lately as I worked through technical issues setting up Nero 7. If you are like any of the many Nero users I have spoke with, the answer is always the same – “everything was running great on my system with Nero 6, but then I loaded the new Nero 7 and everything went to hell in a hand basket!”

 

So what has changed in this new version of the venerable, rock solid package. To start with Nero 7 makes me wonder if I purchased a CD/DVD burner or a full featured Video/Audio editor, player suite? Ahead (the makers of Nero) have gone crazy with adding a true “SuperSized Suite” of multimedia functionality. I for one am not convinced that all this integration is a positive thing, as it adds considerable complexity to a formerly simplistic package. I just need to burn a disc!

 

But all the new functionality aside, most users complaints have centered around how invasive the new install of Nero 7 is, and that its subsequent uninstall is next to impossible. Such an uninstall became necessary due to system instabilities encountered in early releases of 7.X. And the uninstall is ugly! We’re talking hand cleaning the registry.

 

Things looking Up? Version 7.7.5.1 to the Rescue!

 

So having successfully rid myself of Nero 7 a few months back, I re-installed my limited OEM copy of version 6 and all was good again. But with practically everything not working right under Vista, and some rave reviews about the Nero 7 Ultra capabilities I figured it was time to give it a try once more.

 

After doing some research it appeared that the most current version (7.7.5.1 as of this writing) was supposedly Vista compatible, so I grabbed the updated version and started the install.

 

Installation and operation of Version 7.7.5.1 has been smooth on both my Vista and XP test systems, without the incompatibilities I had witnessed in previous builds of Nero 7. Burning ISO and previous version NRG files has worked without a hitch.

 

I am anxious to test Nero’s support for BIN and CUE formats, as these previously required the use of Alcohol 120, and it would be nice use Nero on my Vista machines (Alcohol has been a bit flaky on Vista, looks like they still need to do some compatibility work.)

 

All and all Nero 7.7.5.1 appears to have turned the corner on instability issues and with good Vista compatibility I’m changing my opinion of this Uber feature laden burner. It’s nice to have a happy ending in the world of upgrades.