Thursday, August 24, 2006

Computer lockup solved!

For the past few days I've been experiencing random reboots and freezes on my daily development machine.  I'm pretty busy so I ignored it initially but lately it had started happening much too frequently so I had to do something about it.

I spent a fair bit of time checking sensors and monitoring the temperature on the box thinking it was a heat issue.  It wasn't until I picked up a third hard drive and tried to install it that I realized what was going on.  After installing the drive the computer would not start.  It would shut down as soon as it started.  Power.  Power supply was toast.

So a trip to Best Buy this morning turned up nothing by Dynex junk so a slightly longer trip to CompUSA yielded an Antec TruPower 2.0 500W unit.  Nice if somewhat older unit.  Sleeved cables, modular plugs, and being an Antec very quiet and solid power.  System back up and running perfectly.

BTW, I started to install Windows Server 2003 on my new hard drive (I intend to use it as my primary OS disk) but ran into the issue of Win2003 not supporting SATA disks and requiring you to use a floppy for the drivers.  Are you kidding me?  This was an R2 ISO and it still requires a floppy.  I haven't used a floppy since...  well, I can't remember.  That is ridiculous.  So, I just whacked on an install of Vista 5472!  Yeah, I know.  I'll probably be scrounging for a floppy drive here in a few days.  In any case, the weird thing is that Vista 5472 seems better now.  Hmmm.  Glass is working, window effects are working, almost everything feels better, snappier.  All I changed was the power supply.   Strange...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Do apples really taste better?

My first computer was almost a Macintosh.  Almost.  The year was 1988 (or was it 1989?) and I was in the market for my first personal computer.  I remember standing in the computer store and watching a Mac II run some flavor of Mathematica and trying to figure out how I was going to pay for it.  Well, I bought a 286 instead and the rest, as they say, is history.

The reason I bring this up is because I've recently been thinking about Apple and Microsoft and what drives their image.  For almost the past two decades and certainly for the past five years of OS X, we have heard that Macintosh computers are simply better.  The UI is more intuitive, the networking is faster, the system is safer.  Better.

And yet Windows still runs the world.  Don't even try to compare this to VHS-Betamax.  Apple has far better marketing than Microsoft.  I mean, really, do you remember the Microsoft dinosaur ad?  Sheesh.  So, if Apple has better hardware, better software, and better marketing, what's the problem?

The problem is choice.  I'm not even going to consider hardware here because I think most people don't really care what their computer looks like and the ones that do will buy Apple.  The choice I am speaking of is software.  Apple does an excellent job with their software but they have to convince you to use the apps that come bundled with the os.  Yes there are third party apps but not many.  It's almost funny to hear people who use OS X talk about the apps they use and they are almost always the built-in ones.  iChat, iPhoto, iDVD, etc.  Ask a set of Windows users what apps they use and every list will be different.

I recently read a blog post that talked about the superiority of the quad-binary approach Apple is taking to the 32-64 bit issue.  Seems truly elegant until you realize that while you wait for a quad-binary version of Photoshop, every Windows user out there can still run a 5 year old version of Photoshop on Vista x64 (ok I have not tried that but I bet you it works).  The fact that my kids can still take a game written a decade ago and insert it into their XP or Vista computer and it "just works" truly gives me choice.  The fact that Microsoft so effectively cultivated the developer community so many years ago has given me choice.  Want a RSS reader?  You have about 50 to choose from.  Email client?  Hundreds available.  Web browser?  Tons.  Sure, some of them aren't great but they each have their own quirks that endear them to their users.

I have more to say on the technology side of this discussion but I'll save that for a future post.

Henry Ford once said you can have any color you like as long as it's black.  Well, the cars in my driveway are blue and gold.  Apple makes sleek hardware and nice looking software and as long as they can continue to convince users that their apps are best, they will continue to dominate their 2% slice of the world.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

ADO.Net vNext CTP bits are out

If you want to play with the next generation of ADO.NET, now's your chance.  The ADO.Net team has released the August CTP for download.

The bits are young and fresh but they give you an idea of where Microsoft is heading.  I can't commit to a timeframe, but we are working on the next generation of our .NET provider which will be compatible with vNext.

Note: The May LINQ CTP is a pre-requisite.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Live Mail Desktop beta is crap

Microsoft is a puzzle.  As good as Live Writer is, Live Mail Desktop is just the opposite.  It's terrible.  I had high hopes that this was going to be the Outlook Express replacement we have all been seeking for a decade now.  Maybe they still plan for it to be, but if that's the case they better snag some of the guys from the Live Writer team.

Want some evidence of its crapacity?  I pointed it at my work IMAP account (which Thunderbird handles without breaking a sweat) and, after 10 minutes of watching it wiggle and sizzle, killed it.  It had managed to consume 130 megs of RAM on its way to downloading about 10% of my email.  Truly groundbreaking work.

I was never able to find a way to close the right hand pane which appears to either show a search dialog or advertisement.  Like I really need more of that!  Besides its inability to do anything useful, it appears to not even be original.  Once you start opening option dialogs, they look very similar to you know what.  Yup, you guessed it.  Our old friend Outlook Express.

Microsoft needs to have a unified visual style for their apps and they need to put some serious effort in creating a quality mail client for the non-Outlook users.  Either get serious about Desktop Mail or can it and make Windows Mail what it can be.  One or the other, but not both.

Monday, August 14, 2006

And they wonder why we have little faith?

So, attempting to use Vista 5472 for daily work has been interesting to say the least.  One example was my attempt to install the latest drop of  Sounds simple enough.  Even Vista should be able to handle that.  Hmmm....

After downloading I proceeded to use the Extract All... option to unzip the downloaded file.  Except the binary installer inside the zip always unzipped to about 1 meg in size and would just report "Program too big to fit in memory" when you try and run it.   After repeating the above steps a few times, I googled and installed a free tool named FreeZip.  Freezip integrated into the Explorer and unzipped my download perfectly the first time.

Now I understand that writing unzip utilities is very difficult and requires tremendous resources but one would think that if anyone had the resources to get it done, it would be Microsoft. 

That's sarcasm for those of you who like fruit on your boxen.

Are they really this dumb?

I just got back from spending two weeks attending a couple different Microsoft developer events.  It's easy to come away from events like these very excited about what products are coming and what technologies we'll get to work on.  It's equally easy to come away confused on how so many smart people can be so totally clueless.

I could write volumes on this subject but an example my wife showed me last night shall suffice.  We recently moved one of our other computers upstairs for the kids so she was removing Age of Empires III from her laptop.  The uninstall dialog was classic.  The title bar said "Setup" (a word directly related to installing a product).  The first line said "Uninstalling Age of Empires III".  The second and last line said something like "Setup is preparing the installation".  So is it installing or uninstalling?  Yes I know that AoE III came from a different developer but it's a Microsoft game.

I've got about 10 blog posts swirling in my head on this topic right now so you'll hear more in the coming days and weeks. 

BTW, this post was my first with Live Writer.  So far it looks pretty nice.  It's a Microsoft product though so when I hit the publish button I'm expecting it to tell me that it can't save the post because the title ends in a question mark.  :)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Paul get's it right.. and wrong

By now most of you have read
Paul Thurrott's treatment
of Job's keynote at WWDC.  As usual, Paul makes excellent points and
treats his subject matter with respect and fairness.  His main point is
that Apple copies features just like Microsoft does and he’s right about
that.  He also points out that continuing to wonder what Microsoft was
doing (I admit that I’ve done that) during the 5 years of Vista wasteland
is silly and perhaps even ignorant.  Of course Microsoft has been quite
busy during those years shipping other versions of Windows.  I mean, come
on, do we really think that if Microsoft was only focused on a single
client-focused version of Windows that they could not have shipped it
sooner.  Right on, Paul.

But, Paul misses the point as
well.  Well, to be honest, I’m not sure missed it as much as he didn’t
make the point.   The main thing that Apple is doing much better than
Microsoft right now is driving innovation in an iterative way.  Being a
software developer for the last 15 years, it’s obvious to me that
disappearing from my customer base for years and building something that I
think my users will like is extremely risky.  You see, customers and users
have a peculiar way of being.. well… peculiar.

How many releases of OS X have
been made in the past 5 years?  Five?  Paul makes the comment that
none of these releases were “major”.  That’s probably
true but there seemed to be several changes in each release that was not “trivial”. 
And the upside to a greater number of releases is that you get to hear what
users are saying as you go.  They may hate a certain new tool that was introduced. 
Better to know now than after a team spends another two years on that

Is there anyone out there that
really believes that Microsoft could not have delivered minor releases of XP
(not CTPs) that included updates to the tools and the kernel?  Paul makes
the comment that Outlook Express has existed for over a decade.  True. 
It is also true that it has sucked for over a decade.  Why not release
truly useful updates to Outlook Express in an XP interim release?  Why not
ship the DVD maker tool we are seeing in Vista in an XP interim release? 
Why can’t the new Windows calendar app be included in an interim release?

The point is that the main
features of Vista could have been released in multiple, smaller releases during
the past 5 years.  Sure, there are major kernel changes that take a lot longer
to incubate and those lead to major releases.  There has to be some reason
to bump the major version number.

Ballmer has promised that we
would never again have to wait so long for a Windows update.  That’s
good but I believe that unless Microsoft adopts the agile way of developing
software throughout the organization and moves to smaller OS releases that can
be released more quickly and with more predictability, Apple’s OS X will
continue to be the envy of the Windows world.


Tuesday, August 8, 2006

This takes me back

Like so many others, I cut my programming teeth on Turbo Pascal 3.0 and
above.  It's very exciting to hear about the return of the Turbo
products.  The adventures of TurboMan video was
somewhat entertaining.  Go Borland!  Competition is great.

Lap around Microsoft Research

They've been there for a while but I had a few moments a couple of days
ago and installed some of the toys found at Specifically, I
tried out the virtual desktop power toy, the timezone toy, and Scalable
Fabric. Of the three, the time zone tool is the only one still
running. That's because I work with people all over the world and so
it's handy to have quick access to their current time.

The virtual desktop power toy sort of worked. I got 4 different
desktops but I couldn't drag between them so it felt very awkward.
Scalable Fabric is a very cool idea although the implementation felt
half done. It certainly felt research quality, which is all it was
advertised to be. I guess my beef is why don't we see more of this
materialize in the final Windows product? We use XP for years and then
wait more years for Vista and we still don't have any cool built-in
virtual desktop manager? We still can't do any better than the age-old
folder metaphor?

Apple is making hay these days about Time Machine. While Windows has
had this core feature for a few years now, Microsoft needs to understand
that in a consumer level OS it has a lot to do with presentation. I
have no doubt that Time Machine is not technically better than Previous
Versions, however it sure looks cooler. Message to Microsoft: we like
that you spend billions on research. Just move some of the more visible
projects into the final product.

MySql Connector/Net 5.0.0 Alpha 1 has been released!

Yes, that's right. You can start looking for airborne swine! We have released the first drop of Connector/Net 5.0! While there were reasons why this release took so long to get out, I'll take a page from Ballmer's book and commit to you that it won't happen again. In any case, this release has lots of goodies baked in.

  • ADO.Net 2.0 support
  • Usage Advisor
  • PerfMon hooks
  • Completely virtualized execution pipeline (this will support use
    of the client library and embedded server later)
  • Faster execution
  • Type safe methods on MySqlDataReader completely avoid value boxing
  • Procedure metadata caching
  • New option for not resetting the connection on pool checkout
  • And much more!

There are a few things broken or missing in this first code drop. Here is the current list.

  • Connecting via shared memory or using compression
  • Load data local in file is not working
  • Use of System.Transactions
  • Foreign key support in GetSchema

We encourage all Mono or .NET developers to try out this new release and give us feedback. It can be found at and mirror sites (note that not all mirror sites may be up to date at this point of time - if you can't find this version on some mirror, please try again later or choose another download site.)

Monday, August 7, 2006

Newsflash! I'm an administrator

Ok so I finally got tired of hitting the remind me later button when asked
if I wanted to download the Windows desktop search update when starting
Outlook. I valiantly tried this on my x64 desktop only to discover that
there isn't a 64 bit build available. No problem, my laptop is XP SP2 so
this should be a breeze.

Near the end of the install, this message pops up. Access denied. Huh? It
had asked me if I wanted it to close Outlook automatically (I said yes) so I
figured that Outlook had disobeyed (it had). I forcefully closed Outlook
and tried again. Bzzt. Access denied. Hmm. Ok, must be some files in
use. Reboot. Bzzzt. Access denied.

After some googling, running Regmon, and trying unsuccessfully to turn on
verbose logging (which I now remember is STILL on), I got it installed. The
problem? Some of the registry keys under HKCR did not allow administrators
to read or write them. You read that right. The most powerful entity in
the universe (on this computer) can't read or write those keys. So my
question is "who the hell is supposed to write them if users and
administrators can't?"

Newsflash Microsoft! Administrator means I can do ANYTHING I want on my
computer. A small warning might be in order but I should not be disallowed.
Now we can argue about whether running as admin is smart but the fact
remains that as long as I am running as administrator, I should not EVER
have security issues with what I am doing.

Ok, I'm calm now. Sanity can resume....

Wow Outlook sucks as an IMAP client

Yes we've all known this for some time but it just boiled over for me
this morning. I'm here at building 20 on the Microsoft campus getting
read to begin the August VSIP dev lab and I had about 50 emails that I
needed to process. This should be an easy procedure. Delete a few,
read most, reply to some, etc. There's but one problem. We are not
using Exchange so Outlook can't manage to behave. It sometimes just
"goes away" when you click on a folder. Oh it usually returns about 10
minutes later but how frustrating is that?

For some time now I've had this working system where when I've had a lot
of email to process I shut down Outlook and fire up Thunderbird. I
can't really stand staying with Thunderbird because I enjoy having my
calendar and to do items on my smart phone too much but it's really
frustrating knowing that Microsoft could write a good IMAP client if
they wanted to. I'd almost respect them more if they would just come
out say that they are intentionally going to build a crappy IMAP
client. Then at least you could say they suck honestly.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Pure desire?

I just read the press release
on Microsoft’s new “Vista Industrial Design Toolkit” and
really want to applaud Microsoft for this.  It’s really shameful
that with as many great hardware companies as there are building computers,
that Apple still kicks the crap out of all of them.  Are all the artistic
people working at Apple?  Yes, I know that the biggest problem is the
unwillingness to spend the R&D money it takes to build a truly innovative
case, however, Apple has shown that people are willing to pay for that. 
With this move, Microsoft is taking a stand that computers can and should start
being cool.  Still, when my computer starts being an “object of pure
desire” it’s time to step away….