Sunday, December 24, 2006

SharePoint Services

The newest version of SharePoint is now available for download, so I thought I would experiment using my trial copy of Windows Server 2003 to explore this newest addition. Unfortunately, my "beast" PC is only 400 MHz and thus could not install SQL Server 2005 Express, which is a prereq for SharePoint 2007.

Attempting to install Sp 2007 was a total nightmare. I am accustomed to Visual Studio installs, where the installer will verify prereqs & direct you to the appropriate spot to get the required bits. The SP 2007 installer did not work this way. Half-way thru, it told me that .NET 3.0 was required, so I went searching for it (it was labeled '.NET 3.0 redistributable') and after that was done, I then needed IIS 6.0 which Server 2003 does not install by default (safety measure). I made life much more difficult for myself by installing the FrontPage server extensions (FPSE) but they are not compatible with SharePoint - and then I nuked the SP admin site so I had to un-install IIS, then reinstall without FPSE and then I could resume SP 2007. Or so I thought.

SharePoint uses SQL Server to hold its data and settings - version 2.0 uses the MSDE engine (SQL Server 2000 database engine) but the 2007 version requires SQL Server 2005 Express which by itself requires 800 MHz and 512 MB memory. The beast is only 400 MHz and 384 RAM; that's why SP 2007 wouldn't work. Ditto for Office 2007 hooks to SharePoint.

Once I finally got SharePoint Services 2.0 installed & working, it is really a great environment to use for collaborative work groups. Documents can be uploaded, then checked out & back in, and changes can be smartly merged in, depending on the document. There are lots of other features to distribute newsletters and other general information.

The SharePoint Team Site can be accessed from http://{SERVER_NAME}/
and the opening URL is http://{SERVER_NAME}/default.aspx

I noted that Access mdb files are not allowed for upload; as expected, Help was not very helpful. I eventually found that there is a different URL for central administration, and once I learned that, it was simple to find the list of blocked extensions & remove the MDB file type. Other blocked extensions include ASP, COM, EXE, PIF, VB etc. so I left those blocked.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Office Live Basic

Microsoft has a new offering, under the banner of Office Live. There are three levels of Live; I signed up for Basic which is totally free, including the domain name registration.

I already have a web site which has been online since 1996, but I wanted to establish more of a corporate presence on the web; my personal site has oodles of technical articles for developers; the new site is targeted more at business.

The new site is

The Microsoft-supplied web design tools are a bit limited, but that's a good thing - many smaller businesses can get seen on the web quickly using the minimal toolset.

You begin by signing up for the service, using your existing Windows Live ID (aka .NET Passport) and then decide on a web address if you haven't already done so. Choose the overall layout, color schemes etc. from a set of pre-defined templates. Those templates force certain layouts that you can't easily modify; but for newbie web designers that's a safety measure.

The real deal in Office Live webs is there's a large set of reports that summarize not only page hits, but also the visitor's browser, OS, and even their screen resolution & color depth. Very slick.

Please visit and let me know what you think!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Puppy Linux

I downloaded Puppy Linux 2.12 and burned the iso file to a CD. This happens to be another one of those "live CD" distros so I was able to check it out on the Sony notebook before committing it to the hard drive.

Turns out that Puppy has a comic-book interface IMNSHO which rivals Windows XP's "bliss" (the default desktop which reminds me of the tele-tubbies from PBS) for the most toy-like interface. Not to mention that the Web browser doesn't understand frames or javascript shame on you) and even logging in to Yahoo mail was an ordeal - Yahoo smartly downgrades the html but it still looks awful. Cute only gets you so far.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Changing of the OS's

This weekend I decided not to "work" in favor of working on my infrastructure. To be more specific, I needed to learn more about Windows Server 2003 and SharePoint Server 2007, and I also wanted to explore a Linux variant named "Puppy Linux" which is a mere 85 Megs. (Before you call a foul, note that Windows Server 2003 R2 is a 580 + 123 Meg giant.)

I deleted the Ubuntu Linux from the CTX "beast" PC, removed the partitions & reformatted for NTFS. The first time I had Server 2003 running on that machine, I used a CD from one of the Microsoft events I had attended. This time I downloaded it & burned CD's. Funny thing, the install did not complete successfully the first two (2) times I installed. The first install, it got stuck partway through, complaining about a corrupted file. The second time it acted like it finished, but it skipped the part where you supply the machine name, workgroup / domain name, and administrator password. (Didn't realize that one until it booted & asked for the administrator password which did not exist.) Makes me wonder if CD-R's "go bad" after some time, or maybe the older ones don't have the same shelf life. Dunno.

In any event, I installed Server 2003 and when I booted for the first time it suggested that I visit Windows Update. Which then suggested that I visit Microsoft Update. Which then told me that I needed forty-nine (49) updates to the OS that I had downloaded the day before.

OK. While that one percolates, I'll fire up the other Ubuntu machine, a Sony Vaio notebook - which we'll be trying with Puppy Linux later today. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

User Account Control in Vista

Windows Vista introduces a new concept that should eliminate the need for users to be set up as local admins to install and run software, or modify settings.

Very similar to the setup in Ubuntu Linux, a user who is not a local admin will need to supply the administrative password to continue certain changes. (In Ubuntu, the parallel to Administrator is the root account, which by default is disabled.)

Users who are local admins will be prompted for confirmation, which still provides a layer of protection against rogue software.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Visual Studio 2005 Team Data

This week, I attended an msdn event that covered a new product currently in CTP, Visual Studio 2005 Team Edition for Database Professionals.

All I can say is wow.

This new product allows you to place the database schema under source control, and apply versioning just as you would with executables.

The presenter Rob Bagby began with a statement relating to the "truth" of your database schema. Today, typically to get the "true" schema you would go to production. But what about upcoming programming changes that require schema changes?

Team Data allows you to maintain versions of the schema and generate ALTER statements as required to migrate schema changes between db's. Very slick. Used to need a third-party product (or write your own with DMO or SMO) to perform those sorts of analyses.

Another cool feature is that it can generate pseudorandom data, based on the data types and your expectations of relative row counts (e.g. "expect five orders per customer") or even use database tables to feed some of the sample data. And what's really special is that the "random" data is deterministic - you specify the seed value, and Team Data will generate the same pseudorandom data every time - so you can repeat complex data transactions using the same generated data for efficient testing.

At the event, MS also passed out a CTP of Team Data, Windows Workflow for long-running transactions, the new Expression Web Designer that replaces FrontPage on the low side, and "of course" a copy of Windows Vista CTP.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Vendor Certifications

I firmly believe in the importance of vendor certifications. I started working with Access 2.0 in 1995, and by 1998,with the introduction of Access 95 followed by Access 97, there seemed to be an awful lot of people doing similar work in Access, and I felt that I needed a "unique selling point" as it were, so I took my first exam on Microsoft Access, which earned me the MCP, Microsoft Certified Professional.

Over the next few years, I took two required exams on Visual Basic, and one more exam that covered "Solution Architectures". That earned me the MCSD, Microsoft Certified Solution Developer. At the time, that was the highest Developer certification that MS offered. At last count, out of approx two million MS certified individuals world-wide, only 45,000 are MCSD's, making it quite a prestigious and exclusive achievement

I also studied for the SQL Server 7.0 exam, but unfortunately the exam was retired before I got a chance to take it. However, the 7.0 study guide (Exam Cram) remains an excellent reference book & I keep it on my desk at work.

I had planned to upgrade my cert to MCSD.NET, even bought the study kit, and passed the first exam ("Solution Architectures on the .NET Platform"). However, the remaining four books/exams were hard to deal with, because the "one size fits all" notion included both of the two programming languages in .NET -plus- coverage on both Windows and Web-based applications. Not to mention that the new MCSD.NET cert also required still one more elective exam. Sheesh!

In the meantime, MS has revamped much of their certifications and added several more -- MCTS, Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist, and MCITP Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional. I am presently studying for the MCTS exam "SQL Server 2005 Implementation and Maintenance."

Once that is complete, with the requisite MCTS, I will pursue the MCITP certification which requires two additional exams on Server 2005.

The bottom line is that I possess:

MCP – Microsoft Certified Professional
MCSD – Microsoft Certified Solution Developer

Pending – MCTS = Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist
Future – MCITP = Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Black Box

When I was in electronics school in the 1970's, we often spoke of a "black box": You would define the required outputs for all possible combinations of inputs. It didn't matter how the black box worked on the inside; only that it met the required spec. The engineer would develop a product using some number of various black boxes, promoting reuse and allowing focus on the results rather than the internal workings of the black box.

Good software is constructed in much the same manner. The designer breaks down an application into functional units. In the software world, the black box might take the form of a module, class, .NET assembly, or even a Web service. The common thread is that each unit is developed and tested separately, employing design practices that properly handle not only the expected, but also intelligently recover from inappropriate inputs. Those self-contained units can then be assembled into an application.

Another advantage of this approach is that these black boxes can be updated without adversely impacting the overall design.

A great example of this design methodology is the automobile. An automotive designer takes pre-designed, pre-tested objects such as the motor, transmission, radio, tires, and in many cases a standard chassis and body panels, and assembles those units into a complete product. Upgrading the motor, transmission or radio is simply the choice of the consumer, rather than re-designing the product on a one-off basis.

In summary, good software is constructed in a modular fashion, where each function is clearly defined, designed and tested to meet or exceed the black-box specification. These pre-built units are then assembled to create the application.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Remote Control

Windows XP's Remote Desktop feature introduces a new world of connectivity (even with its shortcomings). The first time I connected via VPN to a customer server, I knew that this was truly the future.

My primary home office workspace has a HP desktop with a 19" CRT, alongside a ThinkPad notebook. I will RDP from the HP to the ThinkPad where I keep my latest files, using the HP's huge disk for backups and archiving customer files. That way, I have the full-size keyboard, networked printers, and big monitor when I'm "in" but when I run out, the notebook has all the up-to-date bits.

Remote administration in the Linux world is commonplace; on the home network I'm using VNC Viewer from to connect from my Windows machines to my Linux machines.

Speaking of shortcomings, XP's Remote Desktop does not allow the local user to view what's going on; the VNC Viewer can be config'd so that both parties can interact simultaneously. Secondly, Windows 2000 is left out (you can install a client to connect to XP, but not vice-versa) but the solution there is another open-source program, Real VNC which runs in the system tray as a service and consumes around 7,500 K per Task Manager.

Lastly, the Real VNC + VNC Viewer combination does not flip the Num Lock key "on" like Remote Desktop does on my ThinkPad (pet peeve).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Windows Server Core

There is a new development on the horizon coming from the Windows Longhorn Server project, it is called Windows Server Core. Quoting from the Redmond Magazine article:

"Server Core can only act as a file server, domain controller, DNS server or DHCP server. As such, it's far from being a full-fledged Windows operating system (although Microsoft is considering other roles for future versions). Besides these four core roles, Server Core also supports Cluster Server, Network Load Balancing, the Unix subsystem, the new Windows Backup in Longhorn, Multipath I/O, Removable Storage Management, BitLocker drive encryption and SNMP. Server Core also supports Remote Desktop administration, although you'll only get a command-line window when you connect.

"That's about it. There's no Internet Explorer, no Outlook Express, Calculator or Windows Paint, no Wordpad, Windows Messenger or Media Player -- just the basics. Microsoft did add Windows Notepad to Server Core at the request of several sneak-preview customers, but even that's a stripped down version. You can't, for example, use the "Save As" function, because Server Core doesn't have dialog boxes for functions like Open and Save As.

"There's also no Microsoft .NET Framework. This means you can't run any managed code on Server Core. Mason says his development team wants to add the .NET Framework to Server Core, but they first need the Framework team to modularize the code so they can add just the essentials. The Framework's absence in Server Core is significant. For example, you can't run Windows PowerShell, Microsoft's vaunted new management shell, on Server Core. "

This to me sounds like an excellent idea, one that flies in the face of the current drive towards GUI everything, transparent windows, automatic previews and such.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Portable Apps

There are many exciting things going on in the open-source world. One of the most ambitious is the Portable Apps Suite which includes "...web browser, email client, web editor, office suite, word processor, calendar/scheduler, instant messaging client and FTP client, all preconfigured to work portably and be easy to back up. Just drop it on your portable device and you're ready to go."

In fact, I am writing this blog entry using portable Firefox, which behaves much like the non-portable variety.

All of the portable apps have a common thread - nothing is installed on your hard drive, which makes for a much cleaner system. Unzipping and running the suite from a 512 Meg USB thumb drive, about 1/2 of the space is used by the suite. Actually, the unzipping took almost an hour from a Pentium 4 at 2.8 GHz with 1 GB of RAM, to a USB 2.0 thumb drive.

So far, I've only become familiar with AbiWord (first encountered in Ubuntu Linux) and of course Firefox.

As it turns out, what I'm using is the Beta 1 release, which is being superseded by Portable Apps Suite 1.0 due "next week". Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Changing hostname - Ubuntu Linux

Continuing my noob-ness with Ubuntu, so far I have a Sony P-III laptop and a CTX K6/2 desktop running Ubuntu 6.06 on the home office network.

Connecting to my router revealed that both machines had their DHCP IP addresses, but the "client hostname" was blank. I found out that in some systems, the hostname is assigned by the DHCP server, but not in my case. So "somewhere" there was a configuration file that needed tweaking. The file itself is:


...but you need administrator permission to edit the file (the root account is disabled in Ubuntu) so you have to open a Terminal window and use this:

sudo gedit /etc/dhcp3/dhclient.conf

...and then supply the administrative password when prompted.

The .conf file is full of sample commands, mostly commented-out with a # pound sign. So all I had to do is find the sample line:

#send host-name ""

...and change it to this for the Sony VAIO:

send host-name "vaio"

...and after saving the file, and a reboot (to refresh the DHCP), the hostname appeared in the DHCP client table on the router. Hurray!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Thunderbird Rocks!

I needed to set up email capability for the customer's POS station, but alas we did not have an extra MS-Office license to install Outlook. Hmmm.

Since Outlook Express is free that was the first consideration; as it turned out OE could send but not receive emails from Exchange - which in this case was just fine with the customer.

However, we quickly found that you can't press Print Screen and then paste the contents of the clipboard into an OE message; you'd have to save the image as a file and then attach it.

Once again, open source to the rescue. I downloaded & installed the Mozilla Thunderbird email client, which can communicate with both Exchange and the Print Screen button.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The World of Oracle

If you've been following this blog, you know that I had previously tested the Oracle developer edition product. I had only given it a cursory examination, since running it on a PC-class computer (not a server) was using a huge amount of resources (that I wasn't willing to part with for some basic familiarity testing).

Still wanting to keep my options open, I recently subscribed to Oracle Magazine. The first issue brought me a fresh viewpoint - the Oracle paradigm is more focused on results and business processes, as opposed to the MS obsession with "you can do this, and you can do this..." technical nitty-gritty.

The emphasis on security in the world of Oracle is also dramatically different from the SQL Server approach. These developers are definitely serious about keeping data safe and intact. Nowadays you can't be too careful.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Internet Explorer 6 Window Title

The title of the IE window, by default, looks something like this:

Google - Microsoft Internet Explorer

MS KB article 176497 describes how to change the window title by adding an entry to the registry. For example, you can create the following .reg file and right-click to add to the registry:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main]

"Window Title"="wvmitchell"

Caution - editing the registry can result in a non-working system!

The result will be that the new window title will look like this:

Google - wvmitchell

. . .note that there is a minor error in the KB article - it states that the new title will be:

Page title - Microsoft Internet Explorer provided by Custom title

Friday, August 25, 2006

No means No

What's wrong with this picture?

"You have been unsubscribed from our newsletters and you will receive confirmation by email soon."

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Never-Ending Update

This weekend (which spilled over to Monday) I continued to extend the usefulness of my "personal" PC. As reported previously, loading Windows 2000 in a dual-boot configuration gave this machine a new lease on life. . .

Wanting to install my copy of Visual Studio .NET 2002 Professional, I needed additional hard drive space so I shopped online & purchased a Western Digital 80 GB EIDE drive from Circuit City for $65 including tax. That was the smallest desktop drive I found in-stock. Unfortunately my BIOS did not recognize the drive (exceeding the so-called 32 GB boundary), so I rummaged thru my shelf-ware and found an 8 GB Maxtor drive that I had removed from "the beast" PC and installed it as the master on the secondary IDE channel (with CD as slave) and that became my E: drive. So far so good.

I should point out that this machine already had the .NET Framework 1.1 installed, which I needed to run the vncviewer utility for remote access to my Linux machine; but the VS component installer gave me a fresh copy of Framework 1.0 thank you very much.

Installed VS .NET - which apparently un-did something in the machine, so Windows Update said hey - you need the Windows 2000 SP4 rollup and an MDAC update. Fine.

Rebooting after that update, Windows Update said hey - you need VS .NET Service Pack 1. OK, fine. But guess what - Windows Update said hey - you need the Windows 2000 SP4 rollup and an MDAC update (am I repeating myself?).

Instead of using MSDE, I wanted to install SQL Server 2000 Developer Edition and after I did - Windows Update said hey - you need the Windows 2000 SP4 rollup and an MDAC update (yes, I am repeating myself).

Knowing the importance of SQL Server 2000 SP3, I loaded that from CD and then - you guessed it - Windows Update said hey - you need the Windows 2000 SP4 rollup and an MDAC update.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dumb Web Sites

HTML was originally supposed to be a universal language (just like XML, but don't get me started). But now that there are so many platform-specific extensions, quite a few Web sites just plain don't work (or furnish bad advice).

This morning I'm using Firefox running under Ubuntu Linux 6.06, and my attempt to view some videos at KPNX-TV's site ended abruptly when it told me that I don't have either Real Player or Windows Media Player installed, and it offered links so I could "change my preference" and install one or the other. Not a good idea ;-) . . . I have a perfectly fine video player in Totem, but that wasn't an option.

The CBS-TV site requires Flash to be installed, not a big deal really; but what about the zillions of people around the world that are still on dial-up? A few local homebuilders have sites that open with Flash, but do not offer a non-flash alternative. What's wrong with this picture?

Companies can get caught up in the latest and greatest technology, but then unknowingly limit their viewership with dumb choices. Maybe it is only the non-technology companies who make these kinds of mistakes - take note of Microsoft's sites, for example - the much-ballyhooed .NET platform works on just about any system. Isn't that something.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Office 2007: Get Serious

There has been a lot of hype describing the upcoming MS-Office 2007 as a "serious development platform" and it gets pretty tiring after a while. A quick visit to the Office 2007 pages yields numerous articles about how great the new system will be.

Quoting from the MSDN Windows Vista and Microsoft Office Beta Experience Newsletter No.5,

"Office has evolved from a traditional suite of client-side applications to a framework of applications, server-side solutions, and technologies that allow you to design and build applications."

. . . is that what users really want? I think not.

Even developer-centric publications like Redmond Magazine and MCP Magazine have recently published comments from readers that many shops are still on pre-2003 versions of Office, and a few of the "dinosaurs" are still on Office 97.

When the time comes, I will of course get into lockstep with the Microsoft Office machine, since developing and supporting Microsoft applications is my core business.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Ubuntu Linux 6.06

Continuing my explorations of Ubuntu Linux, so far the look and feel is very comfortable using the GNOME desktop; much more so than Suse 9.2 which used KDE. Furthermore, it just feels like a smaller OS - running on the old AMD K6/2 at 400 MHz with 384 Meg RAM and 30 G HD - less cluttered, more responsive.

Let us not forget that, open-source or not, Linux is still a big OS, no doubt about it - but it seems that the difference between Linux and Windows is that Linux will actually run with slower CPU and smaller memory, unlike Windows which can wind up in a forever swap-to-disk loop. But I digress. . .

Setting up the connections to shared Windows printers on the network took almost no effort, simply reading & clicking the menus. Suse made me deal with Samba to hook to a printer.

Next - remote control of Linux from Windows. A quick Google search revealed plenty of options, and I selected the .NET VNC Viewer which is basically one EXE that you don't have to install, just run it as-is. It has options to save the connect info as a .vncxml file, so I just set Windows to "Open With" the vncviewer and set the icon to be the same as the normal Windows Remote Desktop (I found the icon in C:\WINDOWS\system32\mstsc.exe).

The vncviewer requires the .NET Framework 1.1 to be installed, so it worked right away on Win XP Pro SP2 but for Win 2000 SP4, I installed the Framework by visiting Windows Update and selecting from the "optional" updates. And what do you know, it works the same.

In the future, I still want to 1) be able to run a DOS program and 2) be able to serve files to my Windows PC's. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Patch Wednesday

My trial version of Windows 2003 Server is coming to its end. How do I know? because every time I power it up and log on, Windows tells me that I have xx days remaining, please "upgrade to the retail product". Even though I also installed the trial version of R2 which supposedly expires in December. Oh well. Easy come, easy go...

I attempted to re-load Windows 98, which is what my test machine came with. I lost the 25-character key, but a quick visit to the 'Net revealed dozens of keys, the first of which worked. Amazingly insecure security. But Windows did not recognize lots of stuff, most importantly the NIC which is an ordinary Linksys PCI card, and kept asking for this VXD and that DLL, so I pulled the plug.

Since this disk was formatted by Win98 to FAT32, I ran my GPartEd partition editor to erase the disk in preparation for Linux.

Once again, enter Linux; this time Ubuntu Linux 5.04 which I had downloaded & burned to a CD. This was a "live CD" which means you can boot from it to try it out, then install to the hard disk if you so desire. ("oo-bun'-too")

I decided to hit and get a copy of the latest file, the current one was version 6.06 and came out within the past week. After burning the 700 Meg ISO image to a CD, I launched and then installed Ubuntu 6.06 to the hard drive.

When the install was finished, I rebooted and a little message said that there were updates available - surprising since my download was date-stamped Aug 5 and this was only the 9th. Turns out there were 161 (one hundred sixty-one) updates available. Wow. Even MS doesn't turn out that many updates (at least, not all at once).

My bottom-line objective here is to set up a file server using Linux. The Windows Server 2003 was nice to have as a central file storage vehicle, but hard to justify the cost. OTOH the cost of Linux is the download & install time.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Making a case for COM, in 2006

Recently I needed a quick utility to script out a SQL Server 2000 database, for comparison purposes, to evaluate "other developer changes" to the system. Even though I've worked with .NET since it first came out, I could not see any advantage to using unmanaged code in a .NET solution, adding unnecessary complexity; so I fired up VB 6.0 and used the SQL-DMO library, along with the Scripting Runtime.

The utility is only intended for use on PC's that have the SQL client tools installed (which includes the SQL-DMO dll) , and therefore the only deployment was to copy a tiny EXE to the target PC.

On the other hand, when it comes time to write the same utility for SQL Server 2005, I will certainly go the .NET route using the SQL Management Objects. But of course for that, we'll need to verify the .NET framework is installed, proper version etc.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Repartitioning a Windows server

My test machine is running Windows Server 2003 Enterprise R2, and I wanted to repartition the 30 GB hard disk, to create a 10 GB D: drive for SQL Server files, but discovered that my edition of Partition Magic stated that it was not compatible with the server OS and/or NTFS. In either event, I was stuck...

Open source to the rescue! I located the free Linux utility GParted which handles virtually any type of disk partitioning - it handled the job without first needing a defrag, and I dare say it worked faster than Partition Magic does on a Win 2K or XP machine. It comes as a 30 Meg ISO image, so after download you just burn it to a CD and reboot with the disk in place. Simple, yet quite effective. The hallmark of today's open source software.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Dual-Booting Windows

This week I decided to attempt an update for my "personal" PC which was still running Windows 98 because (so I thought) my antique peripherals were not compatible with a more "modern" OS.

Another down side was that my 1998-era PC has only a 6.4 GB hard disk, with 2-1/2 free. So I pulled out my Special Edition Using Windows 2000 Professional and found a section about dual-booting Windows 98 and 2000 from the same disk partition. And how it was not recommended. But it works - !

Interestingly enough, I had forgotten that the PC had originally come with Norton AntiVirus, running in the background, whose subscription virus updates are long-expired but when the Windows 2000 installer tried to write to the boot record - wham! - it popped up a warning that a program was trying to write to the MBR. Coolio.

My intention is to gradually port all of my applications over from the 98 side to the 2000 side.

I could not believe how many reboots were required - during installation & initial config; first to Windows Update to update Update with BITS and Windows Installer 3.1; back to update to Microsoft Update; back for for SP4; back again for twenty-six (26) critical updates; with reboots for NIC driver install, scanner driver, printer driver, yada yada yada.

Surprisingly, the same USB scanner that didn't work with XP, did work with an updated driver that I found online. The Zip 100 USB was recognized right after applying SP4 (go figure).

When I first launched WinZip on the 2000 side, it acted like I had just installed it (asking for config details etc.) but it remembered that it is a registered copy. I am expecting the same behavior from the Office apps - stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Farewell to Adobe

At the same time that PC World magazine has named Adobe the "Software Company of the Year", I have finished removing the company's bloated software from my computers. Instead of the endless online updates and so forth, I've settled into a 2-part solution.

Several years ago, one of my customers wanted to create PDF's from Access but they didn't want to spend $$$ on the licensing for the full Adobe Acrobat, so I researched what was available at the time & selected pdf995 which cost $9.95 per user. This is a very nice product to use, almost transparent; the file size is slightly larger than those created by "real" Acrobat.

Since then, Adobe's free reader has swelled from version 5 to 6 to 7, with the accompanying pains of large update files. Sure, it's free, but how do you value your time?

I recently discovered the Foxit Reader while researching free and open-source resources on the web. It loads really really fast, and compatibility is excellent - whether the PDF was created with Distiller on a Mac, or pdf995 on a PC, the appearance is excellent & printing doesn't take forever. The only downside seems to be that it forgets your toolbar settings from one session to the next; oh well.

Monday, May 22, 2006

My next certification

I started pursuing Microsoft certification back around 1996. I knew a great deal about MS-Access and I wanted to have something to show for it. After spending $$$ on exam review books I finally sat for the Microsoft Access exam in 1998 and aced it within 45 minutes. That year MS decided that completing any exam would earn the MCP, Microsoft Certified Professional credential, and I was on the certification track.

Over the next few years I completed the exams for VB 6 desktop, VB 6 distributed, and the Solution Architectures which then earned the MCSD, Microsoft Certified Solution Developer.

When .NET appeared, I purchased the MCSD for .NET self-study kit and sat for the new version of Solution Architectures, one of the five new exams. So far so good.

My studies were interrupted when I found a tremendous opportunity to work on converting an MS-Access app to a Visual C# project that also used SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services. I picked up the "Learn C# in 24 Hours" book and really got into it. I also purchased every available book on Reporting Services, as I needed to be the de facto expert in that area. That project lasted over two years.

In the meantime, MS marched on with the 2003 and then the 2005 versions of Visual Studio, and broke things wide open with new certification tracks to incorporate the latest technologies. Therein lies the problem - to pursue the MCSD for .NET, which although still a valid cert would not include the latest technology; or one of the new certs like MCTS or MCPD?

My conclusion - follow the data, because at the core of any application, data is data (deep, eh?) So I decided to pursue the new MCTS, Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist, and my first coursework will be for the 70-431 Implementing and Maintaining SQL Server 2005 exam. I recently discovered MS E-Learning as a tremendous tool; I've already completed Course 2939: Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2005, and look forward to the other eight courses that are *free* through November.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

IE7 Beta 2 - strike three, you're out!

IE7 Beta 2 has a handy feature that can be, at times, extremely irritating.

The browser allows opening pages in tabs, very nice; when you close IE7 it will ask you if you want to open those same pages & tabs next time, also very nice BUT if you hide the options (or click 'don't ask any more') and just click Close, then next time you open IE it will only load your same stale home page just like IE6; it forgets what you had set up previously. Grrrr.

It sure would be nice if you could pre-set several tabs with a certain default page being loaded into each one. If browser designers ever actually observed people using IE to perform "work" then they would see how common it is to want to open the same set of pages every time you start your workday -- for example, your corporate web site, intranet page, web mail client, RSS feeds, along with any web-based apps you might use. I understand that MS has a whole department that studies work processes, too bad they don't venture out in the real world.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Beta this, beta that

Everything seems to be pre-release software lately. The Microsoft Anti-Spyware got a new name but it's still not RTM; both Yahoo and Google have their cute little web mail clients, in perpetual beta.

Not as imaginary as vaporware, but still lacking, these betas indicate that nobody seems to be in charge "over there" at these software houses. Maybe you could call it cloudware, as everybody's in a cloud not sure of what to do next.

This is a bad direction to go - release a beta version that almost works all the way, then - just let it sit there, collect feedback from the guinea pigs (sorry, I mean the users). This might be a case of unrequited scope creep - it's supposed to do something, but it doesn't do it yet; instead of somebody speaking up and saying "that feature isn't going to make it in this version" they just let it stay in beta.

Let's take the new Yahoo mail beta. I have a Yahoo Plus account, and do I appreciate the features & benefits. When the new (ajax-powered) beta came out, I tried it & liked it a lot; I'm out in the field quite a bit, so I need a decent web mail client. But one feature in particular, the Move button, gaily proclaims "coming soon!" but guess what - the Move feature worked in the old version.

What's more, as I tried more machines, I found that the new beta requires either Windows 2000/XP or Mac OSX - which means that Win 95/98/Me and Linux users are out in the cold.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Portable Apps - the Next Big Thing

When Microsoft released the original version of Visual Studio .NET it promised (among other things) easy deployment, and the avoidance of "dll hell", since all pertinent files and supporting bits would reside in a single folder structure that would allow "XCOPY deployment" much like the old days of DOS. No more would the installer infest the registry with all sorts of obscure entries (potentially to be overwritten and corrupted by the next installer).

That concept has yet to truly hit the mainstream, but the open source community is well on its way to making it a reality, their own way.

I had my doubts, reading about these "non-installed" apps that were designed to run from a USB thumb drive, from virtually any PC. Guess what - they really work. Browse over to or for a sampling of what's possible.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

IE7 Beta 2 - take two

Continuing my IE7 trials. The tabbed browsing and zoom feature, though different from the way Opera introduced those features (many years ago) are cool ideas that will take a bit of getting used to. I need to spend some time with the Options, but there's lots of 'em to discover.

By the way, this blog can be consumed as an RSS feed -but- you need a reader compatible with the so-called "atom.xml" feed format - guess what - IE7 has it. For that and all the rest, I'm tempted to update my WinXP machines *as soon as* IE7 goes RTM.

If you happen to be using an RSS-compatible browser, try these links:

this section was updated May 7th:
...unfortunately IE 6 does not support it. Turns out that Firefox does support it - when you navigate to this site, you'll see the RSS icon at the right edge of the address bar. Just click on it, and you'll see the "Add Live Bookmark" dialog, click OK to add to the Bookmarks Toolbar. (If it's not visible, look under View ~ Toolbars ~ Bookmarks Toolbar.)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2

IE7 promises an improved browsing experience with tabbed pages, phishing filters, enhanced security and so on, so I thought I would give it a test drive on my eval edition of Win 2003 Server.

First of all, the new interface takes some getting used to. By default, the address bar is now at the very top of the screen, and the toolbar buttons you're used to seeing are jammed at the far right edge.

My browsing experience was less than spectacular. I should point out that my Win 2003 (with SP1) machine has the default enhanced security to begin with. For my first visit to Yahoo! mail, IE7 kept telling me that it was blocking ActiveX or scripting or whatever, but without giving specifics that would allow me to adjust the settings to make it work. As a last resort, I went into the IE Security options and added * to my Trusted Sites which is obviously not a good idea.

The last straw was when I attempted to switch to the Yahoo! mail beta - and it ignored me, imagine that. You can click all you want, but it will not switch over to the new version.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Windows 98 Support Ends

It is now official - Microsoft has ended all support for Win 98, even including paid support. How many Win 98 machines are still in service? At least one that I know of ;-)

In spite of all the derision, I have found Windows 98 to be quite stable and useable. And, behind a router and firewall it is just as secure as any other OS - dependent more on the actions of the user, than the design of the system.

My 98 machine is a Pentium II at 400 MHz with 384 Megs of RAM, serving as my "personal computer" it has a 2nd parallel port and an external USB hub, and accommodates all my antique peripherals such as a flatbed scanner, Zip 100 drive, TV tuner, UPS, serial Palm cradle, 2nd parallel inkjet printer; most of which not WinXP-compatible - but it all still works.

The installed software includes Visual Basic 4 and 6, Access 2.0, Office 97 Pro, Access 2000, Office XP Pro - but it all still works. In fact, the only bad experience (aside from a Nimda infection years ago whilst on dial-up) was trying to upgrade to Internet Explorer 6 which was extremely slow but luckily uninstallable.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Planned Obsolescence

The preliminary specs are out for Office 2007, and it looks like Win 2000 users will be out of luck - you'll need at least Windows XP, or Server 2003, to run the next version of Office.

Of course, this is nothing new - you needed at least Win 95 to run Office 95; Win 98 to run Office XP; Win 2000 to run Office 2003; and so it goes. But where does it stop?

The company mantra is twofold: That the new version is easier to use, and that it is more secure. Which implies that the previous version is difficult to use, and it is not secure. We've heard that about each new version of Windows and/or Office. But where does it stop?

This is not just an issue with Windows and Office - in fact, the Linux world is also possessed by the update / upgrade paradigm.

I believe that we technologists need to alter our "rapid design" philosophy to ensure that the core functionality:

  • works as required
  • meets the user's needs
  • is easy to use correctly
  • provides a secure environment

If these basic needs are not met, then you have no business adding fly-out property sheets, floating toolbars, right-click popup menus, and all the rest.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Waiting for Vista SP1

I am very satisfied with Windows XP, but it didn't start out that way. I had beta tested XP Beta 2 and RC1 on my old "workhorse" PC with much less than breathtaking results. Aside from absolutely dismal performance from a puny 400 MHz CPU, the new interface was too far from what I was used to. The night before XP went live at retail, I purchased Windows 2000 as a hedge against the New Technology.

In the meantime, with a new Pentium 4 PC with XP pre-installed (and all the goofy XP-style stuff turned off) with SP2, I find the OS to be safe and stable, their best effort to date.

Now that XP has hit the mainstream, and SP2 is settled in, I don't see a need to upgrade. After viewing the Vista demo at the MS Small Business Summit, I see many new features that are being touted as improvements but, reading between the lines, these are fixes for inherent defects in XP.

The recent schedule slips IMHO will push Vista adoption out to 2008 for many entities. I will certainly avoid attempting an upgrade; in my experience, every successful upgrade begins with FDISK and takes all day :-) A much better choice would be to wait for Vista SP1 pre-installed on a 64-bit computer.

Speaking of which, let's hope that new Windows Installer technologies will eliminate the "interactive install" -- insert the CD and then: wait; read and answer prompt(s); wait; [repeat until done]. What an incredible waste of time that is.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Notwork Engineer

Back in the days when NetWare was king of the office, we used to talk about the notwork engineer - which I hope is self-explanatory. But I hadn't seen one for quite some time. . .

He's baaaaack!

Of course, now in the 21st century, he's also a poser - you know, he's got the fancy 100-button PDA / cell phone / satellite radio / personal portable fax / wash machine I'm getting off track here, but you can probably imagine a Dilbert knock-off. He decides who gets permission to what on his network, and he is such an expert on everything that he knows who needs permission to do what.

Hey, let's change some permissions - that file on the server doesn't need Everyone to have Full Control, so I'll just lock that baby down to the Admins. Great, job well done, Mr. Notwork, the place is secure now, safe from those evil users; good night and farewell. Oops - that was a MS Access file, for which the Jet database engine requires - you guessed it - Full Control. And if those seven field reps drive 45 minutes to the office to update their laptops - poof! There's no permissions to do anything. Hurray! I guess we can all go home now, the notwork engineer was here earlier.

The moral of the story: Ask, don't assume. No one person can know everything about everything. And it is perfectly OK to ask - it doesn't show a lack of intelligence, but rather, the presence of intelligence to recognize when you just don't know.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Windows Server 2003

Having abandoned the Linux path for the time being, I dug through my box of trial CD's that I collected from the various MS launch events. . . and I found a 180-day trial copy of Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition! So I went ahead and re-formatted for NTFS and installed the server OS on the old CTX machine. First impression: I like it.

I've been using my HP desktop as a mass-storage device since it has a roomy 160 GB disk. BTW It's a Hitachi that replaced the original Maxtor that blew up after six months (but that could be a whole other blog entry). Anyway, I had considered buying one of those network-attached-storage devices that are getting popular, but I really didn't know if that was worth the investment.

I didn't set things up as a domain, just your basic workgroup. One little quirk that came up (seen this before) was that I had to create user accounts on some machines in order to connect to the server. I believe that's because of the workgroup.

It's really neat having a file server set up, but I checked the retail prices and Win 2003 Standard runs around $1,000 US; of course, I have 180 days to decide :-)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Linux Chronicles

In a previous post, I described my experiments with Linux; for me, the bottom line is that I'm looking for a Windows alternative without all the bloat associated with the current Windows.

First of all, my test machine is an old workhorse - using an AMD K6/2 CPU at 400 MHz, with 384 Meg RAM and a 30 GB hard disk; 10/100 NIC, CD/DVD drive, UPS.

My first trials were with Suse Linux 9.2 for which I basically accepted all the defaults. After running for a few weeks, I became frustrated with the overall slow performance - which I attributed to the act of using a 2005 OS on a slighly-underpowered 1998 PC. But I must say that the YAST installer did a great job of finding all my gadgets (except the UPS) including detecting my legacy sound card.

I was able to connect to my network workgroup, and print to a shared Windows printer, but the performance was quite sluggish, especially when launching the YAST config modules.

In closing, my test machine met, but did not exceed, the minimum system requirements.

Phase II. . .

I located a CD for Mandrake Linux 7.1 which I had obtained from one of the tech trade shows a few years back. This was a distribution "guaranteed to work on a 486 or newer" so I installed this one, which went without a hitch. But it did not recognize my NIC -- I suspect that this older Mandrake distribution does not support PCI which is the installed NIC. And I'm not about to go searching for an ISA or EISA network card, so that experiment was over.

Since network connectivity is a requirement, I concluded that Mandrake 7.1 was not in my Linux future. (I believe that they've since merged with another penguinista.)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Twenty-four hour banking (not quite)

All the banks are trying to push their online banking services, and IMHO the state of online banking today has improved dramatically over the past few years. I remember when Bank One (which is now Chase) took their online banking site off-line a few hours in the early AM every weekday, and even longer on the weekends - but that's changed. I used to detest Wells Fargo's site back when I was on dial-up, since one of the first things that happened when connecting was that it would send down a fresh certificate file, which took a while at 28.8 kps ;-)

Obviously the technology investment is offset by the potential staff reductions or other similar cost-reduction efforts. But for the typical business with employees, payroll & benefits amount to 2/3 of its expenses, so this area is an easy target for cost reductions.

But what's the deal with "bank business days" - ?? What a thoroughly antiquated concept. If I can transfer funds and make payments at the click of a mouse, why is it that a deposit made on Saturday or Sunday, whether ATM or drive-thru or even walk-in, doesn't get posted until Monday? With the advent of electronic check processing, banks being empowered by the so-called Check 21 initiative, the time has come for the bank business day concept to be retired.