Off the Top: Windows Entries

March 3, 2004

Tips on IIS 6

For those of serving the Web from a Microsoft Server 2003 O'Reilly Net has Tips on IIS 6.

May 29, 2003

CSS and Microsoft's poor excuse for a browser

Tim Bray adds to the Microsoft IE is garbage chant that has been spreading around the Web developer community for some time. Oddly, until I think of Tantek, the IE browser on Mac is far more compliant. The font sizing issues that Tim discusses are largely only a problem on Windows version of IE browsers. Most other modern browsers (Mozilla (including its Netscape 6 and 7 variants), Opera, Safari, etc. all resize fonts even if the fonts are set in pixels.

In the accessibility community having a fixed pixel size has been taboo for some time. As I talk with more people with vision problems I find most do not use Windows IE browser to view sites, but choose one of the other modern browsers as they allow easy scaling of fonts (some like Opera even scale images). This seems to be a trait across the visually challenged users. Most users with visual difficulties have a strong dislike for the Microsoft browser just on this point alone. A few have mentioned they really like Mozilla browsers as they can easily change the skin on the browser to make the buttons and other elements more visible.

Me, I can read Tim's site just fine, which is ideal as Tim understands the problems and knows where the blame should reside.

Note: The MS IE browser on Windows shows its downfalls to those that are trying to us modern Web development techniques by using CSS layouts rather than table layouts for their work. As Web developers learn tableless layout is a pain to learn initially, largely because of IE 6 and lower do not follow the rules properly. To get Windows IE to render properly one has to hack the valid CSS to get the browser to render the page as does a browser that follows the standards. The irony is Microsoft claims to own the CSS patent.

June 15, 2002

Samba primary domain controller

Samba as a primary domain controller for PC and non-PC network can provide a solid home network, if you are not using XP Home.

June 12, 2002

Mac is great

Jason discusses his Windows to Mac conversion and the Apple switch campaign. At nearly every turn I have found friends, who I consider peers switching to Mac. I was in California recently for a meeting and of the 12 of us there 7 or 8 of us had our Mac laptops and were using them with great ease. The ratio among the technically adept and advanced and the creative users are hitting highs. Those that have always seemed to be on the leading edge and understand techical solutions are all joining the switch to Mac. Mac lacks the swiss-cheese-security of Windows, which is another fantastic advantage.

One of my biggest stumbling blocks with my switch to Mac has been its ease of use. When I loaded MS Office X it was done in four minutes or so and I had only answered two or three questions. Being a Windows user since 1992 (having left a company that used Macs, PCs, and dumb terminals I lost contact with Mac on a daily basis) I had been patterned to expect long painful loads of software that had a lot of questions. I had thought the Office install crashed, I started my usual Windows cursing patterns (because that is the relationship one learns from Windows and I now see that with friends and family that have not joined the smart side of the world), but I clicked Word and it worked and then click PowerPoint and it worked too. I had learned lesson with Mac, things are easier and just work, even Microsoft products can just work (Office X on the Mac is my favorite version of Office to date and Entourage is my favorite PIM (which I did not think anything would ever surpass or equal Lotus Organizer (user since 1993) and e-mail client . Who knew? At SXSW I had a relapse with my ease of use issues when I was trying to get a wireless network link. I knew I was trying to hit a wireless hub that was non-Apple (the Airport setup here at home was a 15 minute setup including tying down the security settings) and that should mean arcane practices again. I tried entering user names and passwords on WiFi connections that had full signals that I had just clicked on from my dropdown list of "available" access points (stop laughing). Yes, it was that simple and it was already working and the Mac just worked again. I happened to be sitting next to a Windows user who could not get it to just work and I was following her lead and picked up her frustration (she is very technically adept by the way). When I figured out I my connection was working all along I tried helping her, but not wanting to mess up a setting under a poorly labelled tab I surrendered. I came away a happy computer user and she a willing Mac convert because Mac just works.

On the business side of my life I have found very little I really can not do. I have found very little I can not do better than before. I still use my PC for some things, surfing the Internet while I eat (don't want to sully my TiBook with breadcrumbs as I have respect for it) and playing some games (my TiBook is now my work machine and audio/visual entertainment machine) as I have not bought a joystick for my Mac.

Now a moment to exude the pleasure of the TiBook. On my recent trip out West I was able to be on the Mac nearly the whole trip (MS Office, OmniOutline, OmniGraffle, and iTunes) nearly the whole trip (more than 5 hours in total). On the first leg, Baltimore to Denver, a flight attendend stopped and knelt next to me as we were nearing Denver (knew what was coming, the "you really need to shut down your computer" stern warning) and was asked what type of computer I was using as I had been working nearly the whole flight, I had the thinest computer on the plane, and had the most wonderful screen on a flight with about a third of the travellers using their laptops. I explained it was an Apple, which the flight attendant stated "you Apple people are all fanatics", to which I explained this was my first Apple I ever owned and I really could not consider it to have an operating system because operating systems cause headaches (being a UNIX developer has had its frustrations at times too) and this computer did not. The attendant said he would maybe think about a Mac. Then all the Dell, Toshiba, and HP laptop users sitting around me started asking questions and giving me their frustrations. The Windows users wanted to know how their Windows business and technical work would port over, for the most part I had already done what they were asking and I could show them because I still had 2 hours left in battery.

June 10, 2002

May 5, 2002

Good bye Windows

Why have I bought my last Windows-based computer? My problems revolve around the years of headaches of horrible business and technical practices that Microsoft breeds. Their concern is not the customer and their well being, but their pockets. In the 10 years that I have had my own Microsoft OS-based computers (four of them) I have had four complete meltdowns resulting from MS patches or incompatible MS software (not third-party software or hardware problems). I have had software overwrite a shared resource (because MS took a sort cut in their OS and created DLLs). I have bought OS' and software that had to be repeatedly patched for security problems, not just bugs (one of these security patches overwrote an element that controlled my hard drive partition, which resulted in a cleared hard drive). I have provided numerous hours of help to friends and relatives that have had similar problems (many of them have had worse and more frequent problems because they are not computer professionals). I have paid for incremental upgrades or for an actual CD I could boot my computer from, when all MS would offer is an OEM disk that contained an image of the software installed on the system. I had paid for the operating system when I bought my computers, but if I wanted to own the OS, I had to buy the damn thing again (this seems to be Microsoft's understanding of two for one bargains, like many things they do they got it horribly wrong).

I had figured this what I had to deal with to run a monopolist's operating system that everybody else used (the courts proved MS is a monopolist and that has stood the appeal attempts and they remain criminals that are now trying to settle a punishment). My most recent encounter with Microsoft is their practices with their XP OS software. The marketing and technical materials, at the time of their release stated that the home version was all one needed to perform networking at home. The Professional was for advanced enterprise networks. Well it is not the case and MS marketing materials now reflect this statement. They state the Professional version of XP is for "advanced" home networks, which I have found to mean trying network not only another company's operating system (Mac), but its own variants (Win 98), while trying to keep a connection to a DSL router. The configuration requires a static IP. The Home version wants to reorganize your configuration, which knocks out my DSL connection and never let me share files with my Windows 98 machine, nor use its printer. The XP Home will play nicely with other XP Home machines, but that seems to be about all.

Now comes my last straw. You notice on the XP OS software page that the price difference is $100. I am willing to pay that difference to upgrade to Pro from Home. I am not willing to pay for Microsoft's bait-and-switch tactics, which are illegal in every state in the U.S., and pay the $199 upgrade price. MS will not budge. This means I will budge. I have never received an e-mail response from MS regarding how to or where to find information on upgrading from Home to Pro. Like most of MS site internal links, they are broken. I may have missed something in the many months I have spent trying to correct the error in my ways, which was believing MS marketing materials.

What makes it easy make my next purchase something other than a Windows machine. Mac OS X has made this option available to me. My laptop running OS X has been a dream. I don't know that I would call this an operating system as it has been headache free, it has not conflicted with other software, it allows quick software loads (which are also pain free), and things just work. This is unlike any operating system I have ever used. It is not perfect, but it is damn near perfect. I thought I may have problems doing my regular work on the machine, but I can do every thing I ever did on a Windows machine and without the damn headaches. I can markup HTML, write Word documents, code software, connect to and build SQL compliant databases, use and develop Web Services, use the full (with the exception of Access) Microsoft Office suite and easily share and collaborate with others using Office on any OS platform, I could even run Windows OS (with the help of Virtual PC) so to have access to any other needed software (or even run IIS to test ASP, which is not an option on XP Home), run and build Java natively, not have to continually worry about security holes and viruses, network the computer with non-XP Home computers relatively easily, not have to worry about having to rent my operating system, and not having the OS invade my privacy by strongly urging my use of an unsecure Passport.

My future is mine and not Microsoft's. I will take me where I want to go and my OS of choice will help me get there and not stand in my way. I will let the U.S. Federal Trade Commission know of the fraud. I will also continue to providing for support MS applications and environments at work, because that is my job and I get paid for those headaches.

May 4, 2002

MS security causes sad day

Life sucks when: You have to pull an e-mail account that you manage from service. Particularly when this account is for your Dad. My Dad can be reached at Tom and I will be keeping Thomas. The TJV account is closed.

Why you ask? The account was hacked with the klez virus. He cleaned his hard drive, as he had no choice it or another virus took the hard drive out. He took another hard drive and put it in that machine and started fresh. This may have also infected his new laptop. Yes, all of these machines run Windows (the swiss cheese security system). My dad is more than computer savvy and Windows is not a consumer OS, as it is nothing more than an e-mail away from destroying everything digital you own (among many other issues, which I spend hours assisting friends and relatives with their continual problems with the MS OS). Microsoft continues to lie about its focus on security and the basic problem is the OS itself, it is not secure and it seems it will never be secure. UNIX has some issues, but has many more years of development under its belt, which is why is far more secure. UNIX variants (Apple Mac OS X, Linux, BSD, etc.) all have the advantage of years of experience and advanced developers working on the OS.

Keeping a MS box secure requires somebody with a lot of experience and they are not cheap. The MS total cost of ownership being lower than UNIX is a myth and unfounded. If you have MS open to the outside world (Internet server, DSL at home, or unfiltered (through virus scanner) e-mail, etc.) you need an MS security expert focussed on ensuring the sanctity of whatever is considered valuable on the MS boxes. This person will cost as much, if not more, than a senior UNIX systems administrator (who are, by and large, veterans in UNIX security also as it comes with the territory).

Too many folks (that are near and dear to me) have had MS servers hacked or been victims of viruses in the past couple of weeks. Granted the MS boxes hacked may not have been watched over by MS security experts, but that is what it takes.

Making choices, as far as what language to develop Internet applications, should keep in mind lock in factors. A UNIX only or a Microsoft only solution that requires the application be only run on a certain type of server has never been a great idea. This becomes even more apparent now. In my opinion this has never been a good option. Fortunately, there are many more options available that run on nearly all OS platforms. These include: Perl, PHP, Java (JSP), Python, ColdFusion, etc. Each of these languages have their own plusses and minuses, but if a certain OS platform becomes an unavailable option the applications can relatively easily be moved to another OS. This is not the case with ASP, and even less so the .Net framework (as noted before. Sure ASP can use ChiliSoft, but that is a very short term solution (as you know if you have ever had to use it, it buys you time to recode everything into a portable application language) and requires double to triple the hardware resources to run it compared to ASP on MS or any other language running natively.

All of this is just the beginning of the reasons why I most likely have bought my last Windows machine. The other reasons fall into the areas of trust and pricing. This explanation may follow soon.

May 1, 2002

.Net lock in

Eric (glish) Costello brings Chris Laco's comments about .Net to his own site as Chris' comments reflect Eric's comments. The main issue is lock in and severe lack of choice. No the security issue that plagues Microsoft at every turn did not show up. The speed improvement in .Net over the current ASP/VB/C development is noticed and raved about. With security a growing concern on many folks minds building applications with a system that only will run on one operating system, which has the worst security record hands down, is not a great option. There are other options available.

April 10, 2002

Microsoft really did have swiss cheese security with all the holes in their servers. Seriously this is an imediate mandatory patch for the MS servers, so says Microsoft.

April 9, 2002

The Microsoft rants of late have been attributable to horrible networking problems that keep corrupting my mapped drives. The mapped drives to production and development servers work fine for days then blow-up. The server's response was the file was already open, when I was trying to copy over a file on one of the servers. Some days I could not even log on. I can have more than one mapping to a server so to copy to different project drives. Windows 2k says no way Jack. Not only this but setting up passwords for others today for them to log into the dev box, MS popped up an error message stating they had to have changed their password on their first login. That was their first login. Fully patched machines running too. What a poor excuse for an OS. Things have improved by the end of the day, but too much time is wasted on the crappy OS.

March 30, 2002

Java founder, James Gosling has a Q & A session with Computerworld regarding .Net. This may not be an unbiased review, but Gosling repeats much of what most Microsoft developers I know have brought up. The memory problems and security, with very little that can be done to improve these two elements and keep in the MS family.

March 29, 2002

Fox counters Microsoft's mistruths

After battling the crappy MS OS at work the past couple of days (it locked all users from copying files to the development server only solution was to create a new base directory and copy the old files in with the permissions set like they were on the previous folder), I was happy to see Kevin Fox' response to Microsoft's proposed hipocracy and lies. Microsoft should change their slogan to "We use fear to sell, because are products aren't worth they money you pay". The consolation is I get to come home to Mac OS X and have few if any problems, because it is UNIX at the core. [hat tip Dinah]

March 5, 2002

Derek Story finally has posted his wide view of Mac OS X based on over 500 e-mails in response to an open question regarding how folks liked or disliked the new OS. Derek's write-up seems to do the broad spectrum justice. Me I love the OS and I am getting more used to it with each use. I switch between Windows 2000 and XP to Mac in the course of each day. I find less confusion based on which keyboard I am using that I did at the beginning. If I had to choose Windows or Mac at this point it would be Mac.

March 4, 2002

This may be the first reason not to own a BMW. The first car that is easy to steal, crash, and have to dial the manufactuer if you change a part all in one. Thanks Microsoft now the everybody can be l33t. [hat tip Cam]

March 1, 2002

One thing about being a bi-OS kinda guy is that I now look for what OS software will run on. More often than not of late it is not easy to find. I guess I just assumed the Web was MS centric prior to my finding an OS I like much better. I never looked before and everything I downloaded ran. When I was running Linux I went to the Linux sites for software and the rest of the Web for MS.

It took Jish pointing to Araneae for this to dawn on me. Now I am wondering what is wrong with the Web sites with software that they don't tell you what OS their software will run on.

Windows XP will get a service pack upgrade in late Summer or Fall, which is much later than I would have expected it, but it is not my call. One thing the upgrade will offer is Freestyle an upgraded graphical user interface that makes use of pictures, video, and sound. Freestyle sounds like a DVD interface for the PC.

February 12, 2002

Web Page Design for Designers offers a browser size test that lets us choose the pixel size of the browser, Mac or PC, and IE or Netscape to view our pages. This tool is a great one for our tool belt. [hat tip xblog]

February 8, 2002

Okay, O'Reilly Net has been offering a lot of good resources of late and I am a little behind in catching up.

Those of us that need a light weight database for a small project and are using Microsoft Windows often turn to Access to perform the task. Steven Roman offers his tips in how to set up an Access database. The best tip is right up front:

Don't touch your PC until you have taken the time to rough out a design of your database.
The tips keep coming and many of them apply to any other database development. Once I learned to think of information and metadata in a relational database format (which also helps with setting up XML documents) application development became easier. Understanding a little database design will also help ask the right questions when setting up an application, database, and/or project.

This article also helps define the limitations of Access databases. Each database will have its own limitations or peculiarities. Knowing these differences will help think about the application, information, and how they can and will be used is helpful.

February 5, 2002

David Coursey has been trying an iMac as a change from his devoted PC life and writing about the experience. Coursey has been enjoying his iMac after one week and hints he may not go back.

February 1, 2002

I have been looking for a solid e-mail client for quite some time. I seem to have found one that I really like, MS Entouragge for Mac OS X. Entourage is much farther ahead of Outlook in that you can not only flag an e-mail, but set a reminder in your calendar to come back to that e-mail at a later time. The ability to set categories in addition to rules and other elements is a great help. I find it easy to use and work with.

The competition has left me cold to some degree. Netscape 6(plus) is light years ahead of version 4 (did not allow pulling from multiple e-mail sources), begins to really choke with a couple thousand e-mails in a folder (the downside of being on some wonderful listserves that are full of great information). Outlook Express does not permit archiving. Outlook on Windows has a muddled interface that works well with Exchange and that is not completely a plus.

In all I am very impressed with MS Office on Mac OS X. That is my "productivity tool" of choice. It loads faster and the application does not get in the way of doing what you want it to do, although "Clippy's" cousin is alive and still annoying.

January 30, 2002

The Fool compares Apples and Windows and their networking strategies. This question of how Apple with work with .Net has been on my mind for a while. Since .Net is XML based it seemed to be no big deal. I have been finding that OS X handles all my networking needs and more, which I definitely can not say about Windows XP.

January 20, 2002

In the attempt to get photos out of my Olympus D-490 I have been having fits. The camera is fantastic and takes great pictures. Getting photos out has been a pain of late. The serial port is horribly slow to say the least. I bought a Microtech Zio USB card reader about six months ago, which has been a great asset. I switched to Windows XP on my main PC and Apple for my laptop.

The XP would not read the Zio and locks up if the reader is in the USB when starting up the PC. Worse is if you plug the reader in while the machine is running, it kills the machine dead by shutting it down instantly. I upgraded the drivers, but no luck after the recent security upgrades from Microsoft.

The Apple would acknowledge the card in OS 9, but required an initialization. OS X would not ackknoledge the card. Today, I started the laptop in OS 9 and found that I could read the cards and pull the images on to the hard drive. This was a great day. I can get access to that drive point from OS X and view them. I am now happy again. And once again Apple has provided an option that works where Microsoft fell short, Apple 5 and MS 0.

Apple explains Myths to Windows Users. This has been one of my favorite bits of the week. I have been finding much of this to be true as I have been switching from Windows to Apple (at least for laptop). Apple is proving to be a much better operating system for interacting with other operating systems. Windows XP Home is a pathetic computer to network and that is being more than generous (the Pro version is a much better OS to network and even much better suited for home networking).

January 2, 2002

I really would like XP Home to have Samba (SMB) as the Apple documentation on using SMB to network machines and share drives is very solid. XP Home does not have SMB capability. If anybody knows a way to build it in plese e-mail me (comments being turned on this month or next month).

SMB is an open source networking tool that is supported on most operating systems. Windows 2000 and XP Professional support SMB. I should have learned my lesson and never by consumer grade software or hardware as I am always wanting to do more.

This MacSlash posts tries to answer networking OS X and Windows XP boxes, this will be a task I will soon try and tackle. My only issue is I was a sucker and only bought the XP for Home, which seems to lack the ability to build a home network with anything but a Windows machine (even this is fussy). I must only know the aberrant households, but most of the people I know with home networks are connecting Mac, Linux, and Windows machines (mostly Mac and Windows). Microsoft seems to have a different understanding of home than the people I know, but then again they are not average families as they don't have 2.3 children, they have children in whole numbers.

December 29, 2001

I have been anxiously waiting for my TiBook to finally arrive, but it seems there are hardware issues and it could be a week or two more before it actually ships. You ask why Apple? I have been in need of a laptop as mine have always been tied to a job and being able to build applictions on the road (along with have e-mail and Web access), let alone hang out with my wife while she enjoys her movies in the family room, were nice options. The Apple OSX was the kicker. I have heard nothing but raves about the TiBook, but OSX has been getting better reviews from non-traditional-Apple folks than XP. I have had more than enough issues with XP (Home edition) of late with all the networking and development functionality it can not do.

In short, I can have my Windows applications running on a laptop that has UNIX stability, provides a great development environment, and carry it with me. Apple keeps beating my expectations by leaps and bounds, and Microsoft keeps letting me down. XP is light years better than ME ever could dream of being (perhaps MS' worst operating system ever released), but I need to run IIS or even PWS so to test some ASP code (not an option on XP for Home), nor is networking easy with non-XP machines as is our home office.

I have been spending more time at Mark Newhouse's site and using his good collection of links, which include Apple links. I have found the Mr Barrett site to be quite helpful.

December 10, 2001

I was having some problems with my Real Player 8 and MS IE not allowing me to "view source" on my Windows XP box. It turns out both of these problems are attributable to a full Internet Temp directory. By deleting the files in this temp directory both sets of functionality return. Who knew I would fill 1GB of temp space in two or three weeks.

November 30, 2001

I am continually running in to graphic display problems with Quicktime on Windows XP and with an ATI 7200 Radon graphics card. I lose the picture in movies and the skin on the player. If I go back and reload the drivers and the Direct X drivers it all works wonderfully. XP has been solid but there are a lot of little annoying bugs running all throughout. There are loads of interface and interaction anomalies also. In all I am happier with it than I was prior, but they still don't get things right.

November 29, 2001

If you have taken the Windows XP leap you should really grab the Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP. The best element is turning off the Windows automatic focus for newly opening apps, like AIM or YIM. That for me was well worth the download.

November 13, 2001

The great Microsoft and Linux debate is on... Slashdot discusses MS inside memo on Linux threat. The Slashdot folks are by-in-large technically inclined, if to hard core techies and are also leaning Linux. It is good to see technical understandings when comparing Windows server solutions to Linux, both running on Intel.

The sales approach for Microsoft is ahead of the Linux folks. MS is giving the hard sell to the boardroom inhabitants and Linux is winning the technical folks who are in the trenches. This is a great view of the dicotomy of corporate environment and the disconnects between business and technology (not directly in this example but in the stories underlying the example). Microsoft has always sold the future and what is coming, while the UNIX and Linux people solve your problems today. MS is just delivering on their promisses of years ago, but they are still selling the future and are still behind the xNIX platform. Heck, Apple even got religion for their stable and fast new OS.

November 12, 2001

If you have Windows XP and are running ClearType (if you have not given it a try you should) Microsoft has a Web tool to tune your ClearType settings. [hat tip Anil]

November 1, 2001

Trying to decide on getting Windows XP, take a look at InfoWorld's Waiting for Windows XP article.

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