Copying files to a Virtual PC

folderimageI use Virtual PCs in development all the time and usually map a drive on the host pc in order to copy files.  Recently while reading Gary James’s blog he had an article that stated by just opening Windows Explorer on the virtual and on the Host you could copy between them.  Well since I use Vista 64 I was interested if this would work.  

Well lo and behold it worked perfectly, Microsoft usually gets slammed for making things hard, but this time it was so intuitive that I didn’t think to try it.  Anyway a kudos for Microsoft for making something easy, now if only they could make thier website that way.

link to gary’s original article: http://www.strategyonline.co.za/blog/?p=969

House jumps the shark (literally)

200px-fonzie_jumps_the_sharkI’ve been a fan of House up until this season, if anybody missed it in the first few minutes of the show tonight he literally jumped the shark with a small car.  Jump the shark refers to a Happy Days episode where Fonzi jumps a shark which was considered the point at which the show had lost its audience.  This was then coined as a colloquialism by Jon Hein who started a web site that lists when TV shows have hit a low point.  This site is now owned by TV guide which I just find weird on so many levels.

Anyway I know this is not one of my usual blog posts but it seemed worth writing about.  Thanks to Jeremy for pointing this out to me, because I probably would of missed it.

Roku

rokuLast summer I bought a Roku in order to watch movies from Netflix on what at that time was a regular 27″ tube TV. Recently I updated my television to a 42″ plasma and was a little worried about how the Roku would perform considering it is hooked up via a wireless connection to the Internet.  This I thought would be a problem since the Roku can now support the newer HD stream from Netflix, but only has a class g wireless card.  Suprisingly it came as a shock that the Roku presents a picture that is close to an up converted DVD player.  While this isn’t as good as an HD broadcast it sure is impressive considering that my Media Center Extender requires the newer wireless class N signal to keep up with a High Definition program. 

While the Roku doesn’t support surround sound as of yet, it did recently add Amazon support for buying movies.  We tried our first one last night, and while it isn’t Blue-Ray quality it is still somewhere between a DVD player and a true HD picture.  The Roku is much better than an XBox for this because the XBox is so loud and the Roku is dead quiet.

For $99 I would recommend this over the built-in usually optional feature coming in some of the newer TV’s.  Most of these options add about $200-$300 and tie the devices together which means you would have to send in the TV to fix this feature.  Which may be a problem if you are building an online library of movies using the Amazon service.  If you have an XBox I would recommend trying that first since it is essentially a free service, but if you are like me and can’t stand the loud drown of the Xbox over the movie soundtrack the Roku will make a good addition to your media center.

Microsoft ends free support for Vista SP1 on March 18 2009

vista-logoAbout a year when Microsoft introduced Service Pack 1 for Vista it also offered free support with any issues upgrading or installing Vista with SP1. Well folks the clock is ticking and after March 18th you will now have to pay for support just like any other Microsoft products. So even if you are having just a small problem with your PC that has Vista, or if you haven’t upgraded to SP1 yet it might be a good thing to do before this offer expires.  In order to get free support just go to the Microsoft website and call the support hotline, this offer only applies to the normal support hours.

Designing Software with/for my sudden disability

The EyeA few weeks ago I would have said I was a pretty good software designer using the many tools we have nowadays to make applications and websites attractive. That was until I spilled a full cup of coffee on my laptop (another story). I am a diabetic and last year started having problems with my left eye, I had developed diabetic retinopathy, but had been going for regular treatments to deal with the small amount of blood that would occasionally cloud my vision. Well the coffee cup incident must have raised my blood pressure enough to cause a major rupture. I had temporarily lost the vision in my left eye (OK no pirate or one-eyed programmer jokes).

Hmm well I thought I still had my other eye and plenty of people get around with just one. Even though I use computers I know from my work with the State agency “Services for the Blind” that they all use computers so I should be OK right? Wrong for one thing my right eye is far sighted and doesn’t seem to participate when I read, so while I can drive OK, seeing close up is a chore. Luckily, having been in the computer business for awhile I had a few different options when it came to monitors. So out came the old 21” CRTs to replace the 17” LCDs which suddenly seemed smaller. Now that was taken care of I was off and running, but one thing I noticed was that even when changing the font size in explorer a lot of websites wouldn’t resize. Even our website www.farpointsolutions.com wouldn’t size correctly.

I found out that my applications where even worse, after working on many PC’s over the years I had decided in my infinite wisdom that I knew best what fonts, styles and colors to use and didn’t want to inherit those tacky themes that my users would pick. OK, well the website was in redesign anyway so I think I have caught and fixed most of the problems. My application where another matter, yikes with thousands of procedures and screens how would I fix this, especially in my visually impaired state. Since most of my recent desktop applications are written in Clarion I went hunting for templates. Again my good friends at Capesoft came to the rescue with their AnyFont template. All I can say is it would have been impossible to redesign and rewrite all those screens. AnyFont basically is a global template and just goes right in and does its work. It allowed me to keep the same level of design quality in my applications even with my visual impairment.

What have I learned so far from this experience is that more time needs to be spent considering your users and how they interact with your programs and websites. A few things I have noticed about fonts is that ClearType really does help with clarity, all italic fonts are hard to read, and bold applied to any font helps a lot. Underlines stick out better than highlighted text, at least it seems that way to me. Laptops are great, because you can move them around easily so you can adjust the distance. Developing with this as a temporary disability (I hope) has been eye opening (pardon the pun). I am still able to work although a little slower than normal, but I am getting used to it. I think that I will no longer impose my will on my users and if they want to pick white text on a white background all the power to them. I will continue this discussion at a later date and post some examples of my findings, please drop me a line if you would like an update so I can gauge the interest level.

All in Ones are they the printers of the future?

Awesome AIO

Recently I needed to purchase a new printer to replace an aging Canon Bubble Jet printer that I have owned for around 8 years. This become a necessity after the printer died when trying to help my daughter apply to colleges (note my absence over the last week). Since I am a big HP fan I decided to look into an All in One solution commonly known as an AIO which includes a scanner, fax, and printer. The price ranges are incredible from $199 to around $1000, the one I settled on was the HP 7410 which includes wired and wireless networking, two paper trays, and an ADF. The unit is bigger than most in order to handle legal size paper in the ADF. While I love the unit the software that comes with it gives me the willies. It takes over 700MB of hard drive space and didn’t install correctly on my main home computer, instead I ended up installing the applications on my laptop. No simple printer driver exists for this beast, but a remote print driver that works over the Internet is available that requires an HP Share account.

The HP 7410 uses the newer HP low cost inkjet cartridges and is very flexible in how it uses them. A tri-color cartridge and Black cartridge provide you with very good spot color on documents, and good photographs (they seem clearer than the Epson R200). The black cartridge can be replaced by a grayscale cartridge for black and white photos or a color photo cartridge that gives the printer 3 additional colors for a total of 6. All the cartridges are chipped so they may be changed at any time and the printer remembers the correct levels. The photo printing is really very good from what I can tell, but it is more of a Matte finish than the Epson R200 produces and seems a little clearer even without the specialized cartridges. Photo Memory Cards and cameras can be hooked up directly and seen as hard drives on the computers that have installed the software suite mentioned above. The speed of the printing is awesome, and the wireless connection once it is setup correctly seems to be reliable.

Faxing and Scanning can be done remotely, which is an interesting feature, the faxing being useful while I am not so sure about why you would use a web based scanning program. While I haven’t tried the Scanner yet the 50 page ADF is almost as good as our copiers 100 page unit. The embedded web server does provide useful statistics about the network connection, page counts and ink levels. The other units that I had considered where the Canon Pixma 780, but the wireless networking feature of the HP was the deciding factor. I’ll let you know how things go, but for a home office you can’t beat the features, just wish the software was better written.

Advice on when to upgrade.

Handsome devil!

Usually when I get called in to a new client it is either because they have a defined need or they are in immediate trouble. The latter is more often the case and I usually enjoy the challenge of figuring out what is wrong under the threat of impending doom. More often than not, no backup exists and it is a key computer or piece of equipment in the office. The problem seems to be lately is that a spyware attack has either hopelessly infected the computer in question, a hard drive has failed or worst yet they have patched the OS recently. This computer is usually a relic running Windows 98, 95 or even MS-DOS and the software that has failed is not supported, and is out of date.

Normally we perform a review of our existing clients at least once a year and try to upgrade at least a 3rd of computers and replace servers that are going out of warranty. So hardware is easy, make sure all of your computers are no more than 3 years old.

With software it gets a little more difficult, especially if it is custom built or they have to upgrade from DOS to Windows. Most of the time this is a cost factor or sometimes it is a training issue, the biggest excuse is that an upgrade will slow down productivity. This may sound like a crock, but there is a kernel of truth to the argument in that sometimes the users know how to be the most efficient with the version they are used to. DOS to Windows changes are especially maddening to people who no longer even look at the screen and enter data entirely by touch. The problem comes when the software is no longer supported by the company who made it, what do you do?

My suggestion is simple, while you don’t have to bite at every update at least stay within one revision of the current major release i.e. if you have version 2.0 and version 4.1 is out you should upgrade. Even if you don’t put it in production right away, you can test it and try the additional features, if it is a dog start looking for another product or better yet send your complaints to the developer. Contrary to popular belief most software companies need negative feedback to keep their products on track. The tools for developing software now are much more reliable and produce better applications so you will be better off in the long run, and I will be too.

IMHO

Mike…

Code Signing, who is the Unknown Publisher?

Quick Books Certification

Since Microsoft got religion around security, and especially since SP2 developers have been faced with the Unknown Publisher problem. Any application that has not been signed with a digital certificate from a trusted CA (Certificate Authority) displays a message that the publisher is Unknown with a more forceful warning than in previous versions of Windows. This presents a problem for the smaller developer in that a code signing certificate from Verisign costs $400/yr or more. Since most software is downloaded from the Internet, the Unknown Publisher message might make the user think the software is spyware, and should not be trusted by the recipient. Even worse is that a company wide policy may prohibit the installation of the software no matter what the user thinks. The red shield as shown in the photo below is the same one used in the Control Panels Security Center, which indicates a serious security risk, IMHO they should of used a different symbol.

Dreaded Unknown Publisher Message

Just to keep Microsoft honest in all of this I checked on downloads from MSDN, and couldn’t find one that had not been code signed. So at least they are playing by their own rules, of course $400 for Microsoft isn’t even beer money. What started me looking at code signing again is that not only is Windows XP checking publishers’ signatures so are major application providers such as Intuit for the QuickBooks product line. Would you appreciate an unsigned and un-trusted application accessing your accounting data?

Well after doing some research I found that other Certificate Authorities provide code signing certificates. Just like the prices have dropped in SSL certificates from such providers as Godaddy, other certificates are recognized by Microsoft XP. The one I settled on was from www.instantssl.com which is produced by the Comodo group, this certificate cost me $99/yr, ¼ the price of a Verisign code signing certificate. The process of getting a certificate is that you have to prove who you are, depending on whether you are representing a company or a person, different documents are needed. This has since been automated for SSL certificates for web servers, but it only took me 4 hours to get the certificate issued well within the 2 days promised. They also have documentation on how the code signing process works and how to use it with Microsoft’s SDKs. Once you get the certificate you can use it to code sign all of the applications that you produce for any Windows Operating Systems. Well the question you may be asking did it work as well as a Verisign certificate, the answer is a resounding yes as shown below.

Farpoint Solutions Code Signed Application

Again even this isn’t totally reassuring in that the shield is now yellow, but it is better than red, if the publisher is trusted no message may be shown at all. Some caveats are that Microsoft requires a Verisign certificate in order for you to go through any Microsoft certification testing. The reason for this is that Verisign also does Microsoft’s testing, so for $300 more I would buy one if this becomes an issue, you are allowed to have multiple code signing certificates. On the other hand $99 can at least get you familiar with how to use code signing, and may increase your downloads. Once you install the certificate on your computer you will not get any message, so it is a good idea to test your application on another computer. Click here for a complete list of Microsoft trusted root CAs, please feel free to post your anonymous comments below.

The Browser wars are back.

Mozilla Logo

Remember the Netscape browser, well the remains have been resurrected as Mozilla Firefox and it is beginning to make a dent in Microsoft’s dominance. The new browser written mostly by freelance programmers and run as an open source project is taking away about 1% a month from Microsoft. Microsoft’s rating went down from owning 95% to 92% of the browser market since Firefox was introduced. While these don’t seem like big numbers it does show that people unhappy with the spyware, security leaks, and other issues and are looking for alternatives.

So how do you make money on giving something away, Netscape’s original arguments was that Microsoft was giving Internet Explorer away and killed the browser market? Frankly I really don’t know on this one, while other browsers such as Opera do charge for their product I don’t know who is buying it. Computer users now expect computers to come with a browser, basic email client and a way to communicate with the Internet, in my opinion they should be included. What caught my attention was this subject made the local paper on the business section and had a weird Samson vs. Goliath theme. While I get excited about the projects I work on, I also realize that the enthusiasm I feel does not spread too far beyond a couple of friends.

The good news is that this should hopefully make Microsoft pay more attention to its browser. Microsoft has had a monopoly so long that no real innovations have been made since version 4. The competition should at least attract their attention, and if they haven’t gotten the message by now realize that things sneaking in through your browser is not a good thing.

A few items to note about Firefox is that it doesn’t run pages with Microsoft’s ActiveX controls, so you will still need to keep Explorer installed (or boycott those pages). The product seems stable and user friendly, has some really cool features that should be in Explorer, and it is a little more secure. Since it is not a big target yet you can expect security threats to still be an issue at some point, Microsoft has a lot of hackers gunning for it. You can run both Firefox and Explorer, just pick one to be your default browser and you should be all set to go against big corporations.

Blogging is fun!


Link to Blogger.com

I started publishing to this blog over a week ago and I had it in test mode for a week before, so I thought I would take the time and describe the experience so far. Well, since I try and publish an article 6 days a week it can be a little hard, but I usually have a couple of articles stored in draft mode. WordPress the blogging software I use allows me to store articles in draft and publish them at a predefined times in the future. If you look around this site you can find enough links to download the program, and it is free. It uses PHP and MySql as the database, and is a breeze to setup. I don’t know a lot about what it does in the blogging disbursement sense, but google found my site within the first day and I hadn’t submitted it. If you don’t want to worry about your own website can use blogger.com or other blog providers, most offer the service for free.

I usually use the unique visitor statistic to measure how well my sites are doing, and within the first week I have had over 500 hits in this category (see the graph at the end of this article). I also have been getting a few emails even though I had not published my email at this site (until now see below). My initial goal of blogging was to share information out away from any of the other sites I own. The reason for this is two-fold, one I can be a little more informal (Note parrot picture), and the second reason is that I can express my personal opinions more.

The articles take about 15 minutes to an hour to write and are actually a very relaxing activity. I have noticed that each article does get easier, and my spelling and grammar has improved. Anyway if you want to get in touch with me or suggest articles, product reviews, etc.. you can reach me at michael at farpointsolutions dot com, I’m sure you can figure out the real email address, hopefully the spammers won’t. Hope I can be of help please ask me questions at the farpointsolutions helpdesk located in the link section. Have a nice weekend, and I hope you’ll join me blogging, please send me a link if you do.

January 2005 Blog Activity Graph for MichaelLawson.com