Thursday, September 28, 2006

Visual Studio 2005 Badness

Working with VS 2005 today I was just editing some code and I see the following dialog pop-up

This is followed by a crash dialog, which I dutifully report to the mothership, and then nothing. VS doesn't crash, it just hangs there and I can't kill the dialog, notice the Cancel button is grayed out. If pop-open process explorer because Google reveals that this has been an ongoing bug in VS 2005 since before it RTMed and it had something to do with handle counts. My VS handle count is 1,261.
I manually crashed it, and this time I DID lose some code because the nice Visual Studio Recovered Files dialog was nowhere to be found. If I wasn't going to trash this machine in a few days I would be installing VS 2005 SP1 beta right now. And good call not waiting on Vista compatibility fixes VS Team, get that SP out the door!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Windows Developers: You are not upgrading to Vista anytime soon

Well I just applied for the Visual Studio 2005 SP 1 Beta Program through Microsoft Connect. When I mentioned my recent Windows hangs in A Feature You Don't Ever Want to See it seems like it may be related to VS 2005 running. I can't say definitely it is VS 2005, but I want into the Beta if they will have me.
This was all prompted by this Visual Studio 2005 SP1 Beta and Visual Studio support for Vista post. Talk about burying the lead, me that is, but in that post, it is revealed that VS.NET 2002 and 2003 are not going to be supported on Vista, so for anyone that needs to develop for .NET 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, or 3.0, XP SP2 will be it, well, forever. You are going to need a VM, or even more likely another machine to see the full Vista UI meal-deal, but you are only going to test on Vista or develop .NET 2.0 + 3.0 applications only with VS 2005 on Vista. That situation isn't possible for me right now, so it looks like I will be running XP as my main development OS for the foreseeable future, and so will a lot of Windows/.NET developers.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Feature You Don't Ever Want to See

All of a sudden this past week, Windows XP SP2 stopped groggily (If you have never seen a Mac wake from sleep, it is stunning the first time you see it since OS X is ready to work with full WiFi in 5 seconds tops) but reliably waking up out of sleep mode, Windows was just hung tight, had to power off. This has happened a few times since yesterday and I haven't started the investigation yet, but I might not even bother since I am getting a MacBook Pro as my One Computer To Rule Them All and the day job is buying. Score!
Most of the time a Windows hang wouldn't matter because I have been conditioned by Windows past and present to save compulsively. But here is a downside to working with OS X part-time, I get lazy with saves sometimes because OS X sleep/wake cycle just works. So this Windows problem is hitting me hard because I was doing some development work for (more on that in another post) and I was in the middle of a session when my train pulled into Penn Station and I had to put the ThinkPad to sleep and forgot to save everything first. I nearly cried and it was with concerted effort that I didn't stab a pencil through the LCD when I tried to wake the ThinkPad when I got into the office on the day job, and I had to hard reset. I actually didn't relaunch Visual Studio 2005 for a day because I wasn't looking forward to figuring out where I was when Windows keeled over.
But behold, I present the Visual Studio 2005 Recovered Files dialog, which was able to get all my work back

I had no idea this feature was added to Visual Studio 2005, but I am extremely grateful it is. I can only hope I don't need it much if ever again, and I hope this is the first and only time you lay eyes on it as well dear reader.

Monday, September 18, 2006

iPod Tip: Using the Equalizer

One part of the iPod user interface that has always been mysterious to me, and thus is really a design flaw, is the equalizer setting, EQ for short. No I am not talking about being able to adjust various iPod equalizer settings outside of the presets, nor am I talking about a visual equalizer, cool as Apple might make that look.
No I am talking about knowing that the equalizer setting I configured on a song in iTunes is being using by the iPod. I always took the iPod UI to mean the EQ was either Off, Flat (normalize everything to flat sounding), or a specific preset which overrode your song setting, I never understood any of the EQ settings to mean use the iTunes setting. Well this Apple Support article clears up my confusion. This is the summary of Eq settings
  • Off - EQ is not used. Songs songs as they were encoded
  • Flat - Songs without and iTunes setting play as they were encoded, if you have an iTunes setting the iPod uses it. JACKPOT
  • Other - Songs without a setting use the iPods setting, songs with an EQ setting use that, though you can override that per song if you go into the EQ setting and select a preset while the song is playing
Note: Using the EQ on the iPod drains your battery faster than normal.

Friday, September 15, 2006

685 Pagefile Fragments can't be Good, or Top Sign a Windows image needs to be destroyed

No I am not talking about spyware or virus infestations silly, take a look at this screenshot from the excellent Sysinternals, nee Microsoft TechNet, tool PafeDefrag and tell me this Windows instance doesn't need to be blown up

You might answer that I should just run the tool, well I have, several times, and instead of defragmenting this terrible pagefile situation, the tool crashes and nothing is done, one of the few times I can remember a Sysinternals tool crashing.
Let this serve as a reminder about why you don't let Windows grow the pagefile as needed, you configure a fixed size and only change it when adding RAM, or you install applications, *cough* Exchange, that want voluminous pagefiles.

Update The first commenter said that many fragments shouldn't cause the tool to crash, and I would agree, but here is the Application log entry from good ole Doc Watson - Event 4097
The application, C:\pagedfrg\pagedfrg.exe, generated an application error The error occurred on 09/15/2006 @ 13:12:47.270 The exception generated was c0000005 at address 00401CBC (pagedfrg)

And here is the generic Application Error in the Application log, Event 1000
Faulting application pagedfrg.exe, version, faulting module pagedfrg.exe, version, fault address 0x00001cbc

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Email to Steve Jobs: iTunes 7 needs DVD ripping + burning, downloaded media auto-upgrading

I am not going to comment step by step through Apples Its Showtime special event yesterday, Daniel Eran at RoughlyDrafted Magazine has a good summary up here and this time Paul Thurrott puts together a some pretty good comments, though with the usual backhanded compliments. I actually think Paul goes a little soft on Apple, as you can see by the folllowing email I sent to Steve Jobs
Hi Steve,

I would be highly impressed if this made it to you Mr. Jobs, but I hope it does.

I wish I had the research in front of me to justify what I am about to say as "facts", but I dare not, my sample size is 1, my family.

Last year when you announced the 5G iPod with video that played TV Shows, I was cautiously optimistic. The new form factor was a great improvement for music and photos over the 4G iPod photo that I am still using today. The unknown quantity was TV Shows. You launched with 320x240 resolution video files, which fits the 5G iPod screen perfectly and kept the download to a reasonable size, perfectly understandable, but it wasn't a long term solution for the HD era. No doubt the videos were encoded with the best protocol possible, H.264, so they looked beautiful at their native resolution, but watching a 320x240 video on a 1024x768 display (my 12" PowerBook) or 1440x990 (first generation iMac) was passable but not pleasing. I was also worried that any videos purchased at 320x240 would not be automatically upgraded when the inevitable resolution bump happened. I was also heavily disappointed that iTunes could not do DVD ripping + burning of purchased TV Shows. For comparisons sake, their is no way that iPods that only play music are such a smashing success if people can't rip their existing extensive CD libraries into iTunes or could create audio CDs to bridge the gap where iPods are tough to connect, e.g. legacy cars.

I haven't watched the September 12th Special Event "It's Showtime" event yet, the server was overloaded when the stream became available, but I have read all the coverage and have iTunes 7 installed on 2 of my 3 Macs. iTunes 7 is a great piece of work, it's addressed many a long standing issue with iTunes. The top has to be reverse synching. I can't tell you how many times I have wanted to buy something off iTunes and didn't have my full library on the computer I was at, be it work or if I was either one of my laptops, but stayed my hand because my library was on the iMac. Money was left on the table more than once.

At the special event you announced TV Shows had been upgraded to 640x480 bringing them on par with the new Movies, finally hitting native resolution of SDTV. Thank goodness, but the truly sad part if nothing changes, is that if I bought a 320x240 TV Show from iTunes up till Sept. 11, I am stuck with it. True, if I bought a VHS tape I couldn't "upgrade" to DVD without paying for it, but this isn't physical media. I could have at least eBayed my old VHS tapes like I did when DVD came out, not true of DRMed media files. If you stick with this policy, you are leaving a lot of money on the table in more ways than one since I don't believe I am alone on these issues. First, I will not buy another video from iTunes until they reach full HD resolution, 1080p. You might think this is extreme, but I am not going to be left with a bunch of 320x240 and 640x480 videos if you upgrade next year to 1280x720 (hey that is 720p in HDTV parlance, getting pretty close) and then 1080p. Secondly, you aren't going to get an iPod purchase from me until the 6G iPod with a 16:9 ratio screen comes to market. See, if you announced today that everyone that bought 320x240 videos received upgrades to 640x480, the precedent would have been set that iTunes consumers weren't going to be milked for cash every-time the source content was re-encoded. I would have bought the 5.5G iPod and bought the 6G iPod Widescreen iPod too when it came out so I could enjoy all the benefits of downloadable TV Shows and Movies now. The key is knowing that I haven't made a mistake with video purchases. I have wanted the iTV for literally years now for music and photos, downloadable TV Shows made this more acute, and downloadable Movies make having a device like this a no brainer, I find it hard to believe you are going to miss the Christmas 2006 season. But if I buy videos today in 640x480, the iTV upscaling for my HDTV is only going to look so good, I will need higher resolution videos, so again I might skip the iTV until you have full resolution videos or announce an upgrade policy. If I haven't beat the drum enough, not having an upgrade policy in place leaves an opening for HD-DVD and BluRay to gain a foothold. If I knew that if I bought today and could get full resolution videos later, me and I suspect many others would skip the next physical media for video battle entirely.

And that brings me to my last point. I noticed the iTV has no DVD drive. I also have a lot of movies on DVD sitting on my bookshelf. I have a few TV show seasons on my bookshelf. There is no way on earth I am going to buy Pirates of the Caribbean from the iTunes Store when I already have the DVD. How am I going to watch the DVD on my iPod? How am I going to serve that movie to any TV that has an iTV? I can't, not with iTunes, and as I suggested above, iTunes absolutely needs to be able to rip DVDs, just like CDs. I know, there is some encryption, there may be a legal issue, but you know what, as a consumer, I don't care, and you already have a solution. You could create protected video files from my ripped DVDs, I am wiling to concede that for the convenience. Ripping DVDs is to slow? True it is slow on older computers like the ones I have, but you have Core Duo and Core 2 Duo Macs on the market right now, ripping a DVD is only going to get faster and faster, and besides, I don't care how slow the ripping process is since I only have to do it once. How about for TVs that already have a DVD player attached, anyway I can watch TV Shows or Movies downloaded from iTunes? That would be a no since iTunes can't burn a video DVD. How come I can create audio CDs from the music I buy on iTunes but I can't create DVDs of TV Shows or Movies? There is consumer confusion there, the more video diverges from music in capabilities, the more restrictive it is compared to music, the less iPods and iTVs you are going to sell. I know, you are already battling the studios on the terms you have set for Movie downloads and DVD ripping and burning is a concession, but you have only sold 45m videos compared to 1.5b songs, I think these points are some of the reasons why.

I would love to hear from you.

A long term customer,

Apple's Media Strategy: For All Those That Don't Appear to Get It

Daniel Eran at RoughlyDrafted Magazine has posted How Apples iTV Media Strategy Works which Apple telegraphed with the iTV in yesterdays Its Showtime event. Daniel doesn't address one of the chief complaints other bloggers like Paul Thurrott have which you can read in his thoughts on the Its Showtime event, which is DVR functionality.

I thought it was obvious, but obviously not. Microsoft and Tivo for example are trying to add computer technology onto the legacy TV distribution technology, be that cable or satelite based. Apple is trying to REPLACE two legacy content distribution systems, cable/satelite TV and physical media distribution. Not only that, but they are trying to blow up the standard TV business model. I think Steve Jobs hates subscriptions to content where you just rent and rent and rent. The philosophy of subscription rentals encourages gorging, its eat as much as you can, it doesn't make you think about how much you are consuming because the primary inhibitor to stop consuming is spending more money, which you already did, you better get your monies worth

I may eat my words at some point, but I truly believe Apple will never release anything with DVR functionality, why would you need a DVR when you can already get Season Passes to iTunes and download the shows. I think there are some very big holes in Apple's strategy which I will talk about in my Email to Steve Jobs.

Monday, September 11, 2006

OS X vs. Vista: Pressing your computer's physical power button

One of my friends and former co-workers at Vertigo Software, Eric Cherng, wrote this excellent article Vista - Start Menu Power Button for the Vertigo Software Blogs, which is an excellent resource btw, on how complex Microsoft made just shutting down your computer.

Go read Eric's articles, then just look at this dialog box, which is what OS X shows you when you hit the physical power button

Say your a Windows and you are gunshy about using the physical power button it never does what the user wants and is vendor dependent. In OS X you would click the Apple Menu, the blue Apple in the menubar) where anything "System related" is and you would see the following

I had a related reaction to as Eric when I tried to restart Vista, you have to click the little right arrow next to the lock button to see, drum roll please, a menu!

In OS X, you actually can't change from System Prefernces what the physical power button does when it's pressed, I don't know about fiddling with preference files in Terminal, but why would you bother when OS X already asks you what you want? I could go on about how needlessly complex Vista's power management "options" are compared to OS X, but it is hard to find joy in making fun of the handicapped.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Top Current Windows XP Annoyance: Stopping Office apps launching inside Internet Explorer

I get a lot of links to MS Office documents emailed to me. Something typically like
The problem with links like this is by default, Word will open inside of Internet Explorer, which is just ugly and makes Word functionality harder to use than it already is. Here is how to turn it off (I am using Microsoft Word as an example):

Open any Windows Explorer window, then go to the Tools menu, Folder Options, and click the File Types tab which gets you something like this

Click your file extension, e.g. DOC, that you want to change and click the Advanced button. You will see something like this

Uncheck Browse in same window and click OK and then Close.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Funny Mac Reference

I was watching the SciFi channel show Eureka last night, the Right as Raynes episode (link is to the SciFi site, the episode isn't up on iTunes yet) when I bust out laughing.

In the episode, a computer virus has infected the custom operating system that the runs this government town, to which Sheriff Jack Carter says:
You guys should've switched to Macs.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

More Blogger Beta Problems

I just had a bear of a time getting Leaked Vista Pricing vs. OS X pricing to get posted all the way through Blogger Beta. It's finally done, but putting that out took far longer then it should have.

First, I had to turn off Convert Line Breaks for the blog when creating new posts to get the tables to show up, I mean blogger was just stripping everything out of the rest of the post. This was after I started doctoring the tables I already had created with nicer layouts in Dreamweaver to the simplest table definitions possible.
After the tables started showing up, I debugged through multiple post cycles that the appearance of any question marks or colons in normal text cause the parsing enging to stop displaying any text past that point, including tables after the first table displaying past the first colon.

Since I signed up for the beta, where can I provide this feedback (notice I can't use a question mark here). I looked, there is nothing obvious. Why did I sign up for this again (question mark)

Leaked Vista Pricing vs. OS X pricing

Robert McLaws at the Longhorn blog posted Windows Vista US Pricing and Launch Date Revealed! He has a nice table that summarizes all the leaked info, from, but the leak train started with Microsoft Canada’s site. Amazon reveals the launch date:

January 30th, 2007

Comparing this to OS X pricing is a simple exercise in the simple case. Windows Vista Home Basic Upgrade (brilliant up-sell marketing, do I really want to buy something that is called Basic) is cheaper at $100 than buying a license to OS X Tiger at $130. If you only have two computers that need upgrading to Home Basic, OS X is more expensive by $9 because you would buy the $199 family pack, but with Vista Home Basic you would buy any additional license at $90 for a grand total of $190.

But those are the only cases when Windows Vista pricing comes out cheaper than OS X Tiger pricing. If you need to pay the regular price on any version of Vista, Home Basic starts at $199, OS X is still $129. If you need to upgrade Windows XP Pro, you would start with Vista Business and that upgrade is $199, again OS X is $129.

It is hard to call MS restrained with pricing because they are playing a shell game. The equivalents of XP Home and XP Pro are Vista Home Basic and Vista Business, and the pricing is exactly the same for the Vista equivalents to the XP versions. MS knows though that a majority of users, whether they are home users or not, simply buy the most expensive version of Windows because they don’t know what they don’t need when they buy a computer and they don’t want to get left out in the cold buying a completely new Windows license. Vista has addressed this with the Anytime Upgrade functionality, where you can buy the next level of functionality by being up-sold while you are using Vista! I don’t think pricing has been revealed to do an intra-Vista upgrade, but I think a good baseline is the difference between each retail and upgrade price.
Installed Edition Target Edition Installed Upgrade Cost Target Upgrade Cost Intra-Vista Upgrade Cost
Home Basic Home Premium $99 $159 $60
Home Premium Ultimate $159 $259 $100
Business Ultimate $199 $259 $60

I skipped Home Premium to Business because I think this upgrade path is restricted. I also think it a relatively good bet that there will be some kind of penalty baked into the pricing for buying a cheap version and moving up to more expensive version instead of buying expensive versions earlier, that’s money MS could have had in the bank! Here are the differences if they go with the retail pricing.
Installed Edition Target Edition Installed Retail Cost Target Retail Cost Intra-Vista Upgrade Cost
Home Basic Home Premium $199 $239 $40
Home Premium Ultimate $239 $399 $160
Business Ultimate $299 $399 $100

I have a hard time believing that many people will have to pay full retail prices. I mean doesn’t everybody already have 2 or more Windows licenses to upgrade from.

Food or Windows Vista Upgrades

I posted Windows Licensing: The Price of Greed in response to McLaw’s Windows Licensing: The Price of Success. I kindly pointed out that Apple has figured out how to create Family Pack pricing at $199 that doesn’t feel like a rip-off. Robert McLaw’s Longhorn blog has a follow-up post to the leaked Vista pricing called The Mechanics of Pricing Additional Vista Licenses Lower. Robert really gets it with respect to families, and this time he specifically mentions and links to the OS X Family Pack. I actually feel bad for Robert because he wants to love Vista, wants it to eliminate all the pain XP caused, but faced with the hard numbers of upgrade pricing, his faith is shaken and he knows it is going to be hard a very hard sell to families. I have spent the last 3 years of my life trying to convince people to move to Macs and OS X whenever it makes sense for them to avoid all the problems with XP that Vista purports to solve (I lost me faith in MS promises 3 years ago), so I think Robert and I are more alike than different.

While a multiple computer house may not be the 80% case, more and more families have 1 to 1 ratio of computers to people, and some might even have 1.25 to 1 computers to people if you have computers for dedicated purposes.  This is where Microsoft is nearly at an insane pricing level. If I have three computers (the minimum family scenario in my opinion) to upgrade to Home Basic (upgrade + 2 additional licenses), the price is $280 + tax. If you are in the same situation with OS X, the price is just $199 + tax. The OS X Family Pack is $199 for up to 5 computers in one house, which covers the 1.25 to 1 ratio problem, or even the 1.66 to 1 (e.g. 3 desktops + 2 notebooks for 3 people) issue. It is actually pretty easy to get to a 5 PC house with 2 Media Center PCs, a gaming PC, and a couple laptops. You can run scenarios all day long because of the number of Vista editions and additional licenses. But you hit $1191 plus tax ($1274 total in NJ) to upgrade a 5 computer house to Vista Ultimate!

It is nearly impossible to give families an estimate on what their Vista upgrade costs can be without going over the edition matrix with a fine tooth comb and asking users a lot of questions about their usage patterns. It’s clear though, Vista upgrades for families will neither be cheap nor easy for users to decide on. I don’t  know about other families, but $1274 is more than a month of food for fine, and I have a tremendously hard time choosing a software upgrade over food.