Wednesday, August 30, 2006

XP "Luna" Theme Back On

Since I Turned off the Windows XP "Luna" Theme back in April, I have been completely happy except for one deal breaking problem. Trillian, my IM client, does not flash the taskbar button without the theme on. I am not sure if this is an XP thing, or a code problem with Trillian, a couple quick googles yielded no results. This problem is infuriating since someone will start chatting and I will be involved with something else and completely miss a conversation for a while because of it. The XP Themes are not good, but missing important conversations is far worse.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Is Windows inherently more vulnerable to malware attacks than OS X?

Tom Yager at InfoWorld must have his flame-retardant suit on today because he asks the question if Is Windows inherently more vulnerable to malware attacks than OS X? The first question for Mr. Yager is why was he swapping out an Xserve G5 for a Windows server anyway? The next is why was the Windows Server service Internet accessible in the first place? It's been a recommended best practice since worms starting targeting this service in Windows 2000 to make sure that is firewalled off from the Internet, and with Windows Firewall you can configure it to only respond to requests from internal IP's However, his billion (million just not being what it used to) dollar question still stands. I dont' remember anyone of any serious technical depth truly going on record and declaring OS X superior to malware by design and enumerating a number of reasons why they believe that to be the case. I don't think its very controversial to say that Windows has some serious design flaws that cause a number of problems, and those design flaws make eliminating or preventing malware much harder than it should be. I think Mr. Yager lists a good number of them, but he does make a few mistakes. In Windows XP and 2003, not all services (daemons in UNIX verbiage) launch as SYSTEM (LocalSystem in the Services MMC), there are two lower privileged accounts that are used, Local Service and Network Service. A TechNet article has the details, but the summary is:
  • Local System - Exactly as Yager describes, it is the SYSTEM
  • Local Service - Equivalent to an account in the Users group, it access network resources as a "null session with no credentials"
  • Network Service - Equivalent to an account in the Users group, but it accesses network resources as the computer account/
On my Windows XP SP2 system right now, I have A LOT of services running, 48 of them, it is a constant source of worry, e.g. do I absolutely need all this stuff running, here is the breakdown on service accounts:
Local Service4 services
Network Service2 services
Local System (i.e. SYSTEM)42 services
That is a lot of code that could potentially compromise any system, and it's not all Microsoft's, Symantec, Lotus, Apple, Check Point, and IBM all have services running as Local System. I am nowhere near technically competent on UNIX or OS X specific internals to suggest that Mr. Yager is correct about OS X's design. My deepest technical knowledge is on the Windows and .NET stacks, so there is no way I can judge if the list of OS X design choices absolutely prevent malware, but if Mr. Yager is correct in his OS X assertions, that sounds like better more manageable design then what MS has ended up with in the production versions of Windows. I don't think it's controversial to suggest MS is well aware of these problems is making a lot of changes in Vista, the most visible being User Account Control. this link details the "Security and Data Protection" improvements in Vista, and there is a section on Windows Services hardening. This is particular telling about previous versions of Windows:
Windows services represent a large percentage of the overall attack surface in Windows—from the perspective of the quantity of overall "always-on" code footprint in the system, and the privilege level of that code. Windows Vista limits the number of services that are running and operational by default. Today, many system and third-party services run in the LocalSystem account, where any breach could lead to unbounded damage to the local machine—including disk formatting, user data access, or driver installation.
Read the whole article for the steps MS has taken in Vista to harden Windows Services. Will these protections make Vista more secure than XP? I would put money on it. Riddle me this: When Vista comes out and the security design changes, which emulate OS X security design decisions from years ago, result in a reduction in malware, spyware, virus, etc., would anyone ever again seriously claim that OS X was more secure primarily through obscurity instead of primarily through better design and implementation? I am not looking forward to Vista from an end-user perspective, but I am eager to see if the security design changes make computing more safe for Windows users.

Upgraded to Blogger Beta...might be a mistake

When I logged into Blogger this morning, I saw the link to upgrade my blog to the new Blogger Beta. I have been a Beta junkie for a long time, so I took the plunge with Blogger. First the good news, Blogger Beta is a lot faster than the last Blogger release, so less annoyance with posting/publishing cycles. Labels (I call them Tags on the actual posts) are finally available, something I wish had been here all along, but I guess I am going to have to edit 2 years worth of post to get this meta-data in, I am anal like that. Overall though, upgrading might have been a slight mistake. First, you have to link your previous Blogger account to a Google account. I choose my Gmail account, and I should have known better, now any Blogger related mail is going to Gmail instead of my main email address. You can't seem to control this, since it's a GMail Google account, I can't change where mail is sent, I guess I could remove GMail as a service from my account, but I should have used my non-GMail Google account. The new Layout Editor is pretty nice, it does most of what you would want to do with rearranging page elements and putting a GUI on editing the CSS and HTML. But I can't edit the actual HTML, that isn't working yet, so I can't replace the default header image with the one I recently created, lame. The JavaScript code for AdSense isn't working in the HTML/JavaScript page element that comes with the layout editor. Not a huge deal, I am not raking in the money with the Ads, but still another annoyance. The other think I did to the base template was remove the border around images I put in the posts, and I can't do that yet so like on my last post has a border around the image. The biggest disappointment by far is that the templates are still designing for 800x600. I hate his, maybe before I do any customization I need to run through all the templates and see if any are optimized for at least 1024x768. I started trying to change the old template to make it work on 1024x768, but I would have had to customize a lot of images and I thought Blogger Beta might have had some options with regard to template size...*sigh*

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tip: Quickly opening an Apple Mail message reply from your Inbox

The other day I stumbled on a bit of subtle UI that is actually useful in Apple's In pretty much all other mail clients I am using, an indicator that a message has been replied to is just that, a static image. Not in Mail, here you can click on the icon and see your reply to that message immediately. Now that I found this feature, I wish it were in Notes and Thunderbird, the two other mail clients I use day to day.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Visual Studio .NET SP1 - Released

Microsoft has released the long awaited (by me anyway) Visual Studio .NET 2003 SP1. I have only been running it since yesterday (I got into the beta program, but I missed the window to download it from Connect, damn) but everything seems fine. The link has the list of fixes, tops on my list are the crashers. If you have ever experienced some of these crash bugs, you know how maddening they can be. I told a co-worker about the release, he couldn't care less because he hasn't seen any problems with VS.NET. I don't think I have ever done anything very taxing to VS.NET 2003, so I guess he has been exceptionally lucky ;-).

Could Apple replicate the iPod+iTunes model to video chat?

One of my primary use cases in October 2004 for getting a Mac was the quality of video chat with an external iSight and iChat. The system has worked beautifully even as I moved from CA back to NJ and went through a number of ISPs before getting to my current configuration. The iSight+iChat experience has been so much better than anything else I have seen, anything on the PC (though I haven't tried the latest Windows Live Messenger, it's like why bother, iSight+iChat is awesome). I even tried connected the external iSight (I am making a distinction here because Apple has an embedded iSight in most new products) to a Windows PC back in 2004, but the results were not good, including garbled video and Windows crashes.

What's changed?
A few new pieces of information have surfaced that have led me to question if Apple isn't missing out on a huge opportunity with there iSight+iChat combination. First, Apple released Boot Camp 1.1 Beta, which includes a number of enhancements, but the one that's relevant here is:

Support for built-in iSight cameras
This reads like its only the embedded iSights which are supported on the Intel Macs, but that would leave Mac Pro buyers out in the cold because the Cinema Displays don't have an embedded iSight. It was only a matter of time, but Mac Only confirms the new Windows iSight driver supports the external iSight as well. iSight+iChat for Windows I am not suggesting the iSight driver is proof of anything other than Apple's intention to completely support the hardware in their machines completely under Windows. If there was speculation to the contrary, this Boot Camp update should put that completely to rest. What I am suggesting though is that Apple is closer to and could release an iSight+iChat for Windows combination, ala iPod+iTunes.

Reasons why Apple won't release iSight+iChat for Windows
There are many reasons Apple won't do this, or wouldn't be as successful as with iPod+iTunes:

  • iChat feature enhancements are a key selling point to OS X upgrades, and by extension a key differentiator of the Mac
  • iChat has no incremental revenue model
  • Video chatting has been historically so poorly implemented it might be difficult to convince users this is real
  • iChat can't call mobile or land line phones
  • Crowded market for IM/video chat/audio call applications on the PC
  • Porting iChat to Windows adds another Windows application that needs to be supported
The hurdles are pretty significant or with significant downside risk (OS X appeal reduced somewhat).

Reasons why Apple should release iSight+iChat for Windows

  • iPod is nowhere near as successful as it is today without iTunes for Windows.
  • Yahoo, Windows Live, Google, and Skype are all going to or already have started to attack the video chat market with force. iChat as a OS X differentiator from Windows might be in jeopardy anyway if Apple leaves iChat on OS X
  • iSight+iChat for Windows gives those users another taste of the OS X world, it's an upsell opportunity to the sacred applications of OS X, the iLife suite.

Enhancements iChat needs to truly make this model succeed
On either OS X or Windows, iChat needs a number of important + fun enhancements, not just fun enhancements to remain competitive or increase it's lead over other applications in the space.

  • Phone calls, both mobile and land line. This is such a no-brainer, Apple already has a billing relationship through the iTunes Music Store with millions of customers
  • Micro-transactioned content - Similar to songs on iTunes, emoticons, pictures, backgrounds (look at the green screen style background stuff in Leopard), and ringtones all purchasable through the iChat Store using your iTunes account

Apple's Endgame
iSight+iChat for Windows could be the first step to expansion into another market with the iPhone. Online presence and communication can be unified using this device. Move from a Mac at home, or on the go with the iPhone, or at work on your Windows PC and maintain the same friends list and high feature parity between all platforms, with text, audio, or video dependent on the hardware (PCs can do it all, iPhone does audio and video, or all 3 with a BlackBerry style device). Everyone expects the iPhone will be a cellular based technology. It's possible Apple is going to go the WiFi, or WiMAX route, or even a hybrid approach that uses cell or WiFi depending on the network technology available wherever you are. Vonage and Skype are releasing WiFi phones that are modeled on cordless telephones, not very innovative thinking. The Vonage V-Phone a USB keychain that lets you take your Vonage account to any PC to turn it into a Vonage compatible phone looks a lot like an orange iPod shuffle, why can't Apple put iChat on all iPods? iChat on OS X is using the same network technology, SIP, as Vonage, so network connectivity can't be a major hurdle.

Apple's iPod millions should allow an expansion into another market. Apple's CFO Peter Oppenheimer said recently when asked about cell phones eating into the iPods market for stand-alone music players:

...we're not sitting around doing nothing.
I think that's clear they have to enter the mobile phone market, exactly what form that takes is the question. If they port iChat to Windows and unify the friends presence and communication problem across PCs, Macs and mobile devices, I think Apple could be a hugely disruptive force in the mobile phone market. Even if Apple just released the iSight+iChat properly for Windows, it could be very disruptive. Microsoft is now selling webcams in the same price range as the external iSight, and as this article about the announcement of the MS webcams states the webcam market is growing, Logitech reported earnings of $273 million with 36% growth. With Apple's great looking iSight and the elegance and ease of use of iChat, I easily think they could have a winner on their hands.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

RoughlyDrafted just went up in flames

A few days ago I recommended Daniel Eran's RoughlyDrafted Magazine as one of my favorite writers on the interweb. Today Daniel posted Windows 5x More Expensive than Mac OS X and the site has basically gone up in flames because of the article. Daniel makes some good points on maintenance costs for Windows due to antivirus programs and updates for normal users (i.e. those that aren't geeks). I know multiple family and friends that are on the yearly subscription plan for Norton AntiVirus because it is the easiest thing for them to do. I just recently learned of free antivirus, so I will probably start switching people over after I have looked into how good or not this stuff is. I think Daniel's point still stands, a lot of Windows users are paying Norton or McAfee an annual fee for antivirus. Daniel goes off the rails when he suggest that Windows user's are paying BestBuy's Geek Squad $200 a year, $1400 since XP came out, for spyware and security cleaning. I don't know anyone that has used that service, they usually find a geek like me to clean up their machines or live with the infestation. I did recently find out my parents paid someone $90 to do a secure wipe of the hard drive on an old Windows 98 computer before getting rid of the machine (which was replaced by an iMac), so maybe there is something to it after all. But Daniel can't pin the Geek Squad fee on the annual costs of Windows with no supporting evidence, that's just bad reporting. Daniel I expect better.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mozilla Thunderbird Theme Recommendation: Tiger Mail

With both Firefox and Thunderbird, I have in general stayed with the default theme. For Firefox, I am using the 2.0b1 and there aren't a lot of themes compatible, or if there are, the Firefox add-ons site does a real poor job showing me what is compatible, I can't find a way to tell it just show me themes for 2.0b1 and greater, you get everything so it turns into a fishing expedition. Anyway, there is a theme for Thunderbird that approximates the look of Apple's Mail in OS X Tiger so well it has become my default, aptly named Tiger Mail. It feels like Thunderbird is more usable now because most of the UI elements are more obvious with Tiger's graphics. I then rearranged the main toolbar buttons to be in nearly the same place as Apple Mail. Highly Recommended.

Configuring Mozilla Thunderbird to work with .Mac Mail's Trash Folder

I use Mozilla Thunderbird on my work PC to check my .Mac Mail account. All in all, it's a good program, with one nagging problem with .Mac, the trash folder name expected by Thunderbird is Trash, but .Mac's trash folder name is Deleted Messages. I have basically been living with this problem for years by configuring Thunderbird to "mark message as deleted" and "expunge on exit" combination, but it's sub-optimal since messages that get moved remain in your Inbox folder until you exit, although marked for deletion. I kept thinking this would get "fixed" in a newer release, or at least the ability to change the name of the Trash folder. After reading through the lengthy Thunderbird 2.0 Alpha 1 changlog and not seeing any mention of this specific issue, I went looking in the MozillaZine Knowledge Base, which I never thought may have existed and I never googled on this issue because it is obvious in the UI changing the name of the folder Thunderbird uses for Trash is not possible. But it is! You just have to know how to create a user.js file in your profile folder with the right command. The instructions are at MozillaZine KB - IMAP Trash Folder.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The misinformation that Mac OS X users are zealots

In the comment's for Daniel Eran's article, The Time Machine Rip-Off Myth at Roughly Drafted Magazine, I said the following in response to commentors suggesting that Daniel unraveling some myths being perpetuated about the Time Machine feature in OS X Leopard:
Another good article. It should be obvious to anyone that Time Machine is a tremendous advance in usability and capability over Volume Shadow Copies by allowing browsing and restoration within the native apps UI, making it within the realm of possibility that mom can do it on her own. The first part, the unraveling of the Paul Thurrott's "Secret Formula" is probably necessary, seems like he has spun more out of control than usual. Too bad it has come to this, I too would like reasoned intelligent analysis vs. the kind of stuff Thurrott has been doing lately. As for the Mac "haters" posting here saying that Mac users think they are better or smarter than everyone else, for most of us that's simply not true. A lot of us use Windows, OS X, and Linux and are just looking for the best technology that allows us to get more stuff done, with less hassle, than the other tech out there. If 1 million people say OS X is better than Windows, it means its better for them. If you talk to them about it and their use cases intersect with your use cases and you are not using OS X and its apps, most of the time OS X users are going to suggest why they think OS X might be better for you. Obviously, as with anything in life, some people that have discovered OS X before others believe they are better for getting their earlier, it validates them. Just like people that find good bands before others, you kinda have to ignore those people for being pompous about it. What Daniel does here, and hopefully from time to time I do on my blog, is show people what is better in OS X and why compared to primarily Windows since it has the market. This isn't some superiority complex, I think we are both trying to help people save time in their lives if something works better, because after all time is the most precious commodity we have.
Daniel is one of my favorite writer's on the interweb, I highly suggest you subscribe to his feed.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Windows Licensing: The Price of Greed

Robert McLaws article Windows Licensing: The Price of Success has to be one of the best pieces of un intentional comedy writing I have read in a while. It gave me a good laugh. Here is the short short version. *ahem* Microsoft please don't be as greedy with Vista licensing as you are with XP licensing since it might cost $675 to upgrade a 3 computer home, assuming Windows Vista Home Premium at $225 per copy. I offer instead for your reference what Apple does. If you have upto a 5 Mac household, the same upgrade from OS X 10.3 Panther to OS X 10.4 Tiger is $199 with the Family Pack. That is only $39.80 per computer if you have 5 machines, $66.33 per machine for a 3 computer household. Apple does this, because like a lot of things, they has already figured out this problem. Peruse the Apple store for Tiger pricing. The single licenses upgrade, btw, is only $129. What's that? Apple releases OS X so much more frequently than Microsoft releases Windows (that is already a joke, do they actually release Windows?) that you end up paying more for OS X than Windows, so Windows is cheaper! You would have to buy the Family Pack for 4 releases in row to costs more than a single Windows upgrade cycle example above. I can't wait to run the scenarios when MS announces final retail pricing. There is no reason to believe Apple will be charging more for Leopard upgrades than for the Tiger cycle, whereas MS has already increased prices through additional editions Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate. Paul Thurrott has a good breakdown of the Vista editions. Choose wisely, and enjoy the ability to be upsold to an even more expensive edition of Windows Vista with Anytime Upgrade.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Leopard Preview Revisted: 64-bit and why it's a big deal

Apple released Xcode 2.4 today. This release fixes a number of things, and adds some features, all detailed in the Release Notes, ADC account required. The part that I want to call attention to is the new 64-bit support in Xcode 2.4, as detailed in the release notes:
Xcode 2.4 adds support for 64-bit Intel development, with support for creating four-architecture Universal applications (32 and 64 bit for both Intel and PowerPC).
Now the pieces of why 64-bit Leopard are a big deal fall into place, contrary to what some are saying about it. Here is a quote from the Leopard Preview site:
Leopard takes 64-bit computing to the next level, while maintaining full performance and compatibility for your existing 32-bit applications and drivers.
There will be just 1 version of Leopard, and it will be 64-bit with full 32-bit non-emulated support. It's now obvious that starting with Xcode 2.4, the Universal binary format has been extended to support 32-bit and 64-bit for both PPC and Intel inside the same file, quad univeral binearies! Users don't have to choose between 32-bit or 64-bit, either at the OS or application layers, it's all abstracted from them. The Mach-O object file format has been extended again to great utility. Read more about Mach-O and Fat Binaries on Wikipedia. The differences between MS and Apple on the transition to 64-bit couldn't be more stark, assuming Apple executes as it has with the Intel transition and ongoing PPC support. With MS, I have to "choose" between the compatibility of 32-bit vs. the possible improvement of a 64-bit version, with a lot of downside, as Paul Thurrott reported last year about XP x64, and again with Vista, based on Thurrott's advice for buying a Vista PC. This is a nice quote:
I do recommend x64-compatible chips, but those who upgrade to Vista in the next year or so will likely want to stick with the 32-bit Vista versions for the short term.
Paul's Vista Feature Focus: 64-bit has a Final Thoughts section that I could quote wholesale, it's all germane, but this is the saddest part:
...the x64 versions [of Vista] are also far less compatible than their predecessors, with both hardware devices and software, and these incompatibilities will ultimately make the x64 Vista versions less attractive to most users. Within the next few years, the majority of Windows users will almost certainly move to x64-based PCs. But I'm guessing that the 32-bit versions of Vista will dominate throughout this product's lifetime because of compatibility issues.
No one can say right now whether Apple will be able pull off inclusion of 64-bit as smoothly as they are suggesting until applications start getting compiled and testing using Xcode 2.4 (and later Xcode 3.0) on Tiger and Leopard, but Apple has certainly maneuvered themselves, and their developers, to provided 64-bit support to those users that need it with none of the problems that Windows 64-bit, either XP or Vista, are plagued with. You need only look at how smoothly PPC to Intel was delivered to make some good bets. 64-bit in Leopard is not just an important end-user feature for the Pro community, it's an amazing piece of engineering, and again demonstrates Apple's seemingly unique ability to take complex technical problems and simplify them. Hide all the hard engineering for the majority of users, but with OS X expose it for those that want it. Anyone saying that the 64-bit situation with XP or Vista is in anyway analogous to what is coming in Leopard has blinders on.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Apple's Leopard Attacks Part 1: Microsoft Exchange Server

Update Roughly Drafted has started publishing articles on this very topic. Of course Roughly Drafted has a lot more history on the topic of groupware and email servers in general.
Apple Takes On Exchange Server
Apple's Open Calendar Server vs Microsoft Exchange
MacDailyNews has has picked up on Roughly Drafted's articles and I posted a comment on the article saying I originally talked about this back in August 06.

Original Post
Leopard Server was not demoed in the WWDC 06 Keynote in any capacity, but the preview site and subsequent reports (see the References section at the bottom), makes something very clear. Apple is about to attack Microsoft at it's linchpin server product, the one enterprises get shackled to first: Exchange Server.

Microsoft's Server Playbook
Microsoft Exchange Server (4.x-2003) is a Trojan Horse, it gets other MS server products in the enterprise. This plan become obvious once Exchange 2000 was released. In one of the most stunning instances I can remember of tying two software markets together, Active Directoy in Windows 2000 Server was required. Exchange 200x will not function without it. Why is this is insidious? Look at the cost for a medium sized company from the MS Exchange Server site and theWindows Server 2003 R2 pricing site:
ProductNumber of UsersCost
Microsoft Exchange Server Standard EditionN/A$699
Microsoft Exchange Server user CAL50$67
Microsoft Exchange Server device CAL50$67
Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard Edition5$999
Windows Server 2003, Client Access License 20-pack x 220$799
Organizations can acquire the licenses listed above at lower prices through volume licensing, but that is exactly the point. The list prices are so high (I haven't even added in hardware and possibly consulting costs), organizations feel like they are getting a bargain if they sign for volume licensing, they are getting a "deal". Once an organization signs on for volume licensing, they hardly ever switch away from MS, the opposite happens, they add more products (e.g. SharePoint Portal Server, SQL Server). The entire machine is too costly to replace, you have the Exchange Server admins, the experts just to understand all the licensing and audit them, the backup specialists, the AD specialists, I am sure I am missing someone. Volume licensing is the same reason MS with their partners have been pushing rental music (wrongly called subscriptions): they automatically get paid every day/month/year whether they deliver you something new or not. The revenue is guaranteed. Customer aquisition costs are high, if you can't cut that costs out of every sale, it's nearly like printing money. Make no mistake, figuring out the licensing and pricing if any organization thinks they might be interested in MS products is a full time job, there are so many possible permutations, and the wording so ambigious at times, you are never perfectly sure you have only the licenses you need and nothing more. Often you are penalized if you guess wrong, because features and capabilities are walled off from use unless you get the higher priced version, and there is no incremental upgrade costs if you aren't on volume licensing. Look again at the table above, MS is getting organizations that sign onto Exchange for 2 CALs per user, 1 for AD and 1 for Exchange, and for additional CALs if you use your SmartPhone/Blackberry/Outlook Web Access terminal to get your mail.

Apple Attacks
Before OS X, Apple did not have an OS capable of being a true server operating system (i.e. no preemtive multitasking). This point is important because gaining traction with a server OS takes years. It took MS 8 years before Windows NT, rechristened as Windows 2000, really took off (it helped that Windows 2000 was also the best version of the product at the time). But what was the appeal of Windows NT vs. Solaris/Digital Unix/AIX? NT used cheaper commodity (Intel) hardware, undercut the pricing models of the big Unix servers, met the needs of the bottom end of the market first (small and medium businesses), specialists were cheaper, and yes NT was easier to use in a lot of cases for people that grew up on Windows. Now look at the moves Apple is making with Xserve and Leopard Server. Apple has moved to Intel hardware. An Xserve with Leopard Server starts at $2499. That includes Mac OS X Leopard Server for UNLIMITED users (retail is $999 for the upgrade) and includes a number of servers built-in (Mail, Calendaring, Directory, DB, Teams) which MS charges seperate CALs (AD, Exchange) and seperate servers (Exchange, AD, SQL Server, SharePoint) for very low pricing. In Leopard Server, Apple looks to be targetting the bottom end of the server market first with the new Server Assistant and Server Preferences. No administrators required, just plug in your Xserve, run through the Server Assistant, and you are ready to use. You have to wonder how realistice "No administrators" is, but that is a huge chunk of cost if Apple can reduce the number of servers operators to near zero. What about backup? Imagine if Time Machine is built-into Leopard Server? Who needs to manage backup when its always running and the bits are just there if you go looking for them, as long as you have enough disk space. Notice I mentioned Server Assistant and System Preferences. If anyone can focus on a hard problem and come up with an easier way to convey the same ideas as others, it's Apple. Take a look at Time Machine for an example. If you have ever seen the MS Exchange Management Console? Be afraid, be very afraid. This is very telling, listed on the iCal Server preview page:
Networks with an existing directory service — such as Active Directory — can deploy Leopard Server for local hosting of all calendar and collaboration data while continuing to use the existing directory for user log-in and authentication.

How can Apple offer all of this at such low pricing?
Create a disruptive union of open source and closed sourced development models. Apple has been on this path for years, using the parts of various open source project that best met its technical and licensing needs. Apple announced the most recent and obvious commitement they have ever made, Mac OS Forge, including there iCal Server that is going to be in Leopard. How is this cheaper? Open source has a near chronic inability to put the finishing touch on any project (exceptions exists, e.g. Firefox), but that's one of Apple's core strengths, meticulous attention to detail which distills a problem down to its essential parts, and bubbling that to the surface. Add to the fact that iCal Server has been open sourced.

Worms in the Apple
Will Apple have problems executing this plan? You bet. Enterprises are steadfast that they need multiple hardware sources to use with their monopoly software, with Apple you are stuck with the hardware and OS, but not that Apple is Intel, if OS X Server doesn't work out, you could always install Windows anyway. But that's not the rub, its that if Apple makes the hardware prices really undesirable, you can't move your software elsewhere. Another issue will be getting the data out of Exchange. MS and Lotus have both spent millions writing conversion tools, sometimes even for different versions of their own products. If Apple doesn't have a way of getting data out of Exchange, their market is only the companies that don't have a solution already, not very appetizing. Apple needs to start pounding he pavement to once Leopard Server is out the door to get people to convert if it wants to sell Xserves. But they really don't have to sell a lot, take a couple percent of the Collaboration Server market, and it would be tremendously disruptive. Finally, since the server is open source, you will get people that build iCal Server on Linux and deploy for free. But the geek's that do that aren't the market Apple is targeting, so I don't think this is a huge worry either.

Apple is being very aggresive, they want a piece of the enterprise. If this wasn't clear before, it certainly is now. Exciting times indeed.

References Some people have started to put this together, it's there in bits and pieces, so instead of linking it all above, here are my sources so far for this info:,1759,2001617,00.asp?kc=EWRSS03119TX1K0000594

Is Steve Jobs Sick?

First MacDailyNews asked the question, and Paul Thurrott's Internet Nexus ponders the same after reading MacDailyNews. I didn't see the keynote, or half of it anyway (PowerBook battery died, PC audio isn't working), until this morning, but I didn't think Jobs looked sick. And their is a good explanation for the use of multiple people, other than the sick question. Apple is trying to show there are more people behind the curtain running the show than just Steve. It's meant to answer those that question if their is a CEO transition plan in place when Steve makes an exit, illness related or otherwise. I think this is part of the CEO interview process, see how other current execs play to the crowds. Steve can't be CEO or the only showman forever.

Monday, August 07, 2006

WWDC 2006 Keynote Over

They Stevenotes over and done, new Macs were introduced, and Leopard was previewed. If you weren't at the show, you can look at the features previewed here: Leopard Preview. I would say Apple showed the bare minimum necessary during the presentation. I am very excited about what I saw, especially Time Machine. MS has had Shadow Copies/Previous Versions for years. Could anything highlight the difference more between MS and Apple? MS names something so cryptically and makes it so hard to use, as a tab on the properties of a folder, that it's nearly an obscurity and not many people use it. Apple implements the same idea buts names it Time Machine, people can easily remember this, implement it for everything, and then the UI, its fantastic, gorgeous use of 3D while being actually helpful in finding what you are looking for. Look at the video here. That said, you know there is more in Leopard than what is shown either on the preview site or during the keynote. They didn't even show Safari for one, you know work is being done their, the comparison to Vista I think is telling. I don't think there is really any way Apple shows how MS has ripped off whole app layouts and OS look and feel and not be planning on a UI overhall. I may be wrong, but the whole "Top Secret" slide in the keynote wasn't there for no reason. The one thing really not demoed was Xcode 3.0, and the preview site makes me want it now. Objective-C 2.0 will have garbage collection: confirmed! Project snapshots - you save your code just like a video game! Xray looks killer. Spring 2007 can't get here soon enough.

WWDC Eve == Christmas Eve

Anyone that follows Apple, and probably most in the tech world, know that the World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) starts tomorrow, and Steve Job's Keynote starts at 1 PM Eastern Time. Take a look at the rumors at MacSurfer, the buzz is palpable. I am not going to engage in the rampant speculation going on, you can see a large collection of it on MacSurfer, but it really is just like Christmas Eve. I had seriously considered going on my own dime to the WWDC this year, would have been my first time, to see the keynote and soak in all the developer knowledge because of the Leopard showing, but the expense was just to great if I wanted to have any coin left over to buy whatever wonders Jobs unveils tomorrow. It doesn't help when someone like Robert Scoble, who has an in-law that works at Apple, pours gasoline on the fire with this in a post on Vista not being ready:
Huh? I believe Vista DOES make our computing lives easier. The desktop search features are a huge advance. The multimedia capabilities are WORLDS ahead of anything else I’ve used. And the Tablet PC, Speech Recognition, and Media Center stuff that’s in there is WORLDS ahead of Apple. Although watch Apple in a week. Hint hint.
I just wish Apple was streaming the event live, realistically I won't know anything until 2-3 PM EST, oh the agony...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Windows Server 2003 Server Service Optimization

I have been looking at a lot of Windows Server 2003 configurations lately to audit the dev, test, uat, and prod environments for my company. One of the things that seems like a holdover from the NT4 days is tuning the Server service. You get to this configuration in W2K3 from Start-Control Panel-Network Connections-Properties on Local Area Connection. Then select File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks and click the Properties button. I could put some screenshots together, but I am being lazy :) Anyway, you get 4 choices for Optimization:
  • Minimize memory used
  • Balance
  • Maximize data throughput for file sharing - the Default
  • Maximize data throughput for network applications
There is also a checkbox to Make browser broadcasts to LAN manager 2.x clients, I have never used this box. Tuning this service used to be one of the first things you did in NT4 when not using the box as a file server, but more and more, I see it being left in its default configuration (noted above). I think people expect that you shouldn't have to do this anymore, after all, you did you the Manage Your Server wizard to configure your server roles right? Unfortunately, you still have to change this one by hand, and for Exchange, SQL Server, and IIS you want to choose Maximize data throughput for network applications. Click on this link to see Microsoft's description of how the kernel is tuned based on this setting, but the short version is anything but the default does the same thing, makes the file system cache a fixed 8 MB (instead of being capable of expanding to physical memory limits) and makes the memory manager more aggressive about moving memory pages out of physical memory, which is better for apps that manage their own memory caches.

Review Update: Microsoft Xbox 360, now a typical MS product

Back on June 21, 2006, I wrote that the Xbox 360 was Microsoft's Best Product Ever. Well I have had the 360 for nearly 4 months now, and I have run into a few issues that have taken the shine off my previous glowing review.
  • The Universal Media Remote died. I bought this seperately, but its part of the MS accesories story, and in < 3 months, it just wouldn't work anymore. I don't remember doing anything to harm it, but it died. To MSes credit though, they did ship me a new one very quickly, but I am concerned about the longevity of this system because...
  • The 360 crashed on boot with a System Error. This would appear to be the 360's BSOD (in this case a Black Screen of Death). It happened on a cold boot after being off all night long, so I an concerned this points to a coming hardware failure
  • Games sometimes just lockup.I have seen this in both Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3) and Ghost Recon: Advance Warfighter (GRAW). Game is playing fine, then all of a sudden the screen freezes and the 360 is unresponsive, but music keeps playing. Very Odd
  • The 360 runs VERY hot. I am not talking about the fan noise, that is immediately obvious, I mean the temperature of my 15x10 room changes from acceptable, as is the rest of my house, to unacceptable if I play the Xbox 360 for more than an hour. I have had to bring a fan into the room just so there is enough airflow. And no, the game lockups happen at all times, so its not purely a hear issue.
  • Achievements aren't well documented in many games. I am growing increasingly frustrated by the need to google forums and other sites for an actual explanation on how to obtain some achievements. There are a lot of achievements, particularly in PGR3 and GRAW, that require getting compound objectives. If you can't get it done in one sitting, you have no way of knowing most of the time what criteria you have satisfied vs. what you don't. Also, the wording on achievements is sometimes intentionally cryptic, that's my observation, to make it harder to achieve. That's not cool, I don't want a mini-game built-in to the achievement system, I just want to clearly know what in a game I can get points for, and what my status is in getting those points
  • Downloadable Content Pricing. The GRAW - Chapter 2 was very expensive for a game I already paid $60 for. I bought it to get another set of Co-op missions since me and a friend have really enjoyed the Co-op missions. Have I got my money's worth? Tough to say, but what's infuriating is that there were no more achievements for the additional Co-op missions for my I think $12.
  • Unable to download content error message. I am a demo and trailer downloaded whore from Xbox Live Marketplace, until 2 days ago that is. I tried to download the Madden 2007 trailer and some other stuff and I kept getting told unable to download content. Reason why, I was out of Hard Drive space!!! Common MS, this should be an easy thing to tell the user, Unable to download content because the hard drive is full, I shouldn't have to troubleshoot the downloading of content. You have got to be kidding me.
I wonder how many other people were really excited about the X360 but are not starting to run into problems that cause their experience to be less than stellar?

Regarding Brian Krebs’s Reporting on the Supposed MacBook Wi-Fi Exploit

I was going to blog this myself, but Daring Fireball has already done the job and it's a good read. To sum up, the reporting on this issue is so poor it's no wonder people are not reading newspapers anymore, you get better, more accurate, and completely information online than nearly anything tech related from the dead tree set.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Review: Nintendo DS Lite + Games

I posted a whole bunch about my experiences with the Sony PSP, which were not good. Well that device has finally been auctioned (thats almost like a divorce) and been replaced with the Nintendo DS Lite. If I had to sum up my experience with the PSP in one word, it would be disappointment. Doing the same with the DS Lite, I would say joy. What is the big deal about the hardware? The DS Lite is designed to play handheld games, and it is fantastic at that. The console form factor is fantastic, it doesn't weigh much, screens are very bright, the stylus is big and heavy enough to be good to use, sound is great with headphones, and button placement is ideal. There are near zero load times! For anyone that has been playing optical disc based consoles for years, it is startling to use a cartridge system again, and honestly very satisfying. I can't stress how great it is to not have to wait on the stupid system when you have just a few minutes to get some playing down. Its so fast it makes me get very angry at my Xbox 360 for excessive load times (Project Gotham Racing 3 you are on notice). This is not to imply that the DS can compete on graphical firepower with the PSP, it can't, but you don't care at all because of the games. With the innovative touch based control scheme in a lot of games, I finally feel like there is innovation in games again instead of retreading everything. But wait, the hardware may be slick, but without software (*cough* PSP) who cares? This is where the DS really shines. The game library is innovative and it there are great titles. Here are the titles I have already bought in 2 months (release June 11, 2006) with the DS:
  • Advance Wars: Dual Strike
  • New Super Marios Bros
  • Brain Age: Train Your Brain In Just Minutes A Day
  • Tetris DS
These games are all great, with Advance Wars and New Super Mario Bros requiring special mention. Nothing on the PSP that I played was as good as any of the DS titles I already have, and Advance Wars and New Super Mario Bros are some of the most fun games I have ever played. Brain Age, Tetris DS, and New Super Mario Bros all got my wife to play, and she hasn't picked up a controller ages. I also got a chance to play Metroid Prime Hunters, Ridge Racer DS (same as the PSP version, only lower rez polys), and Super Mario 64. Metroid Prime Hunters is a lot of fun once you learn the touch screen based control scheme, but once you do, you will cringe at the thought of the PSPs one analog stick in SOCOM anew. There is also a number of games the came out for the DS before I bought one, and Game Boy Advance games (which the DS also plays) that I want to get, here is a sampling:
  • Castlevanie: Dawn of Sorrow
  • Trauma Center
  • Phoenix Wright: Attorney at Law
  • Animal Crossing: Wild World
This doesn't even take care of all the new games coming out this fall and winter, like StarFox and Final Fantasy III. Why didn't you just get the DS when it first came out? The DS Lite is not to be confused with the original DS, which people are referring to as the DS Phat. Check this Wikipedia entry about the DS Lite. I tried a friend's DS Phat when I told her about how much the PSP sucked, and I wasn't impressed with the DS Phat because it was even bigger than the PSP and the screen brightness was awful. I primarily use any handheld system on the train to/from NYC, and their is a lot of sunlight, I need bright screens. Anything wrong with it? I have not a single complaint about the DS Lite, but there have been rumblings of a Cracking hinge problem. I don't have this problem with my DS Lite, and I suspect that its the Internet's propensity to act as a megaphone for those with issues. I certainly don't baby my DS Lite, I toss it in the backpack with both my laptops and other junk, no cracking for me. Conclusion If you like playing innovative, fun games and not just ports from the PS2 (*cough* PSP) on a handheld, the the DS Lite is for you. It doesn't have the best 3D graphics, but the games sure are fun.