Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dumping Internet Explorer 7

I have been using Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) pretty much since it came out on my development VM. Today, it's no longer the default browser for a pretty simple reason. CTRL-clicking the back button does not open the previous history chain in a new tab. Why does this matter? I use it all the time doing research, Google for something, click on a result, then realize I want to go back to Google while staying with the current link, in Firefox CTRL-clicking on back does this, it's great. Not having this in IE7 is now a deal-breaker. Firefox 2 really doesn't have any features over Firefox 1.x that I care about, so it has been a disappointing release. IE7 has been pretty much fine, with the biggest con up till this point being the weird UI layout, I pretty much hate but adapted to it. The other great Firefox feature IE still doesn't have is the inline Find within the page, its excellent. That said, I still do most of my research in Safari.


This is a fun little test of browser rendering performance: BubbleMark

I posted the following results in the comments:
MacBook Pro 2.16 GHz Core Duo
Mac OS X 10.4.8
Flash 9.0.28 (Intel native)

Safari 2.0.4:
DHTML: 141 FPS (not a typo)
Flex: 50 FPS
Flex (caching): 58 FPS
WPF/E: 100 FPS

Firefox 2.0.2:
Flex: 31 FPS
Flex (caching): 42 FPS

Windows Server 2003 R2 SP1 (running in Parallels 3186)
NOTE: There seems to be more variability in the scores, with some ramp-up time

Flex: 70 FPS
Flex (caching): 96 FPS

Firefox 2.0.2:
Flex: 56 FPS
Flex (caching): 64 FPS
I should really boot into Windows to complete the test run, but to lazy right now.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Using Parallels Transporter to migrate a Microsoft Virtual PC image to an Intel Mac

My wife is taking a class at a university, and though they say they are Mac compatible, a preparatory sample testing application is Windows only (and this wasn't disclosed before signing up for the test) which is why we had to know if it was sane to buy her a new MacBook now. We got Parallels for her, and I needed Windows XP installed, so I figured this would be the perfect time to see if Parallels Transporter could do all the cool things it says it can. Transporter is supposed to be able to migrate a PC, real or virtual from either VMWare of MS Virtual PC, into a Parallels VM, even over the network. I had a Virtual PC for Mac image which was terminal since MS had famously killed the product, or at least won't go forward with a version for Intel Macs. I had created this image on my iMac G5 for the occasional Windows only application when I bought that machine 2 years ago, but the image was in cold storage on DVD since with the MacBook Pro I hadn't needed it. So what was it like?

Transporter was a phenomenon. I put the DVD my wife's MacBook (white, 2.0 Ghz), pointed Transporter at the image file, and about an hour later, I had the same machine I had mothballed from Virtual PC in Parallels, it was amazing. Of course, there are always some caveats, but it's mostly all on Windows or Microsoft. I mean, I wanted to start with this image to avoid reinstalling XP and SP2 again...
  • Re-activation. Of course I knew this was going to happen, but it still sucks.
  • Driver Update Notification Spasm. This is kind of expected too, and I just cancelled out of all of them, because...
  • Parallels Tools for Windows not automatically installed. I didn't expect this to happen before Windows booted, but I did excpect Parallels to be set to autolaunch the Tools install. A minor annoyance, but if you didn't know you were supposed to install the Tools, they probably never get installed because Parallels wasn't also prompting to install
  • Virtual PC Add-ons had to be manually removed. This would be really great if Parallels automatically removed whatever previous tools where installed in the VM from your previous VM environment, if that was where you sourced the new VM from. Instead, I had to manually remove the bits, and I do mean manually because using Add/Remove Programs, the Virtual PC add-ons wouldn't let me uninstall them. I had to be running the uninstall from within a VM I was told. I am not going to be too hard on MS on this, but the restriction, and I am surprised they even implemented the check, seems on the surface just unneeded. Virtual PC like Parallels installs Services and drivers, so I had to rip some stuff out of the registry by hand, and I had to use Device Manager, showing hidden devices (View menu -> Show hidden devices -> then Uninstall everything Virtual PC-like under Non-Plug and Play Drivers). But this was easy compared to...
  • Windows Update Hell. I decommisioned the Virtual PC image on July 16, 2006. That's only 7 months from yesterday, but it took longer to get XP updated to current patch status as it took Transporter to migrate the Virtual PC image over to Parallels. The really irritating part of the process is you have to keep going back to Windows Update after the last cycle to poll and see if you are completely done. Oh, and I wasn't offered IE 7 once, I had to install that manually. This is why the process of not releasing more service packs is such a terrible decision, you always a bajillion (totally a scientific term btw) updates away from the last service pack to get a clean or not recently patched machine up to spec. I have a question for Microsoft on this. If each of the patches are good enough to release individually, and I have to take them all anyway, why not save us all some pain and put all the most current post-SP2 files in one installation wrapper. Half the time in these Windows Update pain cycles is downloading, verifying, and installing each of these patches by themselves.

What a coincidence that Tom Yager at InfoWorld wrote How to scoop the brains out of a Windows PC and dump them in your Mac in one step published today after I had used Parallels Transporter just last night with equally startling positive results. There is an error in Tom's column though, Transporter has been included for a while in the lastest series of Parallels betas and release candidates.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Vista Annoyance #004: User Account Control Russian Roulette

I previously wrote about Why I think MS made some bad implementation choices on User Account Control (UAC), and here is another one.

Put yourself in the user's shoes, the technical reasons why what I am about to descibe really don't matter from the user experience (UX) perspective.

When you look at the Administrative Tools folder, of the 12 items I have on my Vista Ultimate box, only 4 show the Windows Shield icon indicating running this is going to require you to Cancel or Allow/Continue (Sidebar: Why can't we have one dialog here? Do we really need two different ways of saying the same thing?), but everything you run here shows a UAC dialog, and the same kind at that! What the frak is the point of having an indicator showing an action is going to require an authorization if it doesn't show all actions that are going to require a authorization? How can this not even be correct in Administrative Tools, which you logically should assume require Administrator rights, but Vista can't even tell us this?!?! Where is the consistency?

Check out previous posts in my Annoyance series.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Knowing when to buy a Mac

No one wants to buy a new computer today and tomorrow (or a week from now) have it already be obsolete when a new model is released. This is nearly doubly true with Apple, because you just never know what they are going to do. My wife comes home last night and says she needs a new Macbook to replace her 3 year old iBook G4. We were both fretting that Apple would release a new Macbook any day now, so should we buy?

Thankfully, MacRumors has a great buyer's guide for iPods and Macs, and has a secion on the MacBook, which is where I created the above screenshot from

Conclusion It's OK to buy!

My dream job...

This one's for Scott S. When daydreaming, this is what my job would be like:

Key components:

Saturday, February 17, 2007

How Skype gets through firewalls, and I wish iChat did the same

Can't remember where I first stumbled upon this article, but it is a very interesting read on how Skype punches holes in firewalls and makes video/audio chat work for the user anyway it can.

At work, I have to use Skype on OS X if I want to get a video chat going with someone outside the network, it's the only thing that just works. iChat only uses SIP, and it is a shame it does because I would love to have it's H.264 encoded video all the time instead of Skype's barely YouTube quality. The network admins are not allowing the SIP ports out.

I actually filed a bug with Apple (which requires a freee Apple Developer Connection account) to ask for a feature request to work like Skype when punching holes in firewalls.

I'm Batman! It may not matter all that much if iChat gets the functionality though, because since Adium hit 1.0 I have swithed over to it exclusively for all instant messaging. One app and I put the multitude of IM accounts in and it works great. I must confess too, the fact that I can change over the icon to be a duck dressed up like Batman, that flaps the cap when I get an IM, priceless.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tip: Renaming a file in Mac OS X Finder with a keyboard shortcut

It took me 3 years to find this shortcut, but it may be obvious to you :). A co-worker, new to OS X, asked me how to rename a file. In Windows, hitting F2 on a file immediately enters rename mode. I told him the two ways I knew of:
  1. Delay Click on the file name
  2. CMD-I for the Info window and rename there

So he was a little disappointed, a strike against OS X! A few minutes later, talk about good timing, I just stumbled upon it through an accidental keystroke press:
  1. Select file
  2. Press Enter or Return

OMG! Here's why it took me 3 years to figure this out. In Windows, hitting Return when anything is selected will try to do the default Widnows Explorer action, like Open the file in it's default application. This is kind of an expensive penalty for accidentally hitting Enter on the keyboard so you just kind of stay away from it unless you are absolutely sure you want to take the default action on whatever you have selected.

Incidentally, I ran the following Google query and the top hit, Dan Rodney - Mac OS X Keyboard Shortcuts doesn't mention this gem, nor does the second hit, Apple's Mac OS X Keyboard Shortcuts documentation. First mention of it I see is in the first comment on a article on how to rename using the mouse to activate edit mode. Hard to believe this is not widely known, but it sure isn't widely documented.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Tip: Quickly lookup any word in Dictionary inline with a pop-up

When I was messing around with Keyboard preferences I looked at the Keyboard Shortcuts tab in Keyboard & Mouse prefernces. You never really read a list like this, but I happened to see something that caught my eye. Dictionary had a system wide keyboard shortcut! The hell does that do? Highlight any word in a web page or a text field, then press Command-Control-D and see what I have in the screenshot here. That rocks! I was right-clicking (yes on a Mac, either with a mouse or with two fingers on the trackpad, which I like far better than two different buttons on the laptop) and selecting Look up in Dictionary which would launch the Dictionary app. I also would use the Dictionary Widget on Dashboard, but this keyboard shortcut is exactly what I want and it was here all along in Tiger. Note: If you press Command-Option-D by accident, that hides the Dock. I also use that very frequently when I want to focus on getting some work done.

Tip: Controlling OS X features with function keys on MacBook Pro, Disable Caps Lock

When I got my MacBook Pro one of the things I wasn't sure if I liked or not was the hardware features controlled directly by function keys at the expense of some software features. The feature in particular that had me conflicted was Expose. By default, Expose works with the following keyboard mappings:
  • F9 - All windows
  • F10 - Application windows
  • F11 - Desktop
The problem though is that the MacBook Pro's Illuminated Keyboard takes F8-F10 out of the box, overriding Expose. I finally decided the other day to see if I could change it so that keyboard illumination control required pressing the fn key first. Here's what I found out:
See the first checkbox in the middle of the control panel? The second screenshot calls it out. This is not exactly what I want, but I have left it turned on for now and can freely use Expose. What's the problem? To control screen brightness (F1+F2) or the volume (F3+F4+F5), I first have to press the fn key. Sigh. I went looking for a simple utility that just allowed independent control of the function keys, some for hardware, others for software, but I haven't found anything that does just what I am looking for.

But I did make another discovery that was worth the time. At the bottom of the Keyboard & Mouse preferences, there is a Modifier Keys... button. Whatever could this do? That's right, you can disable Caps Lock. Very sweet since I fat finger Caps Lock a number of times a day. Not sure what the purpose of changing the other modifier keys is, other than completeness.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reaction to the reactions on Jobs' Thoughts on Music

Update Sometimes it is almost like Steve is a prophet ;-). Slashdot reported yesteday that HD-DVD and BluRay encryption had been totally broken, orignally sourced from BoingBoing. The DRM system in place on these discs, AACS was said by the movie studios to be uncrackable like CSS (used for DVDs) was. I can't find a direct source for what movie studios said AACS was unbreakable, but that link to the NYTimes says it was said, so it must be true ;-). The latest crack is not the first for AACS, which had been partially broken in December 06M, but the current crack isn't for specific titles like the earlier crack, this hole applies to every HD-DVD title. It is not quite one-click Rip simple yet, but it seems only a matter of time until this DRM system is completely busted. Can you imagine wanting to update all the HD-DVD+BluRay players plus the software players? Would early adopters be screwed because newer titles wouldn't work on their players? Could existing players be updated with a new processing key? Do normal consumers want to worry about this stuff? This is exactly Steve's point about DRM systems used throughout numerous devices, across many companies. All DRM gets cracked at some point.

Original Post In case you missed it, Apple CEO Steve Job's posted a rare, well near blog entry, called Thoughts on Music. I would encourage everyone to read it, but here is the summary:
  • The big 4 record labels make Apple sell music in DRM-wrapped files
  • DRM doesn't stop any piracy, it just makes buying music more difficult for normal users, and the big 4 already sell the vast majority of music unencrypted on CDs
  • Apple doesn't want to license its' DRM, FairPlay, cause the probability of it getting cracking increases exponentially once many people have access to it, and Apple would be contractually obligated to continue the cat and mouse game
  • Insteead, Apple wants the big 4 to allow them to sell music without DRM and Apple would embrace this in a heartbeat
The reaction has been wide and varied. You could spend all day reading TechMeme on this.

I use the iTunes Store on a regular basis, I buy songs all the time. The DRM restrictions in place work fine for me, and the convenience of downloading music easily with no hassles has outweighed going to a retail store and buying a CD then ripping it to get DRM free songs. But I think Jobs is spot on, the only sustainable model going forward is DRM free. Every DRM scheme employed has been cracked, and sometimes are unfixable. DVD's copy protection is so open right now it might as well not exist. The entire scheme only adds complexity and costs to DVD hardware makers, and the mastering and production of DVDs. It certainly does not stop any pirates.

In a lot of the blog chatter, you hear over and over again, eMusic sells DRM free music, including some music that is DRMed on iTunes even thought the labels selling that music, independents, would be fine selling their music on iTunes DRM free. I had actually noticed this myself the end of last year when I was thinking of buying the Sarah McLaughlin Christmas CD Wintersong from iTunes, but found it through her own site DRM free. This was intriguing, I ultimately didn't buy the CD, but I think Apple needs to do the following immediately, or with the next version of iTunes, because there is definitely some hypocrisy in the air right now:
  • Sell DRM free AAC files from all labels, that would be independents right now, that give the go ahead
  • Allow anyone that has bought a DRMed file that is now DRM free to re-download for free
  • Add a label to all DRMed music identifying it as such, like the Clean/Explicit tag

So I went to see what kind of music was available on eMusic and was immediately turned off. Do you see a store when you go to their site? No, you see an offer for a trial, like a magazine, wait a second, this smells like a subscription. So I fill out my personal information in Step 1 of the 4 part registration process, to see what kind of plans exist, and on Step 2 after I am supposed to put my credit card information I see this:

eMusic Basic, $9.99/month, means the minimum I could pay is $0.33 a track if I download all 30, or clearly significantly higher if I don't make sure I empty out my 30 track allotment when my subscription renews.
eMusic Plus, $14.99/month, means the minimum I could pay is $0.30 a track if I download all 50, etc.
eMusic Premium, $19.99/month, mimimum of $0.26 a track if I download all 75.

I haven't even seen what you have and I have to give away my registration information and sign-up for a subscription? You must be joking. Not interested, you might have some great stuff there that I would even buy from you, but your not getting me as a customer until I can see if there is something I want to buy before giving you all my data and signing up for anything. Imagine if you walked into, say The Gap, and they made you hand over a credit card just to browse, insane. These are the kind of shenanigans that make me want to use the iTunes Store, it is more consumer friendly even if the DRM exists. I think the real takeaway might be that if iTunes sold DRM free music, their share of the downloadable music market might increase since its still the best most consumer friendly media store.

An anonymous commenter provided a link to eMusic so you can browse their catalog. I am not losing my mind though, this is not on their homepage that I get, the word browse is not even in the source of the page. Well, at least I can determine now if I want to take my 25 "trial songs" before cancelling a subscription.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tip: Using iTunes Sharing (or anything on Bonjour) with Checkpoint SecureClient on Mac OS X

One of the strange things that took me a long time to notice about how OS X was working, or in this case wasn't, with Check Point Software's VPN-1 SecureRemote-SecureClient was the broken iTunes Sharing. And eventually it wasn't just iTunes Sharing, I noticed a lot of Bonjour-based (the technology formerly known as Rendezvous) applications would't work either, e.g. Airpot Admin Utility, iChat Bonjour. I just kinda accepted it, much like the other SecureClient issues I have written about.

So how did I solve this issue? It is actually mostly straightforward, if you are allowed to do it. I had talked to my company's Check Point administrator, and he informed me you could disable the security policy that is enforced by SecureClient, but that was only because they allowed people to do it. Click on the SecureClient icon in the menu bar, then Tools, then Disable Security Policy.

What does this do? Well the configuration is completely dependent on your company, but mine blocks most inbound connections to your machine, including all the Bonjour stuff. My firewall admin thought you would only have to click DIsable Security Policy once when SecureClient is first loaded, but I have found that I have to click it every time I make a VPN connection as well. That is annoying, and for anyone that doesn't know the Disable Security Policy trick, all Bonjour related functionality is broken. This is actually what most firewall admins want, they want to enforce some kind of control over your machine outside of the corporate network, this is clearly another way to do it. If firewall admins wanted though, they could make sure Bonjour/Rendezvous always work. The following Q&A is in release_notes.pdf distributed with SecureClient (not they still call this Rendezvous):
Q9: How can I use Rendezvous after applying a block inbound desktop security policy? Q9: Block inbound desktop security policy doesn’t allow incoming connections to your desktop machine. Rendezvous requires IP multicast traffic to function properly. To support Rendezvous, add a desktop security rule above the block inbound rule: Source: (IP:, Dest: All_Users@Any Service: Tcp, Udp Action: Accept This will allow the necessary incoming multicast connections for Rendezvous.