Windows Search 4.0 released. Shame it STILL doesn’t work

Microsoft released V4 of its Windows Search tool on Windows Update a few days ago. As I’ve criticised this tool in the past (it is one of my five pet Vista hates), I thought I’d give it a thorough test drive in case it was now a useful and usable product. Sadly my time was wasted: it’s still as crap as ever.

First of all, the truly inane “Did you find what you wanted” message is still displayed when nothing matched the search:

Inane message asking did you find what you wanted, when no results were found

Of course that is just a minor irritation compared with another  – show-stopping – feature. I’d reported before that the search tool seemed to struggle to find things at times. This new version still had that problem, so I decided to investigate. I created a new file – called xxx.wibble – in my documents folder, added some content and tried to search on that content. No matter what settings I selected, Windows Search would not find it. It turns out this is for a very simple reason. “wibble” is not a registered file extension on my machine and Windows Search only searches files with known file types. As soon as I renamed the file xxx.txt, the search found the content straight away. As far as I can find out, this is a hard-coded “feature” of  Windows Search; there is no way to override it.

As a developer, I have a mass of files on my machine that have unusual, and non-registered, extensions. Some (think README files) have no extension. The fact that I cannot search these files with Windows Search means that Windows Search is not fit for purpose. So sadly V4 gets binned just like V3 did. Oh well, here’s waiting for version 5 (which might actiually be usable.)

Don’t like Windows Vista? Try Windows Mojave instead

Microsoft last week traveled to San Francisco, rounding up Windows XP users who had negative impressions of Vista. The subjects were put on video, asked about their Vista impressions, and then shown a “new” operating system, code-named Mojave. More than 90 percent gave positive feedback on what they saw. Then they were told that “Mojave” was actually Windows Vista. “Oh wow,” said one user, eliciting exactly the exclamation that Microsoft had hoped to garner when it first released the operating system more than 18 months ago.

This sad little story tells us one thing loud and clear: Microsoft need to ditch Vista. Whether the negativity toward Vista is founded or not has become a mute point. The name itself is tainted. Microsoft could spend millions trying to change people’s perceptions, but why bother when the name itself has become the biggest stumbling block. So perhaps Windows 7 should be re-thought. Rather than being some major new version, just spruce up Vista a bit, get rid of the idiotic UAC feature and release the next version of Windows this year.

UPDATE: You can now see the experiment results for yourself at its own flashy (literally! One day Microsoft might use their own Silverlight product for such things, rather than Flash) website.

Daft documentation for Flash Accessibility

The headline of this post was how I read the latest post from Matt Chotin. The actual headline was “Draft documentation for Flash Accessibility”. A silly mistake that anybody could make (I hope! I’d prefer it wasn’t just me afflicted thus). However my mistake drew my attention to the article and I read it and the one it linked to by Andrew Kirkpatrick. As I read it, it occurred to me that maybe I’d actually got the right title after all.

Flash is notoriously – and often wrongly – viewed as being very accessibility-unfriendly. There have been accessibility features built into Flash since Flash Player 6 (released in 2002). Yet here we are six years later, and Adobe are only just releasing a draft version of some accessibility API documentation. How can it have taken six years to create such important a document? That to my mind really is daft!

However, looking on the bright side, at least it is finally being released. Now I just need to find the time to read it. Talking of reading it, if you try to download it, be warned: it is hidden within a naff 100% Flash-based website and you have to enable pop-ups to get at it. Since this is truly crap in my view, you can avoid all that nonsense by downloading the full AS docs with accessibility extras from here instead (warning: it’s nearly 40MB in size). Alternatively, the accessibility-only docs can be downloaded from here.

(Updated 27th July with the small download after Andrew pointed out I’d only linked to the large, full AS docs version).

Five Vista annoyances and how to work around them

MicrosoftI have been using Vista for development work for a number of months now, which has given me time to experience many of its oddities. With XP no longer available pre-installed on new equipment, more people are now likely to start experiencing Vista. I therefore feel it an appropriate time to share what I consider to be the five biggest annoyances of Vista from a developer’s perspective. As I’m not interested in just moaning about then though, I’ll also suggest work-arounds to those annoyances.

1. User Account Control

User Account Control (UAC) is easily the most annoying feature of Vista. Most developers. Even if they have never used Vista, you will likely have heard of it. The most infamous aspect of it is a set of annoying pop-ups that appear every time you do just about anything on the system (allegedly including changing font sizes!). There is more to it though, as even if one if logged in as a local administrator, they do not get administrator rights by default. Processes must be launched via the “run as administrator” option and one must jump through hoops to delete files and the like.

Unfortunately the user of Vista has two choices:

  1. Live with the annoyance of UAC.
  2. Turn off UAC.

I chose the second route. I did so in the full knowledge that if I then had a subsequent problem with malware, it was my own fault. Please therefore note that if you are the sort of person that seeks to blame others when you screw up, you are expressly forbidden from using the following information to disable UAC for yourself. If you are happy to accept that disabling UAC carries some risks, and that that if anything goes wrong, it is your fault, then you can disable UAC thus:

  1. Open the control panel
  2. Select “User Accounts”! (green title)
  3. Select “User Accounts” again on the next screen
  4. Select “Turn User Account Control on or off”
  5. Click “Continue” on the UAC warning
  6. Untick the “Use User Account Control (UAC) to help proect your computer” checkbox.
  7. Click “OK” and then “Restart Now” on the dialogue.

When your machine restarts, you will be UAC (and UAC protection) free.

2. Automatic Scrolling

Vista introduced a concept called “dynamic multi-dimensional scrolling”. Rather than me try to describe it, I suggest you watch the animation on this page. It’s a feature that divides opinion: some love it, some hate it. One thing is for sure though: there is no way of disabling it.

Another thing for sure is that if you use the Eclipse IDE, it will drive you mad. The same automatic scrolling occurs in tree views in that application. So the debug tree randomly scrolls about when you try to use it. Thankfully there is a solution: simply run Eclipse in compatibility mode. Right click on the executable (or a shortcut if you’ll use that all the time.) Select properties and go to the Compatibility tab. Then tick the”Run this program in compatibility mode for:” checkbox and make sure “Windows XP (service Pack 2)” is selected as the compatibility mode.

Eclipse properties

When you next run Eclipse, the only change you should notice is that the trees now behave.

3. Search

Vista’s search is, in my opinion at least, useless. I could rant on about it, I could use a string of expletives to describe it. There is no point though: “useless” describes it succinctly. It simply cannot be made to perform “proper” searches. By proper, I mean giving it a string to match and a location to search and having it search every file and find every occurrence of that string. The solution I came up with was to install a third-party search product. I picked Effective File Search, a $30 shareware product that took about 1 minute to download, install and perform a successful search on a mixture of source and binary files. I’d previously spent around three hours trying to get Vista’s built-in search joke to do the same job, and it failed. That’s £15 very well spent in my view, though there may be better and/ or cheaper options available.

4. Windows Sidebar

Windows SidebarVista’s Windows Sidebar is a good idea that is poorly executed. The idea of having a bunch of user-selectable gadgets is a good one, but the sidebar is irritatingly rigid in appearance (it cannot be resized or reskinned) and there is a distinct lack of useful gadgets for it. It can be turned off though, and other sidebar solutions are available.

The obvious replacement choice is the Google Desktop Sidebar. It suffers from the same problems as the Vista one though in my view: lack of reconfigurability, lots of useless gadgets and too few useful ones. Obviously “useful” and “useless” are very subjective terms. To my mind, useful gadgets are a RSS reader that can handle multiple feeds, a memory & CPU meter, support for shortcuts and outlook integration.

The only sidebar I’ve found that offers all these features is  Desktop Sidebar (shown on the right). It is a highly skinnable, configurable sidebar that has some great features. The downside is that it is a “dead development”, as it has not been updated since just after Vista was released. As a result, it must be run with full administrator rights. If you can live with this though, it is a great product. It’s RSS reader is the best I’ve seen, as it supports multiple feeds, each shown on a separate “page”, rather than jumbled together as most multi-feed readers do. The sidebar is worth running for that feature alone in my view.

5. Insufficient access rights

Even if you switch off UAC, it is still possible to get weird errors from Vista informing you that you have insufficient access rights to delete a file. A check of the properties reveals you have full access rights and you own the file, yet this weird “you are not worthy” message will greet your every attempt at deleting the file. The reason turns out to be mundane and frustrating: what the message is trying to tell you is that a process has the file locked and so it cannot be deleted. Shut the process down, and the file can be deleted with ease.

There is a bit of a problem here though. How do you know which process has a lock on the file? Easy: install Process Explorer, run it, go to the menu option

Find -> Find handle or DLL…

enter the file’s path into the search box and it will tell you exactly which processes are using it. Process Explorer is a really powerful Windows tool that is:

  1. Written by Microsoft
  2. Free
  3. Useful

(Mac and Linux fan-boys take note: a useful, free, Microsoft product really does exist!)

So there you have it: five tips on making the transition from XP to Vista a less painful, more enjoyable, experience.

IETester: Testing on IE5.5 through IE8 made easy

IETesterIf you have ever developed a website, you’ll know that one of the golden rules is “test on as many browsers as possible”. This doesn’t just mean testing on IE, Firefox, Opera and the funny looking Apple one. It means testing on different versions of those browsers on different operating systems. Testing against multiple versions of Firefox and Opera is easy: just install multiple versions. IE is a whole different story though. Because IE integrates so deeply into the operating system, it isn’t possible (without severe amounts of effort) to run multiple copies of IE at once on the one machine, until IETester came along. In their own words:

IETester is a free WebBrowser that allows you to have the rendering and javascript engines of IE8 beta 1, IE7 IE 6 and IE5.5 on Vista and XP, as well as the installed IE in the same process

I’ve installed it and it seems to work well on my Vista box, despite it being an alpha release. As an added bonus for the future, the developers would like to get it working on Linux using Wine and Macs using Parallels. Offers of assistance in these areas will be gratefully received.

I tried out this website on IE5.5 by the way. It looks a mess and fails to render correctly. Oops!

Website is IE5.5

(Click on image to see full-size version)

MIX:UK is dead! Long live ReMix UK!

ReMix UK

Last year, Microsoft hosted the first ever MIX:UK event, a two day conference on all things Microsoft, of interest to developers and designers alike. I was beginning to think that the first MIX conference in the UK would be the last as there was no word anywhere that another was on its way. However never fear, MIX:UK is back, just re-badged as ReMix UK. As a bonus (for me at least; it’ll be a pain for many), the venue has moved from London to glorious Brighton this year.

Despite being an Eclipse, Java & Flex man these days, the new technologies – such as Silverlight – that Microsoft are pushing are still likely to be hugely influential to anyone involved with web or RIA development. So the event is well worth attending in my view. Even my MS hating, Mac weilding boss agreed (once he has stopped laughing at my “may I go to a Microsoft conference please?” request and realised I was being serious for once).

If you are thinking of going, don’t delay. The sneaky folk that are organising the event are only offering the £239 “Early Bird” price to the first 300 registrants. After that, the price jumps to £349. So get registering and I’ll see you there…