Release version of Silverlight 2 is due tomorrow

According to a Microsoft press statement, Silverlight 2 is due for release on Tuesday 14th (ie tomorrow). This coincidently is the same day that Apple are due to announce a couple of cosmetic changes to the Apple laptop range, which will have the fanboys wetting themselves with excitement as usual, whilst the rest of the world wonders what the excuse for no Apple Netbook will be this time.

There won’t be any excuses of course as Jobs is rapidly turning Apple into the Microsoft of a decade ago, where the fans lap up any old overpriced and outdated crap thrown to them and the rest of the world despairs over the lack of basic functionality – such as interoperability with non-Apple products – and the right to release software without having to ask permission of one’s overlords. By contrast, Silverlight shows just how far Microsoft has come since those dark days of a decade ago. Silverlight is not just Cross-platform with cross-browser support, Microsoft are working to provide an Eclipse plugin for Silverlight development and the control set (components in Adobe Flash speak) will be released as source code under the Microsoft Public License.

No doubt Jobs announcing that the MacBooks are to get SATA drives to hysterical whoops from the brainwashed will grab the headlines tomorrow, but the rapid march of Silverlight will be tomorrow’s real technology story.

ReMix 2008 Day 1

Last year, at Mix UK, the keynote was a truly dull affair, focusing on telling us about things that had been public knowledge for weeks, if not months. Scott Guthery’s part of this year’s keynote was unfortunately more of the same. It was all about .NET related technologies that were released weeks ago, with some vague “coming soon”, “next few weeks” etc comments regarding the release of Silverlight 2. Interestingly though, Scott did later on in the day imply – and its completely my fault if this is wrong – that a release candidate is due out this month, with the release to follow in October.

Bill Buxton’s half of the Key Note was a real breath of fresh air. Whilst I’m not completely convinced by the case he put forward, he came across as a man who was passionate about things because they were great, not because they were the latest Microsoft thing. When the head of R&D at Microsoft tells you that he loves the iPod, Google and the Wii, you really do need to sit up and listen. He basically argued that to survive, companies these days need to heavily invest in design and that they need to design for the experience, not just design the product.

With my sceptic’s hat on, I have to say that Bill’s speech did at times sound a bit like design is this year’s innovation. In recent years, companies have jumped on the innovation bandwagon, creating Innovation Manager posts, claiming they are innovative companies etc. This year, it seems that suddenly we all now need directors of design/ chief design officers.

With my sceptic’s hat removed, I have to confess that I bought a copy of Bill’s book, Sketching User Experiences, and fully plan to shove it under the noses of Enigma’s management when I’ve read it.

UPDATE: it turns out that even with my sceptics hat on, my views on Bill were good compared with others. Take a read of this very well written counterpoint to my take on the keynote. Thanks to Jon Paul Davies for linking to this article and so drawing my attention to his piece.

Of today’s sessions, the one that really stood out was on Virtual Earth. As the latest version has been delayed, those of us that attended the session had to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding what we were shown. I obviously can’t say what was in it therefore, but I will say that the release – when it comes – contains some really nice new features.

One “what a small world” occurence for me today was discovering that a good friend and close neighbour, Matt Tompsett, was working at ReMix doing the radio trunking (which basically means he programmed up some weird looking hardware that controls fancy multi-channel walk talkies). Also, I need to give a shout out to Adeniyi Ibironke. He occasionally reads my blog and sought me out to introduce himself. Whilst many of the folk that read this blog and current and former colleagues, there are a few strangers that read it too. It was therefore really great to meet one of those strangers in “real life” therefore.

The highlight of the day for me though was definitely the Ready Steady Talk event. I as expecting to talk to a fe dozen people in a small room. Instead I as on stage in the main hall at lunchtime, with hundreds of people around, doing my five minute talk. I messed up bits of it, but did well enough to get through to the final tomorrow.

A new take on word art: Wordle

I am an irregular listener to the Java Posse podcast. One of the things they have on the show is the “Java App of the Week”. The current show featured Wordle. The idea is that it reads an RSS feed and then generates a word cloud based on the words used in that feed. You can then play around with font, colour and text orientation, before saving it to the Wordle gallery. Here is what I created from the RSS feed:

Fun, if somewhat pointless 🙂

Is Microsoft to blame; or is the Flash community looking for a scapegoat?

An article today in Flash Magazine has got my somewhat annoyed. Apparently there is a gaping security hole in all but the latest version of Flash Player and MSN Norway has served up a flash-based advert that exploits this security hole. The article seems to imply that – because the flaw was revealed two months ago – web sites that serve flash adverts should be legally required to vet them for this flaw. Because Microsoft in Norway appear not to have done this, then Flash Magazine takes them to task.

Hang on a minute though. Since when has relying on customers of your product to check for exploits been an acceptable solution to preventing exploits of security holes? What ever happened to the idea of fixing the flaw? The flaw is fixed in the latest version of Flash Player 9, but how many people have this?  It’s not something I’d given any thought to before, but presumably Adobe have no way of pushing out patches to Flash Player when such flaws occur and so are reduced to the feeble “alternative” of expecting users of the product to simply be vigilant instead.

I don’t care if I’m the only flex developer in the world to use the flashblock plugin on FireFox. This handy plugin blocks flash content by default, requiring the user to explicitly give permission for it to be downloaded and run. If Adobe really do have such weak solutions to security flaws, then quite frankly I think everyone bloody daft if they don’t have flash blocker installed, whether they are a flash/ flex develpoper or not!

What question would you ask Scott Guthrie and Travis Leithead

At Remix UK this year, we will see the return of the Speaker Panel, which was one of my favourite events from last year. And even better, this year, the “veteran” Scott Guthrie will be joined by a Program Manager on the IE team, Travis Leithead.

Last year I got the opportunity to ask Scott whether Microsoft had any plans to revive JScript.NET, or to implement a .NET version of ActionScript to enable the easy porting of Flash to Silverlight. The answer was sadly disappointing: he hoped the community would develop an ActionScript compiler for .NET. That disappointment aside, it was great fun to ask the question, so I plan on trying to ask another this year.

Two questions immediately spring to mind, and I’m unsure which one to ask:

  1. Given the recent announcement that JavaScript 4 will likely never see the light of day, has JavaScript finally outlived its usefulness as the ubiquitous browser language? Is it now time to retire JavaScript, or at least to open up the DOM to multiple languages? The .NET runtime code can be created from C#, Visual Basic, Ruby, J# etc, yet all compile to the same byte code ready to run on the CLR. Likewise these days JRuby, Java etc can all be compiled to the same byte code ready to run on the JVM. Are there any plans to create a JVM or CLR type environment for a future version of IE? Or are we stuck with the inadequacies of JavaScript for years to come?
  2. Last year Scott described Linux as the “arch friend” of Microsoft. Whilst IE 8 has embraced HTML 4 standards, there seems little noise from Microsoft regarding future technologies such as HTML 5. Mozilla seem to be growing ever more impatient with this, even resorting to developing a plugin for IE to enable it to support the HTML 5 canvas element, as Microsoft seem reluctant to do so themselves. Does the IE team have plans to become more future-orientated and to see Mozilla as an arch friend too; or is it likely to remain an arch enemy?

If you have any thoughts on which one I should pick, please do let me know via a comment. Also I’ve added these two questions to the Remix UK backnetwork. If you are going to Remix, don’t forget you can sign up to the backnetwork too and add your questions to the list. One or more of them might get read out at the session after all.

How to remove Windows (Desktop) Search … revisited

In October last year, I posted an article on how to remove Windows Desktop Search from an XP machine after it had been unhelpfully installed as a mandatory upgrade. The world has moved on since then and version 3 of Windows Desktop Search has been replaced by version 4, which is now called Windows Search. This means the name of the uninstall folder has changed and the information in that post is becoming ever more out of date. As it still accounts for 80% of the traffic to my site, I figured it was time for an update.

If you have version 3 of Windows Desktop Search and want to remove it, please refer to the old post. If you have version 4, read on. If you are unsure which one you have, press the windows key and F together to start up the application and look at the image that appears toward the top right of the window. If it says “Windows Desktop Search”, then you have version 3. If it says “Windows Search”, then you have version 4.

Windows Desktop Search (version 3)
Windows Desktop Search (version 3)
Windows Search (version 4)
Windows Search (version 4)

To remove Windows Search version 4 from XP, try the following steps:

  1. Start by running up Add & Remove Programs from the control panel and look for Windows Desktop Search in the list. Unlike with version 3, Windows Search v4 should be there.
  2. If not, open a cmd window (click on Start, then “Run..” and type cmd in the Run dialogue that then appears). Then copy and paste the following line into the cmd window:
  3. If that also fails and you get a “The system cannot find the path specified.” error, then I have zipped up a copy that you can download from here. To work out where to extract it to, type:

    into your cmd window and note the location it points to (it is likely to be C:\Windows, but may not be if you upgraded to XP for Windows 2000 for example). Open the zip file, and extract the $NtUninstallKB940157$ to this location. Now repeat step 2.

Update: Thanks to “Derek” for pointing out to me that I’d missed the “bleedin’ obvious”, ie that v4 can be removed via “Add Remove Programs”. I’ve added this as step 1 as a consequence. Steps 2 and 3 are likely redundant, but I’ve left them in for completeness.

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.

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.