Archive for December, 2008

Windows 7 Beta 1

Official announcement from Microsoft about the release of Windows 7 beta is still a week or so away but the beta seems to be available through unofficial channels. This review from Adrian Kingsley-Hughes over at ZDNet Hardware 2.0 gives a brief review of the beta. The ZDNet review includes a screen shot gallery that will give you an impression of what Windows 7 beta 1 looks like. The beta 1 has the build number build 6.1.7000.0.081212-1400.

A while back I read a blog entry by Mary Jo Foley that points out the similarity between Windows 7 (pre-beta at that time) and Apple’s Mac OS X. I must admit I have not spent much time with the Mac OS X and the little time I have had with the Mac tells me of an efficient and certainly functional user interface but it does have some rather puzzling characteristics. Most annoying is the Dock which Windows 7 seems to be emulating with the new Taskbar.

With the Dock on the Mac, it is difficult to tell which application is currently running and which one is not. Even if there is some way of distinguishing the running application from those that are not running, I prefer to have my screen real estate to do with as and when I please. The Dock quickly becomes user unfriendly (if there is such a thing) when you are running a couple of applications at the same time.

This new taskbar in Windows 7 is going to require some getting used to.

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Chrome exits beta

Google Chrome has had its first release which you can download from here. For a company that is known for its plethora of beta products, Google’s move to remove the beta moniker from Chrome is perhaps an indication of how strategic the browser is to the company. In the recent past, Chrome updates have been coming thick and fast which has led to gradual improvement in the browser. I have been fond of Chrome for its fast start up time as well as stability. However it has proved to be well suited for developing web applications. The ability to inspect elements of a page and see the CSS attributes applied them have proven quite useful in troubleshooting and tweaking CSS designs as well as JavaScript.Chrome1.0Release

Browser competition has heated up in the recent past with all major browser currently having a better release. Microsoft is working out the details of IE 8 and Mozilla is polishing Firefox 3.1. These two browsers currently dominate the market share and Google’s Chrome will be looking to become relevant. Usage data for Chrome currently put the number of active users at 10 million which is barely 1% of the web surfing public.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer leverages the Windows monopoly on desktop operating systems which means that every installation of Windows comes with Internet Explorer and of course Microsoft services like Windows Update can be used to push new versions of Internet Explorer to desktop users.

Firefox is largely credited with igniting competition in the browser space and there are those amongst the ranks of Mozilla who believe that it is Firefox that reminded Microsoft to pay attention to Internet Explorer and make improvements such as tab browsing in IE 7. Its key advantage is the large number of extensions that have been built around Firefox. There are extensions of all kinds and users have come to rely on these extensions.

The main selling point of Google Chrome is its speed and stability. Its interface is clean and simple. How this proceeds going forward will be interesting to watch since an increase in the number of users will most likely lead to requests for features which may very well include an extension mechanism. Extensions can slow down the performance of a browser and so Google has a balancing act to pull off.

The increased use of AJAX in developing web applications has put some focus on JavaScript performance. Chrome uses the V8 JavaScript engine which is quite fast and Mozilla with Firefox 3.1 is using TraceMonkey. For some comparison of performance, please check this out (Note: comparison is between Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 and Chrome beta version).

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What Wikipedia Says About The Pascal Programming Language

Wikipedia has become the reference for just about any topic you want to find information about though I do have my reservation for using it as sole reference for academic papers. I was looking for the latest information about the Pascal programming language and one of the best place to start the search would be Wikipedia of course and hopefully the Wikipedia entry for Pascal would have links to other more specialized sources of information.

Here is the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal_(programming_language)

As of this writing, this is what is found at the aforementioned URL:

wikipedia_pascal

If you can’t see the text in the image clearly, it says “you are a single moon in the sky i wish to see you but you are too high”. Does not look like anything Pascal related, huh? But I must admit it is rather poetic … would love to see the rest of that piece 🙂

I wonder how often this happens?

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Personal Software Inspector

Do you have any idea how many insecure programs you have running on your computer? Insecure, at least in the context of the aforementioned question, does not mean any particularly nasty piece of code whose fundamental purpose in existing is to cause harm. The root cause of any violation of security on any computer, regardless of the operating system it runs, is the existence of a vulnerability. That is why you get patches/fixes/service packs and whatever other name you want to call them released specifically to fix security holes in your system.

If you don’t update your software as frequently as you should, then you leave your computer open to an intruder. But even more importantly, most of the software that we rely on don’t regularly check for updates which means that we would have to remember to check for updates of any of the numerous software we have installed. It does not help that some of these pieces of software that we need to update are components in other much larger pieces of code. How many times do you check for updates of browser plugins?

Yesterday I came across Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector (PSI) which scans your computer and finds out which programs you have for which patches/fixes/service packs or updates have been released. The PSI interface has two modes: Simple and Advanced. In the Simple Interface mode, PSI presents you with a list of the insecure software you have running on your computer with links to download the updates. Clicking on the link, takes you directly to the most up to date version of the software in question. After installation, it is then removed from the list of insecure software. With the advanced interface mode, you get a move detailed view of what is insecure on your computer as far as software security updates and patches are concerned. The advanced list include things like Java, PHP, MySQL and Apache. Those are the developer tools that I have installed on my machine. All them are in need of fixes one way or the other and indeed of them like the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) have been installed by third-party software hence are not influenced by the standard update process for the JRE proper.

As of this writing I am almost free of insecure programs. My Flash Player has not been update in a while which means that I have to do two updates: one for Firefox and another for Internet Explorer. The other insecure software I had running on my computer was WinRAR and that has been updated as well. The strangest thing is that Apple’s Bonjour (Whatever it is does) has been flagged as insecure but I do remember uninstalling Bonjour because I couldn’t figure out what it was doing on my computer.

I have used Ubuntu before did find aptitude more to the task of keeping a computer updated and secure in as far as ensuring that most of the software that run on the operating system are most up to date. Through apt, you can get security updates to any package that you have running on your particular installation of Ubuntu. Compare such a setup with what Windows Update does? Windows Update caters for Microsoft and Microsoft only software which are kept up to date. Note that the PSI scan on my computer did not flag any Microsoft software as being vulnerable. It would seem appropriate to allow third party software providers to tap into Windows Update so as to ensure that the entire Microsoft Platform is secure.

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RAM Upgrade

I have always used computers with low hardware specification. I recall my first foray into programming generally and there were a host of limitations to overcome with regard to memory (RAM) and of course secondary storage. Those were the days when every computer you came across had floppy disk drive. What is more interesting is that at some point I always find myself out growing the available amount of RAM or hard disk space for that matter.

Usage

Up until last week, I had been using a machine with 1 GB of RAM which was adequate for most normal tasks but does not quite suit my needs. I have a bias towards web applications which means in a typical development scenario, I would have at least a couple of servers running including simple text editors as well as tools like Macromedia Dreamweaver (that is when I am working with PHP). Of course a browser or two (Firefox and IE primarily though increasingly Google Chrome) is usually running. For a PHP development session, there would be MySQL Query Browser which I find rather nice to tweak and test out my queries before I plug them into Macromedia’s wizards or before I put them into my own custom code if the wizards prove to provide too simplistic a solution. It goes without saying that for a Microsoft targeted web development undertaking then a combination of Visual Studio and SQL Server Management Studio would be running in addition to any reference material that may come in handy at the time.

Memory Greedy software

I am sure you have heard by now all the comments you can take about Windows Vista’s downside and I must admit there are some merits to some of those comments. The aforementioned usage scenario happen to be brought to life on a machine running Windows Vista with that 1 GB of RAM. Of course those in the know would promptly point out that 1 GB RAM is not enough but I can’t help but point out the Vista Capable fiasco going on; it is all over the internet and a quick Google search would produce some interesting material and a more entertaining look at the drama that can take place between some of the computer industry heavy weights. Generally, Windows Vista is a solid piece of work, regardless of what anybody would say but at the same time it does suffer from some typical annoyances as should be expected of any piece of software. With 1 GB of RAM, I have had only two occasions of my machine suffering the equivalent of a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) though getting it to do anything in a hurry is close to expediting the second coming.

Another memory hog is Firefox; that browser just takes up too much memory and leaving it running as I am used to doing for days on end makes matters worst. The good thing is that if it crashes, there is every possibility to restore my opened tabs. Firefox 3.0 seems to handle memory better than FF 2.x but still it would be huge surprise not to find it the top of the list of processes (sorted by memory size) in the task manager.

The aforementioned development platforms of PHP and ASP.NET are generally manageable with the 1 GB RAM though appropriate time has to be allowed for mouse cursor to respond. There are times at which I prefer to code in Java and in my experience with the constraint hardware specs I have been using, it is not possible to code for a whole day using all the nice Java tools without forcefully killing a Java process or two. There was a time I wanted to get some hands on experience with JBoss Seam and the most straight forward way of doing this was to use JBoss Application Server (AS) in conjunction with JBoss Seam. JBoss AS could not start! The interesting bit of it was that I could not reliably run an IDE like Eclipse but Netbeans could be used though not for extended periods of time.

With such memory hungry software running on limited hardware, I would have to admit to the robustness of Windows Vista though of course there are limits to what the OS itself can do as a platform on which other pieces of software run. Hold on before, you start the protest about a good (but truthful remark) about Windows Vista, I am definitely looking forward to some of the short comings of Windows Vista being addressed in the up coming Service Pack 2 as well as Windows 7.

The Upgrade

I decided to upgrade my RAM … I have added 2 GB to the mix which will take the total to 3 GB. I am running on 32 bit processors (dual core) which puts my primary memory limit at 4 GB thus at some point in the future, I may decide to add 1 GB though I doubt that would happen because by that time, it would be prudent to purchase new hardware. So far the performance of the machine has been the most pleasant: there is no longer any noticeable moments to allow for the mouse cursor to react. However, these are just the beginning days as I am sure more demand will be placed on the additional RAM :-).

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