Converted to Windows 7. Nearly.

Over the past decade I have played with any number of operating systems in various states of completeness.  Windows, Unix, Linux, Mac and even once Solaris (I was really bored).  In very few cases I was surprised.  In most cases – especially with Betas – I was left with the realisation that several hours of work had resulted in a useless PC.

One golden rule that I had enforced throughout was that I would never perform any of these bash’n’crash installations on my principal computer.  This is a rule that I followed solemnly until the 5th May 2009 when I installed Windows 7 RC on my stalwart Dell laptop.

This was not an off-the-cuff decision.  I had been running Windows 7 Beta on another machine for some time, and unlike Vista on my Dell, it hadn’t crashed no matter what I threw at it.  Furthermore, I had gotten increasingly frustrated with Windows Vista, an operating system I had previously liked.  Dire file copying performance , intermittent video driver issues and an overall lack of general responsiveness had left me with two options: reinstall Vista or do something else.  Do Something Else won.

Installation was a doddle, with all the drivers being automatically installed bar one.  It even found a video driver that was better than the nVidia one I had previously been using.

Two weeks in, and Windows 7 has behaved flawlessly.  It is fluid, fast and above all stable.  No video problems.  Files move to and from my servers without any issues.

Now I know that I am currently in the honeymoon period.  Sooner or later, the inevitable WinRot will set in (where Windows progressively gums itself up)  but Windows 7 is currently ticking all the right boxes.  It has taken Microsoft far too long, but they appear to finally have produced a version of Windows for the 21st Century.

.Net Campaign to kill IE6

I came upon this little gem when I was trawling around for something completely unrelated – as you do.  .Net magazine has instigated an online campaign to kill Internet Explorer 6.

I’m always a little wary of online campaigns.  Perhaps I’m overly paranoid, but I am inheritently suspicious of any campaign or venture that claims to be beneficial that looks a little too slick and well organised for its’ own good.  The campaign website is a custom product with slick, targeted design and content.  Then again, you would expect any website directly associated with .net to incorporate a high design element.

I approach IE6 with two different perspectives, and unusually, they nearly cancel each other out.

From my web developer’s perspective, IE6 has always been a complete pain.  Its’ complete indifference to standards and the arbritrary way in which it renders HTML/CSS has infuriated and caused significant impact on development schedules.  From a purely web perspective and with the benefit of hindsight, IE6 significantly stagnated web development.

From the other perspective, that of the IT Support Guy, it is simply not practical to simply kill off IE6.  Firstly, there is still a substantial user base out there.  Significant number of businesses still run Windows 2000 on a high proportion of their computers, and their IT departments are unlikely to wish to migrate across to a non-Microsoft browser.  This is certainly true at the SME end of the market where computers tend not to be replaced as part of a defined replacement program, but as and when a computer fails beyond economic repair.

Is Microsoft likely to release a version of IE7 for Windows 2000?  Not likely.  In the eyes of Microsoft, Windows 2000 is a dead operating system.  It has been superseded not once, but twice.  The only option here is to upgrade or replace any Windows 2000 PC.  Not a practical or viable option in the SME arena; a computer works until it drops dead.

One suggestion has been that Windows 2000 users simply migrate to another browser like Mozilla Firefox or Opera.  For the casual home user, this is eminently doable, but for business users, things are not so clear cut.

There are some applications that require Internet Explorer to work, or utilise within one of their own components.  I know of one Oracle/Java web application that would only work properly in Internet Explorer – kind of curious since it was Java based.  There is a high market penetration of web-based applications that exploit the integrated security model within Internet Explorer, Sharepoint being an ideal example of one.

IE6 is also remotely and centrally manageable via Group Policies.  In any corporate network, this is a valuable management function and something that it still not available in IE’s competitors.  Its’ updates may also be centrally managed (WSUS) and monitored.  IE, whatever its’ incarnation and foibles, is an enterprise-level web browser.

Internet Explorer has also moved on.  We are now at version 8, which is a marked improvement over IE7 and an almost quantum leap up from IE6.  Sadly though for all its’ improvements IE8 maintains the Microsoft tradition of its own unique interpretation of W3C standards.

I am no fan of IE6, and in most circumstances I would like to see it gone but the pragmatist says this is wishful thinking.  This campaign, whilst with an admirable intent, will not get rid of it no matter who is involved or how many.  There are simply too many economic and operational constraints involved.  IE6 will only be dead and forgotten when Windows 2000 is, and given its’ longevity that may be for some time yet.

Internet Explorer 8

Internet Exploder Explorer 8 has finally arrived, and unlike the Beta version, it hasn’t crashed my computer.  Yet.

Even 5 years ago, the arrival of a new browser was a big event.  Nowadays, with the presence of Firefox, Safari and Chrome, its’ release is a little bit of an anticlimax.  One hopes that that IE8 will be the browser equivalent of Windows 7: good software as it should have been in the first place.  I’ve had too many “interesting” experiences with IE7 over the last couple of years.

So why, the fuss.  Well, I’m not going to repeat or perform an in-depth review of IE8.  There are plenty of other websites out there doing that and I simply haven’t spent that much time with it yet.  I’m looking forward to IE8 as it finally promises a browser from Microsoft that it is in some way consistent and compliant with various web standards.  As many web designers/developers out there will tell you, the CSS rendering in previous versions of IE7 is either fundamentally broken, wrong or just plain inconsistent.  I have spent far too much time making websites IE friendly with the resultant CSS stylesheets being a discordant mess.

This is not to say that IE is the the only perpetrator out there.  My favoured browser, Mozilla Firefox, still doesn’t pass the ACID3 test.  Neither does Google Chrome. I haven’t tested in Safari as my patience with Apple software evaporated many moons ago.  I can honestly say that I haven’t use Opera in many years.

Consistency has actually improved over the past decade though.  I can remember back to 2000/1 when the standard practice at the company I was then working for was to develop separate stylesheets for each browser.  Each website would programmatically detect the user’s browser and return the corresponding stylesheet.  Thankfully, things have moved on.  Back then, we only realistically worried about Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator (remember that?).  Now we have a diverse range of browsers, and importantly, host operating systems and hardware platforms.

So, back to Internet Explorer 8.  I will continue to play with it over the next couple of weeks, and I will post an update with my various comments and opinions in the near future.  Will it ever replace Firefox?  No.  I am currently well and truly sold on the sheer extensibility of Firefox.  I would be completely lost without extensions like PDF Download and Download StatusBar.  If I’m honest, usage of IE8 will probably be restricted to Windows Update and the occasional download from Microsoft that requires a Windows Genuine Authentication check.

Toolkit: Virtual CloneDrive

As someone who uses ISO files on an almost daily basis, a tool like SlySoft Virtual CloneDrive is a brilliant utility that allows the easy mounting of any ISO file as local disk drive.  I’ve used several similar utilities over the years, but this one is the best I’ve used yet.  It has been installed on a variety of PCs including my venerable Thinkpad, and I have yet to experience any problems.

Virtual CloneDrive is a free download available through the SlySoft website at

As usual, you use Virtual CloneDrive at entirely your own risk.

Blogging Away

As I have comment previously, I blog for my own enjoyment and personal development.  However, of late I am begining to suffer what can I only term as Minor Blog Fatigue.

This hasn’t been caused by simply reading too many blogs, but rather from writing on too many.  In addition to this blog, I also maintain at least three others.  Fortunately, they don’t all cover the same topics – one is a corporate blog, whilst another is a company one – but the effort of regularly writing updates for all four can become a little wearisome and time consuming.

In many ways, blogs are truly unique as they may be used in a wide variety of scenarios covering an almost infinite number of subjects.  For me, writing on blogs not only addresses and immediate operational need, but also something that I view as being personally very important: the ability to write properly.  Now, I’m not saying that all my blog posts are works of unsurpassable prose, as frankly, they are not.  However, I feel that the only way to improve on a subject it to almost endlessly attempt it.  With my luck, I probably won’t write my first truly grammatically perfect blog entry until I’m well and truly into my dotage.

Anyway, until then, happy blogging.

Idiot Programming

Over the course of the last week I have been completely frustrated by an application that is an almost a text book example of how not develop and publish software.  I’m not going to name the offending application, but I will state that is reliability – or general lack of it – is well documented, especially within their own support forums.  And no, I’m not talking about Windows or any other Microsoft product.

My criticisms are drawn from two differing viewpoints.  I am both a system administrator and a developer.  Consequently, I have the position whereby I can comment from both the developer’s perspective, but also the poor sap who has to install, maintain, and for the end users, actually support it.

My criticisms are many, but they all have the foundation in what I can consider to be poor development management.

Buggy Software

I just don’t mean the occasional bug or feature, I mean some real show stopping bugs.  Bugs that should have been addressed long before the application should have even been considered for release.  You do get the feeling that the developer’s QA team (if there was indeed one), either could do their job, or couldn’t be bothered.

The number of bugs is compounded by the high number of erratic bugs.  For a developer, the erratic bug is that elusive gremlin that you can spend hours or days trying to track down.

All applications have bugs – as the various update services from Mozilla, Microsoft, Apple etc will testify – but this application has too many.

Requires Frequent Administrative Care

Speak to any network or system administrator, and unless they are suffering from some form of mental illness, they want things to work, and to work with minimal input from them.  My ideal piece of network hardware, service or server is one that sits in the corner and does the job to which it was intended day in and day out without any problems.

The application in question was supposed to reduce the support load and increase customer management capability.  Whilst it does do the latter -when it is working –  it really hasn’t done the former.

Pandemic Fixes

The method to resolve nearly every problem is to re-install either the entire application, or some of its’ components.  I thought we had left this kind of software maintenance method back in the days of Windows 3.11.  But no, nearly every time something has gone wrong I have eventually had to reinstall some or all of the application.

Updates Break It

Yes, that’s right.  Official updates supplied from the developer that frequently contains bugs fixes breaks the actual application.  Need I say more?


Performance is a little flexible with this application as it is actually an ASP.Net application, so it is necessary to take into account a number of factors when considering performance.  These include not only the resources of the host server, but also that of the client computer, the connection between the two etc.  Well, it sits on a high-end server sitting in a datacenter with a dedicated 100MB connection.

Even so, the speed at which it operates can sometimes be positively glacial.  If you try and connect on anything less than a 4MB line, it can be almost painful to do anything


If I’m honest, this is the single biggest issue.  One of reasons behind selecting the application was experience with the preceding version.  I liked the preceding version, and so did many of my colleagues.  It did what all really good software does: exactly what is says on the tin.  It did is simply and easily and reliably.  The interface was clean, intuitive, and didn’t require a fibre connection to load.  The newer version is written in a different language and simply does not even an equivalent replacement for its’ older sibling.  The developer has actually managed to go backwards.

So why don’t we simply replace it?  Yes, it would be possible to do that, but doing so would involve both time and capital expenditure.  Certainly the latter is in short supply at the moment.  The time component cannot be easily overlooked.  It is not simply the question of how much time will be required in installing and configuring the application.  It is also necessary to factor in the requirement to learn a completely new application.  Its’ shortcuts, its’ foibles.  Its’ annoyances.  Do I simply throw out over a year’s worth of knowledge and experience in the hope that a replacement will be some magic pill and work without a hitch.

The answer is no.  For now we will soldier on.  However, my original statement still stands.  If I was teaching programming, I would hold this application up in the air and say this is not how how to write an enterprise application.

One last word, the latest big update contains a wonderful new feature.  It won’t install completely on x64 systems.  The developers solution: create the Registry entries manually.

SBS 2003 / Exchange 2003 Shutdown Script

Microsoft is quite clear about Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory being installed on the same server: don’t do it, it isn’t supported.  The only exception to this rule is Small Business Server, where out of necessity you will find both running side by side.

Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t feel the need to address one of the problems behind the bar in SBS: the shutdown hang.  There is a good chance that if you go Start | Shutdown on an SBS server without any prior actions, the entire shut down process may take anything between 15 minutes and infinity to completed.

There is an easy to prevent this from happening is to shutdown all Exchange services prior to running Start | Shut Down.  This is easy enough to do via a good old batch script, a copy of which is enclosed below.

To use, simply run the batch script prior to restarting or shutting down your SBS 2003 server.

ECHO Stopping Exchanging Services
net stop MSExchangeES
net stop IMAP4Svc
net stop POP3Svc
net stop RESvc
net stop MSExchangeSRS
net stop MSExchangeMGMT
net stop MSExchangeMTA
net stop MSExchangeIS   /Y
net stop MSExchangeSA   /Y
ECHO Services Stopped

Toolkit: Smart Defrag

Another near essential member of my IT Toolkit is the excellent free defragmenter tool, Smart Defrag.  Available either separately or as part of the IOBit Advanced SystemCase Suite, this tool has supplanted all of the other defragmenters I have previously used, and not just because of its’ price.  Over the years, I have been frustrated and equally annoyed by various defragmenter applications.  Either they ran slowly, or consumed vast amounts of system resources, either way they never seemed to pass the elementary test of “just work”.

For more details, head over to

Why Blog?

Why do people blog?  Why do people who would probably never stand in the middle of a street and deliver a speech on their personal life feel free to write down the same information and then make it freely available for anyone to read?

The actual concept behind a blog is nothing new.  At its’ core it is nothing more than an online diary or journal.  The principal difference between a blog and its’ traditional counterpart is one of accessibility.  A written diary is normally something that is intrinsically private and personal to the author.  Readership beyond the author, if at all, is limited to close family or friends.

A blog is different.  Authors seem to feel liberated enough to write personal information and details without the fear that would probably accomplish the publication of a written diary.  Perhaps most authors feel the Internet provides a layer of detachment and annoymity.

One of the interesting aspects of blogging is that it is not limited to individuals.  It has become almost de riguer for companies to have some form of corporate blog.  A company blog is a cheap and easy method of delivering information in a manner that lacks the formality of normal press releases.  A company blog can contain almost any information, and the very format enables the mix and match of subject matter without presenting an undigestable mess.

The reasons behind a blog are various, especially personal ones.  The authors seem to vary between the mundane to the naturally garrulous with all variations of the rainbow in between.

Just as varied are the topics that a blog can cover.  From information about family life to detailed technical announcements.  If you can think of a topic or subject, there is probably at least one blog out there covering it.

What is certain though is that irrespective of the reasons behind a blog, there will be an audience available.  The ability for people in general to be nosey and inquisitive into other people’s lives (as the readership of the celebrity magazines will testify) will never abate.

So why do I blog?  Well, I don’t actually write this blog for other people to read, if they are actually are any readers apart from myself.  I write this blog as a record for myself.  I also do it to improve the fluency and style of my prose.  As I work within a technical industry, written information often gets bogged down with a stogy style and, in many cases, plain bad English.  I’m not aspiring to be the next Keats or Dickens, but I do aim to improve my proficiency of the written word.  Hopefully, the more write, the more I will improve.  I can only hope.

One thing that you will never find on this blog is personal information.  That is my business, not Joe Public’s.  And yes, I do read other people’s blogs.

2nd UK Bank Bailout. Deja Vu.

Remember last year when the government bailed out the banks.  At the time, Gordon Brown pronounced that the size of the bailout was necessary to avoid the government repeating the exercise three months later.

Well, here we are three months later, and the Government is again bailing out the banking sector.  The worrying thing, is that I am not actually surprised by this manuever, nor is anyone else I speak to.

Recessions are inevitable.  To say that you can avoid or eliminate recessions is to divorce oneself from economic reality.  The hubris of the current government on this matter, especially that of Gordon Brown, is especially galling now that there is a body of evidence that they were forewarned of the problems were are all now experiencing.

Whilst I do not proclaim to to be an economic expert – is anyone? – recessions may be simply described as a period where we experience negative economic growth .  What makes this one so different is that hasn’t been caused by the usual culprits.  A new culprit has emerged this time: an almost total lack of credit.

Every business, no matter its’ size requires credit to operate.  If there is no credit available, business stagnates.  Contrary to what the government and banking sector say, as someone who works in the small business sector, I have witnessed the simple truth that the banks simply aren’tlending, or if they are, they have cut back their lending levels to minimal levels.  I strongly suspect that a more reasonable degree of lending will not resume until the banks have addressed their own internal liabilities.

The interesting and encouraging aspect at present is that there is work available, and companies are still placing orders.  What has changed is the ability to extract payment.  A substantial number of big companies have increased their payment terms to over 90 days, which for a small business is simply unsupportable.  Increasingly, the only way to extract money out of customers, is to become a major thorn in the side of their Accounts department.  Those who cause the most grief, will probably be paid quicker.

As no-one has yet to invent a working crystal ball, no-one can say for certain what will happen next week, let alone this time next year.  What will make a huge difference in the coming year is confidence.  The higher the level of confidence in the market

As for myself, well like a lot of other people, one of my concerns is whether or not I will actually keep my current job.  Even the most traditionally secure jobs, like those in the public sector, do not appear to be safe in the current climate.  My local county council recently announced 500 job losses.  It would seem that that the only people currently safe are those working in schools.  Like most people, I am a planning to keep my head down, and my fingers crossed.