Running multiple versions of Internet Explorer side-by-side

I’ve written previously about using user agent spoofing to make Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 7 and Mozilla Firefox behave like legacy versions of IE but I just stumbled across this nifty method of running multiple versions of IE side-by-side. I haven’t tried it out yet and it’s unsupported by Microsoft but it sounds like an interesting idea for next time I’m doing some website development work.

Firefox needs to raise its game before IE 7 goes mainstream

At the risk of offending almost 27% of the people who visited my website this month, I think Mozilla Firefox has lost its way. The last couple of times it has updated itself on my Windows XP SP2 machine, it’s crashed (taking with it all of the tabs that I have open – possibly representing a couple of days worth of work in progress or things to look at further when I get a few minutes).

Add to that the fact that too many developers are still producing badly-written websites that are not standards-compliant (not the fault of the Mozilla developers, but still hindering me as a Firefox user) and we have a very unhappy user who keeps on having to go back to using Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). It’s not just people like me who write bad sites either – according to SiteMorse, the worst site belongs to Tesco (the biggest retailer in the UK, which now accounts for more than £1 in every £8 spent on the high street). If I have to use two browsers I might as well stick with the one that works with every site I go to, and unfortunately, that’s the one produced by everyone’s favourite monopolistic software company.

It doesn’t get better when you look at vulnerabilities either. James O’Neill (who, admittedly, works for Microsoft), highlighted a report by Bit9 that lists the top applications with critical vulnerabilities. Surprisingly for me (and for many others, I presume) IE is nowhere to be seen and Firefox (v1.0.7) tops the list (although v1.5.0.4 is the latest release as I write this).

Open source had its chance to take back the web. If the Firefox reliability doesn’t get better, then we’ll just see Internet Explorer 7 take it back (IE 7 seems very good, although despite Microsoft pledging a commitment to web standards it still seems to be lacking in the standards compliance department – the version in Windows Vista beta 2 fails the ACID 2 test, but so does Firefox v1.5.0.4 on Windows XP SP2).

Even if Windows Vista encounters further delays, IE 7+ (and IE 7 for Windows XP users) will hit the streets soon (beta 3 of Internet Explorer 7 was released yesterday).

Mozilla needs to raise its game and further increase its share of the market before Microsoft wins the latest battle in the browser wars (ownership of the domain name is not going to be enough).

The end of Microsoft – or the end of the beginning?

As a sort of self-appointed Microsoft technical evangelist and reasonably prolific blogger, some people might find it odd that I haven’t yet commented on Bill Gates’ decision to stand down as Microsoft’s top man in 2008 (actually, he will still be Chairman and adviser) or (less significantly) the decision by Robert Scoble (Scobleizer – Microsoft technical evangelist and of Channel 9 fame) to leave Microsoft.

The main reason for not writing about these events is that I was on holiday at the time; but one other reason is that a company is more than one person (or two people). Bill Gates didn’t start Microsoft alone – he may have helped to make it successful (in the way that Steve Jobs’ return to Apple is widely reckoned to have been the turning point in that company’s fortune but there were many thousands of people involved in making things happen) but the world’s largest software company is not about to implode because one of its founding members wants to retire.

I do think that the Microsoft’s dominance in the PC and PC server markets may be limited (partly due to dodgy anti-trust rulings) but that’s got nothing to do with whether or not Bill Gates is in charge and that’s why I’ve also made a point of learning a bit about Linux (oh yes, and I bought a Mac yesterday – but it’s okay – I’ll probably run Windows on it… although maybe not exclusively).

I don’t know much about Ray Ozzie (the new Microsoft Chief Software Architect) except that he is credited as the creator of Lotus Notes before he set up Groove Networks; however I am pleased to see is that Bill Gates’ replacement is a technology person who understands business – not a bland bean-counting senior management type (and not another Steve Ballmer either, whose energetic style I find to be a little too strange at times).

James O’Neill has an interesting blog post on the departure of Gates and Scoble – it may be a bit long (and remember it was written by someone who works at Microsoft) but I think he makes some good points. Channel 9 also has a short clip with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer discussing the management changes at Microsoft.

Initial experiences of running Windows Vista on my everyday PC

I’ve written a bit about Windows Vista previously, but haven’t really used it much until recently due to a lack of decent hardware (I did have it running on a 1.5GHz Pentium 4M notebook PC with 256MB of RAM, but the RAM was a severe bottleneck).

Since converting my corporate Windows XP SP2 build to a virtual machine, I’ve been able to rebuild my work notebook to run Vista (beta 2 – build 5384) and although the processor is only marginally faster (1.8GHz Pentium 4M) it has 1GB of RAM as well as Bluetooth and an Intel Centrino chipset, making it a decent test platform for all but the Aero “glass” and other 3D effects.

I’ve also installed Office 2007 beta 2 (about which I raved after having just seen a demonstration a few weeks ago) and overall, I’m very impressed with the whole Vista and Office experience (the notes in this blog post cover about a month’s worth of usage).

Firstly, installation – I didn’t time it but it seemed faster than XP (and was certainly faster than previous releases of Windows Vista). After a few preliminary questions and copying the files from the DVD, the actual configuration only seemed to take a few minutes. Installing Office 2007 also seemed faster than my experiences with Office 2003.

Although it was very fast, I’ve had to turn off hibernation (indeed any form of advanced power management) because I found that the machine was unable to resume from a sleep/hibernate mode – but that could be because I have an unknown component in Device Manager for which I cannot find appropriate drivers – I suspect that the Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook S7010D is not on the Vista hardware list and whilst XP drivers will work for items such as the Bluetooth card, missing core chipset functionality is bound to affect stability (I’ve also just seen Steve Lamb’s blog post on how to restore the display on Windows Vista following hibernation which might be the answer to my problem).

Although I initially dismissed it as a gimmick, I’m finding the Windows Sidebar to be very useful. I’m also getting used to the size of the desktop icons but still don’t like the black/grey taskbar and menu, the colors for which doesn’t appear to be customisable but then again I could always go back to the Windows Standard theme (or dinosaur mode).

The new search feature on the main menu (is it still called the Start menu?) is very useful (it also doubles up as the run command) and I’ve not found user access control to be as intrusive as I expected – in fact, I run as an unprivileged user and the ability to run elevated when necessary (e.g. to add a printer) is working very well.

Using the Vista machine during my recent holiday, digital photo work seemed much faster than XP (rotating 33 6-megapixel images just a few seconds). I also saw a useful feature whereby hovering the mouse over a picture in gallery produced a larger thumbnail but I can’t find that option now. On the flip side, I’ve experienced a few Windows Explorer crashes whilst copying pictures from compact flash to disk – something which shouldn’t really be a problem.

Stacking content (e.g. photos by date taken) also seems a little hit and miss although this relies on having indexed the content and as I’ve only had the laptop on for a few minutes at a time over the last couple of weeks it might not have completed yet.

Some others have questioned the reliability of this Windows Vista build but I have to say its working pretty well for me – not quite production-ready yet, but it is still a beta. In any case, Microsoft has released another build (5456) to testers, although they do note that “while we believe this build to be generally better than beta 2, it is an interim build and has not been through a rigorous test pass”.

Stay patched or face the hoards of giant man-eating penguins

A couple of days back I published links to some funny Microsoft videos and now, on a related but slightly different note, I thought I’d highlight the work that Microsoft UK’s Steve Horne has been doing on machinama – it’s an interesting idea, using games 3D graphics engines to produce short films but check out Steve’s first production. You can read more about machinima on Steve’s blog.

Making sense of public key infrastructure

I’ve written a bit on this blog previously in an attempt to demystify public key infrastructure (PKI) but a fellow contributor to the Microsoft Industry Insiders blog, Adrian Beasley, has written an extensive article entitled make sense of public key infrastructure, which could be very useful for anyone trying to get their head around the subject.

As Steve Lamb pointed out when introducing Adrian’s article, he has tried to “keep very distinct the technology – asymmetric cryptography – which makes the whole thing possible, and the administrative process – PKI and all the rest – which controls it.”

Exchange Server 2007 may well shake up messaging – and about time too!

A colleague recently alerted me to a Network World article about how Exchange 2007 will shake up messaging. Whilst Exchange Server 2007 (formerly codenamed E12) will bring significant improvements that will require careful consideration and planning, I found the article to be highly misleading and thought I’d probably better set the record straight.

Firstly the article states that the new role-based architecture has the potential to require up to 5 types of Exchange server to be rolled out (up from just 2 with current versions); however it’s not that simple. The five roles are:

  • Edge transport (message hygiene).
  • Hub transport.
  • Client access.
  • Mailbox server.
  • Unified messaging.

Exchange Server 2003 and earlier do not have message hygiene or unified messaging capabilities (so that counts for two of the new roles); however many organisations will have a separate product already performing message hygiene functionality so even that is not really an additional server to deploy (simply a case of replacing a third party product with a Microsoft one). Also (and crucially), four of the roles (all except edge transport) can be co-hosted on a single server if required. What the new role-based model really provides is flexibility in designing an Exchange server infrastructure.

The move to 64-bit architecture has come in for much criticism from some people but quite simply that is the way things are going. All servers sold in the last 18 months or so by a tier 1 OEM (basically HP, Dell and IBM) have had 64-bit capabilities even if they have had a 32-bit operating system installed so the Longhorn Server wave of products that will hit us in 2007 are time to “get with the program”. A 64-bit architecture removes many constraints (e.g. memory limitations) and allows for applications such as Exchange to scale more effectively, allowing larger mailboxes and greater consolidation.

The new clustering features are where there is the most uncertainly at the moment (features may well come and go before release); however the article refers to one user who doesn’t want his server to fail over from LA to Chicago. That may well be the case for some, but for many wouldn’t it be good if we could easily fail service over between two data centres? In any case, Exchange Server 2007 is likely to support three forms of clustering (on mailbox servers) – the current Microsoft cluster service, local continuous replication and continuous clustered replication (for geoclusters) so there are many options. As for only mailbox servers supporting clustering – so what! All other Exchange server roles either hold transient data or perform a client access role – load balancing is probably more appropriate.

My final issue is that the article points out that upgrading from Exchange Server 5.5 is not supported. Whether or not there are many organisations using it, Exchange Server 5.5 will be 4 releases old when Exchange Server 2007 hits the streets and is already unsupported. It is time to drop legacy platforms in order to make better use (dare I say “leverage”) Active Directory more effectively. This is another case of needing to “get with the program” – e-mail is being viewed as more and more critical by organisations and should not be left languishing on an outdated and unsupported platform.

As one would expect after 4 years (and for a major release), there are many additional features and enhancements planned for Exchange Server 2007, each with their own implications that need to be considered during the infrastructure design and implementation planning. Much of the information I have on Exchange Server 2007 was supplied under NDA but everything I’ve written here is available publicly and other information sources include the excellent Microsoft Exchange team blog, as well as Microsoft UK’s Eileen Brown (and of course my own ramblings here).

Some more Microsoft videos

A few months back I blogged about the re-introducing the real Windows Vista videos that were doing the rounds and earlier today I blogged about a video of what could have happened if Microsoft had designed the packaging for the iPod. Here are a few more Microsoft videos that I found in a couple of misspent hours online this afternoon:


What could have happened If Microsoft had designed the packaging for the iPod

Late last night, Alex and I were (for once) agreeing on the success of an Apple product – the iPod – which may not be the best digital music player on the market (technically) but sure enough has the simplest “user experience” (the tight integration of the iPod with Apple’s iTunes music store may well be monopolistic but it is incredibly easy to use, especially when compared with equivalent offerings based Microsoft’s platform for digital rights management).

That’s the beauty of the iPod. Simplicity. From the packaging, to the hardware design, to the user interface.

I’m guessing that this has been around for a while now (with the 2005 product references) but I’ve just seen a short video of what could have happened if Microsoft had designed the iPod package:

Based on my professional relationship with Microsoft, this particular parody is uncannily close to the truth.

Addicted to the ‘net (I wish I’d brought a network cable away…)

Apologies for the lack of blogging these last couple of weeks (well, it will be a couple of weeks by the time I upload this to the blog), but I’m currently sitting in the shade, enjoying a nice drink, in 29 degrees of sunshine, in France’s Loire Valley. Normally, a family holiday would mean a ban on anything related to computers, strictly enforced by my wife, but the merger between my twin hobbies of photography and computing means that I do need to take a laptop away on holiday with me to at least back up my photos!

I was pleasantly surprised to find that our fantastic holiday cottage (La Sarmenti̬re, in Montsoreau Рbooked via French Country Cottages) had a funky Livebox ADSL router installed.

Wanadoo/Orange Livebox
I’m not sure if the owners intend it to be used by guests (the wireless connection was secured) but I always carry at least on CAT5 Ethernet cable. Except this time. Because I’m not supposed to be using the Internet on holiday. But I neeeeeeed to. Just think of all the tourist information that I could research on the ‘net.