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Sunday, July 31, 2005

IE 7 - web standards and security...

Many beta testers, including myself, were a little disappointed by the lack of improvements in CSS handling in IE 7 Beta 1. As a person who writes code that adheres to web standards, I am well aware of the difficulties that web developers face trying to make perfectly valid XHTML+CSS code look normal in Internet Explorer, and I know what a frustrating experience it can be.

That's why this post by Chris Wilson over on the IEBlog really made my day.

It highlights the IE team's committment towards making IE 7 more web-standards friendly, and it's one of those things I had been waiting to hear officially since the WinHEC back in April. I'm really glad to see the progress they've made so far, and I can't wait to see what's in store for Beta 2. This is great news for everyone, IE users or not.

I also completely understand their reasons for not checking in the changes in the Beta 1 build. Security should be a priority over everything else in my opinion, and the team has been doing some good stuff on that front since XP SP2, which made it more difficult for malware to enter the system via ActiveX controls. A new feature that's unique to IE 7 Beta 1 is the built-in phishing filter, which warns the user when a suspicious site is detected, and blocks sites that are confirmed phishing scams. The system works a lot like SpyNet in Microsoft's AntiSpyware application - the database is populated largely based on user feedback. Users are given the option to report phishing sites as well as false positives. From what I can tell based on some simple tests I did, it seems to use a combination of heuristic detection (to detect Suspicious sites) and a traditional blacklist (to block confirmed Phishing sites). With the recent outbreak of phishing attacks and the growing problem of identity theft, I think this is a really important feature, and I'm glad it was the primary focus of the IE team. I hope other browsers will follow with their own implementations of built-in phishing filters to protect their users as well.

posted at 11:59:00 AM
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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Vista Beta 1 is almost here!

Microsoft announced the availability of Windows Vista Beta 1 at 9:05AM PDT this morning.
MSDN subscribers have already received their product keys. The beta build itself is not yet currently up on either MSDN or Microsoft Connect.

While we wait, here are some official screenshots from the Beta 1 build on PressPass. A Windows Vista Beta 1 fact sheet is now available as well.

I can't wait to get started! :)

Update: Many more screenshots here. This is looking sweet!

Update 2: MSDN and TechNet have been updated to offer resources and guidelines to developers and IT professionals respectively. The Vista Developer Center on MSDN really has an awesome, fresh feel to it, and there are plenty of great guidelines available for ISV's that are planning to build Vista-ready applications.

Update 3: The DVD image is apparently up on MSDN now, and it's over 2GB (2478.3 MB). No sign of it on Connect yet.

Update 4: Channel9 has a video interview up with Chris Jones, Windows Vista Corporate VP, in which he discusses what's in Beta 1 and what to expect at PDC '05 in September.

Update 5: The builds are now up on Microsoft Connect! I'm seeing Windows Vista and Tablet addons, Longhorn Server and IE7. Ready to roll! :)

posted at 11:12:00 AM
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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

My thoughts on MSN Virtual Earth...

Rather than posting my opinion of MSN VE based solely on first impressions, I thought I'd get a little more familiar with it first, and now that I have, my reactions are mixed. Let's take it step by step...

General UI:
I personally think Virtual Earth wins in this area, although some may think otherwise. The ability to zoom in and out using the scrollwheel (or the touchpad edge) makes navigation just so much more natural as compared to using a separate slider control, and it's less jerky than Google's implementation. The "game panning" navigation, which kicks in if you use the compass-like UI element is also very smooth. MSN VE and Google Maps are tied when it comes to keyboard navigation though - the implementations are almost identical, although as mentioned earlier, zooming in and out using the + and - keys is smoother with VE.

There's no real comparison I can make in this area, other than to say MSN VE's color scheme is a little more subdued as compared to Google's brighter colors. Which one you prefer is largely a matter of personal preference. To me, the difference is small enough to make it insignificant.

Satellite imagery:
Ah, this seems to be a sort of hit-and-miss thing, where one does better than the other depending on your location. I found that here in the California region, MSN VE's satellite imagery is significantly better than Google's. The level to which you can zoom in is nothing short of impressive! VE uses the same imagery as TerraServer, which I've used before, so this didn't come as a surprise to me. However, when I jumped over to the New York area, the result was disappointing. Google offers full color satellite imagery here, whereas MSN VE only has grayscale images available, which aren't quite as clear either. Some people have also noticed that MSN's images might be older than the ones Google has acquired. The MSN VE team has announced that it is working towards acquiring updated images. All I can say here is that depending on your location, your mileage may vary, and vary quite a bit it may. :)

Layering and the Scratchpad:
Props to the MSN VE team for both of these unique features. They're extremely convenient for local search applications. I always found it a little irritating when my previous search results on Google Maps were wiped off the map when I searched for something else. MSN VE uses a layered approach, whereby it allows you to perform multiple local searches one after another and displays the results on the map using different colored flags. So if you're travelling, and looking for your hotel, and also want to find any chinese restaurants nearby, it becomes really convenient. The scratchpad allows you to add multiple locations to it, which is a handy tool to have if you're going on a trip and want to keep track of all the different stops you're going to make on the map, in addition to the starting point and destination. If I need to do local searches from now on, I know where I'll be going.

Locate Me:
This is another very unique feature originally developed at Microsoft Research that uses WiFi triangulation to determine your location on the map. It seemed to work really well in the Channel9 video, but for some reason, VE used the IP reverse-lookup method to find my location even though I had the little Location Finder app installed and running. So the best that it could do was to tell me I was in Los Angeles. Not bad, but nothing earth-shattering. Maybe there weren't enough wireless access points around me? This can end up being a really cool feature once it starts to work for everybody though.

The disappointment:
And this is the big one...really big. Big enough that I couldn't believe it when I first tried it. MSN VE has no driving directions! How could this not be the top priority? The single most important reason people using online mapping services is to find driving directions. Without that, everything else just becomes a novelty that will wear out sooner or later. From what I can tell, the base is there - anything that you search for has "Drive from" and "Drive to" links associated with it. The problem is that clicking either of these links, rather than overlaying directions on the existing map, takes you over to the old MSN Maps site, where the user experience is just sub-par. The banner ads on MSN Maps take up more space than the map itself! This is a real shame for an otherwise wondeful implementation. If anyone on the MSN VE team is reading this (and I heard they're looking for feedback on blogs), I really urge you to make this your number one priority for the Fall refresh! "Eagle-eye" view is incredibly cool, and it's something I know everyone is waiting for, but this is a far more useful addition that really needs attention.

To sum it all up, I feel that the lack of driving directions on MSN VE is enough to prevent me from moving away from Google Maps for now. I'll still start using VE for local searches though, since the implementation is just so much nicer. However, I see the amazing potential that VE has, and once driving directions, eagle-eye views, and updated satellite imagery are in, I'll switch completely without a second thought. Just not yet.

posted at 10:36:00 PM
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Monday, July 25, 2005

Outlook and the Energy Blue theme...

I was listening in to the latest episode of The Tablet PC Show podcast today, and I heard that James Kendrick has been having a little aesthetic problem with Outlook 2003 when using Microsoft's Energy Blue theme. I must have skipped by his blog post on the topic earlier, or I would have posted this earlier.

There's a really simple solution, actually. Here's what you have to do - first, switch back to the default Windows XP style, and close down Outlook if it's running. Then, open up Windows Explorer and head over to C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes\Royale. This is where the Energy Blue theme is installed. Under the folder, you'll notice the actual visual style file, which is also named Royale. All you have to do is rename this file to "luna" which is the filename of the default Windows XP style. Double-click this file and hit the Apply button in the Windows display properties dialog box that appears to switch back to the Energy Blue theme.

That's all there is to it. Outlook is "fooled" into thinking you're using Luna, and you can go back to enjoying it in all its colorful glory. :)

Update: One caveat - James points out that he had to uninstall WindowBlinds for this trick to work.

posted at 10:03:00 PM
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Sunday, July 24, 2005

The first month goes by...

I just completed one month of my internship at Symantec last week, so I thought I'd write a little bit about my experience so far, as a follow-up to my earlier post.

Firstly, I should mention that this one month has just been an awesome learning experience. I've had a chance to work on so many different areas, from writing C/C++ code to working on bits of UI stuff, from managing the build environment to working with Windows Installer, and so on. I've learned to use some useful new software development tools, and I've been able to play with new stuff even in tools that I've used in the past (like the Remote Debugger in Visual Studio, for instance). It's really neat.

Besides the technical aspects, the internship is giving me the opportunity to experience what it's really like to work in the software development industry in general. You get a chance to see how different inter-dependent teams interact, how the development cycle progresses through the various milestones, and just how everything comes together. As I mentioned earlier, my manager and my fellow team members have been very helpful and supportive, so it's been a nice environment to work in too.

The only thing I was grumpy about was the fact that they took away the "free soda perk" after the Veritas acquisition. But on the upside, we get free dinner everyday for working after 7PM, so that makes up for it. :)

There's not much time for anything else on weekdays since I leave from work at about 8PM, but I'm having fun learning, and I guess that's what really matters. It sure as hell beats taking summer courses, or spending three months at home and getting bored after the first two weeks. :)

posted at 4:08:00 PM
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Saturday, July 23, 2005

MSN Virtual Earth coming on Monday?

Remember MSN Virtual Earth? There seem to be some pretty strong hints that it's going to be up on Monday morning (at 6AM PDT again). ;)

Update: It's up early! Take a look. Things might understandably be a little shaky until the official launch on Monday. I'm not sure if the eagle-eye imagery is included in the first beta. That's probably one of the features most people are really looking forward to. I don't see it in my area. The satellite image zoom levels are much better than Google Maps, at least for the Southern California region. I can zoom in close enough to count the number of cars in the parking lots on campus, and even see what colors they are. Too bad it's not a live feed (for obvious reasons) ;)

I'll save the rest of my thoughts for the Monday morning launch.

posted at 4:51:00 PM
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Friday, July 22, 2005

Windows Vista - it's official...

(Here's a full-size logo)

The press release is up as of this morning with a video of the announcement. I like the promo video actually - it's short but catchy, and it emphasizes the Windows "ecosystem" with all the different Windows-powered devices like desktop machines and Media Center PC's, notebooks and Tablet PCs, and Windows Mobile smartphones. I think it would make a nice TV "teaser" ad.

The official Vista page is up as well, although there isn't really any content, as one would expect. The good news is Beta 1 will be up on August 3rd, which is fast approaching.

The new name is already starting to grow on me... :)

posted at 9:26:00 AM
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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Longhorn to become Vista...

Windows Vista.
Windows Vista.
Windows Vista.

I'm still trying to figure out if I like it or not. I have to say...it appeals to me much more than the name Longhorn, which I think would just sound silly for a released product. In fact, I never thought I'd get used to Longhorn back when the codename was announced, but it's become part of life now. I imagine Windows Vista will grow on me eventually too, although another clever two-letter name like XP would have definitely been cool. Vista is actually quite clever too in the way it related to a window - "a distant view or prospect, especially one seen through an opening" (from Dictionary.com). It doesn't roll off the tongue quite as nicely as XP did though.

In any case, watch for the announcement on PressPass tomorrow morning at 6AM PDT. :)

posted at 9:02:00 PM
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Monday, July 18, 2005

Spiced up picture galleries...

I haven't posted any new pictures, but I think you'll like what you see. :)

I'll probably also pick out some of my favorites from the WinHEC gallery I had posted over at OSNN in April and copy them over when I have more time...

Edit: Yes, you actually need to select one of the galleries to see the change.

posted at 10:25:00 PM
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Sunday, July 17, 2005

It's been a busy week...

There's a reason why I haven't posted anything since last Monday. Remember I mentioned I was setting up FreeBSD on one of the ACM servers? Well, one of the reasons why I wanted to start afresh was because the system was actually compromised during the 4th of July weekend while I was on the way to San Fransisco...

One of my fellow-officers noticed that the front page had been defaced, so we turned the web server off immediately. For whatever odd reason, the Information Security Office at UT Austin sent an abuse report to our CS department at UCLA informing them of the problem. That's when the CS department pulled the plug on us, so to speak - we suddenly lost network connectivity on the machine, and we had no idea why (until I sent an email to the CS HelpDesk and got the above information).

Everything would have been done by last Sunday if the connection had been up and I could have SSH'd into the server. Since that wasn't possible, I had to wait until Wednesday night for the connection to come back up. And since I'm at work until 8PM everyday, I had to work on getting everything up and running after getting back, leaving me with absolutely no time to do anything else...forget posting here. :P

In any case, things are almost done now. I just need to set up SVN on the machine later today, and we should be good to go. The main site is already back up and running.

Since the log files were cleared after the system was compromised, we had no way of finding out what exactly happened. The interesting thing is that several large (and smaller) sites were also hacked recently, including SpreadFirefox and a couple of high-traffic blogs on the Weblogs Inc. network. A few of these sites, including SpreadFirefox, are using Drupal, the same CMS we use for the main ACM site. A vulnerability was discovered around the same time all this happened, so my guess is that could have been the entry point. Without the logs, we can't ever be sure, but it seems too good to be coincidental. Drupal 4.6.2 was released a few days ago to fix this issue. Needless to say, we're running the latest version now, and anyone using Drupal should probably update ASAP too.

posted at 11:31:00 AM
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Monday, July 11, 2005

Innovation and the "Innovidiot"...

Rory Blyth on Microsoft, Slashdot and "innovation."
The comic almost had me rolling on the floor laughing. Hilarious! :D

posted at 10:48:00 AM
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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Longhorn Build 5203 screenshots leak...

Screenshots from LH 5203 have leaked to the web, and there are mirrors popping up all over the place. Although the UI won't really be finished and finalized until close to the beta 2 and RTM time-frame, you can already see it getting slicker and more polished.

I don't know if it's okay to post a link to the screenshots here, but if you know where I usually hang out, you'll know where to find them. ;)

posted at 3:20:00 PM
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Google Suggest meets Firefox...

Many of you might remember the Google Suggest beta that was unveiled in December last year. Now there's an extension for Firefox that adds the "suggest" feature to the Google search box within the browser.

Cool stuff! Check it out. :)

posted at 2:35:00 PM
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Friday, July 08, 2005

Windows Desktop Search - new stuff...

WDS has been one of the handiest add-ons to Windows I have ever used, and chances are, you've heard me rave about it way too many times already. It's now found a home on my development machine at work too. Just amazing how quick and easy it makes trying to find a needle in a haystack - the haystack in this case being the source for a commercial software product with well over a million lines of code, and the needle being something as specific as the name of a variable!

In any case, the point of this post was to bring to light two new gems in the WDS world. The first one, which first made it's appearance on the Channel9 wiki, is the new API that allows ISV's to plug in the desktop search capabilities of WDS into their own applications, along with information and results from other sources. There are a large number of apps that can greatly benefit from indexed search, and the API's from MSN make the task quite a bit simpler. For more details on this, including a sample application with source code (in C# that too!) check out the announcement on the MSN Search blog.

The second one is important because it has the potential to bring back users that WDS may have lost due to it not being able to index Thunderbird mailboxes. Yeah, the folks over at Citeknet have released a beta version of a free protocol handler that enables WDS to index mailboxes in Thunderbird, Mozilla Mail, Netscape Mail and Eudora. Apparently, there are a few issues with the beta build, so make sure you're aware of them before you try this out.

Edit: Yes, I will be updating the WDS review soon to account for the additions. :)

posted at 11:50:00 PM
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Longhorn Beta invites are out...

Dear Microsoft Beta Tester,

We are pleased to offer you an early preview of Windows, Code-Name "Longhorn," by extending this invitation to join the Longhorn beta program. Your participation is completely voluntary. Longhorn Beta Program participants will preview software for the next generation of Windows as well as Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. If you choose to participate you will have the opportunity to provide Microsoft with feedback as we continue work on these exciting new releases.


Rock on! :D

posted at 7:03:00 PM
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ACM now running FreeBSD 5.4-RELEASE...

It's always fun to try new stuff, and since I just took over adminstration of our ACM servers at the end of last quarter, I thought it would be nice to start afresh with FreeBSD this time around. Both machines were previously running Debian Linux.

BSD isn't completely new to me...I've tinkered with it before, but not much, and never in a production environment. Some of my fellow-officers and I went in and set up the base system last evening, and sshd is now up so that I can set up the rest from home over the weekend. Thank goodness for Kai's vi "cheat sheet" - that's all I can say. :D

I've been referring to the (very comprehensive) FreeBSD Handbook and the clear, well-written guides over at BSDGuides.

So far, I like the system quite a bit - It's well organized; some of the BSD-specific security features are pretty neat; and the ports tree has quite a reputation. More thoughts as I get more stuff done over the weekend.

On a completely unrelated note, I have to remember to try out Google Earth once I'm back home on Saturday. Looks like the download link is back up after being taken down a couple of times already due to high demand.

posted at 11:45:00 AM
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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Latest Longhorn tidbits...

Thurrott reports: (thanks to Marc for the link)

Sources close to Microsoft told me this week that the software giant has started a mysterious new software project called Project M, which might be a replacement for the Windows shell in Longhorn. Heading Project M is none other than Hillel Cooperman, the user experience guru who presented Longhorn's UI ideas to developers at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in October 2003. Cooperman reports directly to Chris Jones, who recently returned to the Windows client team. Jones, in turn, reports directly to Will Poole, senior vice president of Windows Client Business. Project M is described internally only as Windows "shell enhancements," a mysteriously vague description. The project is secret even to most people at Microsoft and won't likely be added to Longhorn until the beta 2 or even the Release Candidate 0 (RC0) release. One source theorized that Project M is to Longhorn as Luna was to Windows XP: Early XP (then known as Whistler) betas used a UI called Watercolor that Microsoft eventually dropped. The UI in today's Longhorn builds, which we'll soon see in beta 1, could likewise be pushed aside for something more visually impressive.

Intriguing. This is precisely why people should refrain from focussing solely on the UI so early in the development cycle. Paul also reports that Beta 1 is still scheduled for the later half of this month, as I had heard earlier. Expect Beta 2 to be far more impressive, he says.

My sources describe Longhorn Beta 1 as one of the most stable beta 1 OS releases in Microsoft history, although it will lack most of the UI niceties the company plans for future releases. Beta 2, I'm told, is going to be "incredible" and "far more impressive than people now realize." We shall see.

We shall see, indeed. :)

posted at 7:07:00 PM
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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Microsoft and WaSP collaborate...

The Web Standards Project (WaSP) is collaborating with Microsoft to promote Web standards and help developers build standards conformant Web applications.

Today we formally announce the WaSP / Microsoft Corporation Task Force. WaSP's goal is to provide technical guidance and advice as the company increases Web standards support in its products including Microsoft Visual Studio and ASP.NET.

WaSP and Microsoft developers will work together to better understand and execute on Web standards as defined by standards bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

[Via WaSP]

Good news for everyone! :)

posted at 10:50:00 AM
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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Off for the long weekend...

I'm heading up north to the Bay Area with my family for the long weekend. May or may not be online much, depending on what we end up doing. If I'm not around, catch you all on Tuesday. :)

posted at 9:38:00 AM
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