Thursday, January 31, 2008

Windows Vista Service Pack 1 RTM Leaked

As Microsoft is working on the latest update for Windows Vista, also known as Service Pack 1 or SP1, news has it that it has been leaked on to the internet. Vista SP1 is supposed to be released in Feb and it seems just the right time for Microsoft to label the latest builds as RTM or Release to Manufacturing.

Microsoft is just about to release it to the partners and may be someone from the developers was naughty to release it. Or may it was someone from the partners. Anyway, the leak is some kind of a standalone executable and has the build 6001.18000.080126-2040. Another leak has it as 080118_1840, but its a pretty early timestamp (18-01-2008) which suggests that its a fake. These builds are probably escrow and candidate for the final RTM.

Anyway if you want a quick peek, get your hands dirty!! But I would still recommend a little more patience so that you don't screw your machine just a few days before the official leak (...I mean release)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gateway Selling Phenoms Instead of Intel Quad Core

In what seems to an odd twist to the tale of processor wins, Gateway is offering its high-end desktops with AMD Phenom processors and not with Intel Quad-Cores. All the Intel Quad-Core Processors have been replaced by Phenom 9500 and Phenom 9600 processors. You can find these at the Best Buy shops and it seems a good win for AMD, although how much money AMD is making on these shipments to Gateway is unknown.

AMD's current Phenom, 9500 and 9600 aren't the fastest processors in the market and the Intel Quad-Cores are easily beating them in most applications, if not all. The only advantage that Gateway might be getting by selling these machines is the price advantage. AMD is selling the Phenom processors at good bargain prices and Gateway seems to have even better prices in comparison to Intel's processors.

Gateway is currently selling 3 different configurations with the Phenom processors. The FX7020 gaming PC is priced at $1100 and contains the Phenom 9600. The company is also shipping the first mainstream quad-core PC in retail, the GT5662 at a price of $750 (without monitor) and comes with Phenom 9500, 3 GB of memory, a 256 MB ATY 2400 XT graphics card and a 500 GB hard drive. The high-end multimedia version called the GM5664 is similar to the GT5662, but comes with the Phenom 9600, 1TB harddisk, a hybrid HD DVD/Blu-ray drive and a TV tuner.

The price of these machines is quite competitive and better than a lot of other branded machines. AMD's Phenom seems to enable Gateway to keep the lower prices and still offer customers quad-cores.

Monday, January 28, 2008

SQL Server 2008 Will Be Late

Microsoft was going to release its database management system, SQL Server 2008 in Q2 of this year, but now has mentioned that the product will require some more time to be completely ready for release. Thus, the delay currently means that Microsoft will be releasing SQL Server 2008 sometime in Q3, 2008. Even this date will depend on how fast Microsoft can work on the product and get it ready for release.

Every major Microsoft product has been delayed off-late. A few examples include Windows Vista, Home Server, Sharepoint, Office for Mac, Visual Studio 2008. This either means that Microsoft has been doing a lazy rest or may be Microsoft has been promising too much to early. It could also be the case where people are expecting product releases like before, but Microsoft is spending more time than before in refining and polishing the products. Either ways, its not a good sign for the world's largest software company.

The delay was part of a roadmap clarification, another way to say that we screwed sometime in the planning phase. But all the delay isn't affecting Microsoft much, since its still able to make good profits and is able to sell enough products. SQL Server 2005 which was delayed by some 18 months was well received and is hosting a lot of databases at the moment.

The clarification on the site reads like this:

To continue in this spirit of open communication, we want to provide clarification on the roadmap for SQL Server 2008. Over the coming months, customers and partners can look forward to significant product milestones for SQL Server.  Microsoft is excited to deliver a feature complete CTP during the Heroes Happen Here launch wave and a release candidate (RC) in Q2 calendar year 2008, with final Release to manufacturing (RTM) of SQL Server 2008 expected in Q3. Our goal is to deliver the highest quality product possible and we simply want to use the time to meet the high bar that you, our customers, expect.

This does not in any way change our plans for the February 27 launch and we look forward to seeing many of you in Los Angeles and other events around the world. Please keep the great feedback coming and thank you again for your ongoing support of SQL Server!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

How to Access Blocked Sites From College

I have recently been observing a lot of students at college trying very hard to access blocked sites from college labs. Quite a few colleges block sites like Orkut, Facebook and other sites. College authorities feel that such sites waste student time, but students waste more time trying to pass through the firewall blocking these sites. They keep trying different proxy servers, but these are most of the times very slow or unstable. Also, there are a host of anonymous proxy software or anonymizer which are paid software.

Instead of all the pain and waste of time, a simpler method to access blocked sites is by the use of the Tor or Onion Network. It allows anonymous access to the internet and helps bypass those firewalls that are blocking the internet. Simple to install and easy to use, you don't have to do much to bypass the college firewall. There are also security advantages of using Tor as it prevents tracking through cookies and when used with privoxy also helps block ads by default. The official website lists these advantages and who uses it.

The nice step-by-step tutorial with screenshots for different platforms can be found here, but below I've listed a 3 step guide to be anonymous and access blocked websites.

1.) Download and install Vidalia Bundle which contains Tor, Privoxy and TorButton. (I have linked the latest nightly builds, you can also try the stable build)

2.) Start Firefox and go to addons. Get Extensions and install the TorButton Extension, if it isn't showing the bottom-right corner of the browser window.

3.) Toggle the Torbutton to enable and enjoy surfing the web anonymously and bypassing the blocking firewall.


Note: Don't blame me if you get banned from college for accessing adult websites through Tor. Technology, like everything else has good and bad sides. The CHOICE is always yours!!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

NetBeans Event in Second Life

Second Life, the virtual world where people live another life in front of their computers, is going to be the location for the next NetBeans meet on Jan 31, 2008 at 10 am. If you haven't heard of Second Life, then may be you first need to read this and then if you are tired of your real life, get the client and log in to your Second Life.

I am not a resident of Second Life since I don't have enough time in my first life, but I always wonder what's the point of a second life if you already have a first life. I mean one life at a time can be tough to manage, what do you do when you have to manage two!! But this event seems to be good excuse for any netBeans developer at office to experience something other than just typing some code on the keyboard. The netBeans event can be a good refresher and is a nice idea from Sun to talk about netBeans.

The event is being held at the Sun's property in Second Life and you can get the directions here. Infact, you can teleport from to the meet location from that page. Brian Leonard and David Botterill will lead the talk about NetBeans 6.0 and will be mainly about the new features in netBeans 6.0. It'll be good if we have a good crowd at the meet and life can get really interactive in the world of second life. Hopefully people are still left with some Linden Dollars (virtual money of Second Life) after the banking debacle of last week.

2 Million iPhone Customers for AT&T

Reuters reports that AT&T has 2 million of its customers who bought an iPhone with the connection in 2007. The news just goes to show how many people bought the iPhone, but does not have a mention of how many people got the iPhone unlocked and are now using on a different service. But either ways, its great news for Apple supporters and its in sync with the Apple's largest quarter results ever.

From Reuters interview:

"We had very solid sales results in October and November and we had almost double sales in December," said Chief Financial Officer Rick Lindner, referring to iPhone sales on the company's quarterly earnings call.

Whoever said that iPhone isn't as much hit as the iPod needs to look at these numbers. 2 million means quite a lot of those cell phones are in the hands of people. And surely Apple has some margins with the exclusivity of AT&T. Hopefully, Apple has already made enough cash to pour in back to R&D for the next version of iPhone. A 3G iPhone should be coming sooner!!

VMWare Releases Stage Manager 1.0 Beta

The leader in virtualization software and solutions, VMWare has released a new product called Stage Manager as beta. Stage Manager as the name suggest is used to manage the virtual stage of operating systems and is helpful to deploy applications on these virtual environment. Stage Manager is actually a useful GUI which allows easy management of virtual environments similar to Sun Microsystems Sun xVM Ops Center that ships with Sun's virtualization product xVM Server.

Some of the key features of Stage Manager as mentioned on VMWare's product website are:

Key Features

  • Rapidly create new multi-server software configurations (services)
  • Monitor resource usage on a per-service, per-stage and per-instance basis
  • Easily perform operations on a complete service (e.g. cloning, deploying, archiving, etc.)
  • Marshall changes across the service lifecycle, interacting with external process management/workflow system to ensure compliance with service transition policies
  • Maintain an archive of past service configurations supporting compliance and recovery operations
  • Maintain an auditable history of software configuration changes
  • Manage storage behavior on a per-stage basis to maximize storage efficiency
  • Control access to services on a per-service, per-stage and per-instance basis
  • Inherit then deploy services to resource pools created within VMware VirtualCenter


You can also look at the feature tour below:

You can read more on VMware's Stage Manager Product Page

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Joomla 1.5 Final Launched

Finally after lots of delays and efforts, the popular open-source CMS Joomla 1.5 has been released. Joomla is one of the more popular CMS (Content Management Systems) on the web and is widely used to author a lot of websites. This release is a major change to v1 of Joomla and there are a lot of improvements in the areas of extensibility, usability and internationalization.

Joomla recently completed some bug quashing meets where developers would meet, get free pizza and in return would help find bugs. Quite a lot of bugs were found due to these meets and the result is that Joomla 1.5 final has lesser bugs.

Joomla 1.5 has a lot of changes to the code and upgrading from v1 is quite a lot of problems. You can follow this guide here, and migrate from 1 to 1.5. The guys at Joomla have also included an Overview of Joomla 1.5 for the guys who want an introduction to the features in the product. Joomla 1.5 is a very advanced CMS and has lot of configurations that can be done. Help is available at the Joomla community and there are some nice tutorials on the Joomla site to help you with the configuration. The press release is here and have fun using the new Joomla...


Note: Sorry guys for not posting in the last week. My health wasn't keeping well... I am back on track and will be posting regularly now!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Download Expression Encoder For SilverLight

Although everyone in the world is looking at the MacWorld 2008 and drooling at the MacBook Air, archrival Microsoft also unveiled its future technology Silverlight's creation tool. SilverLight has been touted as an alternative to Flash's flv. Flv or Flash Video is the most popular video streaming technology on the internet with popular sites like YouTube, Google Videos, Metacafe and the rest using it.

The Expression Encoder is used to encode content to Silverlight streaming format and can also generate Windows Media audio and video. It allows different options for encoding in variable bitrates depending upon the Internet broadcasting bandwidth and also allows encoding for Zune.

System Requirements:
Supported Operating Systems: Windows Vista; Windows XP Service Pack 2
Processor: 1.0 GHz with MMX or equivalent
Memory: 1GB RAM
Hard Drive: 350 MB
Graphics processor: Microsoft DirectX® 9.0-capable video card- Recommended support for Pixel Shader 2.0, with 256 MB or more of memory to support video preview. For example, ATI Radeon® X300 or NVIDIA® GeForce™ 5600 class equivalent or better.
1024 x 768 monitor resolution with 24-bit color
(Optional) Video encoding hardware acceleration cards to speed up encoding processes

From Microsoft's site:

We are pleased to offer Expression Encoder, formerly Expression Media Encoder, for download. If you are an existing Expression Studio or Expression Media customer, please enter your Expression Media (Windows) product key when prompted during the Expression Encoder installation to activate the software.

If you do not have a product key, you can download Expression Encoder and preview its functionality. This fully functioning version will expire 60 days after installation.

Expression Encoder is an advanced video encoding tool especially suited for generating content that takes full advantage of the rich graphic and interactive capability of Silverlight playback scenarios. You can also generate Windows Media video and audio that is optimized for other Web playback scenarios, or suitable for playback on portable devices, such as Microsoft® Zune™. You may run Expression Encoder in its rich GUI or with the command line.

Download 60-day trial

Friday, January 11, 2008

Practice & Preach On Programming Languages (Programming Lesson 3)

Before I begin this part, I have to apologize to all my readers (Mark, Arun, Steven, Nolan, Dilip and a few others) for not completing the series, "Programming Lesson" for which I had promised 7 posts. I did not get enough comments on the last 2, although there were over 5000 hits on each post. But yesterday I got an encouraging email, and hence the next few posts.

Once a mother & her son came to a Spiritual Guru with the complaint of her son that he ate too many sweets. She asked the Guru to tell her son that sweets are bad for his teeth & health. She expected that the Guru would give some solution to this problem. But after the Guru heard her issue, he said, "Please come back after a month and only then can I give you some solution". The mother agreed to the Guru's advice and thought that the Guru needs a month to create some special medicine. She left and came back after exactly a month's time.

After she arrived, the Guru called her son near him and said, "Sweets are good in some quantity, but too much of it will make you a slave of its ill-effects." Before the Guru could continue, the mother got a little perturbed and said, "If this is all you had to say, why did you not say it the other day?" The Guru smiled and said, "I craved for sweets myself and until I controlled that desire, I was not in a position to preach." Listening to these words, the child understood better than any medicine could have cured.

This story has an important lesson for anyone who leads projects or anyone who manages a team. In my experience, it can be rightly applied to the advice which a software architect or project manager will give to his team. Especially programming language choice is one of the sentimental issue that I regularly encounter. I do not consider it to be the most important decision, but for a lot of programmers it becomes an emotional issue. Like the Guru rightly puts it, most of the times we become slaves of a desire of ours and it clouds the correct choice and programming language selection is no different.

As a software architect, when I advise my team or counter-argue on a choice of language, I first make it a point to give an example project in that language. I have programmed pilot projects in over 20 programming languages and designed over 35 projects of varied scale. I consider myself to be a newbie, but I realize that every programming language has its advantage or disadvantage. And hence I make it a point to practice in that language before arguing for/against it. It definitely helps when people around you listen and give inputs. Most of the times after you have practiced it yourself, you are more confident about your own choices. Like they say, "The problem is choice".... Hope this lesson just helps simplify the problem.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Why Is "Live" Separate From Windows Vista ?

I hope you've heard about Windows Live. If you haven't, then click here and read about it after you finish reading this post. Windows Live is a group of free online services that Microsoft provides. And if you haven't still figured out, its basically Windows applications that can interact with online services.

If you have tried Windows Live, then you would realize that they aren't anything more than the same applications that are available in Windows Vista with some online activities. Hotmail is Live email and is not a desktop application, but it can be integrated with Live Mail, which is a modified Outlook Express. Now why can't the Outlook Express that comes with Vista work with Hotmail?? Why can't MSN messenger come pre-installed with the Live stuff?? Why can't you bring the Writer and Events applications along with Vista?? It'll encourage many more people to be blogging and use Spaces for their diary. The Live Photo Gallery is exactly similar to the Vista Photo Gallery other than the Publish button that can be used to share photos online. Why not have the publish button in Vista??

Windows Live tools can be installed on Windows XP SP2 & Vista and is free for download. Maybe Microsoft has the goodwill and wants to give access to the Vista tools to Windows XP users, but then why not have them integrated with Windows Vista itself. I mean what's the point in having two similar applications that do the same thing except one can do stuff online. And anyway its free right?? Windows Visa SP1 is just ready for release and it is an excellent time to bring the Live services to all Vista applications.

Is Microsoft getting worried about antitrust lawsuits and not doing it?? Or is there a separate Vista Ultimate Live product being offered. I'm dumbstruck by this dumb decision to not keep Live alive in Windows Vista from the very beginning.

Origami 2.0 Looks Neat

If anyone's reading tech sites, CES is the "happening thing" on the web. The CES (Consumer Electronics Show) showcases some of the best in present and future consumer electronics and this year has been no different. Among a lot of things, Microsoft celebrated Bill Gates' last day at office and presented a video of all the people talking to him. But I found another interesting thing that Microsoft has been showing at the CES. Its the Origami 2.0 and by the look, its a very nice looking thing.

Microsoft's interface for the UMPC market is called Origami Project and I had last year seen a UMPC with Vista installed, showing the Origami 1.0 experience. Its the Aero-like UI available for Ultra-Mobile PCs (UMPC)  and I liked the interface quite a lot. The Origami 2.0 is an upgrade to the original UI experience and will be available in mid-2008 according to Microsoft.

The following are some screenshots from the origami development team's blog:

The second screenshot called the Origami™ Now, looks pretty good and seems to be have lots of data on a single screen like a normal desktop would have. Its also nicely arranged and all the equally spaced transparent components look really well made.

Bill Gates also talked about Microsoft concentrating on touch and speech based interfaces and I hope Microsoft will really concentrate on those. It really makes user-interaction faster and fun (think Wii). Origami 2.0 will surely be a good learning experience and lesson learnt on this can be brought to desktop or other places like Surface Computer and the like.

The thing I liked about Origami 1.0 was that it was pretty fast and didn't seem heavy, although it had effects and transparency. But what I would like the Origami 2.0 to have is a touch interface, that can be used without the stylus, like you can use the iPhone. If buttons are made larger (size of a finger) and if windows can be shuffled like pages of a book, I would be extremely excited to install the Origami 2.0 on the Vista UMPC.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Modern CS Scientists: They Brought Us Here (PIC)

Found this picture in my inbox today and thought would be useful to post it to my blog. Look at the popular CS scientists... I think there could have been a few more who have made exceptional contribution to the field of computing


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Open-Source Hardware & Gadgets

I just read this article at the NYTimes about Neuros OSD, an Open Source Device (OSD) for digital video recording. Like the name suggests, the device is open-source in hardware and software. But when I look at all the hardware and gadgets I own, I can't find a single one which is open-source. Infact, most of the gadgets don't even have a proper manual. You have to open the box and look through all the chip ID and then hope that somewhere the chip manufacturer has left something for you to munch! Lets not talk about the software side of these gadgets... its even worse.

The NYTimes article is not the first time that I've heard about open-source hardware or read an article glorifying open-source. I have attended a few conferences on open-source evangelism and read quite a few books and articles on it. I have also looked closely at it as a business model as well. And that brings me to the question as to why isn't open-source hardware popular?

If you look at the word "open-source", its been applied at a lot of places. And not just in software or computing. Its been adopted in education, arts, automobiles and quite a few other places. But then its in these sectors as well where you can count open-source adoption on your fingers. If I have to say it bluntly, "Open-source is not human-like" and hence it's not popular. The open-source ideology in software may be gaining popularity, but its more so because open-source evangelism gets more media coverage. An evidence to this fact is that while I'm writing this post, I also read about McAfee not giving back code to open-source project as part of the GPL (GNU Public License).  And I'm not writing this piece as an open-source supporter. Instead, I'm here to tell you that open-source hardware has a few pitfalls as well.

Open-Source Starts Excitement

There could be two diametrically reasons for the excitement surrounding open-source. It could either be because its atypical (aberrant of  human tendency) or its very close to man being a "social animal". Whatever be the reason, open-source does provide excitement. This excitement means you get more eyes to your project and more hands to help you expand the project. All of this means, you have an opportunity to sell your product. Open-source gadgets allow more people to tweak and play with it and in-turn the company sells more of the gadget. The user of the product also gets additional enhancements made by other users. Open-source is educational for the geek as well as more usable for the novice.

Whose Opportunity

So all these are good for the product that is open-sourced...right? Not completely. Didn't I just say its an opportunity to sell your product? But it is obvious that anyone with better manufacturing capabilities can have an even better opportunity. For hardware manufacturing, we all know China, Taiwan etc. can make it cheaper than others. The hardware that you designed and manufactured in another country can be easily replicated and sold cheaper. Currently closed gadgets are copied and sold cheaper. If your hardware is open-sourced, its infact an open-permit for the other to copy.

This is probably one of the main reasons why open-sourcing hardware/gadgets is not popular and never will be. Other reasons could be security loopholes, not-so-great designs, upgrade markets, dumping old components in newer models...

But this hasn't stopped open-source hardware to be released. There are many examples of open-source hardware and the list seems to be growing every month. Some popular open-source hardware projects include OpenSPARC (CPU), LEON (CPU), S1 Core (CPU), Simputer (Handheld), PLAICE (flash programmer), OpenCellPhone (Mobile Phone), AstFin (Telephony hardware), OSCar (Automobile), gEDA (Electronic Design Automation tools), Daisy (mp3 player), OpenStim (Brain Stimulator) and many many more.

Bad Never Happens to Good People

I can't forget the argument a student of mine gave in support of open-source. He said that "Atleast my contribution is changing the world"... And then another said, "If that contribution can earn you your bread..."... and I just smiled...

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Asus EEE PC in India

The Asus EEE PC was highly successful during the Christmas season and Amazon sold close to one every 6 seconds! So, I was highly anticipating to see it in India. I had read earlier in the Financial Express that Asus would be bringing the EEE PC to India in Jan 2008 and today, was my chance to look at it and use it. I saw the EEE PC in Mumbai, India and it will be on the shelves for sale in the next few weeks.

I have to say I'm was a little surprised to see how small it actually is. I had read the reviews online when it was launched in the US last year, but looking at it in reality it seemed a little smaller than I thought. The 7" screen is a little too small for me but I guess its "ok" when you think its a UMPC and not a full-fledged notebook. Its truly lightweight and portable with a weight of just 0.9 Kgs. It has 512MB of RAM and 4GB of SSD (i.e. Flash-based harddisk). It has a webcam and a mic. It also has Linux installed (some Gnome like GUI) and also comes with drivers for Windows XP, incase you want to install XP by yourself.

I couldn't take a photograph of it nor was I allowed to benchmark it. But I tried running a H.264 movie and it did struggle getting the speeds continuosly up. Thus, I realised it was just meant to surf the web with the Wifi connection it provided. Its a very basic computer and the low price with portability as its main selling point. According to the shopkeeper who showed it to me, it will be sold at 16000/- or more, with the price being 20k in the first month. He was extremely optimistic that the EEE PC is the perfect product for Indian market. I agree somewhat at his observation and I think it will be a hit among non-tech buyers. It looks cute and sleek and is cheap.

Will surely try to convince the shopkeeper next week and get some benchmark done on this cutie. Although somehow I don't expect much from a Celeron M processor and an archaic integrated GPU.

Embed Google Presentations on Any Webpage

Google Docs has a good tool for creating presentations, but although being an online presentation tool, till now it could not be shared by enbedding on a webpage. But yesterday, Google announced that you can now embed your presentations on any webpage and share them with anyone just like YouTube videos can be embedded on any page.

All you have to do is after the presentation is created, click on the "Publish" button on the top-right and then it will give you an iframe tag which can be added to any webpage like I have done below.

This is a very useful feature and was probably the number one on user request list. Check out the presentation above and also look at the announcement from Google here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Google Should Sell Web Data In 2008

2007 was probably the year when Google announced a lot of new innovations and Google started improving search. Few changes to Google's ad system were also done which is Google's main money-maker. But one thing which is not good for any company is relying too much on one thing to make the bucks like Google does with Adsense & Adwords. Thus, Google really needs other sources of revenue.

Internet market research is a good business these days. A few companies are already making it big like Alexa, Comscore, Compete, Inc, Nielsen//NetRatings, Hitwise, and Quantcast.  And as online advertising increases, marketers would want to know more about the users. I think with the kind of data Google owns about web users, it could easily sell this as marketing data. Some people would argue that Google already gives some idea about the users through adwords, but that data is mostly from external sources. Data from gmail, orkut, analytics, adsense and other Google services would be more comprehensive and that would mean very accurate data. Accurate also in the sense that Adsense ads are shown everywhere on the net and users could be tracked easily across different sites. This would mean that no one will question the accuracy of the results shown through Google's vast data.

With Google acquiring DoubleClick and FTC clearing all the paperwork, it seems Google will know a lot about everyone. Thus in 2008, I think Google will find another revenue stream by providing data for Internet market research.