Sunday, January 25, 2009

Most Recently Used Files From the Start Menu

Instead of a global menu item that shows a pot pourri of recent documents for all applications, the Windows 7 menu is smarter on how it shows you recent documents.

Recent documents are displayed and bound next to any compliant application. Pictures are worth a thousand words here:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Windows 7 Hidden Features

Starting a small series of posts about new features in Windows 7 that don't have a lot of flash, hence are unlikely to be covered in the mainstream, but are still neat and interesting.

Finally, Windows can burn ISO images directly from its shell. It's about time Microsoft did this considering the APIs have been there since Windows XP. I'm excited about this since most vendors usually bundle some crapware in order to provide this feature to their customers. Hopefully, this will mean a cleaner hard drive on purchase.

Now, if Microsoft would just get around to finally supporting virtual desktops. The APIs have been in there since at least Windows NT 4.

Windows 7 has the ability to mount Virtual PC VDC disk images. You can see the mounted disks like any other drive in the "Computer" view. This would have come very handy a while ago, I have a collection of virtual machines from Windows 95 up to Vista. With Windows NT 4 and earlier, it was really hard to download updates and/or service packs since:

a) Out of the box, they either don't come with any browser or come with Internet Explorer version 1. If you try to use Internet Explorer version 1 on mainly any site, including Mozilla, it doesn't work, the browser errors out.
b) You can't use a shared folder because you can't install the guest additions until you've updated to the latest service packs/updates but you have no means to get them on there.

This feature would have made it easier to just put the latest updates on these deprecated operating systems and get to the point where I could just install the guest additions. Ultimately, I had to put all the updates on an FTP site and use the text based ftp command that comes with NT versions 4 and earlier. I was still looking for a solution for Windows 95 and this is what finally made it possible to update. My 95 disks are original Windows 95 floppy disks, so I didn't have the FTP command on this install either.

Windows 7 Codec Support

In addition to the codecs supported by previous versions, Windows 7 supports an impressive list of new codecs and media containers out of the box.

New containers:
  1. MP4
  2. MOV
  3. 3GP
  4. AVCHD
  5. ADTS
  6. M4A
  7. WTV (new Windows Media based format for PVR based recordings)

New codecs:

  1. H.264
  2. MPEG4-SP
  3. DivX
  4. Xvid
  5. MJPEG
  6. DV
  7. AAC-LC (regular AAC)
  8. LPCM
  9. AAC-HE

You can get all these codecs and more with the K-Lite Codec Pack, however, this is the 32-bit version. The 64-bit version of K-Lite doesn't offer many codecs at all.

Now, if Microsoft can just add support for the Matroska file format, we'll be all set.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Nokia N96

Just got my brand new toy. The Nokia N96, I honestly don't see the mass market appeal for such a device but I don't think I've felt this young in quite some time. This device is a whole lot of fun.

When I say fun, I don't mean this phone has a touch screen or a full keyboard, more fun like it supports live TV and has a PVR, a pretty damn good web browser, tons of codecs for all your media, good podcasting software, etc, etc. An unlocked version of this thing will set you back $800 USD. I have no idea what the target market for this device could possible be but I like it.

That being said, the N97, if not for the price tag, would be a much more serious product. Touch screen, full screen keyboard... and yes TV and PVR among other things.

Anyway, the N96 is a very good product, everything on this phone just works. The Java support is top notch with support for SVG based interfaces even which makes for some really interesting user interfaces. Again, however, budget conscious users might want to stay away here.

A video review is available here.

Microsoft SkyBox

The net is abuzz today about the rumored new user interface for Windows Mobile based devices. You can see some more information here.

However, that's not the major pain point when developing for Windows Mobile. Yes, the user interface is the major pain point for users when dealing with Windows Mobile but not for developers.

The real issue for developers is deployment. That's right, when developing for Windows Mobile, you have basically 3 options:

  1. Java ME
  2. .Net Compact
  3. Native
Native is a pain due to the many different CPUs you'll encounter when dealing with Windows Mobile devices. Furthermore, many third party libraries just haven't been certified/tested on this platform. Here, I'm thinking mostly about Boost. Additionally, you'll either have the choice of using MFC or using the C Windows API. Just fun all around. Deploying a cabinet file for these devices if you can straigthen out all these issues is straight forward but getting there is a long road.

Java ME, when present, is usually the CLDC variant. Meaning it's a pain, it's light, missing many important classes, has pre-Java 5 syntax which means you can't use the majority of 3rd party libraries on it, open source or otherwise, and well, usually, not even loaded on the phone to begin with. Furthermore, if you don't have it on your phone, there isn't a convenient way to get it or upgrade it. What ships with the phone is what dies with the phone. Again, deploying a JAD file isn't terribly difficult, that is, if the phone has a Java VM to begin with and that Java VM is of decent quality. As it turns out, most Java VMs that ship on Windows Mobile aren't worth the bytes they fill up.

The last choice is .Net Compact. This one isn't too bad except for the fact that most phones don't ship a recent version of .Net Compact. Usually, you'll find .Net Compact 2 with no service packs, which is a total mess, or .Net Compact 1 ranging from service pack 3 to no service pack at all. The minimum that is actually usable is .Net Compact 2 SP2. So the problem you have now is upgrading .Net compact. The only official supported way of doing this is to download an MSI package to Vista/XP and the next time your phone connects to your PC, your desktop will upgrade your phone. Not very useful if you want to deliver applications on the show room floor.

So keep going Microsoft, keep going, and maybe someday you'll look back on this and say, what were we thinking?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Last Cylon

Seems I was wrong, Ellen is the final Cylon. The actress tells the LA Times she's been sitting on the secret for over two years.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Battlestar Galactica

The season premiere just ended and I don't want to spoil anything for anyone. However, talk about living up to the hype. The show has been on hiatus for a year now courtesy of the writer's strike.

I always liked sci-fi but not sci-fi shows, e.g., Star Trek and Star Wars to name a few, just placeholders, something to fill the void but not particularly enjoyable. This show, however, goes beyond its genre.

The premiere was beyond anything I could have hoped for. I believe this show will live on as a pillar of American television. A milestone, a new standard of what quality should be and what it needs to be to keep audiences engaged.

Now, spoiler/theory alert. Do not keep reading if you don't want to know what I think.

There is no way in hell that Helen is the last Cylon. However, that doesn't mean she isn't a Cylon of course. We now know, thanks to Saul Tigh, that a Cylon can grow older. I believe Helen is an aged #6 model.

Who knows what Starbuck is at this point, or Dee, or anyone for that matter. It just seems to point to that everyone is a Cylon or at least a descendant of one.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Windows 7 Beta

Still in the early stages of use but I have to say, an apology is needed here. I've been laughing at all the glorious reviews Windows 7 has been getting. Considering Windows 7 is just some spit and polish of Windows Vista, obviously if these people liked Windows 7, then they must have liked Windows Vista.

Well, having used 7 for a couple of days now, I have to admit, that this is some serious spit they used here.

What can I say other than "wow". It just shows that in this release, having nailed all the architectural underpinnings in Vista, Microsoft was free to concentrate on the user interface, be it the shell or the bundled applications. All I can say is that this is one serious calculator program.

So far, I only have 2 bad things to say about the system:
  1. The return of the "My" prefix, so "my music", etc. Shoot the person in the head who thought bringing this back was a good idea already.
  2. UAC is toned down. I always felt UAC was a good thing. Vista got a lot of heat for pointing out bad programs to users. Seriously, how would Linux users have reacted to a program that needed constant write access to /user/bin? The levels are good since it should stop some people from disabling it completely. However, I think the highest level should be maintained as the default. I think if Windows Explorer wouldn't show you a dialog that an operation is going to need escalation, hence 2 escalation dialog warnings, and would just put the escalation shield icon directly in the menu item, this would solve the problem most users had with UAC to begin with.
Anyway, all this to say, I apologize for laughing at all these glorious reviews of Windows 7. Windows 7 is really quite something.

However, not that I want to finish on something negative, I can't help myself to take a shot at Windows Mobile. How is it possible that the same company that is producing something so good like Windows 7 is also producing, at the same time, something that is so mediocre, namely Windows Mobile?