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All posts in Windows

Windows8 : Scratching the surface

Windows8 impressed me and I explained last post why. Today let’s test what the user can and can’t do.

Testing

The following  passed a quick acceptance test:

windows8 - acceptance

  • The web site / applications were all tested in IE10
  • IMDB – the site displayed and all the newer trailers ran in the HTML5 player
  • In addition the Office referred to here is Office Web Apps. (accessible via browser on Skydrive or through the Skydrive app)
  • Finally Google Apps ran when tested

The following had certain issues in IE10:

windows8 - bugs

  • Silverlight was not detected even after install preventing Desktop apps like Seesmic from running.
  • Likewise I had problems getting Tweetdeck desktop to run. Although it seemed a failure to connect to the app.

Workaround(s)

  • Quicktime and the others suffered from what appears to be a bug in the IE10 beta: managed addons. However I investigated further and discovered a workaround.
    Right-click to access the lower toolbar in IE10. Select the spanner icon and select the View on the desktop option. This opens IE from Windows Desktop and the addons for Flash or Quicktime are recognized. Once you do this older Youtube videos, embedded videos in Google+ and Quicktime Trailers run nicely.

The Warptest POV

In short things continue to look up for Windows8 but not for their competition.

I did a review a couple of months ago on my Toshiba Portege G810, a neat touch screen Windows Mobile 6.1 cellular phone.

The phone does everything it’s meant to and a little more and thanks to the UI that comes installed most features are relatively easy to access and use.

Still touch screens not withstanding most cell phones seems to be missing the point on a few fundamentals: –

  • Call quality: at the end of the day it’s just a phone so lets have phone calls that don’t sound like the caller is calling from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Pretty much everything is a smartphone in one way or another and has more processing power than that desktop you had 10 years ago so how about a decent sound-chip, speakers and microphone? Apropos, don’t blame the carriers we know they give lousy QoS but it doesn’t excuse your hardware shortcomings.
  • Voice control: most bluetooth headsets come with the ability to voice control now and they are tiny little things. How come my phone doesn’t have this? Telling me its because I speak with an English – English accent isn’t going to cut it. I can learn to sound like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates if that’s what it takes to talk and get my phone to listen.
  • Voice Mail: why not give me a bakelite plastic case with an actual analog dial on the front of my phone?  Voice Mail is a pain; if someone dials offer them the option of sending their message voice-to-text / to my email as an attached sound file – making me pay call fees to hear you heavy breath, stutter and hang up after an incoherent message is annoying.
  • SMS:  I have one word for you: TWITTER
  • Data: I have resisted all the inherent double entendr’es in all those tweets about the size of your data package, really I have. Seriously though, make browsing the mobile web fast, fast , fast! Optimized browsing should find the best way for you to get the most bang for your buck for all those minutes you are connected. Microsoft Windows Mobile when I close my browser/ email / mobile application ask if I want to close my connection.
  • CTRL-ALT-DEL: if I have to go to the Task Manager or whatever the other phones call it to close one more application today… I believe User Experience is a way of retaining your customer base not an act of psychological warfare. Opera Mobile Browser is closed when you exit, if they can do it then why can’t all the other applications?
  • Calendar / Contacts etc. the cloud is here to stay so why not default store / sync this information on the cloud. Windows Live, Skydrive, Live Mesh etcetera work and work nicely so why not come preinstalled on my Windows phone? Apropos Live Mesh for once can’t Microsoft introduce a new mobile service and get the Israeli carriers to support it? Yes I’m disappointed.

    livemesh_phone2

Don’t get me wrong, while the focus of this is on Windows Mobile it’s because that’s my phone but after speaking to users of other platforms / OS I’m not convinced that they have gotten these features right anymore than Microsoft. What’s more even with these shortcomings I like the Windows Mobile experience by and large.

The truth is that the flaws in the mobile experience seem rooted in the misconception that shrinking a Desktop computer into a device with a one to two inch screen is a simple solution to providing features like Locational services and Maps.

As an experienced QA professional who has done some work on cellular platforms, usability and UX I believe that users will ultimately purchase the phone that provides them the ease of use and unfrustrating UX. Time will tell.

Map picture

There you are happily drinking your coffee, starting your day off with strong, productive intent and something goes wrong with your PC.

An application freezes, hangs or crashes. Things are unresponsive and you feel frustrated, annoyed and held back from getting down to work.

The list of possible culprits can be endless and rather than shooting in the dark at a diagnosis there are a few things you can do to track down and resolve the issue: –

  • Contact me or my brother’s company and we’ll sort out your problems [remember, nothing’s free in life :-)]

    image

  • If a website or web application is misbehaving consider using a cache cleaning tool like CCleaner, nCleaner or Windows Live One Care Clean-Up or simply try using an alternative browser.

    image

  • If this doesn’t help, then it may be a bad plugin / add-on in your browser; run your browser in safe mode to see if the problem recurs. If not then you are going to have to test to see which add-on is the problem by activating them one at a time and returning to the problem site: –

    1. Internet Explorer (IE8) – right click the IE icon on the desktop and select from the menu Start without add-ons.
    2. Firefox (3.x) – from the Start Menu – run and type in the command line "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe” -safe-mode" and enter
    3. Chrome – simply open an incognito window and plugins etc will be temporarily disabled
    4. Opera – open Opera – from the menu go to Settings – select Quick Preferences and from the menu deselect the Enable Plug-Ins  checkbox.

Let’s say you did all this and things are still not working, what next?

Windows has a set of Administrative Tools in the Control Panel of the OS and amongst them is a tool known as the Event Viewer. The Event Viewer records by category the occurrence of various Events during the boot and operation of the PC.

OPERATION:

  1. From the command line (Start – Run) type the command "eventvwr" and enter.
  2. Or, from the Start Menu – Settings – Control Panel
    1. Select the Administrative Tools icon image
    2. Now select the Event Viewer image

The Event Viewer contains a categorized tree that breaks down the different issues being logged. For our purposes the two most important are Applications and System. From the left pane select one and scroll down looking for Warnings  and Errors.

imageBy selecting the properties of an error you can drill-down and find the error code and then search on Bing or Google for the specific exception or error message.

This can provide a good direction for finding the problem.

As an added bonus you can go to the Action menu and save the log file. This can be helpful if your Tech support doesn’t have Remote Access to your PC – save the file as a *.CSV and they can open it in Excel and filter the data to display the errors.

All this assumes the following: –

  • Your OS is kept up-to-date.
  • Your 3rd Party programs and plugins are kept up-to-date.
  • Your antivirus and or anti-malware are up-to-date and you have recently scanned your computer to ensure no malware is present.
  • Your computer is not being used to try out and then uninstall a variety of trialware. If you have to do this then try using a Virtual machine the best being either Microsoft Virtual PC or VMware. I guess I’ll get into the whole virtualization discussion in another blog piece but if you want to know more feel free to contact me.

Hopefully, at some point in this list you will have struck success and are able to continue to work without to much outlay of time and effort. Good luck!

Technorati Tags: ,,,,,,nCleaner,,One Care Live,,Event Viewer,

Windows XP and prior versions have a neat piece of functionality that most of us are unaware of called Active Desktop.

The idea is simple instead of your desktop in Windows being static background and thus unused screen real estate other than a place to default back to why not make it dynamic?

The user may select a web page and allow part of the desktop to display this webpage.

So, for example if you are a stock market junkie having this info embedded on your desktop is pretty neat. This was in some ways the precursor to widgets in Vista and Windows 7.

How do you enable this function you ask?

  • Go to the Windows Desktop
  • Right mouse click and select Properties
  • Select the second tab Desktop from the dialog box
  • Click on the Customize Desktop Button
  • Now select the  Web tab and either enable the default Start Page  or add another URL
    • There are various properties here which are worth looking at to ensure the page is regularly synchronized and that the hard disk is managed vis a vis caching.
  • The Active Desktop Window size may be changed using the mouse as you would resize any other window.

Other uses: Google Docs, Windows Sky-Drive, News Feeds and so many more.

So XP users now you too can have some retro “widget like” desktop fun.

Technorati Tags: Active Desktop,,,
I’ve been away awhile and it has been a combination of a few things, work gettting in the way of life, a stint wrestling with writers block and finally the creeping meltdown of my PC.
Deep down when the PC was taking a long time to shut down and doing minor, irritating things during operation I knew it was time to do a format and reinstall. The real problem was I just didn’t have the time or will to deal with a comprehensive reinstallion of Windows XP never mind all the apps, drivers, codecs etc.
Still this is exactly when fate reaches out and slaps the back of your head … I was having what I called a Bad Hardware Karma Month, it seemed work laptops, my cellphone, my watch and other hardware would stop working on me for no apparent reason.
I decided that I needed to draw a line in the sand and that would be the task of getting my desktop PC back to full operation.
First I did an inventory of the hardware, OS, service packs, hot fixes and drivers using Belarc’s Advisor Tool and for the drivers the very neat Drivermax tool.
I created a plan and then set to work ensuring that I had downloaded everything I needed to install and put it on Disk on Key and a backup DVD. All the data was backed up to the Seagate Free Agent pocket USB Hard Drive.
My biggest indecision was all the updates; how was I not going to sit in front of the PC ding Windows and Antivirus updates? I thought about creating a slipstreamed DVD but in the end decided to do the install over two evenings and use my laptop until the Desktop PC arose from the dead.
My install disk fro Windows XP was Service Pack 2 and I had the ISO install of SP3 so much of the hard work vis a vis the OS was done. I decided to do all the Windows Updates in one go via the Custom option which includes all the critical updates (Hotfixes, security patches, service packs etc) and all the other stuff you can choose to install or not.
The truth is the process was pretty fast and all in all took about 3-4 hours. In short this was the classic adage: 
Proper planning prevents problems.
Now as you can tell I am back and hopefully the writers block is gone.. time will tell 

I have been Twittering a lot recently about my Nokia cellular phone which needed repairing. I had my backup phone an iMate sp3i which my brother Jeremy, CEO of First Contact UK supplied me with in my time of need (Cheers Jeremy .. oh yes: First Contact they do so much more than this, Website design, content management, SEO, IT and IT ROI).

Finally, I had the time to take the Nokia for repair two days ago and for the nominal fee of 100-150 NIS (approximately $25) they told me it would be back fixed today.

Why not settle for the iMate? Several reasons, I do like it and Windows Mobile really does rock but it is an older phone with little support, limited functionality and a few hang-ups (no working speakerphone, no Hebrew font support and compared to the Nokia contacts well, it doesn’t stack-up; the Nokia allows me to personalize each contact to a greater level). However, the Nokia doesn’t use ActiveSync but Nokia’s own program thus Outlook may be supported to sync but not directly whereas the iMate with Windows Mobile on it obviously does.

Anyhow, this morning I trotted merrily to my cellular provider to get my repaired Nokia back. A sincerely sad customer support rep informed me that the on/off button was broken (tell me what I didn’t know) rendering the phone irreparable and for a small (but larger fee) I could purchase an identical Nokia and finish my contract happily.

As you can imagine I was torn between annoyance at the provider for failing to fix a wear and tear issue and at Nokia for making what should be a simple problem unfixable. Obviously I have no intention no matter how much I liked the phone of having the same issue occur in another several months so I declined her offer.

Perhaps a brief email to Nokia regarding this might help but I doubt it.

Oh well, one more reason to hold out for the when the G-Phone becomes available in Israel.

Technorati Tags: ,,Consumer dissatisfaction,,,,,

I test software, it’s what I do and recently I have been testing a fantastic implementation of Adobe’s Flex as a front-end web-site for various web services running on IIS and MS-SQL.

I am investigating a dead save button in the browser (the Flex implementation) and I discover in the Flash Player Active X a dependency on Sun Java; specifically what it refers to as damaged Java files. (Without the Sun Java installed Flash displays the Flex implementation perfectly)

The scenario occurs and reproduces consistently on PC’s where multiple versions of Sun Java have been installed without uninstalling the older versions thereof. Even when no Java is enabled in IE or MS JVM is enabled instead.

Workarounds: I have tried disabling the Active X add-ons, uninstalling all the Sun Java versions and using registry cleaners, uninstalling and resinstalling Flash, installing the latest version of Sun Java only, searching for a repair tool on the Adobe or Sun site (Adobe has a KB regarding a similar issue that is resolved using the MS SubInACL tool but this did not help).

Luckily, the developers take this bug seriously and seem to have fixed it as it does not reproduce as of yet. Still is the problem here that apps that require Sun Java are compiled for a specific version and as such newer versions do not ask the user to uninstall older versions first?
Or is Flash player just a little too sensitive to SUn Java’s presence?

I am going to keep my eye on this and ensure our test-plans reflect this.

Virtualization is the happening place in technology at the moment. The idea of running one or many virtual machines each utilizing a portion of CPU, RAM, Hard Disk and Bandwidth on a hi-end computer has been an appealing idea since the early 2000’s when VMWare appeared on the scene offering users the ability to run many Operating Systems within a VM (Virtual Machine) regardless of the real OS running.

For the world of System Admin, Software Testing and of course Start Up CFO’s plagued by increasingly expensive server costs this was a definitive change. Instead of running a massive server room filled with tens of PC’s or servers, many VM’s could be run off the same server simultaneously replicating the CPU and RAM allocated to the VM.

Of course the images on which the VM is based are massive and such a server requires large Hard Disks to provide optimum support for this system but the best alternative to Virtual Machines, Norton Ghost also creates images of immense size.

Ghost works in a different manner, it simply saves an image of the OS after being created to a separate partition or location which once the user has installed and “dirtied” the OS with trial ware etc can be rolled back to the clean image as if nothing happened. Also, the bigger the image .. the longer to perform the rollback. (Ghost is so much more than just this and remains the king of QA Lab tools).

VMWare provides a parallel function built-in called snapshots. The user boots up the VM, installs what they want on it and if this state is something they might wish to roll-back to at a later date then they take the snapshot. Again each of these takes up their fair share of disk space but for a user wishing to run tests (for example) on a particular OS configuration and then roll-back this is ideal.

Microsoft competes nicely with VMWare in this arena with their Virtual PC/ Virtual Server. Many users will be familiar with the built-into XP System Restore; a utility that on owning any PC I automatically shut down for taking up resources running in the background (that and I have never once had a successful restore thru it). Microsoft recently released an extremely useful free utility called Steady State, the idea behind which is that any PC with it installed (e.g. one PC for the family or an internet cafe) can be restored to it’s steady state once the PC Admin finds that a roll-back is needed. I have not yet tested this but I do have high hopes for this based on everything I have read.

So, all of this aside where is this all going? Well, VMWare released from beta in the last month the VMWare Thin Install, a so-called Thin Client – if I had to guess this will allow the user to create a VM, install their application or environment on it and deploy a zero footprint executable onto other user’s PC’s … no changes to their registry … defined to only allow the user access to the application not the whole OS … no administrative privileges need to install.

In a nutshell, welcome to the big leagues VMware; look out Citrix and Windows Terminal Services. The only downside I can see is that the underlying OS in the VM albeit unexposed to the user will still require a license fee and the pricetag for using this beyond evaluation is not cheap but then neither are Citrix licenses or Terminal Services CAL’s.

My PC startup is usually time I use to sip my coffee and let random thoughts percolate thru my cerebellum. Normally my inner dialog is more to the tune of “What the !^%^% is taking this PC so long to boot up!”

This then leads to me reviewing what is running at Startup in the Task manager or using SysInternals Process Explorer. Then I tend to open MSConfig from the command line and go on a deselect purge worthy of  Stalin.

It got to the point that between Services and actual applications running at Startup I was using a hefty chunk of CPU and RAM. I wanted some of these to be available but most of the time didn’t actually need these services or applications. I had two choices: –

1. Set the guilty parties as disabled and have a speedier startup.

2. Leave them enabled but create a script or batch file to disable them after Startup if I didn’t need them.

The problem with option 1 is that other people use the PC and disabling stuff normally ends in frantic phone calls when I am out of town. I found an application called Taskill and used it on my Windows XP SP2 Home PC to disable my shortlist and this resolved some of the problems.

Of course there are applications which on every usage or after any update decide to reinstate themselves as enabled. Two such examples are Quicktime and Real Player (and its hidden Real Scheduler). Worse even and shame on you for this Real.com was that after the latest update to Real v11 it would actually open and run on Startup.

However, I then decided to look thru every tab in MSConfig and arrived at the WIN.INI tab. I was glancing down the entries and saw once called ANNIE. I opened the tree and the configuration entries seemed to indicate it was some kind of video capture program. My initial concern was it was some kind of malware.

I disabled the entry and then tried to find it thru Google but all I could find was other users on forums who had it on their PC but had no real idea where it came from or what it did. Then I recalled that at random intervals I would find in my C:\ main folder a JPG screen capture from some video that had been played in Windows Media Player. I enabled the entry again in WIN.INI and ran a video and found another capture JPG in my C:\.

It sits disabled in my WIN.INI until I can deduce exactly how it got there and what the actual purpose is. I suspect that one of the many Codecs I installed gave me this little extra. Now I am going to have to test each one until I find the answer.

Technorati Tags: ,,,,QA and Software Testing,,WIN.INI,

http://clanrossconcepts.blogspot.com/2008/03/will-it-sync-or-my-dream-for-google.html

The very next day I open up some of my favorite tech blogs e.g. http://www.techcrunch.com and find stories about Google’s new Sync tool for Outlook. It was as if someone with a big G- before their name was listening; no not that G- I’m talking Google!

Anyway, I promptly decided to download and test this out only to discover after download and when I tried to run it that it only supports Outlook 2003 and onwards. Robbed I say, robbed! Me with my Outlook XP left out in the cold 🙁

Seriously though, I should have expected it. The major changes to functionality to Outlook between versions XP and 2003 are phenomenal in my mind (At my previous job we all used Outlook 2003).

As of now I am reading other peoples experiences and bugs.

This is not completely what I wanted for sync between Google services and Outlook/ my Pocket PC but still, it is one more reason to make the upgrade to Office 2007.

 

Technorati Tags: ,GCal,,,,,,,QA and Software Testing

My life is managed well by the technology I use. Sometimes there is an overlap or redundancy between two pieces of technology; often because of budget or my unwillingness to add unproven 3rd Party solutions to the mix.

Of course it is not enough to look at how I do things but how this works within my little family unit.

  • Our home PC is probably the central switchboard for all information: Outlook XP sits on Windows XP and my wife and I share an XP user and an email address for Outlook.
  • I sync my PDA (HP Pocket PC) to Outlook for Contacts, Appointments, Notes etc.
  • My wife and I each use GMail and GCal as our away from home PC switchboard.

Each appointment added to Outlook is also assigned to my GMail address so that it appears on my GCal which my wife can see. Likewise I can see hers. This way we are always able to see in one place all the family appointments.

So why use Outlook you ask? Not just because I like it and all the functionality and abilities it has but because I do run my life e.g. Job Hunting from my PDA and Outlook because they Sync together.

In an ideal world my PDA would be my cellular phone but I have a Nokia candy-bar and my wife has a Sony-Eriksson (I have larger fingers which just can’t manage the tiny space between those tiny Sony buttons) so we have Sync/ Backup software for our phones on the Desktop PC too.

I don’t Sync my cellular phone but I do backup the information therein.

Ultimately the R&D teams in Google and Microsoft should be competing to fully integrate Synchronization with Web Services like GMail/ Hotmail or GCal. The first to market value would make this a killer app in my mind.

Of course the user can just use the mobile browser to login to these web services but the advantages of having a synchronized local copy for offline work are immeasurable.

So I am dreaming or hoping that the Google Phone will know how to seamlessly synchronize with GMail, GCal and any other Google Services; that an onboard Google Toolbar will index new entries/ changed entries on the fly so that Google Phone Search incorporates my local contacts, local mail and local appointments.

I am hoping that Google doesn’t cop-out on me and settle for desktop icons on the phone to each service.

I guess I just have to wait and see.

Technorati Tags: ,,GCal,,,,,,,,

I have been a devoted desktop PC user since the days before I used PC’s and owned my first computer a Commodore 64.

I always believed that the Desktop PC was better in terms of form, functionality, performance and value for money.

Furthermore, I am a PC user who likes the fact that you can easily upgrade a Desktop in the box and not have to tag on too many dongles and external devices. It has always seemed to me that in terms of personal choice and customization I could always walk into a PC store (after doing my research on hardware that fit my needs) and hand the technician a shopping list of the brands and parts I wanted. This was a lot harder to do with a laptop.

However, over the past few years laptops have become lighter, battery life has become longer and the variety of models can leave a prospective buyer a little spoilt for choice.

Again I maintain that my buying philosophy is simple: –

  1. Have a budget for how much you can spend on a new computer.
  2. Decide what you need the computer to do (surf the web, travel with you, mass storage, productivity, etc.)
  3. What OS do you need? (Do you really need the latest and greatest or will something older do? Does it need to be Windows? Gasp, did I really just write that? There are situations where a Linux OS might suit your pocket better)
  4. Are you or other users on your PC going to have very RAM or CPU intensive applications running? e.g. Games or CAD applications.
  5. Personal preference: AMD vs Intel, generic vs brand name or simply a brand you have good experience with in terms of quality, price and support.

All of this applies equally to Laptops or Desktops but really the key question is do you really need a laptop?

Laptops are mobile computers designed for travel and portability but they can also be space-savers in the home.

Recently, we have had several visitors, family staying over in our spare room which is also my office space. My desktop PC sits atop an Ikea computer desk (itself a compromise due to limited space) with a 19″ LG monitor, speakers, mouse, keyboard, Cable modem, Wifi router, PDA cradle and printer/scanner. Obviously, whilst our family are inhabiting the room my access to the PC was curtailed.

Last week a family member came to stay for three weeks and I decided to move the PC into our bedroom (this being the best of all compromises) where we have a cable outlet should we ever want a TV in there. After unplugging all the spaghetti and lugging everything in and then reconnecting it all I saw I had more natural light during the day and felt my productivity go up. The only minus was that come my wife’s bedtime I had to shut down so the fan noise, screen glare and my keyboard hammering don’t keep her up.

If I haven’t mentioned this before, I am a real night-owl and by habit do my best work between 10pm and 2am so for me this was a problem adjusting my internal clock. Luckily or unluckily my little boy decided to develop that raspy nighttime cough everyone seems to have right now so I am busy with him and not on the PC anyway.

All this combined with the drop in laptop prices has made me think twice about if I can work harmoniously on a laptop.

Of course, my printer and the other peripherals will still need a place to call home and I will probably want to trade the CRT monitor for a flat-screen so will I really solve anything this way? When I make this leap I’ll let you know.