Virtual Machine Technology Means More Legacy Software

May 17, 2009 at 4:28 PMBen

The advances in VM technology for both client and server operating systems is obviously a great thing.  It saves money, time and makes life much easier when you can just copy an image to a different machine, make backup copies of an image and go back to an old image in a very small amount of time.  It's great too for having software testing environments.

One significant downside to this technology is going to be the amount of legacy software that will stick around.  By software, I mean operating systems and applications.  Upgrading or moving to a different OS or app is always a hassle.  However, one common opportunity when switching to a newer OS or app makes sense is when replacing old hardware.  Before VMs entered the scene, you might traditionally buy a new workstation or server every 4 years, for example.  A new machine means re-installing the OS and applications.  What a perfect opportunity to start off the new machine by installing the latest OS and applications.

With VM technology, when a physical machine needs to be replaced, if the OS on it is already a VM, you just copy that VM to the new hardware.  Even if the old system isn't a VM, no problem.  There's tools available to create a VM from a physical instance of an OS.  Once the old physical instance of an OS is a VM, you just copy that VM over to the new hardware.  So you end up with a brand new machine, but the old OS and old applications are still running on that machine.

For software companies, this means their customers may demand they support older versions of their software for a longer period.  When building new versions of software, it may also be necessary to include support for older operating systems based on the number of existing or potential customers who are still running an old OS.

A client of mine just recently needed to replace their 8 year old server.  It's a Windows 2000 terminal server that several employees work out of.  I've convinced some of the employees to start using Firefox, but others are still stuck on IE6.  The client ended up converting the physical Win2K server to a virtual server and copied that over to the new hardware.  Ack!  There's that growing movement in the community to persuade people to get off IE6.  I think the statistics show the percentage of IE6 users out there is still in the 15% - 25% range.  That's much too high a demographic to desert and not support when building a website.  Unfortunately, IE7/IE8 isn't available for Windows 2000.  For this particular client, I just need to convince everyone there to start using Firefox.  Maybe I can just hide the IE6 icon on their desktops :)

IE6 is a classic example of software you want everyone to get off of, and bury as deep as possible.  It's definitely not the only software out there that should be moved away from as newer versions of subpar software are released.  This increase in legacy software still being used out there is one of the few downsides to this overall great virtualization technology.

View Source improvements in IE8

March 27, 2009 at 10:38 PMBen

Compared to Firefox and Chrome, IE has always had a very plain rendering when viewing the source of an HTML page.  The source just shows up as plain text in Notepad.  HTML is of course just plain text, but Firefox and Chrome add coloring for matching HTML tags which makes looking at the source a little more pleasant.

IE8 now does what these others browsers have been doing.  The HTML source no longer is displayed in Notepad, but in an IE source viewing pop-up window.  This IE source viewer now does tag coloring and even includes line numbers.  This is a nice little improvement.

IE8 Source Viewer

I did notice one other interesting feature when doing a View Source in IE8.  On the File menu of the source viewer, if you select 'Save', you have a choice to save the HTML Source (nothing special here) or save the 'Formatted HTML View' (screenshot below).  This "save formatted HTML view" will create an HTML file of how IE8's source viewer is displaying the source -- including the tag coloring.  You can then open up that saved HTML file in any browser to have the source display exactly as it does in IE8's source viewer.

IE8 Source Viewer - Save as Formatted HTML View

The file size of the "formatted html view" is considerably larger than the size of the plain HTML source without the formatting.  For instance, for a particular 45 KB HTML page I tried this in, the formatted html view file is 452 KB.

I'm guessing the new color tags and syntax highlighting in the new source viewer was done via HTML markup.  So it probably wasn't a big deal for the IE team to just include this new save as 'Formatted HTML View' option -- since the formatted HTML source was already there.  In any event, it's nice it's there for whenever the need of the formatted html source could be used.

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The Ctrl-Z of Browsers

February 21, 2009 at 9:04 PMBen

In today's tabbed browsing world, maybe you find yourself opening and closing tabs left and right.  If you're into the keyboard shortcuts, that would be Ctrl-T and Ctrl-W respectively   What if you accidentally close a tab?  This happens to me most often when either I thought I was done with the website I was on, or I thought the tab I was on was a new tab with nothing to go 'back' to.

Fortunately, the good browsers out there offer a Ctrl-Shift-T keyboard command to open up the last tab you closed.  I like to think of it as the "ctrl-z of browsers".  This keyboard command is very handy because you can actually keep pressing Ctrl-Shift-T to open up all the tabs you previously closed.  Each tab you re-open not only opens up with the page you were on when the tab was closed, but the browser history for that tab is also preserved.  So once you re-open a closed tab, the entire 'Back' button browser history is there.

Ctrl-Shift-T works in Firefox and Chrome.  It doesn't appear to work in Safari/Windows and doesn't work in IE7.  That's what I meant by this keyboard shortcut working in 'good' browsers   It does appear to work in IE8.

Since discovering this keyboard command it's something I use probably at least once a day.  Sometimes many times a day!

Folders vs. Tags

December 19, 2008 at 6:05 PMBen

I still see web-based and desktop-based email applications which only support folders to file email away into.  I'm a Gmail user and have the luxury of using tags to organize emails.  Tags are actually known as labels in Gmail.  But whatever the name, tags are in my mind, unquestionably superior to folders.

I don't remember talking to anyone who said they do not find the tag system better than the folder system.  And even if a person felt more comfortable associating an email with only one identifier, a single tag can be put on an email as multiple tags are of course not mandatory.  Given the benefits of tags over folders, I can't see why any company developing an email application would not want to replace the old, inflexible folder system with a tagging system.

Folders and tags are not limited to just the email world.  They exist for bookmarking urls too.  Tags were introduced in Firefox 3 which now supports both folders and tags.  I don't regularly use other browsers, but taking a glance through IE7, Safari and Chrome, it appears FF3 is the only browser among these that supports tagging bookmarks.  FF3, Safari and Chrome also have search capability to find bookmarks.  This may seem like a given, but I don't see any bookmark searching capability in IE7.  FF3 also introduced a very cool concept of saving the criteria used in a bookmark search as a "virtual bookmark folder" so you can later click on the virtual bookmark folder to see real-time bookmark matches satisfying the saved criteria.

I use multiple tags for my bookmarks too.  I've actually been using Google Bookmarks since before FF3 was released, so I've unfortunately never spent any significant time using FF3's bookmark tagging.  The big advantage of Google Bookmarks being that I can access all of my bookmarks on any computer since my bookmarks are stored on Google's servers.  I just need to log into my Google account to access these bookmarks.  Google makes it easy to bookmark a page too with a bookmarklet they provide and I keep in my Firefox bookmarks menu.  So bookmarking a site into Google Bookmarks requires just as little work as it would be to bookmark a site into Firefox.

Whether it be emails or bookmarks, tagging has proved to be really helpful when looking for stuff later.  There's probably lots of areas other than email and bookmarks where tagging would be useful as well.  If you're stuck with the restricting folder system for emails or bookmarks, I'd suggest requesting your provider to upgrade their app to a tagging system or, if possible, move to a provider that supports tagging.