First TimeMachine Restore

timemachine.pngI did my first TimeMachine restore today. I tried out Firefox 3 Beta 1 – and decided that I wasn’t quite ready for it. So I restored my Firefox Profile from this morning before I downloaded and started running FF3. Click the TimeMachine icon, pick the date/time, navigate to the folder, click restore. And voila! it worked. It actually worked. And it prompted me if I wanted to replace the current profile directory or keep both.

That might have been the easiest restore on any platform I’ve ever done.

System, Deconstructed

So I had this long, ginormous post series planned about a service transition last week – where I had to move the mail server from one room to another to preempt a 57 hour outage. It was going to full of all kinds of fun tidbits about sheer panic with Apple’s OpenDirectory – and Apple Server Hardware, and making sure your eth0 and eth1 aren’t hard-bound to the wrong mac addresses on your Dells – and all kinds of things like that.

However, all I ended up doing was making bad jokes about being bitter – and well, it was boring me – and I was writing it.

So anyway – having already experienced this prior to now with my bad attempts at a pseudo-web comic. It’s clear that what can be said in multi-thousands of words can really just be said in 4 frames. With stick figures

It really is about conversations

VMWare developer Ben Gertzfield did a really awesome thing a few days ago, he commented on my blog. What’s so cool about this is that Ben is a VMWare Fusion developer – and I had a seemingly throw-away line in that post that “VMWare fusion is not as user friendly as Parallels” – and Ben asked about how they could improve VMWare Fusion.

That’s INCREDIBLY cool. The man is doing Google Blog searches or has an Alert set up, or whatever it might – and he’s actually going out and asking real questions about how to make the product better. That’s awesome. My colleague Ben MacNeill does the same thing and I’ve always been impressed by it (and thankful to be working with Ben because of it). Along the same lines – I received a comment from Marc Hedlund (or someone helping Marc do this), one of Wesabe’s founders about using Wesabe. I’m still a little squicked out by doing my combined finances in a web application – but marketing like Marc/Wesabe did with that comment goes a long way to influencing me to trying it out. It’s about reaching your customers where they are.

It’s an old saw, but marketing like this turns customers or potential customers into fans. Like Kevin says you have to be the ball.

Ben, VMWare Fusion was already a great product, I’ve had zero problems with it running it the last few days, using both Windows XP and Ubuntu. I’m a longtime VMWare user on other platforms, and I’ve used Parallels since just after it came out – and I’ve been happy with it too. But that single comment, combined with the energy that you really show for the product in your blog (even if it was setup for that express purpose), helped cement my continued use of Fusion for a long time (okay, just don’t like the product turn to crap 🙂 ).

Ben asked for a few observations about the usability – and I spent a fair amount of time with both products yesterday and today trying to figure out some specifics about my throw-away line. I’m probably a terrible poster child for usability – I couldn’t design a good UI if I wanted to – and there are some things I am too nerdy about to judge other UI either.

This is also done using the Fusion 1.1 Release Candidate. I think that’s fair to evaluate, but it isn’t an official release, so those reading this should keep that in mind.

My take-away is that the settings interface is really at the core of my “user-friendly” comment.

The first general impression I have is completely subjective. But I like the way that Parallels handles the vm “object” (for lack of a better term) – I don’t like the Parallels “picker” – but once a VM is picked – I get a window with the state that the VM is in – and a list of settings and controls:

parallels-vm.png

It’s not real clear from the Parallels window that I can click on the configuration and make changes, but if I do – I get what I consider to be a better interface for browsing those settings:

parallels-vmsettings.png

If I click on “Settings” for the VM in Fusion, it will bring the display window for the VM – and show the settings as a property sheet.

fusion-settings.png

This is really subjective – but I think the Parallels way of doing it is more understandable – and better “information at a glance” – I shouldn’t have to have a display window (which is black if the OS in the VM is “off”) pop up to manipulate the settings for the VM – and the summary views are nicer I think.

To be fair, I hate property sheets. So that’s part of it I think. And whether this qualifies as “User Friendly” probably depends on the user.

Something that I don’t think is as subjective – shows up when changing the settings for something like the Shared Folders – this is where the Parallels dialog has an advantage (p.s. that drag and drop of files between fusion and the finder is FANTASTIC, really great implementation). I think shared folders in general needs some work – I actually had some trouble with the text of .hostShared Folders and trying to figure out what that really meant in terms of getting access to resources. Focusing on the UI though, this:

parallels-folders.png

is preferable to this:

fusion-folders.png

I actually had to go to the help to figure this out. I completely ignored the “+/-“ controls on the left because they didn’t make contextual sense to me. Having them there implies that I’m going to click them to add a new “setting category”- not a sub item for the categories – placing them on the right, and limiting the list to the context of whatever I’m focused on would seem better to me.

I also would like to see all my shared folders at a glance on the right rather than having to click each one on the left.

(actually I kind of like how Parallels does it by default – mapping a volume on the Macintosh side to the entire disk for the VM – although that seems broken in Leopard – perhaps due to some issue with the version of MacFuse that it uses, at least from the messages in my console log)

These were some of the things I focused on. I think there are little things like this elsewhere in the settings, and in the menu layouts. Having a general usability walk through of the settings sheet in particular by someone that that is a real usability wonk would do wonders I think. The settings work – I was able to go through and setup up what I wanted (actually for shared files – I’ll just drag and drop – man that was great that it worked so well) Virtualization is naturally a bit geeky to begin with, but cleaning this up could help a bit, and probably cut down on support requests. I know that a lot of faculty that I work with will be trying this out, and I know they are going to get lost in these properties if they try to set them (most will just take the defaults, which do work well).

Anyway, that’s my $.02 – I’m sure there are a lot better reviews out there to come on this subject. Most of all, I really, really appreciate the fact that Ben is asking.

I know it’s been done, but…

So I’m sure every Leopard nerd has done this already, but I hadn’t and it was just too easy to do and too much fun to not post.

Here’s ye-olde share-my-screen that’s sharing-my-screen trick using the more-easy-to-use VNC client/server implementation in Leopard called “Screen Sharing” (which still isn’t RDP but it’ll do)

recursion.jpg

I’m clearly too easily amused.

Quote of the Day: Steven Frank

Steven Frank gets the quote of the day

People don’t want FEATURES. They’ll tell you they do until they’re blue in the face. But what they actually want is ease-of-use, and solutions to real-world problems

Bonus quote:

A 34-company committee couldn’t create a successful ham sandwich, much less a mobile application suite. It’s going to be some half-baked turd

It’s about the GPhone, nee “Android” – but the quotes are highly relevant to all kinds of engineering design of both software and hardware.

[p.s. I’m not echoing this because I think it might be true about Android. I don’t know what to think about Android. But the quotes in the context of creating software products are absolutely correct]

Leopard and X11.app

This is a really nice post from Ben Byer at Apple on the changes to X11 in Leopard.

I found it after going to look for the solution to the same annoyance that others were having, namely that my ~/.xinitrc seemed to be ignored and launching X11.app would create unwanted xterms (have I mentioned that I really HATE xterms?)

Anyway, the new launchd implementation of X11 is great for me. In order to use terminal.app or iTerm with X11 in Tiger I had this whole block of an if statement in my bash profile that would open /Applications/Utilities/X11.app – and then run osacript to bring the focus back to the Terminal, but only do it for console terminals, not ssh terminals, and set $DISPLAY right, and…. and it was just a kludge.

I love the fact that I can ssh -X now and it just works.

No longer waiting

So… after waiting patiently for a long time – I finally upgraded to a new Macintosh just recently. I’m happy with it, but in a way it’s a bit anti-climatic. It should be noted that Ubuntu 7.1 looks awfully good running under VMWare.

After weeks and weeks and weeks of back-and-forth with myself trying to decide whether to go with an iMac or a Macintosh Pro – I went with the iMac. I had a perfectly good 20in. cinema display – but after pricing the iMac – and finally going with third-party ram – the price difference was too much to justify the Macintosh Pro to myself. I can’t emphasize enough how going with third-party RAM was the best decision I made in the whole deal. It was a $600+ savings to do that – and upgrading ram is something that even Uncle Milhouse can do.

Some off-the-top-of-the-head observations:

  • The 24 inch monitor was HUGE at first. And now I’m used to it and never want to go back to a 20 inch monitor again.
  • Time Machine is really, really convenient. Hope it works if I ever need it
  • There’s a lot of little bugs I’ve noticed in 10.5.0 – nothing I really can describe well – mostly more funny than annoying
  • VMWare fusion is not as user friendly as Parallels, but I like how VM’s seem to perform better under it
  • It completely stunk that my Macintosh ordered on Nov. 1 and shipped on Nov. 3 came with Tiger – and I had to spend 2 hours upgrading it to Leopard. Oh well. Early adoption does that sometimes
  • I like Safari 3. Firefox is still my default
  • There’s lots of little improvements, X11 is improved, Console.app is improved. All my software seems to work. There’s problems with Quicken, but that’s my karmic punishment for using Quicken in the first place
  • It should be noted that Ubuntu 7.1 looks awfully good running under VMWare. I may have mentioned this already
  • Wireless coverage seems really good – I don’t use the wireless because of where it’s located, but man oh man do my neighbors have lots of access points that I can see – that I’ve never seen with the laptop (and I’m in a neighborhood where the smallest lots are half an acre)

It’ll be interesting to see where things are at 5 years from now. I don’t think this computer will last as long as the venerable dual-G4 did for me as a primary computer. But I can run Lightroom and do all my work, and keep all my software for now. I’m not sure that the next computer will be a Mac. I’m not sure that the next computer will be anything we consider a desktop/laptop today.

The best part of the story though is that when it shipped, I was at home and had put off walking the dog because of some deployment details for one of our applications that had to be fixed in the morning. So it’s mid-morning – and I finally go to walk the dog, thinking that there was no way FedEx would be coming yet – and also knowing that by thinking that, they’d be there. I couldn’t pre-sign for the shipment because the Apple Order Status site was down with all the details I failed to print out. So, I looked at dog and told him that it was his fault if we walked down the street and we missed the delivery (and the dog wagged his tail).

We got about a quarter mile down the neighborhood – just to the edge of where I could see our cul-de-sac, and sure enough, right at that edge – I hear a diesel engine and turn, figuring it was just a construction truck. Nope. FedEx. I haven’t run a Quarter Mile that fast in well, ever.

The dog thought it was fabulous. He hadn’t run that fast, in well, since the evening prior. Honestly, that was probably more fun than actually getting the computer.

It’s about the details

My default feed yesterday switch back to RSS 2 from Atom (and a huge thanks to Sam for pointing this out) because of a upgrade to WordPress 2.3.1.

It was another reminder of how things fail because of a cascade of missed details.

The immediate detail, was that I completely forgot my own quick hack to WordPress 2.3 to force the Atom default. That’s the danger in making “one-off” changes to software that you use. Quick one-offs don’t become part of one’s standard workflow, they are too easily missed later, and upgrades will usually wipe out one’s changes. The old axiom applies here – “just because you can, doesn’t mean you do, because it will bite you in the rear later”

If I’m going to make changes like this, I probably should do what I do with MediaWiki at work, and pull things from Subversion and merge them into my own trunk. But that’s just flat out silly for a few lines of changed code.

The second mistake is that I should have – at the least – taken Mark Pilgrim’s advice and put together the two liner plugin to remove the rss2 action.

That’s just complete laziness on my part. I had it working and I didn’t bother it again – I wanted to spend more time investigating how the whole “actions” thing works in WordPress, and had grand dreams of extending that idea into a plugin that could be configured from WordPress itself. Then I decided I’d rather play with the dog.

There’s this continuum of solving problems that starts with hacks and goes to solutions. And the problem is, solutions take a lot of work. So the happy medium is somewhere in between. My change was hack that bit me in the rear later. Mark’s change is something that will likely work across upgrades. And that’s what I should have done right then, and I absolutely knew better than to continue with my own podunk modification. There’s another axiom there “just because it works, doesn’t mean it’s right, especially if isn’t going to work later”

So, the default feed format changing is completely my fault. If I care, and I do, I have to make sure that the things I really care about keep working. There’s an ongoing maintenance cost to my commitment.

But the third detail in this, not that it excuses my mistakes in not being diligent about my details, is that this really should be part of the core of WordPress. It really doesn’t make sense that the Atom feeds are there now, but the software is so bent on making RSS2 the default and not letting folks change it easily. There’s really no excuse going forward, especially given the patches available.

(and yes, it works just fine, as my own patch -p0 and plugin drop-in can attest to – that I’ll have to do again for 2.3.2 – Mark’s plugin is there as a backup this time 🙂

I’ve been on the WordPress dev’s case about this a long time. Always in this blog, and I’ve never put code where my mouth is. I should have put up or shut up. Sam and Mark, and dozens of others thankfully have, with WordPress, and in dozens of other places that matter.

But even if I should have shut up already – there is something core that I’ll repeat here. I know that the users don’t care. I know that it doesn’t make a dang bit of difference to Aunt Millie whether things are RSS 2.0 or Atom. But RSS 2.0 is the IE 6 of data interchange. WordPress’s continued traction on making it easier to allow the software’s users to make the Atom feed the default is like continuing to excuse IE 6. Sure, we have to put up with it, but we don’t have to keep making it hard to choose other things.

As developers, we have the ultimate responsibility to make sure that we are laying the foundation for how we ship data around – now, and 5 years from now. I sure hope that the WordPress core devs run with the patch this time. It really does matter. You’ll still have a successful business model without it, but don’t make us continue routing around the damage.

[ed. note – I read this again after Sam added his second paragraph about the patch and my own post was a little unclear, so it was edited slightly for my actual intent. While I don’t think that RSS2 should be the default – I get not making the change right now, just stop making it hard to make a choice with the feed format]