Monthly Archives: March 2008

WebSlices now appearing in a Wikipedia article near you

Wikipedia WebSlices

Trust the open-source lovin’ contributors at Wikipedia to be early adopters of Microsoft web technologies. Beginning just a couple of days ago, Wikipedia user “Soum Yasch” began building Wiki templates to support the new content-subscription feature in Internet Explorer 8 called WebSlices which allow you to save and retrieve snippets of information from web pages without loading the whole page.

WebSlicesSo far the template is only implemented on the “Acid3″ Wiki. On this page it allows users to save a WebSlice of a table which records the web standards test result of different layout engines. As a result, you can then just bring up this table by clicking on the toolbar. As a built-in feature of WebSlices, if the content is ever updated, it will also be highlighted in the toolbar.

Obviously the implementation is a little rough at the moment – the toolbar pop-out is not styled at all and cuts off at the bottom, but it’s a great start to build more adoption for WebSlices and what better place to start than the world’s most popular encyclopedia.

Has anyone seen any implementations WebSlices beyond those originally demoed by eBay, Facebook and MSN?

Speking of which if you’re a Firefox user, you can get in on some of the WebSlices action too with the extension “Webchunks” which emulates the same function. “Anything you can do, I can do better.”

Only in Japan: Pink Windows Vista

Windows Vista Home Premium Pink

What does Microsoft and Hello Kitty have in common? They both have products packaged in hot pink. As a special promotion for the Japanese market, an upgrade version of Windows Vista Home Premium is bundled with a year’s subscription of Windows Live OneCare and a copy of a Vista tips and tricks book. If that deal isn’t sweet enough, then you better know it comes in a pink box with little flower petals plastered all over. Imagine checking out of the electronic store with a copy of Crysis in one hand, and this in the other.

“This is not what it looks like”

microsoftvirtual.jpg

citrixvirtual.jpg

Out of all the stock photographs of self-confident system administrators with their arms crossed standing unworried between rows of servers, what are the chances two competing products pick the same one. Well at least Citrix knows how to take care of her. How could Microsoft be so careless as to remove bits of her head and arm. You can tell by her smile she can’t get enough of this virtualization stuff.

Recover “Create a recovery disc” on Vista SP1 RTM

Windows recovery discDuring the betas, one of the few new functionality Windows Vista Service Pack 1 added was the ability to create a Windows recovery CD with an easy-to-use GUI interface. Up and until then, it was slightly harder but still possible to do so through a command line. Update: To avoid confusion, this is not the type of recovery discs you find in prepackaged computer systems. This recovery disc does not reinstall Windows, it merely offers tools to fix it if it ever becomes unbootable.

Whilst all Vista install DVDs include the recovery functionality natively, it’s probably useful to burn yourself a spare copy to take with you. You can also download an ISO from NeoSmart.net but you might not have bandwidth to spare.

For unknown reasons, the functionality was then pulled out of the final release of SP1. If you look inside your system files, you can still find recdisc.exe which is the utility’s executable, but clicking on it does not launch anything. The shortcut in the Start Menu was also removed, indicating it was removed on purpose.

Out of curiosity, I decided to find out if by copying a version of recdisc.exe from a beta build of Vista SP1 and placing it in SP1 RTM would work. Thanks to Chris123NT for digging up a copy, it did work. If you also want to make it work, there’s a bit of file permissions involved, so here’s how.

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Microsoft patent makes Plug-and-Play smarter

Plug and PlayWhen you buy a computer peripheral today – whether it be a webcam, gamepad or a keyboard, the expectation is that when you plug it in it will work without any manual configuration. Thanks to Plug-and-Play support in all of today’s operating systems, motherboards and devices, that is very much a reality. Having said that, the system is not perfect.

The problem lies with device drivers. The device drivers which ship with each operating system release is only what is available at the time, so it cannot support new hardware which has been released after that time. This means when you plug in the device, the system is not going to find a suitable driver or it’s going to end up becoming a generic device. I’m sure you too will be quite pissed when you just installed a $300 gaming keyboard and mouse, and it defaults as a generic USB keyboard and mouse.

Up to and until now, operating systems and hardware vendors have tackled this problem by the use of internet updating mechanisms which seek out new drivers when you plug in a device. This of course relies on vendors actually actively updating the drivers in this drivers pool which so far they’ve failed, but more importantly, it requires an active internet connection. The paradox of installing a new network adapter which requires a network connection to download a new driver is a good example where this fails.

Self-Installing Computer PeripheralsMicrosoft has just patented an idea that solves both of these problems with one stone. Patent application 20080071935, “Self-Installing Computer Peripherals” for those of you playing at home.

The idea involves adding a tiny bit of non-volatile flash memory right into the device. It would only need to be large enough to store with it the device driver and any additional software required to support the device. In addition, a USB hub needs to be built into the device so both the functionality and flash memory parts of the device can be accessed by the system.

When the device is manufactured, the vendor can write to the memory the latest available drivers for the device. When plugged in, the operating system will automatically install the necessary components from the flash memory to utilize this device.

What’s more, because the memory can be written as well as read, if new driver or software is available, it can be automatically updated onto the device as well. This means if the device is plugged into another computer, the driver always up-to-date.

This might not sound like much for experienced users who have no problems finding and installing new drivers, but it’s pretty common to find a large majority of user using outdated or generic drivers just because they’re not even aware of drivers let alone driver updates. I think this has huge implications for them.

Especially when it seems like almost every other week a new webcam or keyboard and mouse set is released, having the best possible experience without any driver scavenging will certainly increase user satisfaction and decrease technical support calls.

For now, this seems to be only applicable to USB devices. I’d imagine it might take just a little more effort to get this working on expansion devices such as optical drives, motherboards, graphics cards and sound cards where drivers play a more critical role in the success of failure of utilizing the device in the first run. That, would sure be a hit with pro users too.