Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New e-ink cell-phone coming soon.

E-ink is a type of display that, if you are not aware of already, you will be in the future. It is awesome for the simple fact that it takes so little power to operate it, especially on devices where the information being displayed is not changing often - like cell-phones, and e-book-readers.

Motorola has a lovely example of using e-ink technology in a great way: a new strip-down cell phone that boasts operating times of 7.5hours of call-time on a single charge (and darn near two weeks while "on" in standby mode)! Wow! That makes my current phone seem like a piece of crap to say the least.

Check out this article on the new Motorola Cell-Phone with E-Ink technology. It is debuting in India, and is supposed to end up in the USA in the not too distant future (I sure hope!).

This caught my attention too:
Helping to keep the price low will be the unit’s embedded Linux OS, which won’t be burdened with playing back video and shooting digital images. Sources quote Motorola officials as saying they believe the F3, once it makes its way to the US, could sell for as little as $50 even without carrier subsidies.
Excellent! On all accounts. Use that open-source technology (Linux), and keep the phone basic and affordable. I just hope when it gets to the US market that Motorola does not feel compelled to embellish the thing with a camera, and such. The good news is that the E-Ink display does not really lend itself to pictures anyhow, since it is a low-refresh-rate black/white technology (and, thus no streaming video either FOR SURE). I am looking forward to this one!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Converting my website to ASP.Net 2.0

I have put off converting my company website to DotNet for a long time. I never saw the pressing "need" to do so, and thus my website remained Classic-Microsoft-ASP (VBScript) since about 1998. But, times change, and I finally had some "extra" time (over the Thanksgiving holiday) to dedicate to making the conversion happen. And, since the hosting company I had decided to completely RUIN my SPAM-filtration when they changed mail-server packages (I went from getting ZERO SPAM to being inundated with it!), I decided to move hosts and move to a host where I already used ASP DotNet 2.0 for my new Gluten-Free Baking /Recipes Books site.

When I started the book sales site in DotNet 2.0, it was my first hands on experience with the latest features of the DotNet framework for ASP. I avoided DotNet 1.0 and 1.1 COMPLETELY since, imho, it left a LOT to be desired. ASP.NET 2.0 finally addressed a few of my concerns with the earlier frameworks, with the inclusion of "master pages" and other really nice features. These master-pages allow for a version of visual-inheritance of sorts, and is a HUGE step up from before. This is one of the features that convinced me to migrate my site.

So, I have it done, and only need to re-point the DNS entries to the new hosting company. Needless to say, my existing hosting firm has yet to reply to my "notice of non-renewal" I gave them -- in which I specifically told them to acknowledge receipt of! All the more reason I am leaving ActiveHost - they have been terrible with communications, and this is just one more occurrence. I have one more company hosted on their machines, but not for long... that too will be migrated soon. And, in all this effort, my ASP DotNet 2.0 skills (using C# = "C Sharp") have been improving considerably. I still much prefer working with Borland Delphi, but the development of C# was overseen by an ex-Borland guy that was a primary architect of Delphi from what I understand -- so, there are enough similarities to make the transition somewhat tolerable for me.

For anyone else that is sitting on "ancient" classic ASP web sites just waiting for a reason to upgrade, take a look at the DotNet 2.0 ASP Framework and features. They definitely represent an improvement over ASP Classic (a big improvement), and now that most hosting companies are supporting the framework, it should not be too tough to migrate.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Free Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007 - Don't bother!

Microsoft just released a new free product called Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007. The feature list looked interesting, so I downloaded it, installed it, and gave it a quick try. Basically, all it did was piss me off. And, this blog entry discusses a few reasons why.

I started by installing the product into a VMWare Virtual Machine (for good reasons: I hate how MS products tend to pollute my systems, take over the place with "required" additional software and components that eat up 100's of megabytes, and so forth). So, I install into an environment where I can easily get rid of the entire experience if I desire.

The first annoyance: everywhere I turned in this "free" product, I encountered a need for a non-free Microsoft product. I wanted to try the Email feature - to send an invoice. Nope, can not do that without MS Word installed! WTF?!? I want to send Email, not write a letter. And, since I am in a clean virtual machine, no MS Word is available. So much for testing all sorts of things in here. The promised PayPal interface features rely on using Microsoft Word Templates for PayPal Emails. Lovely (not!).

Next, I want to export some information... hmmm... guess what the "export" supports. Yep, it is Export to Excel, and if you click the export button without Excel installed, forget it - you are presented with a messagebox reminding you how Excel is required.

And, you are presented with multiple reasons to upgrade to the "professional" version or whatever (yep, that is the non-free one). Sure, upgrade... then you can probably be forced to buy even more supporting Microsoft Applications.

Next, errors. I choose to "send books to accountant". It failed with some ridiculous messagebox of HTML errors when the MS Live signin didn't work. Wow, that's a great way to handle the fact I do not have an account setup in the application.

Next, the software is slow. The initial company setup thing is ridiculously slow when it starts creating the initial company entries in the database (or whatever the disk-drive is churning away on for a minute or so). Reports are also slow. Heck, with only one order entered, it still takes 10 seconds to generate a single line report summarizing my one order. Lame.

There is a bunch of visual (and useless) FLUFF. It is now well thought out. It is certainly less-than-intuitive in many areas. I setup a couple products for sale, and there is a field for weight - with no associated unit of measure, and you can only enter numbers. So, if you sell something measured in pounds, and another in ounces, there is no differentiation. Then again, I do not even see where the weight is shown ever again on a report (like, e.g., shipping weight totals - where you may charge based on how heavy your packaging is). You can add fields to various forms, but it seems they can only be of TEXT type, even though the instructions say you can choose what type of field they are (yeah, one choice). You can then add your custom field to the normal view, but even that is a pain - no simple drag-drop to position the fields... it's buttons labeled "move up, move down", etc... and many clicks later, you may get the layout you want. Sad.

Continuing with how lame the layout is... finding invoices after I created them was almost impossible. The ONLY place you can get to them (from what I can tell) is to go to the "customers overview" page (with visual buttons in groups called "start a task", "more tasks", and "find")... only with a button in that Find group can you get to Invoices. Not from the upper menu-bar as I would expect. Once again, WTF is someone thinking? This layout is horrible. IF I can get to something via this graphical/flufff screens, I damn well should be able to get to the same functionality through the menu-bar and/or hot-keys. And, this is for an application where a good quarter of the menu items seem to be nothing more than links to external applications (you guess it: things like Word, Excel, Outlook, Word Templates, etc).

Speaking of invoices, though you can modify what shows on the invoice, you can not add your custom fields created for the items you are selling; thus, adding weights to the invoice is impossible from what I can tell.

Well, at least they priced it at the point of equilibrium with its true worth: nothing / free. OK, perhaps that is a bit harsh... for free it can help quite a few people setup accounting in a hurry. But, I have to believe there are some nearly-free accounting applications out there that make this one look bad. Some of the reports are nice, but once again, for more reports, you are pushed to "upgrade to view more reports". I guess I should have expected no different.

And, what is with this need to call every product XYZ-next-years-date-here? It's 2006 Microsoft! It seems everyone thinks that somehow the promise of getting an apparent "future" year's product early is a compelling reason to purchase. (sidenote: this applies to software big time, as well as automobiles, and much more!) And, I am also sure it is done so the product in question does not appear outdated as soon (for anyone unfamiliar with the real release date). This is just ridiculous marketing crap.

Bottom Line: "FREE" software doesn't mean good software, and it certainly does not mean the software is a good solution for your business. Check it out if you are OK with all the Microsoft-dependencies, or if you just do not want to spend money on your business accounting systems. There IS some "value" in here depending how you want to use the app -- just not the value I am looking for in such an app. I am going to check out some other alternatives, perhaps even writing my own if it makes sense for my needs.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Novell and Microsoft "partner" on Linux? Yep!

For those of you who do not know that the SUSE "brand" of Linux is owned by Novell, well now you do. And Novell of course is also most known for its nearly non-existent (by market share) NetWare operating-system product. Novell, who has always been in fierce competition with Microsoft, is now teaming up with MS to ensure cross-compatibility between SUSE Linux and Microsoft Windows.

In addition, the OpenOffice project (an open-source competitor to Microsoft Office) is also primarily maintained by Novell, as is Evolution (the open source alternative to MS Outlook). This latest "partnership" agreement has MS and Novell playing nice on the Office-Suite software front too, with the deal supposedly ensuring cross-compatibility between MS Office (including Microsoft Office 2007) and OpenOffice (via Open XML and OpenDocument formats).

It'll be interesting to see how this goes. If history serves as a guide, Microsoft will somehow come out with the better part of the deal and further solidify their dominance in the marketplace. But, who knows, perhaps this will help Linux finally become an acceptable alternative to Microsoft Windows.

Additionally, the two agree not to sue each over other software patents, which is great news in itself. Read the full article here.