Entries Tagged as 'Software'

Virtualization Best Practices, Selecting A Vitualization Solution

This will be the first in a multi-part posting.

I use Microsoft Virtual Server on my PCs for virtualization, and I use VMware on my Macs (I used to use Parallels, but it got to be too expensive to keep paying for updates, and when VMware attempts to charge for an update I’ll probably switch to VirtualBox on my Macs); but most everything I have to say here will apply to any virtualization solution you might choose to use.

When you evaluate a virtual solution, you need to look at a number of requirements and features and decide which is right for you:

  • Cost, that’s the initial cost of acquisition, plus updates
  • Hardware requirements, some virtualization solutions require machines with hardware vitualization (most modern processor have that, but not all), some do not — some only require it for 64-bit virtualization.
  • What type of host operating systems are supported (that’s the operating system you will run the virtualization software on, and install guest operating systems).
  • What type of guest operating systems are supported (and what guest operating systems are known to work).
  • How reliable the solution is on the particular host you’re interested in, and how reliably it runs the guests you’re most interested in.
  • How easy the solution is to use, and how well it fits into the host you’ve chosen (software that runs on lots of different hosts may not be engineered to fit the paradigm of your host well, it may look and act the same on all hosts — which really is of no value unless you’re running it on lots of different hosts, in general you should prefer a solution that looks and works like the other software your use).
  • Whether the system supports 64-bit and 32-bit virtualization or only 32-bit virtualization; and whether you need 64-bit virtualization or not.
  • What type of network connectivity the virtualization solution provides (NAT, bridged, etc), and what type you need.
  • The performance of the network virtualization, and how important the performance might be.
  • What type of storage virtualization the solution provides, and what you need.
  • The performance of the storage virtualization, and how important the performance might be.
  • Does the storage system support undo disks, checkpoints, snapshots, etc, and what do you need.
  • What type of device virtualization the solution provides, and what you need.
  • The performance of the core virtualization (and how important slight differences in performance might be).
  • What type of management tools exists, and what you need.

The above list will get your started on evaluating the relative merits of different virtualization solutions.  My recommendation is start with a solution that’s free and try it out, if you find it doesn’t seem to fit your needs, then try solutions that offer a trial period.  And when you identify things you like or don’t like, go back and look at the free solution and compare it again.  Often you will find after getting a broader experience base things look different, and you shouldn’t just stop with the last one you looked at — you should reassess the less expensive alternatives you dismissed.

One final word, don’t install multiple virtualization solutions on a single machine.  Remove the previous software you were looking at (you can retain the virtual machines), reboot, and install the new software.

The next postings will cover basic operating, maintenance, and some ways to make management easier.

Originally posted 2009-01-13 12:39:01.

XML Notepad 2007

If you’re a Windows user, IE 7 does a great job of displaying XML files, but unless you have Visual Studio or Expression Web you don’t really have a decent XML editor (and those really aren’t designed to do XML edits).

Microsoft, though has XML Notepad 2007, a free download that runs on 32 and 64 bit Windows — and it’s a great editor for XML and supports XLST — here’s an excerpt from the download page:

Overview

Handy features include:
  • Tree View synchronized with Node Text View for quick editing of node names and values.
  • Incremental search (Ctrl+I) in both tree and text views, so as you type it navigates to matching nodes.
  • Cut/copy/paste with full namespace support.
  • Drag/drop support for easy manipulation of the tree, even across different instances of XML Notepad and from the file system.
  • Infinite undo/redo for all edit operations.
  • In place popup multi-line editing of large text node values.
  • Configurable fonts and colors via the options dialog.
  • Full find/replace dialog with support for regex and XPath.
  • Good performance on large XML documents, loading a 3mb document in about one second.
  • Instant XML schema validation while you edit with errors and warnings shown in the task list window.
  • Intellisense based on expected elements and attributes and enumerated simple type values.
  • Support for custom editors for date, dateTime and time datatypes and other types like color.
  • Handy nudge tool bar buttons for quick movement of nodes up and down the tree.
  • Inplace HTML viewer for processing xml-stylesheet processing instructions.
  • Built-in XML Diff tool.
  • Support for XInclude
  • Dynamic help from XSD annotations.
  • Goto definition to navigate includes and XSD schema information.

 

You can download version 2.5 from:

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=72D6AA49-787D-4118-BA5F-4F30FE913628&displaylang=en

Originally posted 2008-08-14 20:36:29.

VirtualBox on OS-X

After the extremely poor experience with my upgrade to vmware Fusion 2.0.1 I can certainly tell you that VirtualBox was a totally satisfying experience.

First, VirtualBox doesn’t have all the whizzy features that vmware Fusion has; but the only thing I really care about is being able to reliably run a virtual machine.  I don’t need all the features that I don’t use and don’t ever work right — all I really care about is reliability.

The user interface for VirtualBox is clean and simple (though I would recommend you spend a little time looking at all the options for VirtualBox and the settings for virtual machines before you get too carried away).

The documentation and FAQs are excellent.  They cover almost every question that came to my mind before I started (including how you could move a vmware machine to VirtualBox if you wanted to).

Since VirtualBox emulates an Intel SATA AHCI controller, it’s very simple to install XP or 2003 (I actually did both) using IDE drives and then switch over to SATA AHCI (which improves performance).  In fact, all you need to is enable the SATA controller in the machine configuration, start the machine, install the Intel Matrix drivers, shut down the machine, change the connection of the drive from IDE to SATA channel 0, and start the machine… couldn’t be easier.

The only feature I would like to see in VirtualBox is support for more than one processor.  And I guess it would also be nice to see 64-bit support on the Mac (but I don’t use 64-bit virtual machines right now, and that’s something that’s already support by other hosts, so it isn’t far off).

And the only gripe I have with VirtualBox thus far is there doesn’t seem to be a good way to share virtual machine configuration files (well — a soft link would do it).  I guess this isn’t a huge issue since it’s not something that most people would probably want to do (but I do).

At the price (FREE) you just can’t beat it.  VirtualBox works, and it seems to work well.

With vmware releasing code that isn’t fit to be taken out of a garbage can; Microsoft chipping away at the high end of vmware’s market; and everyone giving away virtualization software for the desktop you’ve got to wonder how long vmware can survive.  And frankly, I don’t care — I’ve tossed my copy of Fusion away just like I did my copy of VMware Workstation.  Microsoft provides me with perfectly function virtualization hosting software on all versions of Windows; Xen provides it on *nix; and VirtualBox provides me with a reasonable solution on OS-X (and I’m betting on Apple incorporating Xen or something like soon).

My next task is copying my machines from my MacBook (where I tested VirtualBox) to my two Mac Minis and my Mac Pro… looks straight forward.

Originally posted 2009-02-07 01:00:54.

Windows 7 – Boom or Bust?

What is it about Windows 7 that’s supposed to be so great???

I’m at a total lose.

Other than being a little faster than Vista on a low end machine I’m finding most of the changes make it worse not better.
 
Still same problems with UAC, install an app with admin privileged and then allow it to run and you’re screwed — so if the installer wasn’t written properly Win7 ain’t gonna help you, and if the installer was written properly it worked fine on Vista.
 
Administration tasks are moved around (again), and many details are hidden.
 
Lots of the new features are nothing more than dummy-proofing the OS; which probably doesn’t make it any easier for dummies, just harder for people who have a clue.
 
The overall appearance of Win7 looks like a kindergartner with crayons created it after looking at a Mac.
 
Having media playback components built in is nice, but many CODECs are still missing and the only support for MKV containers if from a third party (DivX); and  the entire media playback system has been changed (maybe it’ll be better in the long run, but it just makes it that much harder to do the things that were straight forward under Vista and XP).   Answer me this, if you have to install a piece of third party software to support media playback does it really matter whether or not Microsoft included a few very popular ones but not a full compliment?
 
The virtualization component is a joke.  Hyper-V would have been great, but instead we’re stuck with a minor improvement on Virtual PC (just download Sun’s free VirtualBox and forget about it; that will run on machines without hardware assisted virtualizaton, support a much more modern virtual machine, and be far less clunky than what Microsoft provides).
 
Most all the new features that promised to make Win7 more task oriented just aren’t really complete — the number of devices they support are minuscule… which means it really isn’t a feature, it’s a promised feature (which will probably require quite a few updates).  And we all know how good Microsoft is at keeping promises once the checks have been cashed.
 
The only thing I’ve really found about it that’s substantially better than Vista is the ability to find drivers on the web a feature that would have been straight forward to add to any previous version of Windows.
 
From what I can see Windows 7 is nothing substantially more than re-branding Vista SP3 (which is probably why the internal version number is 6.1 not 7) to try and shed the bad reputation Microsoft created with all the issues with releasing Vista before it was ready.  Not to mention create a revenue stream (a service pack would have been free to the individuals who bought Vista; and remember Windows 7 Upgrades cost the same regardless of the version of Windows you had).
 
I have a feeling that all Windows 7 will do for me is define the moment in time that I begin to move away from Microsoft and Windows… it’s really too bad the only viable option at the moment is a Mac… but then again, high end Macs are reasonably cost effective.

I will move my desktops and laptops to Windows 7 (I’ve already purchased the licenses); and I will continue to post my experiences with Windows 7 (hopefully some of them will be positive); but I will start considering non-Microsoft solutions.

Originally posted 2009-11-20 01:00:08.

Desktop Search

Let me start by saying that Windows Desktop Search is a great addition to Windows; and while it might have taken four major releases to get it right, for the most part it works and it works well.

With Windows Server 2008, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 Desktop Search is installed and enabled by default; and it works in a federated mode (meaning that you can search from a client against a server via the network).

Desktop Search, however, seems to have some issues with junction points (specifically in the case I’ve seen — directory reparse, or directory links).

The search index service seems to do the right thing and not create duplicates enteries when both the parent of the link and the target are to be indexed (though I don’t know how you would control whether or not the indexer follows links in the case where the target wouldn’t normally be indexed).

The search client, though, does not seem to properly provide results when junction points are involved.

Let me illustrate by example.

Say we have directory tree D1 and directory tree D2 and both of those are set to be indexed.  If we do a search on D1 it produces the expected results.  If we do a search on D2 it produces the expected results.

Now say we create a junction point (link) to D2 from inside D1 called L1.  If we do a search on L1 we do not get the same results as if we’d searched in D2.

My expectation would be that the search was “smart” enough to do the search against D2 (taking the link into consideration) and then present the results with the path altered to reflect the link L1.

I consider this a deficiency; in fact it appears to me to be a major failing since the user of information shouldn’t be responsible for understanding all the underlying technology involved in organizing the information — he should just be able to obtain the results he expects.

It’s likely the client and the search server need some changes in order to accommodate this; and I would say that the indexer also needs a setting that would force it to follow links (though it shouldn’t store the same document information twice).

If this were a third party search solution running on Windows my expectation would be that file system constructs might not be handled properly; but last time I checked the same company wrote the search solution, the operating system, and the file system — again, perhaps more effort should be put into making things work right, rather than making things [needlessly] different.

Originally posted 2010-01-22 01:00:57.

The end of the desktop PC?

Many articles have been written lately indicating that the desktop PC is reaching the end of it’s life.  To that I say nay.

A desktop PC is firmly entrenched in government and business; while it could “go away” we’re decades away from that happening… but what we might be seeing is that Microsoft Windows may be shifting away from it’s dominant role in the desktop PC.

In my opinion, the only thing that has kept Windows in it’s dominant role for so long is the wealth of software and the consistency (that’s a tough word to write when thinking of how inconsistent Windows really is) of software and operating system.

Time will certainly tell what will happen, and while tablets may be outselling desktops; there are a lot of desktops in the world already.

Originally posted 2013-08-31 12:00:26.

Microsoft Updates

I’ve got a new pet-peeve (like a had a shortage of them before)…

nVidia has been coming out with display updates for their video cards for Vista about once per month (OK — a little less often than that); and Microsoft has been dutifully pushing down certified drivers to users.

First, the big problem I have with the nVidia driver for my 9800s is that I periodically have the machine freeze and get a message that the display driver stopped responding (but has recovered)… maybe nVidia should be concentrating on fixing that issue and hold off on updates until there’s really some substantial progress [but that might negatively impact them re-naming old tehcnology and trying to sell it as something new].

OK — I digressed… but like I said, it’s a new pet-peeve, and I want to revel in it.

The really annoying thing is that every time Microsoft download and installs a new video driver the system resizes all my open windows and rearranges the icons (shortcuts) on my desktop…

Now perhaps this is only because I have a multiple display system… but reguardless you’d think the children in Redmond might have considered storing the previous state of windows BEFORE activating the new video driver and restoring it afterwards — after all, they are concerned with user experience, RIGHT?

RIGHT… I think the phase would be “experience THIS!”

Microsoft has come a long way in the last few years in making computers easier to use, and easier to maintain… but they (Microsoft) still fails to actually have people who use computers design feature for them… and that’s why using Windows has always felt like it was held together by chewing gum and string — BECAUSE IT IS.

I could do with one less version of Internet Explorer and a bit more work on polishing the overall user experience… and why all these “major” upgrades???  Why not just a continuous stream of improvements to each and every part of the system???

Originally posted 2009-08-22 01:00:10.

Windows 7 – Upgrade Advisor

If you’re considering upgrading your current PC to Windows 7, you should really download, install, and run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.

The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor will provide you with information about programs you have on your system that may not be compatible with Windows 7, and it will indicate devices that you may need to locate the driver manually.

Generally the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor does a great job giving you specific information on obtaining everything you will need to upgrade your system; and it’s much easier to local all those items while you still have a working machine.

Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor

Originally posted 2009-11-10 01:00:27.

7-Zip

I’ve written about 7-Zip before; but since we’re on the verge of a significant improvement I felt it was time to highlight it again.

7-Zip is a file archiver written by Igor Pavlov.  Originally only available for Windows, but now available for most every operating system.

7-Zip was one of the first archiving tools to include LZMA (Lempel-Ziv-Markov chain algorithm); and consistently demonstrated much higher compression ratios at much higher compression rates than any other compression scheme.

The next release of 7-Zip (9.10) will include LZMA2.

The source code for the LZMA SDK has been put into the public domain, and is freely available for use in other products.  The SDK includes the main line C++ course, ANSI-C compatible LZMA and XV source code; C#  LZMA compression and decompression source code; Java LZMA compression and decompression source code; as well as other source code.

You can read all the features of LZMA as well as download the Windows version of 7-Zip and locate links for pZip for *nix operating systems.  You can also do a search for tvx or vx for *nix based systems as well.

This is the only archive utility you need; it would have been nice had Microsoft chosen to base the folder compression in Windows 7 on the LZMA SDK, or at least made it easy to replace the compression module; but 7-Zip installs a Windows shell extension so you have a separate (though confusing for some) menu item for compression and decompression.

http://www.7-zip.org/

Originally posted 2010-01-21 01:00:14.

Pro Microsoft

Many people who don’t know me very well always assume I’m a fan of Microsoft because I used to work there… interestingly enough they don’t think of me as a fan of Oracle, Novell, or AT&T (even though the same logic would apply).  [It’s true that I would never work for a company that I didn’t “like” but that doesn’t mean working for a company makes me blind.]

People who know me know I’m not a fan of much of anything for superficial reasons… in general I like what I like based on concrete reasons — and just because I felt something was good yesterday, doesn’t mean I’ll feel it good tomorrow.

As I’ve said many times; choose the right tool for the job, and don’t get wrapped up in some emotional attachment to a company (that goes doubly for you Apple bigots out there).

There used to be a joke that “no one ever got fired for choosing IBM” — I think to some extent people consider Microsoft a safe choice in a small to medium size company; maybe, but you only have your job as long as your company is in business.

Originally posted 2010-03-25 02:00:30.