Monday, January 29, 2007

Yet Another Reason to Not Upgrade to Vista

I've pretty much avoided discussing Windows Vista on this blog as I really haven't found many interesting tidbits about this new OS. I am of the general opinion that Vista is an XP "point" upgrade - like XP.5, or something like that. It isn't adding features with which I am particularly impressed.

High on my list of annoyances are the many different flavors of Vista available (5, I think), and the lack of a clear message detailing what you get (or don't get) with each version. I can see many people looking at the various flavors and saying, "WTF?".

Much of Vista's marketing push seems to focus on the user interface enhancements made to the system. Of course, to make optimal use of these new enhancements, Microsoft recommends a computer with a pretty hefty set of requirements - a list which many non-gaming PCs will fail to meet. So, you could run Vista in a "degraded" mode where many of the UI changes are not present... and end up with a product similar to XP.

Microsoft has also made a fairly draconian change in the usage of the upgrade editions of the new OS. In the past, upgrade editions could either be upgraded over an older version of Windows, or you could do a fresh install on a blank hard drive. This came in handy, as it was common practice for some to reinstall Windows annually to clear out all the cruft that accumulated. Also, it is essential to do a clean install when a system has been infected with a rootkit and/or many viruses.

To reinstall a Vista upgrade edition OS, you will first need to install an older version of Windows, and then do the upgrade all over again. Either that, or you could bend over and fork out a good chunk of change for the "Full" Vista (insert flavor here) Edition.

If you have XP, then I'd recommend not upgrading to Vista. The extra hardware costs needed to receive the full benefits of Vista plus the hose job Microsoft is handing out for their "Upgrade Edition" are just too much to swallow. Stick with XP on those Windows boxes you need, and maybe look at trying out a Linux distribution like Ubuntu for others.

If you need to get Vista, I'd look at buying a new PC and getting it bundled with the system. For the full retail price, you might as well get a system that works well with it at the same time.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Firebug: Debugging Web Development

If you do any kind of web development, then you are familiar with how difficult it can be to figure out how a complex web page has gone wrong. When you add in Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), another layer of complexity is added, compounding the difficulty. Finally, if you are jumping onto the Web 2.0 bandwagon and looking to add Asynchronous Javascript And XML (AJAX) into the mix, then things can get downright unpleasant.

So, what is the harried web developer to do? Who or what will come to the aid of our intrepid master of all things www?

Firebug to the rescue! Firebug is a Firefox extension which does so many tasks so well, that it is difficult to summarize them in this short blog post. However, I'll do my best to highlight a few.

Firebug lets you explore the structure of any web page in a variety of ways. When Firebug is active, it resides in a window at the bottom of your web page. Alternatively, it can appear in a separate window, although I like the integration with the page I am viewing. Combine this with tabbed browsing and you have separate Firebug windows for each tab.

In HTML mode, Firebug displays the source code of the current page, initially folder for a good overhead view. When you put your mouse cursor over an element in the HTML display, the portion of the web page to which it corresponds is highlighted. There is also functionality to revers this process: hit the 'Inspect' button on firebug, move your mouse over a portion of the web page you are intereted in, and the HTML view will move to that part of the source.

The HTML display is updated in real time as well. As I am typing in this post, I have Firebug open and see it add my text to the web page as I type. The HTML display allows you to edit the source in place as well. This sentence was typed in the Firebug HTML view...

When you select an HTML element in Firebug, another sub-window displays the CSS properties of that element. Now, you will know exactly why an element looks the way it does, and from which CSS rule the look and feel descended. It has a very nice visual representation of the CSS box model for each element, cleanly conveying the offset, margin, border, padding, and size of the element.

There are so many other features to describe: a javascript console, a windows to monitor and time network requests, DOM functionality, and more. The latest issue of Dr. Dobb's Journal (February 2007) has a nice article on Firebug, which is available online. After reading through that article, go download and experiment with Firebug - I bet that it will become an essential tool for your web development needs!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Upgrading from Debian Woody to Sarge

At work, I use Debian linux as the distribution of choice for our file and mail/web servers. In my experience, the stable branch of the the Debian distribution has been very, very stable. When it comes to file and mail servers, that is exactly what I am aiming at - stability!

Each Debain stable release has a code name based upon (so far) one of the characters in Pixar's Toy Story. The current release is Sarge, the previous release was Woody, and the upcoming release is Etch. Sarge has been out for quite a while, with security updates continuing for Woody up and until the first of the new year.

I upgraded our file server from Woody to Sarge sometime last year, and experienced no problems. I was a bit more concerned with our mail/web server, as it serves important public facing functions for my company.

With solid backups prepared and a bit of trepidation in my heart, I began updating the mail and web server. I followed the directions published in the release notes, and experienced only a few minor hiccups along the way.

After about 200MB of downloaded updates and a bit of intervention from me, the system was ready to go. Email worked fine, as did our web server. All in all, a relatively painless upgrade path!

The next release of Debian is due sometime in the near future. However, right now everything seems to be working just fine, so I'm betting that Debian Sarge stays on these servers for the next year or so.

Friday, January 12, 2007

New Year's Eve

Yes, I'm back from vacation and slowly getting back into the rhythm of actually having to work for a living. As I spent those two weeks away from work, I constantly found myself thinking, "I could really get used to this not working thing." Too bad the "no money" thing is more of an issue...

My wonderful wife gave me two tickets for the last regular season game of my San Diego Chargers. It happened to fall on New Year's Eve, so my mom and dad watched the kids while the two of us headed out for a rare day together.

We made it down to the stadium by 10:30, and met up with two of my nephews, my brother-in-law, and a few of his work associates to tailgate before the game. All of us were wearing our Charger jerseys, as one would expect!

We parked outside of the stadium and walked on it ($20 parking fee for stadium parking - le ouch!) as it was a nice day, and we parked close to a nice exit route to avoid stadium traffic when the game ended.

The seats we had were up in the View (aka Nose Bleed) level, but I was surprised that I really enjoyed watching the game from there. It was very easy to see plays develop, holes form in the line, and receivers break free from coverage. The only complaint I had with the seats was that we were in the sun the entire time. If I had brought a hat, it would have been fine.

The Chargers won the game, even though they pulled Rivers and Tomlinson out for the last part of the third and all of the fourth quarter. The Cardinals made a game of it at the end, however the home team prevailed and sixty thousand plus fans went home happy, as did we.

After the game, we picked up our children and headed home. There, we let the kids stay up until 9 o'clock to watch the ball drop in Time Square. After getting the kids to bed (party animals that we are), we shortly crashed thereafter. Happy new year!