Fixing a VirtualBox Windows XP blue screen

The great think about virtualisation is that virtualised hardware stays the same, so you don’t get problems when you move to new hardware, right? Unfortunately when I ran up an XP image on VirtualBox, newly installed on Vista 64, I got this blue screen, an 0x0000007B stop error:


The problem was that VirtualBox must have changed its default virtual IDE controller since I first set up this VM. Windows hates having the storage controller changed – though there are ways to fix it. Much easier, though, to change the IDE Controller setting in VirtualBox from PIIX4 to PIIX3:

This problem would likely not have occurred if I had preserved the .xml file which defines the virtual machine settings. Unfortunately I only preserved the hard drive .vdi file, and used it in a new virtual machine. So VirtualBox is working as designed. Still, an easy fix.

Survey ranks developer tools, and reveals what developers care about most

Evans Data has published its 2009 Software Development Platforms survey, to which around 1200 developers contributed, scoring their chosen development tools in eighteen different categories.

The tools covered are Eclipse, Embarcadero’s Delphi, IBM’s Rational Suite, IntelliJ, Microsoft’s Visual Studio, NetBeans, Oracle JDeveloper and Sun Studio.

I was sorry not to see more products covered. Flex Builder Flash Builder, Zend Studio, Aptana and JBuilder would all have been interesting, for example. Each developer only scored the product they actually use (a good thing), so the sample is not as big as it first appears.

I’m also mistrustful of the survey results, particularly when you look at it in detail. For example, one of the categories is “Support for frameworks”.  Visual Studio came top, while Eclipse was last. But hang on: in Visual Studio (for example) are we talking MFC, or .NET Framework? The development experience for each is totally different. And were developers primarily judging on the framework tools, or the framework itself? It is hard to attach much meaning to the scores in this category.

Another flaw: the versions of the products is not specified. That means a weakness may have been fixed in a later version, but the survey does not tell you.

A third flaw: some tools are weak in several categories, dragging down their overall score, but that does not matter to developers who do not use them for that purpose. It is hard to compare like with like.

Still, while I’m wary of the survey overall, I though it brought out some interesting points. One is that developers were asked what features matter most to them. So:

The three things developers care about most (highest priority first):

1. Basic tools (editor/compiler/debugger)

2. Documentation

3. Tool integration

The things developers care about least (lowest priority first):

1. Support for remote development

2. Support for parallel programming (sorry Intel!)

3. App Modeling tools

What about the winners and losers in the survey? I almost forgot. IBM’s Rational Suite came top, followed by Microsoft’s Visual Studio. Eclipse came last, though it still got a decent score, well below its rival NetBeans.

The low ranking for Eclipse (which is nevertheless wildly popular) deserves some comment, particularly as the top tool, IBM Rational Suite, is built on Eclipse. I spoke to Eclipse executive director Mike Milinkovich while researching this Register piece recently. One of the points we discussed was the tension (if there is one, which he disputes) between tools vendors sharing resources to build the best possible platform, and holding resources back to retain commercial differentiation. I’ll write this up in more detail shortly; but it shows why certain areas in Eclipse may not receive the attention they deserve – localization was a specific example.

Another problem with Eclipse is that it is all a bit messy, confusing and hard to manage, particularly in a team where you want every member to have an identical setup. It is still worth it though, for the riches it provides for free.

Adobe “Committed to bringing Flash Player to the iPhone”

Adobe CEO commented during yesterday’s earnings call:

We are also equally committed to bringing the Flash Player to the iPhone, so now we do have a Flash Player 10 version for smartphones. We continue to work with Apple. We need more APIs and cooperation to bring the capabilities of Flash to the iPhone and we think it’s in both of our best interests to make sure that 85% of the top 100 websites that use Flash, that that experience is available to the Apple customers.

The real question is not whether Adobe is committed to this, but whether Apple will allow it. I think the stake are high for Adobe, which is why I have such keen interest. The longer the iPhone remains Flash-free, the more those “85% of the top 100 websites” will question their use of Flash and wonder if they should try to migrate towards more universal HTML and JavaScript technology. On the other hand, if Adobe gets its stuff on iPhone it will give it a further advantage over rival plug-ins like Microsoft’s Silverlight.

I mean, if you build your entire cloud platform around the Flash client, what do you do if the key mobile device out there refuses to support it?

Transcript from Seeking Alpha.

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Google Apps add-on breaks Outlook features in email wars

Google has released an add-on to Outlook that apparently breaks Outlook search. Google Apps Sync synchronizes Outlook email, calendar and contacts with Google Apps. Google recommends it as a transition tool for people migrating from Exchange, or for people who prefer the Outlook UI. A premium version of Google Apps is required.

Unfortunately it breaks some Outlook functionality. In particular, Outlook search no longer works correctly. There are also potential issues with the Hotmail connector and, according to Google, the Acrobat PDF Maker toolbar and the Outlook Change Notifier.

Although uninstalling Google Apps Sync should restore the features, this wasn’t working in early versions of Google Apps Sync. So the somewhat counter-intuitive advice is to upgrade Google Apps Sync to the latest version and then to uninstall; or tinker with the registry yourself according to Microsoft’s guidance.

Let’s reflect a bit on what is happening here. Google is encouraging its users to install an add-on that damages the functionality of a rival product. Understandably annoying for Microsoft; but it is explained in the documentation if you read it carefully. I doubt it is deliberate sabotage; on the other hand, it highlights the fragility of desktop versus cloud applications. Google’s technical advice on the subject is pretty much a shrug: if you don’t like it, uninstall it.

Another perspective on this is that if you are happy with Outlook with or without Exchange, be wary of third-party add-ons, especially from companies that want to migrate you to another product. If you are making the transition to Google Mail and just need to export your data, of course, breaking Outlook a little will not worry you.

The broader reflection is that many third-party add-ons for Windows, though claiming to make things better for you, actually make things worse.

Opera Unite: another way to share, another nightmare for digital rights

I’ve been trying out Opera Unite. This is a web server built into the Opera 10 browser, now in beta. There’s nothing new about running your own web server; one comes free with Windows, and Apache is free for anyone to download and install in a few clicks. The difference with Unite is first that it’s packaged as a set of simple services, such as a chatroom, a note-sharing “fridge”, and a media sharing application; and second, that Opera handles the techie problems of opening firewall ports and sorting the DNS.

I clicked a few links in this informative Reddit discussion and was soon looking at the fridge on someone’s machine out there.

Shortly afterwards, I was enjoying one of their Beatles tracks:

Cool; never mind that the Beatles do not, as far as I know, allow any of their songs on legal download sites like iTunes or Spotify.

Today the UK government is publishing Digital Britain, which is expected to include new proposals for protecting digital rights. Opera’s new product is a reminder of how hopeless that is.

Security is not Unite’s strong point. Although users can protect their content or other services with a password, it is passed as plain text, which means it is vulnerable to network sniffers. Opera has sandboxed services to protect the user’s machine, though as ever bugs could produce security holes.

Developers can create their own services, of course, and there are some interesting possibilities here. One that users will like is the ability to share files such as photos without needing to upload them first.

I doubt Opera will mind much if the service is controversial. It’s great publicity for its minority-usage browser that is otherwise easy to forget.

Embarcadero CEO on cross-platform native code

I had a long chat with Embarcadero CEO Wayne Williams last week. I used a few snippets on the Reg – on cross-platform Delphi and Eclipse – and hope to post more from it shortly. In the meantime, here’s what he said about using native code rather than Java or other types of managed code for cross-platform apps. It felt like 1996 all over again, but he has a point.

Adobe’s secret plans for the iPhone – but still no Flash (updated)

Last week I spoke to Adobe’s Erik Larson, director of product management for is a conferencing and document collaboration site which is built almost entirely in Flash. Apple does not allow Flash on the iPhone, so my ears pricked up when I heard Larson promise iPhone support for from the Autumn.

We’ll be adding mobile access via smartphones, so the iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows Mobile. You’ll be able to access your documents, share them with other people, and do some other interesting things that we’ll talk about later this year.

said Larson. Naturally I asked him to expand on this promise. Will Apple be allowing the Flash plug-in in iPhone Safari, or is this some other approach?

You will be able to access and do work from your iPhone using It’s more than just the access, it’s pretty interesting. It will be an application. You won’t have to go to your web browser. Beyond that, I don’t want to spill the beans.

said Larson.

I speculated earlier that this meant bringing Flash in some form to the iPhone, for example as a runtime outside the browser. In his comment though, Larson says that is not the case. A shame, since many developers would welcome the opportunity to deploy AIR applications to the device, for example, even it if meant going via Apple’s App Store.

Unfortunately this also means that the iPhone access will be somewhat less than what I would describe as “do work from your iPhone using”. Larson said on Twitter:

You will be able to access, share and manage docs…plus a little nifty-ness I can’t tell you about…but no editing at first.

That’s a substantial advantage for the HTML/JavaScript based suites like Google Docs and Zoho, for iPhone users.

Post updated in the light of his comments.

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Adobe’s cloud office takes shape, gets spreadsheet, goes commercial

Adobe has announced a spreadsheet-like product for its cloud Office suite at, along with commercial terms for business users of conferencing and document collaboration. itself is now out of beta. The new product, called Tables, is available to try at Adobe Labs, where it joins Presentations.

First impressions of the Tables application is that while it looks great, it is rudimentary; and this is why Adobe has called it Tables and not Spreadsheets. Unlike Presentations, which seems immediately useful, Tables looks more like work in progress. That may partly be lack of documentation at this early stage. For example, I cannot see any way to format the text in a cell. Cell referencing is limited at the moment. In a formula, you can reference the current row in another column, but not yet an arbitrary cell. You can sum an entire column in a summary row, but not a range of cells in a column (as far as I can see). You cannot yet import or export the table. No charting yet either. Still, this is in Labs and these features will be added later. Everything is Flash, of course.

The underlying reason for the inferiority of Tables versus Presentations, I guess, is that Presentations has a natural synergy with Flash and is design-oriented (Adobe strength), whereas spreadsheets lack that synergy.

The big feature of Tables is collaboration. By default, changes made by others to a shared table appear to all users in real time. This could get confusing if other users change the layout, for example sorting by a different column, so you an enable “private view”, which means you have control over your own layout though data changes are still saved and shared. ,

In the press briefing, Adobe emphasised its collaboration features. Erik Larson, director of product management for, spent a lot of time reminding us how inefficient it is to revise documents by sending out email copies. The point is well made, though there are other ways to avoid that, starting with the humble shared network folder. Web-based collaboration is undoubtedly the future, though I suspect there are downsides to real-time collaboration on a document – chaos, for example – but in the right context it will work well, and in practice asynchronous changes are likely to be more common.

Adobe’s cloud office

Clearly Adobe is serious about mounting a challenge to the likes of Google Docs and Zoho with its own cloud office. It has now announced business terms, though these are mainly focused on conferencing and are initially for the USA only. For $390 per year or $39.00 per month you get 20 person meetings on, telephone support, and unlimited file downloads (the free offering is limited to 100 downloads per file). There’s also a Premium Basic offering for individuals, at $140 per year or $14.99 per month, with meetings up to 5 participants and phone support. The free option remains, with meetings up to 3 persons. There is 5GB of storage at all levels, from free to premium.

Larson says 5 million people have signed up to, with new registrations at 100,000 per week, and that these are 70%-80% business users rather than consumers. Many of these accounts may be dormant; Larson says “hundreds of thousands use it every day” but could not be more precise on this aspect.

Big changes are planned for the autumn. “We’re going to bring all these products together in a single user interface. We’ll also bring them together into an online AIR application, so that you can have a seamless experience available from the desktop. At that point we’ll also offer Smartphone access. We’ll add team workspaces in the Winter,” says Larson.

Unfortunately there are no immediate plans for offline document access, though Larson concedes it is “absolutely important”. Having said that, according to Larson “for our actual users, the internet has become so pervasive that lack of offline access is for a large percentage of people more of an irritant than a requirement. Things like charts, importing from PowerPoint, and an actual spreadsheet as opposed to just tables, those things are absolute blockers.”

Personally, I’m not in that large percentage. When has an AIR application that works online and offline with the same documents, I will find it more compelling for everyday use. The advantage is not only availability when out and about, but also the security of knowing that if goes offline, you will still be able to reference your documents.

Another aspect of is a range of collaboration and document services APIs. This enables you to add features to your own applications, such as file upload to, or real-time chat, voice and video.

Can you trust not to lose or leak your documents? “We do have a service level agreement”, says Larson, adding “there’s a general trend towards increasing comfort with online services. People are more comfortable with having super-sensitive information up there. It’s much more secure in a general sense than if it’s on your hard drive. Our data centers are much more protected than your laptop.”

A winner?

Adobe’s cloud offering is fascinating from a RIA perspective, because use of Flash is its USP. It can also exploit the popularity of PDF and the desktop abilities of AIR, though we have not yet seen this fully exploited. While there is some momentum behind, it seems limited compared to that behind Google Docs. I rarely see links to documents on, whereas I frequently get directed to a Google spreadsheet. In other words, my sense is that has not yet broken through. The features announced today will help, but I suspect the big Autumn announcement with the promised Smartphone and iPhone support will be more significant. For myself, I’m waiting for the offline piece that, according to Larson, is not yet on the roadmap.

Links: Erik Larson presents the changes;  Lisa Underkoffler describes Tables.

Moving Vista to a larger hard drive using built-in backup and restore

I was running out of space on drive C, on my Vista 64-bit PC. Luckily hard drives are cheap, so I purchased a 1TB drive and then contemplated how to transfer the system. I have a slightly complex setup, with 3 physical drives installed and four versions of Windows (XP, XP64, Vista 32 and Vista 64) – Vista 64 is the one I use most of the time, but I find the others useful for testing or running otherwise incompatible software. Virtual machines are good for this too, but there is still a place for real installs

Last time I did this, on a laptop, I used an excellent tool called Drive Snapshot. It worked well; but I figured this was a good opportunity to test the backup and restore built into Windows. In effect, I would do a backup, then pretend my drive had failed and restore to a new one. I attached an external USB drive, opened Windows Backup and selected Create a Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore image of your entire computer, which can be used to recover from a hardware failure.

It started badly. As I mentioned, I was running out of space:

The backup failed: not enough disk space to create the volume shadow copy on the storage location.

I had a plan. Windows automatically creates a file called hiberfil.sys, which is roughly the same size as the amount of RAM in the system. Removing hiberfil.sys is easy, and frees up plenty of space. Just open a command prompt with administrator permissions and type:

powercfg.exe –h off

You can guess how to re-enable it later. I retried the backup and it worked. Next, I removed the old hard drive – my insurance policy – and attached the new one.

A little-known fact, which many people discover in bad circumstances: restore is harder than backup. This was no exception. I was expecting to boot from the Vista setup DVD, choose a restore option, and have my system back as it was. I was also hoping that I’d be able to resize the partitions, otherwise I’d be no better off than before, but if necessary that could be tackled later.

It didn’t go well. I booted from the Vista setup DVD, and clicked through several repair options selecting to use Windows Complete PC Restore. I arrived at this dialog (with apologies for the quality; it’s a photo of the screen):

The dialog says: This will delete any existing partitions and reformat all disks to match the layout of the backup. Yes, I had four partitions to restore. Still, this dialog caused me some anxiety. There were other physical disks in the machine, which I had not backed up recently; would Vista also format and re-partition these? I thought probably not; but to be on the safe side I powered down, disconnected the other drives, and started again. I then confidently clicked Finish.

Unfortunately I got this notorious dialog:

There are too few disks on this computer or one or more of the disks is too small. Add or change disks so they match the disks in the backup, and try the restore again.

Do you ever want to argue with your computer? I’d removed a 180GB drive, and replaced it with a 1TB drive, but Vista was insisting that it was too small.

Time to Bing, or should that be Google? I found this discussion, headed discouragingly A Windows Complete PC Restore always fails.

Luckily there were some tips in the thread, though not from Microsoft (a fact that has not gone unnoticed) even though this is an official forum. I rebooted and selected Command Prompt from the System Recovery Options. Then I ran diskpart, a command line tool which makes no pretence to user friendliness. I created four partitions, each bigger than the ones I was restoring. I tried to assign the correct drive letters, but the tool would not let me, advising me to check the system event log for more information. In the recovery environment? Thanks.

I tried again, but it still failed. Then I rebooted, just in case. This time it worked. Why? I’m not sure what was the key. It appears that the restore does not like to see a raw drive; yet as I discovered, it re-partitions it anyway. So I can’t give any definitive solution here, except to say, try fiddling with diskpart.

I went away for a few hours, and when I returned the restore was complete, the PC had restarted, and it was waiting for me to log in.

There was one snag. Rather than using the partitions I had created, the restore made its own, of the same size as on the old drive. Fortunately – and I’m not sure if this was accident or design – the partition I cared about was at the end of the drive, followed by free space. Unfortunately, the Extend Volume option in Disk Management was disabled and greyed out. Unfortunately again, the equivalent option in diskpart also failed. Whatever size I selected, I got The volume size you have selected is too large for the disk. Either select a disk with more free space, or specify a smaller volume. More lies. My drives are set to Basic; I guess that changing them to Dynamic might fix this.

I’m slightly distrustful of Dynamic drives, so I booted into a different version of Windows located on a different drive (I said this could be useful). This time, diskpart was happy to extend the volume. I then also typed extend filesystem. It worked:

Overall, I’m glad that the process worked, but not impressed with the fragility of the restore process and the lack of help with these puzzling error messages. I suppose Microsoft considers this an advanced task undertaken by professionals, who know how to Bing. I don’t see why the emergency restore should not be able to prepare a new hard drive, restore to it, and even offer to resize the partitions in a sensible manner.

I’d be interested to know whether Windows 7 handles this better, but not interested enough to try it.

Fortunately, I’ll never again need to do this. I mean, 750GB free is enough for anyone, right?

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For your nightmares: 10 more things which could be unbundled from Windows

Microsoft is caving to the EU and unbundling Internet Explorer from Windows 7 in Europe. Arguments over whether bundling a browser with Windows is anti-competitive go back many years of course, and were central to the US Department of Justice case in the late nineties. The DOJ won in court, but too late to save Netscape.

But which other vendors have lost market share when the functionality of their products became a standard part of Windows? There are numerous examples. Trumpet Winsock was a popular TCP/IP implementation for Windows 3.0, for example.

Windows didn’t always come with a built-in firewall. You had to use a 3rd party product such as ZoneAlarm.

Windows now has basic CD/DVD writing built-in, which can’t have helped the market for Nero and the like.

Media players of course from iTunes to Real Player, which have to compete with Windows Media Player. The EU’s solution was the useless Windows N.

Application runtimes like Java – the .NET runtime comes standard with Windows.

Video editing and authoring: Movie Maker is free with Windows, which can’t help Sony Vegas products, for example.

Zip compression and extraction: building this into Explorer must have been a blow to WinZip.

Email clients – Outlook Express / Windows Mail comes free, which reduces the market for Thunderbird and the like.

Fax clients – remember WinFax? Now we have Windows Fax and Scan built-in.

Hard disk defragmentation – does Diskeeper like having to compete with utilities built into Windows?

What would Windows be like if third-parties insisted on either the removal of the competing functionality, or some sort of equal billing with user choices or OEM bundling deals (to some extent we have the latter already)? Most likely vile. We would all flee to Apple, which seemingly has no problem bundling all this stuff, or to Linux, which in many ways is designed for this kind of free-for-all.

I am no lawyer; but I can’t help wondering which other third-parties are queuing up to say, “You did this for Opera, what about us?” In fact, the EU’s January 2008 press release specifically mentions desktop search and Windows Live as other topics about which complaints were received.

Competition is good; but so too is a rich, stable and complete operating system.

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