All posts by onlyconnect

Users plead with Borland to give up .NET

Delphi user and Kylix enthusiast Simon Kissel (Kissel is the author of CrossKylix) has written a sharp critique of Borland’s developer tool strategy.

He says few are buying Borland’s .NET tools. They buy Delphi for its native code compiler, and need new features like Unicode and Win64 support. Borland (or DevCo) by contrast is focusing on .NET, but is failing because it cannot keep pace with Microsoft.

I am about 75% in agreement with Kissel. In addition, the splitting of DevCo from Borland, presuming it eventually completes, changes the dynamics in favour of native code. If you put ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) at the centre of your strategy, that pushes you towards .NET, which is great for Enterprise development. If you split off the pure development tools from the ALM side, that gives more voice to the non-Enterprise developers, where .NET has less appeal.

However, a key issue not covered by Kissel is that Win32 development is in decline. That decline will accelerate once Vista and .NET Framework 3.0 become widely deployed (admittedly that will take a couple of years at least). Another factor is the continuing growth in web applications and rich internet (or “smart client”) applications, for which Win32 is ill-suited. It would be tough for Borland to bet its future on a declining market.

Further, Kissel makes too much of how “The other big market player in native RAD Land, Microsoft, has just left the fields.” That’s true only up to a point. Microsoft has abandoned native code VB, but then again VB was never close to Delphi as a native RAD development tool; it did eventually get a native code compiler but always had big runtime dependencies and difficulty in making full use of the Windows API. In addition, Microsoft still has Visual FoxPro (more RAD than native) and Visual C++ (more native than RAD), so it hasn’t altogether abandoned the field.

What’s clear though is that Borland can’t continue with a .NET strategy based on supporting .NET features a year later than Microsoft. And it has to make more of its native code tools – though it actually took a big step in that direction with Delphi 2006, which is excellent for Win32 work.

I feel a little bad here. I said some years ago that Borland should embrace .NET. Still, I did also say this:

However, and it is a big hesitation, to prosper with .Net Borland needs to do more than simply build a Delphi for .Net at its own rather leisurely pace. To succeed the company needs to capture and pursue a vision of what .Net can do; RAD for the Enterprise, .Net beyond Windows; or whatever.

At the time I was hoping Borland would get 100% behind Mono and come up with elegant cross-platform .NET tools. That has never happened; though perhaps it still could.


IE7 to be released 18th October, three years late

Microsoft’s updated browser is released next week, and will be distributed via automatic update from November 1st.

It is three years late. Here’s the release history:

  • Version 1.0 August 1995
  • Version 2.0 November 1995
  • Version 3.0 August 1996
  • Version 4.0 September 1997
  • Version 5.0 March 1999
  • Version 6.0 August 2001

On a (reasonable) two year release cycle, we should have had version 7.0 in 2003. Let me add that version 6.0 was really a disappointment; more like version 5.1 in some ways. Microsoft won the browser wars, then stalled the progress of web standards for five years. It was the growing popularity of Firefox, released in November 2004, that persuaded Microsoft to restart development. There would in any case have been some sort of update in Windows Vista; but without the open source competition I doubt it would have amounted to much.

The history leaves a bad taste and makes it hard to enthuse about IE7. Nevertheless, it is a badly-needed update. I’m inclined to leave the blow-by-blow comparison with Firefox to others.

The one piece I can enthuse about is the centralized RSS store that comes as part of IE. This makes a lot of sense and I’m looking forward to it.


If Microsoft doesn’t use UAC, why should anyone else?

Hey Doug, I don’t want to pick on you but this…

There are a few things about Vista that most “power user” types change, and so have I. I have the UAC stuff disabled, since I’m installing and configuring so much software right now that it just feels in the way.

Doug Mahugh is a technical evangelist for Office 2007, and this is from his blog. He’s probably one among many Microsoft folk disabling UAC – though I hope otherwise – but it’s a big mistake.

What’s the biggest problem with Windows right now? Security, right. And what’s the centrepiece of Vista’s security solution? UAC, right. So it strikes me that anyone evangelising Microsoft software should be evangelising UAC as well.

There’s more. Consider Outlook, for a long time a decent Exchange client, but a poor standalone email client and PIM (Personal Information Manager). One of the reasons is that everyone at Microsoft uses Exchange. So they didn’t suffer the problems of standalone Outlook, so they didn’t beat up the product team about it, so the problems went unfixed.

More than anyone, Microsoft folk need to use UAC and ensure that it works right.

Bottom line: don’t disable UAC.


Google’s unsettling lack of direction

A few comments on Google + YouTube:

  • Cheap for Google – and paid for with stock. There’s no likely downside unless YouTube gets sued into oblivion; but that seems unlikely now that major content providers seem to recognize its value in promoting their products. At a minimum, Google has gotten itself a high-traffic site with which to extend its advertising platform.
  • Long-term, the prospects for YouTube are unclear. If it moves towards the iTunes model of paid-for content, much of its wild appeal will be lost. It has a fickle audience and might not sustain its popularity.
  • Google’s business is advertising; yet it continually experiments with other roles: provider of hosted applications, internet bank, media giant. It has an unsettling lack of direction.
  • There are all sorts of possibilities in this tie-up: a true competitor to iTunes? a major broadcasting platform? the evolution of web advertising? Equally, it may turn out to be rather unimportant. Too soon to say.


Vista security: now prove it

Microsoft says Vista is more secure – but nobody out there will believe it. They “know” that Windows is insecure, and even if Vista really is a secure operating system, it will take a long time to change that perception.

How secure is Vista? Nobody knows as yet; though I don’t doubt that enormous effort has been put into this aspect of the new Windows. There are also some solid security advances over Windows XP. Users no longer run with local admin rights by default – even if they have those rights, they are disabled unless processes are specifically elevated, which means passing a dialog. Another key improvement is that Internet Explorer is sandboxed.

Having said which, everyone will be watching for security alerts and “Patch Tuesday” fixes after Vista’s final release. Undoubtedly when the first flaw is discovered Windows will be proclaimed as insecure as ever.

That’s not necessarily so. All operating systems have security flaws. But Microsoft’s challenge is twofold: addressing first the technical issues, and second the public perception.

The latter may be even harder than the former. For sure, it’s gleefully exploited by competitors. Apple says on its site:

Connecting a PC to the Internet using factory settings is like leaving your front door wide open with your valuables out on the coffee table. A Mac, on the other hand, shuts and locks the door, hides the key, and stores your valuables in a safe with a combination known only to you. You have to buy, configure, and maintain such basic protection on a PC.

Apple’s statement is mostly false. A new, default installation of XP with SP2 (which is how PCs are supplied) has an effective built-in firewall; although a router with NAT is safer, you can connect a cable modem directly and intruders can’t get in. I had a machine connected like this for 2 years always-on, in pre-SP2 days but with the built-in firewall enabled, and suffered zero successful attacks.

Still, Apple is correct in saying that numerous viruses target Windows and there are a large number of infected machines, largely I suspect because users run as local admin and they (or their children) cheerfully execute malicious scripts and executables. Can Vista stop this happening, even though such users will need to pass a dialog? Probably not altogether.

The best hope then is that Vista will be mostly secure for sane users. The worst scenario is that people are persuaded to turn off UAC (User Account Control), and instead put their trust entirely in ineffective third-party utilities, only to grumble a few months down the road that Windows has let them down again.

In security, nothing changes quickly. Watch this space.


Vista: the search for drivers begins

I’ve just installed Windows Vista RC2, which makes me either stupid or a diehard Vista testaholic, according to The Register. Or possibly a tech journalist. Whatever, I like it; it’s an improvement on Windows XP in small ways and large. I’d like to migrate to Vista on release, but there’s a snag…

My RC2 machine is running sweetly, but two devices won’t install. One is an Adaptec 2940 PCI SCSI card with a tape drive hanging off it; the other is a Umax Astra 5400 USB scanner. Umax doesn’t seem to have heard of Vista, according to its support site, while Adaptec has a knowledgebase article entitled: “*TEST* Driver Update Patches for Microsoft Vista *Under Construction*” which says,

See (link to be added [sic]) for a list of products that are supported in Microsoft Vista.

Overall, I’m not optimistic about either of these products, though there is I suppose a glimmer of hope in the Adaptec link. It presents an uncomfortable but familiar dilemma: whether to discard working hardware for the same of compatibility, or persevere with the soon-to-be-ancient Windows XP for the sake of supporting old hardware.

I know of a company running Windows 98 on one of its PCs for exactly this reason – it supports a piece of factory equipment, and the supplier wants several thousand pounds for an XP-compatible software upgrade.

The long life of Windows XP has been a benefit in this respect. Almost everything supports it as a de-facto standard.

I can understand why vendors are reluctant to create drivers for old hardware. It ties up their developers for little benefit in revenue; and may even damage sales of the new stuff.

Even so, it’s disappointing that even with Vista likely to be released to manufacturing within the next couple of months, many support sites have little or no information on driver availability. Kudos to those that do. For example, has a prominent link to information on Windows Vista and XP64. Unlike Apple’s site, which appears to lack any information about iPod/iTunes Vista support.


Times Reader memory shock

I’m an admirer of Times Reader; in fact I’ve become something of an addict. Then a discussion about .NET performance prompted me to check the memory usage:

At 92MB working set and 50MB private working set, this application uses an alarming amount of memory. I found this interesting as it’s an example of a real-world Windows Presentation Foundation application. WPF is great to work with, but if it catches on, how many concurrent WPF apps will we be able to run before our shiny Vista systems choke?

Caveats: All three of Vista, WPF and Times Reader are in beta, so things could improve; then again all three are close to release, so this is a real concern. More research is needed.

Of course it’s possible that Times Reader is just holding far too much data in RAM, though it is such a great app in other respects that it is hard to believe.

Other points of interest: as you can see from the screenshot I have Paint.Net running as well as another .NET app, Guidance Explorer, both of which consume less than half the amount of memory. In fact, Paint.Net’s usage is not bad in this context, given its sophistication and the fact that image apps tend to be memory-hungry.

I’ll have another look when the full releases are available.


I investigated how much overhead WPF is introducing by comparing two trivial to-do list apps of identical functionality. One is XAML/VB.NET; the other is Windows Forms. Both compiled to release builds in VS 2005. Here are the results:


Working set: 30MB
Private working set: 11MB
Commit size: 44.5 MB

Windows Forms

Working set: 13.5MB
Private working set: 3MB
Commit size: 15MB

So on the face of it, there is a substantial memory jump for WPF.


Who cares about W3C validation?

While reseaching a piece in today’s IT Week, I checked out several prominent home pages in the W3C Markup Validation Service. There wasn’t room for all the results in the piece, so I’m posting them below, best to worst:

  • passed
  • 1 error
  • 2 errors
  • 5 errors
  • 15 errors
  • 18 errors
  • 41 errors
  • 43 errors
  • 45 errors
  • 130 errors
  • 263 errors
  • 1134 errors

Disclaimer: This was early last week; the exact figures will have changed by now. I found it interesting that only IBM managed a pass, others such as Microsoft and Sun are clearly trying to comply, while the likes of MySpace, eBay and Amazon apparently could not care less.

Does anybody care? Mostly not; all we care about is web sites that work in our favourite browser, though in theory there is a connection between the two. Which was the point of my article: the W3C seems to be of decreasing relevance these days.

Still, kudos to IBM.