A simple blog reader for the IE7 common feed list

Readers of this blog will know of my dissatisfaction with both the IE7 feed reader and the RSS integration in Outlook 2007.

I’ve now posted the (VB.NET) code for my quick-and-dirty solution, the Hands On Common Feed List Reader.


What problems does this solve? Mainly:

  • It allows me to browse through blogs by item and not by feed
  • It reads the feed list directly instead of Outlook’s misguided synchronization efforts
  • It gives me a quick view of all unread items

Just to be clear, this is a reader for the IE7 common feed list. You still need to subscribe and unsubscribe using IE7. Lots of features could be added, but for now this works for me; however fixes and improvements are welcome.

Download the code here.

More on how this is put together in the February 2007 issue of Personal Computer World.

If anyone would like just the executable, let me know and I’ll make a quick setup. Requires .NET 2.0.

Technorati tags: , , ,

What happened to Smart Tags in Office 2007 – and is the ribbon next?

Lem Bingley asks if the SmartTags feature has been quietly removed from Office. It’s an interesting point, especially as the Smart Tags feature was sold to us journos as a major new feature of Office when it was introduced in Office XP – in fact, it was said to be the biggest feature of that release.

The short answer is that Smart Tags are still there, just turned off by default. To get them back, just click the Office button, then Word Options (button at the bottom of the flyout), then Proofing, then AutoCorrect options, then Smart Tags, and check the options you want. But I doubt you miss them.

Come to that, the Adaptive Menus introduced in Office 2000 and touted as a major usability benefit have gone in the new release – see this fascinating blog post by Jensen Harris for why. And even the Task Pane, another Office XP breakthrough, has reduced prominence in 2007. Open up Excel 2003 and what’s the first thing you see? The Getting Started Task Pane, with numerous other Task Panes available from a drop-down list. Some of those Task Panes still exist (Research, for example), but they are now more discreet.

Is there a pattern here? Features introduced with fanfare in one release, developed a little in the next, and then silently dropped two or three versions later? It does look like it, though let’s not forget that Office has still seen off all comers when it comes to market share, so the team must be doing something right.

The obvious question is whether the new ribbon UI will be a buried option and off by default in Office 2010 or thereabouts. If the past is any guide to the future, it might well. On the other hand, I respect the amount of effort Microsoft has put into this one. It is a more convincing effort at UI innovation than Smart Tags or adaptive menus. Personally I’m not having much trouble with it, having discovered the Quick Access Toolbar and how to customize it, though why this is hidden by default mystifies me*. Further, I do see how it exposes features that could easily have been missed before. I am watching with interest to see what how the non-technical world out there reacts.

*Correction: It is not hidden – it appears by default in the top left title bar. I prefer to move it below the ribbon. In my experience, customizing the Quick Access Toolbar is the key to being productive with the new Office. 

Installing Delphi 2006 on Vista

This was a major struggle on the pre-release versions of Vista. I’m happy to say it is much easier on the final release, though I haven’t done extensive testing as yet. I ran the install, which seemed to hang until I realised there was a dialog behind the master setup screen which was waiting for an OK. It installed .NET Framework 1.1, then appeared to hang again. I actually clicked Cancel on the master setup, and bizarrely that seemed to kick into life the next stage of pre-requisites (.NET service pack, Visual J# etc).

I applied BDS2006 Update 2, which at first wouldn’t recognize my BDS 2006 edition. I then realised the update was not being elevated. Update 2 is a Windows installer patch, so I opened an admin command prompt, and applied the patch with msiexec /update. That worked fine. Finally, the hotfix rollup went on smoothly when run as administrator.

My aim is to discover if there is any need still to run XP. My second aim is to keep UAC fully enabled. It’s going OK so far.

Technorati tags: , ,

Vista hyperbole and reality – and what happened to the pillars of Longhorn?

At the official Vista launch yesterday (UK version) Microsoft’s UK Managing Director Gordon Frazer called the launch of Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 Microsoft’s “biggest launch to business ever,” following up with further extravagances such as “a new era in business computing.”

Clearly these launches are exceedingly important to Microsoft, but I doubt they will prove the most significant in its history. Maybe that honour should go to Windows 95, which saw off the threat from OS/2, or maybe Excel 5.0 and Word 6.0 in 1994, which as I recall was the end of serious competition in spreadsheets and word processors until the Sun-sponsored Open Office in 2002. Or maybe the arrival of Microsoft .NET in late 2001, which has proved a remarkably successful answer to Java for server-side computing.

Success for Vista will be more about maintenance than breaking new ground. Success will be persuading businesses to upgrade from XP, or dissuading those with Windows fatigue from switching to the Mac. Office is the same. I mostly like the bold new user interface in Office 2007, though I’m suspicious of Microsoft’s motives, but where can you go when you already dominate the market? Staying still will be a big achievement.

That said, I am impressed with what Microsoft is doing with SharePoint, its portal technology. At the launch we were shown how this can aggregate diverse sources of information. I consider business mashups behind the firewall to be a big growth area, and SharePoint is well-placed to benefit.

What about Vista? It’s a decent product, but I’m anticipating much anguish in the first months after its launch. Two reasons: drivers, and UAC. Many drivers for Vista are not yet done, many will never be done. Users will try to upgrade and find stuff does not work, or even worse their systems will not be stable. They will blame Microsoft, and Vista will have to live down a bad reputation. Then after a year or so the drivers will be there, the OS will have had a few fixes, and the world will realise that it is actually pretty good.

The second reason is UAC (User Account Control), the new security feature which means users run with reduced privileges most of the time. UAC is a genuine step forward in security, but breaks many applications. Some will turn it off and lose the security benefit, others will suffer the compatibility issues. In a year or two maybe software vendors will have fixed their applications to play nicely with UAC.

I’ve been using mostly Vista for several weeks. It is more enjoyable to use than XP, but there are still annoyances which leave you wondering what its creators were thinking. For example, Vista Media Center is excellent – though I had to switch off Aero to stop it flashing – but why does the music library apparently forget its index from time to time, so all your albums disappear for a while?

Other things are just not done yet. I plugged in a SmartPhone and couldn’t figure out why Vista could only see it as a storage device. Answer: Windows Mobile Device Center is still in beta, and has to be downloaded separately.  

Little things perhaps, and your annoyances will be different from mine, but they spoil the overall effect. And if I were running a business network, I would leave it at least six months before rolling it out.

Overall I still think .NET Framework 3.0 is more significant than Vista or Office 2007, though it was hardly mentioned yesterday. It includes, after all, the two remaining “pillars of Longhorn”: Windows Communication Foundation and Windows Presentation Foundation. It is these that may support Microsoft’s platform through to the next generation of applications, even though they were invisible at yesterday’s event.

Technorati tags: , , , , , ,

CollabNet Enterprise Edition now free for up to 15 users

CollabNet has announced a free version of its CollabNet Enterprise Edition, a team development suite which includes source code management (with Subversion), project tracking, issue tracking, mailing lists and discussion forums. It is part of a new community initiative called Open CollabNet.

Given the small size of many development teams, a free 15-user license is generous. A snag is that you have to install Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3, which is not free. It’s still a good offer. Note that there is also a Community Edition for open source projects, used by a number of well-known projects includings Open Office, Java.net and NetBeans.

Technorati tags: , ,