Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

At Least It Was Somewhat Relevant

As anyone who has read this blog before knows, I hate spam. However, as I've said int eh past, there is something I hate even more. In the past I have called it treet, after the spam-like canned meat.

I bring this up because it happened again. After having comments jammed into my blog from all types of spammers, selling rather suspicious items (like instant M.B.A's and even less savory products), I started moderating comments. That means that I go through the hassle of reviewing all potentially posted comments for content. I reject nothing that is not treet. Of course, since so few comments get posted, it's not a big job.

This brings me to the current post. Someone posted a comment in a blog entry I made over a year ago. March 2007 to be exact. The first thing that struck me was that someone was actually writing a comment to a blog posting that old. The second thing that got my attention was that it seemed actually relevant. It had to do with on-line backup but it seemed incredibility silly and not at all written like a serious comment. It said:

"I just discovered online backup and I think it’s a good way to protect data!"

That's like saying that they had just discovered cars and think they're a good way to get around. You could not have designed a more naive comment. My kids know what online backup is and think it's a good idea. Rather than jump to a conclusions I decided to look further. I mean, maybe this was someone who has been living in a cave with a goat.

The URL included with the post referenced two different companies. The first was for something called Clickmeter and the second for Memopal. Clickmeter is an online tracking and marketing company. They provide a way to track clickthroughs in embedded links, kind of like DoubleClick. This immediately gave me an icky feeling. Once again, this was not a legitimate comment to the blog! They probably have some automated program to insert these links into blogs and forums that match user selectable criteria. Everyone has a right to make a living but I think it's pretty clear that inserting advertising disguised as commentary is deceptive and, at least on my blog, heavily frowned upon.

The second part of the link seems to involve the company called Memopal. It is an online backup service. Here's where it gets sad. If they had sent me an e-mail pointing me at their site directly, and not as treet in my blog, I would have looked at it. If it was found worthy, I probably would have given them a post since I like online backup.

That's right, folks. If they hadn't tossed an ad into my blog they would have had a shot at a positive post. At worst I would have simply ignored them. Instead, here I am heaping scorn on them. Is this such a lame service that they need to spew spam/treet into blogs? Are they really on the same level with the fake college degrees and male enhancement products? Do they think it makes them look smart to have copy that looks like it was written by a teenager posting on Twitter? This does not give me confidence as a place to put my precious data.

To put it simply, this was stupid. Really stupid.

So, to summarize. Despite how obviously stupid it is to spam people, companies continue to do it. Even technology companies do it. Instead of creating an ally and promoter of their products (like I have been for Dropbox, Zoho, Stikkets, I Want Sandy, and others) they have become the subject of my ire.

Now, I'll bet some old school marketing wag is probably thinking "It doesn't matter what they say about you as long as they're talking about you!" Bull! If what they are saying is that you appear to be stupid and are contributing to the proliferation of spam, I doubt that works for you.

To Memopal I say this - whoever you hired to do this should be fired. Not in a month. Now. They clearly show poor judgment. If you don't really understand new media, stay away from it or hire someone who does. Do that now or you will find more and more derision heaped upon you and will not succeed.

Oh, and stay away from my blog.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Waiting on Extensions

I don't know when the Mozilla Foundation will finally get this straight but here it is again - some extensions really matter! For those upgrading to Firefox 3.0, there will be grave disappointment when they discover certain popular and key extensions are not yet updated.

I get the philosophy of having a lightweight browser where you add the features you want through extensions. However, some extensions are so popular that they take on the same weight as a standard feature. Ultimately, if the extension is not ready, then the whole software package is not ready. You can't act like extensions and plugins are part of the rich universe of your product and then ignore them when you launch a new version of that product. When the extension doesn't work it is the same as having removed a feature.

Take IETab. This extension is not only great to have, it's essential. There are still a great many websites that are built for Internet Explorer and won't render or function correctly in Firefox. IETab elegantly deals with this problem by allowing Firefox to use the IE engine in a tab. Other extensions simply launch IE which is not what you want when you open a bunch of tabs. This is a critical feature for Firefox to be useful outside the closed world of Open Source people who have disdain for Microsoft. Yet, IETab is not ready for download into Firefox 3. Heck, I can't even find it in the Add-ons site anymore. It only seems to exist at the development site,

Every time Mozilla launches a new version of Firefox or Thunderbird, we go through this. Half of the important extensions don't work or are unavailable from the automatic upload service. This is too consistent a problem to be accidental.

It calls into question the whole idea of community development. I'm not criticizing the author of IETab. They have better things to do than keep up with Mozilla. It's up to Mozilla to make sure these important extensions (really features) are available. If the community can't do it then Mozilla has to. This is the millstone around the neck of the Open Source community - inconsistent support for vital features. If Mozilla has to rely on people who do this as a hobby for their product to be functional, it will never be truly competitive.

Since I hate complaints without solutions here's what I suggest. First, find out what extensions are important to the majority of users. These are now features. Whether you make them available as a built in feature or an extension doesn't matter. They just have to be available. Second, design Firefox to insure backward compatibility with older extensions. A lot of extensions won't load because they say they only support the last version. My guess is that many of these extensions would run fine if it weren't for the version check. Maybe the solution is as simple as a override on the version check for a particular extensions.

Finally, stop releasing product until you have tested the critical extensions. Recognize that your work is not done until the extension maker's work is done. It would also help if the latest version is available for automatic update. Sometimes extensions are available on the author's website for quite some time before they hit the automatic update facility.

Luckily, I backed up my extensions and kept FireFox 2.0 around. I'll stick with that until I know all my critical extensions are updated. This is not the way I would have liked it to go.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Virtualization Made Easy

I've worked with a number of virtualization products including VMWare and QEMU. While they are fine products and definitely get the job done, I've always had two complaints about them. First, they are tough to configure. In a lot of cases, getting a virtual machine up and running is time consuming and frustrating. The second complaint is the footprint it leaves on the system. VMWare in particular uses up a lot of system resources and can take forever to get loaded. Now, VMWare folks, don't get angry. I like your product and it is definitely industrial grade.

That said, I like VirtualBox from Sun a whole lot better. To begin with, it has a very small footprint of it's own. It loads quickly and takes up few resources. The interface is clean and easy to use. It has wizards that walk you through setting up virtual machines easily. There are presets for different types of common operating systems such as Linux and Windows variants. Setting up virtual disks is a snap and connecting to CD Image files (commonly known as ISO files) is equally easy.

Does this make VirtualBox the most robust, industrial grade virtualization system for use in data centers? I dunno. For the casual user who might want to do some cross OS development or a QA engineer testing on various platforms, this is so much easier than anything else I've tried. You don't need expensive training. You don't need the "Enterprise" addition to get anything meaningful done. And you don't need to read a manual the size of the New York City phone book or hire a consultant for the equivalent of the GNP of a small country just to do the basic stuff.

Some of the ubergeeks out there will probably assume I'm just stupid. They will argue that VMWare and its ilk is plenty easy. Argue all you want. I've used the others and this is, by far, the easiest to use and the quickest to deploy.

Besides being easy, it works very well. I have installed a variety of common operating systems, including various Windows and Linux systems, as well as more unusual ones like OpenSolaris and FreeDos. With the exception of OS/2 Warp (I don't have a floppy drive and the OS requires one to load) and Windows 98 (still don't know what that was about) everything installed flawlessly. I can't say I've had that same experience with other virtualization software.

Oh, and did I mention it was free. That's right. It Open Source from Sun. Sure, if I was deploying this in a data center I would pay for the service and support. At least I would have been able to fully evaluate what I was paying to get serviced and supported.

Virtualization is a great idea. It beats dual boot arrangement or having multiple machines. VirtualBox has made it very easy and cheap to do. It's great for the occasional or medium duty user.