My window to the world


WindowBlinds for Microsoft Windows: it is fun...

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 7-Mar-2008 08:43

A few months ago I received a copy of WindowBlinds to test but I never posted a review. Simply because I was running Windows Vista 64 bit on my laptop and I did not want to mess with that for any reason (I know a bit dramatic, isn't it?).

Anyway, last night I decided to install the software and see how it performs. First I downloaded their latest version to make sure all would be ok.

WindowBlinds comes with a few skins, but you can download more from their site. Some are free, some are premium. One of the default ones that come with the software is quite cool anyway and I am using it to demo the animation effects in the following video:



One of the themes makes my Windows Vista laptop look completely like a Mac OS X machine, except that minimise works on Windows.

This will modify the most common elements on your desktop - the themes. This includes buttons, scroll bars, fonts, the Windows Orb, taskbar, etc.

I did not notice any performance impact on my laptop with those modifications.

If you want to go a step further you can use other software from Stardock to customise the experience even more, including icons, a full taskbar replacement, etc.

I found only one program didn't work quite well with WindowBlinds, and that was SnagIt, for screen capture. SnagIt would crash every time I right-clicked its icon in the system tray - the only program to do this. So now I am divided between keeping WindowBlinds and limiting SnagIt usability or remove it from the system and stop having fun.



The 2008 Democratic National Convention gets a little help from New Zealand company

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 6-Mar-2008 22:40

I have been holding this for a while, since I was told about it by SilverStripe's Sigurd Magnusson during the Kiwi Foo Camp - I was keen to write about it back then but he asked me to hold a bit.

Now it's official and I can tell: the Open Source content management system (CMS) SilverStripe, developed here in Wellington, was selected by the U.S. Democratic Party as the platform for its pre-election conference, the Democratic National Convention 2008.

Well done guys, congratulations on this win.



Broadband connections take over dialup in New Zealand. ISPs should wake up about now

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 6-Mar-2008 15:25

Today Statistics New Zealand released some interesting information, showing that for the first time broadband connections passed dialup in numbers in this country.


The number of broadband subscribers in the six months to September 2007 overtook the number of dial-up subscribers for the first time ever, Statistics New Zealand said today.

Broadband subscribers continued to increase – up 14.4 percent in the six months to September 2007, to reach 829,300. However, this growth rate has slowed from an increase of 28.6 percent in September 2006 and 18.5 percent in March 2007. Subscribers with dial-up connection fell 8.6 percent from March 2007, down to 675,800.

The number of broadband subscribers grew from 9 per 100 inhabitants to 19.6 per 100 inhabitants in the two years ended September 2007, while the number of dial-up subscribers per 100 inhabitants fell from 21.2 to 15.9. Of the additional 10.6 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants, half switched from dial-up and the remaining half were new subscribers.

There was a 47 percent increase in the number of Internet service providers reporting that the cost of international bandwidth had been a barrier to growth in the past two years.


Good news. I understand those ISPs who complained of the cost of international bandwitdth as a barrier are right in some points.

But they also have to understand that broadband is not going back, and connections are only likely to go up in numbers. So there's not much they can do about it, except better capacity planning (currently lacking in almost every New Zealand ISP it seems) and apply more realistic prices to their plans.

In the last two years we've seen many examples of ISPs (Xtra, Woosh, Slingshot) who offered "unlimited" broadband plans, only to later realise people do take "unlimited" seriously. Some of these ISPs closed the plans to new customers, applied rate shapping technologies to limit the utilisation ("unlimited"?) or simply denied anything was happening, while constraining resources until users had to cancel their accounts.

It is time for ISPs to stop doing this and be realistic about the services people expect from them.



Internet Explorer 8 beta 1 and SQL Dataservices

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 6-Mar-2008 14:45

This morning (NZ time) I was overloaded with Internet Explorer 8 beta 1 information - RSS feeds, twitter, etc. The news didn't come alone though and Microsoft unveiled Silverlight 2, a beta of Expression Studio 2.

The Silverlight 2 announcement is interesting because Microsoft commited to deliver a mobile version for Windows Mobile, Nokia S60, S40 and Nokia Internet Tablets.

Microsoft also announced something that I think is even more important: Microsoft SQL Server Data Services, designed for developers building Web-based applications that need a scalable, programmable and highly available utility-based data store:


- Virtually limitless, on-demand scalability. Customers pay only for the resources actually consumed

- Reduced costs.  Customers use the service with minimal up-front infrastructure and operational cost. Businesses can minimize their initial investment in hardware and software and the on-going cost for storage administration, scale maintenance.

- Universal access.  SSDS supports simple web-programming interfaces like SOAP and REST for quick provisioning of web applications. Primary wire format is XML for data interchange.These easy to use, standards-based interfaces enable developers to focus on innovating with data quickly.



Back to Internet Explorer 8 beta 1 now... I read a lot of people shouting "Internet Explorer 8 has arrived" (by the way this was the headline at one of the blogs I subscribe to, and no Ben, not yours). This is not quite. What we have here is "Internet Explorer 8 beta 1". And look at the screenshot below:



No doubt a lot of people will download Internet Explorer 8 beta 1 and find out problems. Even though this is a "preview", "beta", "for web developers and designers".

Just please don't blame the software if it break things.



Office Live Workspace: try it

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 5-Mar-2008 19:50

You should try Microsoft's new Office Live Workspace beta. It's really easy to use. When the availability news came I jumped to try it and it's impressive in its simplicity.

It's a place to store your documents and files online. You can upload individual files or a batch of files into "workspacess", which act like folders where you can separate documents by topic.


You can share an entire workspace or just individual documents with friends or coworkers, giving them rights to view or edit the documents.

The service does not offer on-line editors. You still need to use the original tool to make changes - be it Microsoft's own Office suite or something else. You can still see a read-only version online, and check a history of changes.

The cool thing of using Microsoft Office though is that you can install a plug-in that will allow you to open and save files to your workspaces directly from the applications.

Of course if you want to store files - not only documents - then I'd recommend SkyDrive instead, which gives you 5 GB of online storage. But I would still like to be able to mount SkyDrive storage as a drive letter on Windows PCs.



Samsung worldwide warranty is not...

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 4-Mar-2008 14:25

A friend of mine spent some hard earned cash buying a Samsung Q1 UMPC. He bought it in th U.S., with a standard worldwide warranty.

The only problem is that Samsung doesn't seem to understand "worldwide" more than some ISPs understand "unlimited".

The device has developed a (now) well known problem which causes the touchcreen to stop working around the edges. This is a manufacturing fault that requires replacing the LCD/touchscreen or the device.

So he contacted the support at Samsung New Zealand, who flatly rejected the request saying Samsung New Zealand can't service the worldwide warranty, suggesting he should send the unit to the U.S.

He visited the Samsung U.S. webiste, which apparently allows you to lodge worldwide warranty claims - except that its "worldwide" is only the 50 U.S. states.

He then contacted an Australian reseller, who can only service the units they sell themselves.

How is that for a "bait and switch", Samsung?




Another government mandated system update: IRD numbers

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 3-Mar-2008 12:02

If you live in New Zealand or your company works in New Zealand then you problaby have an IRD Number. This is the unique identifier for all things related to tax in this country.

Today I got some information from the IRD telling me about a change coming in May 2008: the department is going to start issuing nine-digit IRD numbers.

This means you need to make sure your systems can actually handle these new numbers. And May is just a couple of months away. This is the information:


Inland Revenue customers applying for a new IRD number this year may find that it has an extra digit.

The first nine-digit IRD number is expected to be issued in May. All current eight-digit numbers remain unchanged.

Colin MacDonald, Deputy Commissioner Business Development and Systems, said the extended number range is needed to cater for growth.

"Inland Revenue issues around 250,000 IRD numbers a year. No IRD number is ever re-used, and we need to extend the number range to keep up with population and business expansion,'' he said.

The first eight-digit IRD number in New Zealand was issued in 1975, and there are currently 12 million numbers in circulation.

All Inland Revenue forms have been updated to show nine boxes for the IRD and GST numbers.  If a customer with an eight-digit number needs to fill in a form with nine boxes, the first box should be left blank.

Inland Revenue has worked with software developers, payroll providers, and financial institutions to ensure their products can accommodate both eight and nine-digit numbers.

Small business owners in the process of choosing payroll software should check that it is nine-digit compliant before purchase. Many international 'off-the-shelf' payroll software products are already set up to accommodate longer numbers.

There is no change to GST invoicing requirements. Customers will still be required to display their GST number on the invoice, whether it is eight or nine-digits.



Windows Server 2008 quotes and updates

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 3-Mar-2008 09:40

On the 20th March I will be flying up to Auckland to work on upgrading Geekzone from Windows Server 2008 RC to its final version.

We have been running Windows Server 2008 since November 2007 as part of an early adopter programme with Microsoft - and I am very happy with the results.

If you visit the Launch Wave 2008 site you will find quotes from early adopters - including myself. You will also find my quote on some of the banners during the event and on a wrap around the ComputerWorld magazine. Very cool, thanks for the link love Microsoft!

Application compatibility was high, and only a very old plugin needed to be upgraded - in fact we replaced that piece of software with a new product offering better features, so it was all good.

The upgrade back then happened as planned and quickly. Mind you, before upgrading the actual Geekzone server I spent three weeks, with countless upgrade options tested on a virtual machine that was an exact replica of the Geekzone server, thanks to Acronis.

In terms of performance, IIS7 and the server overall did really well. Geekzone readers contacted me to comment how faster they felt the overall site was for them, and I even managed to unblock the Newsgator RSS feed catcher IP address - which was a load the IIS6 couldn't handle before.

The "Launch Wave 2008" goes around the country with events in Christchurch (11th March), Wellington (18th or 19th March) and Auckland (26th March).

And one more thing: if you attend any of the Launch Wave 2008 events you will at the end of the day, upon returning an evaluation form, receive a bag with the following:


. 1 x Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Edition with 1 virtualisation license RTM
. 1 x Visual Studio 2008 Team Suite 90 day trial
. 1 x SQL CTP 6 (Community Technology Preview) plus a SQL RTM (final version) voucher for SQL Standard 1 user
. A 40% discount voucher on a TechNET Plus Single User subscription
. 1 x Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista DVD



Oh, and before anyone says anything: I am paying my own participation in the Wellington event, so there's no free lunch...



The Visual Studio 2008 blog

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 3-Mar-2008 09:01

We had just released the Visual Studio 2008 blog on Geekzone. The blog was created to add useful content to advertising.

Wait, what?

A couple of months ago an ad agency approached us and asked what we could do that is different from the old banner advertising on-line and I thought that creating value for readers would be a great way to go.

After lots of talks we agreed to create the Microsoft sponsored Visual Studio 2008 blog as part of a month long campaign.

Microsoft is sponsoring the blog by providing us with the means to keep it updated during March 2008. Throughout this month a series of blog posts will provide readers with tips and tricks on Visual Studio 2008 - and these blog posts are coming from New Zealand (and some Australian too) software developers that are already using the new Visual Studio 2008.

The blog is a first for New Zealand - I don't know of any other company sponsoring a blog like this before.

It is also different because unlike other forms of advertising this one is interactive - people can ask questions and post comments for example - and actually useful! The content will be living on Geekzone forever after the end of the month, and will serve as reference for people searching for those tips and tricks, well after the campaign is finished.

Make sure you bookmark the blog now or subscribe to its RSS feed.



Touched by His Noodly Appendage...

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 2-Mar-2008 23:45

Sunday afternoon, we drive into a car park and while my wife's parking the car I point out that the car in front us belongs to a Pastafarian...



A Flying Spagetthi Monster car emblem... I felt touched by His Noodly Appendage.

Have a great week ahead!



freitasm's profile

Mauricio Freitas
Wellington
New Zealand


I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

I work for Intergen and I'm also the Geekzone admin. On Geekzone we publish news, reviews and articles on technology topics. The site also has some busy forums.

Subscribe now to my blog RSS feed or the Geekzone RSS feed.

If you want to contact me, please use this page or email me freitasm@geekzone.co.nz. Note this email is not for technical support. I don't give technical support. You can use our Geekzone Forums for community discussions on technical issues.

Here's is my full disclosure post.

If you'd like to help me keep Geekzone going, please use this Geekzone Amazon affiliate link when placing any orders on Amazon.



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