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Archive for May, 2009

Getting to know Netware and Zenworks

When I started my new job this year, I walked into an environment that was radically different from my previous job. There, I was running Windows Server 2003 along with Exchange 2003, which was a platform that ran very well for about 350 users. So to come into a place still running Novell Netware was a big system shock for myself. Suddenly all the skills I had, things I knew and tricks I could do became next to impossible. The computers were in about 11 different workgroups, static IP’s were being used and I can’t even remember what all else. With my colleague, we’ve since cleaned up much of the mess but some things still just don’t work.

The last time I worked with Netware was back in 2003 when I was at high school. Back then I loved the platform and how well it ran. Netware 4.11 and Windows 98 worked well together. However, as you can see, that was already ancient technology back then. With the rise of Windows XP, Microsoft well and truly killed off Netware due to the way XP worked. Multiple users, individual profiles and others made things very different from 98. After I finished high school, I got into Microsoft products and learnt how much more advanced that platform really was.

Getting back on track, it took me a long time to get back into using Netware. While this is version 6.5 running on top of Open Enterprise Server, a lot of things still work the same, including using NWADMIN for some tasks. To my horror, the school is still running Pegasus Mail and the Mercury mail server. Unfortunately this system is severely out of date, and the school gets so much mail that we are actually breaking Pegasus by pushing it beyond what it was designed for.

As I explored Netware with my colleague, I began to develop a respect again for the platform. Combined with Novell’s Zenworks product, you are able to do bring a network very close to the level that Windows 2003 offers for example. The downside is that you have to work with about 4 different management tools, including some written in Java which not only look outdated, perform as badly slow as they look.

Previously the servers would crash what seemed like every 3 days, but since then we have managed to pull it up to just under 43 days for the main server, and about 2 weeks for the server that does proxy services. However, on that server the now defunct BorderManager isn’t running too well due to a massive 3rd party defunt Surf Control web filtering database. On the main server, a module that controls the shared controlled HP printers has caused a lot of the problems, which is still something we want to possibly replace to improve uptime and stability.

Zenworks has proven interesting to play with. I think the Microsoft equivalent would be Systems Management Server 2003 or Configuration Manager 2007. I’m not sure if they can put icons on the desktop, start menu or so on though, which is one small but useful feature of Zenworks. The inventory part is something I’m looking into, as I want to be able to pull information like that out for other purposes.

Zenworks also runs with Windows servers, so I’m downloading it to test how it would work in a full Microsoft platform, see how it works with Active Directory and so on. Should be interesting stuff.

In closing, if you are still running Netware, you really need to look at migrating if humanly possible. Support for it is becoming very hard to find and the platform itself is dead according to Novell. OES is a stop gap measure really, as sooner or later everything will run under SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, with no need for anything strictly Netware related. Will be sad in a way to see Netware go, but that is how the market changes and evolves.

Categories: General, Software Tags: ,

Why Internet Explorer 6 should die

While working with my Joomla site recently, I did lots of research into how browsers render web standardised pages. I discovered that Opera, Chrome, Firefox and others are pretty good at sticking to the standards, where as Internet Explorer wasn’t, especially version 6. 7 is better, while 8 is the best and most standards compliant browser out of Microsoft yet. The net result is that pages tend to look different in IE, usually very different in a bad way for IE6 unless there is a manual code work around.

I checked my site in the above mentioned browsers, using IE8’s Developer Tools to switch to IE7 mode to test the site. I couldn’t test IE6 out, as I didn’t have an operating system with it installed nearby and I didn’t have a virtual machine handy yet to use an old Windows XP install to test out.

Eventually I was able to test it out at work though, and it was interesting. The site rendered better than I expected in IE6, probably due to some CSS hacks in the Joomla template itself. However, the fonts looked pretty bad, the site was sluggish, and there was some weird issue with icons missing yet not missing on one particular page that offered downloads.

Having been a network admin for a few years now, I’ve seen how full of holes IE6 is, as well as the lack of features. No tabs, poor printing support, slow rendering speed, no built in RSS reader and more made the browser a misery to use. And that was from an end user standpoint! That is why I switched to the Maxthon browser a few years ago. Others found solace in Firefox, and the net result is that FF now has about 18% of the browser market.

I know that some firms have software that was designed just for IE6, so they have no choice but to use it for now. However, anyone else using it should switch right now to IE8, Firefox or another browser. It’s downright dangerous to use IE6 still and it also prolongs the pain web developers have to go through to code separate code just for IE6. The market share of IE6 has thankfully been dropping every month, and with IE8 being rolled out as a critical update to Windows, it should help to drive that number right down.

A number of websites have now stopped supporting IE6 as a browser, with the end results that the page often looks weird. Sourceforge is one such place, while I’ve seen some horrid results of other sites. While it is not yet ideal to drop support because of the market share I just spoke of, one has to applaud these sites for taking the risky first move.

IE6 will go down as the browser that kickstarted a revolution in the browser market again, but apart from that, it’s a product that is better off sent to the grave. Do your bit and either upgrade to IE8, or swap browsers. Whatever you do though, help send IE6 to the dustbin of computing history.

Office 2007

In the computing world, when it comes to office suites, there is a range of products available, but the king of the hill has and most likely always will be Microsoft Office. Conspiracy theorists will make all sorts of claims about why Office became so dominant, which is something I’ll not talk about here. Rather, Microsoft has been polishing and refining the product since the early 90’s. With the amount of feedback it gets from customers, it is able to do things other companies can only dream about.

With Office 2007, Microsoft took a very big gamble with the interface as well as default file types. The end result was a suite that polarized users, with some loving the new way of doing things, and others staunchly sticking to Office XP or 2003. Incompatible file types caused much grief initially, but the converter pack Microsoft released for free for older Office versions took care of that, provided people bothered to install it.

I personally ran Office 2003 because I knew the interface inside out and felt comfortable with it. I had the converter pack installed, so I could open 2007 documents, so I was really in a mode of no need to change. However, after I formatted my computer a while ago, I took the gamble and decided to really try Office 2007 out and see firsthand what it was like. Sooner or later I would have to end up supporting the software, so it was another reason for me to use it.

It took me a while to get used to the interface, and I must candidly admit I’m still far from up to speed on it. Initial settings annoyed me, like Word defaulting to double spaced text, but that was quickly fixed. Overall though, as I’ve begun to use the suite and get comfortable with it, I’ve begun to realise that it’s not as bad as people like to claim. Yes, the interface is a big change and may indeed require extensive re-training, but after a while it becomes easier. For absolute computer beginners it may be scary, but if trained properly I can’t see any reason why they can’t handle it.

From what I understand, Office 2010 will also have the ribbon interface, so there is no chance of going back to the “old style” of doing things. Indeed, the ribbon has even worked it’s way into some parts of Windows 7.

The more I use 2007, the more I have begun to warm up to it, and the less and less reason I see to tell people to hang onto 2003 or the even older Office XP. Forced change is usually never a good idea, but sometimes it turns out to be the correct solution. The old Office interface had not changed that much since Office 97, and it was time that Microsoft sorted out the mess of the menus and hidden features.

Overall, Office 2007 gets my vote of approval. 🙂

LAN gaming is fun

Yesterday my best friend came over to my house to have a mini LAN. We had spoken of doing this before, but we hadn’t set a date or time for it. Yesterday somehow just worked out conveniently and he came over on the spur of the moment. We weren’t able to do this before as he didn’t have a computer and I didn’t have a network switch. However, I now have a switch built into our ADSL router, and since it also has wireless, it’s even easier.

I have my beast of a computer and he now a company laptop that is pretty high end. The graphics card onboard is unfortunately one of the Intel 4 series chips, but for the games we played, it worked out fine.

We only played Warcraft 3 and Unreal Tournament 2004 but it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately during UT2004, my friend had an attack of what seemed to be vertigo, which left him pale and nauseas. I stopped to let him recover. At the same time my parents came home with some supper, so we ate and that helped him recover even more. It seems this happens to him in most first person games, something to do with how the motion yet no motion confuses his mind.

This is my first real time doing any sort of LAN gaming for an actual decent amount of time, and it was well worth it. The only downside of any LAN is setting up your games and getting them running. This only counts if you it hasn’t been installed before the time of course. Then again, sometimes you have no real idea of what you are going to play :mrgreen:

We finally finished after 11pm, we were too tired to go on. After this, we are definitely hoping to do it again some time, and hopefully involve a 3rd person so that it becomes even more fun.

Now I know why thee are so many LAN addicts out there.

My experiences with Joomla

I have previously spoken of my intention to use, learn and work with Joomla in one of my previous posts. I’ve since used it quite a bit, gotten to play with it fairly in depth.

I set up a working environment using my Vista desktop, along with MySQL and PHP of course. I’m not a fan of Apache, so I decided to go the “hard” route and use Windows IIS. Setting up IIS was easy enough, all I had to do was install the various components available. According to an IIS.net article I read on how to set up Joomla, I needed to get an update for the FastCGI module, which I duly got.

Setting up MySQL was next. It was probably the easiest part, though there seems to be a problem in the installer when it comes time to start the service under Vista, Server 2008 and Windows 7. Apart from that it’s a fairly straight forward procedure. For my testing, it was pretty much accept the defaults.

PHP was next. I went against conventional wisdom and used the MSI installer, it just was less fuss than setting up everything manually. A nice side effect is that the FastCGI mapping in IIS is automatically set up for you if use the installer. One small step saved.

The installations of Joomla went well enough until I started hitting some problem as I came to the last screen. It turned out that my PHP config was not set up ideally, as it wasn’t logging errors anywhere. Due to that it basically would just hang. Letting it log to a file sorted that problem out. I also increased the rights onto the folder where it was being installed, just in case.

Once Joomla was working, I set myself to learning how to use it, front and back end. Various modules and plugins were added, tested, learnt from. Some stayed, some went. I found a nice template (Optimus by Joomlashack) and started using that. Random content was generated and uploaded. A nice skeleton website was the end result, enough more or less for demonstration purposes.

I really like what Joomla is capable of and it is easy enough to use fairly quickly. The real challenges start coming in when you try to move your site to another computer and things suddenly stop working so well. File permissions on other operating systems can cause things to stop working, which can be extremely baffling as well. That’s when your time goes down the drain as you start to try and troubleshoot. In my case it was caused by my new host systems not having PHP error logging on for one, and the other due to some URL shortening service in IIS not working quite right.

The more I work with Joomla, the more I appreciate what an amazing platform it is, and then even more so since it’s completely free. As time goes on and it gets more polished and core feature laden, the reasons for not building a website though a CMS becomes less and less important.

I can’t wait to get my jobs website relaunced using Joomla.

Internet Explorer 8

Internet Explorer 8 is by far and away the best browser Microsoft has ever released.

That being said, before I go on with why I think so, I’m going to go back into history a bit and lay out some background info.

I’ve been using IE since version 4, and on Windows 95,98,NT4,Me,2000,XP,2003 Server and Vista platforms. I have opened but not used IE3 on NT once, it was quite a shock to see what it looked like to be honest. I have seen the way it evolved and melded into the OS, and I’ve also seen how insecure it became with regards to malware using it as a entry point into the system.

IE6 was released just before Windows XP in 2001. Microsoft already had the lions share of the browser market, but with IE6 it drove the ultimate stake through the corpse of Netscape. With that, it pretty much sat unchallenged, king of the hill. As time went on and on and on, people were asking when Microsoft would release a new version. IE6 was getting long in the tooth, and apart from security updates, nothing was happening. It turned out that Microsoft was so confident about IE6 that they had actually disbanded the team that created it.

Somewhere around 2004/5, a little open source product called Firefox (freshly renamed from Phoenix) started to make its presence felt. I remember seeing and trying out the 0.9 edition that came on a magazine cover mounted cd-rom. I was impressed, but it didn’t hold my interest. On the same disk, there was a product called MyIE2 (later renamed Maxthon), which I used and fell in love with, and have been using it as my default browser ever since. For the Linux users, FF was a big boon, as it brought a world class browser to their desktops that was truly open source. The lovely Opera was available, but because it wasn’t open source, many people had ethical issues concerning using it.

Firefox started growing like a well watered weed and started chewing away at the market share of Microsoft. Other browser makers noted this and started their own comeback trails. Microsoft eventually woke up and started to develop IE7. They finally started pulling the browser towards correctly supporting the web standards, which web developers had been crying out for for years. IE7 was released just before Vista came out in November 2007, and it was a good release. I wrote about IE7 here, and it was a good releaser for Microsoft. It didn’t exactly steal numbers away from the Firefox fans, but at least people knew that Microsoft was back in the game.

IE8 was released on March 19, and I took the chance to download and install it right away. Everything I had read had said that it was the most standards compliant browser ever released by Microsoft, as well as a jump in speed when using Web 2.0 applications. They were right about all of that, IE8 now feels as snappy as any browser I’ve used. Although Maxthon is still my default, I now swap between it, IE8 and Opera when working with Joomla or in general surfing.

Of course, IE8 has excellent Group Policy support which is invaluable in a domain environment. Until the other browsers can be managed with the same level of control, they won’t get a big grip into the corporate world. Corporate IT is about control and reducing user problems, and what IE offers is something that many admins have enjoyed having.

Out of interest, here is IE8 running under Vista with my blog open in the browser

ie8-snip

It will be interesting to see what will come in IE9, whenever that may be released. IE8 will go a long way to making many web developers happy, and if Microsoft can keep the security issues down and increase the speed of the browser, average users will have very little reason to switch browsers.