Safari 4 on Windows looks good

It is really nice to see Apple have dropped the unsightly bushed metal look in their latest Safari 4 beta on Windows. Whilst that aesthetic worked fine in OSX, in a Windows world next to "traditional" applications it came across as being really unsightly. Let's hope this is a sign iTunes will take on more of a native Windows aesthetic in a future release.

However what is really crazy is how much Safari 4 looks and behaves like Google Chrome on Windows. Apple's developers have spent the last few months "borrowing" many of Chrome's features, such as the top-sites view and browser tabs on top, but on Windows they have gone a step further with the menu system itself. This is not a bad thing as the result looks nice, but beyond the little Google logo in the top right, your average Windows user is going to have a hard time telling the difference between the two browsers.

Now if only the Apple engineers would implement process isolation for each tab or window like in Chrome. It is hugely annoying to have all the Safari windows disappear just because somebody at Adobe cannot write a stable Flash plug-in.


A great example of Windows' evolutionary drawbacks

If you have ever tried working through an NSA guide on securing Microsoft IIS you will appreciate how many internal systems exists under the hood of Windows and their many deficiencies. For those that have been fortunate to not go through the experience Richard Stiennon uses some compelling visuals by Sana Security to explain why Windows is less secure than Linux because of its long evolutionary history. This history has seen one set of functionality bolted in place over another with little or no thought to the clarity of the overarching system architecture. Consequently whilst Windows works what goes on under the hood is not pretty and very difficult to secure.

Integrate Firefox into Windows a little better

Mozilla Firefox is a far better browser for Windows than Internet Explorer could ever be. It is more secure, standards compliant and its functionality can be easily improved using Extensions. Unfortunately the default installation of Firefox uses a range of icons that are unfamiliar to average users which can lead to some confusion. Fortunately the Internet Explorer icon pack for Firefox corrects this problem by replacing the distinctive Firefox icons with the more run of the mill Microsoft Explorer versions. This extension doesn't add any functionality beyond this but it sure does help out users who don't care what browser they use as long as the visual experience (i.e. the icons on screen) look the same.

Software design choices and the Vista shutdown menu

Windows Vista is Microsoft's very delayed 'next-generation' operating system finally shipping to consumers this December/January. Whilst aesthetically similar to Windows XP it offers a host of new functionality. One new piece of functionality that has drawn a lot of criticism has been the overly complicated shutdown menu. You would think shutting down your computer would be simple but Vista now offers nine different ways of ending your Windows session from the 'start' menu. The result is confusing, ugly and a pain to use. Joel on Software has a well considered article on how too much choice, whilst good in theory is bad in practice and uses this new shutdown functionality as an example of the problem.

Simplification and a healthy dose of logic is usually the answer to these problems but this can only come when the decision making process is clean and crisp. Unfortunately in the case of Windows Vista the decision making process was far from this. Moishe Lettvin was part of the shutdown UI team on Windows Vista and in a blog posting he describes the painful process behind this little piece of functionality (comprising of just a couple of hundred lines of code). The feature is the ultimate example of design by distributed committee as it received input from 43 different people. The consequence of this? After one year of development the 'team' produced a traditional, option packed menu. If his post is an indication of the software development beuarcaracy and process issues within Microsoft then they are in serious trouble. Without significant changes Windows Vista will symbolise only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to overdue, feature-incomplete products emerging from Microsoft development labs in the coming years.

CrossOver Office for Mac

CrossOver Office will soon be available on OSX Intel machines and it is looking pretty good. CrossOver use the Wine libraries to reproduce the Win32 command set on non-Win32 operating systems (most famously Linux). It all runs quite well but the result does look ugly at times as the Windows look and feel often doesn't sit well with more up to date visual styles. Whilst what comes out of this latest pairing may at times have the visual characteristics of a swan/pig mutant it will at least get useful tools like Microsoft Visio running in OSX without virtualisation. This is good as running virtualised software is expensive on both the processor and your wallet (technically you should buy two operating systems). Hopefully this means with Wine on OSX maturing we may see a OSX version of Picasa from Google based on Wine, I don't think it could seriously compete with iPhoto in terms of OSX integration but at least it would provide an worthwhile alternative for people who do not like iPhoto or who are used to Picasa on other platforms.

Boot Camp easily enables Windows on Intel Macs

Late last week Apple released Boot Camp, a tool that greatly simplifies the installation of Windows XP on Intel Mac hardware. Obviously this tool has been in development for some time, it and the included Windows drivers CD image are very slick. Once hackers managed to figure out how to get Windows XP running on the Intel hardware a few weeks ago it must have been decided within Apple that now was a good time to let the cat out of the bag.

OSX and Windows after Boot Camp (click to enlarge)

Last night I used Boot Camp to install Windows XP on my Intel Mac. The process was very smooth and the instructions provided by the software could not have been clearer. After about an hour I had a fully functional Windows XP install with graphics, wireless, bluetooth and sound all working without hassle. In fact it was significantly less work to set Windows up on an Apple Mac than it is to do the same with a Dell machine. Hopefully this tool will urge Dell and HP into action in this regard.
Another nice touch is that the Windows volume is accessible from OSX so it is straightforward to copy things to the Windows partition. Unfortunately as Windows does not support HFS (yet) the reverse is not possible.

Finally, a half descent native theme for Windows

Microsoft released this theme a while ago with Media Center but its only now come to my attention that they have released a native version for Windows XP. It is definitely a lot nicer than the default, jumbo sized button themes in Windows XP and less hassle to setup than WindowBlinds.

Download the Media Center (Royale) Theme for Windows XP

Portable Firefox on Windows & OSX

Portable Firefox is now compatible with Windows and OSX which means no matter whether you are using somebody's Windows or Mac machine Firefox (and all your preferences) are close at hand. Installation is easy and takes approximately 33meg of your USB key's storage space. I am presuming this value would actually grow over time as your preferences and browser cache grows with use.

Speeding up Samba Printing in Windows XP

Samba Logo

This problem could have been a real pain if I had not stumbled on the solution quickly thanks to Google. A client got in touch with a complaint that the print dialog box in Windows XP Service Pack 2 took a long time to appear when printing to a Samba3/CUPS based printer. Printing the document itself was fine but making any changes to the default print setup caused long pauses in between applying the changes.

It turns out the issue is specific to Windows XP SP2 and the source of the problem lies within the Windows Registry (surprise, surprise). It can be fixed by opening up REGEDIT, browsing to HKEY_CURRENT_USER/Printers and removing any references to DevModes, DevModes2 and DevModePerUser. Nobody on the Net seems quite sure what these entries do (apart from slow down Samba printing). On each of the desktops I applied the change to the print dialog box responsiveness improved markedly after a restart. More than likely this issue will be resolved in a future release of Samba but in the meantime it is just something you have to watch out for in XP SP2.

Novell to Port Evolution & Beagle to Windows

Nat Friedman has reported in his blog that Novell will be porting Beagle and eventually Evolution to Windows. This is good news for supporters of Open Source transition.

It is difficult to migrate a company bootlaces and all to Linux due to the sheer number of changes required in the daily workflow. The minialisation of this change through gradual introduction and migration of applications such as OpenOffice and Evolution should eventually see increased uptake of Linux in the desktop environment.