Software

Two reasons to dislike MS Exchange

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After the last few weeks I'd like to mention, perhaps re-itterate, two reasons I particularly dislike Microsoft Exchange:

  1. Information Store. Imagine having millions of messages in your inbox. Imagine all of your attachments are stored with all of the messages, including those joke emails your friends insist on sending, the daily reports your boss sends and the work-in-progress files from your outside consultants. Lets say with a small company you end up with 16 gigs of data, with a reasonable expectation that your email traffic is going to continue to grow. Now lets throw in a random data error, or maybe your version of Exchange hits a storage limit forcing you to do some maintenance. You turn off the Information Store service and start up some maintenance utilities (which are all DOS-based BTW) and groan as it takes four+ hours to fix the database. Now imagine that you had also started using some public folders so had a few hundred meg in them, all on the same drive. Now imagine your drive is 32gb in size. Now imagine that the Exchange tools need 16gb of free space to do its work on your 16gb of email data, and it must be on the same drive. Now do some maths: 32gb total - 16gb mailboxes - 300mb public storage = less than 16gb. Now imagine that after waiting for four hours for Exchange to do its thing it gets 97% finished and fails because it ran out of disk space. Now imagine having to start it all over again. Now imagine doing that during a work day for a business that does most of its communications via email.
  2. Intelligent Message Filter (IMF). Available as part of the Service Pack 2 update for Exchange 2003, IMF is Microsoft's first attempt to bring a spam filter to Exchange. in comparison to every other spam filter on the planet its functionality is limited - messages get shuffled either a per-user "Junk Email" mailbox or a file-based archive, it has a basic Bayesian filter to do the grunt work, a blacklist for domains/addresses you never want to receive email from, a whitelist to.... oh wait, there's no whitelist! So despite the fact that Microsoft believes you may want to set certain addresses/domains to never send you email, it is so confident in IMF's ability to correctly filter email that it doesn't think you'd ever want to have it force addresses to be considered ok, nah that's just a silly feature that lesser products support, they don't need it. So, despite the fact that it regularly sticks good email in my junk mailbox (false positives), Microsoft doesn't think I should worry about it. Riiiiight. I should also add that for the Bayesian filter there's a whopping one configuration value for this - you set a number between 1 and 9 as to how sensitive you want it to be and that's it, no tweaking, no "be harder on people attaching pictures", nothing. Thanks, but I'll take my industry-standard, thankyouverymuch.

Rant off.

OpenOffice.org's file format now an ISO standard

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Great news today as the OpenDocument file format, used in the excellent OpenOffice.org word processor / spreadsheet / presentation application, was ratified as an official ISO standard. This means many things, from the fact that many major international corporations and organizations will start using it as their standard file format instead of the inferior Microsoft formats, but that also people world over now have security in the knowledge that files they create in this format will still be accessible for years to come, regardless of any one company. This is akin to how in the 90's the various Internet service providers stopped using their own custom messaging system and standardized on regular RFC 2821/2822 email, letting customers of one communicate with friends and family who had the audacity to use another company. Hurray for common sense finally succeeding against one corporation's profits.

Free website analysis and profiling

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I got an email today to say that Quest Software was renewing support for their two free website analsysis products. Funnel Web Analyzer will scan your website logs to generate traffic reports while Funnel Web Profiler scans your site itself to generate lists of content statistics - word usage, code errors, etc, etc - very useful stuff indeed. The profiler is written in Java so it might run on OSX or Linux, but the analyzer is available in separate downloads for Windows, Linux, OSX and Solaris.

TaxCut vs TurboTax

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For the first few years we had to do a tax return in the USA I used TurboTax to do so. Back in 1999 it was pretty simple for us to do our taxes as we had almost nothing to list in it. Over the years it got a bit more complicated but continued to be manageable. Around the 2002-2003 time-frame Intuit, who makes TurboTax, decided to do some naughty things with their software - the installed some extra limitations on how or when you could install their software, which would pose problems if we ever needed to verify the data in future years. At that point we switched to using TaxCut and it has served us fairly well since. Last years results were proving to be a little tricky with TaxCut so I tried TurboTax and was quite surprised - while TaxCut seemed to stick with the same interface every single year, TurboTax finally got an interface and usability revamp which has made it much easier to use than the competition, and I think we'll be switching back for another few years. Confusion, confusion. In a day or two I'll know how the end results of each compare and that will probably be the deciding factor.

MSFT looses brain learning AJAX

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While developing their competition for Google Maps, MSFT seem to have forgotten how to develop good applications and gone back to the philosophies they used to develop Bob. I present, to you, one of the worst pieces of crud ever:

While it is true that this maps application is still under development, there's almost no way they could turn this into something usable without throwing out probably two-thirds of its functionality, which I doubt they'll do. Yet another example of why MSFT drastically needs to learn the concepts of KISS, as others have to great effect: Google Maps and GMail, 37 Signals's Basecamp, Campfire, Backpack, TaDa List and Writeboard, Carson System's DropSend, etc, etc, etc.

Damien

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