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Scott's Column
Web Development, Vista & Gaming

November 1, 2006
By Scott Lewis

My Blog is helping to reduce the load on this column. This month I want to try and catch up on a few things, as well as tell how I finally settled on Wordpress for my blog.

Wordpress Blog

I finally settled on Wordpress as my blogging host. Its level of complexity is just about right for the options I want. Granted, Blogger is probably going to have the same features when their beta is complete. I really like the clean, uncluttered look that Wordpress provides for you readers. The performance of there site for editing and maintenance is a bit slow, but it is available to me from where ever I am. If I want to jot down a quick note while at work I can. If I am in bed on my laptop I can update it from there. If I am doing testing on my desktop running Vista or Ubuntu I can wrote from there.

I like the idea of having a "thick" local copy of the software that updates my web site. That is how I do this site you are currently reading. I use FrontPage, which is installed on my desktop and laptop. I keep the local copy of the files on my server and access them from either machine. It is all simple now that it is setup.

Wordpress gives me a certain level of simplicity if I just want to add a quick blog. When I visit my blog there is a link for me to add a post. That brings up the main editing page where I can jot down a quick note and press publish. And that's it. It is more complicated when managing the entire blog space and options, but I have grown accustomed to them.

Wordpress doesn't charge me any money, and they don't display any adds on my pages. I have no idea how they will be able to stay in business. However, I understand that Wordpress is an open source project. So all the programming that goes into it is probably done by enthusiasts that enjoy it. But there is the server space and bandwidth that costs real money. It will be interesting how it will work in the long run.

My only real concern is that if they go belly up I could lose all the words I have written there. Ultimately this could be my biggest problem. With my own site I have copies of every word I have typed on this site in multiple locations on my machines and servers. I will never lose the content. I currently don't have that luxury with Wordpress. If I find a what to "backup" my blog in some local manner I will let you know.

Gaming

Now that I have a killer gaming laptop I have been playing a lot more games. I was initially testing out a lot of games. I was curious how many games would support the widescreen resolution of my laptop. The laptop has a native resolution of 1440 x 900. This is high enough for me to really enjoy. Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, FrontPage, and Excel all word great when I have multiple windows open at the same time. But games are a different subject. Games like to take over your desktop and run full screen. How well with they work with this non standard resolution? Let's find out.

I loaded up a few games and a few demos of some new games I am thinking about. Here is a list of games I have tested out on the laptop:

Need For Speed Most Wanted
FarCry
Halo
Max Payne
Tomb Raider Legends Demo
Timeshift Demo
F.E.A.R. Demo
Hitman: Blood and Money Demo
GTR 2 Demo
Quake 4 Demo

Lets' go through the list... both for laptop compatibility and for gameplay. NFSMW is the primary game I am playing and it is the only game above that does not support a widescreen resolution. I set NFSMW to 1024 x 768 (its highest listed resolution) with all its eye candy set to their maximums. I also have my laptop's graphics set to display content in a fixed size so what I get for NFS is a big black border, but everything is in the right proportions.

I have played Halo and FarCry to the end on my desktop, but both games were running neck and neck for the best looking games I had every played. So I loaded them up to see how they would look on the laptop. Both games offer 1440 x 900 as an option. However, they are stretching the content to fill that space. Just like my widescreen television when it is not showing HD content. So everyone in the game looks like they put on 20-30 pounds.

I have also been playing Max Payne quite a bit lately, toggling my time between it and NFSMW. Since Max Payne is fairly old (I think it came out in 2000) I was surprised it supported 1440 x 900. I like the game. It is mostly a simple first person shooter, but there are times when it gets tough and you have to play through a scene more than once to figure out the best way to complete it. Plus you don't have to go up against mutants and weird aliens. Kind of a nice change of pace from FarCry/Halo/Quake/Etc.

Tomb Raider Legends wins the ultimate compatibility award. Why? Well, it not only supports my 1440 x 900 resolution, it also supports widescreen. There is a widescreen option in the graphics setup. When you select it you see the entire screen narrow down and more content is put on either side. Basically your environment gets wider. One last thing about TRL, they put the Next Generation Content into the demo. This was not the case when I first looked at the game, but it is now. I have played the demo for a while. I wanted to get far enough along to get into the "house." My friend showed me the graphics with NGC on and off in the house and there are some amazing differences. Unfortunately I am stuck on the game at the moment. I will have to get back to it later.

FEAR seemed like it had the formula right during the demo. You have to fight a bunch of elite soldiers. I like that. It gets tough and you have to play a mission (or part of a mission) over a few time here and there to get through it. The bad guys are reasonably smart. Better than FarCry which touted better AI for the bad guys. But once you kill all the elite soldiers in the demo FEAR takes you down a long corridor and ghosts and other strange things all happen and the demo ends. It was very creepy. So much for not have strange mutants to kill. I may buy this game when it gets down to 20 bucks. I suspect it will be quite gruesome and I may have trouble playing it lying in bed next to my wife. Certainly I don't want my kids seeing it.

I liked Hitman. It has a neat way about it. But I found the controls difficult, especially the wire tool. When you start out in the Hitman demo your only weapon is a wire thing you use to strangle your opponent to death. I could not get it to work. I was able to have the tool in my hand and approach the bad guy with the proper stealth, but when I tried to used the controls to do the actual strangling it would not work. I ended up punching the guy to get his gun and shooting him with it. I also found it to be a pain to switch between objects. I really liked the premise of this game, but its controls just turned me off. This is a game I actually hope they make a sequel to and make the controls easier.

Quake was too much mutant killing and I didn't like how you were supposed to flow through the demo. I will pass on this one. Granted, if you like really dark graphics this is the one for you.

GTR 2 was too realistic for me. I like the formula in Need For Speed. I like the arcade aspect and that you don't have to be a great driver to enjoy the game. However, if you do run a nice line in NFS you are rewarded with better times. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of that in the current NFS games. Street racing is hardly the place to show off driving a great line. I really liked the original NFS for that because you raced on tracks and could learn them and get really good at them. NFS High Stakes was the same. I want the best of both worlds... street racing while dealing with the cops mixed with some nice race tracks you can learn and draw a great line at to get excellent times on. Maybe the next game in the series could work like that. You run in illegal street races to earn the right to race the next guy on the list, but that race would be on a track. That would be cool, and provide the best of both worlds.

That leaves us with Timeshift. I am probably going to buy this game when it gets to $20. It is the most graphically demanding game I have played so far. When I installed it and set it to 1440 x 900 with all the graphics turn up it ran a little sluggish. I had to turn down some of the eye candy to get a smooth frame rate. Time shift has an almost unique feature. You, as the main character, have a special ability to shift time. You can do one of three things. You can freeze time, have time move in slow motion or you can have time run backwards. You have a power meter that tells how much of this you can do. Press the key for backward time and everything around goes in reverse while you go forward normally. It is really cool to watch. In fact it was so cool looking that I was have a tough time with the game. I need more practice time with this demo, and then I may buy the game when the price is right. However, this ability is not original as it is just an extension of the Bullet Time in Max Payne.

One last thing about NFS. In the career mode you have your car "taken" in a race where it was sabotaged and your are arrested. You then have to buy a new car and work your way up the "Blacklist." This is a list of street racers. You have to complete some number of regular races and go through certain milestone events to be allowed to challenge the next guy on the Blacklist. The goal is to work your way up the blacklist to race the guy in the number one spot... with the car he took from you in the beginning of the game. I am currently #2 on the Blacklist and I am having a heck of a time finishing the Milestone events. I need to finish three events. 1) Get into a chase with the police that lasts for at least 13 minute then evade the police. 2) Get into a chase with the police and "tag" 35 police cars. 3) Get into a chase and earn 800,000 bounty point. Granted, I can do all of these in one chase if I can, but I just can't. I rarely can make it to completing one of the milestone items before getting caught. The few times I think I am doing really well the game crashes. I was using a "crack" I downloaded off the Internet that would let me play the game without the CD in the drive. I assumed the crashing was due to the crack. I removed the crack and put the CD in the drive. All seemed good. It was not crashing, and I looked like I might be able to make it. But it finally crashed on me when I was doing well. It is getting frustrating to the point where I may have to find a cheat, or give up on the game. I'll report the answer to that next month.

Web Development

I am too short on time to do a comparison between Dreamweaver and Microsoft's new Expression Web tool. I saw an MSDN event that included Expression Web. I did not get a change to attend, but it left me with the thought that the Expression line would be made available on MSDN, so I shouldn't have a problem getting a copy when it comes out of beta.

With that in mind I am going to redesign this site using Expression Web. I could easily import this site into Expression Web and start from there. But I am concerned about a couple of issues with my site and the way it displays in Firefox. Because of that I am going to redesign this site making sure it looks the same in Firefox and Internet Explorer. Right now Firefox does not display this site correctly, and with the recent release of Firefox 2.0 I am about to make the switch. I will have more on that next month too.

I bought a book on building a web site. The book is Wrox's ASP.NET 2.0 Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition Starter Kit. It is probably not the best book for learning .Net. However, I think it will work we for me. The book walks you through building an e-commerce web site using the Express edition of Visual Studio. This is just what I need, a step by step approach to getting started on a web site. At work we have e-commerce sites, and I am not working on them because all my skills are for "fat" client application.

I have a project in mind. We are dealing with a lot of Change Control issues at work, and are working toward getting SOX (Sarbanes - Oxley) compliant. I want to build an Intranet application that will hold all work requests to IT. I plan on having the system task and role based. Users will have a role and requests will flow through a series of tasks.

Here is an quick example of how I see a work order flowing through the system.

1) Person requests a task, and adds any "stakeholders" for the task.
2) The system e-mails all the stakeholders and the person's manager with the request.
3) The Person's Manager must approve the request. Optionally the stakeholders can reject the request for what ever reasons.
4) The approved request goes to a "board" where it is given a quick evaluation to see if it is appropriate. This board would include the head of IT to insure proper IT resources are available and the request is reasonable. The board will approve or reject the request.
5) The approved request will actually go to IT. The head of IT will assign the resources needed for the request. Each resource will have to acknowledge the request and scope their part of it.
6) The scoped request would go back to the head of IT and the original requestor and a date would be negotiated based on the level of work/time to fulfill the request as well as business priorities and resources available.
7) The approved request would be sent to the IT resources to perform their work.
8) The IT resources would complete their work and perform unit testing. 
9) After completion of unit testing the request would flow to the Software Quality Assurance person for system testing.
10) After system testing all stakeholders would have to approve the request to be ready for production based on the results of the system testing (or maybe for their own testing).
11) The approved request if placed into the Change Control processes and scheduled to be moved to production.
12) The approved request if moved to production and all stakeholders are required to do a final check of the request.
13) The approved request is closed.

Now that is actually a simple example. At almost any point in the flow a request can be rejected with reasons for rejection. The reason could include insufficient requirements, incomplete test plan, lack of resources (hardware or personnel), etc. Also, the "system" would handle the flow. All requests would have to fit into a handful of categories. Each category would have a predefined flow. When one step is finished the system itself would send notices to the appropriate people. Due dates for each milestone would be part of the request. The system would "nag" people when they are close to due on their part, or late. It would also notify all stakeholders and managers as milestones are completed and when.

Overall I want a system that puts clear responsibility on the people that should be actively working the request. To help with the SOX compliance there will be a way of entering all testing into the system. This will be tough for some testing, but there can be a "paper" folder that gets filed with the non-electronic copies.

I can hardly wait until I am up to speed on .Net web development to build this system.

Windows Vista Returns

I was spending a lot of time with Windows Vista. This is different from the month I lived with Vista Beta 2. Newer releases of Vista were coming out so fast that it drove me to start blogging. Be sure to head over to Scott's Blog. Click on the Windows Vista category on the right to read all the tid-bits I have had on Vista's many releases since beta 2.

The three releases I have played with are the July Content Technology Preview (build 5472), the August CTP (build 5536) and Release Candidate 1 (build 5600). RC1 gave me a lot of trouble with my Internet connection. I could visit some sites but not others. It was very consistent. I could not go to Google, but I could go to Microsoft's site. Yes, I wanted to start believing in a conspiracy theory, but I could not connect to Microsoft's MSDN site, while Yahoo was working fine.

I got online and posted my problem on a couple of forums. I eventually received an answer that worked perfectly. It was merely a matter of disabling a setting called TCP Checksum Offload (IPv4). I don't know why this setting stopped my from access some web sites. I was also able to get things working by upgrading my network drivers. My ASUS motherboard has a Yukon/Marvell chipset for the Ethernet. I downloaded the latest beta driver (9.10.2.2) from Marvell's web site and that solved the Internet issue as well.

What was interesting was that I did not have to disable the TCP Checksum setting with the updated drivers. I also double checked the the July CTP and it had that setting enabled without any issues. All kind of weird. Hey... its still in beta.

I learned that ASUS is taking the Kodak approach to their drivers. When I suspected the drivers I first went to the motherboard manufacture. ASUS does not list a driver for Vista. I contacted their support people and received a response that they were not going to support Windows Vista until it shipped. Oops! Do they really think they will get drivers out at the same time as Vista ships and they won't have a ton of trouble. They need to think again. It's just like Kodak. Vista RC1 still won't recognize my Kodak DC280 camera. Vista offers to check Windows updates to see if it can find drivers... but it cannot. Since Microsoft does not write driver for vendors I can only assume that Kodak has not provided anything to Microsoft yet. Oops. Why would I want to use Kodak's Easyshare program if they can't even provide drivers for my camera.

I was a little burned out on Vista, so with the interim builds I just wanted to test the things that did not work with beta 2 (build 5384). To see what did and did not work for me with beta 2 read my July Column.

In a nutshell, here are the items that didn't work:

AVG Antivirus
Max Payne (1)
pcAnywhere 10.0
Nero 6.6.1.4
Kodak EasyShare 
Printing

I am glad to report that most things work. For starters Max Payne works. However, its sound gets garbled when you go into "Bullet Time" (basically slow motion). I was really surprised that pcAnywhere 10.0 worked. I expected this to be too old to get support for Vista. Vista complained that this program was incompatible just as it did with beta 2, however, I tried it anyway and it worked. It gave me an error about the registry, but it did start. I started it up once by right-clicking it and selecting "Run as Administrator" and it did not give the registry error. Once it did its registry thing I was able to run it normally without any error.

AVG Antivirus does not work, but it is not a big issue. CA is still offering free anti-virus for a year. Plus I didn't expect this to work. The big problem that disappointed me was Nero 6 does not work. Nothing has changed, it starts and stops without warning or messages. I tried running the Nero Start program as an administrator, but that didn't help.

Kodak's Easyshare application works. This is probably a testament to the work Microsoft is doing for User Access Control. I know they don't want regular users to be administrators. Easyshare failed to run before because it was not being run as an administrator... even if I right-clicked it and told it to run as an admin. Easyshare works fine now, except that it starts up every time the computer boots. It is kind of weird, and it may be me. It wants me to register and create an account online for sharing photos. I skip it each time. Maybe it will stop asking if I finally say yes.

Printing also works... without a hitch. In fact, file sharing works without me having to use a password. I can have a User Name that does not have a password and I can access shares on my network... and of course... print. I know I should use a password, but it's just my machine at home. I'll survive. I will go to using a password when I put the final copy of Vista on my desktop because I plan to make use of the parental controls to limit how much my kids use the computer.

One last thing that still does not work is my Kodak DC280 camera. I was able to download and install the drivers for it that came as part of the Kodak Easyshare program. But when I plug the camera in Windows Vista says it needs to install drivers for it, but it can't find any that will work. Oops. As I have said, this works without a hitch in Windows XP... without any downloads from Kodak. I still think this is Kodak's fault. Why haven't they provided drivers for Vista yet. This is a huge opportunity for them. If others can't get their older Kodak cameras to work with their new computers that come with Vista do you think they will run out and buy another Kodak camera... or just buy a competitor's. Granted I already did that with my new Sony DSC-T9, but I still think this is an opportunity for Kodak. Do they think I will want to use Easyshare with my Sony camera when I can't use it with my old Kodak. I even did a search on Kodak's site for Vista and it turned up nothing about the new Windows operating system (this was in early September when I did this testing).

Performance was much improved in Build 5472. I was very impressed how snappy things were. And there was just a hint more eye candy. I didn't spend any real time with build 5536, because RC1 came out about a week after. However, build 5536 had the same Internet connection issue as RC1. RC1, on the other hand, is very nice performing. It feels faster than 5427, and a huge improvement over Beta 2. The performance is so good I even loaded the 64 bit version, and it gave great performance as well. The 64 bit version of Vista Build 5472 was sluggish, but RC1 was fast enough that I would need to run some kind of specific test to see which is faster between 32-bit and 64-bit. I don't know if I will install the 64-bit when Vista finally ships. I don't have any applications that can take advantage of the 64-bit system. I suppose I will wait for games to support 64 bits.

Speaking of which... I had to test FarCry. Now, the main reason for loading a 64 bit OS is to run 64 bit apps. All I have is FarCry. I installed the AMD64 patch to FarCry. I got it all running, though not easily. The 64 bit version of FarCry still asks for my video preferences each time I start... and doesn't even use those settings when I get in the game. It keeps restoring to some default settings. I did manage to get it working and the performance lagged a bit. Plus, I could not see any improvement. I put my laptop and desktop side my side and I could not see any improvement with the 64-bt version with the exception that water looked wonderful compared to the laptop. (This is a problem with the laptop which has a problem with the display of water in FarCry. I haven't figured it out yet.) Water looks just as good in FarCry 32-bit as it does with 64-bits. This may just be my machine. Although I crank up the video settings, I am running older hardware and I may be expecting a little too much.

Something new in RC1 was a choice of 1) Home, 2) Work or 3) Public Location as part of the network setup during install. I get the impression these choices are used to determine default settings for the firewall or other built-in network security settings. I don't know what each does, but overall it should be a good thing. I picked Home for my installation.

I have not looked at the Gadgets anymore. I love the idea of them, and I fully plan to build at least one when the time comes. However, I had enough issues with testing Gadgets between the early builds and Beta 2 that I just assume wait until everything is panned out. Also, I will mainly want to use the gadgets on my laptop which has a widescreen and is what the whole Sidebar/Gadget thing was focused on.

Another thing new is a Program Compatibility Wizard right on the desktop of Vista. I tried this with Nero 6 to no avail.

With Release Candidate 1 out I am sooooooooo tempted to install it on my laptop. But I am not sure I am ready for that. I will have to do more testing before I will make the jump. I heard a podcast on Release Candidate 1 that says you can install it and it will save your old XP install and can restore it if necessary. Wow. I did notice that if I inserted the disk while still running XP that it offered to install as an upgrade. Boy the laptop thing is looking awfully good.

I will probably wait for the final version to be out before making the switch on my laptop. I hope to make the switch on my laptop and desktop together. My wife's laptop is generally fast enough for Vista, but with the Aero Glass turned off. I will leave it to her. I am sure she will stay with XP until she is ready for a new laptop.

I will install Vista on my son's laptop once I know how to put the parent controls to good use. In fact, that's where this leaves off. I have since installed Release Candidate 2 (build 5744), but have not had tome to test it yet. Next month I will report on how will it recognizes my current allotment of games and their ESRB ratings. I will take a quick look at the parental controls while playing with RC2. We'll see.


I wonder if MSDN subscribers will get the officially released version of Windows Vista (RTM, Release To Manufacture) in November when it goes to hardware vendors (read: Dell)?

Conclusion

That's it for this month. Next month I want to go over a few details about my laptop, particularly the keyboard. I will try to get to Vista RC2. I need to get into the Wrox book, but I found an error in it already (chapter 2), so I am dealing with that. Finally, I need to figure out a look for this site as I rebuild it in Expression Web.

See you next month... and check my Blog for more up to date information.

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