MS lab for Team System

Quick tip - if you're trying to get up to speed on Visual Studio Team System, MS has a great little lab available to let you take a self-paced guided tour on a live, hosted Team System box. Really a nice way to see the sights. I've found this is also helpful when introducing new team members to VSTS -- "Go take the 30-min tour, and then we'll talk about how we use VSTS on our project."

Here's the link

Microsoft OneCare turned out to be NoneCare for me

There's a guy on a Channel9 forum who asked about people's experience with Microsoft OneCare. This is their AntiVirus / happy PC program, and I bought it a while back in large part because I liked the ability to install on up to three PC's. I'd been meaning to write up my experience for a while, and this gave me an excuse. Here's a link to the post on Channel9, and my response is quoted below.

I'm sure lots of people have had good experiences, but I'll share mine.

I bought a copy at a local retailer, took it home, and tried to install it. During the install, it asked me to uninstall my previous anti-virus program (this will become important later), and log onto Passport (I used the same acct I'm using now). OneCare then asked me to provide the validation key from the package. I did so, and OneCare told me the number was invalid.

So I get on the help line. And I wait. Finally, I speak to a tech who asks a bunch of questions and ends up saying, "sounds like a billing problem - let me transfer you (and by the way, here's a ticket number)."

I'm transferred to the billing department, and the first thing I do is give them my brand new incident number. "Oh, sorry - we can't use that number - we've got a different system here." The story of the cobbler and his shoes flashed through my mind, but I pressed on with this new guy. A few minutes later, after walking him through the whole problem, he says, "yeah, I think this is a tech support problem..."

"But no!," says I -- I just came from there, and this can't be right. Surely the two departments can get together and figure this out, right?

But they couldn't. I trade more calls over the course of a few days. At one point someone suggested I take the software back to the store and exchange it. Of course, I observed to them that there was no reason to believe there was anything wrong with the box at all -- the problem was the damned number printed on the box! I also pointed out to them that software retailers have a no-open-box-return policy.

It was at about this point that I started to get a little annoyed, not only because I had a box full of useless software, but because my PC was now unprotected, having had it's previous virus scanner uninstalled. I pointed this out to the people on the other end of the phone, resulting in lots of sympathetic hmmmm-ing, but not too much action.

So I asked again for these two departments to convene a summit and, in short, get their sh*t together. Please. "Get a plan, and give me a call."

"Fine. We'll have a manager give you a call." In the mean time, why don't you install the trial version - that'll keep you protected while we sort this out.

No manager ever called.

I installed the trial version, by the way, and it immediately started crashing my PC. Happened at least once a day.

After about two weeks of this crap, I uninstalled OneCare and put on a free antivirus program from AVG.

Of course, your mileage may vary. 🙂

Zune: Welcome to the Social

"Welcome to the Social"

My reaction the first time I saw this slogan was not really positive. Several years ago, I moved to Ohio from a place where they speak English, and I've rarely gone a day without lamenting the sad state of the language here in the land of the Buckeye.One of the strangest experiences of my new citizenship was the strangely common practice of asking for "my social." Invariably, the interrogator was at the head of a line at a government agency or doctor's office. It took me a while to appreciate the efficiency of these workers; after all, if they'd taken the time to spit out "security number", too, I might still be waiting in line.

I saw Microsoft's new slogan, then, and immediately flashed back to my experience with those decidedly un-hip, non-technical queue processors, and I shuddered just a bit. I'm not sure I'm really ready to be part of the social.

After my cold sweat subsided, my next impression was that the social, whatever it was, sounded vaguely Borg-like. In understand, of course, that this is not the way Zune sharing is supposed to work, but we're talking about first impressions here, so I'm going to stick with mine. I don't want to be assimilated, either.

So, as far as I'm concerned, Microsoft's marketing department is 0-for-2. The popular consensus on the Zune seems to be that it's a 1.0 release, and Microsoft never gets 1.0 releases right, but they've got the sheer stubborn will to pour money into a losing fight until they finally get it right. I have to believe that the marketing message will improve in with future releases, too.

Accountants run amok

Last night's NPR Marketplace broadcast had a story about a group of accounting firms that are proposing some changes to corporate accounting. I was intrigued by the idea (after all, these firms should have some great insights into problems with the current system), but I couldn't believe the train wreck that ensued.
These firms have some really well-intentioned ideas that just don't seem to hold water. For instance, they want to drive more transparency by sharing more information. Seems like a pretty good idea. They want to share information on employee turnover. Ok, I can see that, I guess.

Then they also want to share information about measures like customer satisfaction. This is where I started scrunching up my eyebrows. After all, customer satisfaction has always been a relative measure, and it's only as reliable as the means used to measure it. If you're going to start comparing corporate performance on a measure like this, how in the world do you ensure that you've got a consistent and equitable measure of customer satisfaction for all companies?

Finally, the group is lobbying for more frequent reporting. Again, on one level, this makes some sense, but if we step back and look at the dysfunctional relationship between Wall Street and corporate management, financial reporting is right in the middle.

This is a two-edged sword, I admit. You don't want to let a corporation go off the rails too long before the problem is detected and dealt with. But even with today's quarterly reporting, there's a really unhealthy "what have you done for me lately" attitude that pressures management to optimize for short-term results.

I see this as an understandable reaction to some bad apples (Enron, Global Crossing, etc.). This, of course, is the same backlash that fueled SOX legislation. Let's look at the effect that SOX is having on businesses in the US before we make any more accounting changes. It's pretty clear that SOX is a major pain for large US corporations, to the extent that Europe views SOX as a competitive advantage for companies headquartered outside the US. At the very least, we're pouring a lot of money into SOX reporting when we could be more profitably be spending it elsewhere.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not in favor of crooked managers swindling old ladies out of their retirement money. I'm just not convinced that the answer is to saddle all the honest companies out there with a bunch of onerous accounting requirements.

The text of the marketplace report is available here if you want to read the original. They also have a podcast available.

Google Reader – Not just a nice RSS reader!

I'm a big fan of RSS feeds -- this isn't news. Google Reader, however, just might be news to you, and if it is, you owe yourself a look. It's reminiscent in design to GMail and other excellent Google web apps (expected). It's not perfect (details in a bit), but it's got a couple really nice redeeming features. I think I'm hooked.
The first time I saw Google Reader, I wasn't all that knocked out. First of all, it's not quite as nice to use as a dedicated windows-based RSS reader. The bar has always been set for me by apps like RSS Bandit, which work well because they're purpose-driven, and Windows-based. This is the same reason Outlook is better than traditional web-based mail readers.

As you probably know, web-based email readers are getting better and better, and I'd say they're starting to give Outlook a run for its money (think Yahoo, GMail, and others). Similarly, the Google Reader interface is pretty nice when it works.

Yes, I've had some problems with it working. Fortunately, the problems seem to be platform-related. Reader doesn't seem to paint quite right in IE7, and in Opera, my mouse's scroll wheel moves down no matter which way I scroll the wheel. Not the end of the world, but if you're going to use an application a lot, these types of issues will drive you slightly batty. Good news, though, for Firefox users. Reader seems to work perfectly on this open browser.

Enough on the warts, though. Where Google Reader really shines is when you start using it from multiple computers. Unlike a Windows-based reader, since Google Reader is server-based, it's going to keep track of what you've read on the server. No more re-reading news from one PC to the next. To be fair, some Windows readers like RSS Bandit support mechanisms to synch read lists to a server, but I never had any luck getting that to work. Google Reader works without you having to think about it.

But the real killer feature is sharing. When you're reading news, you have a one-click sharing button that instantly adds whatever article you're reading to a "share" list that's maintained just for you. Here's mine. Now you can watch this meta-feed (it supports RSS, too!) and see what articles I'm reading that I think are worthwhile for others to read, too.

Waaaayyyy cool!