Ultraman: Beta Capsules and Gomora

May 15, 2006


How many of you remember Ultraman and the Science Patrol? Alright. How many of you were alive when Ultraman first arrived in America? For those who don’t remember, Ultraman was one of the first Japanese sci-fi imports in the U.S. I remember watching the brave Shin Hayata lift the beta capsule into the air and become Ultraman – defender of the world. He fought the evil renegade monsters from outer space.

So why would I think of Ultraman. That’s easy. For the past week, I’ve been lifting “the beta capsule” (beta software products) into the air. Of course, I haven’t turned into a super-hero. But I do feel like there are super new things I’m finding with each beta.

So what have I been playing with? First of all, Microsoft is about to release Windows Vista Beta 2. While the development and QA teams are still ironing out the final usability issues, the beta code is now in escrow. That means that there are no changes in the “Beta 2” branch except for show-stopper errors. That also means that we are rapidly heading to a point where the hard work of all of the developers will be spread before a huge customer community.

And what a sight Vista is to behold! After many years, it is fantastic to realize that I will see a new Microsoft OS. It’s been many years since Windows XP was released. And since then, the computing world has changed dramatically. And Vista represents our efforts to both address the changing world as well as shape the emerging world. First and foremost, Vista is designed with security in mind. Not only are there “visible” features (like BitLocker), but the entire infrastructure of the OS has changed. Vista is the first OS designed with Trustworthy Computing in mind.

Sometime, I love the security touches. But other times, I’m startled by them. For years, I’ve had the explicit authority to do anything and everything to my system. And by default, system invaders could inherit those abilities – if they could usurp my credentials. But changes to user access controls will change a lot of that. Indeed, users will be prompted whenever a system action requires explicit administrator authority – even if you are already an administrator. There has been a lot of good and bad things written about this design decision. But I’d rather err on the side of caution. So I’m getting used to UAC changes. And I’m very surprised about how many seemingly trivial tasks actually require some form of elevated privilege.

But the Vista changes don’t end with security. As everyone probably knows already, Vista “looks” stunning. The UI has been retooled to take advantage of advanced graphics capabilities. This includes desktop transparency – also known as “Glass”. But transparency is not the only visual touches. The OS now includes vector graphics capabilities. So what’s so sexy about that? Well, any object on the desktop can be scaled (up or down) and retain true image fidelity. In addition, all of the base applications have been re-tooled to include imroved “look and feel” characteristics. These touches include new widgets, improved font management as well as other touches.

And as I’ve noted many times, RSS is everywhere. I think I love this as much as anything else. The ability for a user to classify and organize content based upon their own personal taxonomy will make Vista “personally configurable” for each user.

And the list can go on and on. But let’s look at the other beta efforts underway.

Next on the beta drumroll is Microsoft Office System 2007 Beta 2. The new Office System is staggeringly beautiful. For those who haven’t seen it, the new system has a somewhat different user interface design. The cascading menus have been replaced by a “ribbon bar.” The ribbon bar features related menu objects grouped together. While the notion of hierarchically cascading functions isn’t gone, it exists in a more usable form. Further, the ribbon bar adjusts based upon usage. More frequently used items will gain increased prominence and visibility. Our usability studies indicate that this new interface should truly improve the user experience. I sure hope so. I’ll use it for a few weeks and report back. Until then, I’ll have to hunt to find some of my more favored commands / menu items. [It is important to note that Outlook retains much of its previous menu-oriented design. I guess that this is to ensure maximum usability on the most frequently used product in the Office suite.]

And the Office System 2007 also includes new versions of OneNote as well as a new version of Groove. Both products have picked up some nifty features – few of which I’ve had a chance to explore. In fairness, I’ve focused on the basics: Vista, IE7, and the traditional Office products. So I’ll take another action item to report back on these tools.

And more is one the way. The rumor mill is grinding out a great deal about the new Windows Media Player 11. Now I’ve seen the new Windows Media Player in Vista. But if the rumors are correct, there’ll be some WMP11 candy for the XP crowd sometime this week. And I can’t wait to put this on my home systems. My kids have a fondness for iTunes. And it will be nice to let them see what Microsoft is doing in this space. Coupled with Urge (the MTV co-venture), I hope to see a real challenger to the Apple primacy. I do need to note that I use iTunes. I bought my iPod before I joined Microsoft. But I believe that competition makes everything better. So here’s hoping that our new entry into this space will heat up competition and spur further innovation.

BTW, the title of this post mentions Gomora. Gomora was one of Ultraman’s most fearsome foes. Well, my week in beta heaven has been interupted by its fair share of challenges. First, I was having some odd problems with Wifi in my current Vista build. I could easily connect to the corporate WLAN (no small feat when you consider that this requires auto-enrollement and certificate setup. But it turns out that there is a minor bug being chased down in relationship to the latest Linksys drivers for the WRT54G. If you are running the latest Linksys firmware (which I am – via HyperWRT) and your router is configured to support AES+TKIP (which mine was), then you won’t be able to connect this Vista build to your router – unless you make a change. The fix is simple – once you know the problem. I had to change my router to support AES only. Once I did this, I could connect my Vista system to my home network. I had reached my Monday Nirana.

OK, not really. Too bad one of my daughter’s had a system that only supported TKIP encryption. So when I made my change, she couldn’t connect to the network any longer. So I had to find the right XP drivers and software to support WPA2 and AES for her system. This wasn’t hard. But it was one more thing to fiddle with.

But the problems didn’t end there. We are reorganizing furniture in the house as a prelude to a graduation party we are holding for Dana. So our youngest daughter felt that now was the best time to re-organize the upstairs loft. Not a problem, right? Wrong. She decided to switch monitors and keyboards on two systems. Unfortunately, these were the two oldest systems in the house. And they didn’t take kindly to the swap. As a result, I spent about 90 minutes swapping stuff around to get drivers recognized. In the end, it was no big deal – except that my kids wanted everything solved ASAP (in order to prepare for school finals). I guess the old adage that you shouldn’t change more than one thing at a time is appropriate. I’ll teach Bailey that lesson – when she speaks to me again. 😉

And the list didn’t stop. Over the weekend, my son was doing some gardening. Unfortunately, he cut our cable infrastructure. So we’ve been without phone, cable and high-speed Internet access for the weekend. So I had a lot to catch up on when the cable repair crew finally restored service.

So here I sit. I’ve changed hardware on two systems. I’ve updated five systems with either new software or new configuration data. And I’ve gotten my network infrastructure damaged and repaired. So it’s time to relax. I think I’ll catch up on a new Doctor Who ep from the BBC.





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