Monday, December 29, 2008

Cooliris nominated for 2008 Crunchie

My company (and product) has been nominated for a Crunchie in the "Best Design" category. I'm not surprised, since the product was cool enough to make me want to work there. However, it is nice to get recognition and positive feedback that other people feel the same way I do about it.

Anyway, if you like Cooliris and want to vote, you can vote for us here:

And if you haven't tried Cooliris yet, please give it a whirl.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cooliris 1.8.3 Released!

Cooliris 1.8.3

Last week we released 1.8.3 of Cooliris (formerly known as PicLens). You can download it here. In addition to Firefox 2 and 3 (Mac and Windows) we now support Safari 3 (Mac) and Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 (Windows), though our IE8 Beta support is itself in Beta. In addition, we have lots of new features. 1.8.3 is one of the biggest releases we've had since we first debuted the 3D view.

More Shopping

A while ago we introduced support for searching Amazon in Cooliris. With 1.8.3 we now support ten different retailers such as eLuxury, Nordstrom,, Macy's, Wal-mart and more, with more stores to be added. (Geeky aside: the client makes a request to our servers for some XML that describes all the stores that we support so we can add more stores without having to publish a new client.) In addition to more stores, we also now have improved UI for browsing the stores and sorting the results by price, popularity, etc.

Flash Support

In addition to various improvements we made to our A\V playback code (A\V sync issues, as well as better buffering logic for slow connections), this release debuts the project I've been hard at work on the last few months: Flash support. We now host the Flash plugin and can render SWF content directly in the wall. The upside for the user is they get the full YouTube player experience when browsing YouTube video, and we will be adding more and more interactive content over time. Right now we only support the Netscape Plugin version of Flash (NPSWF32.dll). So if you've installed Flash for Firefox or other Netscape derivatives, you'll get Flash support. If you only have the IE Active X plugin (flash9f.ocx, or related) you'll need to install the correct version which can be downloaded here.

There are lots of other improvements, fixes, optimizations, etc, such as better Keyboard Input support, but I can't remember all of them right now. I suggest you download the latest Cooliris and explore it for yourself.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Google Chrome: Better than Firefox, Internet Explorer

I installed Chrome when it came out last week and after only a day of using it I did the unthinkable: I made it my default browser. This is a big deal. I resisted making Firefox my default browser out of a very strong sense of loyalty to Internet Explorer. Chrome, however, is what I have always wanted a web browser to be: useful.

Let us start with the obvious things. The Tab UI is awesome. I have never liked the Firefox Tab UI. I think the IE Tab UI looks good, but they (we) never really nailed all the little quirks. Putting it up in the non-client area seems like such a no-brainer now. The UI is snappy, the animations are good looking, but subtle enough not to get in the way of using the product.

The MFU with thumbnails on the new-tab page is nice, though I wish it was more than just the top nine pages. I find it odd that I like it so much because I was really against doing something like this for IE (but I also never thought it could be made so fast in IE). I love the history-as-a-webpage feature. I am a little disappointed that I can not find a shortcut key to get to bookmarks. I don't want to take up screen space by having the bookmarks bar visible (though it is nice UI if you do turn it on). I know I can just type the name of the bookmark in the address bar, but I actually have long lists of bookmarks that I like to visit every day in a specific order. Instead I use CTRL+T to get a new tab then click the bookmark button.

I love the simplicity. We tried to make IE7 simple by getting rid of the menu bars and re-working things into the command bar. Chrome takes it all the way though.

The only UI I think looks wonky is the little pop-up in the bottom corner of the screen that appears when you hover over links. But I do like the little drop-down find box.

And of course, it would be nice if it worked with the ajax-y features of Facebook and Netflix.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

firefox 3: better than internet explorer 7

This is a difficult thing for me to admit, but I think Firefox 3 is better than Internet Explorer 7. Having worked on the IE team, I am the first one to defend it, apologize for it, and staunchly refuse to use anything else. So how could this have happened?

Well, the product I work on now is a plug-in for both Firefox and IE. Since I am primarily responsible for the IE version, and I do most of my development and debugging of our product when it is running inside IE. As a result I am forced to use Firefox to read e-mail and such while my IE install is in a bad state.

Firefox 2 was usable, but I liked IE much better still. A lot of really good UI work went into IE 7 around the Tab UI and optimizing away the old menu bar. Sure, it has its faults and quirks, but I still felt more at home in IE.

Now that Firefox 3 is out, I basically have been converted without even thinking about it. And that's the key: when I use Firefox 3, I don't notice that it isn't IE. The only time I notice it's Firefox is when it does something better than IE, like spell checking my edit boxes, or remembering the URLs from my last session.

It's the little things that matter.

When I use IE now, it feels slow and poorly put together. Firefox is snappy; the UI is more polished. They stole some ideas from IE (The Gold Bar) and made them better. They have some ideas of their own (disjoint search term matching in autocomplete) that are great, too.

And as a good friend of mine used to say, "if it ain't snappy, it's crappy."

So Firefox 3 sets a high bar for the IE team to meet. I sincerely hope they blow it away. I think it is way too early to judge the IE8 UI; I will just have to wait and see how it shapes up.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

your bho and your activex control can't be the same object

Frequently I see people writing a BHO, and at some point they realize they need to make a way for a webpage to call some function implemented by the BHO. The best way to do this is to expose an ActiveX control. The most common mistake I see is trying to make the ActiveX control be the same C++ object as the BHO.

This is wrong for several reasons.

It violates good coding practice.

The whole point of object level encapsulation is that each object does one thing. If your BHO is your ActiveX control, now it does two things. It may seem at first that you're really just adding a new method to your BHO, but you have to take into account all that goes along with being an ActiveX control. Implementing IDispatch, loading and dealing with the type library, implementing IObjectSafety, etc.

Your site will be wrong.

Pretty much every IE extension type--toolbands, BHOs, toolbar buttons, ActiveX controls--implements IObjectWithSite. If you make one object be two different types of extension, they will share IObjectWithSite implementations. And they all have a different IE object that is their site.

For example, a toolbar button's site will be an object in IE's toolbar code. A BHO's site is a completely different object in ieframe.dll that knows how to create and interact with a BHO. Explorer bars are sited to an object in ieframe.dll that hosts an explorer bar. And ActiveX controls are sited to an object in mshtml.dll that knows how to host ActiveX controls and implements several DOM interfaces (IHTMLElement, etc) as well.

So if you make your BHO and your ActiveX control the same object, the BHO will be instantiated first and IE will call your IObjectWithSite::SetSite() method with a pointer to one type of object. Then, when your ActiveX control is created later on, IE will call the IObjectWithSite::SetSite() method again, but this time with a different internal IE object's address. Now your BHO is broken. And debugging this sort of thing may take you a long time.

What we Learned Today

Every IE extension you implement must be it's own object, or bad things will start to happen.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

the internet explorer object cookbook

When you start writing Internet Explorer extensions, or dealing with the DOM and the Webbrowser control at all, you frequently find you have an object of type X and you need to get the corresponding object of type Y. There is a lot of myth and bad advice on the web surrounding how to do some of these things.

The "site" in all of the following refer to the IUnknown you are given by Internet Explorer when it calls your IObjectWithSite::SetSite() method.

IWebBrowser2 from site

1. QueryInterface() your site for IID_IServiceProvider.
2. QueryService() the IServiceProvider for SID_STopLevelBrowser, IID_IServiceProvider.
3. QueryService() the top level IServiceProvider for SID_SWebBrowserApp, IID_IWebBrowser2.

IHTMLDocument2 from IWebBrowser2

1. Call IWebBrowser2::get_Document().
2. QueryInterface() the resulting IDispatch pointer for IID_IHTMLDocument2.

IHTMLDocument2 from site

1. Follow steps for "IWebBrowser2 from site" above.
2. Follow steps for "IHTMLDocument2 from IWebBrowser2" above.

IWebBrowser2 from IHTMLDocument2

1. QueryInterface() the IHTMLDocument2 for IID_IServiceProvider.
2. QueryService() the IServiceProvider for SID_SWebBrowserApp, IID_IWebBrowser2.

IHTMLDocument2 from IHTMLElement

1. Call IHTMLElement::get_Document();
2. QueryInterface() the resulting IDispatch pointer for IID_IHTMLDocument2.

IHTMLDocument2 from HWND

1. Use the accessibility hack described at here.

Monday, June 2, 2008

the freedom to choose includes the freedom to choose poorly

No, I am not going to talk about democrotics and our current and upcoming elected officials. I am going to talk about the consumer computer eco-system.

When I was doing IT consulting work during collage, there were a few major players in the PC world: Dell, HP, Compaq and Gateway. They all had their ups and downs with their products. Usually one would be good while the other was making boxes with problems, but then it would switch. Our job was to keep up on who was making good boxes at the time and sell them to our customers. However, we all knew the best machines were machines you built yourself. And we enjoyed building them. So when friends and family would ask me what computer they should buy, I would mention who I though was making a good model, but I would also offer to build them one that was better for cheaper.

When I worked at MSFT, we all had Dell workstations. I would say about 90% of all Windows development took place on Dell machines with Intel Processors. So when friends and family would ask for a computer recommendation, I would point them at Dell. Of course, I no longer had time to build them a machine, though I still built my own from scratch.

Now that I work on PicLens, I have to write code that supports Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari on both Mac and Windows. We have subsystems that run on top of OpenGL, DirectX, and a software rendered that works in two different modes, depending on which we detect would give better support on a specific system.

Yet we still get a fair number of people who send in e-mail with reports of graphics issues. Some are minor glitches, some are major glitches that make the product unusable. A very small number are blue screens. We take all customer feedback seriously and follow up with them asking about their configuration, etc. Almost all of them have one thing in common: non-premium graphics cards, by which I mean a card that is not a high end ATI or NVidia card.

I am coming to the part where I get to the point.

These days, when friends and family ask me what computer they should get, I think I will start telling them to get a Mac.

Let me be clear, I still hate Macs. With a passion. I have to use one at work, and I remain unconverted. But what they do is take away the freedom to choose poorly.

Let me explain:

With a PC, you never know what you are going to get. And even people who build there own machines often make decisions based on price point, not quality. Not to mention people who build their own machines but do not really understand how hardware and software drivers work.

With a Mac, you always get good hardware. They all have Intel processors. They all have NVidia or ATI graphics cards, with drivers that are known to work. Sure, Microsoft can certify drivers, but they can not test them in every possible configuration of PC hardware. But Apple can test every configuration. Because they only have tens of possibilities instead of thousands.

Nothing has really changed since I was in IT consulting. The trade-offs are still the same: build your own, buy an OEM and roll the dice, or pay a bunch more for a Mac that you can only do so much with but at least it will work. All that has changed is my point of view.

As an idealistic youth, I wanted everyone to get the most from their computing experience. I wanted to educate them about the machines and the software. At Microsoft I just wanted them to leave me alone and figure it out for themselves. Now I just can not be bothered by it at all. Macs work. They stop you from shooting yourself in the foot. And hey, if people think it makes them look cool, then even better.

I will still be building my own machines. My house is all Asus all the time. It is amazing, but I have never had any problems with Asus video cards in Asus mother boards. I prefer NVidia (though it is not a logical or rational preference). I only buy Intel Processors(but that is a completely separate discussion) and Seagate hard drives (though I will accept Western Digital and I really wish there was a quality third player).

Everyone else should get a Mac. It makes my life easier in the short term, since I do not have to do any support. Though, I guess if everyone got a Mac I would have to do ALL my development on a Mac. And I would miss Visual Studio and NTSD.

So, I guess the moral of the story is when choosing a video card, choose wisely. Caveat emptor and all that. Or, spend more than $20 on a video card.

See also: Wired: Graphics Chips Gun for Supremacy in Silicon Showdown

Saturday, May 31, 2008

the TIF really is a cache -- and it acts like one

It seems obvious, but I guess it has to be said. Internet Explorer's Temporary Internet Files folder is a cache. From Wikipedia: a cache is a temporary storage area where frequently accessed data can be stored for rapid access. Please note the use of the word temporary. This means that the data you want may not actually be there.

I frequently see questions along the lines of "How can I find this image/page in the cache?" or, even better, "How come this page I viewed isn't in the cache?" I love it when the askers of the latter form imply that this is a bug.

Files in the cache can be deleted at anytime. You can be looking at a page and then go to the cache and find it isn't there. There are many scenarios where this is legitimate. For example, if, while you are viewing this page, you go to Tools->Delete Browsing History and then clear your Temporary Internet Files, the only representation that IE will have of this page and all of its elements is the one in memory. Close the browser and that memory is freed and now its gone until you download it from the webserver again.

The page you are viewing may use the no-cache http header. The cache manager may have decided its time to scavenge. There may have even been an error writing to the cache and the cache has become corrupt.

I am sure there are other scenarios as well. The point is, you cannot rely on data to always be there. You must either capture the data in some other way, or be prepared to make a request to the server.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

to help or not to help

More and more I am confronted with a sort of moral dilemma. I read and post to the IE development forums over at MSDN. Frequently I see posts like this:

i want a BHO which continuously observe IE activity and send the URLs visited and time of visit and time of outfocus of them as soon as they are available,to listening java servlet. Now Please suggest me how to do this,perticularly this sending of url and their time details to java servlet.

He does not ask for help with a specific problem or bug he has encountered in the process. He does not tell us what he has done or post a sample of code he can not get to work. He simply asks, "how do I do this?" His masterful command of English does not help his case.

This guy is probably up to no good.

I can only think of one semi-legit use for such a thing, which would be for employers or parents to spy on their employees or children. And I'm not sure I can even get behind that.

So my dilemma becomes, do I help this guy? Do I tell him what to do? On the one hand, I do not want to be enabling spyware makers in anyway. On the other hand, if someone is paying him to do this thing, he is going to write the program whether I help him or not. Given that, is it better to make sure he does it right? I mean, which is better, crashing spyware or non-crashing spyware?

Anyway, today I am not helping this guy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

PicLens 1.6.3 Released

We released 1.6.3 yesterday to Why the change from 1.6.2 to 1.6.3? Because we now support video in the Wall.

You can search YouTube and watch the videos right in the wall. During development we spent a lot of time watching videos... it can be very addictive.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I can't stand it anymore, I have to say it

I love my iPhone.

There, I said it. I feel dirty.

My Windows-based SmartPhone got crushed in an under-the-motorized-car-seat retrieval operation that went horribly awry. Faced with a rapidly diminishing usable space on the cracked LCD screen, I went to the AT&T store to get the new hotness.

I suspected I wanted an iPhone. I didn't want to pay a lot for a phone, but what can you do? I carefully considered each and every phone they had and compared it to the iPhone. The results fell into one of two catagories:

1) This phone is complete crap and they have the nerve to charge [$100..$200] for it.
2) This phone isn't an iPhone, but costs just as much.

So I bought the iPhone.

The installation experience was harrowing. I found out you have to activate it through iTunes. I hate iTunes. I hate QuickTime. I hate all Apple software. I hate all third party software. I don't like the way it infects my machine with little processes that run without asking and little icons littered about the desktop and quicklaunch and systray. I hates it all.

But my wife has an iPod, so it was already installed. What can you do?

However, I had to upgrade to the latest version of iTunes. So I fired up IE and went to Halfway through the download, IE crashed.

So I used FireFox to download iTunes.

As a developer who used to work on Internet Explorer, you have no idea how much that hurt me. It was a sad, sad day. Snow flakes were reported in Hell.

But now I have the iPhone and it's the best phone ever and probably the best UI for anything other than PicLens.

Friday, March 14, 2008

WikiTalk redesign

My previous project, WikiTalk, has just undergone a major face lift this morning. I didn't know it was coming and was quite shocked to see it when I loaded it before work this morning.

Congratulations guys. It looks really good.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

PicLens: new version and news round-up

We worked hard all week, some team members staying awake for inadvisably long periods of time, to bring you all our latest work: PicLens 1.6.2.

This new version fixes many performance and stability issues, and most notably, improves graphics support for a significant number of people who may have had issues with previous versions of PicLens. We added Direct3D 9 support when running on Windows. This means you must have Windows XP Service Pack 2 (or the DX9 redist) installed or you will be running with a software renderer.

In the news, the New York Times has an article on PicLens and the future of web browsing. And we've been slashdotted.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

how to create an activex control that fires events to javascript (without using ATL)

Creating ActiveX Controls that Fire Events (without ATL)

I recently spent a fair bit of time at work figuring out how to write all the COM and OLE goo to make this work. There are lots of articles that tell you how to use ATL, but I am against ATL and I wanted to do it the old fashioned way. Here is a summary of what I learned.

The scenario was this: I wanted to have an ActiveX control that would download some file on a worker thread, then fire events that could be handled by JScript before, during and after the download. The general outline would look like this:

1. Page loads, control instantiated via object tag.
2. JScript calls attachEvent() to setup event handlers for the control.
3. JScript calls a method to start download.
4. Control spins up a worker thread which calls URLDownloadToFile().
5. The worker thread receives progress notifications via IBindStatusCallback(). Control fires events to JScript (from the worker thread) to inform JScript of progress.
6. Download completes, worker thread fires event to JScript.

I will call my control the Downloader and his CLSID is CLSID_DownloaderCtrl.

To make this happen your control must implement (and respond to in IUnknown::QueryInterface()):

1. IUnknown
2. IDispatch
3. IProvideClassInfo, IProvideClassInfo2
4. IObjectWithSite
5. IConnectionPointContainer
6. IDownloader (this is the dual interface for scripts to call methods the control exposes)
7. IObjectSafety
8. IServiceProvider (for URLDownloadToFile() to work properly)
9. IBindStatusCallback (optional -- only if you want download progess)

You will also need to implement IConnectionPoint, but do not repsond to it in QueryInterface. More on this later.


I assume you know how to implement IUnknown. Read Raymond's post on getting it wrong to make sure you know how to implement it.

Type Libraries

Before we can do much more we need a type library. To get this working, you have to create an .idl file that contains definitions. There are four important parts. Each one has its own GUID. They are specified in the .idl and MIDL will generate a header file and c file that defines them.

1. The outgoing event (disp)interface. DIID_DDownloaderEvents
2. The incoming (dual) interface. IID_IDownloader
3. The coclass goo. CLSID_DownloaderCtrl
4. The library. LIBID_Downloader

Your .idl should look something like this:

library Downloader
dispinterface DDownloaderEvents
[id(DISPID_PROGRESS)] void Progress();
[id(DISPID_COMPLETE)] void Complete();

interface IDownloader : IDispatch
[id(DISPID_DOWNLOAD)] HRESULT download(BSTR bstrFile);

coclass DownloaderCtrl
[default] interface IDownloader;
[source, default] dispinterface DDownloaderEvents;

MIDL will generate a .tlb file from this. You must include this type library as a resource in your .dll. To do that, add a line like the following:

1 TYPELIB "downloader.tlb"

Now you can call LoadTypeLib() using your module's path to get the type library, which you will need to use in your IDispatch implementation.


I am going to assume you know mostly know how to implement this as well. It is well documented. The important thing is to make sure you expose your typelib correctly.

IProvideClassInfo, IProvideClassInfo2

These are pretty straight-forward. In GetGUID() return your outgoing event interface, DIID_DDownloaderEvents.

The only tricky part is in GetClassInfo. You should call LoadTypeLib() then call ITypeLib->GetTypeInfoOfGuid(). The question is, which GUID do you use? The correct answer is CLSID_DownloaderCtrl. This gets the type info of your coclass, which Internet Explorer can use to figure out what your outgoing event interface is.


When you call attachEvent() in JScript, IE will ask for this interface to try to find a connection point for your outgoing event interface. You have to implement FindConnectionPoint(). I found EnumConnectionPoints() and to not be called by Internet Explorer. However, you may experience different results here. Set breakpoints and/or use asserts() to make sure anything you E_NOTIMPL isn't called, otherwise you may find yourself debugging into the wee hours.


FindConnectionPoint() gives out a pointer to an IConnectionPoint, which should really be a different object than your IConnectionPointContainer. See the documentation. We don't respond to IConnectionPoint in QueryInterface, since the only allowed way of getting it is via FindConnectionPoint().

You have to implement Advise() and Unadvise(). The remaining methods were never called for my implementation. However, as above, your milage may vary. Everytime IE calls Advise(), it will pass you an IUnknown. QueryInterface() for IID_IDispatch and remember that pointer. Make sure you associate it with the cookie you give back (std::map is one option, if you go in for that sort of thing).

When you want to fire your event, simply call the Invoke() member of all the IDispatch pointers you are holding on to, passing whatever parameters you want and the DISPID of whatever event you want to send.

Important: Before you use this pointer, read the bit about marshalling below.


This is simple as well. Make sure you respond to SetSite(NULL) by releasing all the pointers you acquired from your site. Also, this is your queue that your control is going away soon.


All you have to do here is QueryInterface your site for IServiceProvider and thunk the call to QueryService() through to your site's implementation. If you're using the Vista SDK, you can use IUnknown_QueryService().

If you don't implement this, URLDownloadToFile() may not be able to get access to certain security information and your life will be harder.


You should implement this to make instantiating your control easier and safer. Refer to the documentation and plentiful on-line examples.

A Word on Marshalling

My object operates on two threads--the IE Tab thread that it is created on, and a worker thread that does the heavy lifting. The point of using a worker thread is to not hang the UI while the download happens. This gives a nice experience, but makes implementation harder.

The one thing to remember, is all of IE's interaction with your object will happen on it's thread. You will receive IDispatch pointers on this thread. You cannot use these pointers in a different apartment (which means, you cannot use them on the worker thread).

In order to fire events from the worker thread, you must marshal the IDispatch pointers. You have two options for doing this:

1) Call CoMarshalInterThreadInterfaceInStream() on the IE thread, then CoGetInterfaceAndReleaseStream() on the worker thread. Do this for every IDispatch pointer and use the pointer returned on the worker thread.
2) Use the GIT (Global Interface Table). You're on your own with that one -- see the documentation.

If you try to use the pointer on the wrong thread, your Invoke() call will fail silently and the event will not be fired.

Setting up the JScript

1. Create your object using the object tag. You cannot use new ActiveXObject() because IE will not hook-up the events for you.
2. Give your object tag and ID, such as ID="downloader".
3. In the onLoad handler for the body element, call a function that uses the ID to attach the event handlers to events. E.g., downloader.attachEvent('Progress', onProgressEvent). Then simply implement the onProgressEvent() in JScript in the script section of your HTML.


Well, I hope that helps someone. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment.

Friday, February 15, 2008

New build of PicLens for Internet Explorer

We posted a new build of PicLens for Internet Explorer yesterday to It does not add any features, but does contain several performance and stability improvements.

If you have PicLens for Internet Explorer (or even if you don't have it yet!) you should be sure to upgrade to this latest version.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

PicLens 1.6.1 for Internet Explorer

As promised, we have just released PicLens 1.6.1 for Internet Explorer. You can download it by visiting

This is what I have been working on for the last month. It was quite a challenge, and luckily I had a fairly extensive background in Internet Explorer's extensibility model in order to make it happen. There are huge differences between the way Internet Explorer and FireFox are architected. For example, in FireFox all tabs run on the same thread. Since Internet Explorer creates a seperate UI thread for each Tab, I had to write code to demultiplex events coming from the tabs to our single PicLens thread that we create. This was done by careful use of DHTMLWindowEvents2's OnBlur and OnFocus events, as well as DWebBrowserEvents2's WindowStateChanged event. Keeping track of which of PicLens' Browser Helper Object instances (IE creates one per tab) was the "active" window was non-trivial, especially since we had to support IE6 and IE7.

In the end though I think we have a really solid product. If you notice any bugs or have any feedback, please feel free to leave me a comment or e-mail

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

PicLens 1.6 for FireFox Released (or what I've been up to)

I recently moved from Washington to California to work on PicLens. PicLens is a 3D, hardware accelerated, full-screen photo viewing plug-in. Version 1.6 adds the 3D wall for viewing photos at sites like Google Images, Yahoo Images, Flickr, Facebook, MySpace, xkcd, etc. You can download it for free here.

Here's a marketing screen shot, but that's really what it looks like.

Those of you who are aware that I once worked on the Internet Explorer team at Microsoft might have some insight as to what I'm doing down here. Hint: There will be an IE version very soon.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

media center, netflix, monitor rotation and real estate

When it comes to building your home PC, different people want different things. Some people want fast processors. Some people want lots of RAM. Some people want bang for the buck. I'm not really concerned with any of that. I use my machine for browsing the web and watching TV shows or movies. I want pixels. Lots and lots of pixels. I want to be able to watching things and browse things at the same time.

I bought a Dell 2405FPW. The 24" wide screen makes me very happy. My goal is to maximize the use of the real estate this presents. I was watching TV and browsing the web with this goal in mind. Since Media Center (like all good video players) likes to keep it's aspect ratio fixed, I kept ending up arrangements like this:

Notice the big chunk of unused space in the bottom left corner. There was no way to fill this space. Then I hit on the brilliant idea of rotating the monitor to portrait and stacking media center on top of IE. Then I could use every pixel. I was excited.

But I was thwarted:

I don't know what to say. As a user, my first thought is "there is no excuse for this." As a developer who used to work on Windows, I know there was at least a reason for it. Probably some video card didn't work in this configuration, or it would have been too much testing for a non-critical scenario, or something. But it made me mad.

Now I have NetFlix though. It has an in-browser player for viewing videos on demand. Now my dreams of real estate maximization can be realized:

Good bye, Media Center. Good by Cable Television. Hello NetFlix!!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

lenovo thinkpad R61i (or: a tale of two laptops)

Back in the day, we all knew who made the best laptops: IBM. Not because they were the cheapest or sexiest machines around. They were the toughest. They were tanks. You could drop it four stories and run it over with your car (though this was before SUVs were so popular) and the damn thing would be just fine. Of course, they were way too expensive for your average middle-class highschool kid to ever get.

When I was at MSFT I managed to get a company-issued Sony Viao TR5GP. I loved the Viao itself: it was small, portable, sexy, and not too slow. I hated Sony though. They refused to make drivers available for download or even seperate install; you had to buy the recovery DVD for $10 and then use it to fully recover the OS. Of course, doing that brought all the OEM crapware with it. So it was a constant struggle.

Now I find myself in need of a notebook once again. I will need one for the move, and Sara has been wanting one to use around the house. I disqualified Dell, because their machines are all flimsy crap. And I disqualified Toshiba because they're ugly and seemed to always have weird issues that weren't really problems, per se, just quirks. So my thoughts naturally turned to ThinkPads.

I bought the R61i because I wanted something cheap (as close to $500 as possible, newegg had it for $699). I wanted something reliable and sturdy. Its main purpose in life will be a web browsing machine and a mstsc machine. I need something to help me find an apartment when I get to California. Also, something to do on the plane.

It came last night, and I like it very much. Lenovo does not seem to have ruined the ThinkPad. It doesn't have the cute IBM logo, and it doesn't seem quite as sturdy as I remember (what is these days?), but I may have just built it up in my mind over the years. It does seem better than all the Dells I ever used at MSFT. They keyboard is nice and clicky. The screen is bright and clear. The USB ports are plentiful. It came with a nice assortment of crapware, but I uninstalled it all. It did require something like 62 Windows Updates out of the box, which was dissapointing, but what can you do? It's Windows.

Anyway, what I am getting at is just say no to Dell; buy a ThinkPad.