Saturday, September 19, 2009

Windows 7 Enterprise first look

Those of you who are Facebook friends might recall me talking about problems with my home computer's motherboard. In particular the audio drivers would crash and I'd have to reboot to restore sound. I also could not get it to recognize 4GB RAM, and I had to do all sorts of strange things just to get Windows XP to install.


A few weeks ago I finally bought an open box Asus M3N-HT. It was about this time that Microsoft offered a 90-day trial license of Windows 7 Enterprise for IT professionals. I have two Western Digital 1TB drives and one was mostly empty, so I decided to go for it.

I swapped out the motherboard rather easily, with only three small problems. First, while I was pulling the CPU out of my old motherboard I smeared CPU thermal grease across the pins on one side. I wasn't sure if it was conductive or not, but to be on the safe side a toothbrush and some rubbing alcohol took care of that. The second was figuring out which SATA port was #1. I needed to know because the #1 port is where you connect the boot drive. The six SATA ports are on the edge of the motherboard, in three columns of two ports each. Was the bottom #1 or the top? It turns out it's the top.

Finally, many new motherboards have what's called AHCI mode, which is used to enable some advanced features including more SATA ports. My motherboard has 6 SATA ports total, but I can only use 4 of them unless I enable AHCI or RAID mode. When did this I could not get my computer to boot from my SATA DVD drive. It turns out that this is not a supported configuration for this motherboard. If I want to install an OS with AHCI enabled from the start I would have to boot from an IDE optical drive. I'm not particularly concerned because I'm only using 4 SATA ports right now amd Windows Vista and Windows 7 support enabling AHCI later.


I had already burned the Windows 7 Enterprise 64-bit ISO to a DVD, so after I had all the above sorted out I popped that in and fired up the installer. It was completely painless. The installer loads in a graphical screen instead of the old DOS style like Windows XP used, and it loads much faster. I deleted the partition already on the drive I was installing to and let the installer recreate it. It added a 100MB system partition whose purpose I don't know yet, then created the primary partition on the remainder of the drive. The entire installation process took about 30 - 45 minutes. I left it running while I loaded the dishwasher so I'm not sure of the exact time. I heard my computer reboot twice during the process, and I came back and it was at a login screen.

Finishing Installation

The very first thing I noticed was Windows had automatically set itself to my monitors' native resolution, which is 1440x900, and both monitors were working. That was interesting. When I logged in my computer made a noise and I had to ask Myron if that was my computer or his. It was mine, so apparently my sound was working, too. With Windows XP I always had to install video and audio drivers before anything worked, so I wondered what else had the Windows 7 installation done automatically?

I finally tracked down the device manager and was stunned to see that everything had a driver. My audio worked, my video worked, and my network worked. I didn't have to install a single driver. It listed my video card as an nVidia GeForce 9800GTX+, my keyboard as a Saitek Eclipse and my mouse as a Logitech TrackMan Marble. It even loaded the nVidia Control Panel software.

First impressions

The first thing I did from here was install Thunderbird so I could get to my e-mail. IE8 prompted me to make sure I wanted to download the file, then Windows prompted me again when I ran the installer. This was the first time I had gotten any security prompts. Thunderbird installed fine, I copied the contents of my Thunderbird profile to the clipboard... then couldn't find where to put it. A quick search (using Bing) showed they had moved it to a folder called Roaming in my user profile. I found the Thunderbird folder there, pasted in my old profile, loaded Thunderbird, and e-mail started flowing in.

While I was working with the new Windows Explorer I noticed it wasn't showing me file extensions. And I didn't have toolbars. I tried right-clicking the area where the toolbars should be and nothing happened. Another Internet search and I learn I have to go through the Control Panel to set folder options. I changed those and they took place immediately in my open Explorer window.

Wrap up

As you may have guessed, I haven't worked with Windows Vista yet, so there is going to be a bit of a learning curve. So far I really like Windows 7. It's fast, it looks nice, andit's not so different that I want to scream in frustration (yet). My initial impression is Windows 7 is to Windows Vista what Notes 8.5.1 is to Notes 8: what it should have been from the beginning.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

My impressions of Lotus Notes and Domino 8.5.1 beta

For those of you looking for my food-oriented writing, keep moving. This isn't going to make much sense. :-)

Why Am I Here?

You might be thinking "Hey... I know you... aren't you that formerly relevant guy who hates Notes and Domino and now just pokes fun at Ed Brill and taunts Nathan?"

It is no secret that in my day job I work with Visual Studio, Access and SQL Server and we use Outlook and Exchange for e-mail. But we don't have a collaboration platform. We tried Sharepoint and it became apparent it wasn't for us when I couldn't even get a demo environment set up in a reasonable amount of time. I tried out Notes and Domino 8, but I have been very disappointed with the performance and overall build quality of every release so far.

The worst bugs were in Domino Designer, and I happen to be a developer. Since the other user populations -- end users and administrators -- were getting lots of new features that actually mostly worked, I finally decided that IBM simply didn't care. Here's how the cycle would go: we would yell at them at Lotusphere and they'd make a promise to do better and we'd cheer. Several months later they'd give us something half-baked, we'd yell, they'd make a promise to do better at Lotusphere and we'd cheer. Lather, rinse, repeat.

As if to prove this point, the first Domino Designer in Eclipse is an atrocity. It just doesn't work. Period. There are scores of regression bugs and much of the new functionality is not complete. Things that were promised and demoed at Lotusphere 2008 were not shipped in this release, which came out in January 2009. I had participated in usability sessions during which I was told the functionality I was working with would be in 8.5, but it wasn't. I took it very personally. I felt like Lotus looked me in the eye and lied.

So when I heard that supposedly one of the primary goals in 8.5.1 was to fix was was left undone in 8.5 and to finally make Domino Designer a usable development environment, my first reaction was look back at the long history of broken promises and broken software and be dismissive. I finally decided that after harping about this for the better part of a decade I had to see if they were really doing it or just giving more lip service. I requested to participate in the 8.5.1 managed beta. I had to know.

Notes Client

The first thing I noticed is performance is much improved. From the time I double-click the Lotus Notes icon until I get the password prompt is consistently 3 - 5 seconds. After I enter my password the time to load my "My Work" home page is another 15 - 20 seconds. I used to have startup times of over 45 seconds so this is a huge improvement.

Working with mail, calendar, to-do's, and follow-up items is smooth and efficient. In previous releases I had pauses of up to 20 seconds while the calendar or e-mail loaded, but that's completely gone. Now it's a second or two and it's loaded. I really like the new UI for mail and the improvements made to the icons and visual clutter since 8.0. I have not had any weird errors or application hangs and so far the toolbars haven't been moving around randomly like they used to. I haven't had a single crash yet, either. The performance and stability of the Notes client by itself has improved tremendously across the board.

Domino Designer

How about Domino Designer, the application I hated so much I changed jobs to get away from it? DDE 8.5.1 is much more responsive and much more stable than 8.5. It's still not as speedy as the old Domino Designer, but it also doesn't make me want to claw my eyes out (yet). I haven't had code go missing, and I have only had one crash. The Eclipse LotusScript editor is a little quirky and isn't what was promised, but still an improvement over what was available in previous releases. Code assist works for custom classes and will autocomplete method and property names. You can type out a function or object name, hover your mouse over it, and help pops up in a little window. I'm definitely impressed. This is close to what I expected when release 8.0 came out in August 2007.

What? No Sturm and Drang?

Some of you may be shocked to see me saying mostly positive things about Notes and Domino. I've always liked the idea of the products, I just haven't liked the implementation. 8.5.1 is a game changer. It's showing the promise of the platform and is a great jumping off point. Sure it's two years late, but at least it's finally here.

I do have a list of issues with 8.5.1, some of which are quite serious. Originally I started writing a vitriolic exposé of these as well as what's been left on the cutting room floor.
The license on the latest beta build dropped the secrecy requirement, so I could do that. After taking a step back and looking at the whole picture, I came to the conclusion that ultimately there is more good than bad in 8.5.1. Sure there are problems, but after screwing around for two years IBM/Lotus finally came up with something that doesn't make baby Jesus cry.

And let's not forget this is beta software and there are several weeks of development between the last beta release and the final gold build.
Some of the problems I have reported may be resolved. There are a few things I already know are being deferred or simply aren't going to be available, so you can be sure a more critical writeup is coming.

Final Thoughts

Coming full circle, the reason I'm writing this is because I am shocked by what I have seen in 8.5.1. I have been one of the harshest critics of R8 and I'm not a raving fan yet, but there is finally hope. I wrote off R8 as a lost release, one that was basically an entire beta cycle between 7 and 9. I never expected any R8 release to be usable. If you did the same you owe it to yourself to give 8.5.1 a try. It has issues and there is a lot left to be done, but is head and shoulders above any previous R8 release.

Disclaimer: IBM Lotus Notes/Domino and Lotus Notes Traveler 8.5.1 is prerelease code and there are no guarantees from IBM that the functionality presented or discussed will be in the final shipping product.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Problem with Windows Server 2003 NIC's after running VMware Converter

When you convert a physical machine to virtual, VMware Converter will create VMware-compatible network interfaces. It does not delete the old hardware interfaces that are no longer used, it simply hides them from Device Manager. When you try to assign an IP address to the new interface, you may find yourself in one of these situations:
  • You get the error "The IP address is assigned to another adapter which is hidden. In order to allocate the actual IP address of the server to the network adapter/s you'll need to remove the hidden adapters."
  • You can assign the IP address, but the Network Properties dialog shows it is DHCP. ipconfig will show the static IP. Resetting the static IP in the Network Properties doesn't stick.

If the first one happens it's pretty shocking because you can't give your server the IP address you want, and you can't find the interface that has it assigned. In the second case it doesn't hurt anything because it still works, it's just inconsistent and can cause some issues when troubleshooting.

To fix this follow these steps:
  • Open a command prompt on the affected VM
  • Type set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1 and press Enter
  • Open Device Manager by typing devmgmt.msc and pressing Enter from the same command prompt
  • In Device Manager click View > Show Hidden Devices
  • Find the old devices and delete them
  • Restart the server
I found most of these steps in the VMware Forums. The downside is it doesn't always work. I've had about a 50% success rate with getting it to actually delete the incorrect NIC.