Doug's Mailbag: The Great Ribbion Debate, Is IE Worth Your Trust?

In the April issue of Redmond magazine, Doug discussed the impact of Microsoft's ribbon interface and asked your thoughts:

I think Microsoft's ribbon is a disaster. All the products (Microsoft Office) for which the ribbon was introduced are failures. A product is a failure when users go shopping on the Internet looking for add-on tools to make the new ribbon looks like the classic interface.  

The human brain prefers productivity; previous tasks -- such as cut, copy, paste, bold, italics -- now requires several clicks of ribbons. That is unproductive and inefficient. Microsoft doesn't get it. With all the money they have, they can not hire PHDs in artificial intelligence to tell them how the human brain works.

Microsoft have completely lost its credibility. Its new product launches are taken with a grain of salt. It's almost like, as Apple's Steve Jobs put it, "They have no taste."

- Duro

I'm not sure I agree with your conclusions, based on the fact you only received 30 letters, with no statistically correct sampling.

You were bound to get more angry, unsatisfied users, and not hear from most of us, who actually like it (my opinion, not a scientific poll). From what I know, the ribbon was not created by MS alone -- it was the result of an extensive usability research. Besides, complaining that UI changed is pointless. I'm actually glad that finally something new came to the Office UI.

If people spent a fraction of the time they spend complaining in learning the new features, they would gain more. Classic menus would not be able to contain all the new features, and if you don't want to change, just stick to the old version.
- Wanderlei

When I first installed Office 2007, I thought the ribbon was a pain. I could not understand why they needed to change things again. If you remember, the ribbon has changed with each of the releases of Office since Office 1997.

One of my first complaints was that there is nothing to inform you that the Office log in the upper left-hand corner actually did something. Once you figure that out, a lot of the major issues with Office goes away. My biggest epiphany was when one of our administrative people pointed out that you can basically do a right-click on almost anything to get to the dialog boxes that you are trying to find.

One of the biggest annoyances to me is that once you get to the dialog box you are looking for, it looks just like the Office 2003 dialog box. So what did Microsoft spend all of their time on? Apparently making Word and Excel more difficult to use for the person that had experience.

The ribbon has made Word and Excel easier to use for the newbie; however, for the person that has been working with Word and Excel for years and years, the ribbon has become a big pain in the neck to deal with, as you have to go hunting down things as to where Microsoft thought they made the most sense to place them. One of the biggest complaints I have heard from our administrative people is wondering why Microsoft hid some of the dialog boxes. They tell me that there are some dialog boxes that are so well hidden that you really have to go digging to find them.

However, the biggest problem we have come across is the Microsoft implementation of OpenXML for Word (i.e., DOCX format). When you use Change Tracking Mode with DOCX, there seems to be a problem with Word determining which changes are the current changes, depending on the user viewing the document. I was editing two large reports right after we converted and had instances with both where the changes I made were not seen by the administrative person. We were on the phone and what I was looking at and what they were looking at were two different things. We used DOCX for about two weeks until we realized that Word documents were getting corrupted and switched back to DOC formatting. This seems to be a hidden secret with Microsoft that this does not work. It will sure be nice when Microsoft gets this fixed.
- Jeff

Seems to be a good idea but Microsoft introduces new technologies and leave us (old tech guys) behind. Most of users get lost and can't find what they want until tech support does the research on it.

As you mention before, how hard would it be to leave the old clunky menu with the ribbon for 2007 and then phase out the old menu on 2010?
- Anonymous

Last week, Doug ask if you trust Internet Explorer's aggressive push to fix known problems:

I don't trust IE because it doesn't follow W3C standards -- Firefox does. In addition, Firefox gives me a plug-in that gives me a debugging platform for Web development with Javascript, CSS, Ajax, Prototype, etc.
- Richard

When I am using IE 8 and Win 7, IE 8 freezes almost nonstop. Once it stops, it's almost impossible to use without reboot. I didn't get that with XP nor do I have the same problem with other browsers, such as Mozilla and Opera. Thanks for letting me vent.
- Mitchell

Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on April 07, 20100 comments

Chip Wars Renewed

Competition is a great thing. In the case of microprocessors, AMD keeps Intel on its toes and we all benefit. Competition is the thing that actually enforces Moore 's Law.

Recently both AMD and Intel have upped the chip ante. AMD released new eight- and 12-core processors aimed at high-end servers, systems that seem perfect for virtualization.

Intel, at nearly the exact same time, unveiled the Xean 7500 series that go from eight to 64 cores. Now that's cooking!

Which chip vendor do you prefer? Answers welcome at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 05, 20106 comments

Third-Party Report: Sunbelt Software

I Recently spoke with Alex Eckelberry, CEO of Sunbelt, about new products. Alex reminded me how I make him feel old since we first met around 1988 when he was an Amiga software exec with Aegis Development and I was editor-in-chief of AmigaWorld magazine (in the process he made me feel old right back).

Sunbelt has some pretty cool new products, but we spent way more time talking about the effort the company puts into security research and making sure its tools are truly unique. Sunbelt puts a ton of effort into security research so it can track and prevent the latest infestations.

On the product side, Sunbelt is all about lean and mean, so its security software isn't bogged down by bloat, blogging your machines down with the same boat.

Its core product line is Vipre, which protects against malware in all its forms.

Recently the company announced an upgrade to the core that drives all the Vipre products. Vipre 4.0 includes a new management console that tracks all the tools, and their premium edition, Vipre Enterprise Premium 4.0, includes Web filtering and Host Intrusion Prevention that acts as a two-way firewall and IDS.

Are you a Sunbelt customer? If so, send your thoughts to [email protected]. Third-party news also welcome at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 05, 20101 comments

Windows 7 Free All Year

Curious if Windows 7 is as good as Microsoft says it is? Under a free enterprise trial program, you can play with Windows 7 all year long -- for free. The already existing free trial offer has been extended to Dec. 31, 2010.

If you are serious about Windows 7, you might be better off just buying the darn thing. If you like the trial version and want to buy the real thing, you have to do a clean install.
Meanwhile Windows 7 RC users are starting to get shutdown notices. The RC expires June 1.

Do you love Windows 7, or are there still glitches? Send praise and error reports to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 05, 20102 comments

Third-Party Report: Centrify

Tom Kemp is not just CEO of Centrify, he is also one of 12 Windows gurus profiled three years ago in Redmond magazine.

Centrify, in essence, allows IT pros to use Active Directory to manage Linux, Unix and Mac computers. The idea is that nearly every shop has Windows Servers and thus has AD. Why not use that knowledge to manage everything else? Microsoft sure doesn't mind since it makes Windows the center of the data universe. Now that it has a few years under its belt, the still young Centrify has a full suite, including two brand new tools. Here's the rundown:

  • The suite starts with DirectControl, which is actually required to use the other pieces. DirectControl allows AD to control access and authentication across heterogenous systems.
  • DirectAuthorize controls authorization based on roles.
  • DirectAudit aids in compliance by tracking and reporting on what users do, whatever system they're on.
  • DirectSecure, a new tool, encrypts data and isolates systems from one another.
  • DirectManage, another new tool, lets AD manage heterogeneous systems almost as if they're Windows.

Back in its early days, Centrify competed with Centeris. Alleviating market confusion, Centeris is now called Likewise.

Have you checked out Centrify? Shoot your thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 02, 20104 comments

April Fools'

Kids can't resist a good April Fools' joke, and neither apparently can those that run today's top Web sites. Here's a smattering of stunts from yesterday:

You've probably heard that Topeka, Kan. changed its name to Google, prompting Google yesterday to change its name to, you guessed it, Topeka. In more Google news, the New Zealand edition of PC World claimed Google is buying Microsoft for $2 billion. If they said $200 billion it would be more believable.

Meanwhile ITWire ran the lame excuse for a prank claiming Linus Torvalds is helping Microsoft build the next version of Windows.

What was the best April Fools' you've either pulled off or were victim of? Send your stories to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 02, 20101 comments

April Fools'

Kids can't resist a good April Fools' joke, and neither apparently can those that run today's top Web sites. Here's a smattering of stunts from yesterday:

You've probably heard that Topeka, Kan. changed its name to Google, prompting Google yesterday to change its name to, you guessed it, Topeka. In more Google news, the New Zealand edition of PC World claimed Google is buying Microsoft for $2 billion. If they said $200 billion it would be more believable.

Meanwhile ITWire ran the lame excuse for a prank claiming Linus Torvalds is helping Microsoft build the next version of Windows.

What was the best April Fools' you've either pulled off or were victim of? Send your stories to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 02, 20101 comments

Microsoft Attacks Chrome: No Fooling!

Google may have an overall great reputation, but those in the know are very concerned with how the company deals with privacy. Simply put, Google knows a lot about what we do and hangs onto that information like grim death.

Now Microsoft claims the Chrome browser is designed to collect even more of our private actions. According to Microsoft, Chrome is little more than a keylogger, whereas IE 8 takes pains to protect your Internet comings and goings. The crux is that Chrome combines the search and address bars, so when you type in a URL is goes to Google just like any other search.

Skeptics point out that if you use Chrome and have Bing as your default search, those URL request get sent to Microsoft!

What do you think of how Microsoft and Google deal with privacy? How much privacy should we expect online? Send your most public thoughts to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on April 02, 20106 comments

Doug's Mailbag: IE Security, Lieberman Software Praise, Windows 7 Disgust, More

One reader discusses that the IE security breech patched this week may not be the fault of Microsoft:

The issue is not just with browsers, but with us Web designers and developers.

We keep making our sites to require scripts and ActiveX controls. We keep using Flash, Silverlight and any other "cool" graphic appeal we get out hands on. We throw everything, including the kitchen sink, on the front-end just because we can.

All of these add to the security problem. Most of the security hacks are not from IE or any other browser, but from the junk we add. Our sites are totally unusable if one does not allow scripts, ActiveX, etc. So users must leave their browsers open to hackers.

Don't blame the browsers, blame ourselves.

After Doug recently blogged about hackers cracking IE 8 in two minutes, one reader calls him on singling out only Internet Explorer:

I've read a few stories now on this hacker event and how they cracked IE. Not only was IE hacked but so were Firefox, Safari and Opera. In fact, the only one that wasn't hacked (Google Chrome) had just gotten a big round of patches the day before the event. That way the hackers didn't have any time to plan their attack. My guess is that Chrome would fail too.

I'm with Microsoft on this one. Even a locked steel door can get broken into if someone wants in bad enough.

While the industry is still raving and ranting about Windows 7, one reader has had enough:

I am really getting sick of hearing about Windows 7. It is OK but it's just an evolutionary step from it predecessor -- not god's gift to the computer world.

I have two part-time jobs. One is as a consulting project manager for the prime contractor to a government organization. In this capacity, I design and create MS Access clients to Oracle databases. The organization is still using Windows XP and Office 2003 products and is happy with the capabilities and performance. Everything is centrally controlled and to even get Framework installed in my profile, I need the approval of my task manager. People complain but the help desk does a good job and is very responsive and knowledgeable. We have been working on transitioning some of our applications to Office 7 but it is difficult because most of our simulation software has embedded calls to Windows 2000 applications. Very talented people are working on this but it seems like a waste of resources to spend this money so Microsoft can make money by selling new products because they weren'tsmart enough to get all of us to subscribe.

In my second job I support very small businesses, generally doctors' and dentists' offices. These are peer-to-peer networks of six to eight Windows XP computers with one being a "server." All applications run on XP, Vista or 7, but everyone is happy with the installed XP versions. There is no desire to upgrade to Windows 7 especially since they would need to do a clean install on their existing computers and would have to upgrade all of them at the same time. When a new computer arrives with Windows 7 Pro, I set them up to run in XP.

I see no movement on the part of the government contractor to switch to 7. However, it will happen sometime. As to the doctors and dentists, they will not move until they have to. Probably when their applications are only available for Windows 7. Meanwhile I have to listen to the same old Windows 7 hymn.

That felt good, time to go jog and then have a beer.

An industry administrator comments on what makes Lieberman Software so great:

We have been running RPM in our environment now for over two years and have nothing but good things to say about it. We leverage RPM to randomize all of our Managed Desktops and Production server local administrator passwords. This is to remain inline with our internal password compliance standards. We are managing roughly 2500 clients with very minimal system overhead. The server runs in our VMware ESX environment with the database residing in our production SQL cluster. All in all the system takes up very little resources because it is agent-less and accesses machines via the RPC shares in windows. We have a heterogeneous environment and since RPM looks at the RID IDs of the accounts, users can rename the local administrator account to whatever they feel like.  However, RPM will still find the account and change the password when the job runs -- a very nice feature. The other great part of RPM is it's not tied down to one specific OS. We manage all of our Windows (XP, Vista, 7) machines as well as our managed Apple (10.5, 10.6) computers with the same system and service account. A very unique feature in today's marketplace.

Our help desk also likes the Web interface for accessing all of the managed desktop passwords. It's AD integrated and allows you to add users or groups for permissions delegation, bypassing the need to engage in the tedious task of create new users accounts for everybody. Their main use of the Web interface is, for instances, where they need local administrator access for software installations and general troubleshooting. Our security team also taps into the Web interface for forensic purposes. 

The product is a breeze to set up and the documentation is very detailed, walking you through all aspects of the product. I have had one or two odd issues with the product since implementing it, and when I call in for support I always get top-notch service and very knowledgeable people. 

We are looking to implement the upgraded version of this product ERPM, which you talk about in your article. We think this will save us a ton of time in our service account management and also remain in compliance.

Finally, while one reader uses Microsoft's Bing, he knows it's far from perfect:

I like Bing, and use it more than Google these days.

At first, my main criticism was that it gave too many results that were randomly using one or another of the keywords, and were not targeted to sites with all of the keywords. That seems to have gotten better over time, but it took a long time.

Also, it often suggests words that are similar, but have no connection to the keywords used.

A third criticism is that leading returns on the searches often seem to be paid advertisements -- again, only remotely or not at all connected to the search.

That said, I believe that it is giving Google a run for its money. At the moment, I use Bing slightly more than Google, just to give them a boost. I like to see competition in technology. If they make it better, I may give up Google altogether -- I think that they have gotten too smug and take users for granted.

Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on April 02, 20100 comments

Doug's Mailbag: Business in Foreign Countries, Windows Upgrade Plans, More

With Google out and Microsoft staying the course in China, Doug asks whether a company should adhere to the laws and protocols of a host country. Here are some of your responses:

It is a privilege to provide another country with our services.  Google accepted and followed the business rules of China.  China, in turn, did not respect their business.  Had China respected Google's business, they would have taken action against the hacker (yet perhaps it was the Chinese Government). 

Business is based upon an agreement between two entities.  Google held up their end of the bargain, yet China fell short on theirs by failing to care about such a vital matter that provided a great service (especially since they were able to censor the searches).

So, in essence, it is respectful to follow the rules of another "household" when providing a service for them.  Yet, when those rules jeopardize the very core of who you are (the core of Google's whole business in this case) and what you stand for, do as Jesus instructed his disciples to do and "shake the dust from your feet in protest against them" (Acts 13:51 NIV) and move on.  Money isn't worth jeopardizing your entire business.

In the article where Microsoft vows to play by China's rules, they are not any better than Google.  Just wait until the core of their business is hacked and it will be very interesting to see how they respond.  It's coming; it's just a matter of when.

In case you are not aware, the USA owes China trillions of dollars. They buy our Treasury notes and bills. They effectively loan us money. Lots of money. They are keeping us afloat as our national operating deficit continues to mount.

Their economy is growing at a faster rate than anyone's. Their combination of communism and capitalism is unique, but is apparently effective. They have a right to run their country however they decide.

So, if your company wants to do business with the fastest growing economy in the world, then it would behoove one to do all one can to follow their rules of engagement -- their laws as a sovereign nation -- to stay in their good graces to make some serious profit. The Chinese are running things in the world, economically speaking. They have a strong balance of trade, compared to the U.S. They deserve our respect.
- C. Sam

Bully for Microsoft. It appears that they are making some right moves.

If they are operating on Chinese soil, it's a little like civil disobedience.  You violate the law at the risk of having to pay the consequences -- and in a place like China, those consequences could be pretty severe. 

I think what Google did was courageous -- but in the long run, the right choice.  Since the "Tiananmen Square" demonstrations (years ago now) and since China decided to open its markets to the West, the days of blatant censorship have been numbered.  Slowly but surely, the Chinese people have begun to stand up to their government and the government's control over information is slipping away.   

Every act of resistance, even from the outside, serves the long-term interests of the people of China and, indirectly, people everywhere.   
-C. Mark

I think the sovereignty of each country needs to be respected. It is about time countries stood up for their own rights and not be dictated to by people with vested interests.

There is no such thing as real democracy (even in the U.S.).
- Rocky

Here are some of your responses when asked about Windows OS upgrade plans:

We finally got 80 laptops updated to a standard Windows XP image nine month ago.  We plan to upgrade those laptops to Windows 7 either fourth-quarter 2010 or first-quarter 2011.

I don't plan on updating any servers until they are either migrated to our new blade center or until they die.  Several servers are going off physical hardware to virtualized environment on blades and will have their OS upgraded to Server 2008.  The database server will move to Server 2008 R2, coming from Server 2003 R2 64-bit.
- Greg

No Windows upgrade plans at all.

Whatever version of Windows an existing machine has, it'll keep; any new equipment will keep whatever Windows version it comes with.

Unless, of course, I decide it might be worth installing an Ubuntu distribution, in which case it'll be dual-booting.
- Fred

One reader wrote in to enlighten Doug on what exactly BizTalk does:

I work for a Electricity distribution company in Canada.  One of our guiding principals is that we buy software before try and custom build it.  The result is we have a standard assessment procedure and have purchased a third-party work order management system.  These two systems need to be able to "talk" to each other but are unable to do so natively.  Both of these systems have their own interfaces and use different technologies to do so.  In the case of SAP, it will communicate with other systems using IDOCs, RFCs, BAPIs and Web Services. The Work Order Management system communicates with other systems using a File System or MQ Series Queue.  Not only do we have a communication gap, but both of these systems are speaking their own language.  Each system uses different data formats and message formats.  Without some sort of middleware, both of these systems are on islands.  We use BizTalk to bridge these two systems, provide a traditional Enterprise Application Integration and manage a Business Process.
A real world example of how we use BizTalk is the following use case:

    1. Customer calls in to let us know that their power is down
    2. Contact Centre agent looks up customer record in SAP
    3. Contact Centre agent creates a trouble ticket in SAP
    4. SAP sends this IDoc to BizTalk
    5. BizTalk receives IDoc using SAP Adapter (included in BizTalk)
    6. BizTalk will transform this IDoc into a "Create Event" for the work order management system
    7. Create Event is dropped onto MQ Queue so it can be retrieved by work order management system
    8. Work order management system will then dispatch to a power line technician in the field
    9. As the power line technician works on customer issue, order updates are sent from work order management System to BizTalk
    10. BizTalk will then transform work order management order updates into SAP IDoc updates and send to SAP
    11. Contact centre agents can view order updates in near real time
    12. When the job is complete, the power line technician will close the order and include any materials used to complete job
    13. BizTalk will receive close job message, transform that message into two messages; one to close the order and one to record materials used
    14. BizTalk will send both the close order IDOC and materials IDoc to SAP
    15. SAP now has a complete record of all events that occurred for that job.
Finally, a reader shares another satirical article from the Onion:

Saw this recently, and thought you/Redmond readers may get a chuckle out of it.
- Scott

Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on March 31, 20100 comments

Hackers Crack IE 8 in Two Minutes Flat

At a recent hacker event, it only took two minutes to break through IE 8's defenses. Rather than get defensive or ignore the event, Microsoft addressed the issues head-on, arguing that if you really want to secure your browser, you need a defense-in-depth approach, battening down all your computing hatches.

Part of those defenses, Microsoft argues, includes moving to more secure operating systems such as Windows 7 or Vista.

I'm a little disappointed that IE was cracked so fast, but I'm sure the hackers had time to prepare their attacks so the two minutes was the execution, and not the planning. On the other hand, I like Microsoft's forthright attitude here. I think it takes a fair amount of guts to come clean like this.

Am I giving Microsoft too much credit or not enough? Tell it to me straight at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on March 31, 20107 comments

IE Patch Rushed to Market

An IE remote code execution (RCE) flaw is so serious that it just can't wait till April's Patch Tuesday. Instead, an out-of-band fix was released this week.

The RCE issue occurs when someone is led to a malicious Web page and is lured into clicking. The fix applies to all current forms of IE -- from IE 5 to the latest, IE 8.

The patch is actually a cumulative fix, repairing a heaping 10 problems.

Experts see this out-of-band patch as a sign that Redmond is getting more aggressive about fixing problems it or outsiders discover. Some praise this aggressiveness while others see the fixes as symptoms of an underlying disease, and suggest IT move off of IE.

Do you trust IE? Are other browsers really more secure? Your opinions welcome at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on March 31, 20105 comments