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Apple Passes Microsoft

by @ 12:04 am
Filed under: financial,google,microsoft — Tags: , , ,

It's hard to believe, but today Apple's market cap of $222B is larger than that of Microsoft which finished at $219B. That makes Apple the biggest Tech company on the block today. Microsoft will probably reclaim the top spot tomorrow, but Steve Jobs must be happy to have surpassed its old nemesis.

And Google? Today its market cap stood at $151B. Still has a long way to go to catch up to the big guys. Don't shed any tears though, Google is much younger than the duo. It'll get there in due time.

Microsoft Office Live Ends Free Domain

by @ 7:33 pm
Filed under: microsoft

Office LiveAbout a year or two back when Microsoft was offering a free domain name with their Office Live product, I had signed up with some throw-away domain name to test it. The experience was less than impressive, far less, so I just forgot about the whole thing.

I was recently reminded of the domain name when I received an email from Microsoft, excerpted below:

As noted in the policy change e-mail we sent you in August of 2009, Microsoft Office Live Small Business no longer offers free domain name renewals ... Your custom domain .com must renew by 02/14/2010. To keep this domain name, you will need to pay the annual renewal fee of $14.95 ... If you allow your domain name to expire, visitors will no longer be able to use your custom Web address to reach your Web site ... All e-mail accounts on the expired domain will be discontinued, and e-mail messages will not be saved.

To quote Mr. T, I pity the fool that fell for the Microsoft's gimmick back then and developed anything useful around the free domain name only to be forced to pony up the racket money now. I bet Microsoft won't let them transfer the domain to a cheaper registrar either.

As for me, no thanks Microsoft. Go ahead and expire the domain name, toss it, trash it, burn it, see if I care. I knew all along this was BS. You upped the ante against Google. It crashed and burned and now you want your users to pay for it.


IE8 and JScript / WSH Bug

by @ 10:42 am
Filed under: computers,microsoft

Had a hell of a time chasing an inexplicable and sudden crash in one of my JScript programs last week. In the end Internet Explorer 8 was the culprit.

Thankfully removing IE8 is simply done via the Control Panel and it's rolled back to the previously installed one. Guess we have fair-competition rulings to thank for that or else IE8 would have been impossible to remove without damaging Windows.

Anyways, if you have IE8 installed and you run JScript in WSH, watch out, your program could crash under certain conditions. As for VBScript or other languages, I haven't tested them, so can't speak to those.


Oracle and Bing

by @ 9:00 am
Filed under: business,microsoft

Oracle has already bagged the U.S. regulatory approval to acquire Sun. If the Europeans go along as well, Sun will become a part of Oracle by September. That means Oracle will also own Java, the popular open source programming language used widely on the Web.

Today while installing a Java upgrade I was presented with an option to install the Bing toolbar. As you know Bing is the much hyped search engine by Microsoft. As you also know, Oracle and Microsoft are rivals in several industries, the biggest one being the database industry. That will just get bigger when Oracle takes control of MySQL (also owned by Sun.)

I wonder if Java users will still be given the Bing option after Oracle acquires Sun. Then again Sun and Microsoft were themselves pretty big rivals until a few years ago. Passage of time makes strange bedfellows.

Java and Bing


Google or Bing

by @ 11:03 pm
Filed under: google,microsoft,web

Microsoft is nothing if not persistent. Last week the company unveiled the latest incarnation of its search engine called Bing. I don't know, but this is probably the 5th iteration of the company's attempt to force itself onto the psyche of the net searchers.

You've got to give Microsoft credit for trying. Squeezed by the champion, Google, on one side and the runner-up, Yahoo, on the other, Microsoft keeps on trying and trying and trying. So far they have yet to chip away at the search market share in a meaningful way and this latest salvo, as far as I can tell, is far from impressive.

Bing looks sleek for sure but it's so obvious that the underlying engine is the same old algorithm as before. Adding a nice graphic and a bunch of bells and whistles is well and good, but winning converts is another story. To be fair, I tried Bing for a little while, only to slide right back into Google's arms. Don't blame me for being faithful to Google. You did it too. But it's not blind faith. Google still produces much more relevant results without the Web 2.0 trickery, and at the end of day the one that produces higher quality at the same price wins the eyeballs.

What really surprised me was when I plugged the terms "search engine" into Google. Google's own site was nowhere to be found in the results page. The top 3 results were AltaVista, Dogpile, and Ask.com. Does anyone really use these search engines anymore? Over on the right-hand side where Google displays sponsored ads, Bing was at the top of the list.

It appears that even Google is excited about Microsoft's new search engine, if only to charge them a premium for a top sponsorship spot. It's almost like Google is saying, "who, me worry?"

Google or Bing


Robocopy Slow on Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008

by @ 12:20 am
Filed under: computers,microsoft

A few years ago when I needed to synchronize large collection of files for a number of Windows Server 2003 hosts I stumbled upon a Windows Resource Kit utility named Robocopy. This is a great file synchronization tool with lots of switches that can quickly copy entire folders from one Windows host to another along with their NTFS data such as dates and security details, yielding exact duplicates.

There are a number of tools on the market that can do the job, but Robocopy is free, fast, and easy to use. I had a number of hosts auto-synchronized using Robocopy in scheduled tasks and they worked admirably without any hassles. It's one of those set-it-and-forget-it utilities that once configured, it doesn't need any further attention.

Apparently Robocopy was such a useful tool that Microsoft decided to bundle it with Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. There's even a GUI interface for it for those less inclined to run it from a command prompt. The newer bundled version may have a few extra switches but is otherwise almost identical to the previous versions that were part of the Resource Kit. There's also one more difference that is perhaps less noticeable. It runs substantially slower that the past versions.

I discovered the performance issue today while doing a routine check on the scheduled tasks I had configured for our newer Windows Server 2008 hosts. It appeared that the Robocopy tasks I had set up on the new servers were taking considerably longer time to finish than comparable tasks configured on Windows Server 2003 hosts. The copy operations were still being performed flawlessly but the completion times were drastically longer, specially for servers with large numbers of folders and files.

I spent a number of hours investigating this issue on multiple servers. I took various measurements, tweaked networking parameters, and used various Robocopy switches and values, but no matter what I did the performance issue kept persisting.

The Solution
Out of options and with no solutions at hand, I made one final attempt that I hadn't thought of before. I copied an older version of Robocopy (a version that came with the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit) to one of the Windows Server 2008 hosts and proceeded to synchronize folders using that version. To my amazement, the copy operation completed as fast as it used to do under Windows Server 2003. We're not talking a small improvement here. The job ran over 40 times faster than it had using the newer bundled copy of Robocopy. Incredulous, I tested this multiple times on multiple servers and the results were the same. The older version of Robocopy dramatically outperformed the newer version even when executed on Windows Server 2008.

There you have it. If you are not happy with the speed of Robocopy on Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008, give the older version, included with Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit, a try and see if it does the same for you as it did for me.

There are a couple of caveats here you should be aware of. First, I checked and rechecked my results quite extensively but I wouldn't claim that to be exhaustive. Do your own detailed verification before you let the old Robocopy loose on your hosts. Second, I ran the old version of Robocopy (a 32-bit image) on 64-bit Windows Server 2008 hosts and as mentioned, I had great results. But that version of Robocopy is not even supported on 64-bit Windows Server 2003, let alone Windows Server 2008. So I suppose there is a slight inherent risk of malfunction. For me, that risk is worth the performance gain, but your risk tolerance may be lower.


ASP.NET Denial of Service

by @ 11:41 pm
Filed under: microsoft,web

How to send your IIS server into a frenzy with one line of HTML code? I didn't think it was possible until a few days ago we were stung with a persistent denial of service at work. This is what the event log showed on every instance of outage:

Event Type: Warning
Event Source: W3SVC-WP
Event Category: None
Event ID: 2262
Date: 10/23/2008
Time: 8:32:51 PM
User: N/A
Computer: WEB
reported itself as unhealthy for the following reason:
'Deadlock detected'.

I have always been frustrated with IIS event logs and there's one proof of that. OK, I know there was a problem, but can this be more specific? which process? which application pool? Which page? This is hardly helpful. I believe new Failed Request Tracing feature in IIS7 was designed to help with just that. Countless debugging hours would be saved if one could quickly identify a misbehaving page. Googling this entry lead me to the http://support.microsoft.com/kb/821268 KB article and that sent me on a wrong path for some time before realizing that I was on a fruitless chase.

Finally, After 6 hours of struggling with the server (Window Server 2003, IIS6, CLR 2, FCL 3.5) and slicing and dicing and moving various applications to different pools, I found the offending ASPX pages. It didn't take long for my colleagues to discover an HTML anomaly in those files. And here it is in a generic format:

<p param1="" param2="" param3="" param4="" param5="" 
param6="" param7="" param8="" param9="" param10="" param11=""
param12="" param13="" param14="" param15="" param16="" param17=""
param18="" param19="" param20="" param21="" param22="" param23=""
param24="" param25.="" />

Notice that last parameter with a trailing period (.)? that's the culprit right there, an HTML tag with a long list of attributes and a punctuation mark in one or more of the ending parameters. It had crept into our pages via a poorly made web editing product.

To test for yourself, just drop the line into an ASPX file and browse to the page and watch the CPU crank up and eventually the server refuse to serve pages. Remove the period or reduce the parameters and the page will display fine. I know, seems hard to believe. I didn't believe it either at first. But the results were the same on IIS6 and IIS7 on various platforms.

My hunch is that this tag throws the ASP.NET engine into a regular expressions frenzy as it tries to construct the page elements and compile the page into a DLL application. Now this HTML syntax might look weird but I don't think it's illegal and it certainly shouldn't cause a denial of service. Certainly IIS or browsers have no issue with HTML files containing such tags.

While at first I had feared serious security risks, this issue has a limited risk factor. In order for an attacker to exploit this issue, he would need access to the page sources. It's not something that can be injected in or remotely scripted into the page. Of course someone with a shared hosting service, could potentially take down the entire server and all the sites along with it.

So if you run into such a problem on your IIS web site, you might want to check your source files for these types of HTML tags. And by the way, Microsoft has already been advised of this issue and they have indicated a fix will be incorporated in the next ASP.NET release.


For Update, Update to Update

by @ 9:44 pm
Filed under: microsoft

Recently after installing Windows Server 2008 on a new server at work, I noticed this interesting message from Windows Update. I'm not sure, but I think it had something to do with update 🙂

Windows Update


Windows XP Service Pack 3 Error

by @ 11:27 pm
Filed under: google,microsoft

Last week I stumbled upon this Gmail Blog post mentioning that IE6 (Internet Explorer version 6) now supports some of the GUI enhancements offered by Gmail. But in order to exploit these enhancements, one had to apply a critical update to IE6 from Microsoft. An interesting point cited by this post was that Google and Microsoft developers had worked together to address the issue. I didn't think these guys even talked to each other, let alone cooperate to release an update for the IE6 browser.

I had always wondered why Gmail appeared less fancy in IE6 than in other browser like IE7 or Firefox, and this post finally resolved that mystery. Now I'm not the type to jump on a patch or a service pack as soon as Microsoft releases them. I still use IE6 on Windows XP at work and at home alongside Firefox 3, and I have no desire to upgrade to Windows Vista or IE7. The prospect of better Gmail experience however was tempting enough for me to pay a visit to the Windows Update site and apply the IE6 patch.

I have automatic updates disabled on my machine and apparently I was missing a lot of them as I was suddenly greeted with a long list of security and critical patches once I got the process rolling. Among the list were two notable items, IE7 and Windows XP Service Pack 3. I promptly opted out of IE7, but decided to give SP3 a green light. Little did I know that I'd be wasting the next 3 hours of my life over this inane service pack.

The process started our smooth enough. a number of patches were applied, followed by the obligatory reboot. Then came the SP3 update from hell. The sluggish process would run almost to the end at which time an error dialog box would pop up with a simple message: "Service Pack 3 setup error. Access is denied." Huh? Access to what is denied? Acknowledging the message would commence a rollback process as sluggish as the installation itself, followed by an automatic reboot.

Not acceding defeat, I ran a Web search on the error and found this KB article from Microsoft Support. Apparently I wasn't the first person having this issue. Following the advice of the article, I exited my antivirus program (AVG) and tried once more, but again I got the same error. Perhaps Windows Defender was the culprit, but stopping that process didn't help either. After a few more tries shutting down various programs like Diskeeper and Symantec's Backup agent, I was still getting nowhere. Finally I fired up Process Explorer and slaughtered every process in sight until only the basic ones remained. And yet, SP3 defiantly refused to be installed. It was the same old snail-pace install-error-rollback-reboot that I was getting well acquainted with.

There comes a time when a person must cut his losses and move on and my time was then. Most likely the trouble was a registry permission issue which is also mentioned in the KB article and a solution is offered. But by then my patience had already run out and by that final reboot I decided that SP2 was good enough for me.

In the end it turns out that SP3 doesn't really offer anything substantial over SP2. A few security fixes and optimizations but nothing so crucial that’s worth this kind of hassle. Happily, the IE6 update had been applied (possibly among the first set of patches) and that wiped away any modicum of temptation I might have had to give SP3 one more shot. The computer is working as before (even after the multiple upgrade onslaught), Gmail enhancements now appear fine on IE6, and my only regret is not stopping after the first SP3 update attempt went awry. Sorry SP3, we just weren't meant to be together.


Yahoo's Fate After Microsoft

by @ 10:59 pm
Filed under: financial,google,microsoft,web

While many are preparing for a dark day for Yahoo's share when the market opens on Monday, I don't think the shares will get battered too roughly, although there will be volatility. Microsoft's withdrawing of its offer isn't good news to many, but speculation on what Yahoo may have up its sleeve might keep the stock from slipping too far.

It's possible that Yahoo overplayed its hand, but it's also possible that Yahoo may have had other plans, yet to be revealed. The plans could involve Google, or private equity, or even something far-fetched like Oracle. And in the end, nothing says they can't get back to negotiating with Microsoft. Only this time, they would probably keep it quiet, until a final deal is stuck.


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