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I have been using Internet Explorer as my main browser since IE 3.0 and usually I have no problem with it. I know the rendering engine is a piece of crap, but I got used to the feel of it and the developer tools in IE8 are nice and FireFox just rubbed me the wrong way, so that was that.

But since Internet Explorer 7 upwards, and especially with IE8, the first loading of the browser got slower and slower. So slow, in fact, that I have to wait several seconds for the browser to allow me to use the address bar. No wonder I have been slowly using Chrome for searching and reading the news and all that.

Today I got kind of annoyed with it and started looking into the Internet Explorer options. An advanced one was Enable third-party browser extensions and I removed it, just to see what it would do. Suddenly I had no Google toolbar (but I don't use it anyway, since I enter all my searches in the address bar), Flash worked, the pages worked, the internal IE8 developer tools worked. The only difference is that Internet Explorer would load instantly!

Ok, that would work as a last option, but I got intrigued so I enabled the option again and went into the Manage Add-ons section. I haven't being paying attention before, but each add-on in the list also has displayed the loading time. I looked around and I found Groove GFS Browser Helper that loaded in ... 8.2 seconds! Disabled it: almost instant browser loading. Two other addons had over one second load time, both of them from Sun and related to Java (which almost no one uses anymore in web pages). Disabled them and now I have my browser back! Just for the sake of it I googled for Java Applet and went to a site with a Java on it. Amazingly, the applets all worked! So the addons themselves were not responsible for loading Java, they were just useless junk.

But what is this Groove thing? Is it some malignant Microsoft rival that purposefully makes its browser addon load slower as to sabotage Internet Explorer (hint! hint!). It appears not. As it usually happens, the greatest enemy of Microsoft is Microsoft itself: Groove comes from Microsoft Office 2007!

What does Groove Syncronization do? Microsoft Office Groove was designed for document collaboration in teams with members who are regularly off-line or who do not share the same network security clearance. In other words: nothing useful. Even better, the whole groovy thing can be easily uninstalled, which I also did.

To uninstall Groove go to Add or Remove Programs, look for the Microsoft Office entry, click on Change, remove Groove. That's it!

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Happy New Year! May the year bring... wait a minute, I didn't mean to add to the noise that follows any large celebration like the New Year. In fact, quite the opposite. I intend to show you a way to block the outside noise in a relaxing way while on your computer.

Many a time a simple mp3 player would do the trick, however, sometimes you need to read boring documentation and that makes your brain switch to the text of the songs played rather than stay focused on what must be read and understood. Enter SimplyNoise, a simple site that generates white, pink and brown sound, with an optional feature to modulate the volume, thus shielding you from the outside audio interference, yet not disttracting your attention.

This also helps with tinnitus, if you have the misfortune of suffering from it. Recent research also shows that the condition can be alleviated if the specific frequency of the tinnitus sound is blocked. If they would block some frequencies from their generated sound, they would actually provide a medical service.

My personal favourite is the brown sound with modulated volume. Sounds just like standing on a beach.

Happy relaxed coding!

Yay! New Github project: EasyReplace.

What it does is replace all files in a folder hierarchy with the files you drag&drop on the app info box. It is very helpful when you want to replace old library files or some other versions of your files with newer ones without having to manually navigate through solution folders.

For a few weeks I have been having problems running Silverlight on my machine, especially since I had SL3 installed and also Expression Blend, version 3. I didn't mind much, because I don't need Silverlight most of the time. But since sometimes I do, here is the solution for the "Your Silverlight developer components are out of date" error when trying to install Silverlight.

Go to and install the Silverlight tools. Yes, they are version 2. No, I don't know why Silverlight 3 would have problems because of version 2 Silverlight tools. However, installing the tools solved my problem.

Today I've released version 1.2 of the HotBabe.NET application. It is a program that stays in the traybar, showing a transparent picture, originally of a woman, sitting on top of your other applications. Clicks go through the image and the opacity of the picture is set so that it doesn't bother the use of the computer. When the CPU use or the memory use or other custom measurements change, the image changes as well. The original would show a girl getting naked as the use of CPU went up. Since I couldn't use what images it should use, I did my own program in .NET. This blog post is about what I have learned about Windows Forms while creating this application.

Step 1: Making the form transparent

Making a Windows Form transparent is not as simple as setting the background transparent. It needs to have:
  • FormBorderStyle = FormBorderStyle.None
  • AllowTransparency = true
  • TransparencyKey = BackColor
However, when changing the Opacity of the form, I noticed that the background color would start showing! The solution for this is to set the BackColor to Color.White, as White is not affected by opacity when set as TransparencyKey, for some reason.

Step 2: Making the form stay on top all other windows

That is relatively easy. Set TopMost = true. You have to set it to true the first time, during load, otherwise you won't be able to set it later on. I don't know why, it just happened.

Update: I noticed that, even when TopMost was set, the image would vanish beneath other windows. I've doubled the property with setting WS_EX_TopMost on the params ExStyle (see step 4).

Step 3: Show the application icon in the traybar and hide the taskbar

Hiding the taskbar is as easy as ShowInTaskbar = false and putting a notification icon in the traybar is simple as well:
_icon = new NotifyIcon(new Container())
Visible = true
Set the ContextMenu to _icon and you have a tray icon with a menu. There is a catch, though. A NotifyIcon control needs an Icon, an image of a certain format. My solution was, instead of bundling an icon especially for this, to convert the main girl image into an icon, so I used this code.

Step 4: Hide the application from Alt-Tab, make it not get focus and make it so that the mouse clicks through

In order to do that, something must be done at the PInvoke level, in other words, using unsafe system libraries. At first I found out that I need to change a flag value which can be read and written to using GetWindowLong and SetWindowLong from user32.dll. I needed to set the window style with the following attributes:
WS_EX_Layered (Windows Xp/2000+ layered window)
WS_EX_Transparent (Allows the windows to be transparent to the mouse)
WS_EX_ToolWindow (declares the window as a tool window, therefore it does not appear in the Alt-Tab application list)
WS_EX_NoActivate (Windows 2000/XP: A top-level window created with this style does not become the foreground window when the user clicks it).

Then I found out that Form has a virtual method called CreateParams giving me access to the style flag value. Here is the complete code:
protected override CreateParams CreateParams
CreateParams ws = base.CreateParams;

if (ClickThrough)
ws.ExStyle |= UnsafeNativeMethods.WS_EX_Layered;
ws.ExStyle |= UnsafeNativeMethods.WS_EX_Transparent;
// do not show in Alt-tab
ws.ExStyle |= UnsafeNativeMethods.WS_EX_ToolWindow;
// do not make foreground window
ws.ExStyle |= UnsafeNativeMethods.WS_EX_NoActivate;
return ws;

However, the problem was that if I changed ClickThrough, it didn't seem to do anything. It was set once and that was it. I noticed that changing Opacity would also set the click through style, so I Reflector-ed the System.Windows.Forms.dll and looked in the source of Opacity. Something called UpdateStyles was used (This method calls the CreateParams method to get the styles to apply) so I used it.

Update: Apparently, the no activate behaviour can also be set by overriding ShowWithoutActivation and returning true. I've set it, too, just to be sure.

Step 5: Now that the form is transparent and has no border or control box, I can't move the window around. I need to make it draggable from anywhere

There is no escape from native methods this time:
private void mainMouseDown(object sender, MouseEventArgs e)
// Draggable from anywhere
if (e.Button == MouseButtons.Left)
UnsafeNativeMethods.HT_CAPTION, 0);
Both ReleaseCapture and SendMessage are user32.dll functions. What this mouse down event handler does is say to the Window that no matter where it was clicked, it actually clicked the draggable area.

Step 6: Remove flicker

Well, I am getting a bit ahead of myself, here, the flickering becomes annoying only when I implement the blending of an image into another, but since it is also a style setting, I am putting it here:
| ControlStyles.UserPaint
| ControlStyles.OptimizedDoubleBuffer, true);
This piece of code, placed in the Form constructor, tells the form to use a double buffer for drawing and to not clear the form before drawing something else.

Update: It seems the same thing can be achieved by setting the Control property DoubleBuffer to true as it seems to be setting ControlStyles.OptimizedDoubleBuffer | ControlStyles.AllPaintingInWmPaint and ControlStyles.UserPaint seems to be set by default.

Step 7: Blend the images one into the other

Well, in order to make an image blend nicely into the next, I used a Timer. 10 times a second I would decrease the opacity of the first, increase the opacity of the second and draw them one over the other.

A small detour: if you think about it, this is not absolutely correct. A 70% opacity pixel blocks 70% of the light and lets 30% of the image behind show. If the image underneath has 30% opacity, then it shows 30% left from 30% of the image and it doesn't get opaque. But if I just set the opacity of the bakground image to 100%, it shows really strong on the parts of the images that are not overlapping, where image1 is transparent and image2 is not.

Unfortunately there is no resource friendly way to read write/pixels. It's either GetPixel/SetPixel in a Bitmap class (which are very slow) or using pinvoke again. I prefered to use the opacity hack which looks ok.

I was already using an extension method to invoke any change on the form on its own thread (as the Timer ran on its own thread and I would have gotten the "Cross-thread operation not valid: Control [...] accessed from a thread other than the thread it was created on" exception or "Invoke or BeginInvoke cannot be called on a control until the window handle has been created"):
public static void SafeInvoke(this Control control, Action action)
if (control.IsDisposed)
if (!control.IsHandleCreated)
catch (InvalidOperationException ex)
if (control.InvokeRequired)

This is where I got the "Object is currently in use elsewhere" InvalidOperationException. Apparently the Image class is not thread-safe, so both the timer and the form were trying to access it. I tried locking the setter and getter of the Image property on the class responsible with the image blending effect, with no real effect. Strangely enough, the only solution was to Clone the image when I move it around. I am still looking for a solution that makes sense!

Step 8: Showing the window while dragging it

Using WS_EX_NOACTIVATE was great, but there is a minor inconvenience when trying to move the form around. Not only that the image is not shown while moving the form (On my computer it is set to not show the window contents while dragging it), but the rectangular hint that normally shows is not displayed either. The only way to know where your image ended up was to release the mouse button.

It appears that fixing this is not so easy as it seems. One needs to override WndProc and handle the WM_MOVING message. While handling it, a manual redraw of the form must be initiated via the user32.dll SetWindowPos method.

The nice part is that in this method you can actually specify how you want the form draw. I have chosen SWP_NoActivate, SWP_ShowWindow and SWP_NoSendChanging as flags, where NoActivate is similar with the exstyle flag, ShowWindow shows the entire form (not only the rectangle hint) and NoSendChanging seems to improve the movement smoothness.

Quirky enough, if I start the application without Click through set, then the rectangle hint DOES appear while dragging the window. And with my fix, both the image and the rectangle are shown, but not at the same time. It is a funny effect I don't know how to fix and I thought it was strange enough to not bother me: the rectangle is trying to keep up with the hot babe and never catches on :)

Step 9: Dragging custom images

I am a programmer, that means that it is likely to add too many features in my creations and never make any money out of them. That's why I've decided to add a new feature to HotBabe.NET: droppping your own images on it to display over your applications.

At first I have solved this via ExStyle, where a flag tells Windows the form accepts files dragged over it. A WndProc override handling the WM_DROPFILES message would do the rest. But then I've learned that Windows Forms have their own mechanism for handling file drops.

Here are the steps. First set AllowDrop to true. Then handle the DragEnter and DragDrop events. In my implementation I am checking that only one file is being dropped and that the file itself can be converted into an image BEFORE I display the mouse cursor hint telling the user a drop is allowed. That pretty much makes the ugly MessageBox that I was showing in the previous implementation unnecessary.

Step 10: Reading files from web, FTP, network, zip files, everywhere, with a single API

Reading and writing files is easy when working with local files, using System.IO classes, but when you want to expand to other sources, like web images or files bundles in archives, you get stuck. Luckily there is a general API for reading files using URI syntax in the System.Net.WebRequest class. Here is a sample code for reading any file that can be represented as an URI:
WebRequest req = WebRequest.Create(uriString);
using (var resp = req.GetResponse())
using(var stream= resp.GetResponseStream())
// do something with stream

WebRequest can also register your own classes for specific schemas, others than http, ftp, file, etc. I created my own handler for "zip:" URIs and now I can use the same code to read files, web resources of zipped files.

One point that needs clarification is that at first I wanted an URI of the format "zip://archive/file" and I got stuck when the host part of the URI, mainly the archive name, would not accept spaces in it. Instead use this format "schema:///whatever" (three slashes). This is a valid URI in any situation, as the host is empty and does not need to be validated in any way.

The rest are details and you can download the source of HotBabe.NET and see the exact implementation. Please let me know what you think and of any improvement you can imagine.

I've stumbled upon this Windows port of a Linux application called HotBabe. What it does is show a transparent image of a girl over your applications that looks more naked as the CPU is used more. I wanted to use my own pictures and explore some of the concepts of desktop programming that are still a bit new to me, so I rewrote it from scratch.

The project is now up on Github and is functional. Please report any bugs or write any feature requests here or on the project page in order to make this even cooler.

  • Custom images responding to custom measurements
  • Custom measures (included are Cpu, Memory and Random, but an abstract class for custom monitor classes is included)
  • AutoRun, ClickThrough, Opacity control
  • Interface for custom images and custom monitors
  • XML config file

Update: After adding a lot of new features, I've also written a blog entry about the highlights from HotBabe.NET's development, a "making of", if you will. You can find it here: Things I've learned from HotBabe.NET.


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This is mostly a rant, but also it should help people trying to do this as well to stop trying until there is some sort of solution from the VLC side.

I was trying to see how a web cam can be streamed over the web using VLC, a software that otherwise am very satisfied with as a video player. Recently they did a 1.0.0 version, which is quite something for free software that comes from the Linux world; usually they are 0.8 something and with a lot of alpha-beta-zeta afterward. So, as I was saying, recently VLC jumped from the 0.9.x version to 1.0.0, with a much more user friendly user interface and (at least so it seems to me) less adaptability than before. What I mean is that, in extreme cases, it throws errors that previous versions were able to circumvent, like when using partial or damaged video files. Also, it crashes on some older videos as well and I am forced to use the ancient (but sturdy) mplayer.

Back to business, I read the comprehensive command line help file that is almost 250k long, found what I was looking for, then tried. No success. I really felt like an idiot, as it wouldn't work whatever I did. In the end I just gave up and tried to start the streaming from the GUI, not from the command line. IT WORKED! Copying the exact command line parameters that the GUI would generate did not work. Saving the WORKING streaming to a playlist and then loading the playlist DID NOT WORK.

Here I have to say two things: when I say that it worked, it means that I had to fight it to be able to stream what I wanted and not HOW I wanted. Basically, the streaming will not work AT ALL if transcoding is not activated, which I personally think it makes it unusable anyway.

So, bottom line is that if you are trying to use VLC 1.0 from the command line, you are pretty much screwed. At least the flag that I was interested in (--dshow-vdev) would not select my web cam if its life depended on it. And it sort of did. Not likely I will use VLC in my business application.

I've even tried to go to one of those old style PHP forums that they have on the Videolan site. I waited for half an hour to receive the registration email and at that time I had given up completely. They had like 60.000 messages on the forums anyway and I doubt I would have gotten a reply any more intelligent than the usual RTFM. Yeah, I know, I sound very Linux unfriendly, but actually I am not, I've worked on Linux quite some time. What I am not friendly towards are the borderline psychotic assholes that only answer when they have nothing to actually say to help.

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So I had this legacy project that I was supposed to work on and so I installed Visual Studio 2003. That is, over VS2005 and VS2008. From then on, every time I had a javascript error in Internet Explorer 8 and that "Do you want to debug" window appeared, if I clicked yes, the system would freeze. And I mean total freeze, not even the mouse would move.

After a few angry reboots I noticed that unchecking "Use the built-in debugger in Internet Explorer" checkbox would not freeze the system. Setting it back on would bring the problem back. So this is what I did:
  1. went to a page with a js error on it
  2. unchecked the setting so that the system would not freeze
  3. chose a debugger from the presented list (but not the default one)
  4. set it as default
From then on, my problems were gone.

In conclusion, I have no idea what caused the error, but this is how it was fixed. I hope it helps people in the same predicament as myself.

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I have this Genius Comfy KB-16e model K640 keyboard. I went to the Genius web site and downloaded the drivers and Media Key application which is supposed to control what the "media" keys are doing. But the application is crap. It only shows some of the buttons I have and some I don't. Most annoying, I don't have listed the buttons for previous/next track.

The solution is to modify the registry. If you go to the Media Key installation directory (typically in Program Files) you will see a registry file called Magickey.reg. It holds all the information loaded in the reg by the installer of the Media Key application. Open it with notepad (not by double clicking!) and search for "Function Table". You will see a bunch of equalities like:
"0000000B"="Show MediaPlayer"
You will need to write somewhere the numbers associated with the keys that don't appear in the Media Key application. In my case
"00002000"="Previous Track"
"00002005"="Next Track"
Ok, now run regedt32.exe from the command line (or Run command in the Start Menu) and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\WayTech\Versato\System. You will see there stuff like button1, button2... and their values 0000XXXX or some string holding a path. All you have to do is double click on the buttons that hold the numbers you wrote down as the value (in my case 2000 and 2005) and write instead of the value a path to a batch file or an exe file. I use bat files so I can change them later.

So, in my case I double clicked on button17 and button18 and filled the value with C:\Batches\prevTrack.bat and C:\Batches\nextTrack.bat. And now it works. I am sure you can change something in the registry to actually make the buttons visible in the Media Key application, but I don't care about that. If you do it, please let me know.

If you have the same problem as I do and all you want to do is set up your Music, PlayPause and Prev/Next buttons, take the text below and write it into a file with the .reg extension, change the paths to your own batch files, then double click on it:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00


What has gone into Siderite and made him rave mad? Is he high? Everybody knows that software patterns are all the rage and the only perfect and delicious way to make software. You can't just go "cowboy style" on software, it's an industry after all.

Well, I am not saying that (although you can probably guess from my impression of my virtual/inner critic that I am a bit partial to the cowboy approach). All I am saying is that once you identify a pattern (and yes, to open another parenthesis, a pattern is identified not learnt) one should never stoop low enough to use it. Some software should do that for him!

One good example is the Iterator Pattern. It sounds so grand, but the software implementation of it is the foreach command. Does anyone actually think while iterrating through a collection that they are using a pattern? As I said before, patterns are identified. You think of what you have been doing, see a pattern, make some software to take care of similar situations, then get on to identifying another pattern.

Well, yes, but you can't entrust everything to a software, Siderite! You will bloat your code, create tools that will do less than you wanted and still end up doing your own efficient code. I know, I've seen it before!

Well, thank you, critic! You have just identified a pattern! And any pattern should be solved. And yes, I agree that software can't do everything for you (yet!) and that sometimes the tools that are designed to help us with a problem become a problem themselves. But instead of having "two problems" you have a bad solution to a previous problem. Fixing the solution would fix everything and the problem domain is now one level of abstraction higher.

Stuff like managed code, linq, TDD, ORMs, log4net... just about every new technology I can think of, they are all solutions to patterns, stuff that introduces new problems on a higher level. What C# programmer cares about pointers anymore? (developers should still be aware of the true nature of pointers, but care less about it).

There is one final issue though, the one about the actual detection of patterns. Using "prediscovered" patterns like from the classic Gang of Four book or anything from Martin Fowler is ok, but only if they actually apply to your situation. That in itself shows you have to have a clear image of your activity and to be able to at least recognize patterns when you see them. Sometimes you do work that is so diverse or so slow that you don't remember enough of what you did in order to see there is a repetitive pattern. Or, worse, you do so much work that you don't have time to actually think about it, which I think is the death of every software developer. Well, what then?

Obviously a log (be it a web one or just a simple notebook or computer tracking system) would help. Writing stuff down makes one remember it better. Feeling the need to write about something and then remembering that you have already done so is a clear sign of a pattern. Now it is up to you to find a solution.

Back to the actual title of the post, I recognize there are situations where no automated piece of code can do anything. It's just too human or too complex a problem. That does mean you should solve it, just not with a computer tool. Maybe it is something you need to remember as a good practice or maybe you need to employ skills that are not technical in nature, but should you find a solution, think about it and keep thinking about it: can it be automated? How about now? Now? Now?

After all, the Romans said errare humanum est, sed perseverare diabolicum. The agile bunch named it DRY. It's the same thing: stop wasting time!

You know how difficult is to test a web site on the many (conflicting) versions of Internet Explorer browsers that were created. While most of us don't even bother to test for anything lower than IE 6.0, there are major differences between IE6, 7 and 8. I used to use something called MultipleIEs before that contained IE versions up to 6, but now I found something that looks even better: IE Collection, boasting IE versions up to and including Internet Explorer 8.0.

I have installed it and so far I had no major issues with it. It does seem to change some part of the default IE configuration, so take a look there after you finish installing it.

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Today Internet Explorer 8 appeared to me in the Automatic Updates list. I have been using IE8 for months now and so I was glad that the official release finally came out. So I downloaded and installed IE8.

The installation process has several steps. First is the removal of any previous version of IE, then a reboot, then several small steps of the setup program: Downloading IE8, Downloading IE8 updates, Installing IE8, Installing updates, Finishing installation. Well, for me, at the Installing updates step it threw an error that said the installation cannot complete because the station is shutting down, then my computer restarted.

I did have Internet Explorer available, though, so I tried a few pages. After the pages loaded, I was invariably getting an error and IE closed. "Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience.". Well, so was I!

I was trying the installation of IE the third time now and suddenly a Java update traybar icon appeared. I updated Java, then I was amazed to see that IE was no longer crashing! So, my solution for Microsoft IE errors: update Sun Java! :)

Well, the Java update probably completed some steps that the installer failed to. But still :)

And interesting link I found regarding any IE error that causes the browser to excuse itself and leave is on Sandi's Site

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I haven't been writing for a while, but that is because I was working! Amazingly so, as I am not known for my willingness to work. But that also has its boons, you know, as I will not only gain material wealth for my wife's shoes, but also material for the blog! :) You will have to wait a bit for that, though.

Instead, I will talk about three little gems I found while browsing ShellCity. In case you don't know, ShellCity is a blog dedicated to the tools, not the result. Every day four free utilities are being presented in this retro looking site. Anyway, without further due:

Fences. This allows you to organize your many desktop icons by grouping them into labeled transparent folder like structures. Not only does it make your desktop look better and feel better, but when you change your desktop resolution, it also remembers the location of these groups so that when you revert, you get them in the same position! Great thing to have and my favourite in this post.

MSVDM, or the Microsoft Virtual Desktop Manager. This is pretty old stuff, but I've only recently discovered it. It is NOT an exe file and it will not be installed in the Start menu! Instead it is a taskbar toolbar. It shows four buttons which allow you to switch between four different desktops. The desktop icons remain on all of the desktops, but you can define a different background for each and the opened windows are different from desktop to desktop. So, what you use it for is to open a group of utilities based on context. As an example, open a Visual Studio and some browser windows regarding a certain project, then open another Visual Studio and some other browser windows for another project that you work on simultaneously.

WizMouse. This one is not something you immediately go Wow! about. It sits in the traybar and does only one thing: it scrolls windows when you move the scrollwheel. But it doesn't scroll the active window, but the window directly under the mouse pointer! A lot of annoyance is saved by this.

Hope it helps you all. Till next time!

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Update: There are some major issues with this addon, because on some sites (like YouTube, but not only) Internet Explorer simply closes with an error. It has become more and more annoying until I've decided to uninstall it.

What a nice little gem this is. I've just installed it, so I can't really say it is all good, but from what I've seen so far it is a wonderful addition to Internet Explorer (7 or 8!).

A few of the features that I've already observed:
  • It automatically recovers the pages and tabs opened when an computer or INTERNET explorer crash occurred.
  • Small download manager, FireFox style
  • Ad blocker - although it doesn't protect you from the javascript errors that occur when blocking ads
  • Mouse gestures
  • Background preloading of links when computer is idle enough and DNS prefetching
  • User scripts that can do all kinds of stuff, from moving YouTube windows where there is space and then showing them bigger to showing frames next to Google search results so you can open and preview the sites directly.
  • Tab history manager

But it does so much more. I am quite amazed by it. So get it, it's free: IE7Pro

I went to this presentation of a new Microsoft concept called Windows Azure. Well, it is not so much as a new concept, more like them entering the distributed computing competition. Like Google, IBM and - most notably - Amazon before it, Microsoft is using large computer centers to provide storage and computing as services. So, instead of having to worry about buying a zillion computers for your web farm, manage the failed components, the backups, etc. you just rent the storage and computing and create an application using the Windows Azure SDK.

As explained to me, it makes sense to use a large quantity of computers, especially structured for this cloud task, having centralized cooling, automated update, backup and recovery management, etc, rather than buying your own components. More than that. since the computers run the tasks of all customers, there is a more efficient use of CPU time and storage/memory use.

You may pay some extra money for the service, but it will closely follow the curve of your needs, rather than the ragged staircase that is usually a self managed system. You see, you would have to buy all the hardware resources for the maximum amount of use you expect from your application. Instead, with Azure, you just rent what you need and, more importantly, you can unrent when the usage goes down a bit. What you need to understand is that Azure is not a hosting service, nor a web farm proxy. It is what they call cloud computing, the separation of software from hardware.

Ok, ok, what does one install and how does one code against Azure? There are some SDKs. Included is a mock host for one machine and all the tools needed to build an application that can use the Azure model.

What is the Azure model? You have your resources split into storage and computing workers. You cannot access the storage directly and you have no visual interface for the computing workers. All the interaction between them or with you is done via REST requests, http in other words. You don't connect to SQL Servers, you use SQL Services, and so on and so on.

Moving a normal application to Azure may prove difficult, but I guess they will work something out. As with any new technology, people will find novell problems and the solutions for them.

I am myself unsure of what is the minimum size of an application where it becomes more effective to use Azure rather than your own servers, but I have to say that I like at least the model of software development. One can think of the SDK model (again, using only REST requests to communicate with the Azure host) as applicable to any service that would implement the Azure protocols. I can imagine building an application that would take a number of computers in one's home, office, datacenter, etc and transforming them into an Azure host clone. It wouldn't be the same, but assuming that many of your applications are working on Azure or something similar, maybe even a bit of the operating system, why not, then one can finally use all those computers gathering dust while sitting with 5% CPU usage or not even turned on to do real work. I certainly look forward to that! Or, that would be really cool, a peer to peer cloud computing network, free to use by anyone entering the cloud.