Monday, August 27, 2007

Expression Web and existing FrontPage sites; McAfee note

Late in 2006, Microsoft announced that it was replacing its popular Web content editor Front Page with a much more expansive product, Expression Web, which is part of am Expression Studio comprising other products including Blend, Design, Media. The basic link on Microsoft is this: The product is moderate in price, $299 for a new license. Yes, I suppose we could call it "self expression web" but the Microsoft documentation talks a lot about work teams in different locations.

The Microsoft announcement on the FrontPage link is this:

The new Expression Web emphasizes websites to much more stringent W3C standards, and uses tools found in Visual Studio. It tends to develop “standards based” web sites physically organized in a way that parallels the logic of the content, where as manually developed sites (like my tend to have directory structures that seem artificial compared to the content and depend on links to connect the dots. Older mainframe database management systems (like IMS and IDMS) use logical relationships to connect data in a way analogous to some older content-rich sites. The site also offers facilities that make data from a site easier to display on other devices (such as mobile) or for handicapped access. Expression offers multiple task panes and can work with an ASP.NET environment. It emphasizes working with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), instead of direct HTML, for formatting and layout. Webbots do not exist in Expression Web.

The most recent version of FrontPage was issued in 2003. Microsoft stopped selling it in late 2006. One question that comes up is, what if one has an existing site managed at a shared hosting ISP through Front Page extensions, and one’s machine breaks, or one has to travel with another machine? Can one still update the site? If one used WS-FTP, it might break the extensions. I am not sure what happens if the same CD is loaded onto another computer in terms of licenses (the user might get a trial of 50 accesses). But since Microsoft offers a free trial Expression Web, can one use that? It’s actually pretty hard to find the answer in Microsoft’s own site, and some website message boards suggest that this cannot be done, and that a webmaster might as well start over with a “professional” standard based site; he or she ought to anyway. I found a position paper here on the web:

It is a doc, so I’ll let the user past it in to the browser. The white paper says on p 2

“If your existing site uses Web components, you can still edit those components using Expression Web. However, you won’t be able to add new Web components.”

So, the short answer seems to be, Expression Web is downward compatible, and can update an existing site, but it won’t allow adding any more FrontPage web components. Furthermore, it does not require or use “extensions,” which are specialized scripts that can “break” easily. I remember going through the exercise with a friend at work on my older site in early 1999 (when the boss wasn’t looking). It wasn’t easy and took a week (with calls to Microsoft) to resolve.

Expression Web offers MSNBC components, feeds and links. This would seem to lead to the possibility of networked journalism. It appears that this may work only with sites built with Expression Web.

One other recent matter: On July 30, McAfee replaced its Security Center, which seems to have affected some customers, even causing loss of Internet connectivity. It offers a Virtual Technician for resolution. You can go here to find it for download. Also, look here "" and look for the “top ten issues”. What happened with me was (1) the new Virus Scan no longer removes advertising cookies (2) it no longer shows “critical files” at the beginning of the scan. I don’t think these are problems; I think McAfee is repackaging its products. If anyone knows, I would appreciate a comment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Adobe and PC/Microsoft environment for movie making and advanced web

To make movies in a Windows Vista or XP PC environment today, one of the leading combination packages appears to be Adobe Creative Suite 3 Production Premium, which would incorporate Flash, After Effects (for special effects) with Premiere Pro CS3 (roughly the functionality of Apple Final Cut). Apparently many of the features are available on Macintosh (some features require BootCamp). The cost today appears to be about $1700. The most ambitious suite is Adobe Creative Suite 3 Master Collection (click on “What’s Inside”), for about $2500.

Production Premium
Master Collection System Requirements (would include 7200 RPM hard drive and 2 GIG RAM for many applications)

The Dell XPS machines, now available with Vista, appear to meet the requirements. The 410 at around $1100 looks quite impressive (with Blu-ray Disc) and the gaming equivalent is about, the 720, about $1700. On DVD, I still think there is quite a shakeout coming on the ultimate universal format and on dealing with all of the DMCA copy protection issues, which many hobbyists resent.

The machines offer Vista. A few years ago, XP users were expected to choose between Media and Professional (or Home), and neither platform really suited all possible needs.

Back in early 2001, Sony Vaio sold a Windows ME (remember that?) machine that it called a “movie maker”, a year before the iMac. The Dell 8300 that I have now is a movie maker and has Roxio and 7200 rpm hard drive, but the features that come with it are primitive compared to these products.

Update: 11/8/2007

The Dell 410 no longer exists and is replaced by the 210 and 420. Link is here.
With the dollar sinking (news media reports today) with budget deficits, I'll be watching the prices of computers and electronics more closely soon, and might come up with a systematic scheme to report it. We need to do more manufacturing at home again.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Apple: iMac, MacBook, and movie making

Recently some friends have asked me about the Mac. I have an original iMac from 2002, that had certain problems when I tried to burn DVDs, and it had some problems with IE. I remember buying it at the Apple store in the Mall of America near Minneapolis, an awkward location (even on the first level) since it is a long way to parting; but I remember the "Genius Bar" there for support. Right now I use it to play DVD’s. I used to have a technical support subscription, and have once replaced the Mac OS X with OS Panther (there are newer “feline” OS’s). Once, to get a DVD burner unlocked I had to call Apple Support, and they had me go into terminal mode and enter some bizarre Linux commands executing various proprietary Apple scripts (rather like Perl) to free it.

I’ve looked at what Mac offers now. A couple of years ago they were promoting G4’s G5’s etc. Now they use the buzzword MacBook and MacBook Pro. The main Apple Store website with comparisons and prices is this:

The most expensive of these machines runs $2800 and has a 17 inch screen, fine for anamorphic films.

Many home users would be satisfied with the cheaper iMac’s, and the page is with the top machine running $2300.

My interest would be film editing. Of course, the iMac has iMovie, a simplified editor that is good enough for “amateur” films and has some sophistication. I’ve made a 34 minute documentary film with it that is still technically too crude to present formally. The professional editor is Final Cut Studio, which can be enhanced with Logic Pro for music and Shake for advanced digital compositing (animation, rotoscope, some of the special effects that one sees in the director’s contests like “The Lot” on Fox). The websites are (about $1300) (about $1000) (expensive, about $5000)

It appears that these run on MacBook Pro. (I’m not sure about iMac.) I took a course in Final Cut in 2002 in Minnesota at IFPMSP there, and at the time, smaller Apple’s were linked in series to run it. It has come a long way. For a while, Apple was offering a reduced price on Final Cut with some computer purchases, but I don’t see that there now.

Any visitor who can give links or info on what runs on what is encouraged to comment.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Microsoft Visual Studio .NET keeps evolving

Right after my layoff and retirement from my old-school IT job at the end of 2001, computer magazines had plenty of articles like "What's Hot, What's Not." At the time, COBOL was on the NOT list (this was two years after Y2K). That seems to be coming back now, but in the meantime I've looked at all of the other niches around. And the market, since 2000, has indeed fragmented into a mishmash of specific areas, and the nimble professional has to keep up leading edge expertise in some of them.

One of the "HOT" things in early 2002 was supposed to be Visual Studio .NET. I took a course in it with C# (which is a bit simpler and more straightforward that Java because it is strongly typed) at Hennepin County Technical College south of Minneapolis (while still living there). From a class that met once a week for three hours, it was hard to get enough expertise to be marketable. It takes real involvement and building something.

Visual Studio, connecting to ADO (for databases) and ASP (for web development) provides a development platform for complex applications with menus, processes, scripts, behaviors in an object oriented environment. It is comparable, but carries the meta-language skill mentality, to what used to be done on the mainframe with products like Telon.

Here is a link for a .NET Developers blog.

Here is a link for the Visual Studio Development Center for 2005. It offers a Beta version of the 2008 product.

Here is the pricing chart.

Here is the Comparison Chart.
The Express Version is free (takes about 2 hours to download at high speed) but limited in functionality. You can't run ADO and ASP on the same machine in Express. If you pay for the Developer's version, you apparently get a copy of SQL Server with the tools to maintain a database easily (as you can with Access). You then copy the application to a web server enable to run it.

Microsoft MSDN offers such hosting of the .NET Framework, with free introduction, here. Also look at this. Other larger ISPs offer shared or dedicated Windows Server hosting that can run .NET applications.

Microsoft Press offers workbooks in the various languages (like C#, Visual Basic, etc) with sample databases and applications. Most of these will work with the Express version.

Microsoft offers a 26-minute film "Orcas Beta 2" on the new .Net, in which S. Somasager and Scott Guthrie talk about the project management and development issues of the new release (how the checkout process associated with source / module management was tightened by test automation; the also talked about "shell managed code" as simpler than C++ and talked about the paradigm changes in C# 3.0. The film gives a good feel of what it is like to work as a developer in a state-of-the-art software engineering environment. It is more demanding than many people realize.

Here is the link leading to the film. It played only in IE (Mozilla didn't work).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Customer services agents can work from home

Last week, ABC Good Morning America did a broadcast (Tori Johnson: "Take Control of Your Life" link) on working from home opportunities. Although they are quite varied as to credibility, the broadcast mentioned three companies that offer the opportunities for persons to become home customer service agents for various kinds of retail and catalogue sales and other services (sometimes insurance). The pay can be over $20 an hour. Most jobs require a minimum of 15 hours a week (preferably more) and most new agents will be expected to work nights and weekends.

The tradeoff, in exchange for no commuting, is that associates must supply their own computing and communications hardware and software (properly licensed, of course). There needs to be a quiet room in the home where family members do not intrude, and some space for business materials. On the computer itself, there needs to be certainty that business and personal stuff will not be intermingled.

The report said that up to 10000 home customer service agents might be hired by December. Job applications usually require a background investigation (for fraud convictions) that the applicant may have to pay for. There is also a series of progressive home computer skill and phone skills interviews. Many people who apply are not hired.

The main companies are
Alpine Access, with two important sublinks: one on being an employee instead of a free-lance agent, and one on agent skills and computer requirements.

Live-ops FAQ's.

Arise, whose computer requirements (pdf) are more specific. Arise automatically checks home computers linked to its system for the presence of other software that it believes could compromise security and also checks for spyware or malware.

Generally, companies require a stable home computing environment with at least Windows XP (Professional preferred) and a dedicated land business phone line and a hard-wired high-speed Internet connection (DSL or Cable). Agents may need two separate ISP’s and must use business-only email addresses (and not use popular free services or use services usually thought of as home products like AOL). As of now, companies are not willing to work with agents who would use Wireless, although my own observation is that wireless is improving and becoming more stable and more secure. This situation could well change in the future. Some companies are starting to work with Vista, but not all client groups can support it. Vista is more secure, and it is likely to become standard in the future. Some companies and client groups cannot accommodate MacIntosh, but that could change in the future as computer experts tend to consider MacIntosh more secure.

Some companies say that they cannot work with Internet Explorer 7.0 yet, although it seems to be in production from Microsoft and well tested.

All companies insist that home computers be well secured with a complete computer security anti-virus suite and anti-spyware tools. Companies like McAfee, Norton and others offer packages that need to be checked to be sure that they include all components. Among the companies, Arise, in particular, is very strict about not having software on the “work computer” at home (or networking it in certain ways) that could make the computer more vulnerable to hackers (leading to compromise of client information). As a result, an agent could find it more practical to purchase a new computer just for work. Generally, an adequate setup is available from Dell or similar company (like HP) for $500-$700, usually with McAfee or Norton pre-installed, and will typically work properly when set up. (Some software might have to be removed or never enabled.) Be careful if the new computer comes with Vista.

But these companies have some work to do in keeping up with rapidly changing personal PC platforms.

Update: Jan. 28, 2008

NBC Nightly News tonight had a story on companies returning call center work from overseas (where there were language problems) back home, so there may be a considerable boom in the need for home telephone agents, with a larger list of clients. The CEO for Alpine Access was interviewed.

Update: Feb. 27, 2008

There is a story today on AOL giving a large list of companies that hire home workers. The link is here.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Owning computers over the years

Over the years, I’ve owned a lot of personal computers. It’s useful to run down the list.

1981, Dec. Radio Shack TRS-80 (“Trash 80”) with a Radio Shack dot-matrix printer, $3700. Did buy assembler language for it and an old word-processor.
(64 byte black-and-white monitor).

1985 AT&T 6300, MS-DOS, 20 meg hard drive, from Sears, with Q&A for word-processing, spreadsheet, and database.. About $2500.

1985, soon after. HP laser printer, about $2200.

1988, Dec. AST Research, 286 machine, MS-DOS, monochrome, 40 meg, and RBase (the first DBMS that offered SQL; Ashton-Tate would follow soon with dBase4. About $1900. Soon got Word Perfect.

1992 Sept. Everex Laptop, 386 machine, MS-DOS, with Windows 3.1. Had double-space on harddrive, which turned out to be buggy by reports, although I didn’t have trouble with it. Later a friend gave me a Linux system that would boot on it from a 1.4 floppy. (This is Tom’s Root Boot, here: Tom was running a web server on a 386 machine in the early 1990s.

1993 Dec. IBM PS/1 486 machine (I think), color, used Word Perfect and dBase4. Had Windows 3.1 but some applications had to be started directly without it. Started using AOL in August, 1994, at 2400 baud.

1995 Summer. Erols, with Windows 3.1. Wrote by first book on it, using all of Microsoft office. About $1600

1995, Nov. NEC laptop, little use. Internet could work at 56000 baud dialup.

1997, Sept. Compaq laptop, Windows 95. About $2800. The first two machines (from BestBuy) had defective power supplies, but the third one still runs without a hitch twelve years later.

1998, April custom built destop with Windows 98, built by University Computers in St. Paul, MN, for about $1350. Dialup at 56000. Added Earthlink and Netscape to AOL with IE. Did most of my web maintenance on this machine for four years. Hard drive replaced (with all data copied) in early 2000. Modem failed in 2002.

2000 HP laptop with Windows 98, about $2400.

2001 Sony Vaio micro-desktop with Windows ME (a disaster), about $2700. Added XP Pro in June 2002. Still have, but modem has failed and hard drive is failing.

2002, Feb. MacIntosh iMac. Has Moviemaker. About $2800 incl. cloned version of Office. Not as stable as I hoped, and DVD burner was buggy. Finally got high speed (Time Warner and Earthlink) Internet in Aug. 2002.

2003 Sept. Dell Moviemaker 8300 with XP Home. About $2700 with the extras. Still use heavily. Got Comcast high speed immediately.

2006 June. Dell Inspiron, about $1700 with extras, XP Pro. Downloaded free Express Visual Studio.

As real estate goes up, computers come down. They fill up landfills with toxic heavy metals (as in the film "Manufactured Landscapes" -- see my movies blog for July), and starting in 2004 I used recycling drives organized by NBC4 for some of them. Of course, if there were a pandemic flu epidemic in the Far East, I wonder what would happen.