Thursday, June 26, 2008

15 Ways Microsoft Can Reinvent Itself for the Post-Gates Era



Its cofounder is retiring, its latest big product has been vilified, and potential partners are spurning its advances. So what does Microsoft do to remain relevant? Here are 15 ideas.

A computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software. That, Bill Gates has often said, is the vision on which he and Paul Allen founded their software company in 1975. There's debate over when the mantra was first articulated--the earliest known instances go back only to the mid-1980s--but this much is undeniable: Microsoft made that audacious goal a reality.

Today, as Gates prepares to step down from day-to-day management of the company, another fact is clear: The modern Microsoft remains a company in search of a second act. True, it remains one of the world's most profitable enterprises, raking in more dough in its 2007 fiscal year than Apple, Google, Yahoo, Oracle, and Adobe combined. But the cracks in the Microsoft hegemony aren't just showing, they're growing.

Read it all...

Google launches new iGoogle and artist themes


It looks like Google just launched the new version of iGoogle that developers have had access to in the sandbox for a while now. The new version is great — and it gives developers a lot more flexibility when creating their gadgets because now it’s possible to make a full page view.


Read it all...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Software Review: Setup Factory 7 From IndigoRose

Written by T. Michael Testi

If you read my review of MSI Factory 2 you would have found that it is a Microsoft Windows Installer; product that is aimed at creating 100% pure .MSI format installers and at that job it works great. But by using a Windows installer, you are governed by certain criteria that all Windows installers must follow. What about if you want more freedom and flexibility? What about if you want to do some things during installation that the Windows Installer doesn't allow? This is where Setup Factory 7 From IndigoRose steps in.

Setup Factory is a proprietary installation program that does not require the Microsoft Windows installer to be installed on the user's machine, and because it is able to make its own decisions, offers more freedom and flexibility in the creation of your installations. In fact, Setup Factory gives you the ability to deploy software products, data files, graphic images, or pretty much anything else that you want to distribute.

Setup Factory 7 is fully compatible with all versions of Windows from 95 through Vista. In an effort to conserve space, I have listed the requirements at the bottom of this review for both the design environment and the run-time application (the installer).

So, what's new with Setup Factory 7?

 Setup Factory 7

• Install any file anywhere with Setup Factory by simply dragging and dropping your files and folders into the project window. The program will maintain your folder structure, automatically query version resource information, create shortcut icons and, by using CRC-32 checking, insure data integrity.

• More compact single file setups let you deliver smaller and faster files. The approximately 450KB runtime overhead (including install) is smaller than the others. This smaller file creates a faster install and makes it easier to distribute by LAN,CD/DVD, and even floppy disk.

• Customizable Install Wizard screens give you a library of more than 20 different templates to choose from and a pre-built wizard sequence that works for a majority of installation tasks. You have the availability of check boxes, radio buttons, and edit fields to popular screens like license agreements, serial number verifications, etc. You can add and remove screens at will, and each screen has a real-time preview so that you can see the results of your changes.

• Themes and skins give you pre-made themes to customize your screens and you can even create your own. You can configure everything from fonts, banner images, body and background graphics, control colors, and more.

• Background window options let you choose between the traditional setup style or the "Run-in-the-background" style. You can customize the background window with gradients, images, color washes, headlines and footer text with 3D effects as well.

• Action Library now gives you over 250 easy to use actions so you can program your install to do what ever you need without being a programmer. These actions handle everything from text file editing to system registry changes. You can execute programs, call DLL functions, query drive information, and more.

• Action Wizard gives you the ability to select the action you want from a list, fill in the requested information and the wizard will do the rest.

• Scripting engine, based on the LUA language, gives you everything you need to do just about anything in an install. This language contains loops, conditions, functions, variables, and more that you can combine with actions to create very powerful installers that can accomplish any task.

• Color Syntax Highlighting Action Editor will allow you to work with the scripting language like a professional. This includes code completion, syntax highlighting, as you type action prototypes, and even context sensitive help.

• Expandable with Action Plugins will extend the product in very powerful ways. You can add support for databases, XML, data encryption, and FTP file transfers. These plugins are available through IndigoRose as well as third parties. You can even create your own with the plugin development kit.

• Dependency Modules & Runtime Support lets you add support for third-party technologies such as VB5, VB6, DCOM, JET, MDAC, Visual C++, and more. Since you have control over the detection and installation of each module, you can adjust the behavior to suite your requirements.

• Flexible Uninstaller has been improved so Setup Factory can automatically uninstall anything that it has installed, or you can customize it to take full control of what happens during the uninstall.

 Setup Factory 7

• System requirements checking can be enforced by checking a few boxes. These checks include operating system, memory, screen resolution, color depth, administration privileges, and more.

• Serial numbers, security, and access features are provided by a number of features that will help you manage access to your software including serial number lists and date-based expiration. Your installer data is compressed using proprietary algorithms and only accessible to those who supply a valid serial number, or as always, you can roll your own system.

• Packages, categories, and install types will let you create much more complex and multi-part products. You can group products and features into a single installer. You can even use categories into logical components.

• International language support is provided right out of the box. Installers created with Setup Factory can automatically determine the language of the client operating system and adjust the display of the screens and message accordingly. As long as it is one of the supported languages, you supply the text and Setup Factory takes care of the rest.

 Setup Factory 7• Built-in spell checker that will take the embarrassment out of typos that can creep into your project. What's more is that there are dictionaries available for over a dozen languages.

• Even more, such as silent installs, log files to track of details, unattended builds, comprehensive users guide, and video training CDs.

I found Setup Factory 7 very easy to use and it flowed in a very natural manner. I really like the way that you can just drag and drop your files into the project window and click build and you can be done. You can even have a project wizard that will walk you through the process.

There are a lot of options that I did not get an opportunity to try out, but that just goes to show how feature rich this product is. Setup Factory 7 can give you both aspects, a simple quick installer, as well as a full featured product with a scripting language that hands you the ultimate in power.
Setup Factory 7 is available from IndigoRose for $495 USD or you can download a 30-day trial version as well. No matter the level of developer you are, Setup Factory 7 can deliver your product. I highly recommend Setup Factory.

System Requirements and Design Environment

The minimum and recommended system requirements for the Setup Factory design environment are:


Windows 95 (OSR2), 98, Me, NT 4.0 (SP3), 2000, XP, Vista
Pentium 120 MHz
128 MB RAM
800x600 SVGA display with small fonts setting enabled
20+ MB free hard drive space
Video card set to 16 bit color or greater


Windows 2000, Windows XP or Windows Vista
Pentium 4 or equivalent
256 MB RAM or greater
19" monitor @ 1152x864 or 21" monitor @ 1280x1024 (1280x960 if supported by your video card)
High-performance video card
DirectX 8.1 or higher
Sound card

Run-time Application (Built Installer)

The minimum system requirements for the Setup Factory installer are:

Windows 95 and up
486 processor
640x480 SVGA display
Video card set to 8 bit 256 color or greater (recommended)
10+ MB free hard drive space

Note: The following HTTP actions require Internet Explorer 4.0 or greater: HTTP.GetConnectionState, HTTP.DownloadSecure and HTTP.SubmitSecure.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Software Review: MSI Factory 2 from IndigoRose

Reviewed by T. Michael Testi

Just because creating software can be hard, that doesn't mean that delivering that software has to be harder. But that is just what it is when you don't have the right tools to do the job. MSI Factory 2 is the latest version of IndigoRose's Microsoft Windows Installer product that is aimed at creating 100% pure .MSI format installers.

MSI Factory 2 works hard at making the creation of professional installers faster and much more hassle free. It is meant to be easy to use without the complexities of the MSI database tables, sequences, and components. By using its drag and drop abilities, the customization of some dialog boxes via the visual editor and one-click build, it creates a single installer that works on any version of Windows from 95 to Vista.

MSI Factory MSI Factory is not to be confused with IndigoRose's Setup Factory which I will look at in a separate review. Whereas MSI Factory uses Microsoft's Windows installer service which must be installed on the end user's system, installers of this type must abide by the rules of the Windows Installer technology. Setup Factory, on the other hand, creates its own custom installations and has independent flexibilities.

So how does MSI Factory work? You start off with making either an installer project that creates a full installation package, or a Merge Module Project that is used to create a merge module database. A merge module is a Windows installer database file that is used to describe installation logic that will be merged with a larger Windows installation package. Merge modules are used to deliver shared code, files, resources, registry entries, and setup logic to applications as a single compound file.

Once you select the install, you browse to the files that you want to include and add them. From there you can select options in the following categories: "Files" where you can add, remove and set properties of the files, "Projects" where you can adjust the settings, components, features, folders, and media settings with regard to the project, the "Requirements" of the install such as launch conditions, searches, and merge modules, the "User Interface" that includes the dialog boxes, languages, and styles of the dialogs presented to the user, and the "System Editors" which handle the registry changes, INI files, shortcuts, file operations, environment variables, services, ODBC, XML, and custom actions. Finally you also have control over extensions such as IIS. Once you have everything set up correctly, it is just a matter of building the project.

So, what's new with MSI Factory 2?

MSI Factory• Next Generation Installer – now fully leverages WiX complier technology giving you easy access to the same technology that Microsoft uses for creating installers for Microsoft Office and SQL Server. In fact MSI Factory is the first visual setup builder to fully use Microsoft's WiX compiler technology.

• Intelligent Development – now takes the MSI Factory IDE's focus to the files that you want to distribute as opposed to abstract concepts like components, features, sequences, and GUIDs. This makes it possible in the case of simple installs to just drop files, press build, and deliver.

MSI Factory• Bootstrap Wrapper – is a unique, fully scriptable .EXE bootstrap wrapper with LZMA compression and over 300 actions including HTTP downloads for real flexibility in an MSI based installer.

• WiX – compatible source projects with integrated support for WiX fragments and extensions.

• Dialog Editor – provides visual editing for quickly customizing the interface. It includes 22 different control types such as check boxes, radio buttons, and bit maps that will allow you to create fully customized dialogs.

• System Editors – give you an extensive list of actions including registry editing, shortcut icons, INI files, the ability to set file permissions, and more.

• Enterprise Ready – by giving you the features for team and enterprise development. These include automated builds, processor directives, pre/post build steps, and integrated support for WiX fragments and extensions.

MSI FactoryPersonally I found MSI Factory 2 very easy to use and much more intuitive than the native .NET installer. You have an incredible amount of control over virtually all aspects of your MSI install.

As of the time of this review, they have not updated the videos for version two, but the videos for version one are still on their site. I did have some sound quality problems with the videos when using my Firefox browser, but under Internet Explorer they worked just fine. The help is primarily a compiled Microsoft help file that also links you back to the videos and to a FAQ page on the IndigoRose website. They also have a pretty dynamic forum where you can get answers to questions.

MIS Factory 2 is available from IndigoRose for $495 USD or you can download a 30 day trial version. If you are looking for the ability to create Microsoft Window Installer files quickly and easily and especially if you want to use the new WiX technology, then you need MIS Factory 2.


Design Environment:

  • Windows 2000, XP, Vista
  • Resolution: 1040x768
  • 500 MB RAM
  • 40+ MB free hard drive space
  • .NET Framework 1.1
  • Windows Installer 2.0
Runtime (Built Installer):
  • Windows 95 and up
  • Project based Windows Installer version installed