Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Attack of the Thin Clients!

So, for my latest project at work, I'm working on transitioning our company to Server Based Computing and thin clients.  There are many pieces to this puzzle, especially considering the fact that the company is not yet even on a domain.  I'm in the process of evaluating several pieces of software (Ericom's WebConnect, Provision Network's Virtual Access Suite and of course the almighty Citrix's XenApp) and several pieces of hardware (Wyse and HP thin clients).  Not to mention the whole Windows domain infrastructure that will also need to be in place :)

Anyway, I thought it may be a good idea to keep track of my findings -- and see if anyone out there might have any advice or suggestions for our journey ahead... as I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who have already done, or are in the process of doing the same thing.

We've decided to build all of this on top of Windows Server 2008, so I have already set up a test Active Directory domain, and Terminal Services on separate servers.  I was able to install WebConnect as well as XenApp on the Terminal Services box, and have been able to give both a little bit of a test run.  WebConnect was very easy to set up and get up and running since it is fairly simple.  And while that is a strength, it also limits the possibilities of what you can do with it.  Then, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum you have XenApp, which has so many options and possible customizations that it took a day with a Citrix employee to configure.... and that's just XenApp.  There are apparently quite a few different modules that can be used in conjunction with XenApp to enhance the functionality and feature set even more.

We've also purchased a Wyse Thin Client, which is running Wyse's Thin OS on it.  It's been configured to boot, get info for an FTP server from DHCP and pull all of the settings for connecting to Citrix, etc from that FTP server.  So, at this point, we can literally take the thin client with all its factory default settings, turn it on, and within 15 seconds be looking at a published desktop.  How crazy is that?

Now, we're waiting for the HP thin client to come in so that we can compare and contrast :)

Again, any input, suggestions, questions or advice are welcome!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

First Jerry, Now Ensemble Studios

Microsoft is on an Axe-ing spree! I'm sure by now you have seen the "awesome" commercials featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld and probably have also heard how all of a sudden they're taking their marketing campaign in a new direction. What you may not have heard yet is that Microsoft is pulling the plug on Ensemble Studios -- the guys who brought you the Age of Empires series, and more recently, Halo Wars. In fact, they were informed that as soon as they've finished Halo Wars, they're done. Since Ensemble Studios had no real warning, this came as a complete surprise to them (as you can imagine) since their games have always sold well. I'm not really sure what Microsoft was thinking on this one. They're still in control of a few other game developers, but for some reason chose the one that costs them the most to keep running, but produces the best games. Perhaps the Age of Empires series wasn't as profitable as I think it was? Maybe they're considering phasing out game development and will end up focusing more on the Xbox? Or maybe they just needed that money to pad their bottom line somewhere else? I was glad to see that someone from Ensemble has already planned to start their own independent studio because I never really got into the Halo stuff... but the Age of Empires series is classic -- Age of Mythology is probably my second favorite RTS of all time -- behind StarCraft of course. For more info, you can check out this article.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

DRM Backlash...

In case you haven't heard or seen already -- the new EA game Spore is taking quite the beating in the review section on Amazon on account of its accompanied DRM. (You can see it here). I remember checking in on it earlier this week, before I got sick -- unrelated to Spore or DRM -- and there were maybe 1,000 reviews total... well it's broken the 2,000 mark now and is still averaging a 1-star rating.

This whole thing just bothers me. I was actually looking forward to when Spore came out, to possibly buy it and have a new game to refresh my current lineup at home. But, like these crazy Amazonians, when I saw you could only install it 3 times before having to call EA to beg for more chances, I just decided it wasn't worth it. Like with music, I take the position that DRM is only harming your legitimate customers and in some cases pushing them away. If someone wants something without paying for it, they'll inevitably find a way, so really, what's the point?

Maybe EA (or other publishers) will learn something from this outburst and realize that maybe DRM isn't that great after all...

UPDATE: Apparently, EA got wind of all of the uproar and responded. Their response (paraphrasing): "3 installs is plenty, only 1% of gamers ever install something more than 3 times, so stop whining." Are you kidding me? This is how you respond to your user community? By telling them that they're wrong and you're right, without compromise!? What about all the people that want to play the game 10 years from now -- since that sort of thing has been known to happen? Ridiculous.

UPDATE x2: I just found this other article that talks about EA compromising by easing the DRM restrictions on a future game. A future game? How about patching Spore to meet at least these restrictions? (which by the way is lifting the install limit from 3 to 5 and not requiring the CD to play -- which isn't really that much better in my opinion. It still misses the point).

UPDATE x3: I really didn't think that I would be updating this post again. But, after finding this article, I had no choice. Apparently, users that have purchased the game have discovered that even though the manual says you can have multiple player accounts per install, the game will only let you have one. Guess how EA responds: by telling everyone that it's a misprint in the manual -- way to go EA. Way to go.

Update x4: Well, EA finally decided to "remedy" the Spore situation (read this article) by increasing the number of installs from 3 to 5 (like I mentioned in the second update above for a future game). In addition, they're creating a "de-authorizing" system to effectively move your registration to a new computer -- which to me, sounds similar to the current model that Apple uses for music purchased on iTunes. I would say that this is a step in the right direction, but still completely missing the point... EA clearly doesn't get it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google Chrome

So, hot off the wire today, Google has released an open-source browser named "Chrome." Like everyone else, I wanted to get my hands on it as soon as a download was available to put this thing to the test. I read at least part of the comic book (yes, I said comic book) that Google released prior to making the download available that explains some of the thoughts behind the development of Chrome. One of the most interesting (to me anyway) was the decision to spawn a new process, instead of a new thread, for each tab that is created.

In any case, as soon as I found out the download was available (which can be found here for anyone interested), I grabbed it and installed it. While it does seem pretty quick in terms of rendering, there are a few things about it (which can obviously change since it's a beta and can be updated at any moment) that will keep me from leaving my beloved Firefox:
1) Most importantly -- plugins/add-ons. I thought, being a Google browser, Chrome would for sure have some kind of nifty integration with Gmail, Calendar, Docs, etc. Unfortunately, there was no such integration, nor can you install add-ons that would provide this functionality. Sure, I could install Gmail notifier (the standalone version) , but it's just not th same. Also... I really like being able to customize how Tabs behave using Tabs Mix Plus...
2) Secondly -- resources. As any developer would, hearing about the fact that Chrome spawns a completely separate process for each tab, I was curious about the resources required to run this beast if I have, say, 10 tabs open. So, I put this to the test. I opened Firefox and Chrome with the same set of tabs and found that Chrome used about double the amount of memory that Firefox used (about 160MB vs. 80MB)

Now, there are definitely some very cool things about Chrome:
1) It's fast -- their javascript engine ("V8") seems to be pretty quick. However, I'd be interested to seeing how this fares against Firefox's TraceMonkey (which I believe is slated to be in Firefox 3.1).
2) Very simple interface -- tabs, address bar, a few buttons, and that's it. Simple is good.
3) The good side of the multiple processes -- if you have RAM to spare, this is an awesome feature. It keeps each website rendering completely separate from the tab next to it. So, if one gets hosed -- you can just close it and move on, without having to force-close the whole browser.

Is it worth a try? Of course! But, while I watch for updates... I'll probably be doing it from Firefox.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Firefox 3: My first thoughts...

I've now been using Firefox 3 for a couple days now (almost). Overall, I'm impressed, but there are definitely a few things that got to me. I've gone through and installed it on Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac OS 10.5 boxes (I haven't gotten to my Ubuntu rig yet). I really do appreciate the effort the developers put into making the user interface embrace the look and feel of the host OS. I also like the new smart address bar (I believe it's being referred to as the "Awesome Bar") and all the major highlights/upgrades.

However, the first thing I didn't like seeing was that a couple of my extensions/themes weren't compatible with Firefox 3. My buddy Mirko left a great comment regarding this on the previous post which pretty much nailed my thoughts exactly -- but basically, what the heck? The problem is that I have habits engraved into my brain, things that increase productivity, hotkeys, etc., that I was still trying to use, but was coming back with nothing -- what an empty feeling :)

Secondly, I'm not sure if a lot of people had this issue, but I was having a tough time (at first) figuring out why "Show my windows and tabs from last time" was not working. I would open a bunch of tabs, close them (not receiving the multiple tab warning I was used to), reopen Firefox to only see one tab... Well, without going on and on too much, it was basically because I had Firefox set to delete all my private data when I closed (including Browser History)... Apparently, Firefox 3 requires History to be saved if you want to use this feature -- even though it worked flawlessly in Firefox 2... interesting.

Otherwise -- Stellar!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Firefox 3

If you know what's good for you, you'll download Firefox 3 within the next 24 hours. I tried connecting just now and the site is overloaded at the moment -- so have a little bit a patience :)

Edit: Here's a link directly to the download page:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Game update...

So, remember that game I mentioned a couple posts ago? Well, my brother and I are still hard at work laying out all of the rules/background information for the game -- but it's definitely in the works. It will end up being a browser-based multiplayer roleplaying game -- yeah, it's a mouthful, but it's probably the most accurate way of describing it. As we continue to work away on it in our spare time (spare time? What's that?) -- I'll provide updates. And then by the time computers and the Internet have been replaced by something else, it should be all ready to go.

Using Terminal Emulation to make Remote Calls...

So, for the longest time, the company I work for has been using Procomm for their Terminal Emulation (it's pretty much on every Windows PC the company owns). However, in order to view pictures from Procomm, at this time, a new X session is spawned on the server (using a program called Reflection) to generate a Unix desktop for the user, which in turn displays pictures.

Well, I was tasked with a way to bring those pictures to the client PC without using X -- ultimately freeing up those resources on the server. Enter AccuTerm: another Terminal Emulator. Except, it has built in Escape sequences that you can send to it (from the server) that will actually execute a command on the client PC as if you were at the command line on that PC. So, now, we'll be able to pass a command back to the PC to open an image viewer with the images as command line arguments and load them remotely on the client PC!

While this is a powerful tool -- that seems kinda scary that you can remotely access a PC and execute whatever you want on it through a terminal emulator... of course, it's completely under our control in this case, but still.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

News Tuesday - 1/15/08

With Sci/Tech Filter:

Somehow Related?

Here's an interesting problem we faced this morning at work: We are currently using an LDAP directory for user authentication, and we authenticate using Samba for Windows Logins and a generic LDAP client for Unix logins. Well, when I came into work today, instead of the 1-2 seconds it normally took to log into Unix, it took like 120 seconds. Now, the only problem we had that we knew of was that our Internet connection was down. About 30 minutes later our Internet connection came back up and we were able to log in again with the 1-2 second delay... OH, one thing to mention -- Authentication through Samba for Windows worked normal the whole time. So, the question is, what relation is there between Unix, LDAP authentcation and the Internet?