Better Corporate Deployment

A while back I asked a question about how companies deploy/update Firefox in the corporate environment. I got a fair amount of feedback on the issue. I wanted to post this a while back, but got sidetracked. Anyway here’s what I’ve put together after reading comments and emails about the topic.

Based on what I’ve read, and looking at where apps like Firefox and Thunderbird stand, I see a few possibilities to improve:

Provide MSI’s as a download

From what I’ve read, and some email’s, MSI’s seem to be the vehicle of choice for most looking to deploy an application because it’s fairly easy to use, and pretty common.

Better Documentation for Corporate Deployment

It seems part of the problem is corporate IT departments don’t see clear documentation on “how to”. A fix for this would be some good documentation on “recommended practices”. Some topics to discuss:

  • How to disable auto update
  • Prohibit installing extensions
  • How to deploy updates with popular deployment tools and enterprise tools and technologies like Group Policy
  • Discuss how the CCK could be helpful

Upgrade Recommendations

A big problem seems to be keeping things up to date. There are several complicated issues here. To discuss them briefly:

Policy Restrictions
In some cases, computers are locked down enough that auto update in Firefox won’t work since it can’t update files. This means an admin must interfere, and must know that they need to take some sort of action.

Internal Testing
Companies have strong testing policies in place because of internal apps that are business critical. As a result before something like a browser can be updated, it must be tested against these applications. How do we minimize the time from the release of the new version, to when a company actually deploys this. Obviously the less time involved, the better.

Update Notification
With auto-update disabled, how do companies know a new release has been issued? How can they easily keep up to speed, with low noise?

Solution
The first step has already been taken. Mozilla products have a very good versioning scheme and maintenance update release pattern. It’s also good that stable branches live for a while. This is essential for corporate deployments. It allows for some time between moving between versions (such as 1.0.x to 1.5.x). The release cycles work rather well.

There seems to be a need for an IT mailing list, that would notify IT professionals when a release reaches the RC (Release Candidate) stage, allowing them time to test the new version against their systems. Such notification should also contain changes made since the last release, but written in terms of “what to look for when testing” or “what impact these changes could have” (for example a change in how plugins are loaded/handled, requiring testing where Java applets are embedded in web pages). By sending these notifications first during the RC stage, it would allow for some time to do testing, and quicker deployment once the release is official. This is important in the case of security bugs being fixed, when exploits could quickly follow an announcement. The low noise of the mailing list would ensure IT professionals get notifications they need.

Conclusion

I’m curious how these proposals would work for IT departments, from what I’ve read and feedback I’ve received I believe this would allow for much easier adoption, without adding too much of a burden.

In Search Of The Epoch Child

The UNIX Epoch is 00:00:00 UTC on January 1, 1970. That’s essentially the beginning of time for UNIX based systems. You know, “In the beginning when Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie created the /usr and the /etc1.

I’m curious if anyone has tracked down someone (preferably a geek) who was born on the Unix Epoch. I guess we can’t be too exact since the question would be “are you born when your head is out, or when your butt is out? Can the cord still be attached or do you need to be unplugged?” or something to that effect.

All kidding aside, it would be interesting to know if anyone has come to the realization that they are the Epoch Child. I’m not sure (any calendar scholars can help me out here), but it seems the last child to have a time standard’s origin coincide with their birth may have been Jesus (and obviously any other child born that night). In that case, it seems they likely it was rounded as best they could (see Wikipedia discussion of Jesus’s Birth Year and Date).

Remember to account for the timezone. For example if your born in New York, that’s -5:00. So anyone feel like finding him/her? Obviously some proof would be necessary to prove your the epoch child.

It would also be interesting to find some others, but this seems to be the most interesting.

1 Yea, lame Genesis joke.

Good Sites Bad Design

This article tries to explain why some websites with really ugly designs do so well regarding usage. I think it dances around the reality of the situation. These sites are ugly because they weren’t professionally designed. They were implemented to be functional and to get into the marketplace (budget/time/resource limitations). The reason they are successful is because they were either: innovative, viral (word of mouth), or just plain useful.

Design doesn’t make or break a website, the ability to expose usability and functionality of your product in a way the user can grasp with minimal effort is what ultimately is important.

The sites mentioned (Craigslist, MySpace, and Google) all have rather humble beginnings. None were started by the big companies. They were created people with an idea, not a design.

I guess it’s all about how you view things. You can either be vein, or be functional. In my opinion the gifted are the ones who are rather balanced between the two.

Windows Live OneCare

I’m curious if anyone has tried Windows Live OneCare (via Amazon note: affiliate link used) with Firefox, and especially with Thunderbird. I personally haven’t tried it. A quick Google search doesn’t turn up to much info. Is it detecting viruses in emails correctly and problem free? Or is it causing chaos? I’d love to hear from someone who has used it.

As a reminder, just because you don’t use Outlook doesn’t mean your immune from viruses. You still need a virus scanner.

Windows Vista

Foreword: This is somewhat of an informal rant, it’s pretty much my notes tinkering in Windows Vista.

Am I the only one who is not very impressed with Windows Vista? Several things so far have just shown to be a complete turnoff:

  • It warns me about everything. Warnings stink, people just ignore them if they happen to often. This will prove to be effective security for about 2 weeks. After that, people will click OK without reading a thing. I got a security warning trying to show processes from all users in the task manager. Why? How can a Microsoft App not trust another Microsoft App? I’m guessing the next step is a CAPTCHA on each dialog.
  • Learning Curves are evil. The new Save dialog isn’t totally evil, but it’s quasi evil. It took me a few seconds to figure out how it works, and still feels really really awkward no matter what method I use to navigate. On a somewhat related note, took a while to find the familiar command prompt (it’s nested deep in the start menu now). Is there a “classic view” for the control panel like there was in XP? This “intuitive” stuff is just extra clicks and a waste of my time.
  • Despite my best effort, I’m still not sure why I’m denied permission to my own Application Data directory. It’s my data!
  • Start menu with scroll bars? Maximizing a folder caused scrollbars! Oh come on, that’s awkward, as if the old design wasn’t bad, now I have to scroll as well? What I’d really like is programs get sorted by category in the Start Menu (tagging) rather than how the publisher thinks they should be. That way you don’t get programs all over the place.
  • Killer feature? This is my biggest complaint. Other than shiny menu’s (which I’m not to fond of) and some new icons (which I do like), I don’t really see much in here that says “this is worth money”… not to mention in many cases you’ll want “Vista Ultimate” (or Vista ‘Take a Loan From The Bank’ Ultimate) if you want some of the features from various different editions they will be offering. If they include them all on 1 media anyway, why not let me pay per extra feature? Rather than these bundles? Perhaps I want some of the mobile and some of the business stuff, but don’t need the kitchen sink, dishwasher, and knit toaster cover.

But is there anything cool besides the icons? Well I tried out the new Parental Controls on a profile, and to my surprise, they don’t just effect IE, but everything including Firefox (because it’s likely sniffing the TCP/IP stack like it should). Of course a very fitting screenshot:

Firefox with Parental Controls

And for those wondering, it does give what seem to be pretty nice HTTP Headers, so it would be possible to sniff and serve up our own pretty error pages to keep a consistent UI if desired. I can’t vouch for the effectiveness of the filter, since I haven’t tested it for what it filters, only how it interacts.

So will I upgrade? I’m really not sure to be honest. I see a few things that make me hesitant:

  1. Will my Thinkpad T43 handle it well? Or will it be sluggish and annoying (I’m running it virtualized right now, hence I said nothing about performance). I know the minimum specs are pretty low, but typically the minimum specs are nothing but a pipe dream, nothing you could use on a daily basis.
  2. I don’t want to pay extra to keep the features I have with XP Pro.
  3. Annoyances fixed… the above is really annoying stuff. Really annoying. I don’t think I’d be able to tolerate warnings all over the place. It’s just to distracting if even simple tasks involve signing wavers and sacrificing your first born child.

Perhaps I’m just fussy, or maybe I’m selfish for wanting an easy to use OS, that doesn’t have an abrasive security policy, is secure without locking me out of my own files or nagging me with warnings, and doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg to upgrade my somewhat new (less than a year old) hardware.

As far as next-generation OS’s go, my initial impression says Mac OS X, and Ubuntu still have a lead over Vista. If Apple can get Windows binaries running from within OS X (virtualized as rumored), that could be a crushing blow to Microsoft.

Hopefully someone at Microsoft is listening.