Visual Studio 2005 Add-Ins and Tools That I Use

I am right now in the middle (about 20% and 18K lines of code through) a pretty substantial Windows Forms project using Visual Studio 2005 (C#). Here are some of the add-ins that I have been using (ranked in order of essential to useful):
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MediaTemple vs. DreamHost

Four days ago, my webhost (who will remain nameless for the time being) noticed that its aging servers (all hosted by third-party enterprise hosting services) were dying. So they decided to upgrade all of the servers, and switch to a different hosting location at the same time. The result: my sites hosted by them were down or unusable for (well, actually, I cannot give an accurate number because at the time of writing, the sites are still down, and the server on which they were hosted is only “27% migrated”). I had been thinking of switching webhosts for some time, but foolishly did not take any action on these impulses, since “everything seems to be working ok for now”. Luckily, with month old backups of my different wordpress databases, plus cached feedburner feeds, I have all of the content I will need to recreate my sites on a new host (and then add back some missing items when my old host finally gets their act together).

For me, it came down to MediaTemple and DreamHost. I have used DreamHost for a client site in the past, and found that they are a company that is very concientous of their customer’s well-being. They go out of their way to give easy access to different server features on their (somewhat bizzare looking but very useful) control panel, and overall are very open about different issues that are occuring with their servers (and are not afraid to take responsibility when things get messed up and it is their fault). Overall, I have been pretty impressed with their hosting, as well as customer service. (And am reassured that if problems occurred on a server, that they would take care of it ASAP, unlike my current webhosts). Continue reading

Visual Assist X

When I started getting into more of a development role in my previous job, and was using Visual Studio, C# and more and more, I was a frequest visitor on sites devoted to .Net programming like Code Project and 4Guys. One day on CP, I saw a review of an extension for Visual Studio 2003 called Visual Assist X. The review descibed how this product helped improve the native intellisense in VS, and in general added shortcuts and other things to make the program friendlier to use. They offered a 30 day trial, so I downloaded and installed.

Within a couple of days, I was hooked. I got my boss to approve it, and sent $130 to Whole Tomato Software in exchange for a license to use their program.

I did not notice how much I relied on its features to help me speed up my overall development time until I had to switch to a different computer recently (one without Visual Assist X installed). As I started to code in Visual Studio, I was waiting for the extremely helpful (and actually intelligent) intellisense that I was used to to pop up with suggestions as to what variable I was looking for. The program is so well-integrated into VS that I had forgotten that it was separate. Suffice to say, I right away went to the site and downloaded a copy of the most recent build (and extended support with them in the process). Now that it is installed, Visual Studio seems much more familiar again (and I have made my coding at least 30% faster).
Note: I have no affiliation with Whole Tomato, nor do I receive any kickbacks or referral fees. I am just writing to let you know about a product that will almost certainly make Visual Studio friendlier, improve your overall productivity in the IDE (and pay back the investment within a few days).

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Spotback Review

As reported on Techcrunch, a new personalizable news portal called Spotback was launched yesterday. This one aims to set itself apart from other sites by taking the items that you approve or disapprove (using a sliding scale), and using this feedback to recommend other articles that might be of interest to you. The other innovation is that you don’t have to log in and have an account in order to use a service – if you just want to try it out, it will track what you do with cookies.

Innovative features and things that I like:

  • When you approve a story to a certain level (on the sliding scale) the site takes your feedback and automatically adds a new story to match your preferences. Good use of AJAx here.
  • Full use of features without creating account – view your history, use your feedback to show you more of what you might like
  • All in, with tastefully done AJAX (or ATLAS?). Site seems to be operating smoothly, thoughtfully designed.
  • I like the feature where you click More and get to view a DHTML onscreen popup showing the text of the entire article. Nice feature.

Unfortunately, that’s it for things that really stand out for me. The Web has a bunch of different sites already that take personal feedback to produce news. Although there is no real stand-out site right now that gives you personalized results, I don’t think that this site is there yet (I know that they are beta, and that they launched yesterday). So a little feedback on things that I didn’t like or things I feel could use improvement:

  • Although at first glance, the sliding scale is cool, I find that after using it about ten times it is getting old. When I like an article, I just move the sliding scale up. When I dont like it, I move it down. I don’t really take care to move it to the exact number that might apply (nor am I going to spend the time to figure out if I like the site 2.5 or 3.3). Digg-style voting (thumbs-up or thumbs-down) is much more intuitive and easy to use. Perhaps if you want to expand on this, have four buttons, ranging from -2 to +2. But the sliding scale doesn’t seem so affective right now.
  • Since you guys are into AJAX, could I have a drag-and-drop to position the categories the way that I see fit?
  • The categories themselves don’t seem to be so clearly defined (or at least the definitions are not intuitive). I am seeing web-design related articles in the Arts category not in Computers and Internet like I would think that it would apply. I know that I could say that I want to see more things in C&I and less in Art. But that is not true, I want to see more web-design and programming…but not more Arts (if that made sense).
  • I would like to see more stories on a page. Right now, with the two column layout, I see six stories on a screen when I load up a page. I know that this is similar to Digg (which shows five stories). I much prefer the Newsvine approach (at least 20-30 links). Perhaps in addition to your one-two column viewing options, you could add the option to view just the headlines (allowing more to fit on one page), or the headlines with snippets.
  • Although I like personalized news, I am also interested in seeing how other people ranked a story. I know that there are comments, but the more of a sense of community I can see, the more drawn to the site I will be.

Altogether, I think that the general implementation was done well and the site could catch on. However, my initial experience is not enough to make me add this to my list of frequented sites just yet (and with no RSS, it will be easy for it to drop off my radar completely).

Where Vista Fails

Paul Thurotte has just completed his five part review of the latest beta release of Windows Vista, build 5308, the first “feature complete” release of Vista to reviewers.

Through the first four parts of the review (1, 2, 3, 4), Paul described what seemed like some pretty exciting stuff that he was seeing in Vista for the first time:

  • Expanded driver coverage
  • A system he could actually use for day-to-day tasks
  • Improved Install
  • New Applications
  • New Features (Calender, Photo Gallery, Defender, etc)

After finishing part 4, I was beginning to think that maybe Microsoft was finally on the road to producing a usable operating system to replace XP, that featured some actual improvements to the user experience.

And then Paul goes and rips them a new one with Part 5. Considering that this piece was written by a technical writer/reviewer who has a history of enthusiastically supporting Microsoft and their products, what Paul writes is even more of a shocker.

Some choice quotes:

Shame on you, Microsoft. Shame on you, but not just for not doing better. We expect you to copy Apple, just as Apple (and Linux) in its turn copies you. But we do not and should not expect to be promised the world, only to be given a warmed over copy of Mac OS X Tiger in return. Windows Vista is a disappointment. There is no way to sugarcoat that very real truth.

The bad news, then, is that UAP (User Account Protection) is a sad, sad joke. It’s the most annoying feature that Microsoft has ever added to any software product, and yes, that includes that ridiculous Clippy character from older Office versions. The problem with UAP is that it throws up an unbelievable number of warning dialogs for even the simplest of tasks. That these dialogs pop up repeatedly for the same action would be comical if it weren’t so amazingly frustrating. It would be hilarious if it weren’t going to affect hundreds of millions of people in a few short months. It is, in fact, almost criminal in its insidiousness.

In Windows Vista, Microsoft has broken Media Center. It’s a horrid update to a wonderful bit of software, an ugly stepchild of beautiful parents. It’s so bad, I don’t even know where to start. But I’ll try.

And on and on and on. I urge you to read the entire essay, it is worth it. Paul describes the general and specific areas where Microsoft has failed so far in their handling of Windows Vista, its ever changing feature set, broken promises and bad user interface design. Heck, he even calls out Bill for his part in the debacle that is also known as Vista:

Sadly, Gates, too, is part of the Bad Microsoft, a vestige of the past who should have had the class to either formally step down from the company or at least play just an honorary role, not step up his involvement and get his hands dirty with the next Windows version. If blame is to be assessed, we must start with Gates. He has guided–or, through lack of leadership–failed to guide the development of Microsoft’s most prized asset. He has driven it into the ground.

This is a wakeup call if I have ever seen one. Hopefully someone over there is listening.