News Release: Microsoft Implodes.

Image representing Microsoft
Image via CrunchBase

Okay, okay, it hasn’t happened just yet – but let me put a prediction out there: Microsoft has finally made a choice leading to its rapidly impending doom. I’ve already received the “get over it” comments from other posters when I complained about the UX, but now it isn’t me (nor has it been for a long time) saying it alone. The classic question, “If a tree falls and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” might be appropriate for my comments – but there can be no doubt that when a forest collapses – folks will hear it, and folks will see it, and folks will feel it.

Think I’m making things up? Take a look at two veteran bloggers and tech industry analysts on Microsoft Windows 8. Adrian Kingsley-Hughes writes Final thoughts on Windows 8: A design disaster. Then read Joe Wilcox’s Windows 8 is like a bad blind date.

Honestly, I want Microsoft and Windows 8 to succeed. I’m not a Microsoft-hater, I might even be a groupie. Some folks belong to the Apple cult, I might belong to the Microsoft cult. So, it really cuts me to the heart to write this post…not just b/c I like Microsoft and I like Windows,  but b/c I really like a LOT of Windows 8 – but not enough to overcome a horrific UX.

“Dave, what features?” Well, most of them are geeky features – the sort of stuff system administrators drool over…but, hey, that is what I am, so I am legitimately drooling…and at the same time sobbing, b/c I know I can’t have what I want without being painfully punished with the Metro UX.

For example the cloud connectivity that moves your profile around between devices seamlessly – and not just on your own domain or workgroup either. The auto-selection of mobile broadband versus wifi hotspots to save you money while being a road warrior. Did I fail to mention Windows To Go? DirectAccess? BranchCache? AppLocker? The lightning speed? Built-in antivirus? An actually useful built-in browser? An enhanced task manager? No, I’m not going to mention everything, go download the Product Guide PDF to read all the details

Okay, okay – a few more. Quite honestly, I’m a file buff. Working at Collages.net I managed at scaling from 5 TB to 80 TB (who knows what they are at now). Working for PBU I’ve undertaken something similar…from 2 TB to perhaps 60 TB now…and no, I don’t just buy storage b/c I love it…I buy it b/c the world is changing and our needs for storage are growing exponentially.

So, take a look at these FANTASTIC enhancements to Windows 8. First there is Kiran Bangalore’s post, “Redesigning chkdsk and the new NTFS health model.” Then Ilana Smith’s “Acting on file management feedback.” And don’t miss one of my favorites, Surendra Verma’s “Building the next generation file system for Windows: ReFS.” You’ll also find thrilling reading in Steven Sinofsky’s “Virtualizing storage for scale, resiliency, and efficiency.” I could go on and on, but instead let me encourage you to explore for yourself the wonderful blog by the Microsoft team “Building Windows 8.”

Now, you might justly say, “Dave, you haven’t shown how Microsoft will implode?” You are right, I haven’t. Microsoft has numerous other businesses besides Windows, but the point is that over the next few years it seems likely that Microsoft will hand off a massive amount of its market share on core products – such as Windows – to competitors including Apple, Google (Android), and Ubuntu (Linux). By the time they get their act together, no one will need them any more. Microsoft has long thrived on the legacy needs and familiarity of its customers…with this push that will alienate users heavily, they are going to lose this traditional cash cow.

Some might say, “The UX isn’t that bad…Dave you just like to whine.” Maybe I do like to whine. Andrew Vogel certainly thinks so….be that as it may, I’ve been using computers for a few years – the Commodore 64, Apple II, II+, IIe, IIgs. The 286, 386, 486, PI, PII, Celeron, and all the chips in-between. I’ve run DOS, Windows 3.1, 95, 98, Me, XP, Vista, and 7. I’ve messed around with various flavors of Linux and tried out a number of those ever-disappointing cloud OS’es. I’m not someone who is opposed to change – I live for it and love it….so when I say the UX is horrific, I am not saying, “Wahhh…Don’t make me learn something new.” The end.

Windows 8: Some Brief Thoughts.

Image representing Windows
Image via CrunchBase

I have a Dell Inspiron 1720 I keep around the house and use for watching Hulu/Netflix and playing video games. It is getting fairly old (for a techie like me), but it still works decently. When Microsoft released Windows 8 Consumer Preview I decided to upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 8 on the Inspiron 1720. Here are my initial thoughts based on limited interactions with the new OS:

User Interface:

  • As a techie I’m used to being able to figure out just about any application fairly quickly. You can intuit what is going on with the UI and pick things up fairly quickly…ummm…Windows 8, not so much.
  • Can someone tell me how to exit out of these darn applications? No, I’m not going to Google how to close an application…what a waste of breath! There is no way I should need to google to figure out how to close an application. I did do it once – but not sure how I did it…though Task Manager always works. =)
  • Did Microsoft move the navigation bar in IE to the bottom just for the hack of it? What’s up with that?
  • The user interface is semi-cool…but ummm, what is I don’t have a touch screen? And while this is some decent eye candy it isn’t helping my productivity.
  • What happened to the start menu? And you mean there isn’t an option to change back to the classic Windows Start Menu / Desktop in Windows 8?!?
  • Click on Windows Explorer and the Metro UI goes away – wow, rough transition…but don’t expect to get a start menu item.
  • How do I turn the dang computer off?

Problems:

  • If I closed the lid the laptop goes into a hibernate mode (I’m guessing) and when I turn it back on it takes forever to start back up again…sometimes I’ll just power it off and power it back on – it is faster!
  • Each time I reboot the computer and open Internet Explorer and go to Hulu I have to download Adobe Flash player again and install it again. Not sure what that is about.
  • So….I thought I got to keep my programs when I did the upgrade from Windows 7 to 8 Consumer Preview…but apparently now…all of my applications are gone! So are most of my files…good thing this computer didn’t actually do anything.

Conclusion:

I’m excited about a number of the technical features included in Windows 8, but I’m VERY unhappy with the user interface. I expect the problems I mentioned to be cleared up by the time the RTM is released.

I know Microsoft wants us to move forward – but most of us don’t have touch screens – and while I can see their efficiency in some situations, I don’t see the end of the mouse or keyboard for a long time yet – especially in work situations.

Microsoft needs to at least offer the ability to turn off or switch from the metro ui to a class ui that includes items like My Computer and the Start Menu.

Unlike many folks, I’m a fan of Microsoft. I think they have moved a long ways towards openness, incorporating user feedback, and building robust products – but Windows 8 from a UI perspective is a disaster. The underlying tech is awesome – but Microsoft needs to get off its high horse assuming that we want a single UI across all our devices and that it is best to push us this direction whether we like it or not…if they don’t, well, it might be the push I need to move off of Windows and onto Linux.

SugarSync – What is Missing?

I love being a fan of great products – and supporting those products with my finances. I’ve been a long-time fan and premium subscriber to SugarSync, a cloud-based backup, syncing, and web drive product. I like raving about them, and getting into arguments with folks like Steve Weir about whether Dropbox is better (nope!).

That said, I’m also a fan of making a little noise when companies don’t always treat their customers with the utmost respect they deserve. Successful business involves a symbiotic relationship between the business and the consumer, neither side can demand too much nor give too little. SugarSync has a great product, but I’m concerned that they aren’t committing enough resources to shoring up some weak spots in their current offerings, instead focusing more on new client acquisitions and business partnerships (which, again, are all well and good, but there has to be a balance).

So, here are my *beefs* with SugarSync and what I’d *really* like to see implemented in the near-term future.

The Critical Missing Components.

Image representing SugarSync as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

Currently SugarSync doesn’t utilize Microsoft‘s Volume Shadow Service (VSS) and I can’t for the life of me understand why – it is built directly into Windows and is utilized by most backup software providers. Why? Because it offers numerous huge advantages with easy implementation. Including the ability to backup files while they are in-use. This means you don’t have to close out of Outlook, an accounting application, or anything else that is actively using a file before it can be backed up.

The other big no-no SugarSync engages in (that I can think of no practical reason to exist, and which should be a very simple config file change to implement) is finite versioning of files. SugarSync currently keeps a limited number of previous versions of a file – which becomes an issue if it is a transactional file (e.g. a database – including Microsoft Outlook or any email client, rss reader, etc.). These files change all the time – in a single day they may change hundreds or thousands of times! SugarSync needs to keep these versions for as long as the user desires them to be kept – not arbitrarily deleting them!

This is Important…

  • Ability to Pause/Resume Backups/Syncs – While everything in an ideal world would place nice with one another, the fact of the matter is that software oftentimes interfere with each other. It’d be great to have a way to pause backups/syncs by SugarSync. Again, I don’t run into any problems with this regularly – but it would still be a nice feature.

It’d Be Cool If…

I’m not particularly concerned about these features, but it would be cool if…

  • SugarSync integrated with Google Docs, backing up all Google Docs into SugarSync and vice versa (or a subset as so desired). This would also allow mobile editing of documents (of many types) via Google Docs without needing to download the documents from SugarSync (as one must do now before editing).
  • Backing Up Gmail is another useful feature. I’m not as concerned about this as the integration with Google Docs, but still, a nice freebie.

FreeBasic (Programming)

Commodore 64 computer (1982)
Image via Wikipedia

My first experiences programming where on a Commodore 64 and an Apple II+. In both cases there was no separation of the end user interface and the development interface…you could just start entering code at the command line and it would begin building. Things have come a long ways since then – this is good and bad. It is no longer quite as easy or essential to get involved in programming, on the other hand one can much more rapidly build complex applications.

If you ever long for the throw back days you may think of QBasic, which became ubiquitous due to its inclusion with Microsoft DOS…but all these concepts are so from yesteryear – in computer terms they are almost millennia away.

So what if you want to do some simple programming these days with a BASIC feel to it? One good option is FreeBasic. FreeBasic was built to be largely backwards compatible with Microsoft’s QBasic and thus can run many old QBasic programs with only minimal modifications, but FreeBasic has also gone far beyond this and delivers a fairly powerful development environment.

If you do decide to use FreeBasic I recommend downloading a free copy of FbEdit as well. See development usually consists of at least two components – the compiler and the editor. A compiler is the program that takes your code and turns it into an executable program while an editor is what you write the code in. Granted, you can write your code in any plain text editor – but trust me, FbEdit will be a big help.

The FreeBasic forums have a very friendly and active community that will help you along through the learning process. Just take some time to explore the entire site and community, it is pretty impressive.

All this said, FreeBasic isn’t the language I primarily use for development – or the language I would recommend. In general, I’m a Microsoft .NET guy – mainly ASP.NET and VB.NET. Microsoft offers free copies of the lite versions of these applications as well, and while I say kudos to the FreeBasic team and hope they keep up the great work, if you are looking for a job in technology, you might be better off starting with a Microsoft .NET technology. Actually, probably C#.NET instead of VB.NET as I do (old habits die hard).

Safari InformIT – For the IT Crowd.

Safari Books Online
Image by iogi via Flickr

One of my long-term favorite services that I’ve subscribed to as a paying member on-again, off-again is Safari Books Online. Safari offers access to a vast library of hundreds of IT related books for online reading.

If you work in the IT realm, its well worth the subscription cost – especially if you can get your employer to foot the bill for you. IT books are such a niche volume and oftentimes so massive in size that they frequently run $50-$100 for a single volume. Safari offers a relatively inexpensive alternative – while also preventing the proliferation of the dreaded stacks of outdated IT books that seem to crop up around us as technology changes at a blistering pace.

The price used to be $10/mo. for their basic subscription – but that was years ago and it is now a much steeper $23/mo. – but still well worth the price.

Oftentimes when we find online subscription services the best and the brightest are not among the selection – this is not the case with Safari. You’ll find numerous volumes from a variety of the best technical publishers including O’Reilly Media, Microsoft Press, Sams, Apress, Cisco Press, Packt Publishing, Que, and McGraw-Hill.

Perhaps a little insiders peek at what I’ve been reading (or at least perusing) over the last year or two on Safari will help provide some idea of the range and depth of the collection:

  • Martin WP Reid’s Pro Access 2007.
  • Ross Mistry and co.’s Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Management and Administration.
  • Michele E. Davis and Jon A. Phillips’ Learning PHP and MySQL 2nd Edition.
  • Luke Welling and Laura Thomson’s PHP and MySQL Web Development.
  • Andrew and Paul Hudson’s Ubuntu Unleashed 2008 Edition.
  • Karen S. Fredricks’ SugarCRM for Dummies.
  • John Paul Mueller LINQ for Dummies.
  • Dino Esposito’s Programming Microsoft ASP.NET 3.5.
  • Scott Driza’s Word 2007 Document Automation with VBA and VSTO.
  • Kirk Haselden’s Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Integration Services Unleashed.
  • Larry Tenny and Zeeshan Hirani’s Entity Framework 4.0 Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach.
  • Alex Mackey’s Introducing .NET 4.0: with Visual Studio 2010.
  • Michael Lisin and co.’s Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services Unleashed.
  • Brian Larson’s Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Reporting Services.
  • Laurent Bugnion’s Silverlight 4 Unleashed.
  • Michael W. Picher’s Building Enterprise-Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs 4.0.

Along with extensive collections of books on development (web, java, .net, php), database (mssql, mysql, oracle), server/workstation administration (windows/linux), and network administration there are titles on digital media, engineering, math and science, personal and professional development, and so on.

Did I mention you get discounts on books (significant ones) if you purchase them while having a subscription? Sweet.

No, I’m not getting paid by Safari for this post. 😛

Self-Depreciating Humor.

I’m a big fan of self-depreciating humor. Why? Because it allows one to have a good hardy laugh – but not at the expense of another. You understand the tone and attitude in which the jest is made and since it is about yourself by yourself – you are able to handle it well…meanwhile everyone else gets to enjoy themselves as well.

Tonight I’m going to share one of those humorous stories – or at least I think it is humorous…though it was not so when it occurred to me earlier this evening.

I was working a late shift at Philadelphia Biblical University and performing some standard security patches and software updates. Earlier that day I had removed a chunk of unused space from a database server virtual machine. Everything had continued operating normally and I’d thought nothing of it…

Imagine my surprise when, upon rebooting to complete updates, I received a black screen with those tiny glowing white words, “Operating system could not be found.” These are not the words you desire to see – especially at 8:30 p.m. when you are thinking about going home and relaxing shortly. Visions of long-nights of yesteryear fill your mind.

It is at this moment that the first comical occurrence of the evening occurred. Microsoft decided that on this very night at this very moment it needed to give me an inescapable four minute count-down to reboot my system in order to complete windows updates! COME ON! I happened to be burning a new ISO of Windows Server 2008 EE R2 at that exact time and I watched in desperation as the four minutes chewed away more quickly than Windows was able to burn the new ISO to disc. Yes, at 99% Microsoft overrode my every whim and desire and rebooted the system – if I did need that disc I’d have to burn it all over again!

In any case, after the system came back, I did some googling – but it isn’t all that easy to google some topics. See, the problem is in making Google (or any search engine) understand what you want. For example, I really needed to information about the “Operating system could not be found” message where there was also information about VMWare‘s vSphere and information about deleting unused space. I found a few relevant articles – but none that exactly addressed my issue or provided a resolution.

I booted into Windows Server 2008 EE R2 recovery mode off the ISO and attempted to run a repair – but it didn’t see the drive. Great. I went into the command line just for kicks and giggles and typed in C:. Hmmm…That’s interesting. The C drive is showing all the databases which are not on the C: drive…

It was at this juncture I recognized the next humorous tidbit – VMWare seemed to have arbitrarily reorganized the drive letters. If the drives were supposed to be Drive 1 – C, Drive 2 – D, Drive 3 – E they now here more like Drive 1 – E, Drive 2 – C, Drive 3 – D. No, this doesn’t make sense to me either.[1]

More anxious scrabbling. More googling. I booted into the BIOS and looked at the boot order. Ahh, yes, it was booting off of Drive 3, not Drive 1. I began slowly rotating the drives – each one in turn to be the primary. After a few tries Windows booted without issue.

My evening was redeemed! The moral of this story is that when you do something really stupid with computers – it oftentimes works. When you do something that seems mundane and simple – it oftentimes backfires. Woohoo!

  1. [1]That said, I think there probably is a logical reason, just one that I don’t understand. This didn’t seem like a bug in VMWare’s software, rather like a logical but obscure process that one doesn’t run into except in awkward situations such as this.

Ramblings on Search.

A Better Search Engine.

X= (C*15) + (E*40) + ((A1*40) + (A2*30) + (A3*20) + (A4*10) + (A5*5)) + (M*20)

X = The ranking value for any given entry for a given search query.
C = The natural ranking given by a natural search engine analysis (such as provided via Google, Yahoo, Bing).
E = The ranking value given by individuals noted as experts in the field. For example – an individual “recognized” as an expert in American Civil War History voting on SiteA as of high importance to queries on “Vicksburg battle” would cause SiteA to receive a ranking value boost of E*40, where E is the ranking given by the expert, ranking inverted so that 1 = 1 (first result) and 10000 = .00001 (ten thousandth result).
A(1,2,3,4,5) = Aggregate of users rankings. These are aggregated based on “trust.” A user receives trust as they demonstrate reliability over time. This would be determined by a sub-algorithm that considered factors such as (a) how often user agreed with experts, (b) how often user agreed with crawler, (c) how often user agreed with other high-level users, etc.
M = Whether the user has verified their identity and linked a valid credit/banking account to their account. Fines would be imposed on individuals abusing the system using this linked information. Linking to valid monetary funds would not be required but would be an optional means of increasing trust.

An Introduction.

Since at least 2003 I have believed there was a better way to do search – and that way is socially. I nearly launched a business at that juncture to create such a search engine. I’ve waited eagerly over the years for someone to implement what seems so common sense to me – only to repeatedly be disappointed.
Google has now killed off SearchWiki. While far from what I envision – it was still closer and a move in the right direction for the company that has always insisted that machines can do it better. I had hoped it was the beginning of a change for Google – but the reversion to stars is devastating. So, I wanted to whine….and here it is.
I’m not going to spend all night on it at this juncture…but I may add to this article on occasion. That’s all.

What Would It Take?

Some would suggest that this project would be nigh impossible to complete – certainly impossible against a behemoth like Google. I don’t think so.

  • There is a free/open source robust, web search engine currently available called Nutch. It’s actually been around for years (I was looking at it back around 2003 as well).
  • There is also the option of using one of the many discarded web search engines – or getting a larger partner on-board like Yahoo! or Microsoft. Wink had something going for a while, Eurekster also looked like it had potential.
  • Matt Wells has demonstrated what can be done on a low budget with web search for ten years now with Gigablast. Think <$10,000 to start for hardware.
  • Hiring “experts” isn’t that hard. For initial seeding one could use educated non-experts (e.g. college students) who are willing to work for a low hourly rate ($10/hr.) but can make intelligent choices between web results.
  • Wikipedia has demonstrated that it is possible to create an open eco-system which remains fairly spam free.

Incentives.

For both businesses and individuals there would be an incentive to play fair, to contribute content, etc.:

  • Businesses would receive “cred” for good submissions/votes which they could then use to promote their own valid content (they’d lose cred quickly if they abused their cred).
  • Individuals could do the same for their own websites.
  • We also find the pride of ownership and accomplishment would play a significant role as seen in Wikipedia, YouTube, and DMoZ.
  • It’d make sense to me to implement revenue sharing (at the “higher” levels of user trust).[1]

For Each userx

myportion = myrelevantresults + (mytrustlevel * mytrustpoints)

Next

We’d then divide the 25% ($250) by the sum of all userx’s myportion (sumx). Then give each user sumx*myportion (ex. $250 / 3000 = $0.083 * 60 = $5). Not a lot of cash – but that is a rough guestimate on a single search query!

Why Don’t You Do It?

I’m sure some will wonder why I didn’t do it in the past and why I haven’t done it now. Ahh – that is the question. There are numerous contributing factors both past and present but the essence comes down to, I like ideas more than implementation (who doesn’t?)…and more importantly, I find myself more the aggregator of knowledge than the creator of methods. In other words, to some small extent, I’m a walking search engine – and I would love to input my knowledge into an engine like this…but I am not a skilled developer. I mean – I program, but I’m no Scott Guthrie (or…more in my realm, Corey Palmer, Ash Khan, or Kevin Clough).

Feedback Requested.

I’m open to feedback from anywhere…so speak up. A few individuals who come to mind are Steve Marder, Grant Ryan, and Jason Calacanis.

  1. [1]Consider, we have say 500 individuals with levels A1, A2, or A3 trust who have voted on at least one result on a query result. This query result over a months time generates $1,000 in revenue. 25% is set aside for user compensation. We’d do something like this:

Microsoft’s Free Development Tools.

Image representing Microsoft
Image via CrunchBase

I remember as a teenager programming for years in QBASIC – a free, lite version of QuickBasic Microsoft bundled with DOS and early versions of Windows. It was great fun – but I yearned to get my hands on the full QuickBasic so I could compile my applications and give them to others without giving away all my source code (okay, OSS was barely known back then).

Later I would save for months to purchase Visual Basic 5. $100+ is a lot of money for a teenager – but I wanted to program so bad that I scraped and saved.

After that there was the ASP.NET Web Matrix – a predecessor to the great tools Microsoft now offers for free. Unfortunately, its development was abandoned and for a long period of time I was left in a painful lurch….but then Microsoft started the trend that has made me extremely happy – free lite development tools.

These development tools include Visual Basic 2008 (for desktop applications), Visual C# 2008 (also for desktop applications, but in C#), Visual C++ (just like the last two), and Visual Web Developer (for web applications) – all in the Express line. Additionally they’ve thrown out there SQL Server Express (database back-end) and SQL Server Studio Management Studio Express (for writing SQL and managing databases).

While these applications are noted as “express” that doesn’t suggest that they are majorly crippled – rather they are extremely full functioning applications which can be used to create many impressive applications. For the new, hobbyist, or small business developer many times the Express Editions will be all that you ever need.

This was a smart move on Microsoft’s part – it gets people hooked on Microsoft development young – and it works great for us as well – because we get free development tools. By the time Microsoft expects us to shell out cash – well, we are probably making some from our now decent development skills. Go grab yourself some free development applications: https://www.visualstudio.com/vs/visual-studio-express/.

Leaving DotNetNuke (DNN)…

DotNetNuke (DNN) is a popular open source content management system written in ASP.NET with Microsoft SQL Server as the back-end. I’ve been using it for a number of years on sites of mine like davemackey.net. I’ve been a fan of DNN for a number of years for a few reasons.:

  • Open Source – I’m always a fan of open source projects, not just b/c I like a free lunch as much as the next guy but also because it allows for the project to continue on beyond the lifespan of a given individual or company.
  • ASP.NET – Its only been within the last several years I’ve really begun messing around with LAMP, and for the longest time I loved ASP and then ASP.NET. Now I’ve been swung to the dark side recently, though I still find Microsoft‘s development tools to be leagues beyond the open source competition (for speed of development) and still prefer developing in a VB.NET-like syntax to C#, PHP, etc. But, this habit must die…b/c everyone else is going LAMP.
  • Simplicity – Compared to Joomla or Drupal, DNN is a breeze. Within minutes of installing the application you can have a full featured site up and running.

That said, I’m now leaving the DNN community (I’ll get to what I’m moving to in a few moments). Here are the simple reasons why:

  • Cost – While DNN itself is open source, the Microsoft ecosystem as a whole is much more oriented around cost-based. This especially holds true for the DNN third-party ecosystem of modules and skins. Both of these would have some commercial items in a similar LAMP based project, but there would be loads of free modules/skins. Not so of the DNN ecosystem.
  • Development – Feature development in DNN seems to go at a much slower pace than equivalent open source projects (though this may change with the venture capital infusion DNN recently received). One significant example is the forums module which has been without an update for well over a year and has several show-stopping bugs in the current production version.
  • Openness – While DNN is an OSS project, the sharing of news about what is happening internally as far as development as well as the ability to get the latest snapshot download to run on the bleeding edge is extremely limited.

So what am I moving to? Good question. Its not Drupal or Joomla. I find both of these overly convoluted (here come the haters). Instead I’m moving to WordPress. WordPress while initially designed as a blogging platform has extended itself significantly to include most functionality that a user could want from a CMS in the core install. Thousands of free extensions make up for whatever WordPress lacks at its core. The development pace is rapid and even minor versions include massive updates (e.g. 2.7 is awesome!). The skins/modules are free, free, free and if one module isn’t receiving development there are dozens others that are.

That said, I’m not abandoning DNN completely just yet. It works well enough for davemackey.net, ocddave.com, and a few other sites. At this juncture the cost to move them over to WordPress (in time and energy) is greater than the lost features (since these are essentially static content sites, they aren’t missing out on much). I plan to in the future – as the need arises.

VPSLand – Windows/Linux VPS Hosting Review.

I run a number of hobby sites – like this one. But unlike this one, many of my older hobby sites run on Windows. I’ve been using WebSecureStores (a shared host) and am fairly happy with them – but they seem to have stopped all activity on the feature enhancement front – going even so far as not to update their websites in the last year or two or add support for the .NET Framework 3.0 or 3.5. These are big no-no’s and make we wonder, “Is this company still alive? Will my servers suddenly disappear one day?” So I’ve been looking for a new home. Before WebSecureStores I used WebStrikeSolutions – and they were awesome – but I left them because they didn’t include MSSQL in their default packages – and still don’t. Most recently I tried DiscountASP.NET where I am still hosting FreeWargamer – but they also don’t offer MSSQL without an additional cost ($10/mo. per database – if it was just $10/mo, I’d be fine – but I have several smaller databases, and no I don’t want to combine them all into one big database).

Before leaving Collages.net I was working a lot with different virtualization technologies – and I love them – and believe they are the way of the future. So I researched various VPS providers over at WebHostingTalk. I finally decided on VPSLand, despite some bad reviews, because of their AMAZING prices. On 7/26/08 I purchased a Windows-EZ Value or Busines plan from them (I don’t recall which). In any case, at the minimum I received 1280 MB RAM 400 GB Bandwidth, and so on – running Windows Server 2003 64-bit. AWESOME!

Unfortunately, I had not had previous experience with Parallels/SWSoft’s Virtuozzo and have since decided I absolutely hate it. I had a number of issues over a period of a few weeks, but knew a few where Virtuozzo’s fault and the rest I decided to give VPSLand the benefit of the doubt on. For those who aren’t familiar with Virtuozzo, it works differently from most virtualization technologies. Rather than completely isolating the virtual OS instance it shares the instance across all slices. The practical result of this is that you can’t make modifications to the Windows core (e.g. apply Windows Updates). Call this the network engineer in me – but when I get a VPS I want full control to upgrade/patch/install/replace however I see fit.

Next step – research alternative VPS solutions. It seems a majority of VPS providers utilize either Virtuozzo or its open source companion, so it took me a while to find ones supporting Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V, or VMWare’s ESX. In the end I decided to stay with VPSLand and use their Xen VPS.

Double the price. I purchased one of VPSLand’s WindowsXL-1024 Xen VPS plans. It included 1024 MB of RAM and 1000 GB bandwidth. Not bad, certainly a step up – though I would have taken less bandwidth and less HD space in exchange for a lower price. No matter, I’m now paying $79.99/mo. Well, for over double the price I expect some good service and a good system. Now lets follow the timeline:

  • Sept. 3rd, 2008 – Order places for Xen VPS around 3 P.M. EST.
  • Sept. 4th, 2008 – Account information received around 7:50 P.M. EST.
  • Sept. 4th, 2008 – At 10:22 P.M. EST I submit a ticket reporting that while I can connect to the VPS I cannot ping out to any remote server (e.g. Google, Yahoo).
  • Sept. 5th, 2008 – At 4:27 A.M. EST I receive a ticket reporting that this issue has been resolved. The support tech. informs me not to apply Windows Updates, that they take care of this on their VPS.
  • Sept. 5th, 2008 – At 11:09 A.M. EST I send a response asking why I can’t make Windows Updates since this is a Xen VPS not a Virtuozzo VPS. Also asking for an explanation on what caused the technical issue with my VPS.
  • Sept. 6th, 2008 – At 9:52 A.M. EST I receive a response from a different technician that yes, the first technician was incorrect and I can install patches and then a cryptic answer to my question about the cause/resolution of the issue in the first place (something about restarting a network service on my VPS – strange since I rebooted the entire server multiple times).
  • Sept. 6th, 2008 – At 12:35 P.M. EST I submit a new ticket. I’ve just noticed that my VPS is down – entirely. No ability to visit the sites, no ability to RDC into the server. No ability to access the web based control panel. This is a complete service outage.
  • Sept. 6th, 2008 – At 2:41 P.M. EST I receive a response to my ticket – over two hours later. They are “escalating” my ticket to the “reboot queue.” Two hours and they are just now recycling the server?
  • Sept. 6th, 2008 – At 3:47 P.M. EST I write again on the same ticket, “I am still down. The server came up briefly according to a pinging service but went back down again shortly thereafter. Please give me a status update.”
  • Sept. 6th, 2008 – At 11:10 P.M. EST I wrote again on the same ticket, “I would love to get an occasional update – say once every two hours or so to let me know what is happening. Right now it kind of feels like you guys just gave up on fixing my VPS. This has been a horrible starting experience with VPSLand. Please inform me of the status – I am still down – nearly twelve hours after initially reporting this outage. How can I even place a minor website on a server that is going to be this unstable? And where support does not respond?”
  • Sept. 7th, 2008 – At 3:37 P.M. EST as I write this post my VPS is still down, I have received no further communication from VPSLand and it has been well over 24 hours since my VPS went down.
  • UPDATE: Sept. 7th, 2008 – I submit a new ticket in a desperate attempt for attention. Title is, “SERVER DOWN FOR 24+ HOURS!”
  • UPDATE: Sept. 7th, 2008 – At 9:23 P.M. EST receive a response to my original ticket that this issue is being escalated to their senior admins (after well-over 24 hours straight downtime) and that they will give me status updates.
  • UPDATE: Sept. 8th, 2008 – At 12:01 A.M. EST receive a note informing me VPS has been restored, also that they are giving me a credit for one month free service and apologize for the delay. Issue report is a failed drive (this is why one uses RAID – at least 1, perhaps 5 or 6).

At this juncture I feel the neglect is simply insane. “VPSLAND.com’s Virtual Private Servers are perfect for Businesses or Individuals looking for an affordable dedicated server alternative with full Root/Administrator privileges.” I’m running hobby sites folks – and this isn’t working for me?

So here are my thoughts at this juncture:

  1. Talk to Us. People are very understanding when they know that there is a problem and that a company is working to resolve this problem. My problem is I don’t know if anyone is even working on this problem. Sure, the ticket is open – but is anyone home?
  2. Better SLA. I should have looked at their SLA more closely. While they offer a 99.9% uptime guarantee their SLA more carefully defines this. If you have less than 99.9% in a single month they compensate at 100% if it is 89.9% or below – that’s an astonishing 72+/- hours in a single month (yes, that was the sound of my jaw hitting the floor). The SLA should look like: Below 98% 100% credit plus a 100% refund (e.g. you pay me).
  3. How Ya Gonna Change? Why does it take hours to get a reply to a ticket? Why is there no phone number to call in emergencies? Do you need to hire more techs.? Do so. Jump the prices to do so? Okay. But this is unbelievable. Automatic migrations? Manual migrations? A must!

Maybe something at this point will change…and if it does I will inform you. But at this juncture – my personal opinion is – don’t ever EVER ever utilize VPSLand for anything (yah, grandma, not even your hobby site on knitting!).

Anyone out there have a good Windows VPS service (not using Virtuozzo) that wants a new client? I’m good PR if you treat me well (and bad if you don’t).

P.S. I’m softer on companies that haven’t been in business for a long time (e.g. startups). I know the difficulties experienced, but VPSLand or its antecedent have been running since 1994.