Kevin Kelly on Better Than Free

I ran across this article a few days ago and I saw that it was also referenced on Slashdot this morning.  The article is titled Better Than Free and is written by Kevin Kelly.  The article is not about software specifically as much as any object that could have a free alternative like a bootlegged copy of a movie or a copied version of a book, etc..

Kelly outlines 8 attributes of a transaction which he believes will raise the value above the free alternative.  In other words, these 8 attributes are the values which people are willing to pay for.  I very good article and worth the time to read because I think it also applies to not only free alternatives but also to lower cost alternatives.  For instance, I believe the Immediacy attribute he describes can apply to having on-shore developers versus having off-shore developers.  On-shore developers have the advantage in Immediacy because they are in the same office or at least in the same time zone.

I am not sure I am completely sold on Immediacy for all transactions since I have seen developers in the past spend many hours or even days or weeks attempting to configure a free software alternative when easier to configure commercial alternatives were available.  Most commercial software excels in the Interpretation category, described by Kelly, where more comprehensive documentation is available and more time is often spent on usability.  Of coarse, this is not always the case either.

Anyway, the article is worth reading because I think it gives everyone something to think about in terms of what service you are providing, either as an employee, consultant, ISV, or OEM.  For all of these services, there are free or at least lower cost alternatives.

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.CHM Content Blocking

They say you learn something new every day and that is certainly the case today.  It started with this post where I incorrectly stated that documentation for Unity was lacking.  After Grigori corrected me on that, I attempted to read the documentation and was presented with this error from HTMLHelp:


Whenever I nagivated to other topics, I received a similar but not identical message:


Since others were describing material that had been read from the Unity documentation, I assumed that the problem was most likely a setting on my local machine.  After a little searching on google, I didn’t really find anything.

I looked at the properties of the CHM in windows explorer and found the problem:


I was unaware that this functionality existed.  It could be that it has been there for quite some time since it seems less common that help is shipped in this format than it used to be.  Anyway, just pressing Unblock and applying the changes is not enough.  You must also make the file writeable.  If the file is Read-only, you will find that the Unblock button is still there along with the security message when you bring up the properties dialog again.  After unchecking Read-only, pressing Unblock, and accepting the changes, I was able to view the documentation.

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ReSharper 4.0 Early Access Program

JetBrains has announced the EAP for ReSharper 4.0.  The product supports most of the C# 3.0 features, but sadly still no LINQ support.  They have added quite a bit to ReSharper, in addition to the new language features.  I am looking forward to the final release.

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Unity DI Container CTP

Microsoft Patterns and Practices has released a CTP (Community Technology Preview) of Unity, a new DI container.  So far, documentation is lacking but hopefully will be forthcoming.  It appears future versions of Enterprise Library will utilize this container.  P&P is having a workshop next week for those who really want to jump in head first.

For those who might be a little confused by this offering because of the previous pushing of ObjectBuilder from the P&P team, here is a post going into some detail about ObjectBuilder whether or not is does DI.

Update 2/15/2008 10am –

Grigori Melnik, from P&P, kindly pointed out that a CHM is shipped with Unity.  After checking, I found that I missed it because the zip file places the CHM one directory above the Unity directory in the tree.  Since everything else in the distribution started from the Unity directory, I overlooked it. 

I am still having some problems reading the CHM file from my machine.  The help browser seems to be attempting to read the content from the internet and cannot find it.  Since people are referring to the documentation in discussion posts, this must be something specific to my machine or a low percentage problem.

Update 2/15/2008 11:20am –

The problem with the viewing of the CHM was security related.  The short answer is open the file properties dialog for the CHM file, uncheck Read-only, press the Unblock button and accept the changes.  The longer description is here.

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This Week in VS #1

This is the first post in what I am hoping will be a weekly recurring theme to aggregate interesting topics I come across concerning Visual Studio.

Koen Verheyen created a macro for optionally attaching debugger to IIS or the web server that ships with Visual Studio.  Quite handy.

Sara Ford does a VS tip of the day.  Today’s tip was about type-ahead selection in Solution Explorer.  My favorite tip so far is that ctrl+tab brings up the IDE Navigator.  This works in 2005 and 2008 but the window is much better in 2008.  If you keep the ctrl button pressed, you can navigate among the editor windows.  The arrow keys bring you to the tool windows.  Combine the IDE Navigator with today’s tip and keyboard enthusiasts can open new files in the solution without touching the mouse.

Keyvan Nayyeri is releasing a new book on Visual Studio Extensibility, a topic near and dear to my heart.  This book covers 2008 and looks good from what I have seen so far.  It looks like it will be out next month.

Shawn Burke posted a good explanation of setting up 2008 for debugging .Net framework source code.

Scott Guthrie explained the new hot-fix rollup for 2008 web development.  BTW – congats to Scott on his promotion to VP.

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.Net Mass Downloader 1.1 Released

I forgot to include this in my post yesterday but John Robbins, from Wintellect, has announced version 1.1 of.Net Mass Downloader.  This handy tool allows you to download all available source code for the .Net framework, all at once. 

VS.net 2008 will download the code once it is configured, but only a little at a time.  For those who want to peruse the code at their leisure, this would not be acceptable.

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Having a Bad Day Video

This link comes courtesy of Scott Riggins.  I like the part where the guy jumps over the conference table and starts beating on the guy who was talking too loud on the phone.  It reminds me of an instance recently when I was in an office where two people just down the hall from each other were talking on speaker phones (to each other).  Since I was about in the middle, I had the pleasure of listening to both conversations live out of their mouths and then echoed back a quarter second later over the speaker phone.  Sort of a perfect storm of office annoyance.

Cool Visual Studio Things I’ve Run Across Lately

StickyNotes is a VS 2008 package that adds notes to solutions, projects, and project items.  The information is stored in the solution and project files.  This is functionality that I have always thought would be nice to have in Visual Studio.  The coolest part of this is that the tool window is not WinForms, it is WPF.  Written by Pablo Galiano and hosted on MSDN Code Gallery.  Sadly, no source code is available yet but it is promised soon.

MSDN Code Gallery is a new site that was introduced by Microsoft.  The site already has many good examples and pointers to good information.  It looks strikingly similar to CodePlex, only not so green.  I am not sure why these sites needed to be separate but I am sure someone has a good reason.

Scott Hanselman has put up a post with various VS themes.  It has become very fashionable to show off your custom themes lately.  I sort of like the Jedi Scheme.  The name is certainly a can’t miss.

Microsoft has just released a CTP version of the new XSLT Profiler for VS 2008.  My recent tribulations with debugging xslt have given me a huge appreciation for tools in this area.

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T1, You’re the One for Me

Lately I have been suffering from a severe lack of internet connectivity.

I live in a fairly rural area outside of Houston on some property (not in a neighborhood).  Living on property has many advantages like neighbors are not right on top you, plenty of room for the kids to play without worrying about them wandering in to the street, peace and quiet, and so on.  Internet service is not one of those advantages.

Until a few years ago, I was still in dial-up internet service land.  In 2005, a wireless provider arrived in town.  The way this service works is a square transmitter that looks about the size of a medium pizza delivery box is installed on the outside of the house and is pointed to the tower.  In my case, the tower is a cellular tower that has the wireless transmitters mounted on them.  This technology is line of site which means things like thick fog can effect quality of service.  When everything is perfect, I get around 450-500k down and 350-400k up.  Not fast compared to the alternatives available in Houston, but blazing fast compared to dial-up.

This service has mostly worked.  I say mostly because I have had 4-5 outages of at least 4 days in duration.  Several more outages of a day or two have occurred as well but I don’t even count those anymore.  The last outage started 2 weeks ago and ended yesterday, which also explains the lack of new posts during that period.  The day the outage began I called tech support and the call went something like this:

Me:  Hello, I am one of your customers and my service quit working this morning.

Support Minion:  Have you rebooted your computer?

Me:  Yes, and my router and your router as well.  None of that helps.  I believe there is a problem with your tower.

Minion:  I don’t think there is anything wrong with the tower, sir.  No one else has reported problems.

Me:  Most people are at work right now.  Doesn’t there have to be someone who reports the problem first?  That could be me, in this case.

Minion:  Can you press the start menu, open control panel, double-click on network connections and tell me how many connections you see?

Me:  The problem is not with my computer.  I haven’t changed any settings.  The service was working an hour ago and now I can’t even get an address from dhcp.

Minion:  Sir, sometimes settings change all on their own.

Me:  No they don’t.

Minion:  Sir, if you do not allow us to check your settings now and the problem turns out to be your equipment, we will charge you $75 for our service call.

Me:  If you waste my time going through this again, and the problem is not my equipment, can I bill you $75?

Minion:  Sir, it will be better if you would refrain from being difficult.

Me:  Fine, what would you like me to look at.

Three service calls, 5 irate phone calls, one guy climbing the tower and fixing the problem, and two weeks later my service is restored.

Since I am now working with multiple clients and working on the company’s first product, I really need reliable service.  My only option from here is a T1.  The line is scheduled to be installed at the end of this month.  Download speed still won’t match commercial DSL that is available in town, but upload speed will be very respectable.

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