In the development world, there’s a lot of things that bump, distract, and annoy you through the day. Those get a lot of attention in blogs to help others work around those issues and to document the pain. What does not get a lot of attention are those things that work well and make your life better. In this blog post I want to shout the kudos for a few things I’ve been enjoying immensely in the last month. My list will not be anything as good as Scott Hanselman’s 2011 Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tool List for Windows, but I’m sure loving what I mention below!
1Password from Agile Bits
With the news the last few years talking about security breaches and research showing everyone is using the same password everywhere if you’re not using a password manager you are plain crazy. I’ve been using 1Password for a while now and it’s so well integrated in all browsers across Windows, OS X, and phones, I basically forgot I was using it. When setting up a new machine recently I was perplexed for a minute as to why I couldn’t log into various web sites and where was the password button in the web browser? 1Password does its job so well I can’t help but recommend it because I forget I’m running it.
Speaking of passwords and security, all developers need to read the wonderful research paper “So Long, And No Thanks for the Externalities: The Rational Rejection of Security Advice by Users” by Cormac Herley of Microsoft Research. It discusses why normal people always use the same password and weak ones at that.
SlySoft Virtual Clone Drive
Windows 8 will finally have native ISO mounting support built in to the OS. It’s about time. However, with Windows 8 not releasing for quite a while you need something today to mount those ISO files. Virtual Clone Drive has been around for years and works on all Windows OS. I don’t have any software on a DVD any more because either downloaded it or converted it to ISO files. When using Virtual Clone Drive, select the Virtual Sheep option so your fake DVD drive shows up with the awesome angry sheep icon. The price is awesome for Virtual Clone Drive: free.
Other World Computing Data Doubler
As it was time for a laptop upgrade, I kept with my love of Apple hardware and bought a 15-inch MacBook Pro. As I’ve said many times to people: “Apple: The best Windows machines money can buy!”™® Because I don’t use DVDs any more the Apple drive is just taking up space in the machine. Fortunately, the fine folks at Other World Computing (OWC) have a great solution in Data Doubler that replaces your DVD with another hard disk. For $65 USD I slapped in the SSD I took out of my no longer needed desktop machine and instantly had another 240GB of sweet SSD speedy sexiness for my virtual machines.
The prospect of cracking open a unibody MacBook sounded daunting and I thought I might kill the magic hipster fairies that live inside of all Apple products. The good news is that OWC include all the tools you need to do the conversion and have fantastically detailed videos on all the exact steps for your particular machine. What I especially liked is that the Data Doubler came with replacement Phillips head screws to replace the hard to work with Torx head screws Apple uses in manufacturing. Now if I want to throw in a much bigger disk in the future, it will be that much easier to do it. That’s attention to detail!
VSColorOutput Extension by Blue Onion Software
Wading through the build output with a large project in Visual Studio is tedious. If only there were a way to use colors to have good lines in green, errors in red, and everything else in a gray it would be much easier to see what’s going on. Fortunately, Mike Ward over at Blue Onion Software did exactly that with VSColorOutput extension and it’s on my can’t live without list. Even better is that the code is open source on CodePlex so if you have never written a Visual Studio extension, it’s a great example.
Since I’m talking about Blue Onion, make sure to subscribe to Mike’s blog. His Friday Links posts always have something in them that I didn’t know about or find really interesting. My personal favorite category is the “Stuff I Just Like” links.
Microsoft IT VPN
It’s no surprise to you but there are a lot of problems with most VPN software. We have to use many different VPN solutions with all our clients and most of them range from painful to an all out death assault on your machine. You know, small issues like you can either VPN or hit the whole Internet but not both, each requires different anti virus software some of which are not up to date, and so on. Sadly, unless you are a Microsoft Employee or approved vendor you won’t get to see VPN software done outstandingly well. Microsoft IT has this awesome solution that uses smart cards in your badges before you connect, decent connection speed, killer security when you are connected, and never interferes with anything on your machine.
I really wish Microsoft would do some white papers on their IT VPN setup because it so much better than any other I’ve seen. Hopefully mentioning the internal VPN solution has won’t kill my NDA with Microsoft. I’m sure like any internal IT group, Microsoft IT only gets noticed when something isn’t working, but I just love their VPN solution and wanted to give them a solid shout out.
TFS Preview from Microsoft
Since TFS 2005 I’ve been running my own domain so I can use TFS and get experience with all of its facets. It was all a bit of overkill, because all I really need for my personal work is TFS Basics, but that wasn’t offered back in the day. TFS is an amazing product and it offers many bells and whistles that provide all the reporting and legal requirements that up to the largest organization requires. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that many teams use the same parts of TFS such as product backlog, bug tracking, version control, and build management, but never touch other pieces such as the SharePoint integration.
The TFS team has certainly noticed the same phenomenon and also saw an opportunity to provide hosted TFS. While TFS Preview isn’t formally in a beta with Dev 11 yet, I feel it’s the true killer release of TFS. For many teams it will hit the 90% sweet spot of their TFS usage, most likely provide a Service Level Agreement for uptime better than many internal IT organizations can offer, and be cheaper in the long run.
This last month I set up a full project with one-week sprints to work through using TFS Preview using the Scrum 2.0 template and I’m far more than impressed, I want to start throwing gobs of money at Microsoft right now! I couldn’t believe how polished the whole web experience has become and the Scrum board is my favorite Web 2.0 page ever. Other than companies with specific legal requirements for running your own TFS server, I can’t see why anyone would ever need to run their own TFS server. I wonder if there’s a business opportunity to offer automated migration of work items and check ins between your old server and the spiffy TFS Preview?
Parallels Desktop for Mac from Parallels
After Apple introduced Boot Camp that lets you boot the Macs into Windows, I was in all sorts of love because it is great hardware combined with zero crapware on Windows. I was more than happy to reboot between OS X and Windows whenever I needed to use one or the other. When Parallels first announced support for utilizing your Boot Camp a while ago (version 2.5), I gave it a try but quickly gave up because Windows and Office activations triggered whenever I switched between Boot Camp and Parallels. While I could have created a separate dedicated virtual machine, I didn’t want to waste the disk space for a second copy of Windows nor go through the installation hell of setting up a development machine twice and then trying to keep everything in sync between them.
When I bought my new Mac Book Pro, I figured I’d give Parallels another shot because being able to utilize Windows no matter if I was running OS X or Boot Camp seems very enticing. With version 7 the Parallels team completely and totally nailed it! I installed Windows in Boot Camp and activated it. Switching back to OS X, I installed Parallels, fired up the Boot Camp partition in a VM activated Windows again and that was it. I can use Windows (and Microsoft Office) either way and everything just works perfectly.
Parallels made it very easy to use the Windows VM full screen so that’s how I rolled for my initial usage. I’d read about the Coherence mode that allows all Windows applications to appear like normal OS X windows, but didn’t think it would be very useful. Let’s just say I was incredibly wrong. I love how smooth and seamless having all your windows from both operating systems running side by side. My wife came into my office and looking at the monitor could not figure out which OS I was running which I thought was pretty funny.
I just had a brilliant thought! With Windows 8 supporting Hyper-V on the desktop, if Microsoft would support your Apple OS X partition in Hyper-V you’d have the best of all possible worlds! Microsoft could call the feature Camp Boot just to make it even cooler. Being able to run OS X applications when you need them from Windows 8… Oh, please don’t make me wake up from this dream. <Grin!/>
Holiday Leftover Turkey Sandwiches
My wife is an amazing cook. If you ever meet me in person you will be able to tell that from my girth. Over the holidays she wanted to make a roast turkey so I certainly did not stand in the way because I love the big bird. While the turkey dinner is great, the leftovers are even better. Here’s the ultimate recipe for the food of the gods.
- Two slices of very fresh squishy white bread
- Spread Hellman’s mayonnaise on both internal sides of the bread (this is the secret!)
- Fill the bottom bread with a layer of turkey about a quarter inch thick
- Take a salt grinder filled with sea salt and lightly salt the layer of turkey
- Place a single layer of freshly chilled lettuce on the turkey before putting the top slice of bread on the sandwich
- Carefully mash the sandwich down until the bread conforms around the turkey
- DO NOT CUT THE SANDWICH IN HALF
- Pick up with both hands and enjoy!
So what have you find readers been enjoying over the last month?