How to get your Windows refund

How to get a Windows Tax Refund” –

If you buy a computer, you often pay for Microsoft Windows even if you didn’t ask for it and aren’t going to use it. This article shows you how to return your unused Windows license and get your money back, freeing yourself from the Windows tax.

I recently purchased a new laptop computer from Dell. As a GNU/Linux user and believer in Free Software, I knew from the start that I wasn’t going to run Microsoft Windows. Unfortunately, Dell didn’t offer this laptop with Ubuntu or a no-OS option, so I tried getting my Windows refund from Dell after the purchase. After working with customer service, I received a refund of $52.50. In the course of getting my refund, I found some techniques worked better than others. By knowing what works, you may be able to get your refund quickly and easily.

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Gaurav – “Why smart people are no longer at the big companies”

I read it first at:Why smart people are no longer at the big companies” –, Gaurav Bhatnagar.

Imagine your pet project being sidelined due to investor (Wall Street) pressures. Unfortunately, that is more common-place than you think.
From Niall Kennedy’s blog,

What do you do when the market responds to your 6 month-old online services strategy by reducing your valuation by 1.5 Yahoos? Windows Live is under some heavy change, reorganization, pullback, and general paralysis and unfortunately my ability to perform, hire, and execute was completely frozen as well.

Niall was hired by Microsoft in April this year, to create a new team around syndication technologies for Windows Live. He has decided to leave Microsoft due to what I perceive to be lack of faith in his vision for data publishing and syndication.

Interestingly, I left my first job for a Masters in Computer Science. The hope had always been that I would realise my vision and get my execution right while working towards my Masters. I found that the priorities there too are different.

The only real lesson one can draw from this is that at some point you have to stop waiting for others to believe in your vision and begin believing in it yourself.

Automation is not helping ship reliable Software quicker

Microsoft announced that their long overdue Vista will be delayed even further.

This annoyed a number of Microsoft employees, some who don’t work with Windows, some who don’t even work with Microsoft anymore (ex). But seriously, the effects are far-reaching. I am sure there was considerable thought put inot the decision.
Anyhow, one voice piped in that automation of tasks, including Quality Assurance wasn’t helping: (from Mini-MSFT)

In the last 18 months this org:

1) Cut the number of testers (several times) from approx 50 to now much less than a dozen. Of
course, many top performers also left MS entirely because of middle mgmt in this org.

2) Hired more PMs
3) Cut the scope of testing (anyone done any real code coverage testing lately?)

4) Cut the number of promotions in the test orgs – nothing like a little ‘de-incentivization’ to increase ‘bad attrition’

5) Dictate that everything can and should be automated.
(Ignore that eyeballs catch more in less time…) way to go Darren. Of
course, you
were probably lied to by your underlings, so it’s not entirely your
fault. Uhh, yes it is – you made the call.

6) Hire only a small handful of devs to write automation
code. Oh, and don’t forget to swamp them with added process and have
embittered leads review their code…

7) Hire more PMs

8) Outsource all testing to non-accountable and barely trained CSG firms
overseas (Ever try to translate/clarify a bug written not by a tester, but by their lead based on notes? )

Limit the number of heads
the abovementioned overseas firms can use. > Fewer testers, less
experienced, with little training, a much (ahem) ‘slower’ approach to
testing. Results: Client appcompat % hovering at <40% (GASP –
INTERNAL INFO… better moderate this one out!!!!)

an anomaly for PM’s to ‘splain away. If automation is such a great
tool, why is it not finding more bugs than a small handful of testers
in a lab on the other side of the planet?

Very Interesting observation. The largest software projects are
traditionally proving grounds for automation techniques. I wish the
authors of Windows Vista come out with a sequel to The Mythical Man-Month.

Updated: San Jose’s Mercury News also cites the same book and the Vista delay but in an altogether different context.

The challenge of big software projects was probably best
described by Frederick P. Brooks Jr. in his classic 1975 book, “The
Mythical Man-Month.” Brooks, a professor of computer science at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, stated then what he called
Brooks’ Law: “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it
later.” The need for latecomers to get up to speed and communicate
with their
predecessors, Brooks says, takes up more of the team’s time than what the added workers contribute.It’s even theoretically possible to reach a kind of software
gridlock, where the team is so big that all its time goes to
communicating among
each other and making revisions — with the project never reaching

Palm Treo 700w: The ‘W’ stands for Windows!

An interesting development, the newest version of Treo now ships with Microsoft Windows Mobile. This CNet article nails it right on the head – “Treo 700w: a marriage not made in heaven“. It’s an in-depth review, the author has found many pain points with the new handheld and its OS. While I did feel he was being very picky, overall I found him to be scarily accurate. For example, there seems to be a mismatch between the buttons implied meaning and its true function.

Palm didn’t help matters by adding a prominent OK key, which actually means just the opposite. That is, instead of Yes, Go or Forward, it means Cancel, Back or Stop. You use it, for example, to cancel out of a dialogue box or window, to backtrack to a previous screen, or to close a menu without making a choice. It must have been designed by the same person who, in the full-blown Windows, put the Shut Down command in the Start menu.

However, for that one mistake, Palm has succeeded in getting so many other things right. It involved tremendous effort for Palm since this development required them to throw out their existing Palm OS. Is it a move in the right direction? With any dramatic changes you also get a number of new aspects that will not seem to work as they did in the original version. I would echo the authors views, the replacement OS will not appeal to the core Treo user group. I would also add that eventually Treo fans will warm up to the new device. Palm will try to ensure that with the next few software upgrades.
RIM ought to sit up and take notice. It appears to me that if RIM were to guarantee the vitality and appeal of the BlackBerry handhelds, they should take their role as a device and mobile software platform developer seriously. While they are backed up by their decision to stick with the J2Me spec. they must also exploit the generality of the platform by providing more frequent hardware enhancements (not just one upgrade annually). Just providing the best email solution ever is not going to provide the steam necessary to prevent Microsoft from dominating the device space. The BlackBerry is a key device for the corporate user group and I hope it stays so.

To conclude, what is more important to RIM? Handheld sales or revenue from data-flow? I can’t answer that question definitively. RIM will probably continue to license BBConnect to other platforms and vendors to ensure its hold on mobile email. I would strongly suggest a greater share of the handheld market as a higher priority.

Exchange 2003 SP2 mobility features against BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Older post: What’s under the hood of Exchange 2003 SP2. How are the new features a real challenge to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server? Could it potentially convince users of Exchange 5.5/2000/2003 + BES to switch over to Windows Mobile devices instead? I would love to know.

An update: In order to work with Windows Mobile clients, Exchange 2003 with SP2 maintains a HTTPs connection with each client. It is over this secure connection that new email is ‘push’ed to the handheld as it arrives. From “Exchange Server 2003 support for mobile devices“.

New with Exchange Server 2003 SP2 is Direct Push Technology, enabling a seamless push e-mail experience for compatible devices. Exchange ActiveSync uses an encrypted HTTPS connection established and maintained between the device and the server to push new e-mail messages, schedules, contact information, and tasks to the device. Synchronization is much faster with enhanced data compression translating to a faster experience when sending and receiving messages. The Exchange ActiveSync protocol also provides for control over mobile devices, including new abilities in SP2 to provision and enforce device security policies.

Exchange 2003 SP2 will now also have many of the remote management and security enforcement features that the BlackBerry Enterprise Server offerss. For example, administrators can now enforce the degree of security for Windows mobile passwords for every device connected to the Exchange server. See “Better Together: Windows Mobile 5.0 and Exchange Server 2003“. If I read correctly, a Https connection (over the existing wireless data connection) will still be initiated by the client and will be ‘kept alive’ – which leads to obvious questions on efficiency and scalability. This set of add-ons is enough to make an Exchage 2003 administrator to decide for the free SP2 addon instead of BES.
If it were to come down to which platform is a better option, Windows Mobile just steals the edge. Windows Mobile OS is supported by Microsoft, there are several applications available for the platform, the platform is available on a variety of devices. In contrast, BlackBerry technology is available primarily on the BlackBerry handset which comes in two standard flavours. Both flavours have greater appeal amongst prosumers (when compared to Windows mobile), but fail to match the wider feature set available with Windows mobile devices. For reasons unknown, RIM has yet to introduce expansion slots, voice recognition technology and other premium features for the BlackBerry. GPS navigation is only available with Sprint/Nextel’s 7520 (see “GPS navigation with your BlackBerry“). Partner devices including the Nokia 9300 with BlackBerry technology on-board were only recently made available in the U.S (see “BlackBerry on the Nokia 9300“). The hope is that these devices will fill in the void for prosumers who demand such features. At this time, the 9300 is the only partner device announced by RIM for the U.S handheld market.

Now for some speculation. It is not hard to see that Microsoft’s Windows Mobile leadership would look to level the handheld market such that the BlackBerry device is no longer perceived as a niche (read mobile email) device. Such a market would be driven simply by the number of productivity applications offered by every type of handheld (for example a PDA, or phone first). If the device were to lose it’s existing aura, BES cannot compete against the free handouts that Microsoft will distribute with Exchange 2003. These enhancements are also a great temptation for established corporate networks running with Exchange 5.5.

My hope is, RIM will continue to innovate and maintain leadership in terms of technology and alliances with other technology partners. It will continue to offer a wider range of applications that leverage advancements in wireless data connections (and not just mobile email).

Hack my PC

My Dell Windows XP PC had a sticker on it that say “Please hack me”.

Well, I didn’t see the sticker. Not for a while. I read a very basic article on hacking by Roger Grimes at Infoworld. He talked about passwords sniffed from wireless networks. Their encryption broken in a matter of seconds. I thought it was too easy, it couldn’t be. I had to try it myself. I hopped over to downloaded Cain & Abel installed it and was ready to go. Cain is a sniffer + cracker. I had to see for myself.

It took me less than five minutes to sniff the traffic on my private network, send it to the cracker and launch a dictionary attack on the SMB traffic collected. I found two vulnerable accounts, “Administrator” and “Guest”. Both accounts had *no* passwords. The Administrator account was especially worrisome – it never showed up under the account list in my XP control-panel. I never even knew it existed. I had never logged into it (XP offers to create a user account with administrator privileges at install-time). The Administrator account is also my system ‘root’, pardon my reliance on Unix jargon.

Dissapointed in myself, I quickly peeled the sticker off by disabling the two accounts. Maybe I can fix the vulnerability comprehensively by eliminating my dependence on Windows entirely.