Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Hive7: Something Old, Something New…

by alec on March 29, 2006

Om and Erick are on the same meme-train at the moment — the re-creation of the “desktop” in the web.  It’s the web-top idea of a decade ago, but implemented in Ajax, and with enough bandwidth to make it truly useful.  Hence their interest in desktop app replacements like Goowy, Writely and utilities like Fabrik.  The latest story is about Hive7, an online environment, similar to the very popular Second Life.

We’ve come a long way, but there is still far to travel.  Or, something old, something new…

MUDs, or MOOs, or whatever the acronym you want, have been around for a very long time.  I played a multi-user online game called the Scepter of Goth through much of my university career from 1982 to 1987.  I used to travel everywhere with a 300 baud accoustic coupler!  My brother met his wife on LambdaMOO in the early 1990′s too.  LambdaMOO, if you don’t know the history, was the precursor to PlaceWare, ultimately bought by Microsoft and now marketed as LiveMeeting — a very useful product, and a real surprise that it came out of the text-only multi-user LambdaMOO, which was primarily a place where people went to chat.  That’s the power of a programmable environment, I guess. 

Hive7?  It’s very much like a MOO with a side-scrolling graphical environment placed on it.  You can meet people, build custom avatars, move from room to room, build new rooms, and so on. The limitations imposed by Ajax are significant.  It’s completely 2D, unlike Second Life, and uses really none of the capabilities of your graphics card. There’s nothing like VRML (anybody remember that?), or a sophisticated 3D rendering engine built on Direct3D, for instance.   Hive7 is also somewhat slow.  You won’t be building the hedge maze I just found in Second Life on Hive7.  Nor will you be choosing to fly around the landscape, the way you can in Second Life.

That said, as a beta, it’s pretty intriguing. If what you’re looking for is a fun chat interface, then this might be just the ticket.  And because it’s Ajax based, and exposes a standard web API, there are some intriguing possiblities lying just below the surface with new kinds of mashups.  Imagine, for instance, marrying this environment to the personal information available in a dating site…

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Installing Windows Vista

by alec on March 29, 2006

After the hogwash posting, I received a number of comments on this piece of it:

I’ve lived through lots of Windows launches inside Microsoft (3.1, NT 3.1, NT 3.5, Windows 95, NT 4.0, Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, Windows ME, Windows 2000) and outside (Windows XP beta tester).  I love early software. I’ll put up with just about any egregious bloated crap just to see what the fuss is all about.  But you know, at this point I’ve been unable to succesfully install and use any version of the Windows Vista CTPs, or IE 7.  If Vista was really six months away from shipping, it would be a lot more finished, the way that any of those previous versions of Windows were at this stage.  Anybody who had tried Vista would have been able to come to the same conclusion I did.

Most were like this one from Rog42.

I’m interested that someone with such experience in Windows beta OS’s such as yourself hasn’t yet managed to successfully install a Vista CTP or IE7.

Well, that is a little ridiculous, I thought. And, you know, I haven’t really tried that hard…  So, over the weekend I scrubbed my Toshiba Tecra S1 laptop, and ran the install for the most recent CTP.  Lo and behold, a successful install.  It was very time consuming, but then again, the laptop is probably not an optimal piece of Vista hardware, being a 1.4Ghz Centrino based system.  Vista didn’t recognize my ATI Radeon 9000 Mobile graphics card, nor the Intel wireless networking chips, nor the integrated SD reader that Toshiba puts in all their laptops, but a quick visit to Windows Update resolved all but the video card.  At this point, Vista is treating it as an ordinary SVGA card.  Disappointing, but workable.

I loaded up Office 2003, plus Foldershare (which I use to keep files on all the PCs around the house in synch, and backed up).  Synched my files, and was ready to go.

My first impressions are generally favorable.  The new UI is pretty, and simpler than XP in some respects.  IE 7′s tabbed windows are really nice.  The media player is a nice improvement over Windows Media 10.  However:

1)  It’s clear that there are still usability issues to be resolved.  The new networking metaphor is just byzantine, for example.  Right now I am connected to "Network 2 with internet access".  Can’t tell if it’s wireless or wired. I have my wireless network turned on, and the access point specified, but for the life of me I can’t figure out whether I am connected.  Vista appears to say yes sometimes, and no at other times.  Under XP it was never a question.

2) There are still low level hardware issues.  I ran the Tosh on battery for a bit.  Six minutes after I started it, it shut down complaining that the battery was drained.  Not believing it, I powered it up again, ignored the battery warning and ran it for an hour and a half before shutting down normally.

3) There are lots of greyed out buttons within the UI — stuff that must not be finished yet.  The one show stopper for me is the inability to configure a WINS server on a VPN interface.  It effectively prevents me from using the PC for work purposes.  I can login to the VPN fine, but can’t find any of the servers on the network, except by IP address, which means that Outlook (which wants to convert the IP address of my exchange server to a fully qualified DNS name) is useless.

4) IE 7 has rendering issues.  Pages that rendered fine on IE 6 don’t render properly on IE 7.  The advertising on my blog page sometimes end up in the middle of the post.  Sometimes the ads don’t appear at all.  The editing box in WordPress (a java plugin I use) is slow to the point of being nearly useless.

5) Periodically it just goes into la la land.

6) Vista changes the directory structure so that user files are stored in UsersUsernameDocuments instead of Documents and SettingsUsernameMy Documents which tripped up Foldershare.    I wonder how many other apps will break because of this change?

7) Permissions don’t seem to be working properly.  Despite the fact that I am logged in as an administrator, I still get warnings that there are some things that I don’t have enough privilege to access.  What’s higher than administrator?

I like the direction.  It would be nice to have a driver for my video card, but I can live with the generic one for now.  And, it seems that the only reliable way to get an install is to start from scratch. The big problem is the VPN.  Until I can set a WINS server, I will be scrubbing the Tosh and restoring Windows XP. 

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