Archive for the ‘recommended’ Category

One client, One VM

February 10, 2015

Juggling several client projects at once requires some sort of dedicated computer resources for each of them. Happily the state of the art makes it very easy. At first, I used just one computer and just juggled.  Then I installed SysInternals Desktops to be able to switch to different screens for each client.

This proved too little, as each client eventually needed incompatible Visual Studio configurations. For example, the .NET projects benefited from add-ins like .NET Demon (continual rebuilding of the project), but this was incompatible with C++ projects. In addition, some clients required the Qt add-in, different versions of the Windows SDK, some required the DDK, etc. One needed the Dev Express ASP.NET controls, but that license was only for that client and I couldn’t use it for other projects.

Clearly the easiest way to assure an optimum environment for each client was a dedicated PC. While I do have enough computers to do this, so many physical machines makes for a very crowded desk, and I only have one good keyboard, mouse, and 30″ monitor, Happily, the performance of virtual machines makes this an unnecessary cost and inconvenience.

Which virtual machine software is the best? The cheapest and best performing is Hyper-V. Compared to my other favorite, VMware Workstation, it is a Type 1 hypervisor,  which allows for faster performance, and it’s now included free with Windows 8(.1).

So my main development machine is a 3 year old Core i7, with 24 GB RAM and 1 TB SSD. I can run several Hyper-V VM’s with dedicated 4-6 GB of RAM simultaneously. Since most of the time they are just sitting idle, the one or two I am working in are very fast performing.

It is such a productivity booster to be able to Remote Desktop into these VM’s from anywhere on the Internet (although mostly from the Hyper-V host machine itself) with all the apps open exactly as I have left it. As I get older, my memory forgets things like what is the next thing to do for a client, and seeing all the apps there just as it was when I last worked on it saves me many minutes of ramp up time.

So it works great, and I wouldn’t change a thing.  The one irritant is the initial setup of the VM’s.  The number of installs you need to perform grows proportionally to the number of VM’s you create.  But this is not as bad we it could be.  First, we can create a “reference VM” which we clone to start all the new ones; the reference VM has all our must-have apps installed and configured, so these automatically work for all our new VM’s.  This also helps with software that allows only a limited number of installations – when such software is installed, it checks a server on the Internet to see how many times prior the license file was installed.  But after installation, it doesn’t check the Internet anymore.  So if the VM is subsequently cloned, that software is none the wiser.   (I realize this subverts the letter of the license, but not the spirit — I paid for a license to have full use of the software, I can’t help it if the software has a license that does not keep pace with how people use computers today.)

The second thing about all these installs is that they go way faster now, with the SSD.  Even gargantuan packages like Visual Studio and Office install (relatively) very quickly.

Qt Book Download: C++ GUI Programming with Qt 4 Second Edition by Jasmin Blanchette and Mark Summerfield (Prentice Hall)

January 30, 2010

Let me tell you, this is my kind of book.  On page 3 it has this listing:

#include <QApplication>
#include <QLabel>

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
QApplication app(argc, argv);
QLabel *label = new QLabel(“Hello Qt!”);
return app.exec();

This opens a popup window with a label in it.

Then on page 5, it says to show bigger text with “Hello” in italics and Qt in red, replace

QLabel *label = new QLabel(“Hello Qt!”);


QLabel *label = new QLabel(“<h2><i>Hello</i> <font color=red>Qt!</font></h2>”);

That’s right.  Labels can have HTML formatted text in them!

The next page shows 11 lines of code to create a button that exits the app when pushed.

When I first started reading this book while waiting for my dinner to arrive, I thought to myself, this Qt thing is right up my alley.  And this book is also right up my alley, the pragmatic, no nonsense introduction to a pragmatic, no-nonsense C++ application framework.  There’s a reason why it is required reading for new hires at Nokia….

Best of all, it’s FREE! Published under the Open Publication License, it is perfectly legal to distribute.  It’s currently hosted on the website here:  download, but no guarantees if I will have to take it down if my bandwidth gets used up!    You can always download the torrent. But it’s such a good read, I recommend you purchase a hard copy.

Edit April 25, 2009:  The book’s source code is available for download from InformIt.

Reducing our commute with GotoMyPC and Camtasia

January 22, 2010

One of the big benefits of being an offsite consultant is the improved quality of life.  Having commuted every workday for years, it is truly a blessing to gain an extra hour or two per day, as well as the energy normally spent gritting teeth as traffic inches forward.  Not to mention the gas savings (even my Honda Civic which gets 33 miles per gallon, at $4/gallon, this is still worthwhile).

Still, nothing beats a face to face meeting, and we’ve seen contractors fail to deliver and subsequently fall from grace with the client, due to misundrestandings that simply don’t occur when you’re regularly onsite.  How to get this benefit without actually being there?  We’ve become instant fans of GotoMyPC and Camtasia, both of which have saved us many commute hours.

GotoMyPC allows us to access a PC using a browser.  Although there are cheaper solutions such as LogMeIn (which is free), GotoMyPC’s performance (approaching that of Microsoft Remote Desktop) and ease of use make it well worth the cost.  As an additional benefit, you can share your desktop with another person over the Internet; he or she can use mouse and keyboard to control the desktop simultaneously with you.  It’s like the two of you are collaborating side by side, but it’s actually better because you have your own private screen/keyboard and don’t have to share!  It’s hard to beat GotoMyPC for two-way, interactive communication.

Camtasia records your screen along with your voice, making it easy to create Flash-based videos (which look good and aren’t huge).  Since everyone has the Flash plug-in, simply e-mail the url where you’ve uploaded the video and it instantly streams to their browser and starts playing within seconds.  Creating videos allows clients to see the product actually running as well as deep dives into the Visual Studio IDE to discuss technical coding issues.  Compared to being there, the information is conveyed with near 100% accuracy.  Both client and contractor prefer it to a physical meeting, since it’s less stressful and eliminates another time commitment.  I figure if I can save a handful of trips per year to client sites by recording Camtasia videos, it will easily pay for itself. – our journey from the comforts of Visual SourceSafe

January 22, 2010

As many Windows developers know, there is no source control system that is as easy as Microsoft Visual SourceSafe.  It comes with many versions of Visual Studio and is the justifiable default.  We’ve been using it for many years now, and laughed when we saw other developers keeping multiple directories with various versions of source code on their hard disks.  Seriously, if you are doing that, you really need to do yourself a favor and start using SourceSafe.  It gives you a safety net to easily go back to known good points in your development, as well as quickly determine what code you have changed.  It will also shield your from other people’s code changes, since it will do the painful merging for you at checkin time (you only have to resolve conflicts when the same lines of code are changed by someone else; most notably, in resource.h and the .rc file!)  Once you try it, you will feel so much more secure, that you will not go back.  SourceSafe looks like Windows Explorer, so you have very little to learn.  You will be up and running very quickly.

Alas, we stayed with SourceSafe as long as possible, but eventually outgrew it.  When remote subcontractors became involved in our projects, SourceSafe no longer suited, as it is far too slow for remote access over a VPN.  We also got tired of running Analyze all the time, and it was a constant reminder that we were using a not-totally-supported product.  We also yearned for integrated bug tracking (where you can associate a bug number with a checkin, and thus easily access the code from the bug report).  But what else is there beyond SourceSafe?

We were looking for a package that was as simple and inutitive as SourceSafe, yet more reliable and usable to access remotely.  Since SourceSafe is free if you have Visual Studio, cost is also an issue.  The short list included:

  • SourceGear – designed similarly to SourceSafe, but solving the reliability and remote access problem.  Con:  expensive, setting up server is complex.
  • Perforce – a rock solid package, but depot/clientspec concept is complex, P4Win is not pretty.  Con:  expensive, setting up server is too complex, Diff and merge tools are lacking, Integrated bug tracking with Bugzilla doesn’t work well.
  • Seapine – Many of the same benefits and disadvantages of Perforce, but on the whole more user friendly.
  • Subversion – at first, this OpenSource project left us cold, but after some friendly hands pointed us to the TortoiseSVN client, we were quickly won over by it’s simplicity and well-constructedness.  But installing the server still was very complex, and there was no integrated bug tracking.

Solution:  use Subversion, but through a hosting service  The server is already set up, and the service also adds integrated bug tracking.  We’ve been using for about a month now and are very happy with it.  We also tried and were reasonably happy with but prefer the more polished UI of Unfuddle.  As well, the proprietary Unfuddle Ticket system (bug tracking) is just superb, much better than Trac (which is another open source bug tracking project that supplements Subversion).

“Hosted” you say?  Surely you would never store the crown jewels of source code on someone else’s server.  No sir!  Well, admittedly, we held off on using a hosted solution for several months until the pain point of not having a collaborative version control system forced our hand.  We simply were not going to invest in setting up an Internet-facing server of our own; not only is this not our expertise, but it also requires getting a business-class (symmetric upload and download speeds) broadband connection for it.  So it was hosted or nothing.

And we do take precautions.  All Unfuddle access is via https.  As for storing the source code on a third party’s server, that is really no different than hosting your company’s e-mail on someone else’s server, and exchanging source code with other developers through e-mail attachments is quite common.  So when you look at it like this, you could argue that the risk of using a third party server is the same for both e-mail and source code, and that risk is deemed sufficiently low for both practices.

We highly recommend Unfuddle for mere mortals (like us), and if you are more of a propellor-head, then you may be more at home with CVSDude.