Mike Swanson

February, 2007

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    The Amazing Autowoman

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    I've always dreamed of an easier way to buy a car. No matter how much homework I do, I never feel good after I've visited a dealership. My non-blogging friend and Microsoft colleague, Thomas Lewis, and I have speculated many times about a service that would handle the process of negotiation, purchase, and delivery without all of the traditional hassle. Wondering if someone may already do this, I turned to the internet, and after a few searches, I found The Amazing Autowoman (otherwise known as Heidi Hough).

    Before picking up the phone, I did as she suggests on her site. My wife and I visited a number of local dealerships to test-drive vehicles, and once we picked one, we got our "best price." Then, I called Heidi, and she said that she could do better. It's important to understand that Heidi is a buyer's agent whose job is to act as the buyer's representative and negotiate and/or arrange for the purchase of a vehicle (similar to a buyer's agent in real estate), and as such, she charges a fee for her services. But even after her fee, her price was a great deal. And this for a new model year vehicle that's tough to find much of a discount on. We decided to see how amazing this "autowoman" truly is.

    After a few calls to determine colors, options, and availability, a lot of our communications with Heidi were done via e-mail. As a full-on Microsoft geek, I really appreciated this. Heidi kept us informed during the whole process. In our first phone conversation, she said something like: "it'll be like ordering a book over the internet." And I thought to myself: "don't tease me, Heidi...I only wish it could be that easy."

    Well, I'm here to tell you that it was just about that easy! The only thing we really had to do for ourselves was call our insurance company and give them the VIN number for the new car. Otherwise, Heidi scheduled a time to meet my wife and I at my office and told us which checks to write, to whom, and for what amounts. She showed up on-time with the new car, had us sign a stack of papers, and explained in plain language what each of the documents were for. After that, she handed us the keys, and we were done. Seriously. Oh...she also gave us a few good tips about car pricing, servicing, etc. Her 20+ years of experience doing this really shows.

    So, not only did we get the best price on the car, but almost all of the paperwork was handled by Heidi, and we didn't have to spend any time at the dealership. It was completely painless. You can bet that we'll be using The Amazing Autowoman for our next vehicle purchase.

    Thanks, Heidi!

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    Virtual PC 2007 Released

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    We released Virtual PC 2007 today, and as promised, it's completely free. The biggest improvement (at least for me) is that this version of Virtual PC works with Windows Vista as both a host and a guest operating system. Ben Armstrong provides more feature detail in his blog post. The 30MB download is available in both 32- and 64-bit versions.

    If you haven't tried a virtualization product before, you might wonder why you'd use one at all. Here are just a few things that I do with Virtual PC, and I seem to find new uses all the time:

    • Use it to run incompatible applications. For example, I have a digital photography tool that doesn't work on Windows Vista yet. So, I've setup a Virtual PC image with Windows XP SP2, and I fire it up whenever I need to use the application. If you can't imagine what I'm talking about, I literally see a window on my Vista desktop that behaves like another machine. The screenshot to the right shows Windows Vista, its start menu, and Word 2007. In addition, you can see a Virtual PC 2007 window running Windows XP SP2 and 3D Pinball.
    • Use it to test applications. Since the Virtual PC machine is indeed virtual, so are its "hard drives." In actuality, the hard drives are stored as files (with a .vhd extension) that you can browse to via your host operating system. This means that any changes you make to the virtual machine are done in isolation. So, if you're testing your software against multiple operating systems, why not have a different virtual machine setup for each possible configuration? It's much more convenient than maintaining a bench full of physical machines. And, if you've setup an undo disk, hard drive changes are written to a separate file so that when you shut down the virtual machine, all of those changes can be discarded. This is an extremely easy way to revert back to a known configuration. Undo disks are also useful for trying out internet downloads in a safe environment.
    • Use it to demo "servers." If you frequently demo software that requires a backend server, it's possible to setup a virtual machine to host your server process. Then, you can run the client application in the host operating system and connect to the server running as a Virtual PC. It's certainly better than lugging around a bunch of extra hardware!

    I'm sure there are other uses, and I'd be curious to hear what you do with Virtual PC. Feel free to leave feedback or drop me a note via e-mail.

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    Problem Installing Expression Web on Windows Vista with Office 2007?

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    Although I love our Expression Web product, especially for its CSS editing capabilities, I wouldn't consider myself an expert. I've used it to create some simple web pages and to edit the look-and-feel of my blog. But, over the past couple of weeks, two people have contacted me about problems installing Expression Web on their Windows Vista machines with Office 2007.

    If you take a look at the ReadMe, you'll see that: "You need to uninstall any pre-release version of the Microsoft Office 2007 system such as the Beta before installing Expression Web." Those instructions seem pretty clear. However, the two people who contacted me had "clean" systems that had been built from the ground up with the RTM versions of both Windows Vista and Office 2007. There were clearly no prior beta versions hanging around.

    After a bit of digging, it seems that if you have a version of the 2007 Microsoft Office Add-in: Microsoft Save as PDF or XPS installed, this may be the culprit. In both cases, by performing an uninstall on this add-in via the Control Panel, and then installing Expression Web, everything works okay. You can even re-install the Office 2007 add-in when you're done.

    I can't find a knowledge base article on this issue, so I can't be 100% sure that it will solve the problem in all cases, but so far, I'm two for two. Please leave feedback if this helps your situation.

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    DevComponents WPF Ribbon Control and Infragistics NetAdvantage for WPF

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    Now that WPF has officially shipped, we're starting to see some of our third-party vendors release their new or updated controls. I try to maintain a current list of WPF Tools and Controls, but I'm sure that there are others out there that I'm simply not aware of (drop me an e-mail if you know about something I've missed).

    First, DevComponents has announced their Wpf-Ribbon control. The control is currently in private beta, but you can sign-up to be notified when the public release is ready. Denis Basaric mentions that their control will offer complete support for the Office 2007 UI Design Guidelines. Based on their impressive DotNetBar for Windows Forms, I can't wait to see how their WPF version turns out.

    Second, our good friends at Infragistics have announced the public release of NetAdvantage for WPF 2007 Volume 1 – Beta 1, a bundle of WPF controls that includes: xamDataGrid, xamCarouselPanel, xamCarouselListBox, xamDataCarousel, xamDataPresenter, xamEditors, some StylePacks, and the cleverly named xamples Browser. Although I'm not up on my 13375p34k, I think the last one is a Samples Browser (am I showing my age?).  :-)

    Infragistics has some deep history with Avalon/WPF. If you attended the PDC in 2003, you'll remember a very early demo that was shown during one of the keynotes, and they have been featured in many demos since (including at the Windows Vista launch events). I've been working with Infragistics for over two years now, and they've put a lot of good thought into their WPF architecture. You should check out their stuff.

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    Three Years and a New Design

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    This week marks the three year anniversary of my Microsoft blog, and to celebrate, I spent some time coming up with a new look; I hope you like it. The prior purple style—while unique to MSDN blogs—was starting to look a little tired. Okay...maybe a lot tired.

    Before embarking on any redesign, I fiddle around with a lot of conceptual ideas in Photoshop. I visit other sites for inspiration, and I flip through the design books I keep on my shelves. After I've settled on a concept that I like, I spend time trying to implement it using CSS overrides. You see, the MSDN blog site has around 55 different themes that I can choose from, and frankly, you've probably seen all of them. I can't simply add a new template (like I could if I ran my own Community Server site), so I have to find a base theme that's close to what I'm looking for, then provide custom CSS overrides to achieve the look I'm after. It's a good bit of work. As an aside, our new Expression Web product has a fantastic CSS feature-set, and it made this redesign much easier than in the past.

    I'm somewhat surprised that I chose the look that I did, if only because of those "Web 2.0" reflections I have up there in the new header. You know what I'm talking about...it seems like all Web 2.0 sites have a highly polished and reflective surface somewhere on the page. And thank goodness my name doesn't end with "er," or I'd have to drop the "e" and add a different colored "r" to the end of my name...like "Mikr Swanson" or something. Oh...and it'd have to be in beta. Nothing Web 2.0 ever comes out of beta. :-)

    Anyway, I hope the new design is a bit more "open," fresh, and readable. I switched to a serif typeface for the body text, because it can run for more than a few inches per line, especially if you have a widescreen monitor. I prefer sites that adapt to my browser width. I also moved the sidebar from the left to the right, updated my photo to something more current, and opened up the line spacing for increased readability.

    Let me know what you think.

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