Tag Archives: Windows

Time for a Change: Gradwell to TSO Hosting

Way back when I first got an internet connection I was with Demon Internet on their famous tenner a month account. The company was small, had responsive UK support from knowledgeable techies. Then they sold out to the telecoms offshoot of Scottish Power and things started to go downhill, eventually I got fed up and moved away. When I moved rather than take an e-mail address from my new ISP I got myself a domain name, so it then wouldn’t matter if I changed ISP in future, indeed I have changed ISP several times in the intervening years.

The company I chose to host the domain was again a small company, Gradwell Internet which was headed up by Peter Gradwell, at that time a student working his way through University. The support was excellent, at times you’d even find Peter Gradwell himself handling support calls. Then VOIP started taking off, and the company refocused slightly towards VOIP and businesses, and as time has gone on I’ve been increasingly feeling that the old small hosting customers aren’t really important, the quality of service has dropped. So for example e-mail went out for the best part of a day a while back, general performance of websites was sluggish, I had e-mail that just vanished, and then the real finale earlier this month was they had a fault in their hosting cluster that caused one of my sites to produce errors whenever that machine in the cluster was hit, and whilst they fixed the cluster Gradwell managed to propagate the copy of the website they’d corrupted across all the machines rather than keep the working copy, leaving me having to dig around and restore the site from my backup.

So finally after just short of ten years with Gradwell I took the decision to move on, and interestingly talking to friends who have also been long term Gradwell customers they’re finding the same thing, one is transferring sites away, another has already moved all his sites away and currently only has domains. Taking a look online again there are lots of disappointed Gradwell customers moving away, so the question is where to go?

Initially I took a look at one of the big namesFast2Host who have done well in things like the PCPro awards, and as I wanted the flexibility to host my WordPress based blogs, but also try out some ASP.Net stuff I opted for their Windows based package. That unfortunately didn’t get overly far as although it can host WordPress, it is problematic running scripts like  that I use to keep regular backups of my sites. The support was really good, but ultimately suggested I needed a Linux account instead and swapped me over. Initially I didn’t think that would be too much of a problem, then I started moving my domains over to CPanel.

Now CPanel is pretty much the de-facto standard for many Linux hosting packages, but it has one fundamental flaw in that it was initially written to host a single domain. The way the developers chose to support additional domains is in my view a massive hack, what happens is when you add an additional domain it creates a sub-domain of your main domain, and then maps the additional domain onto that. What that does is put the additional domains into a folder beneath the main folder for your main domain, mixing code for the two domains together, it also means any additional domain can also be accessed as both a subdomain of your main domain, and also as a folder within it. Whilst with some hacking around of access files you can work around that it is still not keeping additional domains separate as I had been able to do on Gradwell.

So I took a look for other hosts that don’t use CPanel, and a name that came up several times amongst former Gradwell users was TSO Hosting. As a company they used to use CPanel, and indeed will still provide an account running it if pressed, but for most customers they recommend their own cloud hosting product. Alongside not being CPanel one of the big advantages of this from my point of view is it’s not tied to a particular platform, they support both Linux and Windows in the same account, so I can host my WordPress sites in Linux, but also play around with Windows and ASP.Net hosting all under the same account with no problems.

I did the changeover over the course of several days last weekend, and now all of my sites are running from TSO Hosting servers, and so far so good. The support has been excellent, even answering a whole load of pre-sales questions on a Sunday morning when Gradwell usually won’t answer an e-mail from a small user like me. I’d certainly recommend them as a good host so far, especially if like me you want the flexibility to work both with Linux sites, or Windows.

If you want to give them a go, they are great for hosting a WordPress blog like this, with a one click install to get you going, and if you enter EXIGENCY1 as a coupon code at the checkout they’ll give you 10% off the price. Click on the banner below to get to their site.

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Salvage Work

I’ve had an interesting evening… A few days ago I realised that the original scans of a couple of old pictures were only on the hard drive of my old PC – no problem I thought, I’ll just hook the old box up to the network at the weekend and copy the files off…

Not as simple as I first thought, as the old PC steadfastly refused to boot. Out came the screwdrivers, and I then tried to get the two hard drives from inside the PC to read using either my current PC, or the Mac using an external hard drive box – the smaller drive, containing only applications read fine, but the data drive kept coming up with errors – apparently well and truly dead.

I tried a couple of the apps I’ve used before for recovering data from dead memory cards, but that didn’t produce anything, so eventually I tried a demo copy of Data Rescue II which successfully produced a list of tens of thousands of files on the drive. Unfortunately for me what it totally failed to find was any sort of directory structure, so for pictures I had a directory full of over 5000 jpeg files with default sequentially numbered names. Since the demo copy of the software only allows you to pull off one file, that was a bit of a problem – so out came the credit card to get a full license key.

The recovery process took a couple of hours, so I now have a folder on the Mac filled with everything the software managed to retrieve – the pictures I wanted are there, along with all sorts of other pictures I’d forgotten I even had. There are also hundreds of old word documents, PDF files, and even my old e-mail files, all of which will have to be sorted. There are quite a few corrupt files, but from a hard drive that seemed totally dead to both Windows and MacOS X, that’s a pretty big turnaround.

Anyway, if anyone else has a hard drive die on them, I do now have a copy of a bit of software that will pull off most of the data… 🙂

Can iTunes Rentals Bring iPlayer Downloads to the Mac?

One of the biggest criticisms of the BBC iPlayer has been that the download service is Windows only – and limited to specific versions at that – ruling out licence payers using other platforms such as the Mac. Indeed I’ve blogged previously about the pressure that the BBC is under by the BBC Trust to get such a cross-platform solution.

The basic problem has always been that there wasn’t a solution that met the requirements – the ability to have programmes downloadable, but then only able to be watched for a week after the original showing, but was cross-platform. Windows Media DRM provided the functionality, but not the cross-platform support.

That all changed this week, with the Macworld Keynote. As part of that, Apple announced iTunes Movie Rentals. Although the lengths of time are different, the fundamental principle that the BBC required, that the programmes only be able to be watched for a limited period are there. When I was watching the keynote, the thought did cross my mind as to whether we’d find the BBC amongst the big film studios come the UK launch.

It hasn’t taken long for the BBC to start making positive noises, with Ashley Highfield, the director of Future Media and Technology stating on a BBC blog:

The announcement from Macworld about the effective relaunch of the AppleTV (Jobs: “we tried with AppleTV, but its not what people wanted. So we’re back with AppleTV take two – no computer is required”) is encouraging.

This, coupled with Apple’s (long anticipated) move to a rental model, means that we can look to getting BBC iPlayer onto this platform too, as we should be able to use the rental functionality to allow our programmes to be downloaded, free, but retained for a time window, and then erased, as our rightsholders currently insist.

Whilst it won’t reach Linux users, using iTunes would reach more users than the current solution – more than that, the programmes would be transferable from a computer, to an iPod, and could even be watched back on a TV using the Apple TV – giving an option for people without a suitable computer at all.

I also can’t imagine that Steve Jobs isn’t going to jump at this – just think of the media coverage if the BBC boots out a Microsoft based solution in favour of iTunes

Vista Update Problem

Has anyone who is running Vista had any problems with the 8th January security updates? All of my XP machines updated fine, but I had a call from a friend running Vista saying that their machine had locked up, and when they managed to get it restarted they were getting errors that Security Center was unable to start. Going on to their machine with Remote Assistance all the Security Center services were disabled. Starting those up manually seemed to resolve the problem with Security Center errors, and didn’t seem to cause any other adverse reactions (yet) – so I’m assuming something went wrong in the update. Anybody else had any similar experiences?

Microsoft Extends Windows XP

So after my having rolled my laptop back to Windows XP comes news that due to customer demand Microsoft is extending the life of Windows XP by six months – the official line is that it is to help customers who need more time to switch to Vista. Needless to say they deny that the change is due to slow sales of the new OS… Whilst on the subject, thanks to Martin for highlighting this cartoon on a similar subject.

Spot the Difference

Safari/Firefox Compare

The announcement of a Windows version of Safari, the default browser under MacOS X has provoked a good deal of discussion.

Personally I’m of the opinion that it’s existence is primarily about providing a platform for iPhone development on Windows – very much that they need a platform, rather than any deep seated belief that the Windows platform needs another browser.

From my point of view that is made even more clear by the lengths to which Apple have gone to make it look and operate exactly like the MacOS X version, even down to the look of the buttons and scroll bars.

The identical behaviour even extends to how the browser renders fonts and graphics. If you take a look at the picture above, this shows the blog open in Firefox and Safari on Windows. Looking at the fonts, you’ll notice that the text looks subtly different – some people regard it as more blurry – this is because the browser is eschewing the usual Windows Cleartype in favour of the algorithm used by MacOS X. In theory, the MacOS X algorithm is intended to produce fonts that are as close to the original typeface design as possible, whilst Cleartype fits to the pixel grid – better screen wise – at the expense of accurately rendering the typeface. Coding Horror has a good article explaining the differences – ultimately it comes down to personal taste.

The other thing to note from the screen shot is the differences in the colour of the sunset picture at the top of the page. This is because Safari on Windows also treats graphics containing embedded colour space information differently. The sunset picture on the top of the page contains the colour space information from the original picture I took – Safari finds this and renders the graphic differently (although not necessarily correctly – ironically only the now defunct Mac Internet Explorer correctly interpreted colour spaces) resulting in the more vibrant orange hues that can be seen in Safari.

All of these duplicate features make it clear that alongside converting Safari, large amounts of MacOS X have been ported too to make it all work! Hence if you compare the memory usage of Safari with other browsers on Windows you’ll find it’s using a lot more than anything else…

Finally, one irony of Safari on Windows though is that whilst I don’t tend to use the browser much on MacOS X – preferring Firefox, I’m using Safari on Windows quite a lot because the text looks way better on the machine at work…

Update: The Safari on Windows debate rolls onward. With the news that the browser has been downloaded over one million times in the forty-eight hours since release, there is an interesting article from a Microsoft employee who initially is bemoaning the fact that Safari does everything itself, and then having read a posting by Joel Spolsky and the Coding Horror posting I mentioned above realises that it is unlikely that things will change!

The Spolsky posting is a good read in terms of the history – the Apple philosophy is very much about wanting to make fonts look as close to the printed original as possible – Joel explains in more detail why this is important to the desktop publishing and design communities. Choice quote of the posting has to be this:

“Typically, Apple chose the stylish route, putting art above practicality, because Steve Jobs has taste, while Microsoft chose the comfortable route, the measurably pragmatic way of doing things that completely lacks in panache.”

He also gives some opinions which go to explain why I’m preferring Safari on Windows – which are as much to do with familiarity as anything else!

How to Get Flamed by Mac Zealots

Mary Jo Foley couldn’t have done any better at igniting a flame war if she tried with this posting titled “Leopard Looks Like… Vista“. Number 4 is just plain wrong, and is probably worth explaining to any worried Mac owners out there. Unlike the PC’s, Mac’s have had 64-bit processors for a number of years with the G5 and G4 processors – so Leopard isn’t cutting out owners of those Mac’s. It is also worth bearing in mind that Tiger is partially 64-bit already – Apple has taken a phased approach with a single version – none of this 32-bit/64-bit version incompatibility confusion that people encounter on Windows. The current version of the OS, Tiger is 64-bit in parts anyway (check out this Apple explanation for more detail) – Leopard is merely the next phase in the process. The 64-bit business is purely for the techies, as a Mac end user it has no bearing.