Category Archives: Reviews

Running with the Crucial M4 SSD

I decided to do some hardware upgrades this weekend, and as prices on SSD continue to drop, I found a pretty good deal at my local MicroCenter.  The Crucial M4 256GB SSD normally retails for $239, but you save $50 instantly, and an additional $20 on a rebate, so you can take it home for $169 all said and done.

I installed it into my Dell desktop this afternoon, and thought at the same time I would start with a fresh build from the OS on up.  I timed some of these operations just to have an idea of the performance increase you can see when switching from spinning disk to SSD.  Of course, this isn’t a full comparison, since I don’t have existing data on these operations, but nonetheless, we all know how long we sit and wait for a new install of Windows or Office.

I’m pretty impressed with the performance.  There was a recommended firmware update for this drive, and I was able to install that directly from within Windows with only a reboot required to make it happen.

All in well, this seems to be a good investment.  After all, I was pretty spoiled when I received my XPS13, which also has an SSD on board.

Creating an Add-on for Internet Explorer with Add-In Express

Introduction

For some time I have had a few ideas for Internet Explorer add-ons that I’d like to create.  One of the biggest challenges was with creating the wrapper that is required to encapsulate the executing code.  You could create context menu actions pretty easily through the registry, but you were limited to what you could do via JavaScript.

That being said, I was doing some research to see how I could accomplish this.  Almost immediately I came across Add-In Express which makes a product called Add-In Express for Internet Explorer.  They have a number of products available that help build add-ons around Microsoft Office and Microsoft Internet Explorer.

I thought I’d give it a try, so I sent them an email to see about getting an evaluation copy.  Within a couple of days they provided me with an evaluation key good for 45 days. 

This would be enough time for me to kick around the product a bit and see how easy they made it to create a add-on for Internet Express.

Test Project: Instapaper Add-on for Internet Explorer

Have you heard of Instapaper?  Instapaper is this cool “project” founded by Marco Arment.  The idea behind Instapaper is that you are surfing the web, find a webpage that you like and you want to bookmark it for later review.  This is really handy if you’re catching up on your Twitter feed and come across a link you want to visit, you can “send it to Instapaper”, then use an Instapaper application (available for iPhone, Android, and other platforms) to go back and catch-up on the pages you wanted to revisit.  I use this a lot especially when traveling.  I’ll go back to my Instapaper list and read the articles that I didn’t previously have time for, but wanted to review otherwise.  Instapaper also has the option to export your “list” to your Kindle or other eReader device.

When I am on my desktop, and using Internet Explorer, how are you suppose to keep track of things you don’t have time for now, but want to go back and read?  You use Instapaper and my Instapaper Add-on for Internet Explorer!

Installation

A very straight-forward installation process.  Basically during the installer you specify which versions of Visual Studio you want to create add-ons for so it can register it’s templates appropriately.  In my development environment, I use Visual Studio 2010, so I checked that box and continued on allowing the product to finish it’s installation process.

Creating the New Project

Like any other new project in Visual Studio, you select the project type you want to create.  The templates for Add-in Express for Internet Explorer are located under “Other Project Types > Extensibility”.

Creating a new IE Add-on

Once you select that you want to create an Internet Explorer add-on, the Add-in Express Wizard kicks in and asks a few questions about the solution we’re building.  These answers help craft the project that it will create.

Add-in Express Project Wizard

Add-in Express Project Wizard

Once you clicked Finish, our new project is generated and we’re ready to start creating our add-in.

In addition to the creation of the add-on project, it is creates a customized installation project that you can use to distribute your add-on in all it’s glory.  This is cool and really makes the process that much more smoother.

Writing Code

Next, the majority of our action is going to take place in the IEModule.cs class file.  This is the “core” to our add-on and provides us the access to the objects that we’re going to need to draw information from within Internet Explorer.  The HTML document and all of it’s properties are exposed in the form of an HTMLDocument object which makes accessing the specifics of a webpage so easy!

Generic IEModule.cs Code

You can see in my Instapaper project that I have created some additional classes that I am using to communicate with the Instapaper API in addition to a few dialogs in Win Forms.

Solution Explorer

Creating context menus and other options within the add-on are simplified through the properties dialog boxes.  By defining menus and their properties, events and methods are easily exposed ensuring that even the most novice of developers can create add-ons with little code!

Creating Context Menus

Using the Add-on

Since the project creates the installer for me, the installation is easily executed in the form of an MSI package. 

When I launch Internet Explorer I can use the context menu to customize my options for the add-on.  In this case, in order to save it to my Instapaper account I have specify a username and password.  I also have the option to give me confirmation when the URL is successfully saved to my Instapaper account.  This form allows for the configuration of the Instapaper Add-on.

Add-on Settings

Once I have configured my settings, I can use the same context menu to capture a webpage to my Instapaper account.  There are two options for capturing.  First, you can send the URL of the current webpage that is being shown in the browser to Instapaper.  Secondly, you can also right-click on a link that exists in a particular webpage and send the link’s destination URL to Instapaper.  Swell!

Add-on Context Menu

Can I try the Instapaper Add-on?

I am working on making this add-on available to the general public, but need to add some additional features to the code and complete more testing.  Watch this post for more information on it’s availability.

Add-In Express for Internet Explorer Information

Add-In Express for Internet Explorer is a visual tool to create thread-safe, secure, isolated, deployable and context-sensitive add-ons for Internet Explorer, 6, 7 and 8 in VB.NET, C#, managed C++ and Delphi Prism.

The product current is supported in a number of IDEs including C#, VB.NET, C++ (Visual Studio 2005, 2008, 2010), Delphi Prism 2009/2010.  It current supports Internet Explorer 6,7,8, and soon to be IE9.

There are several different editions available starting at $249 per license.

Conclusion

Add-In Express has made the process of developing add-ons for Internet Explorer so simple.  A developer can create an add-on in little time with minimal development as it pertains to the wrapper.  As a point of reference, from start to functional, it took me about 2 hours to create my Instapaper add-on.  Put your time and thought into your applied code, let Add-In Express handle the integration.

I’m Giving Up On NetNewsWire (for now)

I’ve been very loyal to NetNewsWire for a long time. Whether it be NewsGator (a RSS plugin for Outlook), FeedDamon (an RSS feedreader app for Windows, NetNewsWire on the iPhone, or NetNewsWire on the Mac.

In the fall, NetNewsWire was switched to synchronize with Google Reader accounts. I just can’t take the inconsistencies in synchronization that occur when using NetNewsWire on my Mac. I spend an hour or two going through a couple hundred or more news items all for them to reappear as unread items next sync period – sometimes, other times they stay unread.

NetNewsWire is a desktop RSS application for the Mac. You can use it for free with embedded advertising, or you can buy it for $20. I’m all about supporting developers who write apps – but I can’t do that for NetNewsWire.

The best alternative that I could find for now is an app called Gruml.  Gruml also allows you to view and manage your feed subscriptions of your Google Reader account on Mac OS X.  It is in the beta stage, so there are some quirks, but the developer was releasing updates pretty regularly until the middle of November. Hopefully there is a final release or something big up his sleeve.

Nonetheless, Gruml at least gets it write when it comes to the synchronization, so for now, it’s my choice for a desktop RSS reader.

Sony BDP-N460 Network Blu-ray Disc Player Review

I was at Costco this last weekend and saw the Sony BDP-N460 Network Blu-ray Disc Player on sale for $199.  It usually sells for $249, but most places have it on sale right now.  As a side note, I wasn’t able to locate it on their website, but it was on an end-cap in one of their stores.

A while back, right after Blu-ray was initially introduced, I purchased the Best Buy “Insignia” brand Blu-ray player.  I think I paid $250 for it.  Back then, if you wanted network capabilities, you had to pay a premium, now this type of functionality is pretty standard. 

The Insignia model that I owned was slow to start up.  It took 30-45 seconds for it to power up before I could even insert a disc.  You can’t upgrade the firmware on it, and there are no network capabilities.

BDPN460_1

That’s why the Sony was appealing.  The BDP-N460 has full HD 1080p, Dolby True HD and DTS-MA audio decoding, BRAVIA Internet Video streaming, BD-Live 2.0 support, DVD playback and upscaling.  It has built-in applications for Netflix, Amazon Video On-Demand, and Slacker, just to name a few.

I hooked it up to my system, plugged in a network cable and powered it up.  It immediately determined that there was a firmware update available and within a couple minutes it had applied it and rebooted the player.  That’s cool. 

I also activated the Netflix application on the player.  I was able to see my queue and I played three different movies over the weekend.  It worked very slick.  No glitches as far as I could tell.  No skipping, very good video and sounds quality.  I also tried Slacker, a free Internet radio service, which I had never heard of. 

One other nicety of this product is that they include an HDMI cable in the box.  Overall, I am very happy with the player.  Historically, I have always had good luck with Sony components.