Dumping Schedule Wizard for VisualCron

For several years I’ve used Schedule Wizard scheduler for Windows Server task scheduling.  For a long time I haven’t been totally happy with its stability (or lack of).  During any given year there has generally been a handful of incidents where I notice the tasks haven’t been running, and often the problem could be traced back to Schedule Wizard. For example, forgetting to close the tray icon and the clip-board manager (if running) before installing an upgrade will result in a broken installation. It won’t tell it to you – it just won’t run. And when a new version has been properly installed, there’re often issues about getting the service stable again (so that it’ll actually execute the tasks on schedule).

After the most recent upgrade I could not get the service running again so that the tasks would be run. The service starts ok, but then nothing happens. I reinstalled half a dozen times, tried to run the service as the Local System, admin, and as a special user with sufficient privileges, to no avail. Tasks run fine using the interactive scheduler, but on a server that won’t do.

So once again I started to review the other possible schedulers out there. I had done this several times before, always returning to Schedule Wizard as, for example, I found AutoMate 7 too heavy and too expensive (I’m always dubious of software packages that don’t tell their price on the web site upfront, but instead ask you to “request for a quote” — it usually means that the software is overpriced and the sales people want to be able to talk you in buying it).  Automize, on the other hand, uses Java (not JavaScript) for task coding, and I don’t write Java well. Then there’s Robotask, which looks cool, but it doesn’t run natively as a service on Windows Servers (one could try to run it under FireDaemon or AlwaysUp, but I really think a scheduler should have a native service mode).  There’s of course WinCron but while I use cron (or bcron) with Unix, for some reason it feels out of place in Windows.

But on different passes at finding the windows task schedulers out in the wild I had missed two products: VisualCron and Macro Scheduler Pro.  Both are very clean, stable, moderately priced, and they just work! For most operations VisualCron is just perfect (running programs, external scripts, etc.) while Macro Scheduler Pro reminds a bit of AutoMate in that it’s “more than a scheduler” – the scheduling function is part of it, but overall it’s a workflow automation software.

FTP Client Update

Last fall I wrote about various (S)FTP(ES) clients, and in that article mentioned that secure authentication with popular open source FTP server pureFTPd did not work with VanDyke Software’s SecureFX FTP client as it lacks the option to use unencrypted data channel – a requirement with pureFTPd. VanDyke Software is now working on a version 6.3 that will introduce that option; the new version should see daylight (in production) sometime toward the end of this year.

On a related note, I’ve been recently using for (S)FTP(ES) connections the winner of my FTP client comparison in the fall, Ipswitch WS_FTP Pro.  Ipswitch just recently released the version 12 of the software.  A quick run-down between the SecureFX and WS_FTP Pro quickly reveals that WS_FTP Pro gives more fine-grained control over many operations, and that the GUI of the product is more up-to-date than that of SecureFX (see screen shots below). While the SecureFX interface is rather utilitarian and is in need of an update, it has the benefit of being able to share the session list with VanDyke’s excellent terminal/SSH client SecureCRT. So perhaps you won’t need the extra features/options of WS_FTP Pro, and find the singular session list handy, then SecureFX is certainly worth a look. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for the best FTP client, I’d be inclined to recommend WS_FTP Pro at this time. The price tags of the products likely reflect the differences in features and looks: SecureFTP is priced at $59.95 compared to the $89.95 price-tag of WS_FTP Pro.


Ipswitch WS_FTP Pro

Cross-browser insanity!

I’ve been working on couple web-projects for last couple of months, doing more intense web-development than for some time (my work takes me sometimes to the system side, even to hardware, and then back again to the application level).  This time I’ve had the pleasure to work on a design that has to work on all grade A browsers, and also support the evil IE6 as something like 20-30% of the demographics of the users of the site still use that browser. Most of such users are likely locked in by a standard corporate desktop or another.

I have been developing the site for FireFox 3.x and IE7, switching back and forth while using the excellent Stylizer (of which a new version was just released, btw) to make sure the layout works in both. Then creating exceptions for IE6 and Safari as needed. The new fun thing is IE8. Not only is IE8’s “IE7 compatibility mode” not 100% IE7, but the way the browser renders pages also depends on what operating system it’s run on. IE8 in IE7 compatibility mode on Vista looks different than IE8 in IE7 compatibility mode on Windows XP! So, in essence, IE8 introduced four (or more!) new browsers to compensate for!

There is a reason for why Google’s home-page has so simple design: it’s the only way to ensure the page looks the same and doesn’t melt down regardless of what browser on whatever platform is used to view it!

We have long since passed a point where it’s reasonable for an individual web-developer to write a more complex site that reliably looks more or less the same regardless of the browser, or a platform. Different strategies must be adopted to overcome the problem. For one, I’ll be using a back-end browser/platform detection script for all future projects. It’ll make it fairly straightforward and reliable to serve corrective stylesheets that override the defaults in “global.css” for the browsers/platforms that need correcting. Attempting to correct for IE8’s different modes, or Safari’s different versions in JavaScript is enough to drive anyone mad. Perhaps the only good thing about IE8’s arrival is that it will finally force IE6 into obsolescence (I rather take IE8’s shaky modes than IE6!)

I’m also increasingly leaning toward Flex RIAs for most any purpose. With Flex/Flash apps the user either sees the application or doesn’t — and the design will always look the same, regardless of the browser or the platform used to view it.

On the web it’s obviously impossible to enforce regulations for how the browsers should or should not function, but from a developer’s point of view it would be great if the browsers would need to be certified to meet fairly tough W3C compliance standards and anyone using a non-certified browsers would be SOL (and moreover, nobody would scorn at—or be surprised about—the lack of a site’s support for the non-certified browsers).