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Product Review

Product Review

Copyright: Ryan Farley

Announcing the Growl for Windows Target for NLog (and another reason to love Growl)

Thu, 06 May 2010 19:57:09 GMT

I love Growl. In my opinion it is something that should be built into the OS and I wish that every app supported sending Growl notifications. Lately I have been using Growl to get notifications from my own applications. This has been a great way to get instant feedback from applications while testing or when problems happen. However, instead of building in support for Growl, I add these notifications via a custom target for NLog so the notifications are configurable as part of the logging solution. What is Growl for Windows? First of all, for those who are not familiar with what Growl is, you're missing out. Take a look at Growl's About page to find out more. Basically, it is a Windows version of the Mac growl notification system that displays notifications using the GNTP protocol. Growl gives you notifications when things happen. It can be something from your machine or something on some other machine on the network. Think of it as a uniform notification system that any application can use. Using Growl as a Logging Notification Target So, back to my original topic. I use NLog for logging. For logging, NLog is awesome (why I prefer it to log4net will require another post). Some of the things that make Growl for a logging target useful for me: Instant feedback while testing applications. I can get details about what is going on in my application while testing, whether I am debugging or not by simply turning on my Growl target in the NLog.config file. If the application is running on a server, I can have the application send fatal or error logging notifications right to my desktop. If my server app has a fatal problem it will get logged, but I get the instant feedback with a Growl notification on my desktop. The custom GrowlNotify target for NLog Let's take a look at my simple custom NLog logging target for Growl. To use the GrowlNotify target in NLog, all you have to do is download the GrowlNotify binaries, place them in the same folder as your app (no need to add them as references, just put them where the NLog.dll and NLog.config are), then wire it up as a target in the NLog.config file. Here is a sample configuration for using the GrowlNotify target: That configuration will send any level of logging event to Growl on the same/local machine. To have the Growl notification sent over the network, all you have to do is fill in the parameters for "password", "host" (with a machine name or IP address), and optionally the "port" (if you've changed your Growl port from the default). That is it. Each logging level has it's own icon. Here's some screenshots of NLog GrowlNotify in action:                   Of course, once you've used GrowlNotify once and the DLL has registered itself with Growl, you'll be able to tweak things for each notification level in the Growl applications list, such as making the more critical levels play a different sound, etc: To grab the source for NLog GrowlNotify, head over to the repository on Github.[...]

A Developer's Look at Xobni

Fri, 24 Jul 2009 05:20:47 GMT

I've used Xobni off and on since it was first released and over the last few months it has stuck with me and I've become completely attached to it. With some of the initial releases it struggled with performance however, recent versions no longer have that problem. It performs well and doesn't seem to chew up resources. Best of all, it has become so smooth, so magical in what it does and how it does it, that as a developer, I have come to believe that the Xobni developers are true wizards, crafting their spells of awesomeness on their product. So, it is with the viewpoint of a developer that I review some things I really like about the current 1.8 version of Xobni. If you've not yet tried Xobni, take a look at it at As a developer, I have complete respect for good, well designed, and nicely written software. I love it when software does something that amazes me and I just have to know how it does it. There are many things about Xobni that are pure magic. First of all, it is such a great concept that is amazingly executed. Not only that, but I develop Outlook addins as well, so it is cool to see something done so nicely that I can really learn from. Here are a few things that I just love about Xobni. (click for larger view) 1) .NET Application This one doesn't "wow" me or anything, but there is something that I love about nicely done software using my technology. I am a .NET developer and I love .NET, so gotta give props to Xobni for it :-)  - now onto the more important stuff. 2) Lightning fast speed One thing nobody can disagree with. Xobni does what it does super fast. I have a lot of e-mail in Outlook, going back 10+ years (a lot of it archived). My PST is several gigs in size. So when I see Xobni instantly return my search to me, with the right results no less, it is a thing of magic. 3) Social networking wizardry that makes me envious In just about every app I do now days, I am always looking at building social media into it. I love the idea of merging a person's online profile/persona with the data you've collected about a person. What cooler way to get the complete picture of a person and know what is going on with them. Working in CRM (Customer Relationship Management) the social-CRM concept, in bringing a person's social data into CRM is something that everyone wants. However, it is not an easy job. If you have to ask a sales person to look for, collect, and enter someone's Facebook profile ID, Twitter account name, LinkedIn profile URL, etc, it will NEVER happen and your efforts to merge in that data will be wasted. That is what is so amazing about how Xobni integrates with social sites like Facebook & LinkedIn. Somehow, it just knows. I've never told Xobni any of those details, yet it always seems to get it right, displaying Facebook and LinkedIn details about people I receive e-mail from and they merge all this together. You might be seeing a picture of the person from Facebook and the company name and title from LinkedIn. I will tell you it is down right spooky. Do they have access to some super-secret API? Perhaps. But if they do that is a work of genius on its own. But if they don't, then the Xobni devs are true wizards and I am not worthy of their craft. They obviously have some secret sauce here - and I want it. I've spent countless hours trying to reverse-engineer and figure out or replicate how they do what they do unsuccessfully. I bow to their superior intellect. 4) Magical data mining across the internet I discovered something about Xobni. It appears to mine data from places you woudn't expect. One of my websites sends out e-mails from forum posts. I noticed that Xobni was displaying a phone number for that e-mail address and I knew right away that it wasn't a phone number, because I recognized it as a ticket or case number that was displayed on that website (but it does "look" like a phone number). The only way Xobni could have gotten that number is to perform a search for the e-mail address using Google/LiveBing/Whatever (most likely on restrict[...]

Browser Performance - What's Changed with Chrome in the Mix?

Wed, 03 Sep 2008 18:11:08 GMT

This week Google released their new browser, Chrome. There has been so much buzz about it that it's been deafening. It is seriously amazing how passionate people get about a browser. But let's face it, a browser is likely what most people use more than any other software on their computer now days. I spend so much of my time online. Performance is important to me, just like anyone else. Since Chrome's release, I've spent some time reading performance metrics in an attempt to see past the marketing hype, and I've been pleased with what I've found. Not specifically with Chrome, but with the improvements across the board with many, but certainly not all, browsers. First off, let me get this out of the way. I've used Chrome, but I am not sold on it at all. It lacks many features I find critical, or at least useful, in a browser. I am not a GOOG-fanboy and I typically don't care for many things that Google puts out, aside from search. I'm not on that "anything that Google does is gold" bus. I do, however, love Firefox. It is my browser of choice for many reasons, but mainly because it performs well and I love the extensibility of it with addons (not to mention the huge community around addons out there, you can find about anything to make the browser work the way you want it to) This all started when a consultant I work with sent me an e-mail discussing how a particular web-based CRM application that I work with performs so much faster using Safari. This consultant would demo this software to clients using Internet Explorer and the demos would never go too well. Everything would appear a bit slow and sluggish. This particular web-based CRM application is a bit heavy on the client, using Ajax for about anything that happens in the browser. One day he decided to test out some other browsers and was amazed at how much faster this application performed using Safari. When he let me know his findings I ran some tests between various browsers with this CRM application and was astounded by the results. The performance of the application with Safari was a clear and noticeable improvement over other browsers I tested with. I was amazed at how drastic the performance improvement was. It was an obvious improvement, even without sophisticated tests, as an end user you could easily see the difference. This eventually led me to a new post today by jQuery rock-star John Resig. This is an extremely insightful post, and like anything from John is very factual and presents the information in a very non-biased manner. John performs tests on the Javascript processing engines in the mainstream browsers (IE 7 & 8b2, Firefox 3.01 & 3.1, Chrome, Safari, Opera, etc). The article is well worth the read, especially for any users still using IE. I've never been an "IE basher" in any way at all, but these facts do speak volumes on the lower quality experience you might be seeing on the web if you're an IE user. Chart from John's rundown - I'd highly recommend reading John's post (link below). John Resig's JavaScript Performance Rundown While Chrome is based on WebKit (the same open source browser engine that behind Safari), it uses Google's own Javascript engine V8, which is also open-source. John's test show some big performance "oohs" and "aahs" for Chrome, which is very nice. However, and this is my Firefox bias showing, that V8 will only lead the game until Firefox 3.1's TraceMonkey hits the streets. Another set of tests from Lifehacker show that Chrome wins (when compared to IE8 and Firefox3.1 betas) in browser startup time only (which I don't care so much about since I don't often close my browser), while Firefox performing better or at least the same in other tests for memory usage and Javascript & CSS processing. It's also worth noting that IE8 is still performing behind the two on all tests. Overall, I think it is overwhelmingly great that performance, for my most utilized application, has become such a important metric across the board for all browsers. While I am not to[...]

Meet My New Favorite Text Editor

Mon, 09 Oct 2006 23:26:00 GMT

I've been a long time fan of TextPad. I live by my text editor. My text editor is probably one of the most highly used applications on my pc. Seriously. TextPad has been great and I've always loved it. I decided on TextPad years ago after I grew dissatisfied with UltraEdit, I've tried a few others along the way, such as Notepad2, but none would compare to my favorite TextPad. Funny thing is, I wasn't looking for a new text editor, but I came across a new one today that I had not heard of before and I decided to give it a try.

Enter Twistpad


Twistpad is an awesome text editor. It would have to be to get me to decide to move away from TextPad. Complete with syntax highlighting, plugin support, collapsable text blocks ala Visual Studio regions, code snippets & template support, a built in clipboard ring, and a whole lot more.

So what made me decide to switch? Well, one thing for sure, Twistpad is a really great looking app. It has a very Visual Studio looking UI, and I do like that. A lot. However, some of my favorite features are:

All in all, I am loving my new text editor. I have to say I didn't think the day would ever come that I would move away from TextPad. So far I love what I see. Sure there are some things that are missing, such as unicode support (coming in the next version) and maybe a shell extension to get better context menu support in Windows, but all in all I am happy.


Awesome Command-Prompt Replacement

Sat, 02 Sep 2006 04:13:00 GMT

I was catching up on some Scott Hanselman posts today after going through Scott's new Utilmate Tools list (which is a great list) and came accross Scott's post on Console. Wow. I am in love. I've always been a big command-prompt junkie and this app is the cat's meow. A tabbed console windows app with better support for copy/paste and so much more.


How is it that Scott always find out about these kinds of awesome apps. This one is worth using for sure. I'm on the 2.0 beta build 125. I have mine with tabs for loading the VS 2005 & VS 2003 environment vars on separate tabs and a few other custom ones for setting environment vars as well.


Colibri - My New Favorite Toy

Tue, 27 Jun 2006 21:42:00 GMT

(image) I have a new favorite toy. Scott Hanselman mentioned Colibri on his blog so I thought I would give it a try. I can't tell you how much I am loving this cool tool. Colibri Type Ahead (which is free) is a combination of a quick start/launch and search program you use to quickly start up applications installed on your pc.

Hit a predefined hot-key and then just start typing the name of the application you want to launch. You'll be presented with a list of matches that narrow as you type. The best part is that you don't have to type the whole name, or even a part of it. You can type an abbreviation if you want. If I want to start PowerPoint, for example, I can just type “popnt” and it will match to PowerPoint. If more then one application match that name then I'll be presented with the choices. The coolest thing about Colibri is how it learns from you. If I type “vis” to start Visual Studio, and Visual Studio isn't the top of the list so I arrow down to select it. It knows that next time I type “vis” I probably mean Visual Studio so it will list it first.

Also, Colibri has integration with other various things, such as Google. I can hit the hot key to bring up Colibri, type “goo” then tab and enter my search term to perform a quick search. I can type “vol” and then up or down arrow to turn my pc's volume up or down quickly. It can launch control panel applets, and even has some integration coming for iTunes, Winamp, Firefox, etc.

I always seem to have a billion things installed on my pc at any given moment. While I do try to keep my start menu organized, it feels like such a chore sometimes to dig through the start menu looking for some app I hardly use (and can't remember where it is). Colibri sure makes that all easier. Not to mention Michael, the man behind Colibri, was totally willing to make a change that prevented it from working on my machine. That was just cool.


EZShellExtensions.Net Awesome Library for Easy Shell Extensions

Wed, 29 Mar 2006 21:41:00 GMT

I came across Sky Software's EZShellExtensions.Net via The Daily Grind and decided to check it out. Wow. I have to say I just love this library. There are so many different kinds of shell extensions you can easily do with hardly any effort at all. Take a look at a few tests I threw together:


There is so much more that you can do this this library for shell extensions (see the link below for a full list of extensions you can do). Support for both VS 2003 and VS 2005, .NET 1.1 and .NET 2.0. Definitely worth checking out!

And no, I am not only posting this to get my free developer license ;-)


New RSS Reader - Hello GreatNews

Mon, 05 Dec 2005 21:04:00 GMT


I've always been public about my descisions with which RSS reader to use. Last time I posted about this, I was using Sauce Reader and had found that it was bowing out from aggregator-land. Since then, I've used FeedDemon and have been a pleased, but not really that thrilled. I started using GreatNews and I've found that I like it (even though it's current version is missing a few things).

Since Sauce Reader went belly-up I've went back to trying RSS Bandit, SharpReader, and FeedDemon, but I just couldn't really get into any of them. RSS Bandit is a great one and it just keeps getting better and better. But I am just not that excited about it. I just don't know why. I came across GreatNews when I wasn't even looking for a new reader and gave it a try. There are some things I really like about it but it's missing a few things too.

There's a few things that GreatNews has that really appeal to me. It seems that lately I've been so busy that I start to fall behind on reading content that I'd like to keep up on (can't you tell? I've been slacking on updating my blog). GreatNews has some cool, yet very simple features that make it easy to find content that I don't want to miss. Watches, like search folders, let you pull in posts from other sources that you don't even subscribe to. I can built a watch that allows me to see google results of anyone that links to my blog, or see all feedster (or flickr) results that match some certain criteria. I can have GreatNews highlight certain posts based on keywords I've defined so they stand out from the other posts rolling in. I think that is cool. Not to mention that I really like the UI. It is clean, simple, and just looks nice.

I've spent some time in the GreatNews forums, the developer is easy to work with and makes his nightly builds available for public consumption. Things like support for favicons were suggested in the forums and within a few days I had a new build with the support built in.

What I like about GreatNews:

  • Simple and clean UI
  • Has the features I want (almost) and not a ton of extras I don't care about
  • Free
  • Fast/Performs well
  • Easy to organize with folders, labels, and watches (search folders)
  • Channel Statistics. You can easily see what you look at the most and what subscribed feeds keep most up to date so you're able to fine tune what you spend time reading.
  • Automatic post highlighting based on certain keywords or text so have special content stand out.

What I don't like about GreatNews:

  • No support for comments! This one is huge, but the developer has committed to adding this. This is really the only thing I wish it had, but hasn't really bothered me too bad so far - I've been using FeedDemon for a bit now which is also missing this so I guess I am used to it.

I'm not saying it's better than the others I've been using. Feature-to-feature RSS Bandit wins there, but I am really liking GreatNews for now and I plan to stick with it for a while.


MaxiVista v2

Tue, 16 Aug 2005 22:12:00 GMT

I posted a long time ago about MaxiVista and how I use it to extend my desktop onto my laptop. I've been using version 2 for a month or two now, and found that I like it even more than before.

Here's a recap on MaxiVista (Read my post from Jan04 for more details). MaxiVista is software that allows you to add the monitor of another machine (could be another computer, or laptop, or tablet) as an additional monitor on your computer. This isn't something like desktop sharing or VNC, it actually adds the display of the other computer as an additional display adapter on your computer. It connects to the other display via an WLAN, Ethernet, Firewire or USB connection. I just connect to it over my network. That's just awesome, but nothing new there from version 1. Now here's where things get really useful with version 2. In addition to using my laptop as an additional (third) monitor on my pc, I can use MaxiVista as a KVM (sort of - more like just the KM part). As an additional monitor, I can drag windows from my pc to my laptop's display. While that is cool, I find that I use MaxiVista now more as a KVM, so I see my normal laptop desktop, but I can drag my mouse over to it's display and now my mouse and keyboard are controlling the laptop.

When I go out of town and have to prep my laptop to take with me, this is really useful. I don't like small laptop keyboards, sure I could use my docking station, but then I need another keyboard & mouse on my desk. I could use remote desktop, but that takes the display of my pc. This way, I can get my laptop ready to go using my pc's keyboard & mouse, and all I have to do is move my mouse to the laptop screen to control it, and then back to my desktop screen to control it again. Not only that, but with a press of a single key it becomes an additional monitor and I can use it to drag an application over to it. Not bad at all.


A Saucy Switch

Thu, 12 May 2005 19:34:00 GMT

Well, it is done. I've made a switch to a new RSS reader. I've used RSS Bandit for quite a while now. I tried many different readers and ended up quite satisfied with RSS Bandit. But it just didn't excite me any more. I had tried Sauce Reader in the past, although to be honest, I was so in to RSS Bandit at the time that I'm not sure I really gave it a fair shake, but I have now and I am really liking it so far. I'm not going to compare RSS Bandit with Sauce Reader too much here (although the things I like or dislike about Sauce Reader are from the perspective of an RSS Bandit user), but I will share a few things that I really like (and don't like) about Sauce Reader. I am a big believer in Josh Ledgard's philosophy of “Living in your world and listening to theirs” and hope the same of the makers of all software that I use. So, if I have something to say about software that I like (or that I really want to like but just can't because of some lack of features or limitations it might have) then I will say so in the hopes that it might help improve the software - or just to warn others about software I didn't like ;-) Things I really like about Sauce Reader UI is very clean, really great looking, and easy to find your way around. [View] Very easy to see which feeds & posts have new comments on it. The icon for a post or feed changes to indicate that new comments have been made. The comments are seen below the actual post - in the same page/layout. No need to expand comments and click through them one at a time, you can see them all under the post (like you do normally when viewing a blog post webpage). This one is awesome and allows me to quickly scan through comments on a post to find any comments of interest without needing to click through each one. [View] Outlook 2003 style grouping of posts for a feed to make it easy to locate posts made today/yesterday/lastweek/etc. Built in tool for posting to your own blog. The tool is pretty good (well, downgrade that to “OK“), but just the basic formatting kinds of stuff built in. No ability for formatting code or anything, but still, it does make it quick and easy for posting to your blog from your reader. [View] You have a “Weblog This“ option available so you can quickly and easily post about some other post you read (it's will add in a blockquote of the text from the original post for you). IE integration. It adds a tool bar in IE that will allow you to post about a page your on (using a “Weblog This“ button) and also a Subscribe button which automatically becomes enabled if it detects an RSS feed on the page (It doesn't really “detect“ an RSS feed but just looks for the RSSLink link tag in the page). Sauce Reader is very simple, not overly-done or anything. Just a simple, but nice looking reader. The same reasons that I like TextPad, it just gives me what I need and doesn't over-complicate with too many bells and whistles. Quick to navigate around. Search folders (RSS Bandit had this too, but I still wanted to mention it) No more goofy smiley-face icon with an eye-patch ;-) Things I don't like about Sauce Reader: The headers in Sauce Reader don't change with the current theme in XP/2003. They are always blue (assuming you are using the blue luna theme). Not a big deal, but it bugs me. Although I do love the way it displays comments (under the post) I hate (and yes, that was bolded) that trackbacks are not clickable. You can see trackbacks listed under a post, but you can't click the trackback to get to it. That is so frustrating. I can't seem to find any way to flag a post that I want to read in more detail later (other than leaving it as unread, but that's not the same). Well, I can flag it (by clicking the flag for the entry in the list, but I can't seem to [...]