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System Administration

Tools for the toolbox
 Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Replacing Dependencies

Meryl points out an article about a company adopting Mozilla, and comments

The hardest part about a switch campaign is reaching companies. It's costly for a company to switch its users over to a different browser. You would think not, but after I listened to a tech describe the process it made sense. Remember IE is closely tied with the operating system and Office. A company utilizing any of these is going to have a greater challenge dumping IE.

Or, as the CERT, in its recommendation to stop using Internet Explorer, notes

Note that using a different web browser will not remove IE from a Windows system, and other programs may invoke IE, the WebBrowser ActiveX control, or the HTML rendering engine (MSHTML).

There are two issues here. First, Internet Explorer is a bunch of different components, including an HTTP user agent and an HTML rendering engine. While most people interact with it as a thing called a browser, programs can use the individual pieces of it in more specific ways. One of the programs which does so is the operating system's shell. Thus, those components are tied to the OS. This behavior is not peculiar to Windows, but is common among other operating environments. Because it is available, and because it is easy to use, numerous applications for Windows take advantage of Internet Explorer's various components. So it is difficult to disentangle the other applications you use from IE. What you can do is reduce your exposure by not using IE for general web browsing.

Which brings up the second issue. IE is a platform as much as it is an application. Some organizations, in their infinite wisdom, wrote web applications not for the web, but for Internet Explorer. Even if the application itself doesn't require IE, the developers assume that IE is the only browser available, and insist upon it, because their learned practices tend to work better in IE. So replacing IE causes their applications to break in peculiar ways.

In 1996, when Ameritech introduced their personal web pages, IE was incompetent: it couldn't upload files. And so the developers included a check in the site to limit access to Netscape Navigator. I suppose they assumed that they'd revise the application, but that never happened. Now the limit is ridiculous.

Snapfish, a good on-line photo finisher, unnecessarily used javascript: pseudo-URLs in its photo gallery application. Not because that was the only way to do what they wanted, but because they made certain assumptions about which user agents supported which functions, and so limited their tests.

The same sort of thing happens within many organizations.

What can you do to address this?

  • As much as you can, write to the standards, not to the browser.
  • Don't create artifical limits; degrade gracefully.

2:38:39 PM # Google It!
categories: System Administration

l33t Communication Sk1llz

Ernie and Kasia both discuss the ethical obligations of hosting a site gratis. What it boils down to is this: communication.

11:09:49 PM # Google It!
categories: System Administration

 Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Anybody Want a Peanut?

The discussion, as it were, on a certain status code dragged me into reading about another situation: the Great weblogs.com Link Rot of 2004. There's a good bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth, in among the thanks and concerns about Dave Winer's health. There's also some misunderstanding about how the Net works.

  • All things within the weblogs.com domain are not necessarily on the same host.

    There are complaints that some sites remain up, while most went down. Those sites have not been co-located with the others for some time now. NetCraft's survey can, perhaps, make this a little clearer.

  • There are technical solutions to the problem of load that do not require link rot.

    They do, however, require knowledge. The problem of imminent failure can be addressed through adequate communication, which will provide the time necessary for others with knowledge to help.

Turning things off and waiting for complaints is standard BOFH operating procedure in situations where the operator does not know who uses a service. I've done it myself. It works like a charm.

4:25:40 PM # Google It!
categories: System Administration

 Wednesday, April 14, 2004

There They Go Again

Everybody vs. Dave, on the topic of the HTTP status "410 Gone".

Speaking from the sysadmin perspective, we're looking at adding support for 410 Gone so that we can differentiate between sites that are unfound and those that we've deleted because the member cancelled their service. However, this wouldn't extend to an individual resource: We don't know which resources were there. At the moment we don't permit users to reconfigure the web server for their particular space, but that could change. When it does, user agents had better act on it.

4:40:10 PM # Google It!
categories: PWP, System Administration

Enterprise Applications

One has to wonder why Enterprise applications are so much less usable, scalable — everything — than Internet applications. Could it be assumption of control?

10:33:00 AM # Google It!
categories: System Administration

 Friday, March 05, 2004

Trust, My Ass

As long as the paperwork all lines up, who the hell cares?

6:13:45 PM # Google It!
categories: Identity, Security, System Administration

 Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Recommended Daily Allowance

A pint a day is not only a good idea, but also has an excellent rant on FTP.

3:25:03 PM # Google It!
categories: System Administration

 Friday, January 30, 2004

2:02:04 PM #
categories: System Administration

 Wednesday, January 21, 2004

For the Record

WebSiteNOW is an unreliable, unusable, piece of the worst programming trash that it has ever been my misfortune to administer. I advise anyone considering using or purchasing this, or registering a domain, to stop, think, and use something, anything, else.

11:32:20 AM # Google It!
categories: System Administration