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Toolbox New Products for IT Pros
Greg Steen is a technology professional, entrepreneur, and enthusiast. He is always on the hunt for new tools and methods to help make operations and development easier for IT professionals.
© 2008 Microsoft Corporation and CMP Media, LLC. All rights reserved; reproduction in part or in whole without permission is prohibited.
Analyze HTTP Traffic
HttpWatch Professional Edition
HTTP, the basis for browser to Web site communication, is an incredibly useful layer-7 protocol. Furthermore, with the advent of Web services, many Windows® Forms applications use HTTP for downloading program updates and phoning home for validation. Finding problems, performance tuning, or verifying the security of application-to-application communications over HTTP can be difficult, but HttpWatch Professional Edition can help you troubleshoot Web-to-browser issues.
HttpWatch displays the details behind Web requests(Click the image for a larger view)
HttpWatch Professional integrates with both Internet Explorer® 6.0 and Internet Explorer 7, and it can appear either at the bottom of the browser or as a standalone tool alongside the browser. As soon as you click its Record button, HttpWatch starts to capture and log traffic, displaying all the details underlying your Web requests. You can see the raw HTTP stream, any redirections that occur on your page request, the query string key-value pairs associated with the request, the HTTP method, HTTP compression information, and any chunked encoding information. In addition, HttpWatch shows you detailed information about any cookies associated with the request, giving you the path, domain, expiration date, and value of the cookie. And since the application
runs as a plug-in to Internet Explorer, you can also see all the details of decrypted HTTPS requests.
You can delve into the network-level performance data of your requests with HttpWatch, as it shows you response times to the millisecond, DNS lookups, TCP connects, IP address information, ports, and the bytes sent and received from your browser. Think you know everything that is going on with each request? I am always surprised to see how many parts are involved in each request to a single HTML page. Fortunately, HttpWatch includes an option to filter the display by content-type, response code, URL, headers, or a specific content string. This lets you isolate your area of inquiry and quickly hone in on the particular details you are interested in.
The product Web site promotes the tool as a way to troubleshoot issues with your customers. The application allows saving request information, so customers can send you details pertaining to problematic requests. This can be useful for troubleshooting. The proprietary HWL file can be e-mailed with just a couple of clicks. Once you receive this file from your customer, you can view it with the standalone log file viewer included in the installation package. You can also export the request data to CSV and XML so the data can be used in other applications.
Price: $249 for a single user license.
Microsoft Solutions Framework Essentials
To deliver successful technology solutions, companies need effective processes and clear communications. Michael S. V. Turner's book, Microsoft Solutions Framework Essentials (Microsoft Press, 2006), gives you the fundamentals of the Microsoft® Solutions Framework (MSF) version 4.0, and shows you how to use them to develop and implement tested process and communications practices.
Turner starts with excellent advice, telling you not to drop everything in your current process and organization structure at once as you apply MSF guidelines and practices. Instead, he suggests implementing a part of the MSF into your product or project development and then evaluating its success. When that evaluation is complete and successful, choose another aspect of the MSF that would suit your project and introduce it into your standard project cycle. In this way, you can both adapt the MSF to your environment as well as mitigate any unforeseen issues arising from the changes.
The book targets anyone—technical or not—involved in the delivery of technology solutions. The chapter entitled Building an MSF Team shows how both technical and non-technical people can and should work to deliver successful solutions. It cautions, however, that this can be one of the more difficult parts of the MSF to implement since it involves changes to day-to-day responsibilities.
Central to the change of structure is the idea of forming a team of advocates in which members work as peers representing distinctive perspectives, and providing additive benefits to the overall process. (Of course, this does not eliminate the need for an authoritative decision-maker.) As described, the MSF advocates are split into seven groups: Product Management, Program Management, Architecture, Development, Test, User Experience, and Release/Operations, each with its own make-up and responsibilities. For organizations with larger groups, the book provides some advice on how to scale-up the idea of advocacy groups to support larger teams and groups.
Risk is a constant in any project and you'll find a wealth of reorganization tips that can help you and your team handle risk effectively. Minimizing project risks is important, and the risk management process is broken into six steps that can make this successful: identification, analysis and prioritization, planning and scheduling, tracking and reporting, change control, and learning from past experience. Moreover, you must continue to evaluate risk throughout the project cycle. The points delineated in this section can really help you mitigate the possibility of failure.
Solution delivery fundamentals are covered in detail, including enactment tracks where you envision, plan, build, stabilize, and deploy your solution, as well as define what each advocacy group is responsible for in each stage. You are introduced to the MSF Governance Model, a more detailed view of each of the tracks of a solution delivery life-cycle: Envisioning, Planning, Building, Stabilizing, Deployment, and finally Governance (that is, guiding the solution delivery).
Though you may think your role in your organization doesn't require the tools and processes discussed in this book, reading it will nevertheless give you new insight into your current processes—whether you're in operations, development, or project management. Even if your job is not related to software development, the topics Turner covers will provide you with a starting point for improving efficiency and the communication channels within your organization.
Every serious IT pro needs a power-packed editor in his toolbox. One editor that I consider to be essential is IDM Computer Solutions' UltraEdit. It supports all the standard features and capabilities you'll get with any worthy text editor, including ASCII character insertion, macros, search and replace by regular expression, external application launching, UTF support, and fast handling of huge text files. However, UltraEdit has a few not-so-common capabilities that make it especially valuable.
For basic editing, you get a 100,000-word multi-language integrated spell checker, auto-completion, and code syntax highlighting for standard languages such as C#. You can set automatic word wrap at a specified column with a hard return—a great feature for formatting text-based e-mail that must have lines less than a certain length. In this scenario, you can then send the e-mail via UltraEdit with just a couple clicks of the mouse. The application is integrated with Windows Explorer, so opening a file for editing is as simple as a right-click followed by a left click.
Code syntax highlighting in UltraEdit
UltraEdit is not limited to text files. It capably handles binary files and gives you a standard hex editor view of the hex values, line references, and potential ASCII values. While in hex edit mode, you can cut, copy, and paste values as well as do standard search-and-replace. UltraEdit includes an integrated FTP client that supports connections over both FTP and SFTP. In addition, you can open standard Secure Shell (SSH) or TELNET connections.
For Web developers, the application contains an integrated HTML validation tool for checking Web pages. UltraEdit also has a column mode for working with text-based database files and delimited log files; this mode simplifies editing by allowing you to easily jump between, sum, and edit your data. UltraEdit can even group a set of files into a project or workspace, allowing you to open a bunch of related files with a single click. All in all, UltraEdit has a host of features that can make your IT life easier and more efficient.
Price: $49.95 direct for a single user license.
Manage your Mobile Configuration
It's a common problem. You move from environment to environment (from the datacenter cage, for example, to your QA environment) with your laptop in hand. And you find yourself constantly having to re-assign your laptop's static IP address and default printer. If this sounds familiar, you might want to check out Net-Switch. This handy utility allows you to set up and save multiple network configurations, each with its own default printer assignment so you don't have to remember or manually type in those numbers every time you move from one environment to another.
Net-Switch handles laptop settings(Click the image for a larger view)
The application is incredibly easy to use. Just name the configuration, pick a network adapter, assign a static IP with its associated mask, gateway, and DNS servers (or select DHCP), set a default printer, and you're good to go. It's an inexpensive way to rid yourself of a daily hassle.
Price: $19.95 direct.
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