Three smart UI prototyping techniques

When designing a solution usually we need to show some slick and simple pictures showing user interface we plan to implement. This seems to be the only language both developers and customers seem to understand. Or maybe let me rephrase it to be more specific – screenshot has the highest likelihood that its interpretation by all parties will be similar. Preparing such images takes a long time – the most popular approaches I’ve seen so far are:

  • use your favorite graphic editor – e.q. Gimp, Paint.net, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. The result usually looks good, but is a nightmare to maintain, especially when you need big chunk of text or new large field.
  • mock the UI in Word – get a ugly wire-frame of the window only to forget to group the boxes and see them flying around the document after any change
  • … or Excel – Excel is good for everything, isn’t it?
  • create a form in html – happy styling, call me next week when you’re done!

The process was usually time consuming, but not any more! This week I’ve seen three smart prototyping approaches:

  • Balsamiq UI modeler – application to create any UI layout using drag&drop. The web-based demo (functional!) version is available
  • Microsoft Visual Studio Express – free, fully drag&drop RAD environment. It seems like an overkill to use it only for this reason, but consider the price tag!
  • Microsoft Visio – especially 2010 edition – nice, easy and integrated with Microsoft Office Suite

All above applications let you create both static window images and interactive UI prototypes. Next time you talk with your customer show him a “working” demo next day after you got first requirements – he will love you! And hopefully he will understand what you are actually trying to achieve.

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Windows 2003 server password recovery on VMware ESX

Having too much systems to work on has one small disadvantage – there’s a hell of a lot of Administrator and root passwords to remember. And yesterday happend what was meant to happen for some time  – I forgot an Administator password for one of my Windows 2003 Servers. For obvious security reasons (I had no pencil on my desk) I haven’t noted password to this machine anywhere.

The server is running on my company VMware ESX server and I decided to hack into it. VMware Infrastructure Client has great ability – it let’s you share your local CD (or .iso image) to the server. I don’t need to say more, do I? ;) Yes, it is so simple.

So, here’s a step by step tutorial how to reset Administrator’s password on Windows 2003 server running on ESX. Prerequisites:

– VMware Infrastucture Client

– Permission from system’s administrator (don’t be naughty!)

– Live CD with your prefered password tools (I took http://pogostick.net/~pnh/ntpasswd/ 3MB only!)

Disclaimer: The procedure below can destroy data on your server, use on your own risk! I don’t take any responsibility of the damages you may cause trying to runt the procedure (or any of its parts).

1. Stop the server. I had to shut down VM image, not good for file system, but I had no choice.

2. Edit preferences of your image to enable remote CD drive:

3. Change boot options to set boot delay

My image has been set to boot from Hard Drive first. I had to go into bios settings to set boot order. I’ve also set 10s delay on booting to give myself time to connect CD image – on power on it’s unconnected.

4. Power on machine and set up boot order

5. Connect iso image. Quickly, before system start booting :)

6. See system booting from CD, use your the tool to reset Administrator password.

7. Enjoy!

Hint:

It was impossible on my machine to set new Administrator password using ntpasswd. I had to use option to blank the password.

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3G is rubbish

Some time ago I’ve started dreaming about three year long travel around Europe. My current position let’s me work from home, Caravans are cheaper than houses, so I thought I could travel on weekends and work during weekneds from any place without even letting my customer know where I roamed. I imagined how great will be to spend winter in Italy or Portugal and summer in Norway!

When holiday time finally came, I took laptop and a 3G Huawei USB dongle from O2 which I keep in case of my home broadband failure. I’ve connected it during our first stopover in small hotel near  Newcastle, bought access and went on line. It was somewhat slow for first minute or so and then the connection felt down to GPRS. It was going up to 3G, then back to GPRS. Memories of 14.4 came back, it took me an hour to find a B&B for next stay.

Next night we stayed in beautiful capital of Highlands – Inverness. I decided to share my joy on facebook, I’ve opened my laptop. Green led on modem was showing there were no 3G signal, but EDGE was available with signal strength 4 on 5 . But connecting was basically all it could do – with losses at 80% I had to gave up.

Our last destination was a nice B&B near Portree on Isle of Skye. There was no point checking if the connection will work – mobiles shown no coverage at all.

It seems my dream has to wait unless I’m ready to live in a caravan somewhere near London. Or London. Or maybe London…

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