Category Archives: Software

Microsoft Office Binary File Formats

Joel Spolsky has a great article today regarding the Microsoft release of the Office binary file format specifications.

Why are the Microsoft Office file formats so complicated?

If you started reading these documents with the hope of spending a weekend writing some spiffy code that imports Word documents into your blog system, or creates Excel-formatted spreadsheets with your personal finance data, the complexity and length of the spec probably cured you of that desire pretty darn quickly.

It’s a good summary and Joel raises some good points about how the file format likely got so complicated over time. He’s also got some good workarounds that, depending on what you’re trying to do, could avoid having to read or write these formats directly.

Movable Type Design Assistant

SixApart just released a really interesting tool to help owners of Movable Type websites customize their style. To learn more, read the announcement on the blog – “Introducing the Movable Type Design Assistant” – or head directly to the design assistant and start playing with it.

The assistant is a step-by-step wizard that starts with one of a few popular default templates, lets you choose from six standard column layouts, and tweak your CSS. At the end it shows clear directions for implementing your new design on your site.

I liked the column layout in particular; it really makes it easy to play around and visually find out what will work best for you. The CSS tweaking is pretty cool as well, letting you click on an element in the sample blog to bring up a selector for easy customization. It’s similar to the live CSS editing a tool like Firebug provides, but in a lighter manner.

The design assistant is open source (GPL), and they plan to continue improvements, so potentially this could become a powerful tool for adjusting Movable Type website styles.

 Movable Type Design Assistant Screenshot

Movable Type Security Update

Just upgraded this site to Movable Type 3.36 following the recent security advisory.  Upgrade process was smooth and all seems well at this point.

I’m still working on upgrading everything to the latest version 4 — just need to dedicate some time to sit down and finish it.

Once I get upgraded to version 4, I can start allowing OpenID login for comments. (Including Yahoo!, which just announced this yesterday.)

Installing Treo Palm OS Simulator for Web Testing

This is the second installment of my quest to install simulators on my Windows XP system for all the major smartphone platforms. Yesterday we covered the BlackBerry simulator; today we’ll tackle the Palm OS version of the Treo.

The first step will be to the Palm developer center. If you don’t already have a free developer account, register for one now. (It’s necessary to download any of the simulators.)

Since we’re covering devices based on Palm OS, I’ll pick the latest which is the Centro smartphone. Palm offers a simulator for each device, so follow these steps to get the one for the Centro:

  1. Start at the Centro Developer Center
  2. Under Quick Links, click on Simulators
  3. In the KB article shown, click on and download it (18MB)
  4. Extract the .zip file into some convenient location
  5. In the extracted files, navigate to PalmSDK\Simulators\Centro_Sprint_Simulator_Release_Build_X
  6. Double-click on PalmSim.exe to start the Simulator
  7. Choose the .rom file pointed to by default (e.g., Simulator.SprintCdmaRelEnUS.rom)
  8. If a Windows Firewall warning message appears, choose the Unblock option

You now have a working Palm OS simulator!

Some tips and tricks:

  • Read up on the documentation (\Doc folder) to learn about keyboard commands and so on
  • Run the Prefs app on the device, choose Power, and set the Auto-off to 3 minutes
  • To access the internet from the simulator, right-click anywhere, choose menu Setting | Communication, and select Redirect NetLib calls.


Palm OS Treo Simulator Screenshot

Installing BlackBerry Simulator for Mobile Web Testing

In order to accurately test mobile websites on a variety of devices, you either need to buy a bunch of phones (if you’re a big developer and can afford it), or go the cheap route and rely on device simulators from the manufacturers. In order to better understand how looks and behaves, I’m going to install all the major simulators I can find and document the steps along the way.

To get rolling with the testing of BlackBerry devices, we’ll start at the BlackBerry Developer Program and find the page for BlackBerry Developer Tools.

There are two different software packages we’ll need. First is the Device Simulator:

Use BlackBerry Device Simulators to demonstrate and test how the BlackBerry® Device Software, screen, keyboard and trackwheel/trackball will work with your application. These simulators will also simulate behavior in various wireless network conditions.

Second is the MDS Services:

The BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulator Package can emulate certain aspects of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. When used in conjunction with a BlackBerry Device Simulator, users can simulate browsing web content, sending and receiving email or application data traffic.

The MDS Services software is needed to simulate a network connection, which we’ll need for testing mobile browsing. Without it, your simulated BlackBerry has no network access.

Next we’ll proceed to downloading the latest Device Simulator. Each phone/carrier combination you want to test is a separate download. In my case I’m testing with the 8830 on Sprint and the 8300 without a carrier. Download these .exe files and run them, installing into the default folders.

Next we’ll need to download the Email and MDS Services Simulator package. This download required me to create a free registration with the BlackBerry developer program. (While installing this package, it warned me that I needed a newer Java development kit installed, but I deselected that prerequisite and continued on without it. If you do run into problems, you might in fact need a recent JDK.)

After the packages are installed, we can fire up the simulator:

  1. Bring up an Explorer window and navigate to the “Research in Motion” folder under Program Files
  2. Go into the “Email and MDS Services” folder, then the “MDS” folder, then double-click on run.bat
  3. Go back up and into the “Device Simulators” folder, then a device folder (like “8830-Sprint”), then double-click on the device batch file (like “8830-Sprint.bat”)

Wait a minute for the simulator to start running, then start using your new phone!

Some tips and tricks:

  • Bring up the simulator help content (F1) to get familiar with the UI and keyboard controls
  • Keep the LCD on (menu View | Keep LCD On)
  • Save or copy the screen as an image (Edit menu)
  • Zoom in (View | Zoom) or go full-screen (F11) for presentations

That last tip made me realize this simulator would be great for any sort of demo, hack, or presentation. Instead of fumbling with an ELMO, you can run your demo from this simulator on your laptop.