Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout Interview

I've listened to hundreds of podcasts, especially the TWiT network, but this week I was interviewed by Stephanie Diamond for the PerfectDisk blog.
Nothing was edited out; I was not told what I could say or not say; and I was encouraged to talk freely about defragmentation, my blogging experiences, and so on. She sent me some generic questions ahead of time so I could think through what i wanted to say and make my own notes. We first did a Skype interview but it didn't record well, so Stephanie called me on the telephone.
The interview runs for about 12 minutes, and the phone line is soft in a few places, so I made a recording using TotalRecorder and then edited it in GoldWave to adjust the volume levels. You can find the original recording at the PerfectDisk Blog, or download my 2986KB volume-adjusted version here.

Part 1 (recorded 30 Oct) | Part 2 (recorded 20 Nov)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout XXX: Puran Defrag 3.0

The first version of Puran Defrag was freeware since it was still under development, and version 3.0 now costs $24.95, $5 cheaper than Diskeeper 2008 Home. Is it worth it? I say yes, and it's better than DK 2008.
I have been in contact with the developers at Puran Software, and they asked me to test a beta version of 3.0 to ensure that it could correctly defrag large compressed and fragmented files. The test file was 5GB in size and had over 100 000 fragments. The defrag worked flawlessly.
In order to test the release version, I set it to work on my current messy drive, and it did wonders, moving the directories to the start of the drive, then leaving some free space for temporary files, and then placing the other files after that.
Puran Defrag 3 does not have a facility to view the file layout on your drive, much like Windows Vista. The interface is clear but minimal, and the help file is useful and clear. The image above is made using the $99 version of DK2008, and the directories are clearly visible in blue. Compare that to the "before" image published here, which was the best that DK2008 could give me.
Notice how the light blue directories are scattered all over the drive. Notice too how the large fragmented file has now been defragmented.
Puran Defrag 3.0 does not have a boot-time defrag option, but it gets pretty close with an option to reboot, run chkdsk and then defrag, and then either reboot again or shut down. Its automatic background defrag is not intrusive, and seems to work fine. For a Windows Vista machine this program is a vast improvement over the built-in defragger, and if you want an effective "set it up and leave it alone" option, Puran Defrag is a hot contender.
I gave the first version a thumbs down because it didn't defrag properly. This version has come a long way: it works well, the support is good, and it doesn't get in the way. A definite thumbs up.
Update 10 December 2007: Version 4.0 is now available, and includes a new boot time defrag that works really well, as well as some smaller changes. I'll publish benchmarks once they are ready. This product is well thought out and well engineered.


The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI | XXVII | XXVIII | XXIX | XXX | winner | all | why

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Diskeeper 2008 Professional: Preliminary Results

These two images represent several days of Diskeeper 2008 Professional keeping my hard drive in order. I will be testing Diskeeper 2008 Pro Premier this week, to see whether the extra $50 for their I-FAAST technology is worth it. This is going to be quite challenging, because DK 2008 has no way of showing me the location of each file, so I'm going to be using some third party apps to find the location of the files.
The marketing hype in the "What's new in DK 2008" section of the help file states:
Complete file and free space defragmentation in the most extreme of conditions
Diskeeper 2008 introduces the most powerful defragmentation engine ever developed. Even if your systems only have a percent or two of free space left available or a file in millions of fragments, Diskeeper can restore lost performance and save the applications reliant on those files from major reliability concerns.
You have to read this several times to find what they are actually saying. I think the crux is the word "can" in "Diskeeper can restore lost performance". It doesn't actually say that it will defragment a full drive, not does it guarantee to defragment the free space, although it gets quite close.
This is just as well, because I could find no way of telling DK to consolidate all the free space and defragment my files. In the case of the C: drive (top image) I have clicked the "defragment" button a number of times but this is the best it can do. Oh, and the very large red file in the picture is a database file used by Microsoft SQL Server, a critical business application.
In the case of my D: drive shown here, notice how the free space is distributed in chunks all over the disk. I also encountered a bug when trying to exclude several .iso files from being fragmented. One of the files didn't appear in the directory listing. Weird.
The problem I have with all of this is that it appears that version 12.0.758 (DK 2008) is just a tweaked version of 11.0.709 (DK 2007). They claim to have improved the engine and the ability to defrag "nearly full" drives, but the results I am getting look remarkably similar to the results in the DK 2007 test, and my previous pictures using DK 8.
My conclusion: version 12 is simply version 11.2 with a different name, and a brand new price tag.
The most frustrating thing about Diskeeper is my inability to tell it to do what I want it to do. I can't tell it to move certain files to particular parts of the disk, not can I tell it to consolidate free space, or even to group regularly used files together. Granted, I can only do two of these 3 in PerfectDisk, but at least I have the feeling of greater control over what is going on.
I guess I'm not really Diskeeper's target market: I understand how the file system works and what can be done to optimise it. Diskeeper's target market seems to be the ignorant masses who neither know about nor care about defragmentation, and will believe all the marketing that is thrown in their direction. People like these who try to explain on the Chris Pirillo Show how DK works, but end up demonstrating their ignorance about what the MFT is. I know this sounds terribly superior, but I am a database programmer and I do understand defragmentation.
I will report back further once I have tested DK 2008 Pro Premier further.



Update: "3dprofessor.org" has published a full "review" of DK 2008, and Diskeeper UK informs me that they did not pay for the review. "He is just a big fan of our product".

A Closer Look at the DK2008 Review on 3DProfessor.org: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | How Fast is I-FAAST™? | Diskeeper 2008 Professional: Preliminary Results | First Impressions | Diskeeper 2007 Review | Benchmarks: DK2008 and DK2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Diskeeper 2008: First Impressions

I was a Diskeeper customer many years ago, but I stopped using their crappy defrag utility when I discovered to my horror that it was incapable of keeping my hard drive organised, much less the server that we spend $299 to get defragmented, but failed. Recently we replaced the server with a new one, and spent $99 to install PerfectDisk 8 Server. It works well.
I have undertaken to review DK 2008, but my first impressions are not good. Firstly, only DK 2007 and 10 customers are entitled to an upgrade. Suckers like me who paid full price for DK 9 or older, will have to pay full price again to get the product they thought they were buying back then.
Secondly, the web site is a marketing nightmare. I'm allergic to hype, and I was unpleasantly surprised when clicking on the "What's New" link to find not a single word on what's actually new in the new 2008 version of their product.
Thirdly, even if you're a corporate user, for goodness sake tell them you're a home user or you'll be given around 50 questions to answer before you can download the trial version. Even home users have to give their email address (twice), country and zip code before being able to download the trial version of Diskeeper2008-Professional.exe or Diskeeper2008-ProPremier.exe. As a service to my readers I have included the direct URLs here. BTW, the downloads page states "A confirmation email will be sent to the email address provided". They lied. I filled in "info@diskeeper.com" and it still allowed me to download the files and install them. DK is notorious for badgering its customers with promotional emails.
Finally, DK removes all access to the built-in Windows Disk Defragmenter when it installs, without even asking if this is OK. I am busy testing the Professional version 12.0.758.0, and will test the $99 ProPremier version after that.
Update: I posted a comment on the Diskeeper blog referring to this article, which they didn't publish, but sent me a coupon for a not for resale copy of ProPremier 2008 instead. At least I won't be badgered by the "Buy Now" popup in the evaluation version.

A Closer Look at the DK2008 Review on 3DProfessor.org: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | How Fast is I-FAAST™? | Diskeeper 2008 Professional: Preliminary Results | First Impressions | The Great Defrag Shootout | Winners | Diskeeper 2007 | Benchmarks: DK2008 and DK2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

PlaySound Makes Progress

PlaySound is a freeware utility I wrote to replace the old DOS Beep.exe command. Now I've added another feature: a progress bar.
If you specify a delay time as the second parameter, PlaySound waits the required number of seconds before playing the sound file. Now, if the delay time is specified as a negative value, then it uses a "countdown" progress bar before playing the sound.
I added this because I have a 120 second delay when my laptop starts up before I start using any apps. This is to give the operating system enough time to settle down and load all the services and stuff that Windows XP needs to do on startup. Now I can see how much time I still need to wait.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Thrilling Manuscript

The Chopin ManuscriptI get most of my audio books from Audible.com, and they recently tried something different: a book by instalments. It's not new, of course: Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle's books were often published chapter by chapter before appearing in book form a century ago.
But I think The Chopin Manuscript is the first audio book to be published in this way. I've just finished listening to Chapter 9, and you can get the first chapter free from www.audible.com/freechapter. A word of warning, though: you're likely to want to listen to the other chapters as well. Audible's DRM file format works on all iPods, in Windows, and on hundreds of other devices, but not all.
The Chopin Manuscript is interesting in another respect: each chapter is written by a different author, so the story jumps around a bit. I think there are 16 chapters, so we're half way. I'm not a thriller specialist, but I'm enjoying the pace of the story, as well as the twists and turns the story is taking. The narrator is pretty good too. I can't wait for the next 2 chapters next Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Despite Expert Recommendations Few Businesses Regularly Defrag

I came across this interesting survey story. Parts of the story bear repeating.
According to a survey conducted by online polling and market research survey provider Vizu Corporation, over 42% of PC users fail to defragment their computers, even though IT experts agree that defragging is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to enhance computer speed and functionality. Even though businesses stand to save both time money by using defragmentation as part of their
regular computer maintenance protocol, a surprising number of businesses are not even aware of the damage file fragmentation does to the efficiency of their operations.
Despite the importance of defragging computer files, an astonishing 28% of survey respondents admitted that they didn't even know what disk fragmentation is!
...
Businesses that ignore fragmentation can suffer from both reduced productivity and increased costs. A simple, cost-effective solution to the problem of file fragmentation is to regularly run an effective disk defragmenter utility, designed to reorganize non-contiguous files into contiguous files and optimize their placement on the hard drive for increased reliability and performance.

The obvious question is: why is file fragmentation ignored, and why do some "experts" insist that you don't even need to defrag files on NTFS drives at all? Personally, I blame Microsoft. Clearly their defrag utility sucks, and they know it.
  • The Windows 98 version often doesn't work, because other programs are accessing the hard drive, and they make no provision for fixing this problem, unless safe mode can be regarded as a fix.
  • Windows NT didn't ship with a defrag utility at all.
  • The Windows 2000 and Windows XP defrag utility is installed by default, but not scheduled by default. Installation of certain versions of Office would trigger a once-off "optimise" defrag, but that's about it.
So they can hardly be congratulated for making the defrag process easier, even though it is their operating system design that creates the fragmented files in the first place.
That leads me to the main reason why I blame Microsoft: their corporate culture will never admit there is a problem. They've been like that for years. The only time I have ever heard a Microsoft employee admit that something didn't work is when they introduce a "new version" of the product that "fixes" the old version's shortcomings. "Windows File Manager" from Windows 3.1 became "Windows File Damager" in the Windows 95 product demos.
This culture has hurt Microsoft sales. Very few computer people I know are willing to recommend a new Microsoft product when it first ships. "Wait for Service Pack 1" is a common mantra. Even now there are suggestions and promises that Service Pack 1 of Windows Vista has an "improved" defrag utility. Why they made the first version worse than the XP defrag utility beats me. Even so, don't hold your breath for the "improved" version. Windows has had a substandard defrag utility for a dozen years already, so there is a long tradition for Microsoft to live up to.
It's easy for the apologists to say that Microsoft has spawned an entire industry of defrag utilities, much in the same way as the anti-virus and security industry, because of the weaknesses of the operating system. I often wonder whether there is some secret contractual deal between Microsoft and Diskeeper Corporation to keep the WDD crippled so that Diskeeper can sell its equally bad product for $50-$99 per workstation. But then that would violate Napoleon's advice: never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence. On the question of file fragmentation, Microsoft has a history of incompetence.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Online Malware Scan: save yourself a lot of trouble

This man is one of the heroes of the internet, IMHO. Jordi Bosveld runs a free web service that uses a gazillion different virus and malware scanners to check files you may consider suspicious. It also passes on any suspect files to the Anti-Virus industry. Make a note of this page in your browser shortcuts now: http://virusscan.jotti.org/
Yesterday I had a narrow escape from a program that claimed to be a software crack (I dislike these things at the best of times but I had little choice in the matter) but ended up being a trojan horse. I guess the icon (shown above left) should have told the whole story, but then we learn from our mistakes. When I ran the scan my favourite antivirus program, NOD32, it didn't detect anything wrong, so I assumed the results were a false positive.
I was wrong, and it took me several attempts to track down and remove this pesky program. Last time I wasn't so lucky. I guess two wrong decisions makes me a fool. So be it. The scan results today show that several more AV programs have added the signature of this malware to their definitions, but even more have not.
As the disclaimer says, even if all of the scanners report nothing found, it doesn't mean that it isn't malware, it's just that it could be unknown malware, in which case you'll be doing everyone a favour by scanning it.
Update: NOD32 detected it this morning, after doing an update. I guess a few hours response time is pretty good.
Update: I found a number of similar sites. See More Malware File Scanners article.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Cell-C Marketing Fiasco

Spam alert: I got my second unsolicited marketing call from someone claiming to work for Cell-C today. The caller line ID shows a Durban number, 031-333-6700. I explained that I have already put my number on their "Do Not Call" list and the agent asked me to hold and then hung up.
When I called the number back I was told that the number belongs to Elite Mobile, a large Vodacom supplier, and they assured me they have nothing to do with Cell-C. They did, however, explain that there is a Cell-C office in the same building, but couldn't explain how or why the call would show with their number.
The lady at Elite Mobile who took my call seemed to know a lot about Cell-C using a database of randomly generated numbers, however. Presumably she had had to deal with complaints before.
I contacted the Cell-C Media Relations manager, Vinnie Santu on 011-324-4919 and explained that the call violates the ECT Act because I have already informed the previous Cell-C agent to put my number on their "Do Not Call" list. My guess is that the agent had no idea what I was talking about and so exposed Cell-C to the legal risk they now face.
Either Cell-C is putting a false number on their caller ID, or Elite Mobile is partnering with them, or it is going to get a nasty shock when their phone bill arrives. Either way, it doesn't reflect well on a company that my brother used to rave about and is now completely fed up with.
It took a bit of research and dead ends to get through to the person in Cell-C Head Office who handles direct marketing. I kept getting referred to the Cell-C Service Provider, which is not what I wanted. Later "Marlow" from the Cell-C head office phoned to say that Cell-C doesn't do any direct marketing and she would contact "Sue Kennedy" to sort this out. It seems that very few people in this voice-mail organisation have any idea about the ECT Act or what a "Do Not Call" list is. Surely they have contractual arrangements with the people who sell their products? It appears not. I guess an organisation this big simply has no idea what it is doing, other than losing customers.
Update: I got a lame apology to my HelloPeter complaint, but no particulars on who is legally responsible. Why am I not surprised?


Warning: The NSA and 4 million other sick weirdos with "security clearance" have intercepted this page and know that you are reading it.