The Null Terminator

Ethan Ram’s geeky blog on the seam of technology and product management.

Monthly Archives: October 2011

Soluto Frustrations

On why I was deeply unimpressed with Soluto’s product

The last week hasn’t been an easy one… I’ve got a brand new Lenovo X220 – and it’s giving me a hard time. For over 10 years now that I’ve always had a ThinkPad laptop (except for a couple of years with a MacBook – but this story is for another post) and I was always very happy with it. But this time…

Boot is stuck for over a minute between login and getting to see the desktop!

My laptop gets stuck forever 2-3 seconds after I go wireless on my workplace Wi-Fi network!!

Changing writing language too often doesn’t work – I’m getting stuck in Hebrew forever!!!

Fingerprint software is dead…

A PCI port is missing a driver and Windows keeps complaining about it…!

The Lenovo System Updater gets stuck forever when I run it to check maybe I’m missing some updates… errr.

In general – I get to the point that I have to reboot the computer 2-3 times a day… err err errrrr!

…And I’m a software guy, expert with Windows Internals – right? So I must be able to find the cause of these. But hell – it’s a new computer running latest software – I don’t feel like spending day resolving these. Or – maybe return the thing to the IT department and let them break their heads on this (still I will have to take a day off or work on a temp PC that does not have my configuration… bad idea!)

WOW – after a couple of days I hit some major frustration loosing over ½ an hour of work. ((Remember this was actually common in the ’90… but things surly have changed since… or maybe this is only me??))

Then I remembered this slogan from a young and apparently very successful startup from Tel Aviv called Soluto – “Soluto is bringing an end to PC user frustration …killer technology”. They have millions of installations and got so many positive reviews and prizes. It seems that Yishay Green, Roy Karthy and the other guys there are really managing to create a buzz and get some heavy funding. Actually, I remember I even tried one of their early betas after hearing one of their founders talk about his former startup successes… I have to give it a try. Maybe 15 minutes with this and I can save the hours of digging into finding what’s wrong with my PC.

I’m not going to write a full review about my experience. Just a few bits. They have a smooth installer and the UI looks great although it is a bit slow to come up with answers. (I even took some time to help them defining what some of the more obscure apps I’m running on my laptop are – after all it’s much of a community project.)

But then I hit this…

So they found that Google Chrome is running in the boot taking 29 seconds of my boot time. But they cannot do anything about it. WTF?? This is simply wrong. I actually ran a boot profiler myself (SysInternals ProcMon) and Chrome does not run on boot at all… And why do they say they cannot do anything about it? Can’t they help me uninstall it?…

They are offering me to remove some 10 pieces of software from the boot process, most of them with no clear explanation on what they do, and each taking a full 0.1 seconds of my life… Who cares?! But check out this suggestion – “pause it unless you connect to a network on the internet using an Intel wireless network adapter” – Even a pro like me got confused for a minute. This is cryptic Chinese for 99% of the world population. I’m sure that those poor 10% of people who choose to follow their advice and disabled their PC wireless have really got no frustrations now…

So it’s offering me to remove 8 of the 18 plugins I have in my Chrome browser. They say I have 2 Chrome toolbars and six more plugins that I can safely be removed… WHAT??? Toolbars in Chrome?! In Chrome there are no toolbars, like they have in (poor) Internet Explorer; and those 6 plugins I use are very useful and consume somewhere between ZERO to NOTHING processing time. Why do they suggest I remove them? Why do they tell me 26% of users actually disabled their Multimedia Plugin (and forgot about having media playback capabilities in the process)!?

I have a few more examples but I think the point I’m making here was well understood. So I’ll shortly conclude with this strange behavior: it takes Soluto 6 seconds to open its own About dialog… At least in the first time after every boot.

As you can understand it did not find my issues, or help me fix them, so we parted like friends (somewhat of a frustrated PC user friend, though).

OK – OK. I know I’m probably not the average guy and probably I’m not their target customer and/or my new PC is not their target PC because it’s new. I can even think of some cases when I was called-in to help fix a dysfunctional computer where this utility application could actually do some good. Still I felt I’ve wasted time playing with it.

So here is advice for what could be some excellent features for the next Soluto version that may actually make a difference. And if they don’t add them to Soluto, still, my dear readers, you can follow and fix your frustrating computer yourself.

  1. Enable Windows update to automatically update your PC. 99.9% of ppl should absolutely automatically update their system. Always.
  2. Install a basic anti-virus, anti-malware and update their signatures. Also enable windows firewall. In 90% of the PCs I was called to help with these where not right. Microsoft Anti-Virus/Malware and Firewall are excellent free alternatives here that require close to zero user interaction/intervention and get their updates from Microsoft as part of the Windows Update service. So simple.
  3. Uninstall most stuff that comes bundled with the original PC and with hardware drivers: The HP suite to tools and games that came bundled with the printer drivers,  the Cannon suite that came bundled with your latest digital camera etc.
  4. Uninstall those Shell/Explorer extensions, Internet Explorer extensions and the rest of the known-evil-doers. If you don’t know which of those is an evil just delete them all – you want miss them.
  5. Prevent about 15 Windows services from loading in the boot. Some can be delay-loaded and some can be changed to load ‘manual’. Here’s the list I use.
  6. Uninstall redundant drivers that haven’t been used for a while. Same for applications that haven’t been used. Things like that old Printer you once had in the office, that Nokia Suite that used to sync your late mobile etc.
  7. Run a registry consistency and temporary files cleanup tool like the CCleaner that I regularly use. (CCleaner actually fixed some of the issues I’ve had – see above)
  8. Analyze the system event log and saved mini-dumps to find problematic hardware and drivers causing issues with the PC. Just recently I’ve had to replace a display adapter that was blue-screening my home PC every other day.
  9. Assist in updating the display adapter drivers to the latest – – a very common problem.
  10. Rebuild the TCP/IP stack and remove any Winsock/network providers.

Enough said. I still have a couple of issues on my new laptop to resolve today, although most issues I’ve already found and fixed 🙂

One twists I really liked in Soluto: They have this little tray-icon menu where one can click “My PC Just Frustrated Me”. I’ve clicked it a couple of times not knowing what will happen. It seems to be doing nothing – no dialog opened, no thank-you message. Nothing. Maybe they are just collecting data for their next version or something. Maybe a bug? Strangely, after clicking it I felt somewhat relieved. Like a small steam release.

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On how to go Agile without missing your yearly quota/deadlines

Going Agile in a B2B Company – Part 2

This is the second post about going Agile on a B2B company. Read the 1st part – that’s where you’ll find the why. This post is about the how.

Well… So much has been written on how to go Agile and what an Agility project looks like. I’m not going to repeat. I’ll be giving some general key guidelines – so that when you go on reading about Agile methodologies you can look at it with the right perspective; When you go to your managers to ask for an Agility project funding and time you’ll come with a good plan; When you speak with an Agile Coach you can see how well he can fit into your Agility project, rather than him dictating you what it should look like.

First thing to know is that Going Agile is not a one-time project thing. It’s a management philosophy. But – if you haven’t been practicing Agility in your company you should start with an Agile project with set goals – ppl like to have clear goals. Still, you should always remember that being Agile should be a general long-term goal. A goal to move fast, to be more productive, to beat competition.

A working company cannot and should not stop everything (development, sales) to have an Agile project in place. No manager would approve that, even in a startup. Most development group is investing about 25% of its time in building infrastructure and refactoring existing code. The initial Agility project would certainly require more resources, but it should not stop every other functional development.

Agile projects are all different because organizations are different and their Agility focus is different. Setting “standard” ultimate goals to achieve in a 6 months project is not realistic. Your managers will not understand where you are heading and what the urgency is (and you’ll miss your quota/deadlines). It’s better to educate your staff with the Agility concepts you want to embed in your process and set short-term goals that people understand. Then continue evolving in the Agile directions.

An Agility project should ultimately reduce development time, shorten release cycles, improve product quality and make your development team happier in general. But these are hard to quantify and it’s hard to “sell” an Agility project to higher management if you talk about these goals. So here is an idea – Start by setting project goals where your product lacks the most in a ways that hurts the SALES cycle and OPs. If you manage to improve here the benefit is measurable, immediate and noticeable. You’ll also make some other department managers happy about your Agility project and it’ll be easy to set new Agility goals.

So if it’s taking 5 days of work to configure each new customer environment – focus to resolve that with the Agility thinking and tools in mind – maybe by automating the installation and configuration process. If your QA cycle takes 2 weeks from code freeze to release – that’s an excellent place to start your test automation. If you’re having troubles upgrading customer’s database every time a new version is released – set fixing this issue as one of your first goals as part of your Agility project – for instance, by moving your database schema to the main code branch, building it as part of every build.

Introduce your managers (group leaders, team leaders) to the Agility philosophy and tools first. Set clear Agility goals for 2 months ahead and get your managers involved early in the process of how to get to those goals in time. Prepare to have some resistance – ppl don’t like changes and in many cases they will see it as an extra workload, even if they agree with your long-term goals. When you have a plan gather everyone and explain them Agility-Why and show them the plan.

Automation… Automation… Automation!

Many of the Agility tools and methodologies involve automating manual work – build servers, automatic unit testing, integration testing and QA automation – all require scripting and batch files. You’ll quickly find that your developers prefer coding in JAVA/C# than in Ant/cshell and that there are only few QA engineers that can script. This means ppl will need to adjust, evolve and learn new stuff as part of an Agility project. I found that I had to replace some of my QA staff with others that had automation and scripting in their background. I had to give some time for my developers to learn Ant scripting so that they can contribute to the Agility project in the short-term and continue developing in an Agile way later-on.

Task force

You’ll surely be creating some new development infrastructure to enable the Agile process to happen. A Continuous Integration Server, updated workspaces/projects for your developers that include built-in emulators for unit-testing, a new product packaging/installer etc. It’s wise to have a task-force in place that would build this infrastructure that would then be used by everyone else. Create a task-force built from engineers from all teams. This will help make sure that planning takes into consideration all relevant aspects and that when the initial infrastructure is ready there are already engineers in all teams that know how to use it and can teach the rest.

The new infrastructure soon affects every engineer’s daily work so it better be stable and solid enough so that it doesn’t break everyone’s work halting development completely. The task force should build the infrastructure and emulators, then the first few unit-tests and scripts on-top of it, to see that it’s actually functioning and can also be used by everyone else as an example. You can also start using the new infrastructure and test automation in parallel with the older process and throw warnings on unit-tests that fail rather than block the process.

In GameGround after the initial infra was developed we took 80% of engineers (everyone but a few left to fix blocker bugs) for a week of writing unit tests. So that everyone had both a chance to experience writing unit tests to their code, use the new infrastructure and understanding how development is going to be changed. This also meant that by the end of that week we also had a significant amount of our code tested regularly by our continuous integration server – 10%-20% of functionality. A good start.

Well, I must say, in reality, it was (is) much harder to achieve… I’ll try to write about the hurdles I’ve had in one of my future posts.

p.s. the post really had little with “yearly quota” – but it comes to show that an Agile project can be done without derailing the yearly planning of the company…

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