Archive for October, 2011

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The right tool for the job… or not!

October 5, 2011

In the realms of ‘Why on earth would anyone even think of doing that?” followed by ‘Someone must have done it to warrant the warning’, comes this that I saw on a website when I was searching for quicker way to defrost a freezer:

A gun? Really???

A gun? Really???

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When you have to refresh a popular website

October 4, 2011

If you have a really big and very popular website, doing a refresh of the design can be fraught with problems.

  • When do you do it to have the least impact on users?
  • Do you do it in stages? Can you?
  • Do you let your users know that changes are coming?
  • What about when you have to take down the old site and upload the new one and switch over to it? How do you let your users know that changes are afoot?
  • And how do you let them know what’s changed? If the refresh is a major design change, then it will be obvious as the site will look quite different, but there may be additional features you’d like to let users know about.

Here’s how an Australian news site, news.com.au, dealt with the last two points.

This is what we saw on a mid-Saturday afternoon:

Mid-afternoon Saturday 3 September 2011

Mid-afternoon Saturday 3 September 2011

When the site was live again, there was this on the home page:

A simple animation explaining the major changes

A simple animation explaining the major changes

If you scrolled through the animation, you got a link at the end that took you to a more detailed explanation for the changes:

More detailed explanation for the changes

More detailed explanation for the changes

The tone is VERY informal, perhaps aiming to hit their target of younger Australians who aren’t big consumers of news through the more traditional channels of newspapers and TV.

What I was impressed with was how news.com.au had an obvious plan for dealing with all those users who tried to access the site when it was being refreshed, then a follow-up plan to deal with the ‘what the…?’ questions that would arise from those coming to the site after the refresh, whether they visited later the same day or in the days ahead.

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What’s with all those svchost.exe items in Task Manager?

October 3, 2011

One of the better explanations I’ve seen for the multiple instances of svchost.exe in Task Manager was written by Jon Thompson in Australian Personal Computer (June 2011 issue, p90-91). Jon wrote (my emphasis):

All modern operating systems have a hierarchy of processes. In Windows 7, there are usually three or four top-level processes. One such process is ‘wininit’, the direct descendant of which is called ‘services.exe’. As you might expect, it’s the job of this process to spawn child processes that run as independent services in the background. However, there’s often a degree of confusion that creeps in the user’s mind over this seemingly simple task.

The confusion is that ‘services.exe’ starts multiple instances of a process called ‘svchost.exe’. Search for the term and you’ll find many forum posts from worried users asking if their PC has been taken over by malware and asking how to kill all those multiple processes. However, it’s normal to have many instances running in parallel, and killing them can harm the running OS. If this happens, you’ll need to reboot and may lose data or even corrupt your hard disk.

The reason for so many instances of ‘svchost.exe’ is that it acts as a launcher for processes that run from DLLs rather than EXE files. These are apportioned between many instances of ‘svchost.exe’ for efficiency, speed and system resilience. ‘Services.exe’ also starts many other service processes that run directly from EXE files. These include the service portion of your anti-malware products and Windows 7, and services for power management and the Windows Live Sign-in Manager.

So, the bottom line is that svchost.exe is a normal part of Windows, and you should have several instances running simultaneously.

If you want something a little more detailed that Task Manager, Microsoft released its new product Process Explorer on 1 September 2011 (actually, Process Explorer was a product from Sysinternals — a company that Microsoft has purchased). You can get Process Explorer from: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb896653. It’s free and the download is less than 2 MB; it works on all versions of Windows from Windows XP on, and on Windows Server from Windows Server 2003 onwards. (No, I haven’t used it yet — it was recommended in that same APC article.)

[Link last checked September 2011]