I Do Not Recommend MyHosting.com

As many of you know, I switched from a shared host that was I very happy with (BlueHost.com if you care) to a VPS (Virtual Private Server) so that I could run Web Edition apps (without fear of getting booted off for an app that took down an entire server) and get more speed from my website.  After 3 or 4 people were streaming videos the whole site become practically unusable and that’s the big drawback of using a shared web host – your server might have a thousand websites all clamoring for server processor attention at any given time.  So I switched.

I did my research and looked around and got recommendations.  I was settled on one and called and they called back a day later.  That was no good.  I called choice #2 and after a single, disastrous phone call with their tech support I decided to go to choice #3 which was MyHosting.com for their VPS package.  I went with them because I called tech support and got a real human being who was very helpful (and answered the question correctly).  So I went with them.

Unfortunately, since then I’ve had horrible tech support.  It took two weeks of tech support to resolve an issue with ordering (yes, just ordering) an SSL certificate.  It’s taken three weeks of going back and forth for them to acknowledge that the mail server wasn’t working right (this is after a very long-time client had emails bounce).  The latest round has taken over week of getting Spam Assassin installed on the server (again some ordering/billing issue) and the damn thing doesn’t even work.  I had one issue early on where the technician actually gave me the wrong instructions and caused my entire domain to be unavailable over a weekend.  So collectively I’ve had a very bad experience.

I should have learned my lesson years ago.  I used MyHosting at one point for my shared hosting.  Again, friendly, very polite people, but their tech support just wasn’t very good and I was spending too much time worrying and fretting over my website.

So I’m on the hunt again for a good, friendly, and useful VPS.  I don’t have the time to muck around with my web server for days on end as I have with MyHosting – I have a business to attend to.  At this point, I’d ideally love for someone to just switch all three of my domains over to their system and just “get ‘er done” if you’ll pardon the colloquialism.

So I’m looking for recommendations.  Don’t recommend one unless you have are absolutely thrilled with them.  Price is always an issue but frankly I just want the damn thing to work and if I do have a problem I want to call and be able to talk to a human being that knows the subject material rather than reading from a script.  The reason I mentioned BlueHost above is that I loved their shared hosting AND their tech support was always helpful – always.  And I used them for five separate websites (and still use them).  Too bad they don’t do VPS.  🙁

 

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

At the Atlanta Real Studio Summit a few weeks ago several presenters were showing off beta code or showing code that they had modified earlier in the day.  Of course you know what happened – there were embarrassed developers saying, “I swear, it just worked a minute ago.”  It’s the Law of Demo’s and happens as soon as you use code not thoroughly tested before you show it off, or when you veer from your script.

When I told my son that they violated the Law of Demo’s he replied rather quickly, “Oh, you mean they tried to modify their program the day of the presentation?”  Smart kid, but then we had learned that lesson the hard way during our First Lego League robotics season.  Trust me, there’s nothing worse than your team (full of 9 and 10 years olds) feeling horrible because they didn’t keep a backup and the modified program just doesn’t work.  Lessons learned the hard way are always the best.

The same goes with consulting and contracts.  I’ve recently been in a spat with a client over unpaid invoices.  Because this person was a referral and well known to many in the Real Studio community I made a verbal agreement to do a lot of work for him.  It was a Web Edition project, which was new to me at the time, so I agreed to a lower rate since it was a good way to immerse myself in a new technology.  In general, I thought the project went rather smoothly while using alpha and beta editions of Web Edition.

Normally, all communications are via email and text iChat so I have a record of all conversations.  This client, however, likes to talk via video iChat.  The drawback is that iChat doesn’t automatically save these (there is an option but I didn’t find out about this until I started doing the research).  So now that the project is done, the client is 60+ days past due on his invoices and is *surprised* that he has a large unpaid balance.

How he can say this with multiple invoices being emailed automatically and the multiple emails and phone calls trying to engage him is beyond me.  He now claims there was a spending cap on the project and says he ‘told me this’ early on.  Right, I would have agreed to two days on-site coding (after a months worth of offsite work) for him since those two days alone are higher than his supposed cap.

The funny thing is that after the project was done he still tried to engage me to do more work.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depending upon your viewpoint) the hourly rate he wanted to pay was so low that I couldn’t have made payroll.

The lesson learned is never to do anything verbally when it comes to money.  At a minimum, after a video chat and/or phone call, send an email confirming the details.  The paper trail, while a pain to maintain, is the only way to cover your bases.

A contract is better, of course, because that’s a legally binding document.  The sad thing is that I presented on this very topic at multiple REAL World conferences so that means I obviously didn’t learn my own lesson.  But then I guess I was blinded by the connections this person has with Real Software (not that I hold them responsible) and the community.  The referral was from a trusted colleague too which made it ‘safe’.  When money is involved there is no trust.

As a word of warning, this person is trolling the forums looking for Web Edition coding help.  Make sure you get a signed contract from him before doing any work.  Get everything in writing, which, of course, is good advice for all business dealings.

Will I get what’s owed?  I sure hope so but somehow I doubt it.  Regardless, I’ve relearned a valuable (albeit costly) lesson.

Google Support Not So Supportive

There’s been a lot of posts recently about Google vs Apple and whether or not Android is beating iOS or not.  Is Google the new Microsoft and will it thrash Apple in a few years?  Frankly, I don’t care, as a developer or as an end consumer.  I’m firmly in the iOS camp at this point as a developer (we have two apps in the App Store and one in the Mac App Store with more coming) and as an end user with a house full of iPhones, iPods, and an iPad.  I think Google will fail with Android simply for their piss poor tech support.

If you have an Android phone and you have an issue with <insert problem here>, who are you going to turn to?  The hardware manufacturer, the carrier, or Google?  The end consumer doesn’t care they just want the problem solved and just like how Microsoft is responsible for their hardware partners problems, Google will probably be left holding the bag for their hardware partners too.  Let’s hope their Android support is better than their business services help.

I’ve been experiencing issues with my mail server on my virtual private server and thought that going to GMail might be a good solution for a variety of reasons.  Because of Google ID issues I messed the registration up (hey, I didn’t say I was very good at this stuff now did I?) and locked up the domain registration for GMail.  After searching fruitlessly (ironically using Google search), I came to the conclusion that Google doesn’t really want to help you.  It’s downright impossible to talk to a human being or even send off a plain email to a support department.

I was never able to find an official tech support phone number for Google.  Sure, there are forums and articles and other information but nothing to get hold of a real life person – even at a price (as far as I can find).  There are some ways of getting hold of them through forums and other means but it’s all indirect and after sending off what I hope was a message to someone that can help I’m still waiting on even an automated response email saying they’d get back to me.  I’m not holding my breath.

Now, do the same thing for Apple.  It doesn’t take long to find a whole web page full of ways to get help.  Phone, instant messaging, email are all prominently displayed after two clicks on their website.  Sure, some of them cost money, but as a business, when I need support I’ll pay for it.  If that’s still not good enough I can go to one of the over one hundred brick and mortar stores around the world and talk to an Apple Genius for nothing.  If that fails, I can find Apple Resellers and other Apple certified experts in my area.

Apple’s been doing this for decades as a computer and consumer electronics company.  They’ve consistently been ranked very high on support satisfaction surveys.  As a family, we’ve had various minor issues with our Apple components over the years but nothing that a phone call or trip to the local store (either Apple or local reseller) didn’t fix promptly to our satisfaction.  I’m sure there are example of poor customer support with Apple but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

People say that one of the great things about Android is that it’s free.  The old axiom that you get what you pay for holds true in this case.  Google’s support is awful in my opinion.  To say that Google is the new Microsoft is an insult to Microsoft.  At least Microsoft got support right even if you have to talk to someone on the other side of the world.

What’s your experience been with Google support?

Web Edition and Version Control Format

For those of you that use the Version Control Format (VCP) for your Real Studio projects you should be aware that I do not recommend using it for Web Edition projects.  I discovered (and logged) several bugs today in 2011 R1 that will bite you.

The first is subclassing a WebControl in VCP format results in it displaying in the IDE with a black triangle indicating that it doesn’t know what the control is.  Thankfully the control still works, it just looks funny in the IDE and doesn’t seem to affect the final build.

<feedback://showreport?report_id=16518>

The second is that WebStyles do not read properly after saved in VCP format.  This will result in controls not adhering to their styles after the project is loaded again.  This does affect final builds.

In both cases it could be a write or read failure.  Not my job to figure out which one.

If you use Web Edition and version control you should make these bugs part of your priority list.

<Rant>  This is the third release in a row with serious issues with the version control format that keep me from using it.  For my consulting business I need reliable version control.  The only way to do that is to have a rock solid version control format.  It has to work in EVERY release.

Binary format just isn’t acceptable for my business.  I need to track changes on a line by line basis – sometimes my livelihood depends on knowing what changed, and when.

It ‘s obvious, to me anyway, that RS doesn’t use Web Edition internally for anything big, important, or that requires multiple users working with it.  If they did, they would have spotted these problems a long time ago. </Rant>

We now return you to your normally scheduled broadcast.

If You Had One Thing You Could Change In REAL Studio

If you had one thing to change about REAL Studio, what would it be?  I’ve been giving this some thought recently and I think the number one thing that I wish was better is the training material.  To me, training material includes tutorials and example projects.

Yes, there are examples, but I find them to be so simple they don’t scale very well into my own applications.  Often, when I’m learning something new in REAL Studio I find the examples to almost hinder me because they demonstrate the most basic way to use <insert control/class/technique here> and not how you’d use it in a real application.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you need those types of examples but I want/need something just a little more in-depth.  I could just as easily argue that a more complete project that demonstrates several things at once is better than the simple ones but, as they say, to each their own.

Along with examples, I find the lack of REALbasic training materials on the RS website to be…interesting.  If you look at their training webpage at http://www.realsoftware.com/support/training.php they are pointing to three 3rd party websites (one of which is mine, by the way).  I find it odd that a development tool that is meant for hobbyist developers doesn’t really have a nice and big tutorials and training section.  I’m not complaining (because it’s part of my income) – just pointing it out.

Don’t get me going on the lack of Web Edition apps on their website…

Friday afternoon grousing material for you.  What would you change?

Redesign The User Interface At Your Own Peril!

I’ve written a few times about The Sixty One. I thought it was a great example of a web app that works well.  I was able to discover some great new bands and for a few of them I track their progress to see if they come to town and play.

Unfortunately, The Sixty One is a prime example of how redesigning the user interface can make your existing user base very angry and make them leave.  Common complaints about the new design are “antisocial and unnavigable” and I happen to agree with them.  The new changes made a great music discovery site not nearly as much fun and discover new bands.  It sure looks pretty though.

Microsoft has gone through similar criticism with the Office ribbon.  Some people love it and others hate it.  The few times I’ve used Office with the ribbon I was frustrated beyond belief because of the way *I* learn how to use applications.

A friend recently commented to me that they learned to like the ribbon.  I’m not sure that Microsoft would get that benefit (of time) if Office wasn’t ubiquitous.  I can say that as a Mac user I’m not excited about getting the ribbon in the next version of Office but them I’m already using Pages and Numbers more and more because they do everything I need them to do for far less money and less bloat.

From my own experience, we went through interface changes on Task Timer, our Mac/Windows desktop application that tracks your time.  It’s a very simple interface.  Version 1 and 2 let you track one project/task combination at a time.  People complained so we opened it up to five.  People (mainly lawyers – go figure) said that five simultaneous timers weren’t enough so we made it unlimited.

We rewrote the interface to allow an unlimited number of simultaneous timers and project and task combinations.  The beta users were very happy and we were happy too (since we use it every day as well).  We released and the very first bug report was from a long-timer user who complained that we destroyed the simplicity of the interface.  I guess there’s no winning.  Thankfully, with a few minor tweaks we were able to make that customer satisfied but most users will just walk away in disgust.  It’s not easy to get a second chance.

Every time FaceBook changes their layout there’s always a round of complaints.  I generally fall into the group that is willing to work with it but I do have to admit that I generally don’t mind the changes after I’ve gotten used to it.  But then, I also find that the new interface isn’t that much better than the old one – usually.

I sometimes think that companies redesign their website and products because they’ve got designers on staff and they think the designers need to earn their keep.  Don’t fall into that trap and change the interface ‘just because’.

Interface changes should be well thought out to satisfy existing users and to get new ones.  Doing so without some serious thought and effort, both before and after the change, can result in people abandoning your product or service.  Tough to stay in business that way.

Any other examples of a bad user interface change?

For Those Complaining

For those complaining about REALbasic bug and feature requests being ignored I offer you this: http://arstechnica.com/journals/microsoft.ars/2008/05/13/windows-live-messenger-9-0-beta-program-frustrates-testers

My guess is that Microsoft will fix the problems and add new features, but just like Real Software, Microsoft really does have limited resources for any given project.  Just food for thought.

Windows Activation Sucks (Like This is New?)

My old 7 year old Dell is now (or will be after getting activated) relegated as the kids computer.  This means I don’t care what they do to it as long as it still boots up and can run the occasional test app.  It had a bunch of development software on it and old files that they kids don’t need and that they probably shouldn’t see anyway (no, not porn – like old contracts and stuff like that).

So I wiped the drive.  I reinstalled Windows XP SP1.  Of course I couldn’t find the original Dell drivers CD so I had no network connectivity.  So I had to download a network driver from the Dell website using my trusty iMac (which now runs XP, Vista, and Ubuntu) and burned it to a CD so I could install it on the Dell.  Great.  Finally got the network up and running via ethernet cable – forget about the Wireless network for now.

So I figured I’d just bite the bullet and activate Windows sooner rather than later because I know it’s going to choke on some new update that requires Windows to be a certified genuine live advantage BS (or whatever they’re calling it these days).  I knew this was going to be painful as I just activated Windows on not just one, two but three copies of XP on two separate iMac’s running VMWare and one running Parallels.  Each time it failed validation and required a phone call.

So this brings you to the validation window and an 800 number that forces you to type in what seems to be a gazillion set of 6 digitis.  Since I’ve been through this before I went to the bathroom got a drink and got into my best yoga position to achieve a zen moment even though the pleasant recording said it would only take ‘about’ six minutes.  After speaking into the phone like a friggin’ idiot with all those numbers, I’m oh so pleasantly told that she couldn’t help me.  No shit.  I could have told her that before I started but that wasn’t an option.  So now comes the really fun part.

I get transferred to someone half way around the world where I have to give them the numbers AGAIN!  Come on folks, this is computer company that is supposed to help companies do a better job with their data.  Couldn’t the call router send an id to the db record that I’m sure it just recorded?  Obviously not.  Instead I have to talk to someone half way across the world with a horrible phone connection and after the first three sets of numbers their phone system hangs up.  Good thing the kid was asleep because he would have learned a few things.

So I go through the whole process again even though my zen moment is gone.  The computerized activation system, the transfer to a human being and I this time somewhere on the planet a phone rings twice and the system hangs up again.  So Microsoft has now wasted about 6 hours of my time between reformatting, not having all the drivers needed and trying to activate Windows.  And I’m not.  Done.  Yet.

It would have been far simpler and cheaper to just go buy a new computer and throw the old one away.  And people wonder why I’m pro-Apple.

If I wasn’t  a cross-platform software developer I would be a Microsoft free household.  At least with REALbasic I can develop on the Mac and only use Windows when I have to.  VMWare and Parallels makes this incredibly easy to do and more or less pain free.

Do I feel better now?  Only partially because I know that I’ll have to go through this whole process again tomorrow sometime.