The open source MySQL database began life as a lightweight alternative to big, resource-hungry database management systems, such as Oracle or Sybase. Over the years, however, users have clamored for more and more features, causing MySQL's codebase to swell with capabilities that had previously only been found on its commercial cousins.
But not every MySQL developer agrees with this direction. Some feel that it's high time not just to apply the brakes, but to take a U-turn. In particular, some customers in the Web application development community have been calling for a lean, mean database that doesn't waste time with higher-end features that aren't necessary for Web apps. This week, their call was answered.
The Drizzle project, announced on Wednesday by MySQL director of architecture Brian Aker, attempts to re-invent MySQL using a micro-kernel architecture. Superfluous features will be stripped out of the database core and moved into modules, allowing users to load them or leave them as desired. Among the features marked for modularization include triggers, views, stored procedures, access control lists, and some data types.
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Sometimes, it's hard for my right hand to know what the left is doing. I do half of my computing at my primary desktop PC at my office, and the other half on either of two different laptops. It can be hard to keep track of my work with my files scattered around all those different hard drives.
What I need is some way to keep my files synchronized between all these different machines. Nothing I've tried in the past has really worked for me -- until now. Windows Live Mesh, which Microsoft made available to the general public as a "technology preview" on Tuesday, is the best synchronization system for Windows PCs that I've seen so far. And best of all, it's completely free.
Microsoft has offered file-sync technologies before. There was Windows Briefcase, then XP's Offline Files, and more recently SyncToy. But none of these was perfect. For one thing, the computers to be synchronized all needed to be available on the network at the same time. If you needed to sync from a remote laptop to a workstation behind a firewall, you were probably out of luck.
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Blogging is increasingly popular, both for individuals and businesses alike. That's because blogging software is one of the easiest ways to publicize information about your company. The best packages offer near-infinite customizability while still making it easy for new users to get up and running with a bare minimum of installation and configuration.
My own favorite among the long list of available packages is WordPress. To me, it offers just the right balance of configurability and ease of use. What's more, it seems to consistently be on the cusp of the latest Web technologies. Case in point: WordPress 2.6 arrived today, and it brings a host of new options that make posting and editing your blogs easier than ever -- even when you're offline.
What has always made WordPress so great, in my opinion, is how easy it is to use. Its attractive UI allows you to quickly update and manage your blog, and it has lots of polish. Where some packages might force you to enter posts into clumsy Web forms, WordPress offers a WYSIWYG editor and AJAX-powered controls. Plus, it's fully "skinnable," so your blog can look like whatever you want to the outside world. New features can easily be added through third-party plug-ins.
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Anti-malware software is a given for any Windows PC today. Studies have shown that even Windows Vista, with its new security measures, remains vulnerable to many networked attacks. But while security software may be ubiquitous, it's hardly universally loved. Slow scanning, intrusive alerts, and endless database updates can sometimes make antivirus apps seem like just as much of a burden as the malware they aim to thwart.
Fortunately, Symantec seems to have taken such user complaints to heart. The security vendor reports that new versions of Norton Internet Security and Norton Anti-Virus are in the works, and this time, a faster, more streamlined user experience is top priority.
"Based on customer feedback, we viewed performance as a key feature for this release," said Symantec senior vice president Rowan Trollope in a statement issued today. The Norton 2009 product line is said to incorporate more than 300 improvements designed to increase performance -- ranging from an improved scanning engine to reduced memory and disk space footprints -- in what Symantec hopes will "set a new industry standard for speed and performance."
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The release of Firefox 3.0 has been a resounding success, but for some the upgrade path has been less than painless. The latest version of the open source browser differed enough from previous versions that many add-ons had to be substantially rewritten before they would work with the new release. And just when the dust appeared to be clearing, Firefox 3.1 is on the horizon.
Don't worry. If you weathered the transition to Firefox 3.0 (possibly with the help of some clever hacks along the way), you needn't expect a repeat performance when Firefox 3.1 arrives in late 2008 or early 2009. "In fact," says Mozilla developer Mark Finkle, "I'd go out on a limb and say updating to Firefox 3.1 will be easy."
According to Finkle in a blog post today, "there appear to be no plans" to introduce significant changes to the Firefox extension API in version 3.1, or to rewrite major browser components in ways similar to those that broke extension compatibility in Firefox 3.0.
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For most of us, the Web is primarily a visual medium. The downside is that accessing the benefits of the Internet can be a challenge for the visually-impaired. Fortunately, electronic documents are much more versatile than printed ones. Screen-reading software has come a long way, and today it can make online information accessible even to the completely blind.
But even modern screen readers aren't perfect. Particularly, they are of no help when there's nothing to read. Too often, graphically rich Web sites are designed without sufficient text cues that would allow visually impaired users to navigate them. Now help is on the way, thanks to a new project from IBM's AlphaWorks that aims to improve Web accessibility through collaborative techniques borrowed from the world of open source software.
The idea is simple yet brilliant. Web developers have a lot on their plates, and often accessibility is low on their list of priorities. IBM's solution? Outsource that part of the process to the Web community at large.
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Given skyrocketing fuel prices, international travel is a lot more expensive than it used to be. But many business travelers are concerned about another problem: What to do when U.S. border officials want to search the contents of your laptop hard drive? The potential risk of revealing confidential data is significant. In fact, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives has cautioned business travelers to leave their data at home.
Despite questions raised by privacy advocates and U.S. senators alike, the Homeland Security policy seems unlikely to change soon. Fortunately, there are ways to protect your data without leaving your laptop at the office. For example, the latest version of TrueCrypt, released last Friday, can create a protected pocket of your hard drive that's virtually invisible to prying eyes.
Encryption, once a relatively obscure mathematical oddity, has become a crucial method of keeping data from falling into the wrong hands in the Internet age. It's built into a lot of the applications you use already, from backup software to your Web browser. It's what keeps snoops from being able to intercept your credit card number during e-commerce transactions, for example. It's also one of the preferred means of protecting data on the Federal government's own laptops.
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