Pings & Packets from eWEEK Labs - 4

ClearContext plug-in prioritizes e-mails ... Service Manager builds strong code ... Benefits can be painfully clear.

ClearContext Plug-In Prioritizes E-mails

Ive been spending a couple of months working with ClearContexts $30 ClearContext Inbox Manager plug-in for Microsoft Outlook.

Although ClearContext Inbox Manager isnt a substitute for proactive e-mail management, it does make a little effort result in larger time savings for those who get high volumes of e-mail.

The main feature of ClearContext Inbox Manager is a prioritization engine that color-codes and orders messages as they enter the in-box. When I installed the software, it created prioritization rules by looking at my e-mail history. Those rules generally did a good job of moving messages, such as internal e-mail including attachments, to the top of the queue.

I needed to tweak these rules, however, because Ive grown too accustomed to Outlooks default linear sorting. Since I started using the product, the company has introduced a series of templates that strike a good balance between Outlook defaults and full-on message management.

ClearContext Inbox Manager does add some overhead to Outlook, and I saw sluggish performance when remotely accessing the server using a VPN over a broadband connection.

More information is available at www.clearcontext.com.

--Michael Caton

Service Manager Builds Strong Code

Service Manager 3.0 from SOA Software offers the kind of power tools that can make an SOA an actual improvement—rather than just a confused, brittle mess of uncoordinated capabilities in new packaging.

I visited with SOA Software engineers prior to the July 29 general release and found the Version 3.0 update well-aimed at many of the key obstacles to effective SOA implementation. An IT administrator can devise templates to speed service deployment, can change service policies on the fly, and can set up policies for discovery and availability of new services as they become available.

I found especially attractive SOAs notion of virtual services, which can encapsulate lower-level bits and pieces of functionality to any number of nested levels of abstraction. Service availability policies can be tied to time of day, class of user and other parameters.

Visual management tools reflected my choices of alert thresholds as graphical markups on strip-chart displays of service activity . The products audit trails of policy actions and service operations should address the need to document what happened, how and why in a utility computing setting where SLAs (service-level agreements) must be satisfied.

Licensing of SOA Service Manager 3.0 begins at $5,000 per CPU. More information can be found at www.soa.com.

--Peter Coffee

Benefits Can Be Painfully Clear

The H.264 video compression in Apples latest iMovie offering leaves me feeling poised on the painful cusp between a killer application and a Stupid Computer Trick.

I was archiving family video onto CDs using the Tiger (Version 10.4) update of Mac OS X that includes the much-ballyhooed H.264 technology, but I feared that Id found a fatal glitch when iMovies export progress bar appeared to be frozen.

It took almost exactly 2.5 hours for my 867MHz PowerBook G4, with 640MB of RAM, to digest a 6-minute clip from my DV (digital video) camcorder into a 30MB MP4-format file. That compares with just a few minutes for my 1GHz Sony Pentium III Vaio laptop with 256MB of RAM to package the same clip into a 60MB MPG container—but the latter played back as a 320-by-240-pixel frame with ugly and distracting edge artifacts, while the more compact H.264 file yielded a 640-by-480-pixel video frame with only subtle compression artifacts in the low-contrast background areas.

If I produced commercial video content, Id have my order for a top-speed dual-G5 tower on the wire as quickly as I could open my browser. But for home, educational, nonprofit or small-business users, this has to be a more painful decision. Fueling the desire for the rest of us to close that gap is the challenge, not just for Apple but for all PC makers and the CPU suppliers whose Moores Law progress creates new products.

With video, you can see what youre getting. And, boy, does it look good. But, oh, at what a cost.

--Peter Coffee