Archive for October, 2008

Oct05

Amazon Brings Enterprise Databases to the Cloud

The people over at Amazon Web Services have been busy at work the last couple weeks. The Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) team has rolled out two significant computing options over that will really help pave the way for more enterprise adoption of their services.

Last Tuesday, Amazon announced that it plans to unveil the ability to run Microsoft Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server on the EC2 platform later this fall.  This announcement is a huge step and will allow customers to deploy ASP.NET applications using a host of database options as well as other Windows-based applications such as Windows Media transcoding.  This advancement in cloud computing will really ease the transition for potential enterprise clients which still tend to be very Windows heavy – ASP.NET portals still seem to be rather popular in my experience.

Last week, in an email to developers, they also announced that Oracle has certified EC2 as “the first cloud computing platform that has been authorized to run supported Oracle databases” which also increases the database options for enterprises and developers alike.  According to the announcement, customers will be able to run Oracle 11g, Oracle Fusion Middleware and the Oracle Enterprise Manager on AWS.  Oracle is really taking an interest in the project and has delivered a set of free images to help make deployment easier.

I don’t claim to know how many ‘enterprise’ clients Amazon Web Services has on its roster but I think this is really a step in the right direction.  I know enterprise security executives are still wary about throwing their proprietary data in the ‘cloud’ but who wouldn’t enjoy a little extra cushion for those PR heavy days when your site gets overloaded.  I can only imagine how busy the Bear Sterns intranet was the day their employees found out it was over.

This will also continue to lower the barrier of entry for web-based start-ups.  The language of choice these days tends to be PHP, but that isn’t normally a part of the university curriculum.  Now, students can continue to expand on those class projects and turn them into successful (hopefully…) start-ups.  Of course, that’s only for those few that aren’t programming before they hit high school.

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Oct04

ThemeForest.net Review and Custom Deposit Amount Hack

A couple weeks ago TechCrunch covered a story about a company by the name of Envato launching a service that would allow users to buy and sell website templates - ThemeForest.  I think it’s actually been around for a while but that’s the first coverage I saw (I later found something from early September – linked above).  When I initially looked it was mostly WordPress themes but when I checked the other day there seems to be more generic web templates.

I’m always in the market for great WordPress themes.  I’ve changed the theme for this blog a couple times and each time I find something I don’t care for.  I started looking for themes on ThemeForest and found a WordPress theme that I thought would work well for the site (I’ve since purchased it but I haven’t finished customizing it yet – expect a rollout in a week or two).   I also found a generic website template that I wanted to buy.

In order to purchase templates you have to deposit money into your ThemeForest account…you can’t pay for each transaction individually after you find your design.  No ‘shopping cart’ functionality but they do allow you to bookmark themes you like.  I think that’s a mistake from a usability standpoint but if people want the theme bad enough, they’ll succomb to the poor process design.

So I start the process to deposit money and find that I can only give them money in multiples of $20.  Slightly confused/turned-off by yet another usability problem I contact customer service and ask if there is another way to make this happen.  I get a response a few hours later (great turn around by the way, seriously, I was impressed) tell me that their system can only handle the amounts displayed but that “although your money does expire after a year it can easily be renewed by emailing Support, so in actual fact you can keep the remaining credit in the account indefinatly.”

That’s great except for the fact that I may never use that money.  I ask if they offered refunds after a year but was shot down on that as well.  I mean it’s only $5 (my combined total was going to be $35) but why should I give you a free $5 because you have a poor design.

Frustrated, I set out to find a way around this but told myself I’d dedicate no more than 15 minutes to the effort.  I know PayPal can handle any amounts you throw at them so I figure I would explore bypassing their absurd “checks”.  Luckily, I know enough about web development and form submissions that I figure I would try a couple elementary hacks.  After locating the script on their server they submit to before sending to PayPal I locate the variable names and amount format and proceed to deposit exactly $35.  Here’s a shot of my deposit history for all you doubters…details on the hack are below the image.

ThemeForest.net Deposit Amount Hack

Hack Details

1) Locate the themes you want to purchase and calculate your total

2) Translate your total into a 4-character non-currency format.  For example, my $35.00 deposit was translated to an amount of “3500

3) Login to your ThemeForest.net account

4) Once logged in, enter the following URL in your browsers address bar and change XXXX to your amount determined in step 2: http://themeforest.net/accounts/confirm_deposit/?amount=XXXX.  For example, the URL for my $35.00 transaction was “http://themeforest.net/accounts/confirm_deposit/?amount=3500″

5) Once redirected to the PayPal website, confirm that your user id is referenced in the description and that the amount is right.  Your user id should be within the red rectangle on the image below

Confirm User ID

6) Once you complete the PayPal transaction you’ll be redirected back to your ThemeForest account where you can purchase your templates

NOTE: Use this hack at your own risk.  I don’t claim to be huge in the blogosphere but once the hack is public it’s possible ThemeForest will close the loop-hole.  I make no claims or warranties that the hack will work as described and can not be held liable for any losses you may incur.  Also, I did not ‘hack’ into their system to prepare this.  ’Hack’ in this context means ‘manual work around’ and all I did to determine how to accomplish this was review the HTML source sent to my browser by their server.

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