Saturday, September 1, 2012

Configuration Didgets

Remember the good ol' days when configuration on a Windows PC (or DOS in those days) meant that you had a simple text file in the same directory as your application that controlled the behavior of that application. The file was given an extension of .INI and was easy to read and to edit. When you uninstalled your application (using del *.*), the configuration file was cleaned up along with all your other application files.

Unfortunately, this approach also had a number of drawbacks. If you had 1000 applications, you might also have 1000 little configuration files spread all over your folder hierarchy. They were difficult to find and edit when you wanted to manage a whole bunch of applications at at once.

Microsoft's answer to this problem was to create a central database called the Registry where all the configuration settings for the system and user applications could be stored. Unfortunately, this approach also had a number of drawbacks. If this single Registry was deleted or corrupted then everything was a mess; if an application was uninstalled, it didn't always clean up after itself in the Registry; it wasn't always obvious where all the keys for a particular application were stored within the new hierarchy of this database; and there was no way for an application to try and protect unauthorized changes to its configuration settings.

While several steps have been taken to keep the Registry from being corrupted and to be able to recover to a consistent state in the event something goes wrong, the Registry continues to be a bit of a headache when it comes to managing software. Special programs written to help clean up problems with the Registry have become more popular in recent times.

With Didgets, we take a different approach. Just like the old .INI files, each application can have its own set of configuration settings stored in one or more Configuration Didgets. Just like all the other Didgets in our system, you can get a list of all these Configuration Didgets in just a second or two even if there are millions of them.

Each Configuration Didget has some special fields designating what type of software they are used to configure so you can narrow your query to only look for the ones that configure word processors, for example.

Just like the .INI files, if one of these Didgets becomes corrupt, none of the others are affected. Each Configuration Didget can be protected with the Read-Only attribute or with security keys.

Just like the editing tool for the Registry (regedit), a configuration viewer/editor can be built to give the user a unified view to a whole host of Configuration Didgets. It can do this by consolidating all the data from each individual Didget into a single virtual view. Any changes made in the editor would not be made to a central database, but rather made directly into the Configuration Didget where the change was made.

This is like having a word processor display a document where every page in the document was stored in a separate file. Any changes to one of the pages would be made to just the file that held that page. To the user, it looks like a single file but its really just a unified view of a whole bunch of separate files.

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