Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

  • The Case of the Missing GDR2

    UPDATE: Here is proof that the first version was not going according to plan: New GDR2 builds started hitting NaviFirm today.

    Richard Hay over at Windows Observer has an excellent breakdown of the progress of the GDR2 rollout, which presently stands at 60% worldwide. I'm going to build on this information and offer my own view on what has happened.

    I've seen the build in action on my wife's Lumia 1020, and was lusting over Nokia Pro Cam. For a while, I had complained about not getting the update, so I decided to flash the AT&T Canada developer ROM on my Lumia 920.

    Now, it is important to understand that this build is already months old. Microsoft had to deliver this build earlier in the summer in order for Nokia to be able to deliver the Lumia 1020 on time. So Microsoft is already well beyond this version in the development process. In fact, they may have already wrapped on GDR3, as it has features that are required for Nokia's next major launch next month. The 1080p phablets due on Verizon and AT&T all run GDR3 and the Nokia firmware update called "Bittersweet Shimmer" (aka Orange).

    Now, during the time my wife has owned this phone, I've noticed some issues she's had to deal with, like apps freezing in their tracks. My friend Robert Shubet (who also developed Hashtastic) had problems with his "Me Tile" updating consistently. And I had two separate bugs on the Lumia 920 that resulted in serious OS malfunctions while debugging applications.

    This says to me that the build is buggy, and that Windows Phone is suffering from the lack of a beta program. So while the update has rolled out over half the planet, my theory is that AT&T and others will not roll out GDR2 if they don't have to, because it will cause more support issues than it will solve. Matthew Crommert is correct, Nokia, AT&T, and others will skip this release and pretend it never happened, just like they did with the Windows Phone 8 Beta program.


    The Beta program that was promised but never delivered. Image from Latiff Cherono.

    GDR3 is right around the corner. My theory is that AT&T will roll it out at the same time the Lumia "1520" (I say it in quotes because I don't believe that will be the number) goes on sale in November. I personally would rather see Microsoft put their effort into making sure the GDR3 release is smooth and *early* than have them try to fix what was botched months ago.

    As nice as it would be to be able to blame AT&T, they are clearly not the only ones making this decision. The fault for this, IMHO, lies squarely at the feet of Microsoft. Every time Microsoft pushes out a Windows Phone release, from the very beginning, have had irritating regressions. That is mostly because of the (frankly) bull$h!t decisions around secrecy. Microsoft thinks Windows Phone 7 suffered because it was so open, but that's not the case. They suffered because it took for-freakin-ever to release WP7, and then WP8.

    You would think Microsoft would have gotten their sh!t together after losing several rounds of the Smartphone wars, but sadly I don't believe that is the case. Hopefully with the Nokia purchase, they will finally fix this crap and stop shooting themselves in the extremities. Like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there are only so many limbs to cut off until you are left to die by the side of the road.

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  • Microsoft is Running Apple's Playbook with Next-Gen Surfaces

    It has been a long time since Apple released the iPhone, so it's easy to forget the game Apple has played with the high-end device market. When the iPhone first came out, it was ridiculously expensive. This led to Steve Ballmer's infamous quote that it was too expensive, and no one would ever buy it. To a certain degree, that was actually true. Apple only sold 6 million 1st generation iPhones over 5 quarters. These are the kinds of sales that Windows Phone 7 had in its first year or two, but for some reason everyone complains about it having "no market share". But that's another blog post for another time.

    Then, something amazing happened. The iPhone 2 launched in the 6th quarter of availablility, and in that one quarter, they had more sales than the entire 5 quarters combined. Essentially, everyone that had ever bought an iPhone 1 upgraded immediately. From there, sales increased significantly. As the iPhone got more and more customers, the notion of paying so much for a premium product became easier to stomach, for one simple reason: Every year, the previous generation got a price drop, while the new one stayed the same price. This was initially a brilliant strategy on their part, because very year the value for the price increased substantially in a way that was readily apparent. That has been a tough act to follow lately for Apple, even though that hasn't appeared to affect sales.

    Taken in the context of Surface vs Surface 2, this is readily apparent. USB3 instead of USB2. 72 graphics cores instead of 12. 1080p screen instead of 720p. 4x the processing power. All for the same price you paid (or would have paid) before. That's why Microsoft dropped the price a few months before launch: in anticipation of units coming out at the same price (which actually turned out to be $50 cheaper), Microsoft dropped the price of the Surface RT by $150 and saw a significant uptick in sales.

    For $449, there is HUGE value in the Surface 2, ESPECIALLY running Windows RT 8.1. Same for the $899 Surface Pro, but not quite to the same extent due to the more marginal improvements.

    So, you might complain that the prices are high, but high prices = higher margins = more room for sales + more revenue to further innovate. Price it lower and you get, the same crap the PC market has been doing for the last decade. The Surface does not need a race to the bottom. That market is already covered.

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  • Upgrading Your Surface RT to Windows RT 8.1 RTM

    UPDATE: If you read the comments, someone posted a torrent of the Windows RT 8.1 ISO with the Surface drivers already inlines. Check the comments for the Magnet link, and skip steps 2, 3, and 14.

    I upgraded my Surface RT to Windows RT 8.1 RTM tonight. It's not as easy as a regular Windows 8.1 upgrade, and it has some risk associated with it. You could definitely brick your Surface if you do not do this properly. I am not responsible for bricked devices.

    That said, here's how I did it: NOTE: You will need to use a separate Windows 8 / 8.1 / Windows Server 2012 / R2 system to do some of this work on, in addition to your Surface. There will be some work required in order to integrate the drivers and grab your Product Key.

    ALSO NOTE: None of this is illegal because you will use your existing and legitimate Windows RT 8.0 Product Key to activate your copy of Windows. The key I provide for installation is just to get you through the install process. It *will not* activate.

    Step 1 (Work machine): Download the RTM package from BitTorrent. Here is the MAGNET link. I've been downloading WZOR ISOs for almost a decade. They are always legit and never messed-with. You can trust them. NOTE: The Surface drivers the post mentions are already in the torrent.

    Step 2 (Work machine): Extract the Surface Drivers to an easily-accessible folder.

    Step 3 (Work machine): Create a folder on your C drive called "test".

    Step 4 (Work machine): Double-click the ISO from the torrent to mount it to your system.

    Step 5 (Surface): Clean a 4 GB or larger USB key, and plug it into your Surface.

    Step 6 (Surface): Hit the Start button, type "regedit", and hit Enter.

    Step 7 (Surface): Navigate to HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion. Then go to File | Export. Type the name "registration" in the file name box, and save it to your Documents folder.

    Step 8 (Surface): The only keys you need are "DigitalProductId" and "DigitalProductId4". Select those in the text editor, then hit Ctrl+X. Hit Enter after the 3rd line at the top of the file, then hit Ctrl+V to paste the keys. Then, select everything from the top of the file to the end of the "DigitalProductId4" key, then hit Ctrl+x again. Then hit Ctrl+A to select all, and hit Ctrl+V again to paste only what we need. Trust me, this method saves several minutes of scrolling to delete the rest of the exported data.

    Step 9 (Surface): Copy the file to your USB stick and plug it into your Work machine.

    Step 10 (Work machine): Repeat steps 6 through 8. This creates a backup of yoru regular product key so your "work" machine registration stays intact.

    Step 11 (Work machine): Double-click the registration.reg file on the USB key to import your Surface RT product key onto your work machine.

    Step 12 (Work machine): Download Ultimate PID Checker, extract the RAR file, and run the application. In the screenshot in the link, you'll see a Windows icon button next to the "Go" button. Click it, and take down the Installation Key. You'll need that later to legitimately activate your copy of Windows RT 8.1.

    Step 13 (Work machine): Copy the files from the mounted ISO to the USB stick.

    Step 14 (Work machine): Inline the Surface drivers with both the boot.win and install.wim files by executing the following commands, one at a time. Substitute X for the drive letter of your USB stick, and [DRIVERSPATH] with the path you extracted the Surface RT 8.1 drivers to, when necessary. NOTE: Put quotes around "[DRIVERSPATH]" as the extracted path has spaces in it.
         - Dism /Mount-Image /ImageFile:X:\sources\boot.wim /Index:2 /MountDir:C:\test\
         - Dism /Image:C:\test\ /Add-Driver /Driver:"[DRIVERSPATH]"
         - Dism /Unmount-Image /MountDir:C:\test\ /Commit
         - Dism /Mount-Image /ImageFile:X:\sources\install.wim /Index:1 /MountDir:C:\test\
         - Dism /Image:C:\test\ /Add-Driver /Driver:"[DRIVERSPATH]"
         - Dism /Unmount-Image /MountDir:C:\test\ /Commit

    Step 15 (Surface): Remove the USB stick from your Work machine and plug it into the surface. Navigate to the drive and double click the setup file.

    Step 16 (Surface): When it prompts you to download updates for Setup, SKIP THIS PART. Failure to do so will not let you use the key for the next step.

    Step 17 (Surface): Enter the following Product Key: NK2V7-9DWXG-KMTWQ-K9H9M-6VHPJ

    Step 18 (Surface): Select "Keep my personal files". If you are on the 8.1 Preview, this will also keep most (if not all) of your settings.

    Step 19 (Surface): Complete the installation. It will take about 30 minutes, with at least 6 reboots.

    Step 20 (Surface): Select "Customize" for the installation settings. It will walk you through your options, then let you log in under your main account and re-download your settings.

    Step 21 (Surface): Hit WinKey + C, select "Settings", then "PC Settings" at the bottom. Then select "Activate Windows". In the space provided, type in the Product Key from Ultimate PID Checker. After 30-90 seconds, your copy should be activated.

    Step 22 (Work machine): Navigate to your documents folder, and double click "registration.reg" to return your registry settings back to its previous state.

    Step 23 (Work machine-optional): Close and re-open Ultimate PID Checker, hit the Windows Key again, and verify that your Windows Key does not say "Windows CoreARM".

    Step 24: Enjoy Windows RT 8.1 RTM on your Surface RT.

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  • In One Swoop Microsoft Purchases a New OS, Apple Dominance

    Most of the tech press has it's anti-Microsoft bias so embedded into their souls, that they can't even recognize a good Microsoft play when they see it. And they have this deeply held notion that, because they are important and they live in the US, that their markets are the most important markets in the world.

    But they are wrong, and this Nokia acquisition is case-in-point.

    As I mentioned in my blog post yesterday, Nokia is the #2 handset maker in the world, second only to Samsung. Samsung is #1 because Asia is a huge market, and Asians love Asian brands (it's a patriotism thing, nothing wrong with that). But Nokia is right behind them, selling millions of feature phones to developing nations every quarter.

    So far, Nokia and Samsung (plus a handfull of regional makers) are the only ones with the clout to really make any serious plays for the "next billion" smartphone users. Nokia is one of the most recognized brands throughout the Eastern and Southern Hemispheres, and is deeply entrenched in areas like mobile payments, operator billing, and phone experiences that bridge the divide between smart and dumb phones. There was a time not that long ago, when almost any cell phone sold in the US was either from Nokia or Motorola. Google bought one; now Microsoft has the other.

    Apple has no such hold over the developing market. In a few days, you'll see Apple make it's first play into the "developing world" market with the iPhone 5C, which (no joke), stands for iPhone 5 Cheap. This is because Apple knows that it has already stripped its potential customer base dry, and is losing ground to Google consistently quarter after quarter. Sure, they get a bump every time a new version of the iPhone comes out, but then it's right back to losing ground. So they are just starting their push into the area of cheap handsets. But here, they will ultimately fail.

    You see, Steve Jobs was an @sshole. He really was, you've read his biography. Most perfectionists are assholes. It's OK if you love someone who is an @sshole, just be honest with yourself about it. I'm both perfectionist and @sshole, and my wife loves me, so I'm all for it. The thing is, perfection doesn't come on the cheap. This is why Apple has always been a "luxury" brand. Because nice things that are made well are almost always expensive.

    Every time Apple tries to do cheap, it fails. You could argue: "well, the iPod Nano is cheap", but it's not a standalone device. It requires a computter with iTunes to work, which is expensive, so that's not gonna fly in Africa. People forget that Apple was weeks away from total bankruptcy when Steve Jobs came back and borrowed a hundred million or so from Bill Gates. Now, Apple has come full circle, is without it's Chief of Perfection, and is moving back into the world of cheap. History will repeat itself again. What about Apple's current position makes you think they will be successful selling cheap stuff? Because they have a lot of money to burn?

    UPDATE: Apple investigating worker-abuse charges at iPhone C supplier. Winners don't treat their workers this way.

    Nokia, on the other hand, has a history that is several decades long of building quality, inexpensive phones. Its prior playes into smartphones, (like the N9 and the 808) never did very well before. Windows Phone is by far their most successful play into smartphones to date. But Nokia was extremely successful at the other end of the spectrum, and the Nokia acquisition brings the next billion smartphone users to Microsoft's doorstep on a silver platter.

    As Nokia posted earlier today, Microsoft will continue evolving the Asha OS as their primary on-ramp to Windows-based smartphones in the developing world. They will bring more Microsoft services, like Xbox and Skydrive, to that platform. Along with the patents and manufacturing contracts, Microsoft now owns one of the most extensive set of mobile operator agreements on the planet. That means that Microsoft is now a huge player in NFC payments, and has the clout to push that infrastructure ahead in the US, where we are far behind.

    Before, Microsoft had to bend to the will of the carriers when it came to updates, and didn't have the same clout as Apple. Now, Microsoft will be able to bully cell carriers into pushing out updates faster, so flacgship carriers won't drag their heels on updates (like AT&T and the Lumia 920).

    And in the biggest coup for the company, Microsoft out-foxed Tim Cook's supply-chain expertise, by purchasing one of the most efficient production organizations on the planet. Now, when dealing with parts contracts from Asian, Apple will have to compete against Microsoft at every turn, instead of the other way around.

    Apple was right, it is better to own the entire ecosystem. But Microsoft has *always* out-executed Apple in the end. Google out-Microsofted Microsoft with the Android platform. Now Microsoft just out-Appled Apple, and Google has a new problem in their rear-view mirror.

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  • Thoughts on Microsoft's Acquisition of Nokia

    Filed under: , ,

    So, wow, right? I heard the same rumors you did, but I honestly didn't think it would happen. My thought process initially thought it was a bad idea for Microsoft, as Nokia has driven Windows Phone innovation externally, and provided the kick in the butt that the lagging OS division needs. But I hasn't been thinking of the bigger picture. Well, after hearing of the transaction last night, and reviewing the materials today, not only do I think it's a good idea, but I think there are a number of details that journalists are missing. So I thought I'd take a few minutes and lay them out.

    Microsoft just re-imagined how it recognizes revenue for the Devices division
    This may be the singular most important part of the transaction that no one is talking about. In keeping all of the existing facilities, Microsoft now has a significant footprint for Devices in a tax-friendly European country, giving Microsoft a legitimate way to recognize more than $1B a quarter through a new European subsidiary. This avoids the massive tax increases that have been and are continuing to take effect in the US for a growing revenue base of Android and Windows Phone revenue. Depending on how the operation is structured, they might even be able to recognixe Xbox and Surface revenue though this subsidiary. This could be a massive win for the company on a tax front, while obviously being a great loss for the US Government. Heather Timmons has more on the tax implications.

    Microsoft significantly increased it's manufacturing capabilities
    Microsoft sells a lot of hardware already. Between keyboards and mice, Xbox, and Surface, Microsoft has significant need for production facilities. It typically outsources practically all of those functions, but now it just bought a global, functioning manufacturing division. Microsoft now owns Nokia's worldwide production facilities, including contracts with all of Nokia's suppliers. This will have a significant impact on Xbox and Surface, from allowing Microsoft to buy similar parts at lower prices, to expanding these facilities to manufacture and/or assemble Microsoft's other products in-house. The impact of that on Microsoft should not be underestimated. Nokia was already manufactuting a very strong Windows tablet competitor for launch in the next 60 days. That device, and others like it, will likely still launch, but they might not see future iterations as that design experience is integrated with the Surface team. Oh, and the Lumia 41MP camera in the Kinect? YES PLEASE.

    UPDATE: Now, some people are writing stories that Nokia made this sale so they could sell Android phones in 2016 when the agreement for Nokia not to make it's own smartphones expires. I'm not going to link to those articles, because that is a stupid idea. Why on earth would Nokia sell it's production facilities if it planned to make phones again someday? It's not going to rebuild an entire 30K-employee supply chain just to re-start something they were already doing. Nokia is out of the phone manufacturing business. Period.

    Microsoft is a year from the entire Windows Phone division breaking even
    Nokia sold 7.4M Windows Phones last quarter, which equates to 29M phones over the next 12 months if growth suddenly drops to zero. That means that Microsoft only needs to double it's current Lumia sales (at 78% growth rate, that won't be a problem) for the entire division to break even. That is HUGE for shareholders, who have been needing to see this division see some key successes.

    UPDATE: And this doesn't include feature phones. According to Reuters, though Nokia has only 5.8% of the total smartphone market, it is the second largest mobile phone company in the world, behind Samsung. You wanna know why the Apple folks are screaming bloody murder? Because in one fell swoop, Microsoft bought a company with a worldwide presence in phones that sells more devices that make calls than Apple. Sure, many of those phones are $20 dumbphones. But Microsoft now owns a major on-ramp for getting those people onto Windows Phones, an on-ramp that Apple and Google do not have.

    Microsoft just became a mobile patent behemoth
    The deal sends over 1/4 of Nokia's 30,000 patent portolio to Microsoft. They also just assigned Microsoft as beneficiary to 60 patent agreements they have with other companies, including Qualcomm, IBM, Motorola Mobility, and Motorola Solutions. Combined, Microsoft will now have one of the most, if not the most, extensive patent portfolios in the smartphone industry. This will pad the bottom line on the devices division, which already makes more money from the Android OS than it does from Windows Phone. It will also drop the cost of the Windows Phone OS license to Samsung, LG, HTC, and others. And, as Alan Griver points out, Microsoft now sells 60M phones a year across Lumia, Asha, and feature phones. UPDATE: Florian Muller of FOSSPatents.com has more on this in Part 1 and Part 2.

    Microsoft just bought a smartphone OS
    Nokia had ditched its Meego operating system, and had focused on an Asha OS for lower-end feature phones, and Windows Phone OS. That Asha operating system just moved over to Microsoft, and will continue to be released on low-end feature phones. This is a huge win for existing Asha customers, as it is likely that more Microsoft services and applications will be coming to that system. How this all plays out for the rest of the ecosystem remains to be seen, but Microsoft loves software, and there are likely some innovations in the Asha codebase that will make their way elsewhere.

    Bing Maps is dead-ish, HERE Maps data is coming to Azure
    On the heels of Nokia's recent announcement that they would be licensing Microsoft technology for a new in-car OS and mapping experience, Microsoft is now a licensee of the HERE Maps platform. With Nokia's sale of the devices business (where it may never have dominated again), they can now focus on mapping technologies, where they are arguably positioned to be #1 in the industry. Bing Maps had also already announced their technology would be phasing out Bing Maps products on Windows 8 and the web, in favor of HERE Maps apps. But now, Bing can focus their work on other areas while leveraging Nokia's superior mapping data, and more importantly, Bing Maps data currently available to 3rd party developers will be supplanted with HERE Maps data delivered through the Windows Azure Datamarket. This, combined with the announcement that Microsoft will build an Azure datacenter in Finland, means that HERE Maps is likely to move most if not all of their infractructure to Azure, which will be a huge win for Microsoft and Azure's growth.

    The Surface Phone is likely dead
    Most of the arguments towards building a Surface phone centered around Microsoft needing to have an in-house Windows Phone brand to really showcase the power of the device. Well, the Lumia brand is already fantastically well-established with its current userbase, and so it is unlikely that Microsoft woudl take a PC computing brand and extend it to smartphones. However, can you picture a gracefully-curved Lumia phone with a thin, light, and tough VaoprMG case? Hell yes you can. ;)

    Very exciting time for Microsoft. They are in the middle of this huge transformation for the company, and I'm excited for what's coming. Things are looking up!

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  • Getting Legacy ATI Mobility Drivers working on Windows 8 x64

    I'm going to keep this one short and sweet. Windows 8 throws up a ton of new hurdles around getting old drivers to work, especially video card drivers. On top of that, some of the tools used to help make these drivers work on WIndows 7 and earlier have been broken for a while. So here's how I got the ATI Legacy Graphics Drivers working on my ATI Mobility X1600 on my Acer Ferrari 5000.

    1. Download the ATI Legacy drivers (x64 | x86). Install them, going all the way until they fail.
    2. Download the ATI MobilityModder and install it. When it is finished, copy this patch to "C:\Program Files (x86)\MobilityDotNET".
    3. Run the MobilityModder from the Start Menu, then select "C:\ATI\Support\10-02_legacy_vista32-64_dd_ccc" as your location, and let the Modder do its thing.
    4. Open an elevated Command Prompt and type the following commands:
      1. bcdedit /set {current} testsigning on
      2. bcdedit /set {current} nointegritychecks true
    5. Close the elevated prompt.
    6. Click the Start Menu and type "gpedit.msc" and hit enter.
    7. Nagivate to "User Configuration (2nd node) | Administrative Templates | System | Driver Installation | Code signing for device drivers"
    8. Enable the policy and set it to "Disabled".
    9. Restart your machine.
    10. When it comes back up, navigate to "C:\ATI\Support\10-02_legacy_vista32-64_dd_ccc\Packages\Drivers\Display\LH6A_INF\CH_95951.inf"" right-click it, and select "Install". You will get the familiar red dialog warning you about installing unsigned drivers. Throw caution to the wind and continue.
    11. Move your mouse to the bottom right corner of your primary monitor, and right-click. Select "Device Manager" from the menu.
    12. Expand the "Display adapters" section. You should see "Windows Basic Display Adapter". Right-click it and select "Update driver software".
    13. Click select "Browse my computer for driver software" and then "Let me pick from a from a list...".
    14. Lo and behold, your driver should already be there, along with the "Basic Display Adapter" option. Select it.
    15. Marvel as it installs.
    16. Enjoy your native laptop resolution and secondary monitor, profit, etc.

    HTH. Thanks to a post by Lars Michelson for the help in finding the MobilityModder patch.

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  • My Predictions for This Week’s PDC 2011… Oops, I mean Build

    So Build is happening this week, and unfortunately once again I’ll be sitting on the sidelines while all my peeps are having a blast (have a few drinks for me, guys!) But I thought I’d kick off the week with a few of MY expectations for what will be announced in Microsoft-land this week.

    Laying the Cards on the Table
    In the past, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying that Windows 8 was a “bet the company” proposition. Well, the better part of 80k employees have been laying the foundation for this day since the moment Steven Sinofsky took over as the head Windows geek… and now they are going to officially show their hand. I have really high overall expectations, and I genuinely think Microsoft is going to blow everyone away. I don’t think many people outside of Microsoft truly understand exactly how the world is about to change… but Apple and Google have officially awoken the sleeping giant.

    Some like to say that Microsoft is evolutionary while Apple is revolutionary. Well, I believe that this time around, Microsoft will present a number of individual evolutions that together will easily fall into the realm of revolutionary. And this revolution will vault them well past Apple for the first time in many years.

    I should note that these predictions are not in order of importance or likelihood of happening: I believe the first 5 are definitely going to happen. Instead, they are laid out in a logical progression, with the latter building on top of the former.

    Prediction #1: All Your UI Belong to XML
    That’s right, I said XML. I didn’t want to lead with this one, but it turns out that everything relates to this fact in some way. From here on out, Microsoft is going to have two ways to build UI-facing applications: If you require compatibility across multiple ecosystems (Microsoft, Android, iOS), use HTML 5. If you require compatibility across the Windows ecosystem (Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox), use XAML. That XAML will run on WPF (.NET Full), Silverlight (.NET Lite), or C++ (Windows Immersive) and will allow you to use a single UI markup language driven by whatever programming language you are most comfortable with.

    imageHTML5 Everywhere, XAML on Windows

    No longer will you be forced to rely on a designer to kick out the C code necessary to construct a UI, nor will you have to rely on MFC controls. The same XAML that makes Silverlight and WPF apps beautiful will be able to add the same simplicity for developers who want the speed of native code instead of the .NET Framework.

    You can actually use XAML with C++ today, through Silverlight for Windows Embedded. Because that technology already exists, it’s not that much of a stretch to take it to the rest of the Windows Ecosystem. I believe the Native XAML platform is codenamed “Jupiter”, and my co-worker Bill Reiss, who is a Silverlight MVP, goes over this in a bit more detail on his new blog, XamlNative.com.

    BTW, this idea is given even more weight by some of the banners up at Build: (via @danwahlin)

    I like the "use what you know" part of the slogan. ... on Twitpic

    Prediction #2: One Codebase to Rule Them All
    I don’t think Microsoft has been prattling on about the three screens for no reason. Windows, Windows Embedded, Windows Embedded Compact, and the Xbox all diverged from each other a long time ago Windows CE evolved from somewhere between the Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 codebases, while Windows Embedded started as a componentized version of Windows XP, and has evolved since then to Windows Embedded 7 Standard, which came out last year.

    The non-consumer versions all had the capability of running on ARM, but separate teams were responsible for that code. There was no way to get that code into mainline Windows until the MinWin effort to refactor the Windows Kernel into clean layers (think OS-level N-Tier development). With Windows 8, I believe that effort will be finished. That’s why Windows 8 will run on ARM, and why the .NET Framework 4.5 will also have an ARM compiler and JIT interpreter. (As an aside, I believe that any .NET code that was compiled to “AnyCPU” will run on ARM without recompiling… but that is an educated guess).

    Anyway, with Windows 8, it won’t just be the same marketing name on everything. I believe all flavors of Windows, including Windows Phone 8 and the Xbox 360, will be running on the exact same code. Just as .NET lets you use Compilation Directives to target different environments, all of the Windows code will be streamlined behind the scenes, and certain things will be added or excluded whether you are on ARM on the PC vs. ARM on the phone.

    Among other things, the big implication here is that the phone platform will have the same security and stability as the Windows desktop does. This may elicit snickers from some people, but in this day in age, Windows is the most securely-developed and tested OS currently available.

    Prediction #3: One Marketplace to Rule Them All
    Each of the 3 screens will run Silverlight after October, when the Xbox Live Dashboard Update goes into beta. And each one of these screens will have an App Store to match.

    xboxdashapps

    Right now, Microsoft online store strategy is a disjointed mess. The Windows Phone Marketplace is fraught with technical glitches and design flaws that make it difficult to use as a developer. Simple changes to the description text require your whole app to be recertified, even if you didn’t upload new binaries. The Microsoft Store has its own e-commerce solution. And up until a month or so ago, Xbox Live Marketplace and the Games for Windows Live Marketplace were two separate systems.

    But Microsoft still has a year before Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are released, so they have plenty of time to complete their re-alignment. These systems will need to go from serving 50M+ users, to potentially serving 1B+. That is an *enormous* deal, and potentially the world’s largest software undertaking. Can you think of any other service that currently has one billion unique users, or 1/6th of the planet’s population?

    Making the online retail experience have a seamless back-end between the 3 screens and a cloud is very important, and that leads me to my next prediction.

    Prediction #4: Write Once, Install Everywhere (in the Windows Ecosystem)
    Long Zheng has already uncovered the APPX installation model, and how it affects Windows 8. It is very similar to the current Windows Phone 7 model currently defined in WMAppManifest.xml. Makes sense, sine the new file is called AppXManifest.xml. According to WinRumors.com, the packages will be XAP files (which Silverlight already uses, which is basically a ZIP file using conventions similar to the Microsoft Office Open XML package definition).

    Now, it makes sense that this will be the way you build Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 apps, and there has been plenty of speculation to that end. But I believe that the Xbox 360 will also support this format… meaning it is conceivable that the same app will run, unchanged, on all three screens of the Microsoft ecosystem.

    This eats into the core of Apple’s distribution model. Developers write for iOS because they have reach… But what if you could write one app, and instantly be on 1B PCs, 60M TVs, and 3M phones? That changes the game pretty significantly. To my knowledge, you can’t currently have the same native app run on both iOS and OSX. How do you like THEM apples?

    Prediction #5: Virtually Compatible
    I’ve been on Microsoft’s case for quite some time about virtualization. At PDC 2005, during a dinner with the members of Team 99, Chris Anderson, Mike Kolitz (who later joined the Hyper-V team) and I got into a heated debate about leveraging virtualization to allow Windows to shed its’ compatibility kruft and pave a clean path forward. Microsoft had recently purchased the assets of Connectix, and Virtual PC was a wonderful opportunity to make that a reality. At the time, Chris said that the whole of Windows was legacy code, and that it was going to be too big an effort to be possible.

    Fast forward several years. I was at CES 2008, and Windows 7 was on the horizon. I was speaking privately with a senior level Microsoft employee about the ever-deepening reach of virtualization in the Windows Client. I went on and on about how much I loved Hyper-V, and how it should be integrated into Desktop systems to enable the same kind of backwards-compatibility scenarios. With multicore system flourishing, it shouldn’t be difficult to have another version of Windows running in the background. In response, he went on to talk about how Hyper-V would not be in Windows 7, but that it would make it into “Windows 8”. Since this part has thus far proven accurate, I have no reason to believe what I am about to relay is not.

    He spoke about a compatibility scenario that was quite interesting. He talked about using similar techniques as the .NET Framework to create a “Sandbox” for applications, where the app could request any version of a DLL that has shipped with Windows, and that the OS would be able to load it up and execute it within the context of that application alone. When I told Rafael Rivera about this conversation, he said it sounded a lot like ‘Project Drawbridge’. The way it was described in Mary Jo Foley’s article, it didn’t sound like it was terribly far along… but I think it’s actually closer than they made it seem.

    drawbridge

    If this is true and in Windows 8 (which is possible, based on the conversation I had with this VP) this would be truly revolutionary for not just Windows, but the entire OS space. Microsoft’s competitive advantage is in its dedication to compatibility. What if, instead of shipping a bloated OS with tons of code that exists for no other reason that to maintain compatibility with old software, Microsoft instead shipped an OS that was able to grab the right OS-level DLLs from a secure web service (or Windows Update, whatever), on the fly? What if your app that only ran in XP could run as a native Windows 8 app, but using Windows XP DLLs? That would be truly incredible.

    Prediction #6: Visual Studio 2012 CTP with .NET 4.5 & HTML5 Support
    It has been a while since we’ve gotten new bits for Visual Studio, so I fully expect to be running the latest VS2012 bits before the end of the week. Those bits will have support for .NET 4.5, new Azure programming models, Silverlight 5, new Immersive controls, and debug support for XAML Bindings in WPF, and lots of other goodies. I want MS to put out so many bits that I go over my Comcast bandwidth cap for the month. *fingers crossed*


    Now for the less certain predictions. These are things that I think will happen given the climate, but I don’t have much information to go on.

    Prediction #7: Time to Screw With the SKUs
    Ok, this part isn’t going to be announced at BUILD. Another VP at Microsoft once told me (I’m paraphrasing), “The SKU system has been made into a science. After 30 years of selling Windows, we know how to do it. And whatever you do, you never screw with the SKUs.”

    Well, I think that is about to change. The evolution of the Windows Kernel over the last 6 years (thanks to the MinWin refactoring project) will finally allow for something that critics have been complaining about for AGES: Windows 8 will ship with a single SKU. Tearing the kernel apart and reorganizing it has finally allowed for systems to be truly separate. Having a single, built-in marketplace will allow Microsoft to offer functionality to exactly the people that want it.

    The threads for this evolution have been there since Vista, with the componentization of the SKUs themselves, leading through to the ability to purchase in-place SKU upgrades in Windows 7. With the recent announcement that Windows Media Center, a staple of the Windows ecosystem since they released a Media Center SKU (XP Media Center Edition, was NOT going to ship in the Windows 8 Developer Preview… it only makes sense to me that Windows is being slimmed down to a single SKU with a number of add-ons.

    Think about it… say you only want to be able to join a domain and run Media Center… should you have to pay $289 for a full version of Windows Ultimate, when you pay $99 for Windows, $29.99 for the Domain Connectivity Pack, and $29.99 for the Media Center Pack? Of course not. I’d be more than willing to pay for only the features I use.

    Prediction #8: Mango will be released, Apollo will be demoed.
    The rumor mill is heating up that Mango will go live on the 15th. You’ve got a bunch of developers in one place, so why not drop the final Windows Phone 7.1 SDK bits, and open the floodgates of Mango to the world. And while they are at it, they just might demo builds of Windows Phone 8 that are known to be floating around internally. I think if they are going to demo “Write Once Install Anywhere”, a phone demo would be killer.

    Prediction #9: TV Everywhere
    With Microsoft finally letting loose the existence of Mediaroom clients for Media Center, Silverlight, and Windows Phone… I have a feeling that Live TV without a tuner on your Xbox is only the beginning.

    Prediction #10: I Will Be Begging Pathetically to Buy a BUILD Tablet
    This one is pretty self explanatory. Anyone wanting to unload their BUILD hardware (tablet, laptop, whatever) for some cash should message me on Twitter. If it’s a tablet, I want one, and am willing to pay for it.

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  • Microsoft Launches “Building Windows 8” Blog

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    Microsoft had a lot of success with the “Engineering Windows 7” blog, run by Steven Sinofsky and featuring guest posts by various members of the Windows Team. Their communication really added to the dialog around the product, and I think it was a great feedback channel for the final product.

    The BUILD conference is a month away (unfortunately, I won’t be attending) but Microsoft is starting to ramp up their communication and PR. Today, Sinofsky launched the Building Windows 8 blog on MSDN, promising to build on the lessons of the E7 blog to further improve the “B8” blog.

    I believe that Windows 8 is going to live up to the “bet the company” line Ballmer said last year, in ways that we pundits don’t yet understand. The next few months will be very exciting, as the impact of work that began immediately after Windows Vista will finally be revealed.

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  • Hyper-V 3.0 Confirmed for Windows 8 Client

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    A moment has come that I am very excited about. I have been taking a part the latest Windows 8 leaked build (7989), which is the first time an X64 build has leaked. In looking at the Windows Features item in the Control Panel, I came across something new.

    Apparently it’s been in there for quite a while, but between the focus on Consumer features, and the lack of X64 builds leaking out, it’s the first time we’ve seen it. In perusing through the various screens, I’m able to confirm over a dozen new features for Hyper-V 3.0 They are:

    This is a huge step forward for Windows 8. I believe it will have a huge impact on a wide array of usage scenarios, the least of which is the potential for self-contained App-V / Windows XP Mode support. Not to mention better Windows Phone 7/7.5/8 Emulator support. But more on that in my next post. In the meantime, I’ll be switching my VMs over to using Win8 as my Hyper-V host, while I wait for someone to unlock the Immersive UI in this build. Enjoy!

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  • 20 Years of PDC Keynotes Online

    When I heard earlier today that Microsoft had put all of the Microsoft PDC keynotes online, I was very excited. But I have to admit, it was for selfish reasons. Because I would finally get to tell one of my favorite experiences. Apologies for the self-indulgent post… but then again, aren’t all my posts that way? Open-mouthed smile I figured since the Rapture is coming in a few hours, I could indulge myself in a memory or two.

    You see, PDC 2003 was my first Microsoft conference. It was also time when those terrible fires in LA happened, that cancelled many flights out (including mine). It had been a crazy couple days trying to figure out how to get there, but I ended up having to take a bus overnight from Phoenix to LA. It was a long night, and I didn’t get any sleep the entire bus ride.

    It turns out, I ended up being an hour late. I was really disappointed at not being able to see Bill Gates speak in person. Corny, I know… he’s something of a hero of mine. Bite me. Anyway, I had WAAAAY overpacked, and ended up rolling into the middle of Allchin’s keynote with my HUGE suitcase. Who happens to be standing there but Robert Scoble. So we grab a seat, I’m excited but exhausted, and not 5 minutes later, this slide comes up. I didn’t have enough time to get my camera out, so I couldn’t catch a picture of the new Longhorn-focused website I had just launched on Jim Allchin’s slide deck.

    But now I can.

    Had I been any more tired, I probably would have stood up and yelled “That’s my site!” But I kept it together. Later, Scoble told me that Gates, Ballmer, and Allchin were backstage checking out LonghornBlogs.com, and reading what people were saying about the conference (this was WAAAY before Twitter). I wish I could have seen that.

    At any rate. If you get a chance, you should take a look at the PDC 2003 and 2005 videos. Pretty interesting contrasts of what was going on at Microsoft before and after MSBlaster. That is, if you’re still here tomorrow.

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  • My Take on the Microsoft–Skype Deal

    The pundits are all weighing in on the deal announced today to buy Skype for $8.5B, so I thought I’d resurrect my blog for a few minutes and offer my opinion as well. I think it is a great deal for both Skype users and Microsoft customers, but before I get into that, you should read Peter Bright’s take over at ArsTechnica, as it provides a great counterpoint.

    Fixing The Bugs
    Skype as a software product is horrible. There isn’t a day that goes by where my Skype client doesn’t crash in the middle of a call. I get dropouts constantly. And it doesn’t work very well on consumer routers when both users are inside the same network. Microsoft is the one company I can trust to change all of that.

    Microsoft has spent the better part of the last decade building the best software development facilities on the planet. The Secure Development Lifecycle has helped Windows 7 have the fewest vulnerabilities of any version of Windows. Their automated testing facilities have thousands of virtual machines in different configurations, ready to beat the crap out of whatever is thrown at them. There is no doubt in my mind that Microsoft has the tools necessary to make Skype orders of magnitude more reliable.

    An Effective Peer-To-Peer Protocol
    While the implementation is sometimes less than reliable, Skype does have an extremely effective peer-to-peer protocol. Microsoft has tried several times to emulate that protocol, with little success. Windows has a protocol built in, but I don’t use any applications that actually make use of it.

    Access to the BitTorrent-esque protocol could improve Azure services, for example, by providing a mechanism improving data transfers inside the Azure infrastructure. For example… it takes anywhere from 15-45 minutes to deploy an Azure application. Azure could leverage the transfer protocol to speed up replicating VM instances across physical machines, both inside and between Azure datacenters. It could also help replicate Azure CDN data between nodes more quickly. Both of which could significantly speed up deployment times.

    On the other hand, Microsoft may decide that Windows Peer-to-Peer is a better protocol, and move Skype to that instead. It would have the benefit of being already documented, which could pacify the EU and open source folk. It remains to be seen. Either approach would have a positive effect on end users.

    Improving Skype Service Reliability
    Speaking of peer-to-peer and Azure, the recent Skype outage should still be fresh in everyone’s mind. The cause was a bug in the way Supernodes communicated with each other. Skype’s solution to the problem was to host their own Supernodes, called “Mega-Supernodes”, that would always be available.

    By moving those nodes to Windows Azure, and hosting a cluster inside each Azure datacenter, Microsoft can easily and inexpensively improve the reliability of the Skype infrastructure. Node goes down? Replicate a new one. Plus, it gives Microsoft a great marketing tool (“Windows Azure improves Skype reliability by 40%!"), and a few more places (like the Skype client) to plaster a “Powered by Windows Azure” logo. Might be a powerful marketing tool to see an Azure logo on the startup screen of an app running on a Mac.

    Improving Skype Video Quality
    Nobody does video streaming better that Microsoft. Period. For anyone that thinks Adobe is better… try watching a video on YouTube without it stuttering. Good luck. IIS Smooth Streaming is the best in the business, and there could be opportunity to bolster Skype’s video quality by leveraging that code, and/or Silverlight, to dramatically improve the video call experience.

    You Are the Weakest Lync. Goodbye.
    One of the first things I heard from Twitter is that buying Skype doesn’t fit in with the strategy of improving Lync Server and Lync Online sales, as they have a lot of overlapping features. That is exactly why it makes so much sense. For starters, adding Skype support to the Lync client only bolsters its adoption. The ability to connect Lync-ified internal communications with external audio and video conferencing is HUGE. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used SkypeOut to dial into a LiveMeeting conference call. With Skype in my Lync, that should no longer cost me money.

    Also, if you’re a company looking to switch from Comcast Business Telephone to Lync, you still have to subscribe to a SIP provider if you want to take external phone calls, which complicates the Lync server setup process.

    $8.5B just bought Microsoft a huge network of physical machines that connect Skype to the PSTN. That gives Microsoft an “in” to be able to provide that service to customer out-of-the-box, without violating their partner agreements with SIP providers. This is how Microsoft started offering Hosted Exchange as a service, by purchasing a Hosted Exchange provider to beef up their internal infrastructure. That means Lync Server could have a better out-of-the-box experience that doesn’t require signing up for other outside services. Plus it gives Microsoft another PSTN provider for Lync Online’s audio conferencing and phone connectivity.

    Increasing Windows Phone 7 Adoption
    Whether or not Windows Phone 7 is successful is a hot topic of debate among pundits, especially since Microsoft (or any of their partners, for that matter) haven’t released any solid numbers about sell-through to end users. Some carriers (I’m looking at you, Verizon) have given WP7 the cold shoulder thus far, alienating some of their customers (like me).

    Purchasing Skype means that now carriers have no choice but to deal with Microsoft, because Skype is on practically every phone out there. “Hey [insert carrier name here], want us to improve Skype protocol efficiency on your network? We won’t do it unless you’re selling at least one WP7 device.” Some anti-trust, Android lovers may bristle at that… but ultimately it’s good for consumers, who need an effective counterweight against bully carriers. (We all know Google got too caught up in money to fight THAT fight).

    Microsoft Everywhere
    If you think about it, the Skype acquisition fits in perfectly with Microsoft’s “Three screens and the Cloud” strategy. Skype is on millions of devices, sold by thousands of retailers, and manufactured by dozens of companies. Every one of those devices has one of the three screens Microsoft wants to dominate. Plus, it means that Microsoft doesn’t have to wait for Skype to get a Round Tuit for integration with existing Microsoft products like Kinect, in-game chat on Xbox Live, and Windows Phone 7. They can ensure that those devices have first-class support, which will only be good for consumers.

    And don’t forget that Skype has millions of paying customers, many of which run on non-Microsoft ecosystems. Those customers will look great on Microsoft’s bottom line, and provide new opportunities to expand their exposure to the Microsoft brand in other ways. Would be a great thing to be able to say “Microsoft has software running on over a billion PC and post-PC devices. How many do you have again, Apple?”

    Making Life Harder for Google (and Smacking Apple in the FaceTime)
    At the end of the day, this has as much to do with the purchase as anything else. Skype is on the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, as well as Apple TVs. Skype is on the Google TV. Now Google and Apple both will have to deal with Microsoft directly on these platforms, which in turn with give Microsoft a great competitive advantage. Microsoft now owns one of the only solid ways for Apple users to video chat with non-Apple users. Nothing like a little forced coop-etition to stick it to your enemies. How about them apples?

    Screw Shareholder Value
    Look, Microsoft’s stock hasn’t moved in ages. The reason is not because Microsoft isn’t making outstanding products, because they are. It’s because the tech press (with a few notable exceptions) spends their time falling all over themselves to win the affections of Google and Apple, which in turn means that the general public doesn’t get exposed to positive articles about Microsoft. So if the market isn’t going to pay attention anyways, why not make bold, risky bets to better the brand? Complain all you want about failed acquisitions, but Microsoft has a better track record of integrating acquired companies than Google and Yahoo have. Google and Yahoo have bought and killed more companies than Genghis Khan killed actual people.

    So screw it. Go for broke. Why not? The injection of a successful brand and fresh blood into the company may be just what Microsoft needs to take back some more mindshare from people too enamored with Apple’s shiny design and Google’s nefarious plans to care otherwise.

    So what do you think? Did I miss the mark? Sound off in the comments Smile.

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  • On Expectations, PDC, Silverlight, and HTML 5

    There has been a lot of commentary over the last few days about the PDC-Silverlight-HTML5 debacle, whether it is dead or not, etc. I posted to Twitter yesterday that I had an epiphany about why the strategy was what it was. But in talking to some of my colleagues in the Silverlight world, I was able to come to some different conclusions… plus over the past few days there has been a ton of great commentary.

    Then today, Bob Muglia and Steve Ballmer each responded to calm down us crazy developers,. and kudos to them for quick responses, even if we did blow it way out of proportion. But I still think they missed some points. So I thought I’d still take a few moments and follow it up with some different points that haven’t exactly been addressed, that might be helpful to understand.

    My observations and extrapolations about what’s going on inside DevDiv:

    • The “transparency vs. translucency” debate still rages on, internally (and externally). Some of us pundits like to call it the “Sinofsky Rule”.  ‘Softies tell me that no official “rule” exists (I think it’s more like a guideline.) Unfortunately for us “complete-transparency-loving” bloggers, the lessons of PDCs past still affect communication decisions today. (As an aside, ‘Softies really don’t like it being called a ‘Sinofsky Rule’. I don’t know why. All great edicts have names, like the Monroe Doctrine, or the Gettysburg Address. It’s a far better name than “Shut The Hell Up, Already!” I just wish it were applied just a tiny bit differently… more on that later)
    • Silverlight v.Next and WPF v.Next are both in active development. Rob Relyea gave a 30-minute taped presentation on WPF Futures, where they discussed solving the major problem of WPF not playing nicely with HWNDs, and adding a SilverlightHost control to allow Silverlight content to be cleanly displayed and interacted with inside a WPF control. From what I understand, some of the features for Silverlight v.Next are already baked and ready to go.
    • Microsoft appears to be slowing the cadence of Silverlight releases. Microsoft shipped a Silverlight 4 preview before Silverlight 3 RTMed. This was clearly a bad idea, and Microsoft got a lot of feedback from customers to slow down. So I believe they are responding to that feedback, and allowing adoption time before the next release.
    • The Silverlight team has been working with the Windows Phone 7 team for a little while now. They finished Silverlight 4 well before .NET 4 was finished, as evidenced by the lack of deltas between releases. I believe this was so that they could fully focus on the work required for shipping (and evolving) the Phone runtime before it released.

    Regarding PDC:

    • There are 3 yearly Microsoft conferences for Developers: PDC, TechEd, and MIX. This is how Microsoft sees these conferences, even if they haven’t explicitly stated that in the past:
      • PDC – .NET & Windows Client Futures
      • TechEd – .NET & Windows Client Today
      • MIX – Web Today & Future
    • The model for the web is changing. The change from server + client to cloud + devices makes it more difficult to tailor these types of conferences to specific audiences. So the dissonance between this and previous PDCs can be chalked up to trying to figure out what that means.
    • PDC is all about getting “bits”. Customers don’t like Microsoft talking about things unless they can get bits into their hands by the time the conference is over. I personally miss getting DVDs and hard drives with buttloads of bits for my own crazy experimentation.
    • Given that structure, Silverlight would typically be discussed at MIX, not PDC. However, up until a couple weeks ago, there were Silverlight presentations on the docket for PDC10.
    • (Interesting Side Note) Having PDC on the Microsoft campus this year was not about saving Microsoft money, it was about saving customers’ money. From what I have heard, PDC10 cost the same as any other PDC, when you factor in the live streaming infrastructure, and the local events. Doing it this way was about not forcing companies to buy plane tickets and hotel rooms to get info on what is coming down the pipe.

    What’s happening with HTML5:

    • HTML is the most ubiquitous technological “platform” ever deployed. I use the term platform loosely because HTML is just markup… but the point is, it’s *everywhere*. So you can’t avoid it, I can’t avoid it… and neither can Microsoft.
    • Standards-based innovation is cyclical. Organizations come together to standardize a particular platform, in this case HTML. It gains adoption, but invariably has shortcomings. So the market innovates to fill those gaps, which is why Silverlight and Flash exist in the first place. Then standards come in behind to evolve the “platform”, and the tools that used to fill the gaps have to follow suit. HTML5 marks the part of the cycle where the standard is trying to catch up. And that is OK.
    • IE9 is Microsoft’s first answer to the HTML5 standards process. And it’s a very good answer. HTML5 is going to be a part of the future, and the bits are available now, so THAT is why Microsoft chose to focus on it at PDC.
    • HTML5 (+ JavaScript + CSS3) still need tools. (I’m burnt by the lack of quality JavaScript tools on a daily basis.) This means that Microsoft is going to have to shift some resources to get those tools created. Yes, that means you can probably expect to see the focus return back to ASP.NET, IIS, etc. Visual Studio and Blend are the toolboxes for those tools, and I would personally expect to see more information at next year’s MIX conference in Vegas.

    What all of this means for Silverlight:

    • Silverlight inside the browser is not going away just because HTML5 comes along. It will still work, and you can still target it.
    • Hardware replacement cycles are going to limit HTML5’s exposure in the enterprise. IE9 won’t run on XP, so Silverlight is still the best way to get great apps to those users.
    • At this part of the cycle, Microsoft is putting more energy into innovating Silverlight on Windows Phone than it is on the Desktop. And that’s fine with me, because the Phone runtime, while awesome, still needs a lot of work. For example, we need to get true parity with Silverlight 4, instead of the V3 & V4 hybrid we currently have.
    • NONE of this means that Silverlight is dead. Microsoft still understands the value of cross-platform Silverlight, and how combining that with Novell’s Mono offerings allow you to get .NET just about anywhere you want it. Jeremiah Morrill said it best on Twitter: “I'm glad my family isn't like software developers.  They would of declared me dead because I didn't show up at the last thanksgiving.”
    • My belief: Don’t count on conversion tools from Microsoft. Microsoft is all about the “right tool for the job”. In Microsoft’s view, if you’re already using Silverlight, then why change it? If you’re not getting the benefits you need from Silverlight, you should be moving to WPF, not the other direction. That doesn’t mean that someone else couldn’t try… but why?

    Kudos to Microsoft for getting out in front of it quickly, but I think it really could have been avoided though. I find it hard to believe that no one over there pointed out that people are going to be asking about Silverlight at PDC. Even when it was taken off the docket, it shouldn’t have been replaced with a vacuum.

    As one of the guys that is typically pushing for particular technologies to be adopted within companies, here are some things Microsoft should keep in mind, to make my job easier in the future:

    • Previous communication strategies and release cycles set expectations. Putting out Silverlight v4 bits before the Silverlight v3 RTM set expectations that we would have seen Silverlight v5 bits by now. And the fact that you shared feature sets so early in the cycle with SL3 and SL4 set an expectation that we’d be getting some this time around as well. You guys need to be aware of that when you are planning.
    • Front-line developers are often the ones that help determine whether or not a company adopts a particular technology. But decision-makers hear bad PR and use it to put the kibosh on technology plans. By allowing Mary Jo to do what she does best, without being prepared for it and having a communication plan for Silverlight at PDC ahead of time, you might have set new Silverlight adoption back quite a bit.
    • Talking to customers individually is not the same as a blog post. It’s great that you reach out to customers big and small, but you need to arm the customers driving future adoption with the information they need to fight their battles internally.
    • You guys MUST start making the distinction between talking about specific features, and talking about general strategies. You can change direction and change focus, and give people details on what that means and how that affects their planning, without promising specific features or delivery dates. It’s OK to say something like “We’re going to be shifting the focus of our next release to the Phone, but we we’re not far enough into release planning to know what our target date is yet.” I think you guys went too far back towards secrecy after PDC 2003, and inching back towards being a little more transparent wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
    • Too secret = too late to change things. The old Microsoft way of doing things made developers feel like by the tie you talked about something, it was too “baked” to change it”. We’re always afraid that you guys are going to drop a technology, and not tell us until you’re 5 months onto the new thing, with no hope of getting it back.
    • When in doubt, ask. That’s what you guys have MVPs for. When I was an MVP, I honored my NDAs, no matter what anyone thinks.

    I hope that helps some people understand more what is going on. Hopefully this will help some of my clients settle down, and get back on track with their next XAML related releases Smile.

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  • Windows Home Server v2 Leaked - Screenshots

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    Thanks to @maryjofoley for the heads-up this morning, I got a scoop that was bigger than Apple's "Party like it's 2005" launch of the iBezel iFrame iPad. Windows Home Server, codename "Vail" CTP4 has been leaked to teh intertubes. I have installed the bits, and I can relay with certainty what you can expect, based on my initial experiences.

    • Built on the RTM bits of Windows Server 2008 R2.
    • Will come in 2 flavors, HOMESTANDARD and HOMEPREMIUM
    • Requires an x64 Processor.
    • Requires a minimum of 160GB primary hard drive.
    • Server "Desktop Experience" is installed OOB (meaning Aero, Media, etc).
    • Built-In HomeGroup Support (unlike WS2008 R2)
    • WHS Console is now the "Dashboard", and has a cleaner Add-In model (all pages are now AddIns).
    • There will be an online catalog for add-ins hosted by Microsoft.
    • While there is a "Recorded TV" option in the folders, there does not presently appear to be deeper media integration. That may come in later builds.
    • It *appears* that WHS now backs itself up.

    All this is pretty exciting, but it is readily apparent that this is still a work in progress. Many items are still marked "Not yet implemented". My installation was also a bit wonky, so here are some things you need to know.

    • Presently, it appears that the setup process DOES NOT like you changing the name from the default "SERVER". If you already have a WHS box with "SERVER" on your network, I would recommend you turn your existing WHS box off while testing, and then shut your test box down while running your live WHS.
    • After you restart a couple times, you'll be greeted with a yellow ASP.NET error screen. Hit CTRL+ALT+DEL, select Task Manager, right click on the only open application and select "Minimize". Then, right click your network connection and select "Troubleshoot". Once the connection is fixed, click on the Setup app in the taskbar, right click the error, and select Refresh. The install should then proceed properly. It will trigger another restart, and then you'll have to do this at least one more time.

    Based on everything I've seen, WHS v2 will be one of the most exciting releases to come out of Microsoft in a while. I'm going to keep playing with it, and report back anything else I find. Oh yeah, and see my screenshot gallery here (see below for a couple highlights).

     

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  • An Open Letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

    Dear Mr. Ballmer,

    Let me start by saying that I’ve admired your company since I was 10 years old. I think what Microsoft does for the industry, and the world, is amazing. I think Windows is, and has always been, the best operating system on the market.

    However, I have to take issue with your recent statement that Vista beta testers failed you. The testers did not fail you sir, your development and beta processes did. Your feedback mechanism is notorious for closing bugs entered within a matter of hours. This would normally be an amazing thing, if they were actually getting fixed; however most were closed “No Repro” without contact from the person trying to repro, or worse: “By Design, Won’t Fix” (which is like a giant slap in the face).

    In addition, many beta testers sounded very public warnings that Vista wasn’t ready. In fact, my post on the matter (the year my Windows MVP wasn’t renewed, BTW) gave specific causes for alarm, along with specific, actionable options for adding another Beta to the cycle. This post garnered half a million page views (my single most-viewed piece EVER) and my opinion was echoed by many major tech heavy-hitters, including Scoble, Ed Bott, Chris Pirillo, Marc Orchant, Dwight Silverman, Paul Thurrott (though he took several potshots at me in the process) and others.

    Fortunately for you, Steven Sinofsky & crew have done a fantastic job cleaning house on the engineering side. Adding internal testing to the planning mix had a drastic positive effect on the quality of the product cycle, and showed that the Windows Team truly does respect the term “Release Candidate”. The only complaint that I have about the Windows 7 Beta engineering process is that there were too few builds released to testers to validate the work that was going on.

    However, many issues with the tester feedback loop still remain. The general feeling from the tester community is that Microsoft only likes us when our feedback is positive, and couldn't care less otherwise. And that drives an animosity that will not be beneficial to Windows (or Microsoft as a whole) in the long-term. My personal opinion is that Scott Guthrie still runs the best teams at Microsoft, and his community engagement methodology is one that every Microsoft team should strive to emulate.

    So, with all due respect, Mr. Ballmer, before you go insinuating that beta testers didn’t do their jobs with Vista, maybe you should look into how your own people kept you insulated from the screaming we were all doing about how bad Vista was. We tried to warn you, it’s not our fault the message was not relayed to your bubble.

    Sincerely,
    Robert McLaws
    Early Windows “Longhorn” enthusiast and satisfied Windows 7 customer

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  • Changes Needed for Media Center in Windows 7 SP1

    I *love* Windows Media Center. It’s my favorite part of Windows, and in Windows 7, it’s fantastic. There are a lot of improvements, and hopefully soon I’ll be able to post some of my favorite parts.

    But I just spent the last 2 hours trying to fix my Windows Media Center installation at home (tried a number of different options before I ended up rolling back using Windows Home Server), so I figured now would be the best time to talk about the improvements that WMC needs by the time the next Service Pack rolls around.

    Improving Reliability
    The WMC database is by far the most brittle aspect of Windows Media Center. For whatever reason, Microsoft decided to use a lightweight database to power the whole system. Series recordings, configuration data… you name it. It’s all stored in a DB file in C:\Windows\ehome. If that DB file is corrupted in any way, you are completely SOL.

    Such an event happened on October 2nd. I’m not the only one that experienced the issue, which means Microsoft distributed corrupted Guide data. Microsoft said the only option was to re-run the initial setup, and I’m sorry but that answer is unacceptable. It takes nearly 20 minutes to run the “Configure My TV Signal” process. I shouldn’t need to configure my tuners and blast away my Recording settings in order to clear out and re-download the Guide. But that is the only option that Microsoft puts on the table.

    The Media Center needs to move the WMC database to a more robust engine that is capable of transactional rollbacks if an update fails. It also needs to store the Guide in a completely separate database file, so that Guide corruptions do not affect all of the other settings.

    User Interface Changes
    I run my Media Center in a headless configuration, because I don’t want those gigantic OCUR tuners on my entertainment center. The main problem with that setup is that I can’t run the aforementioned “Configure My TV Signal” wizard on an Extender. Whatever the technical reason for that decision is, accessibility trumps all. I shouldn’t have to lug a monitor into my office closet to configure my TV tuners.

    And while the team is improving the UI, there needs to be an option to backup and restore your Series Subscriptions without downloading a 3rd party program. ESPECIALLY if the WMC database is so brittle. Yes, I know there are free/cheap options. We’re on like the 5th iteration of the platform at this point, it’s time to start building in better options for recovering from problems.

    And finally, there needs to be a richer notification system for headless Media Centers. If the Guide won’t download, the only way to find out is to RDP into the system. While that’s not a terribly big deal, it’s not the best user experience. There should be UI for reading Media Center errors, and a queuing process for showing serious ones, for example like Windows Update restart notifications.

    Conclusion
    Windows Media Center is a fantastic platform, and Microsoft has pulled out all the stops to give it the potential to really hit the mainstream. The next update (which unlike the TV Pack 2008, needs to be available to everyone) needs to focus on improving the WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor).

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