Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

October 2006 - Posts

  • Microsoft on Swag

    Heard on campus today...

    "Microsoft: Your Potential, Out T-Shirt"

    Too funny.

  • A Nice Little Surprise from GoDaddy

    I logged onto this morning from Microsoft and got a nice little surprise:

    IE 7 is really bringing OpenSearch into the mainstream!

  • Windows Vista RC2 Available to TechBeta Members

    I'm in Redmond for the TechBeta Tour, and Paul Donnelly just let one of the testers flip bit on Windows Vista RC2 (5744). Connect members can download it immediately... the public release will be available shortly.

    As has already been said, this is the last public build of Vista. After this, Microsoft is changing the Product Keys, and will be checking in some User Experience code that they've been sitting on so they can still surprise the market. Jim talked about this during my interview, and I'll post more on that later.

  • Neat UAC Tip

    Wanna see what your current user's credentials allow you to do? Open up the Command prompt and type whoami /all. You'll get a printout of your filtered token with all your user rights.

    Also, a tidbit that I didn't know until today, UAC knows which window called for an elevation prompt, and UAC overlays the consent dialog directly over the parent window. That way you know exactly which program caused the elevation.

  • Microsoft Compromises on Black Titlebars

    Filed under:

    One of Microsoft's most hated UI decisions for Windows Vista was the decision to black-out the titlebar when a window is maximized. Well, rejoice, for the UI team has listened... and offers a compromise.

    In Vista, we are really trying to reduce the amount of high contrast visual noise in the UI to make it more comfortable for daily use. Part of that is make the taskbar darker, and another aspect is making the maximized windows match the taskbar by tinting toward black also.  The black taskbar and black titlebar produce a kind of letter-boxed effect, drawing your eyes toward the contents.  We think it works pretty well.  What we do is mix black in with the selected window color.  If you look closely, you can see that your taskbar and maximized titlebars all have some of your window color mixed in.


    In the end, we decided that we like the black and think it is the right thing to do, but we want to respect the user's color choice for users who bother to make a change.  So - starting in today's build, we have significantly backed off the amount of black that is mixed in with the user's color for maximized windows.  This is not particularly noticeable with the default color, but with the more intense colors like Red and Orange, you will appreciate the difference.

    While I can understand where they are coming from with the whole "letterbox" thing, here's one part I don't get... if Microsoft was trying to match the taskbar... why didn't they use the same shade of gray? I think the fact that it was absolute black was probably the most annoying thing that people didn't get.

    Anyways, it's still there in the default... but if you don't like it, change the tinting! See, Microsoft can compromise... It's the genius of "and", people!

  • Bootable CompletePC Backup Challenge!

    Speaking of CompletePC backup VHDs, today I'm launching the first WindowsNow Coding Challenge. This month's challenge is all about those Virtual Hard Drives (VHDs) that CompletePC spits out. You can easily mount them to a Virtual PC / Virtual Server machine... but you can't boot to it. I don't know why Microsoft didn't go the extra mile to make that happen, but it needs to. So here's the drill...

    The first person to create a utility that automatically converts CompletePC backups into images that can successfully boot into Vista will receive A FREE COPY OF WINDOWS VISTA after the consumer launch in January! But here's the catch: the edition of Vista you receive will be based on a couple factors:

    1. Creativity
    2. Presentation
    3. Complexity (if the solution requireds a crapload of code, it will get a higher edition than if you just wrote a script that used VHDMount to copy a boot sector to the VHD, for example.)
    4. Must include the source code (will not be published)

    I will be the sole judge, and all decisions are final. To submit your entry:

    1. Register as a WindowsNow user (if you're not already one)
    2. Private message me with the subject "CompletePC Backup Challenge" and send me a link to the zip file with the source code, compiled solution, and comments.

    The contest closes on the 31st... so get cracking! May the best code win!

  • Speaking of VHDMount...

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    The VirtualPC Guy posted this ROCKIN tip on how to associate VHDs with VHDMount. The result is double-click virtual disk mounting goodness... perfect for getting files out of Vista's CompletePC backups.
  • Virtually Left Behind

    You know, there has been a lot of controversy lately (from developers I respect who should know better) about the news that Visual Studio .NET 2002/2005 will "mostly work but be unsupported" on Windows Vista. They claim that the answer "Just move your environment to Virtual PC and develop on VS.NET 2003 there" is unacceptable, claiming that virtualization is "slow, even on great hardware". Are the people complaining really going to be moving to Vista anyways? Or do they just like having stuff to complain about? Hmmm, I wonder...

    First off, who is still developing on Windows XP in the first place? Most developers I know work on Windows Server 2003. It's faster, more responsive, and is more locked-down... plus you can develop and test on the same machine with IIS 6 built-in. You can say "well, my shop can't afford that many license of Windows Server", but every Microsoft shop should have at least one MSDN subscription. It's the single most cost-effective way to build testing environments.

    But I digress. The bottom line is, if you're a develpment shop, and you're NOT using virtualization yet, you are wasting valuable time and money. How can I make such a bold and audacious claim? Well, consider the following scenario:

    "Scott" is a .NET developer working for a Web 2.0 company. They are working on the next generation of their web platform, and they want to be able to leverage ASP.NET AJAX Extensions for the browser, and WCF & WPF for richer applications on the desktop. He's constantly evaluating new bits as they are released, and managing his system is a pain. The .NET 3.0 installer has hosed his system more times than he can count, and he's had to delay his project several times to rebuild his machine. He only has one machine at his desk, and between waiting for the Windows XP installer and the VS 2005 installer, he has burned through plenty of company money waiting around. He knows it is a pain, but he and his manager have accepted it as the price you pay for staying on the bleeding edge.

    Sounds like a lot of fun, right? <rolls eyes>

    Now consider my setup. I test several new Vista builds every month, and yet I spend less than an hour of downtime for every system wipe I undergo. Why? Because I'm using Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 Beta 2 (say that 5x fast), and I make extensive use of virtual machines for my development environment. On my hard drive, I currently have the following virtual machines:

    • Base Machine: Clean install of Windows XP SP2 that has no programs on it and is fully patched.
    • Base Machine: Clean install of Windows Server 2003 R2 that has no programs installed and is fully patched.
    • Base Machine: Clean install of WS2003 R2 and SQL Server 2005 that is fully patched.
    • Base Machine: Clean install of WS2003 R2, SQL Server 2005, and Visual Studio 2005 that is fully patched.
    • Dev Machine: Windows Server 2003 R2 with Visual Studio Team Suite and SQL Server 2005 installed.
    • Dev 2: Windows Server 2003 R2 machine with a single-server installation of Team Foundation Server installed.
    • The recent Visual Studio "Orcas" September CTP VM that Microsoft just put out.

    This gives me a wide array of VMs to choose from for experimentation. If I need to try something new, like say the latest .NET 3.0 CTP, I just make a copy of one of my existing VMs to a new folder, fire it up, and go to town... all without affecting my main installation. Plus, I keep my source code on a separate virtual hard drive that all my VMs share, so I don't have to worry about VS2005 throwing access violations or any crap like that. If I need to access it on my Host PC, I can use the new VHDMount tool to mount the VHD as if it were a physical hard drive. It has made my life orders of mangitude simpler.

    Still think that virtualization is slow? Most new Intel and AMD processors have some kind of hardware-based virtualization acceleration baked right into the chip. Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 Beta 2 has support for both, and is extremely fast. You may need to spend a couple hundred bucks to max out your RAM, but it is totally worth it. Using it on Vista is even better because you can use a USB key and utilize ReadyBoost to increase your performance. And if you use Remote Desktop instead of Microsoft's terrible VM clients, you shoud hardly experience any lagging. Oh yeah, and don't run your Virtual Machines off your primary hard drive. Invest $150 into an external USB 2.0 drive that is at least 200GB. That way, you won't have IO writes on your VM interfering with your primary HD. That's what's probably slowing most people down.

    Virtualization in a development shop allows for all developers to have a uniform environment without having to deploy RIS or WDS. In a couple years, I can easily see development shops deploying servers running Windows Server 2007 with the Windows Virtualization add-on, and will leverage 64-bit processing and hardware virtualization to run the machines for the entire development group on one box. Forget having to buy immensely powerful desktops for the development staff... just get a decent Vista machine with Gigabit ethernet and Remote Desktop into your Virtual Development Machine from across the network.

    As much as Virtual PC 2007 is probably going to suck, Microsoft's other virtualization efforts are impressive (and so are VMWare's for that matter). If you haven't invested in a virtualized environment, soon you may find yourself... virtually left behind.

  • Introducing the WindowsNow Blogcast... and Special First Guest!

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    It's no secret that I can't stand Apple... so when they announced last week that they've decided that "all your 'pods' are belong to us", I couldn't decide which term to use. Scoble considered "netcast", but NBC uses that term for the web-broadcast of their TV news programs, so I don't want to confuse the term. Someone on his blog suggested "audiocast" and "videocast", but they didn't quite have the right ring to them. Instead, I decided to steal Larry Hyrb's term "blogcast", as it is an effective play on words that doesn't single out a specific platform or mode of delivery.

    Our Blogcast will air... well, whenever I feel like it. I'm committing to twice a month, at least while I'm trying to get the hang of all the equipment I just bought. Hopfully I'll be able to get it to once a week before the end of the year. We'll see. As you can see from the link at the top of the site, the Blogcast will have it's own section of the site, but right now it just points back to the home page.

    Now for the good stuff. You can pay attention now. :)

    I was extremly fortunate to have been able to secure a VERY special guest for our inaugural Blogcast. Tommorrow I'm flying up to Redmond so that Wednesday I can spend a full hour with the very top rung of the Windows ladder... none other than Microsoft P&SD Co-President Jim Allchin. That's right folks, this guy has made it his last mission at Microsoft to get Windows Vista out the door, and I'm stealing him from that mission just before Vista RTMs to pick his brain about a wide range of topics. I'm so incredibly geeked out about this interview, I can't stand it.

    So, dear readers, if you had one thing you could change about Windows Vista, that was possible to fix before launch, what would that be? Leave your comments on this entry, and I'll take the top five (5) answers, as judged by me, to Jim at the end of my interview. Will they get fixed? Don't count on it, but if anyone can get them done, he can.

    Pay attention to that last paragraph, because I'll only be looking at things that can be accomplished in the next 15-30 days. And please, don't give me a littany of your Vista gripes... pick ONE actionable item and post it. I want to make sure I can get Jim the fixes that will have the most impact, and I won't be able to do it if I have to read through diatribes on dialog border spacing issues. Save that for Chris' blog ;).

    And stay tuned... once I get back from Redmond this weekend I'll have a better idea when this darn thing will hit the air.

  • LonghornBlogs is Dead, Long Live!

    Welcome to the all-new WindowsNow! ( If I did this migration right, your aggregators should have gracefully switched over without issue.

    ...wait for it...

    WOO HOO!!! Man, I've been waiting for this for a long time! Where do I begin? Well as I said, I thought today would be a very appropriate day to launch the new website... since it's's 3rd birthday. I know it's cheesy, like getting married on the day you met your spouse... but oh well.

    So why Well, I wanted to do something Vista-specific, but the problem with that idea is you have to change your name every couple years, and you can't take your Googlejuice with you. Plus, having the word "blogs" in your name absolutely kills your contextual ad targeting. So WindowsNow is just that... what's going on in Windows, right now.

    WindowsNow is still primarily centered around blogging, but as you can see in the navbar, that's not all we have anymore. We've opened up photo galleries for screenshots and what-not, as well as a file repository for exclusive Windows-Now programs and utilities. Our first utility is one I'm quite partial too, and will be uploaded very soon.

    We also have a few more features coming before the end of the month... including my first regular Blogcast. I've been wanting to do this for a while, and I've invested in some great equipment to put them together. Monday morning, I'll announce my very special first guest. It's an interview that is going to be VERY hard to top.

    Take a minute to check out the overall design. I must say, I'm totally in love with the way WindowsNow looks. We totally stepped it up a notch from LHB, but kept a few design elements for good measure. I started fooling around with a couple design ideas, and Kristan Kinney took what I started and really ran with it. It solves all the problems we had before (readability, ad layout, etc), and has a Vista-esque feel to it. Then, Jaxon Rice, the Community Server skinning genius, took over and completely redesigned the default CS skin. It loads lightning fast, is standards-compliant, tested in most major browsers, and almost passes XHTML validation (damn you ASP.NET!!!) The default font is Segoe UI, but if you don't have that, it gracefully fails over to Tahoma.... so no more CSS Overrides for Kristan ;). Jaxon was immensely helpful in getting everything taken care of, and will be helping out as we continue to build out the site.

    The thing I'm most excited about though is FINALLY being on Community Server 2.1. This version is extremely powerful, and will allow us to do some really cool things moving forward (like re-enabling anonymous comments... not yet but very soon). The upgrade process was the easiest migration I've ever done. Just executed a couple SQL scripts, and it was ready to go.

    <whew> So we're finally live, but the site is by no means finished. There are still a vew bugs that Jaxon and I are going to clean up over the next 48 hours. You'll see us go though a bunch of changes in the weeks ahead (most notably on the home page), as I start rolling out ideas and code that I've been sitting on for over a year. I'll also be talking more about the mission of the site, and inviting Vista users to come share their experiences with the world.

    Thanks to everyone who has supported LonghornBlogs throughout the years, and we hope you'll support WindowsNow too! Thanks for reading!

    Robert McLaws