Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

December 2006 - Posts

  • Windows MultiPoint: Groundbreaking Platform for Education

    UPDATE: You can also hear more from the MultiPoint team on Channel9.

    Microsoft announced a technology today that is designed to make computers scale to students better in developing countries. It's called Windows MultiPoint, and it's a solution that allows specially-designed software programs to accept input from more than one mouse. So instead of classrooms buying more computers, they can purchase USB hubs and mice, and enable better group-learning experiences.


    Students in India learning with MultiPoint

    This year's Imagine Cup is going to have a separate award for the best MultiPoint app, which is the main reason Microsoft is making this announcement today, even though bits won't be available until later.

    The official press release gives a great overview, but it doesn't tell the whole story. So I had a chance to sit down with Jed Rose, Product Manager on the Emerging Markets team, to get the low-down on this revolutionary new system.

    RM: How does MultiPoint work?
    JR: Well, there are two parts. The first part is the runtime, which was written in managed code. The second part is the SDK, which allows developers to leverage the runtime in their .NET 3.0 applications.

    RM: So MultiPoint requires .NET 3.0?
    JR: Yes, any app that wants to take advantage of MultiPoint must be written in .NET 3.0. We are building this on .NET 3.0 because it makes it much easier for developers to work with multiple input devices.

    RM: So that means at launch it will only be available for new applications that are built especially for MultiPoint?
    JR: That's correct.

    RM: Are there any plans to extend MultiPoint to multi-input-enable existing applications as well?
    JR: This is something that’s definitely feasible with the MultiPoint technology that we’re building. We are releasing the SDK in January to developers and are excited to see what they will do with it- This is a great example of something that could potentially be done with the SDK. We don’t have anything to announce at this time regarding developing this in-house.

    RM: January?
    JR: Yeah, we will be releasing the MultiPoint Alpha in January and then regularly update it until we RTM in May.

    RM: Are there any software companies committing to launch products built with this SDK?
    JR: We are in discussions with many interested developers, but there is nothing we are ready to announce at this time.

    RM: Can developers expect that this SDK will be merged into the next version of the .NET Framework (3.5)?
    JR: Developers can expect this to be a technology that will be available for all Genuine Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista users. Upon RTM, MultiPoint will be available on the Microsoft Download Center, but we don’t have anything to announce at this time regarding inclusion with the .NET framework.

    RM: Your focus is on emerging markets, but clearly this technology is useful here in the US too. How do you see this affecting education in saturated markets like the US and Japan?
    JR: There are many classrooms in mature markets that could also make use for this technology. I have heard from professors that there are schools even here in Seattle that would really benefit from extending the reach of their current PCs and create new collaborative learning methods using MultiPoint. This technology has many potential benefits, but its the classroom is where you’ll find it can make the biggest impact. We’re really excited about seeing what the education developer community will create with this MultiPoint SDK.

    RM: But this isn't just for education, is it? Do you see other uses for this outside education?
    JR: Definitely- Imagine power user scenarios where users could DJ and mix two tracks simultaneously or tweak a couple features of a photo at the same time. Also, the long-term plan for this technology is to enable additional input devices other than the mouse to be connected to the PC simultaneously- think joysticks, keyboards, or even touch-screen monitors. This technology has many potential benefits, but it’s the classroom is where you’ll find it can make the biggest impact.

    RM: Can you briefly describe one of your most memorable experiences working on this projects in the emerging markets you’ve been to?
    JR: MultiPoint was created by MSR India and they have already trialed it in their home country. We found instances there of more than 10 students crammed around a single classroom PC. Some couldn’t see the screen and others were frustrated about not being able to control the experience because of only one mouse. With MultiPoint, the students became instantly engaged and were learning from each other by using the PC at the same time. It’s very exciting to be working on a technology that was envisioned in an emerging market for emerging markets.

    RM: Fantastic. Will you come back in the new year and let us know how the project is going?
    JR: You bet! We have a pilot in Thailand schools coming up and I’m looking forward to keeping you posted.

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  • ESG Says Businesses Should Install Vista Now

    What?!?! An analyst is saying that businesses should adopt Vista now?

    So here's my thought. Since most large shops are going to upgrade to Windows Vista anyway, why not eschew the add-on tools and fast track the migration? In other words, use your need for laptop encryption as a rationale to jump on the Windows Vista bandwagon in 2007?

    Now I realize that my suggestion borders on Analyst blasphemy. It is common wisdom to recommend waiting to upgrade to new operating systems while Microsoft "gets the bugs out." Operating system migrations are also more difficult and costly than simply deploying an encryption utility. Clearly, I am comparing apples and oranges and am way off base.

    I don't think so.

    <faints>

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  • Shameless Post: I need more storage so that...

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    Seagate is having a contest where someone could win a 750GB external hard drive. All they have to do is describe their digital lifestyle, and explain what they'll do with more hard drive space. So here it goes...

    My Digital Lifestyle
    I'm currently the proud owner of Seagate's 300GB external model. It is the centerpiece of my home network, which means it gets beat up on a daily basis. It's connected to my Vista Media Center PC, so it stores all my recorded TV. I use my Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender, so I can watch that content on my new 50' HDTV. It also stores almost 7GB of songs downloaded off of my Napster-To-Go account, which means the music is accessible in any room in the house.

    My girlfriend bought an 8 megapixel camera, and both of us take way too many pictures of our cat. Here he is, in his favorite sleeping position.


    How can you blame us? He's too damn cute.

    We have about 2,500 pictures we've accumulated over the past couple years, and we'll have many more as the years go on. And since Windows Vista has such cool video editing and DVD tools, I've been using them to edit home movies into cool video montages.

    But what I use it for the most is virtualization. I have 25 different virtual OS installations that I use for development and testing. I don't like installing OSes on new VMs over and over again, so I keep a base library with a bunch of different OS configurations.

    I keep them on a separate hard drive to improve performance... keeping virtual machines on the same spindle as the host OS is a serious performance pig. Keeping them separate also helps me keep them mobile. I can plug the hard drive into another computer and fire up the VM if I need to... or I can take the hard drive with me on the road when I go on trips.

    My hard drive breakdown:

    • System Backups: 38.3GB
    • CD/DVD Images (ISOs): 36GB
    • Music: 6.6GB
    • Pictures: 8.5GB
    • Recorded TV: 53GB
    • Virtual Machines: 90GB

    You know, when I bought the drive, I never thought I'd fill it up. It took over a year to fill up my 160GB HD. Ha! It lasted about 4 months before I filled it up again. That's mostly thanks to virtualization.

    What I'd Do With 750GB
    More than doubling my hard drive capacity would allow me to expand my Vista Media Center's recording space, which would let me record more of my favorite TV shows... and keep them a lot longer. And with the new OpenCable Receivers coming out soon, I'll need the space. Recorded HDTV content takes up much more space than analog.

    It would also let me do more frequent backups of the three computers on my network. I don't like rebuilding my systems any more than the next guy.

    But what I need it for the most is my virtual machines. As it stands, I have to put at least one VM on the chopping block on a regular basis... and I spend way too much time running Invirtus VM Optimizer on my VMs. I'd much rather have a crapload of space so that I don't have to worry about it for a while.

    In Conclusion
    Well, I may not help students go to college, like this guy. I may not take really awesome photos, like this guy. But I think I've made a pretty good case for needing a bigger hard drive. Does Seagate think so? We'll see at CES, won't we?

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  • Microsoft Issues Amazon Smackdown for Preorder Gaffe

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    I was on Amazon.com the other day, checking up on Vista prices, when I was greeted with the following information:

    Because of a Microsoft request, the many versions of the Windows Vista operating system are not currently available for pre-order at Amazon.com. They are estimated to be available January 30, 2007, and you can sign up at right to be notified via e-mail when Vista becomes available for pre-order. If you've already pre-ordered Vista at Amazon.com, your order will be fulfilled when the software is available.

    Interesting. So Microsoft must have forced them to pull the pre-order after they let the cat out of the bag early.

    I wonder why they specifically mentioned Microsoft. What was the point? Are they wanting to deflect the customer anger over the fact that they had to pull the program? Did they conveniently forget that they leaked the prices and took pre-orders before Microsoft said they could? That's pretty childish.

    I asked Amazon's PR these questions, and they refused to comment. Go figure.

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  • Toshiba BIOS Upgrades and Windows Vista

    If you're running Vista RTM on a Toshiba Tecra M4, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES upgrade your BIOS to either interim version 2.01 or the currently-released 3.1. Both versions are poorly designed, and will cause a catastrophic crash of the video card if you try to bring the system back from a reduced-power state. Your best bet is to stay on version 1.70 until Vista is available to consumers in January... and even then I'd recommend waiting.

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  • Update on Donations for the Kim Family

    Words simply cannot express how horribly sad today's news was. The thoughts and prayers of all of us are with James, Kati, and their family tonight. 

    Sheriff Brian Anderson deserves a ton of credit. I've never seen someone more dedicated to finding someone he never knew personally. I hope to God nothing like that ever happens to me... but if it does, I want Brian leading the team to find me.

    The family finally set up a place to take donations on their website, so my efforts are no longer necessary. I'll be redirecting my donation link to their site shortly. There were three donations, and those donations will be immediately transferred to the PayPal account the Kim family set up.

    Since the family's doing it now, you no longer have an excuse not to donate. Please be generous. He helped save the lives of his wife and kids, and he's a hero for it. I can't really think of a worse way for a Thanksgiving celebration to end. Rest in Peace, James Kim.

    Update: Scott Fulton of BetaNews said it far better that I could.

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  • Microsoft Posts First Official Outlook Gadgets

    Ryan Gregg lets us know that the first "official" (meaning MS designed) Sidebar Gadgets for Outlook 2007 are now available for download. Hopefully, this means that many more are coming.

    Here are the links to the Gadget Gallery:


    Outlook Upcoming Appointments


    Outlook Tasks

    At this rate I'm going to need sidebars running on both sides of my screen...

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  • Please Help Me Help The Kim Family - Updated

    To be honest with you, I don't know the Kims personally. I've read some of James' stuff on CNET, but I've never met him, and he doesn't know me from Adam. But when my sister was in her accident last year, I could not believe the outpouring of support we had from friends and family... and now I want to return the favor.

    I can't imagine how much it costs to rent out helicopters for 3 days. I can't imagine how much it cost to get everyone out there to search for them. But I can imagine that it was a lot. And they're not thinking about it now, because they just want everyone home safe. But they'll be thinking about it later.

    So I'm starting a donation drive to help the family defray the costs of the rescue operation. I'll keep it going as long as there are still donations. When it's all over (hopefully before Christmas), I'll send them a certified check.

    I know it's the holidays, and money is tight. But please, be as generous as you can. And hopefully James will be found, and this Christmas will be a very happy one for the Kim family.

    UPDATE: The sad news came in today that James was found dead. We're all very sorry for their loss. The family has set up a fund of their own, so mine is no longer necessary. This also alleviates the concerns that I was not trustworthy because I didn't know them personally. I'll be transferring the donations over to the official fund via PayPal. My sincerest thanks to the three people that donated.

    Click the image below to make a donation to
    The James Kim Memorial Fund

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  • JUST IN: Kati Kim & Children Found, James Kim Still Missing

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    From the Oregon State Police:

    On December 4, 2006 at approximately 1:45 p.m., Search & Rescue officials were notified that a vehicle and a female waving an umbrella were spotted by a helicopter search crew near the Rogue River in the area of Bear Camp Viewpoint off Bear Camp Road. This location is near the Curry / Josephine County line in Josephine County.

    The helicopter was able to land and verified that the mother and two children were alive. The father reportedly was not with the vehicle. Additional search crews and resources are being diverted to the area to help try and locate the father.

    The condition of the mother and children is not available but reports are encouraging. They were flown to a separate location from where they will be transported to a local hospital to be evaluated for treatment.

    No further details are being released at this time.

    A second media briefing will tentatively be held at 5:00 p.m. in Merlin at the Josephine County Search & Rescue Headquarters.

    News.com has more details.

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  • Illegal Vista Activation Server Pops Up

    Josh over at WindowsConnected is reporting that an illegal Key Management Service (KMS) server has popped up on the Internet. His article explains how KMS manages Vista activation for Volume Licensing customers. Apparently the server is in China, registered by the same company that was responsible for a recent Word zero-day attack.

    If the only thing stopping people from putting these servers on the public Internet is a license agreement, Microsoft may have a much bigger problem on it's hands than leaked VLKs. You would think that those servers would be required to register with Microsoft every 15 days or something to stay active.

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  • What is Expression Media?

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    Brandon LeBlanc caught wind of the new branding for the Expression products. But what is the "Expression Media" product? A couple weeks ago I discovered the answer. My sources tell me that Microsoft is getting ready to re-brand the photo management software from the iView acquisition as Expression Media and bundle it with the Expression suite. This would round out the Expression suite as a direct competitor to Adobe CreativeSuite. My sources also tell me that the full suite could retail for as little as half the price of CS2. But as I blogged about earlier, none of these products will be available via MSDN.

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  • Duking It Out with Rob and Dave

    The Wall Street Journal posted an e-mail discussion Friday between Dave Winer and former 'Softie Robert Scoble that discusses whether Microsoft is a leader or a follower in innovation. It is a very interesting read, and well worth your time (at 2200 words, it's gonna take a few to read the whole thing).

    Of course Scoble was going to take the pro-Microsoft tack, just like I would have in his position. I mean, it's a point-counterpoint piece, and Dave was obviously on the other side. But Dave said something interesting that I thought deserved attention:

    Robert, I would be a lot more anxious to sing the praises of the big companies, Microsoft and Google and others, if the individuals in these companies would respect individuals who choose to push the envelope, and take the big risks that help us build new layers. This is where the disconnect has been for my entire career, first with the large mainframe companies, and then at the companies I founded and the ones my contemporaries founded (including Microsoft).

    VERY telling, indeed. So, in Dave's view, it's been Dave against Microsoft for much of his career. Based on this, I draw the conclusion that at one point, someone at Microsoft disrespected one of Dave's ideas. Maybe even had the audacity to take his idea and modify it in a way they thought improved upon it.

    Why do I draw that conclusion? Because I know a bunch of Microsoft developers who are frankly in awe of the stuff that people outside Microsoft come up with. A good portion of Microsoft's employees come from the acquisition of the cool things people outside Microsoft come up with. The new Microsoft tries to find ways to work with those things. The old Microsoft was a little full of itself... but that was a while ago now. Things have changed.

    So maybe Dave is still carrying a grudge against Microsoft. Maybe he never had a grudge. I dunno. I just thought it was an interesting little tidbit tucked away in a great piece of writing.

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  • Apparently Web Developers Don't Do Web Design

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    Or so Microsoft says. When I read on ActiveWin that Microsoft wasn't going to be including Expression Web on MSDN, I was shocked. Microsoft is notoriously in-tune with its developers, and is usually very good to them. So I pinged my friend Brian Goldfarb, who is in charge of product marketing for DevDiv. He had this to say:

    Until now, Microsoft did not have a tool aimed at the professional designer and now FrontPage has been superseded by both Expression Web and SharePoint Designer, we now have a comprehensive offering of Visual Studio 2005 (including Visual Web Developer) for developers, Expression Web for designers and SharePoint Designer aimed at IT Professionals who work with SharePoint sites. MSDN is a subscription model aimed at developers, therefore Microsoft has taken the decision not to include it’s designer tools in the Microsoft Expression range in that model. However because Microsoft includes Office products in MSDN, SharePoint Designer as part of the Office 2007 System is available through MSDN and it offers the same high fidelity design surface as Expression Web.

    I'm sorry, Brian is a great guy, and I LOVE the DevDiv, but this is a load of crap. Because the assumption that web developers don't also have to be web designers is totally false, and SharePoint Designer is NOT as good as Expression Web. Otherwise there would be one product and not two.

    The fact that there is a ton of horrible web design out there means that coders are writing web UI every day. Just because Microsoft doesn't have a tool out there doesn't mean that the industry hasn't had tools to do good UI work. And Microsoft would be stupid to think that just because they DO come out with a tool, that suddenly coders and corporations are going to see the errors of their ways, and start separating their duties.

    Coders are still going to be doing UI, and VS2005 sucks at CSS. I guess Microsoft is tired of shelling out free stuff to developers.

    Oh, well. Guess I'll be using the beta version until it expires.

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  • PowerTogether.com Giveaway Closed, 30K Copies Won

     

    As Ina Fried reports, Microsoft's free Vista & Office giveaway at PowerTogether.com is over. Apparently, 30,000 copies was the limit. And Microsoft outdid themselves this time. With the average retail price being $399 (Vista Biz @ $299 + Office Pro @ $499 / 2), Microsoft just gave away almost $12M in software.

    Now, THAT'S cool.

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  • Vista and Office 2007 Search is not Dependent on SharePoint

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    I swear I'm not trying to pick on Joe lately. He's a great guy. I'm just not sure what the heck he's talking about here. He says that he tried reproducing the searches in the Launch demo when he got home, and he couldn't. He then draws the conclusion that advanced Vista searches require SharePoint (unless I'm reading it incorrectly).

    The demo he is talking about (I presume) starts at 12:45 in the on-demand webcast. I re-created it, as close as I could, in this video:

    [camtasia:VistaLaunchSearch:440:390]
    (Click to begin video)

    As you can see, the filtering is easily done. So what couldn't he reproduce? I don't know.

    None of that invalidates his other arguments, though. WinFS is still sorely missed, and Search is not the silver bullet. But Search in Vista & Office is vastly improved over XP, and has saved my butt on more than one occasion.

    I'll tell you what though, I learned a couple things from that webcast... which I wasn't expecting. I had honestly never tried filtering like that before... it was wicked cool. I also didn't know about some of the things Office was capable of. I love how, even after three years of testing, I discover new things about Vista. I hope that doesn't stop for a while.

    At any rate, I just wanted to clear that up.

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