Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

July 2008 - Posts

  • Live Mesh: Not Quite Fully Open, Just More Accounts

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    A few Microsoft news outlets are reporting that Live Mesh is now open to everyone. While the original forums post lead people to believe this, it’s not true. Basically, the Live Mesh team doubled the number of maximum users for the Tech Beta, and removed the requirement for a Microsoft Connect account.

    So if you want in, you’d better hurry up and get an account, before they run out.

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  • Samsung i760 Finally Gets Windows Mobile 6.1 Update

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    Yesterday, Samsung released their long-awaited Windows Mobile 6.1 update to the Verizon Wireless i760 smartphone. I had to move heaven and earth to get it installed on my phone, since Samsung, in their infinite wisdom, made the installer 32-bit only… and I, in mine, made my network 64-bit only, save for my WHS box. Fortunately, after installing ActiveSync 4.5 on my WHS box, the XP version of the installer worked without a hitch.

    After using it for the first 24 hours, I must say that I’m extremely impressed with it. Samsung and Verizon delivered not only a solid update of the OS, but also fixed a decent number of bugs with the phone. My ActiveSync never fails, signal strength seems improved, and the battery doesn’t shut off the phone quite as early when it is run down.

    All in all, this is a great upgrade, and well worth the upgrade hassle. Just don’t forget to dial *228 and select option 1 after you upgrade.

    Enjoy.

    [via GearDiary]

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  • Apple Clearly Cannot Ship Anything Right

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    Any loyal reader of my blog knows that I have a severe disdain for Apple. But many of my readers incorrectly assume that the disdain stems from some kind of religious zealotry, or that I’ve never actually used Apple products. It actually stems from the fact that I started my computing career as a huge Apple fan, and my “uncrashable” computer crashed one too many times within a 24 hour period while working on a critical project. I got tired of the outright lies about Apple products security, stability, and reliability… so I gave Steve Jobs the finger and never looked back.

    I do, however, always watch with great interest whenever Apple tries to launch a product. Because lately they have been unable to do so without failing on a massive scale, and for some reason, the mainstream press doesn’t seem to care. MobileOpportunity’s Michael Mace seems to have the reason pegged:

    The second problem is that Apple's skill at PR has somehow turned into an excuse for reporters not to do their jobs. The implied message in the CNET article is, "if you don't put on a spectacle, the press will ignore your products." Excuse me, but isn't the press's job to dig out the real value and separate it from the hype? Don't we pay you (or sit through your ads) to look past the PR and fancy speeches and advise us on what really matters? If we just wanted someone to echo the latest hype, we could get all our news from blogs.

    It’s too bad that, instead of using fact and investigation as a differentiation between it and blogs, CNET has instead given every reporter at least one blog, from which to spew forth all manner of editorial speculation (AKA feeding the hype machine). Need more proof?

    Now I understand why Steve Jobs said the original iPhone would be a closed system because “you need it to work when you need it to work.” It wasn’t that developers in general are incapable of writing robust software that doesn’t crash the hardware (which most Windows Mobile developers have been doing for a while now), it’s that *Apple’s* developers are incapable of writing software that doesn’t crash the hardware. Right out the gate, the App Store suffers from problems that could have easily been fixed with a String.Trim(), or god forbid, some try-catch error handling around calls to a server. And why does every iTunes release have to be followed-up with a .1 point release?

    Apple wouldn’t know quality control if it was first in line for the “Steve Jobs Circle-Jerk.”

    You wanna know the most ironic part of the iPhone 3G launch? The only part that ran smoothly was the purchase process before activation, which apparently was powered by Microsoft. Go figure.

    Case in point, Firmware 2.0.1 is already being tested, just 4 days after release. Par for the Apple course.

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  • Photos from Microsoft’s Home at Disneyland’s Innoventions

    Haven’t gotten a chance to get down and see Innoventions yet? Well, that’s ok, because it’s apparently not quite finished yet. But Andy from MiceChat has a ton of pictures from the parts that ARE finished, as well as some commentary. His review is decidedly mixed, with his worst criticisms stemming from the “forced” nature of the Elias family script. But he had good things to say about the technology.

    Head on over and check it out.

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  • Windows 3.11 Reaches End-Of-Life (Seriously)

    Nope, I’m not kidding on this one. Apparently Microsoft has still been selling this OS in the embedded systems market for quite some time. That must be why the simulators at Star Trek: The Experience are using the OS to run their systems (maybe that’s why they’re closing this September). But according to Microsoft’s John Coyne, it’s finally the end of the road for this killer operating system. It’s truly the end of an era.

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  • Enabling Bluetooth on Windows Server 2008

    It really bugs me sometimes that Microsoft imposes artificial limitations on Windows versions because they think features are out of scope. Case in point is Windows Server 2008. Now, there is no earthly reason why WS2008 can’t support Bluetooth right out of the box. An yet, because someone on the Server team decided that servers don’t use Bluetooth, if you’re one of the thousands of people who use WS2008 as a workstation, you’re SOL. Think just installing your Bluetooth drivers, or enabling the “Wireless LAN Services” feature will do it? Think again.

    Gil Kirkpatrick posted a solution a couple of weeks ago, and it works like a charm. It involves modifying the INF files from the default WS2008 installation to install the Microsoft Bluetooth Stack on WS2008.

    Since it’s kind of a time consuming process, I’ve taken the liberty of completing the required steps, and dumping them in a Zip file, albeit only for WS2008 x64. All you need to do is:

    • install your BT drivers as normal,
    • unzip the folder to C:\BT
    • open up Device Manager
    • right click any items that still say “Unknown Device” and select “Update Drivers”
    • Select the bottom menu option and browse to the C:\BT folder
    • “Lather, rinse, repeat” for any other Unknown Devices

    You can find the zip file here. Hopefully that will keep you from beating your head against the wall, as I did, over my #$%^&* Bluetooth mouse.

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  • Back Online

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    Hey everyone. Early this weekend, Windows-Now stopped responding to server requests. After checking the logs, I discovered that the database file was flagged on my SQL Server as “suspect”, and the SQL recovery process caused SQL Server to crash. Changes to SQL 2005 prevented me from attempting a proper recovery using the old methods, leaving me out of options. A number of tools that I tried out to repair the database file only allowed you to recover the data out of the file. Since I was dumb and didn’t update my backup routines after the upgrade we completed a couple weeks ago, the only backup I had was from before the upgrade.

    To make matters worse, the “recovery” was not able to recover any meaningful post data, so much of my holiday weekend was wasted trying to restore it. Fortunately, I use Windows Live Writer for all of my posts, and it keeps a local copy of everything that goes up to the server, so the only post I lost (besides comments) was Doug’s last post on The Green Button being acquired by Microsoft (sorry Doug).

    If you created a user account in the last two weeks, you’ll need to create it again. Sorry about that. And I’ll still have a few more things I’ll be taking some additional steps soon to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

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  • I Can’t Believe New York Times Let This Get Published

    You know, it really surprises me sometimes how little reporters that cover technology actually know about technology. Case in point is an article in this Sunday’s New York Times that claims that Windows should undergo that same under-the-covers change that OS X went through a number of years ago.

    There are a number of problems with this article. The first is the list of Windows versions that are delineated in the fourth paragraph. He says that there have been 12 versions of Windows, and later says that the Windows “7”codename doesn’t mean anything. Well, since Windows Vista is Version 6 of the kernel, then Windows “7” means that it’s the seventh major release of the Windows Kernel. Duh. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, it’s right there in the computer properties.

    Then, he goes on to compare the state of Windows now to the state of Mac OS9 a number of years ago, and seems to think that the lions share of the 1 billion computers that are out there should be forced to go through a major overhaul like Mac had to. He says that:

    When I.T. professionals and consumers got a look at Vista, they all had this same question for Microsoft: That’s it?

    That is the type of skin-deep assessment that only people who think form is more important than function. People who take the “beauty is skin deep” approach with Vista miss features like Web Services for Devices, ASLR, the WPF-based printing subsystem, ReadyBoost, and the many security-related changes Microsoft has made with Vista… among many other things.

    Here is the problem with that reasoning. Windows just went through a major overhaul in how things work under the covers. It’s called Windows Vista. What is the number one problem people complain about with Windows Vista? COMPATIBILITY. Windows customers DON’T WANT their stuff to stop working, something that Microsoft was made all too aware of.

    The reason Mac could afford to undergo a major rewrite in 2001 is because at that time, Apple had just 3.1% marketshare (which represented a DROP from 4.6% the previous year). According to this site, that amounts to about 19.4M computers… which isn’t bad, until you take into account the fact that it took 17 years to get there. That’s 1.1M a year, for those of you keeping track.

    Guess how many of those systems were “mission critical” systems in Fortune 500 companies at that time. Fortune 1000 companies? Fortune 5000 companies? The correct answer is ZERO: not a single business in the Fortune 5000 at that time ran Macs as their primary computer system. So Apple could afford to tell those users to run their existing applications in a legacy emulated environment, because few people of importance were actually using them. (And BTW, for those of you still keeping track OS X was not the 10th release of the same kernel, it was the first release of a new one. So the recent OS X 10.5 “Leopard” release is really “OS X 1.5”.)

    Randall Stross, the article’s author, claims to be a Professor of Business at San Jose State University. So he ought to know that a business would not invest tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on IT infrastructure and custom software development if they thought those investments would in any way be invalidated further down the line. So while Mr. Stross advocates the kind of “screw the customers” approach Apple took 6 years ago, to which critics said the OS was “not ready for mainstream adoption,” Microsoft (who has more experience with releasing stable software) understands that compatibility is critical, and would rather research new ways to maintain compatibility while keeping the codebase secure, instead of giving their users the finger.

    I agree with Ed Bott that Microsoft’s biggest mistake was to make Windows XP SP2 a free upgrade. It should have been Windows XP R2 instead. Their second biggest mistake with Vista was not making a more radical change to the UI, to appease the “beauty is skin deep” types. (I know about the “businesses would need to retrain” argument against that, but the new Out-of-Box-Experience Wizard could have had the option to choose Windows Aero, or something sexier.) Their third mistake was not making people sit through a 3 minute video on why UAC is a good thing, before letting them do anything else on their computer, a la Windows ME.

    But anyway, I believe that Mr. Stross has allowed his prejudices to cloud his search for the real facts. He uses Singularity as the impetus for his overall argument (hardly a novel strategy, as others with similarly nonexistent experience with this research OS have also taken this tack) without ever actually using the OS that he suggests should replace Windows on the at least 800M PCs it is currently running on. Singularity is designed to help people re-think application isolation for robust security, not for getting your 9-year-old printer to work.

    So I guess the real question is this: Mr. Stross, what operating system did you write that article on, a PC or a Mac? And what was that old saying about “those who can’t do?” I forget. Anyway, I think Windows needs some fresh air as much as the next guy. But throwing out the baby with the bath water is NOT the way to do it.

    And even my arch-nemesis Paul Thurrott agrees with me.

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  • Microsoft Releases More Protocol Documentation

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    Microsoft has released a whole slew of new protocol specifications under the Microsoft Protocol Program. 242 new documents, to be exact. They include:

    If you’re into that kind of thing, you can get more information about these specs and what the acronyms mean here.

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  • Microsoft’s Hyper-V Virtualization Solution RTMs

    Well, they said it would take 180 days after Windows Server 2008s RTM for Hyper-V to RTM, and the team managed to do it in 143. Today, Hyper-V has officially launched, and the era of the Hypervisor has begun. Microsoft.com is already running 25% of it’s 1.2B page views/month traffic with Hyper-V, and will be scaling up to 50% by the end of the month.

    Now, can you guys please get to work on a version that works on Windows Vista SP1, please? Don’t make your enthusiasts and power users choose between Windows Media Center and Hyper-V…

    And on that note, we’ll be down for about an hour tomorrow night starting at midnight EST, so that we can upgrade our servers to the RTM bits.

    More Reading:
    Windows Server Division Blog
    Hyper-V Team Blog
    Taylor Brown’s Blog
    Tony Voellm's Blog

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  • Review: Microsoft 2.0 by Mary Jo Foley

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    Few people have covered Microsoft longer and more consistently than Mary Jo Foley (besides maybe Ed Bott). A couple of weeks ago, MJ sent me a copy of her new book Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era (PS, thanks for the mention in the Acknowledgements, MJ), and I thought it would be appropriate to get my review online this week, before BillG finishes cleaning out his desk.

    Microsoft 2.0 is a look deep inside the bowels of the Beast, from a perspective that only Mary Jo can provide. But don’t expect a sweeping fictional narrative of Microsoft’s future, this is a fact-based, thorough (though at times a tad dry) walkthrough of virtually every aspect of Microsoft’s business. Foley leaves no stone unturned, and no business model unexplored.

    Aside from some brief parts about the on again-off again-on again-off again-on again Microhoo nonsense saga (which she later explained in a blog post), MJ does very little prognostication. Most of that is because Microsoft made the extremely unwise decision to instruct MS employees not to cooperate with her interview requests. Its really too bad, because they could have had the opportunity to inject a lot of insight to a book that is getting a lot of coverage in the wake of Gates’ departure this week. But I guess if Microsoft was able to clearly define their strategy to the public, there would be less of a need for this book to fill in the gaps, so I guess it is a Catch-22.

    But, this is the real reason for her approach, in her own words:

    [Some of my colleagues] wanted me to make the case that Microsoft has lost its Evil Empire crown and soon will become nothing more than a footnote in the tech industry. And they wanted me to go to the trite "narrative nonfiction" route, putting "likely" dialog in 'Softies mouths, to do so.

    I can't do it. I find that style of writing affected and offensive, for one. But more importantly,that's not how I see things evolving. Yes, Microsoft is at a crossroads. But to me, crossroads isn't synonymous with dead. I know not everyone agrees.

    Just when you think its over, MJ pulls out some cards she must have kept in the vest for a very long time: never-before-published memos outlining among other things, Windows Live "Wave 3" planning, Steven Sinofsky's reasons for not involving customers earlier in the development process, and Kevin Johnson's Reorg memo. Where most tech reporters have a cursory understanding of the practices and technologies that make up Microsoft’s business, she shows that even standing from the front gates, she can still dig into the truth. Just think what she could have done with Microsoft’s backing... she could have done a better job articulating Microsoft’s strategy than Microsoft has been able to do for the past 2 years.

    The bottom line is, you can pay $1500 for a subscription to Directions on Microsoft, or you can spend $16.95 and buy Microsoft 2.0. IMO, the latter will get you the best value. MJ can hold her own better than any so-called “analyst”, and this book provides the breadth and depth of business information that one would expect to find only in the Harvard Business Review. This is a must-read for anyone that considers themselves a “Microsoft Watcher”.

    Final Verdict:

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  • Windows Media Center Registry Tweaks

    I was re-configuring my Windows Media Center the other day (don’t ask) and I wanted to adjust the “skip forward” interval to effectively skip through all the commercials in the average commercial break. As far as I can tell, Microsoft never updated the TweakMCE PowerToy for Windows Vista, but WMC guru Aaron Stebner has an post from a number of years ago that details 35 different registry settings that can be tweaked by using the Registry.

    Personally, I think it is really unfortunate that Microsoft hasn’t built these settings into the UI, but then again, there are a lot of things missing from MCE that customers have asked for and Microsoft has ignored, so what else is new?

    Speaking of SoftSled, there is a project within the community to build an open source Media Center Extender that will plug into Windows Vista. hey have made a lot of progress, but there is still a lot of work ahead of them. If you’re interested in contributing, check out their CodePlex project.

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  • Netflix for Vista Media Center (and Xbox 360)

    There’s no need to wait for Netflix and Microsoft to officially ink an Xbox 360 deal. Yesterday, Lifehacker posted details of a new add-in for Vista Media Center, called vmcNetflix, that brings a plethora of Netflix features into Media Center, and consequently your Xbox 360. It’s the same concept I wanted to build for Hulu, if Hulu wasn’t doing it already. Some of the features:

    • Stream WatchNow movies directly to the Media Center player.
    • Download WatchNow movies to a "Watch Later" gallery.
    • Support for Vista Extenders on both x86 and x64 platforms.
    • Support for Netflix Instant Queue.
    • Support for Episode listings.
    • Search for movies by keyword.
    • Browse DVD and WatchNow movies by genres.
    • Sort Gallery by Title, Year, or Star Rating.
    • View your queue, history, and recommendations.
    • Add, remove, move movies in your queue.
    • Supports DVD/Movie Parental Controls

    Just one more reason why Windows is a fantastic platform for software development. vmcNetflix is still a beta, although it looks like they are full-steam-ahead for a v1 release any day now. I’m not a Netflix user, so my testing it would be pointless. Any of you have any experience with this app? If so, drop me a comment.

    [via Joystiq]

    Update: Some people are calling this a hack. It’s not, it’s called an add-in. A hack makes it sound like you’re opening up some secret setting in the Xbox 360 or something. If this were on AppleTV, it would be a hack, because AppleTV is a closed system and not a platform. Windows Media Center is a pluggable platform from which lots of people build applications.

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  • Long Overdue Site Upgrade Completed

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    Tonight is a big night for me. I’ve been wanting to upgrade this site for a very long time… in fact, I wanted to have it ready for Vista’s launch, but that never panned out. Community Server is not the easiest community engine to skin from scratch, and a while back, Telligent made some pretty hefty changes to their skinning system. It makes themes far easier to upgrade once the transition is made, but the transition itself is awful steep. It’s one of the many reasons I have been so quiet lately, but I finally got it to a point where I like it, so I *finally* was able to roll it out a few minutes ago.

    A lot has changed, so here are some of the highlights:

    Cleaner Design
    I spent quite a bit of time making sure this version of the design was much cleaner than the last. It may not appear much different at first glance, but we’ve actually done a lot to make everything more consistent. The first thing that you’ll notice is that the site is a bit wider. That was done to accommodate the improved banner ad placement. I’m tired of not making much money off this site, so this redesign is a first step to a more concerted effort to deliver better-quality ads in a much more effective way. I’ve tried to make them as unobtrusive as possible… please feel free to leave me feedback if you think it needs to be different.

    I’ve also changed up the home page, to make it a bit more portal-esque. I’m putting more of an emphasis on Reviews, so those are up top now, followed by the most recent blog entries. I still have a fair amount of tweaking here to do too, so keep watching this page.

    Cleaner URLs
    Another neat feature that is possible with CS2008 is the ability to eliminate the “/archive/date/” nonsense from the blog post URLs, making them leaner and more SEO friendly. We were able to do this in a way that the old URLs still work, which I am very happy with.

    Comments RSS
    In addition to our Main Feed, each blog now has an RSS feed just for comments. Taking a look at mine, I need to do some moderation, and the spam filters need adjustment too… but they’re there for you if you want to subscribe to them.

    E-mail Subscriptions
    For people unfamiliar with the benefits of RSS, you now have the option of receiving an e-mail every time someone posts new content to your favorite blogs.

    Integrated Media Gallery
    CS2008 combined the Files and Photos functionality into one integrated Media Gallery. I’m still tweaking this section quite a bit, so please pardon the dust in there. I’ve got a bunch of new photos that will be going up here soon, so keep an eye out for them.

    More on the Way
    This new design gives me a lot of leeway to play around, and ensures that future upgrades will go a lot smoother. I can guarantee the site won’t go two years without an upgrade again.

    Anyways, I’m off to bed. Please kick the tires and let me know if you run into any major problems. I’ve tried to test it out as best as I can, but there are bound to still be issues. Hope you like!

    -Robert

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