Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

October 2008 - Posts

  • Live Mesh for Windows Mobile Broken, New Build Coming

    If you’re like me, and have been waiting all day for the release of Live Mesh for Mobile, so you can sync all your photos wirelessly with all your devices, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer. Apparently, the WiMo build didn’t get tested as well as it should have, and there are issues with signing in. So the Team says to sit tight, and a new build is coming. They don’t have an ETA though. :(

    UPDATE: The problem has been fixed, and a new build has been posted. The team has details here. My fav feature? It syncs photos automatically, but it doesn’t detect whether or not your camera is storing photos on a Storage Card.

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  • Business Model Patents Invalidated, Make Way For Innovation!

    As a software developer, I have always despised patents on business models. They are a ridiculous waste of time, and hamper innovation. A method of buying something online is no more patentable than a new method of tying your shoes, and yet over 1300 of such patents have been issued. Well, fortunately that is no more.

    Of course, those with now-useless pieces of paper will not go quietly into that good night, but I expect that this case will be upheld on appeal. Now other software developers can also use such innovations as the 1-click purchase, and naming your own price.

    TechDirt has an excellent rundown on the whole issue.

    [via TechCrunch]

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  • Mark Russinovich Explains MinWin Once and For All

    A lot of people assume that MinWin is a Microsoft effort to completely rewrite the Windows Kernel from scratch. That may be based on earlier (limited) explanations about what it does, or it may have a lot to do with people assuming, due to people’s efforts with open source software, that rewriting the kernel will solve all of Windows problems. Well, Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Technical Fellow and guru of all things NT Kernel, attempts to set the record straight in this 45 minute video from Channel 9. Now, the whole talk is about advancements in Windows 7, and has great info about the new event-based model for Windows Services (dunno what took so long on that one, but I’m glad its there now), and other things. but for the purposes of this discussion, you want to jump in at 28:20, which is where MinWin first comes up.

    I’m going to attempt to use my Geek-to-Layman Translator to break down what Mark said:

    It turns out that Windows Server Core is not a clean separation of the true core of Windows. When Microsoft first set out to make Server Core, they discovered that lower-level systems were dependent on some higher-level calls, which is a no-no in systems design. When they looked deeper, they found out this was happening all over the place. They realized it was going to take too much effort to make a clean break for Server Core, so they literally ripped out anything that wasn’t necessary for the Server Roles they wanted to support. That’s why you’re not supposed to run any other apps on Server Core (or WinPE, as it turns out) because it might make a call to something that doesn’t exist, and it will fail. If it fails low enough, well, that could be bad for the OS.

    That system is not scalable or testable in any way, and makes it very difficult to innovatively deliver future iterations of Server Core. So Microsoft started to chart out the entire Windows dependency graph. And as they saw things that started calling up the stack when they weren’t supposed to, they rearranged the APIs to create a clean separation in the OS.

    MinWin is the result of that work. It is not a complete rewrite of the kernel, but a reorganization of the APIs, so that components only call down the stack, and not up it. It is isolated in the build tree from the rest of Windows, so it can be innovated on by itself. It is fully bootable, 25-40MB of disk space, and contains the executive systems, memory management, networking, and optional file system drivers. It’s fully testable, and Microsoft is working on a large suite of test cases to run against it. And it *is* indeed in Windows 7.

    Mark also said that, though MinWin is finished, their work in this process is not. Now they’ve gone up in the stack, and are looking at where the next boundary needs to be drawn. Apparently, it is part of a much larger effort to reorganize all of the Windows codebase, and keep things clean and separate.

    As an aside, for those of you wondering, a lot of the MinWin magic happens in KernelBase.dll. It contains a lot of the functionality that was refactored from Kernel32.dll, so for compatibility with older programs, they left “forwarders” in there that pass the calls down to KernelBase.dll as necessary.

    So rejoice, armchair kernel enthusiasts! Microsoft is tidying house inside “Cutler’s NT”, and Windows 7 is the next step (the first being the componentization work from Windows Vista) in the massive decade-long operation to optimize and refactor the Windows codebase.

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  • Live Mesh Offline For Beta Upgrade

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    I was updating my Mesh a minute ago, and was greeted with this:

    LiveMesh

    I hope that means the Windows Mobile client is coming today!

    Update: Looks like LiveSide beat me too it. Also, the Live Mesh blog has extensive details on the upgrade, as well as videos of the MeshMobile prototype car.

    Update2: New logo time!
    LiveMesh2

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  • Microsoft XNA Game Studio 3.0 Released

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    Holy Smokin Binaries, Batman! PDC2008 is not over yet, and the bits just keep flowing. Microsoft has released the final version of XNA Game Studio 3.0, which allows developers to create games for both the Xbox 360 and the Zune.

    Now I’m hoping they announce how games are going to get on my Zune in the first place. I am tired of Texas Hold ‘Em already.

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  • Service Pack 2 Beta for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 Released To Testers

    Not trying to violate any NDAs here, but in all the hubub around Windows 7 and PDC, it looks like Microsoft tried to slip this under the radar. If you were invited to the SP2 beta program, the downloads have been posted to Connect. So if you can pry yourself away from Windows 7 long enough, get downloading those bits!

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  • Apple Should Count Its Own Beans First

    Apple’s latest ad, “Bean Counter”, attempts to claim that Microsoft should have spent the $300M it used on its latest marketing campaign on fixing Vista’s issues. Let’s set aside the fact that Windows 7 sticks it to Apple (hard core), or that Apple can’t ship anything without a v0.1 release 4 days later, and focus on just the Bean Counting, as Apple suggests.

    Steve Sinchak from WinGeek did an exhaustive breakdown of Apple’s spending vs Microsoft’s spending, and if you’ve ever spent any time looking at Microsoft’s quarterly reports, the following won’t surprise you (I’ve broken it down into table form for easy reading):

    image

    Besides what Steve pointed out, a couple things jump out at me:

    1. Microsoft has twice the sales income as Apple.
    2. Microsoft spent the equivalent of 64% of Apple’s entire yearly advertising spending on a single campaign.
    3. Microsoft spends 10x as much on R&D as Apple. On a % of sales basis, Microsoft spends 4.2x more per dollar earned than Apple.
    4. Apple spends 1.7x as much per dollar on R&D than it does on advertising. Microsoft spends 5.2x per dollar on R&D than it does on advertising.
    5. Put another way, Microsoft spends nearly as much in R&D per year than two years of Apple net profits.

    The old saying goes, “If you point a finger at someone,there will be three pointing back at you.” I guess in Apple’s case, there are 4.2 fingers pointing back at them. Apple would do well to get over its penis envy and heed its own advice than to point fingers on this one.

    [Hat tip to Steve for doing more investigation on the matter than any of the mainstream tech press did.]

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  • Posting Will Be Light Today

    Unfortunately, my travel arrangements are forcing me to head home today, and I’ll be spending a good portion of the day in the air. So I’ll be missing out on all the cool stuff going on today, but I’ll be wrapping up my in-depth review of Windows 7 on the plane, so hopefully you’ll be able to check it out while you attendees are waiting for the bits to finish installing.

    But while you’re waiting, check out Paul Thurrott’s preview. He also shows how Microsoft Office 14 Web Applications are about to give Google Docs & Spreadsheets a swift kick in the nuts.

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  • Windows 7: First Impressions

    The Sunday before PDC, I was given the opportunity to join about 200 other journalists for a workshop on Windows 7. Lead by the dynamic (as well as unusually candid and often very self-effacing) duo of Mike Nash and Steven Sinofsky (surprisingly enough, he didn’t try to have me killed… sweet!), we were given a six hour tour of the much anticipated follow-up to Windows Vista. I didn’t know what to expect, and I walked away with the feeling I got after seeing Longhorn for the first time. yes, I believe it was just that good.

    Is it Stable?
    This is the #1 question I get when I talk about this build. And I’m happy to report, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” if you have not read Larry Osterman’s blog post over on Engineering 7, then you should read it, because it answers the question on how a “pre-beta” can maintain such a high quality bar. It is a *very* informative read.

    What about UAC?
    UACDefaultThat is the second question that people have asked thus far. The answer is, UAC has been tweaked on many fronts. You can now choose, in slider form, how much Windows 7’s UAC will interrupt you. There are now 4 options, which are as follows:

    • Never notify me
    • Only notify me when programs try to make changes
    • Always notify
    • Notify and wait for my approval

    I have yet to be presented with a UAC prompt in over 24 hours… which is really nice. (Update: actually, I was prompted and I didn’t even know it, because UAC no longer grays-out the desktop anymore.)

    What are you most excited about?
    I’m really excited about Windows 7 as a whole, but I’ll run through the features that I’ll be covering more in-depth in my review that will be posted soon:

    • New Taskbar: You’ll hate it at first glance, but you’ll love it in 5 minutes.
    • HomeGroup: Simplified home networking. Allows you to easily discover documents and media on other Windows 7 computers on the network.
    • HomeGroup in Windows Media Center: SoftSled on crack.
    • Windows Media Center: Cleaner UI, DVD Library on by default, UI for adding Recorded TV folders.
    • Play To: Queue media on your library to play on any DLN A-compliant device in your home.
    • New Codec Support: h.264, DivX, XviD, non-FairPlay AAC.
    • Touch: The new touch features are simply amazing. Take that, Apple!
    • DirectConnect: VPN without the VPN
    • Wireless: Simplified WiFi connections, built-in mobile broadband stack, better Bluetooth pairing.

    There is a LOT more to be excited about as well. I hope you keep it here as we begin this Windows 7 journey together. Enjoy the keynote!

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  • Windows Azure Beta Allocation Stats

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    I just got my invite to Windows Azure (holy crap, that was fast!) and I can now report what you’ll be allocated as a part of the service:

    Thank you for your interest in Windows© Azure™.

    This invitation to participate in the Windows Azure Community Technical Preview is subject to the following usage limits:

            Total compute usage: 2000 VM hours
            Cloud storage capacity: 50GB
            Total storage bandwidth: 20GB/day

    During the CTP, we reserve the right to suspend your account activity (this does not imply we will delete your cloud storage) if you exceed these usage limits.

    Sincerely,
    Azure Services Platform Team

    So there you have it. Free server space for the taking. We’re joking in the press room over here that with that kind of bandwidth, you could have a really awesome Silverlight powered Azure-based P2P movie pirating service. Sweet!

    Update: In addition, I just found out that I can use the service to host 1 project, store data for 2 projects, and access Live Services APIs from 20 projects. It would appear that this is the new interface for managing all of your Live Services applications, not just Azure ones. See screenshots below.

    AzureDeveloperPortal AzurePortal-NewProject

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  • The Official Windows Vista Blog Gets a Makeover

    Hot on the heels of Microsoft’s new obsession with the color blue, The Official Windows Vista Blog underwent a name change and a makeover today. Since there is more than one version of Windows to talk about now, it is known simply as the “Windows Blog”, though it is still found at windowsvistablog.com. It’s also sporting a new, simpler design running Community Server 2008. Screenshot is below.

    NewWindowsBlog

    Congrats to new ‘softie Brandon and the Windows Client Communications team.

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  • Ray Ozzie Keynote – Live!

    10:15am: That’s a wrap folks! Thanks for joining me for what turned out to be an exhausting experience ;).

    10:12am: “We ourselves are betting on our own platform with our own apps. You are the first ones that are going to have access to our Azure SDK. You can register at noon today at Azure.com, and will be activated over the next two weeks. We will be intentionally conservative about how we roll out. Because the service may change as a direct result of your feedback, potentially incompatibly so, we will not charge for the service. When it is released in 2009, the pricing model will be very straightforward, and competitive with the marketplace.”

    10:09am: Ray Ozzie is back onstage to wrap things up.

    10:08am: The guy next to me is falling asleep.

    10:06am: The demo project portal uses a very interesting gauge control to show how much money is being spent on the project.

    10:00am: Demo time. The Microsoft Services Connector service is being demoed on Windows Server 2008. Lets you supply credentials and then set which users can access the services. Can be single users, OUs, or whole organizations. Check out https://graphicdesign.crm.dynamics.com.

    9:55am: “The beauty of Software+Services is the Power of Choice. But there are tough problems to solve. One is Federated Identity, and the second is Extensibility.” two new products are mentioned, the Microsoft Services Connector (probably a server role in Windows Server 2008) and the Microsoft Federation Gateway.

    9:54am: “In the future, *all* of our Enterprise software will be delivered as an option through Microsoft Online Services.”

    9:53am: (Did I mention that Liveblogging is tough?)

    9:51am: Dave Thompson is now onstage, talking about “how you the developer can extend the Azure platform.” Worked on Windows Server through 2003, then Exchange 2007.

    9:50am: “Oslo” is a new modeling platform that introduces the “M” language, and will drastically change the way services are built.

    9:48am: “Over time, we see Azure services moving back on-presence. So we will be building some of these capabilities into Windows Server and SQL Server.” I assume they are talking about System Center-type software for internal reporting, but this seems weird to me.

    9:46am: “One of the things we want to be able to do with Atlanta is to be able to give system administrators the ability to create and run their own reports using SQL Services Reporting.”

    9:42am: Muglia back: “Small project called ‘System Center Atlanta’ manages Windows Azure.” Check it out at http://atlanta.cloudapp.net. “We expect to get hundreds of gigabytes of information a day to help people understand how their services are running.”

    9:40am: Demoing a Silverlight console application showing interaction with SQL Services.

    9:38am: “One of the biggest benefits to us is that companies can use their own internal identities through the federated identity model.”

    9:37am: “Think about the complexity of building an application that spans different types of heterogeneous systems, different ERP systems, different communications protocols.”

    9:36am: Shawn Davison from Red Prairie is now onstage demoing their product. “A one-button product recall application that spans multiple enterprises.”

    9:34am: SQL Services will add Sync in the future, and an early beta of Reporting Services will be released “soon”. There will also be “reference data” to be able to prototype applications quickly.

    9:32am:  “Geneva” gets its first mention. It enables federation between Active Directory and access control in the Cloud.

    9:30am: .NET Services are base implementations of the Service Bus, Access Control (federated identity is mentioned), plus Windows Workflow in the Cloud.

    9:28am: “One of the goals of Azure is to make it possible to build applications to use the vast processing power to connect people in ways never before available, while reducing your development and deployment costs. You’ll be able to deploy applications more quickly, and have 9-5 management, instead of 24/7 management.”

    9:24am: Bob Muglia is now onstage. Talking about the 4 service requirements: Interoperability, identity & Security, Data Management and Compliance, and Services Management.

    9:23am: “Bluehoo is not compatible with the iPhone. Help us lobby Apple to make the iPhone compatible with Bluehoo.” But it is supported on Nokia, Blackberry, Treos, Windows Mobile, and Symbian. I wonder if these phones are supported through Silverlight Mobile?

    9:21am: “Editing your service model is so easy, even a CEO can do it.”

    9:15am: Jonathan Greenstead from Bluehoo.com is onstage. It’s a mobile app running on the cloud. It’s a Silverlight application that lets you see people around you. You can check some of it out at http://keynote.bluehoo.com. They have a dashboard at http://keynote.bluehoo.com/dashboard.aspx. This is how a service dashboard should look.

    9:12am: Now they are doing a “HelloCloud” demo. Using the Azure SDK in VS2008, they show the 4 new cloud templates that use the new ServiceModels, and standard ASP.NET applications.

    “With Windows Azure, you can use our ‘Cloud on a Desktop’ to test the cloud operating environment.”

    The default domain name for the development portal is “.cloudapp.net”. Right now, check out http://hellocloud.cloudapp.net for a really cool public app.

    9:10am: Using adaptive scalability, we can provide high availability across thousands of servers. Using our “Desktop Experience,” you won’t need to deploy to the cloud just to test your application.

    9:08am: You model the service and service model through XML, and it appears to use the DSL tools that have been discussed previously.

    9:06am: “Azure is a Federated Datacenter Model. At the core is a ‘fabric controller’ that manages all the different cores, and monitors the health of your services.” It manages the whole service, not just the server.” It’s SOA on steroids.

    9:04am: Azure runs on a hypervisor. Is it Hyper-V? We’ll see.

    9:02am: Windows Azure is “Project RedDog” that Mary Jo has been talking about.

    9:01am: A gentleman with an unpronounceable mane is onstage,

    9:00am: “Some of you may recall hearing about SSDS at Mix. We’re planning on bringing even more to the cloud. We’re planning on bringing SQL Reporting and Analysis services to the cloud. We’re not calling that simply SQL Services.”

    8:55am: “First, we felt it was critical for Win developers to be able to leverage existing stills. Second, you’d expect a fundamentally open environment for your innovation. being Windows, that’s the environment we intend to grow. But even in that, we need to help developer understand that the Cloud environment is fundamentally new. Most of existing apps are built for a scale-up pattern. Windows Azure is the foundation for the next 50 years of software development, targeting a new world of parallel development. Windows Azure is not an OS on your server, but a platform that runs on Microsoft’s datacenters, first in the US, and later around the world. It is being released today as a CTP.”

    8:54am: “I’d like to announce a new Windows offering for the cloud: Windows Azure.”

    8:53am: “I’d like to tip my hat to Jeff Bezos and Amazon for creating the baseline for cloud computing through Amazon EC2.”

    8:51am: “Now he’s talking about tiers of computing, and how the different tiers affect the connected web.”

    8:48am: “A few years ago Microsoft embarked on its own evaluation of how it provides services to their users, be it through Windows Update, Windows Help, or MSDN. Through these different properties, we discovered we had created common expertise between these solutions. Over the years, we accumulated a lot of expertise in those common areas, but they were not able to be packaged in a way that might be helpful to you.”

    8:44am: “Now more than ever, the reach and effectiveness of a company’s web presence is critical to their success. For some of those customers, the demands may be seen in peaks and valleys, depending on events in the world, or in the blogosphere. In order to meet these demands, most companies add more resources: more servers, more cooling, more employees. Then you have issues with events like earthquakes which are outside control. So they add another datacenter for redundancy. but even that may not e enough. Then you have latency issues, political issues, etc.”

    8:41am: “Over the past couple of weeks I’ve read provocative pieces online that say that the cloud is vastly overblown. It is true that utility computing has been around since the 60’s, and virtualization was invented around the same time. Even in the best of datacenters, most of the solutions are targeted at inward-facing applications. Every company, every school, every government is facing the externalization of services.”

    8:39am: “For many years, I sat next to you as a colleague and a competitor. For me, there were three things that always brought me back to MS. First was Microsoft always built their own apps for the platform. Second, they are a stable foundation. Third, I knew that Bill & Steve has always viscerally understood that in order for Microsoft to be successful, my business had to be successful.”

    8:37am: People are falling all over each other to get pictures of Ray Ozzie.

    8:31am: Getting here early paid off… in the second row with the CNET team right behind me, and Todd Bishop behind them. We’re discussing Windows 7’s impact on consumers.

    8:15am: Hey everyone, keep it here for a liveblog about the keynote. It’s not as cool as the one Long & Co. is doing… but it should still be fun! New posts will be on top.

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  • PDC 2008, Here I Come! (and a Caption Contest)

    At practically the last minute, I was invited to a briefing at PDC on Windows 7. As exciting as it all sounded, I wasn’t planning on attending at all… but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to be one of the first to get a guided tour the hotly-anticipated followup to Widows Vista.

    Since I’m not a short hop away from LA anymore, I actually took a bump off a flight last week to my kid sister’s wedding (the one who had her accident during PDC 2005) to get a free round-trip ticket from FL to CA. The very kind lady at USAirways Reservations worked for almost an hour to make it happen, but I’m on my way as we speak (I have to fly from Tallahassee to Charlotte to Philly to LA, which puts me in around 7pm tonight… a VERY long day). But I’m really excited to be able to cover a good portion of the action going on at PDC.

    Speaking of ghosts of PDC past, my good friend, new Microsoftie, and former LonghornBlogger Brandon LeBlanc stumbled on a picture on the Microsoft PDC site that should have been burned. Apparently, it’s in rotation with a bunch of other pictures… and if you look closely, you’ll see someone who obviously didn’t have a woman to improve his fashion sense. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself…

    robertatpdc2003See the little blue squirrelly guy in the center, barely over a buck-sixty, in the world’s worst Hawaiian shirt? Yep, that’s me, at my first PDC in 2003. I’m pretty sure this was during one of the first Tech Blogger meetups, the Blogger BoF. Thanks to whomever posted this, for finding one of the worst pictures of me *ever*.

    Anyone up for a little caption contest? The winner will get something from my PDC swag haul. Winner judged by me… keep it PG-13 folks. And keep it right here for more coverage of PDC 2008, featuring Live Mesh, Windows Strata, Windows 7, and .NET 4.0.

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  • And One Service Pack to Rule Them All

    Yesterday, Microsoft announced the first details for the next service pack for Windows Vista. I’m on the Beta, so hopefully I’ll get my build in the next week or so… if I’m allowed to talk about it, I’ll post details.

    Anyways, one of the things I was the most excited about was not the enhanced Wireless features (although I’m hoping that it solves some problems I’ve been having with my Linksys WRT610N (though more on that fiasco later)… no, I’m most excited about the fact that, due to the massive engineering change that Microsoft undertook in aligning the client and server codebases, there will be one Service Pack 2 download that will work on both Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. Will it bring Hyper-V to the client? Will it bring Windows Media Center up to date with the TV Pack bits? I’m not sure… but maybe during my Windows 7 briefings this week I can dig up some answers.

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  • Yahoo Dumps WPF Chat Client

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    Well, Yahoo today decided to dump the one cool project they had going for them. At Vista’s launch, they showed off a WPF version of their Chat program that blew everyone away. They didn’t even actually build it, the people from Frog Design did. And they spent the last two years with their thumbs up their butts about it, taking forever to release an alpha, then a beta.

    Claiming that it won’t run on XP (which is BS, because WPF is in .NET 3.0, which runs just fine on XP, Yahoo has thrown the code out the window, and will not be releasing a final version.

    It’s just too bad too. I was actually looking forward to using the released version. Which would bring the number of Yahoo! products I use to… 1.

    [via News.com]

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