Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 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

  • 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:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!


  • Hulu Coming to Vista Media Center?

    Hulu is my favorite video sites on the Internet. Why? Because I can watch almost all of my favorite shows for free, with far less advertising than television. The problem with the site is, if I want to watch it on my Vista Media Center PC, I have to go out of the 10-foot experience, and use my keyboard and mouse… which I’d really rather not do. On top of that, I can’t use it at all on my Xbox 360, because no one has built a decent browser add-on for WMC yet.

    So the other day I sent Hulu an e-mail inquiring about a public API so that I could build my own Hulu add-in for Windows Media Center. This is the response that I got, verbatim:

    Thanks much for the message!  We love to here [sic] from our users.  Rest assured we certainly have plans in the works to support a living room experience.  We will definitely keep users in the loop as those progress.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before you will be able to lean back (with remote) and enjoy Hulu.
    Hulu Distribution Team

    While that doesn’t solve my immediate problem, it is good to hear that the Hulu team is forward-thinking enough to include Vista in their distribution plans. When I hear any more about this, I’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, does anyone else out there use Hulu? What do you think about it?

  • Devs Targeting Vista: It’s The .NET Framework, Stupid!

    The Vista press FUD continues. CNET’s Matt Asay is linking to an Evans Data report (registration required) on development that says that only 8% of shops are targeting Windows Vista for their development.

    The problem with the statement is that it draws the wrong conclusions, because they don’t fundamentally understand Vista. People don’t develop applications targeted at “Windows” anymore, they target development at the .NET Framework. Big corporations aren’t doing their development for Sidebar or SideShow gadgets, they’re developing for .NET 2.0, 3.0, and 3.5.

    So, you can accuse me of wearing blinders if you want, but the question is stupid. As a developer, I don’t care what version of Windows my users are running. If they’re running .NET 3.0 or 3.5, then they have everything they need to have a great experience, no matter what platform it’s installed on top of. Especially seeing as how .NET will support OSX in the near future with Silverlight 2.0…

  • Disneyland’s “Innoventions Dream Home” By HP & Microsoft

    I was the first tech news site to break this story a while back, and I’m glad to finally see this come to fruition.

    Microsoft has teamed with Disneyland, HP, Life|Ware, and Taylor Morrison to combine Microsoft’s “Home of the Future” with the HP MediaHome into the “Innoventions Dream Home” at Disneyland. It combines Microsoft technologies like Microsoft Surface (looks like they took my advice), Windows Home Server, and Windows Media Center, to give people an immersive glimpse into the ultimate Microsoft-powered home, and how people can leverage these technologies today.

    Below are some pictures from Microsoft’s Press Release:

    Disneyland’s Innoventions Dream Home kitchen displays recipes and other messages directly on to your countertop and even recognizes ingredients and tools the home cook places on the counter and suggests recipes for using them. The Dream Home features the latest technology and a glimpse at future products from Microsoft, HP and Exceptional Innovations.

    Disneyland’s Innoventions Dream Home kitchen displays recipes and other messages directly on to your countertop and even recognizes ingredients and tools the home cook places on the counter and suggests recipes for using them. The Dream Home features the latest technology and a glimpse at future products from Microsoft, HP and Exceptional Innovations.

    Disneyland’s Innoventions Dream Home Magic Mirror projects clothes, accessories and even hairstyles onto the image of the Elias daughter. As she gestures, the clothes and pigtails move with her.  The software also analyzes what clothing is in your closet, in your laundry or borrowed by friends.  The mirror was inspired by technology inside the Microsoft Home, a prototyping facility on the company’s Redmond, WA campus.

    Disneyland’s Innoventions Dream Home Magic Mirror projects clothes, accessories and even hairstyles onto the image of the Elias daughter. As she gestures, the clothes and pigtails move with her. The software also analyzes what clothing is in your closet, in your laundry or borrowed by friends. The mirror was inspired by technology inside the Microsoft Home, a prototyping facility on the company’s Redmond, WA campus.

    You can also register your own version of the Dream Home, by home builder Taylor Morrison, starting this Friday at

    HP’s Brian Burch is at Disneyland today for the opening, so if you head down there (tours run from 7-10pm tonight), be sure to find him and say hi. I’m also hoping to have pictures from the event posted tomorrow.

    More Information:
    Disneyland Press Release
    Microsoft Press Release
    Disneyland’s “Innoventions Dream Home” Press Kit
    Disneyland’s Official Video Tour
    Interview with Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore & HP’s Phil McKenney

  • Microsoft (Wisely) Walks Away From Yahoo

    The big news today is that Microsoft has walked away once and for all from the “Microhoo” deal.

    I for one am extremely happy about this. Yahoo is a has-been company that is going nowhere, fast. They haven’t been relevant at anything since they started buying up Web 2.0 companies and doing nothing with them. Flickr is the only decent thing left over there. Let the company burn out like many others have. There was no need for Microsoft to burn so much money to add dead weight to the ship. There are many smaller, more innovative companies out there, like Xobni, who would be a much better fit.

    I’m glad the charade is over.

  • Windows PowerShell (and .NET) on Windows Server 2008 Core

    Windows PowerShell is an incredibly powerful tool that makes managing servers a LOT easier. The problem is, you can’t run it on Server Core, which is arguably where it would be most useful. The reason is that PowerShell requires the .NET Framework, which is not supported on Server Core because of it’s reliance on GDI, which is removed from Server Core to minimize the footprint. (Hopefully the next version of the .NET Framework will have a stripped-down version that is not reliant on GDI; maybe a variant of the Silverligfht runtime.)

    Well, now, someone has figured out how to get PowerShell on Server Core, by modifying the .NET Framework 2.0 SP1 installer to stop testing for Windows Server 2008. Now, this is completely unsupported by Microsoft, and it’s a pretty safe bet that stuff will break if you try to run any other .NET apps, but at least you’ll have better scripting support.

    I wonder if this means you’d be able to serve up ASP.NET pages with IIS7 on Server core…

  • Windows SideShow for Windows Mobile Beta – FINALLY!

    If you thought the development cycle for Vista was long, consider Windows SideShow for Windows Mobile. I can’t tell you how many times I heard this thing promised during the Longhorn Beta. At least Vista got a promised ship date, the only thing Microsoft promised with WS4WM was “it’s coming”.

    Well, 18 months after Vista shipped, Microsoft has FINALLY released “version 0.01” (could you guys be any *more* confident in this build?) of Windows SideShow for Windows Mobile. I wasn’t able to try it yet, because SideShow is not available on Windows Server 2008, but I’ve got another machine I might try it on shortly.

    So if you’ve got the #1 smartphone platform on the planet, and a bluetooth-enabled Vista computer, you should fire it up and take it for a spin. Anyone else tried it yet? I’d love to hear some other user’s thoughts about it’s usefulness, value, etc.

  • "Windows 7 Video" Origins Revealed

    In all the hubub over the last week, I missed this message in my Windows-Now inbox:

    Hi Robert,

    I would like to clarify the Windows 7 video was unauthorized and based on an initial Beta version of our upcoming product. If you'd like more information about the product please visit


    Konrad Musial
    CEO, Extensoft, Inc.

    So that explains it. The product looks interesting, I hope I'm able to get my hands on a copy soon. And congratulations to whomever created the video, you got your 15 minutes of fame.

  • IE8 and 'Killbits'

    I was reading up about IE8 Beta 2 yesterday, and I came across an interesting post about how ActiveX controls will be handled in IE8. The part I found interesting:

    If a vulnerable control has been exploited, IE has included a poison-pill option—the “killbit”— to block usage of specific controls within the browser. Vendors who are aware of a vulnerability in their control should contact Microsoft to setup a killbit for a future software update package. For more information, please refer to Knowledge Base article 240797, How to stop an ActiveX control from running in Internet Explorer.

    I think that's pretty awesome. If a vendor doesn't want a vulnerable control affecting their users anymore, they can have Microsoft prevent it from loading beyond the current measures they have in place. Maybe Adobe can use that to kill the versions of the ActiveX control that keep crashing IE7.

    [via Neowin]

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