When I moved into my house BT told me I couldn't keep my number. So I decided I would take cable TV and telephone from a company called Comtel. Comtel were a nice lot, and got swallowed up by NTL. And my relationship with NTL was characterized by the worst level of customer service I've ever experienced.
NTL merged with Telewest (who also had a poor reputation) and last year they merged with the Mobile phone operations of Virgin. The whole shooting match is now branded as Virgin .
For the last few weeks my broadband connection has been playing up dreadfully. On Monday things were so bad that I phoned the newly rebranded company. It's fair to say I had low expectations. What did I get ? A shock. First of all I got through to someone on their help desk in - well such a short time I didn't actually measure it. Then I found I was talking to someone who actually knew what they were talking about. And she didn't assume I was an idiot. She did some checks and didn't think the problem was with my connection. Although I was having problems with two PCs, she asked if I'd make absolutely sure it wasn't a fault with the home PC before getting an engineer out. Right at the last moment we tried taking my router out of the loop - and the router had been restarted, hard reset and generally put through the wringer previously. And WHOOSH ! my connection ran like a champ - 4 Megabits per second. Put the router back THUD - less than 400 bits per second. Take it out: full speed again.
So I've replaced the 802.11b router with a faster 802.11g one - which will be ideal when I finally get my Xbox 360 and start streaming media to it. And I might end up as a happy customer of Virgin. Quite a good outcome that.
Someone ... and I don't know his name ... leaked some information about Exchange 2007 Service Pack 1 on a blog. Eileen mentioned this on her blog and the Exchange team have gone on record with information about their plans. The individual concerned is probably feeling some discomfort right now, and rightly so. Our blogging policy here is two words. "BLOG SMART".
Blog smart means keeping our personal honesty and integrity and if that comes into conflict with some standard corporate message we have to manage our own way through. Sometimes it's valid to say that if a particular decision was ours to make we'd have done it differently, or that we hope to see a feature change in the future because we share customer frustration with it, but not always.
It also means being clear about what is commercially confidential or what will create an awkward situation for another part of the company, and generally making disclosures forthcoming products does that. When I first knew Darren Strange he was working with a very interesting technology, which I shall call "Basingstoke". (If I ever get to choose the place names used for Microsoft projects, Basingstoke and Scunthorpe are top of my list). I asked Darren about "Basingstoke" ... 'You can't tell anyone about it' was his reaction before I even got my question out; telling one person is bad, so how much worse is telling the world via your blog ? Lets assume a fictional product "Scunthorpe" is planned to ship in October next year and to introduce a new "Coffee / Refreshments API" to allow users to interface with networked beverage dispensers from their desktop. Putting that information out creates expectations, so that cutting the "C/R API" feature from the final product or delivering in December actually becomes a problem - yet the nature of big projects is that they change. Creating badly founded expectations is NOT Smart, so the only people who can say "Feature X is in, feature Y is out for now, and we expect to be ready round about date Z" are the people who own the project.
This isn't the only situation where you have to keep your peace to avoid embarrassing others. Someone told me a story recently which illustrated misconduct by a Government office. Part of me says I should tell the story, but that would embarrass the person who told me and a chain of other people too. I could construct an argument to show that the 'greater good' would offset that embarrassment, that it's a matter of principle, and a courageous thing to do. Maybe so, but it would be better to put the time into doing something about it elsewhere than spending it defending a piece of less than smart blogging.
If you read the IT Pro team's blogs you'll know that we're doing a road show. I've found my part hard going, I let too much material go into the abstract we advertised and covering it in the time is a battle - especially as I've found tightly scripted things don't work for me. Improvising without diving down 100 different rabbit holes, looking relaxed when realize that you don't know if the next demo is correctly set-up and trying to sound coherent when half way though spelling out an abbreviation and your memory won't come back with the last word ... this is all normal for a presenter. Darren's first session of the tour went badly. A lot of people wouldn't want to talk about this, but Darren wrote about it on his blog. He calls it "probably the worst crash and burn I have ever suffered during a live presentation." It's brave of Darren to talk candidly about what it feels like when it all goes wrong, but what lifts it into the realm of excellent posts is he talks about what you have to do afterwards. He describes himself as "desolate" after that session - something I can vouch for having driven him back from Nottingham. He was great in Bristol yesterday. He came off stage 10 minutes late and I said he'd over-run. In fact he came on 10 minutes late and kept to time. Oops; sorry Darren. I over-ran myself. Double oops. I'm not desolate about my part, but I'm not happy either. Darren talked about the different audiences, the Bristol audience laughed, which the Nottingham audience didn't, and every time I think of audience laughter I think of Ken Dodd's famous quote "Freud considered laughter the conservation of psychic energy. Then again, Freud never played Friday night, second house, at the Glasgow Empire" We're in Glasgow next week. I have to carry on honing my presentation; and put a prize in my bag for the first person to mention Ken Dodd to me.
Sorry to rant about phones twice on the same day, but hopefully this will get something out of my system which has been has been bugging me for ages.
Really this is only aimed at British readers.
First some history. When "Subscriber Trunk Dialing" was introduced into Britain the Post Office came up with a simple system for long distance codes. A leading zero told the it was calling another exchange. Most of the codes (with exceptions like 01 for London) used names of the telephone exchanges, A, B and C were on 2 on the phone dial so, Bath, Cardiff, Carlisle had codes 022x. R was on 7 so, Bristol Brighton and Bradford had 027x codes. Some were a bit odd - Oxford had 0865 - for university. There have been various re-vamps of the numbering system. London codes split into 071 and 081, then 0171 and 0181, then 020 7 and 020 8. Reading (among others) lost its identifiable number and became 0118 But 0 still tells the system that what follows is an area code.
International calls to the UK don't use the 0. If you call me from abroad you dial your local code for international, followed by 44 for the UK, 118 for reading, 9093080 for my phone at Microsoft. And convention - an ITU standard called E164 - says you write this +44 118 909 3080. The standard doesn't care if I write +441189093080 or +44 (118) 909-3080 spaces dashes and brackets are ignored. E164 numbers dial correctly from mobile phones - even when they've roamed to other countries so to facilitate use outside their home country numbers should be stored in E164 format.
However in Britain people started writing +44 (0) to mean "Dial international followed by +44 outside the UK, and 0 in Britain". Nobody who lives in Britain needs to be told this any more, but it's actually harmful. +44 (0) 118 909 3080 looks like a valid E.164 number to people or computers which expect one. Foreigners will dial the 0 and not connect and Smartphones and so forth in the the UK will turn the number into 0 (0) 118 909 3080 - which won't work. I read a lot of mail on my phone and that's only going to increase with some of the new features I expect to have soon (Thanks to Jason Langridge for that info). I hate it when I can't call someone about the mail I've just read because they put the wrong phone number in their mail signature.
So I thought why not do something about it. I've created a rule in outlook, and I encourage you to do the same. Here's the rule description.
From: James O'NeillDate: Wed, 21 Feb 2007 16:37:50 +0000Subject: The Campaign for real numbers
This response has been generated automatically because a message you sent me appears to contain a phone number in an incorrect format, probably in your signature. • UK phone numbers should never be written as +44 (0), people outside the UK do not understand that this means “drop the 44 in the UK and dial 0, but outside drop the 0 and dial 44” • Numbers written this way confuse SmartPhones (and other automated dialling systems), they will dial both +44 and the 0 so people who read your message on the move will have trouble contacting you.
Please make sure your number is in the correct format either with a zero on its own or with +44 and no zero – but if there is no such error in the message you sent please accept my apologies. ThanksJames
Eileen was showing Exchange 2007 transport rules on the Roadshow. I'd love to see organizations which run Exchange 2007 putting this in as a transport rule.
Eileen blogged a few days back about her frustration that we can't roll out Unified Messaging any quicker, and I want it for one reason and one reason only.
A while back I wrote about Stupid phones. I listened to Gurdeep at TechReady saying that his phone hasn't learnt any new tricks in 20 years. Voice mail hasn't evolved in 20 years either. My dad was working at Citibank in the 1980s when they introduced voice mail. He used Lotus 123 for DOS on an 8MHz IBM PC AT. Hardly anyone used E-mail - so if you had it, you couldn't send to anyone else. Windows was a glint in the Developer's eye. This seems about as far removed from Today's technology as the Model-T Ford or the Phonograph.
What's the biggest technology advance in that time ? Not PCs. Mobile phones, in Europe the market is saturated with them - it always amazes me the number of people who carry more than one. Voice mail's interface - keying in DTMF tones - was designed for an era of desktop phones which were used two handed. But when you keep having to take a one piece phone from your ear to tell the system what to do, it's clunky at best - and as for listening to messages while driving - that's downright Dangerous.
My hatred of DTMF isn't confined to voice mail. "Thank you for calling [insurance company]. So we can route you the right place, please enter your 64 digit policy number." Sorry. I'm the customer. I expect your people to be able to talk to me about house or car insurance. You can find me up from my postcode and name (which I can tell you while driving by the way). If my house has burnt down I won't have my policy documents to hand, will I ? What's more I know if I don't enter anything I'll drop out of your phone tree nightmare and end up with a human. If I put in the number I'll be listening to nauseating hold music for ages. "Your custom is important to us" it will tell me every 30 seconds - making wonder how long you make me wait to talk to someone undertrained and underpaid if it wasn't.
Voice recognition is not a new technology - mobile phones have had voice calling for years - and better organizations have it in place of (or as well as) the dreaded phone tree. What I hadn't seen until last year was Voice controlled voice mail. That's what we get with Exchange Unified Messaging. If I can say "Voice mail" to my phone and have it dial into the system , enter my mailbox and PIN then I expect to be able to say things like "Record new message" "Play" "Delete" "Next" or "Previous" to the VM system and have it respond. In the "Devil wears Prada" UC Video there' a great illustration of this about 2:40 in - try doing your voice mail while carrying 3 bags and a tray of coffees.
The other big plus with unified communications is I'm not good at polling for information. I don't poll web sites. RSS means information comes to me (and there's a warning there for anyone who doesn't implement RSS and expects people to poll their sites). For me, needing to check a siloed Voice mail system is a BAD THING. Having my voice messages come to me with the mail - Unifed communications - is a better way to work.
These are pluses for the user. The "new tricks" that phones and voice mail have found it so hard to learn. But there are cost savings to be had too. Somehow when I got back from Techready I locked myself out of my voice mail. Voice mail is a totally siloed system, as a user I can't reset my pin from anything but the VM system. So I have to call the help desk ... but it turns out the help desk doesn't take calls requesting password resets any more, nor can you email a request. You have to connect to an intranet website, and with all the work going on round our road show I haven't been on the corporate network since I locked myself out. (Why would I VPN in, when Communicator, Outlook and Groove give me all the connections I need ?). In Unified messaging the voice mail PIN is an attribute in Active Directory. I'm not sure if it can be reset via Outlook web access (in the way that you can reset a password or wipe a mobile device) but it would be very easy to provide a self service page for users to do this. Result, lower help desk costs, not to mention fewer people wondering why my voice mail greeting is out of date and I haven't been returning their calls. All these things add up to saying that voice as I've known it for the last 20 -25 years isn't fit to survive. And we know what happens to species like like.
The serendipity fairy has been at it again. On Tuesday Eileen posted something about Groove to her blog, and Jon Honeyball - a guy I have a lot of time for - posted something which said he really didn't understand Groove. If I read the time of the posting properly at that moment I was interviewing a possible new team member and asking about Groove.
Before I talking about Groove, every now and then I see the "Honeyball" feature of Windows Vista. Jon is no fan of Vista security, and during the Beta he took me to task over the message User Account Control put up, it displays the program name and the name on the publisher's certificate at the time this was "Microsoft Windows Publisher", Jon pointed out that most users would say "but I'm not running Publisher" and think something was amiss. I bugged this and for the release of Vista it says "Microsoft Windows" instead - though I can't say for sure the two are connected.
So Eileen was saying we now have a UK and Ireland trial available for Groove - I Kleefed the Groove team Techready4 last week because this was only available if you had a US address and I was promised that a fix was already in the works, and it's come through..
When someone like Jon doesn't get Groove it tells me that we have to do more to explain it. I tried before though Eileen is right: you have to experience it, so here's a real life example.
Next week our roadshow kicks off. We have various links to Internet content, documents, presentations and video clips associated with it. There are tasks where we need to track every revision of every document, but this isn't one of them. When the roadshow is over we'll put the documents in a sharepoint archive
Working on the roadshow, we have myself (working at home), Eileen (currently skiing), Steve (currently surfing in Hawaii), Putting stuff on a file share or sharepoint server is going to force us to VPN into the network, but also on the team we have Sue and Rob who don't even work for the company. Sometimes getting the job done we have to share information with people outside our "sphere of trust". So we e-mail everything to everyone, and this works but it sucks, on several grounds. First there can be no central list of the people on the team. Rob and Sue don't have Microsoft accounts, so they can't be on an Exchange distribution list unless we get Microsoft IT put them into active directory (which takes time and costs money), then at the end of the project I have to get them removed - if they're not working with another team. Rather than do that we'll probably just send mails to the same list of people who were on the last mail. Part of the way through the process Georgina joined the team. How much communication will the new team member miss before the rest of us catch up and start including her ? Who is going to find the current version of everything and forward it to her ? Are we going to be sure she has everything ? Sue needed to share some Videos which are bigger than maximum message size Microsoft IT allows. Even when it's allowed, sending everyone every revision of every document is also very space and bandwidth inefficient.
So how does it work with Groove. I set up a workspace - either based on a normal Windows folder (which I can take snapshots of), or with everything in Groove's own database. I invite people to the workspace. If they don't have a copy of Groove and aren't covered by our licenses - like Rob and Sue - they can install the trial version, and what happens if my project is longer than the trial period ? Nothing. An expired trial can do everything EXCEPT create new workspaces.
Groove has its own Instant messaging, mail , discussions and so on but we rarely use them. For the most part we drop files into workspace Groove syncs the changes to everyone. "Team" members outside the company ? Or more specifically outside the circle of trust ? No worries, you can invite anyone. Off the corporate network ? No problem, Groove syncs peer to peer or using a relay server on the internetOff line ? No problem, Groove means you have everything which was there last time you were connected, and syncs your changes on connection.Large files ? No problem. This afternoon groove sync'd a 250MB file which Sue dropped in.Bandwidth ? Groove only syncs changes.
You might need to click to see the larger view, to see it, but Sue put a 250MB file into our workspace. Groove didn't seem to care. Might explain why my broadband was sluggish earlier. If Steve and Eileen have connected to the internet in their hotels they'll have it before the come home.
One of those odd coincidences. Back in January 26 when I was blogging about IBM FUD , I mentioned an Information Week Article where IBM made the assertion that "a so-called "open XML" platform file format, known as OOXML, is designed to run seamlessly only on the Microsoft Office platform.". This is odd because companies like Corel and Novel are baking it into their products. Odd too that 20 out of 21 voting at ECMA voted for it if was not designed to be a standard.
On the same day Jerry Fishenden was writing about the same area on his blog. It's a good read: here's a snippet
"Watching the daily pantomime of what has happened with these Ecma Open XML file formats in the ISO process has made me realise that for some people this has never been about "open" and about interoperability and doing the right thing for the user. Instead, it seems to be about trying to build a prescriptive mandate for a single file format: ODF, the file format used by Open Office and Star Office. And blocking anything that might threaten that prescriptive model."
Jerry can spot FUD when he sees it. The as I said before first step when looking to spread FUD is establishing credibility choosing the right name is critical if you are arguing in the domain of competing IT systems, it's vital to work under a name which makes you sound Open and Interoperable, the Second step is to make assertions which go unchallenged, from which you can extrapolate. Jerry spotted a couple of "great examples of the type of blatant, er, "terminological inexactitudes" (or "open double-standards" if you prefer) doing the rounds from an organisation known as "Open Forum Europe" (OFE). Great name for an IBM lobby group, that and they say "There are also serious doubts that the standard could be implemented outside the Microsoft environment, due to license requirements that are not made explicit."
So we've made handed the format over to ECMA - who have passed it onto ISO, various people are implementing to it, but "licence requirements that have not been made explicit" mean some people have doubts Who has doubts ? We don't know. What Licence requirements ? No-one knows -they're not explicit and only IBM seems able to see them. It helps IBM if people believe that Open XML is "Microsoft only" - even if a Microsoft backed site is plugging GPL code for working with Open XML in PHP. Of course Jerry knows what this is, he calls it "just plain old fashioned FUD."
So much for a couple of weeks ago. Today we have published an OPEN LETTER which "shines a bright light on IBM’s activities" here are my 2 main take-aways
Read the open letter for yourself. Keep it mind when you hear IBM talking about this subject.
Returning from TechReady4 I've noticed some trends in how we are going to think about datacenters over the next few years.
Moore's law just keeps on going (to everyone's surprise including Gordon Moore*). When I was a student in the mid 1980's I had to learn the Transputer programming language "Occam" because my professors thought that parallelism was the way things were going to go. Risc processors were also the future. In the 90's I remember my managing director saying "Risc doesn't buy you anything you can't get more easily with Complex instruction sets if you wait a few months". We've had multi-processor support since Windows NT hit the streets in 1993, and 14 years on multiple chips are still rare on the desktop. Even in the datacenter machines with core counts in double figures are rare - High Performance Computing uses clusters of many "commodity" machines.
But the world is changing. One of the things I took away from Techready4 last week was that Moore's law won't bring faster and faster clock speeds for much longer. Problems like dissipating heat see to that. So if we can get more on a chip ... what can else can we do with it. As anyone buying computers recently will have noticed, parallelism in the form of more cores has hit the mainstream. It's not just in servers or even in Games Consoles - my new Dell latptop isn't anything exotic, but it has two 64 bit cores. (64 bit parallel processing ? In a laptop ? Which runs cooler and gets more battery life from a smaller battery than it's predecessor ? Woo ! ).
The BBC had the story that Intel have shown an experimental 80 core, terraflop processor. I'll say it again 80 cores. 1 Teraflop (Supercomputing territory.) One of Intel's documents points out "A hummingbird beats it’s wings about 75 times per second in normal flight. It would take a hummingbird about 423 years to beat its wings a trillion times. You could call that a “teraflap”! Don't give up the day job guys - and you can do your own search for the Engineering conversions document which has "1 trillion Pins = 1 Terrapin"
Both the BBC and Intel point out the first teraflop computer provided used 500,000 Watts the experimental chip uses only 62 Watts, no that's not a typo - sixty two Watts. Intel published a paper in June 2006 which talked about the power savings offered by the Dual core Xeon 5100 (Woodcrest) chip - the variant for mainstream servers uses 65 Watts. Multi-core is key to greener datacenters - at present these convert a huge amount of electrical power into heat - ironically that heat isn't put to use in buildings and more power is used to get rid of it. BUT... do we see a need for 80 core Domain Controllers ? 80 Core DNS servers ? 80 Core Exchange servers , Web severs, File servers ... in fact do we see a need for more than a handful of cores anywhere but scientific computing ? Here's another take away from TechReady4: there has been a change of language - machines in the datacentre run "workloads" not "services". The idea is simple even if the implementation is still in development. We're moving to a model where Processes / services aren't tightly connected with Processors / Servers, but are floating tasks which can be assigned to machines dynamically. A session I went to on Compute Cluster Server at Techready 4 mentioned using it as a pool of servers with a job control language, to do things like reporting on different processors as required. CCS workloads are tasks which run to completion on a processor - but they don't have to be scientific / high performance computing. Other workloads - traditional services - don't complete in the same way. And the way to partition a server with many cores between workloads is with virtualization. This is why Windows server Virtualization is a core part of Longhorn server and why it provides critical things like support mutliple cores per processor and 64bit guest operating systems which are missing from today's Virtual Server, which isn't part of the OS (although it is free). Virtual Server 2005 isn't a dead-end though, Virtual Machines will transfer to longhorn and System Center Virtual Machine manager will be used to manage Longhorn VMs as well as VS2005 ones.
* According to WikiPedia
Gordon Moore's observation was not named a "law" by Moore himself, but by the Caltech professor, VLSI pioneer, and entrepreneur Carver Mead. Moore's original statement can be found in his publication "Cramming more components onto integrated circuits", Electronics Magazine 19 April 1965:
“The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year ... Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant for at least 10 years.”
It's been quiet on my blog this week because I have been in Seattle for the twice yearly Geek-fest that is Microsoft Tech-Ready. Where else could you sell T-Shirts with GEEK encoded in hex and Binary, or with the Caffeine Molecule on them ? This event has a different vibe to the July one I blogged about. That had excitement about the launch that was coming, this has a feeling of a knuckling down to work on the new stuff.
Steve and Eileen have been here too. I got shirts made with the "Blue Monster" cartoon that Hugh Macleod drew. I've mentioned this before and Steve Clayton (our Handbag evangelist) has been promoting it, so I brought shirts out for his team too.
We've talked about the ambiguity of the statement. Steve told me his take on it, was a form of "Stop whining." - to borrow form Nike, "Just do it". Here's my take.If you look at Microsoft's Values you find "Taking on big challenges and seeing them through.". The PC - the Windows PC - has changed the world. So now what. Stop ? Or find ways to change the world again ? If we're not prepared to do that what are we doing here ? So Change the world or go home is part mission statement, part call to arms.
The defining moment of the show (and a change the world shirt) goes to Michael Kleef. Michael put a question to Steve Ballmer; which in essence is was "Can we do more to look like an international company and less like an American one." His specific issue was with a change Western Australia is making to daylight savings time. Now: something similar is happening and it US (which Eileen blogged about) and we're on top it. In Western Australia we're not. The audience's reaction was thunderous applause. Steve B's reaction. "OK. We'll sort it". That was Monday.... ... On Wednesday we got some idea of the Michael's impact. Bill Gates took to the stage and said "Steve swung by my office on Monday and said 'Bill we need you to start coding again - we've got this problem in Western Australia....' " Michael with one question, changed the world.
By the way: the picture of Bill has made practical by my new camera. (For those who care, it's ISO 1600, 1/100sec exposure, local length equivalent to 270mm - the chances of getting a sharp image without shake reduction are about 25%. I was standing next to someone with a Canon Image Stabilized lens which costs more than all the camera I've ever owned. With In-body SR I got no visible hand shake in 34 shots of Bill. An early version of the camera's brochure had the slogan challenge light. It seems Pentax too want to change the world,
Eileen's been changing the world too. I don't have the depth of connection with the Unified communications group that I used to, and this week I realized that I miss that. My American colleagues seem to thrive on large does of hyperbole - but it makes me feel a bit queasy. So when I say that what we have in the pipeline for UC is world changing, revolutionary stuff that is after my usual British reserve has been applied. Eileen's been kicking in the doors of the UC product team to get access to some of this stuff for the UK. It does amaze me quite how much she's able to get done - while I'm feeling punch-drunk from the technical sessions, and jet lagged and generally not firing on all cylinders other people are changing the world. In a few minutes I head back to the airport to catch the nerd bird out of here. It will be my last British Airways flight until I start using up the quarter of a million air miles I've built up. And no this isn't because of BA's recent decision to sting anyone who divides their luggage between two bags. All their frequent flyer club's page suggests all trips earn status points, they don't credit them on the fares Microsoft book. When I complained BA had gerrymandered my status points in 2005 they wrote back and said they'd rather lose my custom than fix things. And when a flurry of flights with them got me "Silver" status in 2006 I found BA deducted status points after I qualified. So my future flights will be with the lovely people at Scandinavian Would anyone ever do a "BA change the world or go home " shirt. Not very likely.
No this isn't a reference to my home life and the fact the refuse is collected today.
I've been running an experiment. Since my move to Exchange 2007 I've had a bigger mailbox, so I tried not emptying my deleted items folder to see how long it would take before the new mailbox filled up. This morning I signed into OWA at home to check my calendar and got the message that my mailbox was nearly full. Nice attention-getter, and a much better mail from the server. With so many items arriving by RSS a large proportion of the mail in my deleted Items never gets marked as read ... but I was surprised the counter got past 6000.