Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

July, 2007

  • The Hot Summer Crop of Laptops

    Each year there's a new crop of laptops worthy of your dollars.  This year is certainly no exception and in fact demonstrates "Moore's Law" very nicely.  In the spirit of transparency, I'm letting you know some information on the sponsorship of my team so you can draw your own conclusions on my motivations.  I think you'll find by the end of this article prior sponsorships haven't really jaded my view, and in fact, quite the opposite has happened.

    Last year, our FY07 machines were sponsored by Lenovo.  Before that, HP.  I had never had a ThinkPad but had read and heard a lot of good things about them.  Unfortunately, when the ThinkPads were made by IBM, the price range was out of this mere mortals price range.  The sponsorship gave me access the sleek black T60p and I must admit, it's a really solid performer.  The price under the Lenovo realm has also dropped and it worthy of your consideration and wallet.  Should you get a T60p?


    What should you consider?

    Everyone has a different set of needs.  Most people first assess how much money they have to spend.  For some, spending limits aren't negotiable considering they have other bills and responsibilities.  Understood.  For others, they want the fastest gaming machine on the planet under 12 pounds and money is no object.  I typically fall in between those camps.  I like to have a machine capable of playing some state-of-the-art PC games but my real requirement for a home machine is video transcoding performance, encoding performance, etc.  Gaming and video pretty much demands a decent video chipset.  My picks below all have awesome video chipsets and were picked with those video demands in mind, but there are other subtleties I liked as well.  Some of these machines aren't out yet, so this list will be updated based on evaluation unit testing.


    Lenovo ThinkPad T61p

    The T61p is the update to the successful high performance line of ThinkPads.  In fact, the T61p is also called the ThinkPad Mobile Workstation.  See the full specs at this IBM website.  Updates include a native 1920x1200 resolution 15.4" LCD screen.  This was the main reason I recently ordered the T61p over the MacBook Pro.  Driving the new screen is the NVIDIA Quadro FX 570M which is a very beefy GPU.  To give you an idea, that video chip scores a 5.9 on the Windows Aero WINSAT score and a 5.4 on the 3D business and gaming test. 

    Other updates include the Mobile Intel PM965 Express Chipset which offers x64 operating systems up to and greater than 4GB of system RAM.  With any luck, this time next year you'll be able to have 8GB of RAM in these machines if so desired.  Obviously that's extreme overkill for surfing the web and email, but it will be welcome to the virtual machine IT Pros.

    One of the ports I miss on my current T60p is the IEEE 1394 Firewire port.  That has been added to the T61p.  This generations T61p still offers both the PCMCIA and ExpressCard slots, three USB ports, finger print reader, and a variety of wireless configurations.  One of the features my team uses heavily is the multibay drive bay.  We pull the DVD burner and slap in a hard drive caddy with an additional SATA drive.

    The ThinkPad line didn't get to the top of the business laptop food chain on accident.  I have both the T60p 15" and T60p 15.4" laptops from last year and I have had zero issues running Windows XP, Windows Vista x86, Windows Server 2003 x86, Windows Server 2008 x64, SLED 10.1 and RHAT WS 5.  I have little doubt you'll be very satisfied with the black little beast and can't wait for the arrival of my T61p.  I paid for it with my own money if that tells you anything.  I have to give the T60p's back, unfortunately.


    Apple MacBook Pro

    15.4-inch and 17-inch displayI came damn close to buying the Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 based MacBook Pro.  A number of Microsoft employees own them and Apple is making a pretty compelling machine.  In fact, it's the only legal way to run OS X.  So if you are interested in the Apple operating system, the MBP is the way to go.  Of course don't forget Apple makes it very easy to install Windows Vista via their "Bootcamp" multiboot OS loader. 

    The MBP line is a sleek unit with a lot of bells and whistles.  The laptop isn't just for looks.  The new MacBook Pros have the NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT video chip which screams.  Like the ThinkPad, it scores a 5.9 and a 5.4 on Windows Vista video performance.  Unfortunately, the supplied 15.4" widescreen native resolution is 1440x900.  Sorry, but that was pretty much the deal breaker for me.  If the native res had been at least 1680x1050 I would probably be owning one. 

    The MacBook Pro comes with a pretty impressive suite of software products for email, digital pictures, video music, etc.  That helps ease the pain if you consider a platform switch.  In the end, I couldn't justify the added expense.  My MacBook Pro EPP pricing was still several hundred dollars more than the deal I got on the ThinkPad from  I guess there are lots of people with ready cash because it appears Apple has moved way up the list of laptop suppliers.  I thought I saw an IDC report that said they are like number four now.  That's pretty impressive.  No wonder AAPL is at like $143.


    HP 8510p

    image Like the machines above, the new HP 8510p is dressed to kill.  This particular machine sports the new ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 which should be a strong video chipset to drive all types of graphics applications.  I don't have the Windows Vista WINSAT scoring just yet.  We should receive some eval units soon and I'll update this section when I get some hard data.

    It's looking more and more likely that HP will be sponsoring my team for the next year or so and this machine is high on our list of machines to look at.

    Notable goodies include HDMI out, a Blu-ray drive option, all types of networking options, and like the ThinkPad, it supports multiple hard drives via the use of a multibay hard drive caddy.

    Unfortunately, all of the HP business class machines lack one thing that would be a personal purchase deal breaker and may come back to haunt my team next year at the Windows Server 2008 launch.  HP decided not to include an ExpressCard slot.  This means if we want to use a high speed external eSATA disk enclosure, we would have to use a Cardbus PCMCIA card and that chokes off a significant amount of bandwidth to the disk.  It's probably no big deal for most people, but I/O performance counts when you are trying to run virtual machines.  In fact, it's going to be the key bottleneck when we go beyond 4GB of RAM and start loading up the VM's.

    I know a lot of people that have been running the HP nc8430 and other variants of last years business performance line.  I haven't heard anything negative about them and most of the anecdotal comments are extremely favorable.  If that's any indication, the 8510p should be a strong competitor and I can't wait to test it.  I'm guessing it will have at or better performance than the machines above.  We'll see if I'm right in the next few weeks.  It's going to take a strong machine to knock the ThinkPad and MacBook Pro off the top of the hill.  Now will someone tell HP to come up with a snazzy name?  It's called branding folks.



    I removed the Dell Vostro 1500 section.  I've seen some pretty bad reviews by owners.  I don't know if they are accurate or not, but there's no sense in having a dark horse here.  Recommendation to evaluate rescinded. Spend some time looking at an ASUS or something instead.



    I'm sure there are lots of other machines you think I should have mentioned here (like ASUS or Acer).  The ones above are pretty conservative but powerful business class machines with global support and availability.  I don't know if Dell is selling the Vostro overseas so it may be the wild horse.  As I indicated, it's looking like I'll be toting a HP full time before too long.  I'll let you know what we settle on.  It's likely to be the 8510p, 8510w, or one of the 6000 series machines.

    If you have the cash, you won't be disappointed with a Lenovo ThinkPad and the T61p is the cream of the business laptop market.  I'll let you know how it plays Halo and Doom when I get it.  <grin>  Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, err, Lenovo.

    And then of course there's the Mac.  You'll probably have fun getting used to the keyboard at first, but look on the bright side, it'll keep you warm in the winter.


    [8/19/2007 Update]  I've had the Lenovo Thinkpad T61p on order for almost 4 weeks now.  Lenovo, wake up.  If they go past the 30 day mark, I'll likely cancel my order and purchase something else.  They have until close of business Wednesday 8/23 to change my order from "in process" to "shipped".  How patient are you?  I'm not very patient.  Usually when I spend more than $2000 on something, I want instant gratification.  I actually spent less than 2k with my EPP pricing.  However, making me wait 30 days and giving me time to more carefully evaluate and play with the competition hands on isn't the way to satisfy me.  Oh, and did anyone notice you can no longer order one on the site?  Why?  Did a webmaster make a boo boo or is there an issue with the machine or supply?

    After playing with the MacBook Pro 15.4" for several hours over the course of several days, I haven't changed my opinion.  I would much prefer a higher screen resolution, and no, I don't want a 17" laptop.  Considering Leopard is coming in October, maybe Apple will get smart and upgrade the screen of the Pro at the same time.  If they do, and I still haven't purchased something else, I know what is going to happen...

    [8/20/2007 Update]  Ok, I found out the answers to at least one of my questions.  The reason my ThinkPad hasn't shipped is because there are supply issues with the fancy 1920x1200 lcd display in the T61p.  It doesn't explain why they pulled the T61p from the .com order area... well, maybe it does.  Anyway, it's looking like I'm going to cancel my order.  It's probably for the better.  It will give me more time to see what my internal pricing is, what Apple is going to do for Christmas, etc.  I'm sad about it.

    Lenovo, if you are reading this, what could you have done differently?  I don't know but I've grown accustomed to near instant gratification from Dell or the local retail channel.  I knew 30 days was going to tax my patience but the CSR I spoke with about my order didn't seem too concerned about it, even when I told him Friday I was going to cancel the order.  If I were him, I probably would have said, "Wait one sec, let me check on something..." then really tried to find out if the order could be bumped up in the queue.  If that couldn't be done, then they have bigger problems to worry about.  My next and last update on this post will be Friday.

    [8/29/2007 Update]  I canceled my ThinkPad order.  I decided to order a different model instead.  This time, I ordered the T61p with the WSXGA+ screen which is essentially the same screen resolution as the T60p Widescreen I'm using right now (1680x1050).  1920x1200 will wear out your eyes on a 15.4" screen unless you have really good eyes.  Lenovo is still struggling with demand since it's soo darn high, but I'm willing to wait.  I should have the darn thing by Halloween.  :)

  • Latest Cat warez

    Robert, a cat lover in my region wanted me to make sure everyone was aware of some new wares for the feline lovers of the world.  See the full story at  LOL !!!  Of course, you're going to need a really kewl laptop to order the goods with, but I'm sure you've already got one, right?


  • Windows Vista Product Guide - Shadow Copy screencast

    Matt Hester, resident TechNet Search guru has posted another screencast from our Windows Vista Product Guide screencast series.  Head on over to for an excellent article on Shadow Copy complete with an awesome demonstration he captured using Camtasia v4.01.

    Next Monday we'll have another feature blogged and demonstrated by Chris Henley.  When he gets that posted, I'll let you know.

  • Windows Vista Hardware Assessment webcast now available

    WVHA picYesterday Baldwin Ng delivered a nice webcast on the Windows Vista Hardware Assessment v2.0 release.  This webcast is now available for on demand viewing so you can watch it with the Live Meeting wrapper. Or download it and watch/listen later at your leisure.

    Baldwin did a real good job of describing the toolset, reporting, various network and security scenarios and future plans.  If you are interested in doing an inventory of your current environment without having to install a more complicated product like SMS, then you should check out this webcast.

    If for some reason the webcast link above doesn't work, you can always go to  Since the webcasts are listed in date order there, you'll see this close to the top of the list since it was delivered yesterday.  Or, you can go to and plug in the event ID which in this case is 1032343265.

  • Windows Server 2008 Component Posters - download available

    These two posters, originally published in the July 2007 issue of TechNet Magazine, provide a strong visual tool to aide in the understanding of various features and components of Windows Server 2008. One poster focuses exclusively on powerful new Active Directory technologies, while the other provides a technical look at a variety of new features available in Windows Server 2008 (such as Server Core, Network Access Protection, and more).

    Get em @

  • Windows Vista Hardware Assessment v2.0 released

    Matt Hester beat me to it.  Well, not really.  We'll just let him think he did.  Matt posted some information about the Windows Vista Hardware Assessment v2.0 release so check out his blog post.  I was going to post some information this weekend but backed off because I hit some issues I reported to the development team.  Oh well, since the cat is out of the bag, here's a couple of things to keep in mind about the tool:

    1. Read The Fabulous Manual (RTFM) - you pretty much have to.  There are a number of service and firewall configuration details you'll need to address depending on the networking and security environment you are running in.  This is true even for home networks.  There are also some registry settings you'll likely need to change.  If you are in a domain based environment, group policy will be your friend here.  The documentation is very good but I found I also needed to start the "Remote Procedure Call (RPC) Locator" service for my WinXP MCE 2005 machines to be scanned.
    2. Reporting - I had some issues with the application reporting so I would be interested in your experiences.  Did you get a complete and accurate report of the applications for all machines?

    Get the tool @

    Make sure to checkout the webcast and TechNet Radio interview links in Matt's blog post.  Cheers !

  • Windows Vista Product Guide screencast - Sidebar and Gadgets

    gadget For those of you unfamiliar with Windows Vista, we have a great feature reference called the Windows Vista Product Guide.  My team has recorded over fifty demos of those features and we have every inclination to do the whole guide.  That's about 200+ demos we'll deliver via screencasting.  To kick this off, I thought I'd do something fun and kewl that is immediately noticeable when you install Windows Vista.

    The Windows Sidebar is a pane or dock for applications known at Gadgets.  This surface by default sits on the right hand side of your screen and is a container that developers can use for mini applications.  The Windows Sidebar is a cousin to the Windows SideShow.  For those of you using wide screen monitors, this is a nice location for those applications.  In a multimon configuration, you could also set the location of the Sidebar to be on a particular monitor.   

    Gadgets are mini applications with a variety of possible uses. They can connect to web services to deliver business data, weather information, news updates, traffic maps, Internet radio streams, and even slide shows of online photo albums. Gadgets can also integrate with other programs to provide streamlined interaction. For example, a gadget can give you an at-a-glance view of all your online instant messaging contacts, the day view from your calendar, or an easy way to control your media player. Gadgets can also have any number of dedicated purposes. They can be calculators, games, sticky notes, and more.addgadget

    Where do I get them?

    Gadgets can be added by right mouse clicking the Sidebar and selecting the "Add Gadget" menu item.  When you do, you'll see the mini gadget gallery depicted in the screenshot on the right.  This is a small subset of the gadgets that have been developed.  In fact, there are over 1100 at the time of this writing.

    If you want to see all of the available gadgets, click the link in the bottom right hand corner of the gadget listings.  This will take you to the online gallery at  Keep in mind I'm in the US so your link will be sightly different depending on your locale.  Once there, you can also click a button to "See all gadgets" which takes you to another gallery at

    What about security?

    For those of you wondering about the security of these applications, I invite you to review the documentation at since it discusses the security context applications execute as, UAC interaction, etc.  For those of you responsible for managing Windows Vista corporate desktops, there are group policies available to control the following:

    • Turn off Windows Sidebar- this policy allows administrators to completely disable the Windows Sidebar. The user cannot start the Windows Sidebar if this policy is enabled.
    • Disable unpacking and installation of gadgets that are not digitally signed. This policy allows an administrator to require that all gadgets installed by a user are digitally signed. This policy only affects gadgets that are downloaded and then run, such as double-clicking on a gadget package. All previously or manually installed gadgets will still function.
    • Turn off user-installed Windows Sidebar gadgets.  This policy provides administrators with the ability to block all gadgets not placed into the Shared Gadgets or Gadgets folders (in the Sidebar Program Files folder), both of which can only be modified by a user in the administrator group. Gadgets in the user's directory will not display in the Gadget Gallery dialog box or be allowed to run.
    • Override the more gadgets link. By default, this link points to an online Microsoft website; however, administrators can specify that this link point to another website. Administrators can then more easily distribute gadgets that are approved for use within their organization.

    While gadgets would appear to be "cute" at first glance, don't underestimate their power.  During my research, I stumbled across a very creative PowerShell gadget from Mindscape developed by Andrew Peters.  This means you don’t have to fire up your command shell all the time.  Instead, just type your command into the sidebar to execute it. If you need data displayed, the fly-out mode displays the output for the command.  Scary huh?

    I also just noticed Michael Murphy has a blog post about a wine gadget.  Michael is the team wine connoisseur so it didn't surprise me to see him locate such a mission critical app.  :)


    The Screencast


    Next Up

    Matt Hester will be posting the next screencast on a feature in the Windows Vista Product Guide.  Matt will be writing and demonstrating the Shadow Copy technologies so stay tuned for that.  I'll post a link when he has it online.


  • Windows Home Server has shipped !!!

    "Woo-hoo!  We did it. Today we are announcing that Windows Home Server has been released to manufacturing (RTM). We have finalized the software and now handing it off to our OEM partners. The evaluation version (with 120 day evaluation period) and the system builder version are also heading into the distribution channels and will be available in the next couple of months. French, German and Spanish versions will be finalized shortly, and OEM products will hit retail shelves this fall."

    See the remainder of the announcement and notes at


  • Did anyone actually watch all 22 hours of the "Live Earth" concert ???

    Ok it's now a week later and I wondered if any of you recorded the entire 22 hours of coverage on Universal HD, much less actually watched it?  I admit I've been through all of the footage and one thing was perfectly clear to me.  The TiVo S3 recorded everything near perfectly.  Thank god for the fast forward buttons.

    There was a particular concert I would have loved to have been at.  There's actually a couple but they are on opposite sides of the planet.  I guess I'd have to measure that to see if it's really true.

    So which ones were they?

    I'm not going to give that away just yet.  But for some background on me, I'm a rocker at heart.  I prefer the heavier rock although I would not consider myself to be a metal head.  I'm pretty sure my hearing has been damaged by the concerts I've attended, not to mention the sound systems in my rides.

    So back to some questions: [UPDATED on 7/16 with my answers]

    1. Which concert would you like to have been at?  London, hands down.  What an amazing list of artists.  Something for everyone.  From Metallica to Madonna.
    2. Which artist really had the audience jumping or totally engaged with the music? Linkin Park.  Nobody across the planet had the audience rocking like Linkin Park did in Tokyo.  I keep wondering when Chester is going to burst a blood vessel.  Take a look at the Linkin Park tour dates.  How on earth does his vocal cords handle it?
    3. Which artist was more impressive than you expected? There were actually two.  Wolfmother is a trip and they rocked but Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters really surprised me with their enthusiasm and energy.  It will be interesting to see how their upcoming album does.
    4. Which artist was really strange to you?  12 Girls Band in China.  I don't know about you but the stage seemed scary to me.  I guess I would need to see it in the daylight.

    Sorry, I'm not going to ask any negative questions.  Let's keep this fun, shall we?

  • Windows Server 2008 screencast - Core Read Only DC creation

    If you took a look at my previous Windows Server 2008 screencasts, you'll recall we left off with a Core server that had been activated and joined to our test domain.  Sorry for the delay, end-of-year happened.  Now things get interesting.  This time, we're going to take that member server and convert it into a Read Only Domain Controller (RODC).  Now you might be thinking, why on earth is Microsoft creating such a feature set?  Isn't this beast a throwback to the NT read-only BDC days?  Nope. 

    A Read Only Domain Controller (RODC) is an additional domain controller for a domain that hosts read-only partitions of the Active Directory database. An RODC is designed primarily to be deployed in a branch office environment. Branch offices typically have relatively few users, poor physical security, relatively poor network bandwidth to a hub site, and little local IT knowledge.

    RODCs address some of the problems that might be caused by branch office locations that either have no domain controller or that have a writable domain controller but not the physical security, network bandwidth, and local expertise to support it. The following characteristics of RODCs help to solve these problems: ws2008logo smaller

    • Read-Only Active Directory Database
    • Unidirectional Replication
    • RODC Filtered Attribute Set
    • Credential Caching
    • Administrator Role Separation
    • Read-Only Domain Name System

    In this screencast, we are going to convert a Windows Server 2008 Core virtual machine into a read-only domain controller (also a VM).  The VM is currently just a member server in the domain.  Conversion is pretty easy using a tool that has been around for years and years called DCPROMO.

    For our screencast, we are going to focus on credential filtering or more accurately password caching depending on your point of view.  We'll get to some of the other features in future screencasts.  By filtering, I mean that we can limit the kerberos tickets/passwords that are cached on a RODC.  Now why on earth would you want to do that?  Well, think about the thieves of the world.  If someone breaks into your branch location, would you rather that server disappear with all of your ids and passwords, or a much smaller subset of the overall organization?  I think most people would agree a much smaller subset is more prudent.


    Running DCPROMO in text mode

    DCPROMO is normally a nice GUI wizard that can be executed unless you are staging servers and running the command line version.  Running the GUI wizard presents a problem when trying to run it on a Windows Server 2008 Core machine because we don't have much of a GUI at all.  To workaround this, we can run DCPROMO via the command line using a file with the details of the implementation we want.  You'll notice in the text file we create (indicated below), we want the result of the promotion to be a ReadOnlyReplica.  The text file contents below are an incomplete implementation of the details.  You'll need to modify them in order to meet your local implementation needs.  See the documentation (references at the bottom) for the full details of the parms in this file.






    OnDemandAllowed=The name(s) of groups whose members' passwords will be allowed to be cached on the RODC

    OnDemandDenied=The name(s) of groups whose members' passwords will NOT be allowed to be cached on the RODC

    Password=Domain Admin password


    ReplicaDomainDNSName=Full DNS name of the domain


    ReplicationSourceDC=Name of a Windows Server 2008 domain controller in the same domain

    SafeModeAdminPassword=Choose an appropriate password to use for Directory Services Restore Mode

    SiteName=RODC Site Name


    UserName=Domain Admin account name

    RODCPolicy Now that we know what dcpromo expects, we can simply kick it off on the command line as follows:

    dcpromo /unattend:myfile.txt

    myfile.txt can be any name you choose.  The contents are the important part, not the name.  That's always confusing to me when some programs expect a particular filename.  Silly programmers.  Can't live with em, can't ...

    After dcpromo starts running, you'll know pretty quickly if you have the appropriate permissions and network connectivity.  It installs the binaries it needs and starts communicating with the source DC rather quickly.  After it downloads the schema and objects, you'll be prompted for a reboot.  As indicated in the parm file above, you can reboot automatically at the end of the installation.  After the reboot is complete, you can start filtering the cached credential list. So how do we filter this list?   Easy! 


    Creating Password Replication Policies

    After the member server is converted, you'll see the machine account move to the Domain Controllers container in Active Directory.  Using the Users and Computer management console, we can review and modify the properties of our new RODC.  While looking at the properties for the RODC, you'll notice a new Password Replication Policy tab page.  From that page, we can modify the policies by explicitly allowing or denying password caching, checking the status of cached creds on our server, and checking the status of authentication. 

    If you are confused by multiple policies, we have a tool that can be executed from the Resultant Policy tab page and will give us the results of all policies that are applied to a particular principle.  This is a great way to see who was allowed and therefore has cached creds, who was denied implicitly, and who was denied explicitly.

    Now if you are worried about WAN traffic and latency from the branch location to the home office data center, you can always stage and pre-populate the credentials.  See the screencast for how to do that.


    The Screencast

    The screencast covers pretty much everything you see written above and then some.  It's just over 11 minutes so it's a concise demo of the concepts and methods.  At the end of the screencast is a brief discussion of staging and pre-populating passwords for branch office server deployment.

    Watch it @ mms://

    If you have a podcatcher that supports Windows Media Video, you'll notice I have a link to the video in the attachment section at the bottom of this post.  This will create a RSS <enclosure> and allow you to pull it off my server.  If you aren't using a podcatcher, then you can right mouse click the link and save it locally for offline viewing and listening.


    Additional Resources and References

    TechNet RODC Step-by-Step  @

    Windows Server 2008 Technical Library @

    Michael Murphy's webcast on Windows Server 2008 Active Directory @

    Maria Green's blog post @

    Arlindo Alves' blog post @

  • NETMON 3.1 has been released to the web

    Network Monitor 3.1 is an application that allows you to capture, display, parse, and save packets that are received by your network adapters. To parse packets, Network Monitor 3.1 applies knowledge of the structure of the various protocols to the hex data contained in the packets and displays the resulting interpretation.

    Network frames contain information such as the address of the computer that sent the frame, the address of the computer to which the frame was sent, and protocols that exist within the frame. Network frames often contain data as well.

    You can configure Network Monitor 3.1 to display specific types of information that are most relevant to you. And, to make analyzing the information easier, you can modify how information appears on the screen and you can filter or save the information for review at a later time.

    Network Monitor 3.1 has the following new features:

    • Mechanism for detecting new versions of Network Monitor 3 released through Microsoft Update
    • Ability to capture wireless 802.11 frames in monitor mode, and scan across 802.11 physical layers and channels on Windows Vista™.
    • New Reassembly Engine
    • Performance improvements.
    • Ability to capture on the VPN/RAS interface
    • New protocol parsers
    • More intuitive filtering

    Network Monitor 3.1 is not shipped with any operating system. It is a support and development tool that is available for free over the web.

    Download @

  • Have you seen the VHD repository lately?

    Using the power of virtualization, you can now quickly evaluate Microsoft and partner solutions through a series of pre-configured Virtual Hard Disks (VHDs). You can download the VHDs and evaluate them for free in your own environment without the need for dedicated servers or complex installations. Start now by selecting a lab from the VHD catalog below.

    Windows Vista Enterprise 30-Day Edition VHD New!
    Road-test the new and improved features of the Windows Vista platform, and get a firsthand look at enhancements to management, usability, and security.

    Microsoft Office 2007 Professional VHD New!
    Test Drive two new Microsoft platforms, Windows Vista Enterprise and Office 2007 Professional, and experience how they work better together.

    Visual Studio 2005 Team Suite New!
    Get a hands-on experience of the capabilities of Visual Studio 2005, and see how it can help you develop and deliver Windows Vista-based software quickly and cost-effectively.

    Exchange Server 2007 New!
    This download enables you evaluate how Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005 together can help create an optimized messaging system for your organization. Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 is designed to reduce the growing cost and complexity of managing a corporate messaging system by providing more control for IT administrators, more value and expanded inbox access for end users, and increased security and compliance for the organization as a whole.

    See the other pre-configured VM's @

  • Marc is blogging

    Marc Andreessen is blogging over at  One of his posts on winning caught my eye.  See for that post.  I don't know Marc (other than the obvious recorded history), but I wonder what he would change in the post or recommend if he worked here.  Now wouldn't that be interesting?  Anyway, see the post.  Good brain food.

  • Xbox 360 LIVE Marketplace expands HD movie offerings

    When I switched from a Verizon rented HD DVR to the TiVo Series 3, I gave up video on demand and pay per view.  At first glance this may be significant for many of you, but my family rarely purchased a PPV movie or event, and the VOD offering was entirely standard definition.  Well, it's looking more and more like the Xbox 360 is going to fill in the PPV movie void if needed.  Not only that, the LIVE Marketplace just got a whole lot bigger and better with the deal we just signed with Disney.  Here's a juicy excerpt of the press release:

    "In a move that will add to the incredible popularity of Xbox LIVE Marketplace, Microsoft announced an agreement with Disney-ABC Domestic Television to make high definition and standard definition feature films from Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax Films, and Hollywood Pictures available for rent on demand to members of Xbox LIVE in the U.S. A growing catalogue of current and library titles will be available this July with more blockbusters to come. Microsoft also announced the highly anticipated rollout of the high-definition video store on Xbox LIVE Marketplace for customers around the globe. Microsoft will begin bringing content to living rooms in Europe and Canada by the end of this year. Currently offering more than 2,350 hours of premium entertainment content from 28 networks and studios, and nearly 500 hours of HD content alone, this puts the U.S. on-demand, high-definition library for Xbox 360 at more than twice the size of the nearest cable provider."

    See, and for more information on the deal.  Sounds awesome to me. 

    Now I need to find my Xbox LIVE Marketplace point to USD calculator...

  • Lenovo - are they insane?

    Unless you've been under a rock in the US, you've probably heard about the record setting rain we've been having here in Texas.  For these kind of conditions, you need some hardware that can handle the wet stuff.  So this picture caught my eye... I want to do this demo at the Windows Server 2008 launch event with a multi node cluster... grin.  Click the pic for a preliminary demo.



    See the background on this @  And for those of you that ride motorcycles, you are probably familiar with trials riding.  It's one of my favorite motorcycle sports.  See a new trials trick at  The guys pretty good, isn't he?  The R61 aint bad either.  Ha !

  • Will "Live Earth" crater my TiVo ???

    liveearthlogo The "Live Earth" concert is just hours from starting and my new TiVo Series 3 HD DVR is in for the workout of it's life.  This concert is being broadcast on Universal HD in it's entirety.  That's 22 hours of high definition recording. 

    For those of you not familiar with what's going on, see or  See the factsheet for the concert venue locations, schedules, artist lineup, etc.  It's an amazing list of talent.  So what venue would you like to be at, and why? 

    Go Green !!!  I'm trying to do my part.  Driving less.  Driving an eco friendlier Honda CIVIC.  Now what's with this weather?  The sun is out in Texas for the first time in two months.  This is July for heavens sake. 

    Enjoy the concert!

  • Xbox 360 warranty changes - this ROCKS !!!

    "As of today, all Xbox 360 consoles are covered by an enhanced warranty program to address specifically the general hardware failures indicated by the three flashing red lights on the console. This applies to new and previously-sold consoles. While we will still have a general one year console warranty (two years in some countries), we are announcing  today a three-year warranty that covers any console that displays a three flashing red lights error message. If a customer has an issue indicated by the three flashing red lights, Microsoft will repair the console free of charge—including shipping—for three years from the console’s purchase date. We will also retroactively reimburse any of you who paid for repairs related to problems indicated by this error message in the past. In doing so, Microsoft stands behind its products and takes responsibility to ensure that every Xbox 360 console owner continues to have a fantastic gaming experience."

    See the full text of the letter from Peter Moore @  Also see more information @

  • Before you buy, know your WEI

    Burn that little saying in your brain.  Have you ever purchased something you never were completely satisfied with?  I made my first major mistake on a Chevy truck.  Not because it was a Chevy, but because I cut corners and instead of getting the V8 I wanted, I opted for the V6 to save a few bucks. 

    The problem with that purchase was that it was a direct factory order.  I didn't test drive it because all of the trucks on the dealer lot were V8's.  It was one of those Chevy Silverado Extra cabs.  Loved the truck, but the V6 was just too sluggish on that large a truck.  I sold it and got the Chevy short bed with a V8.  Now that was a fun machine. 

    d820wei I bought a Dell Latitude D820 with the NVIDIA Quadro NVS 120M video chipset.  That was another mistake I made.  I need better graphics performance than the D820 delivers.  Of course at the time, I didn't have any way of knowing how the video chipset would perform with Windows Vista Aero Glass.

    The first Vista Ultimate build I installed last year scored a 3.1 Windows Experience Index (WEI).  I figured since we were still three months from shipping Windows Vista, it was a driver issue.  The WEI with the shipping Windows Vista driver was a 3.1.  That driver wasn't very stable and NVIDIA and Dell released another version of the driver a couple of months later that improved the stability but there was no improvement in performance.  Now I was getting worried.  What if it isn't a driver issue?

    Today, Dell and NVIDIA released their latest and presumably final version of the driver for this machine since it is no longer made.  As you can see to the right, there has been no improvement in performance.  In fact, this is the best they expect from this video chipset. 

    So how do you prevent this from happening to you? 

    Do your homework, or better yet, don't buy anything where the maker won't publish the WEI score.  How is this score created?  The WEI score is generated by winsat.exe.  The Windows System Assessment Tool (WSAT) is a tool that is run at Windows Vista initial setup and can be run manually by the user of the system.  Developers can also use it as a means to generate performance data which can be used in a variety of ways.  I would like to see the online buying websites display WSAT WEI score data based on configuration choices.  This would be a pretty simple provisioning addition.  If you want more information on WSAT, see the slides on the subject.  The bottom line, you won't know what your purchase experience will be like unless you have some standard data measurements from which to compare and make an informed choice from.  I didn't last year but I won't do that again.  Neither should you.


    See mms:// for a screencast on the subject.


    [UPDATE]  A question came my way from another Microsoft employee who I've know for years.  Kevin asked, "For a business machine, why do you need/want > 3.1 for the graphics adaptor?"  Good question. First of all, before you even need to consider the usage by applications you need to consider the overall performance of Windows Vista.  Then on top of that you need to consider what applications you plan to use.  For instance on my Intel T2500 based D820, the Vista inbox driver and the driver released in January was sluggish enough to make scrolling a page vertically in IE7 annoying.  Pile on business graphics from Excel or other resource consumers, and before you know it things are bogging down.

    Now granted I'm not a typical business user, if there is such a thing.  I typically run multiple operating systems via Virtual PC, demo this, demo that, so I'm taxing the hell out of a machine.  Ultimately you are the final judge of what the application mix is, but the reason I am pointing out this index is because over time, you'll learn to judge a potential purchase from these data points.  If your application mix runs fine on Windows Vista with a 3.1 WEI, kewl beans.  If not, you'll start to ascertain your minimum bar.

    The real question is how to force the PC makers to start revealing this data.  Only you can do that.  Make the information a stipulation for purchase.  Dollars talk.