Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

November, 2007

  • Running the Zune 80 on Apple OS X v10.5

    Zune on OS X v10.5 Don't get mad, get even.  I must say I didn't like the "review" Ryan Block gave the new Zune today on the engadget.com website.  Maybe it's because I own an Apple iPod Video 80GB.  Maybe it's because I own a Playstation portable (PSP).  It might be because I own the Creative Zen Vision W.  Or it could possibly be because I own the Archos 605 WIFI.  And it's very likely because I own the Microsoft Zune 80GB player and am a Microsoft employee.  Damn straight it is.

    I think I'm pretty qualified to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a portable media player.  I own many of the top players on the market and understand their nuances.  It might be that I learned to do fair and balanced evaluations of hardware and software while working at another company before joining Microsoft.  As a result, it really irks me to see Ryan rant on about how bad the Zune is.  Apparently it irked a lot of other people, too.  They turned off comments after about 130.  Nice.  Come on Ryan, there's plenty to like and it will be a solid competitor this holiday season.  Sorry you didn't get the Zune 80 to play with.  Come check mine out.

    As you can clearly see in the picture, I am running the Zune software on my Apple MacBook Pro with Leopard.  In fact, it's the 64 bit version of the Zune software (2.1.888 to be precise).  So it isn't accurate to say you can't use a Zune with an Apple computer or OS X.  If you click the pic, you'll get the full size version and see more detail.

    And for those of you that are skeptical the pic is real, trust me it is a full screen capture I did just a few minutes ago.  If you look really carefully, you can see how.  Or simply read back through my blog and you'll figure it out.  I'll probably get some screencast software installed to my Mac soon, then I can show ya for real.

    Zune potential customers, you are going to dig the Zune software and device.  I snagged an 80GB Zune at the CircuitCity near my house this morning. I think we took an awesome step forward.  I'll give you a serious run down on my impressions soon.  I need to do some transcoding tests first so I can take some video with me on the road. 

    Read all of the reviews on the grid.  I think you'll find the vast majority of the reviews are very very positive.  There's a reason for that.  Oh, and before I forget, if someone spots a kewl kickstand case for my Zune 80, let me know.

    Enjoy Zune!

  • Installing Windows Vista x64 on a ThinkPad T61p

    windows vista ult Here are my notes on how I install Windows Vista Ultimate x64 to a Lenovo ThinkPad T61p.  There are a number of features present in Windows Vista I do not install or use.  Therefore, you will need to make changes to the procedures where applicable for things like BitLocker partitioning, domain joins, etc.  The focus of the following notes are to have a machine that will run lean and mean, allow for access to Microsoft's corporate network via VPN, and be the starting point for application installs.

    The reason you see me disable a number of features below is to free up resources for the virtual machine environments I run.  You can certainly experiment with some of the adjustments I make below and decide for yourself. 

    PREREQUISITES

    You will of course need media.  I use the Windows Vista Ultimate retail media.  I also set a few BIOS setting the way I prefer.  Here’s the setting preferences I have:

    Config | Display | Brightness = High

    Config | Serial ATA = AHCI

    Config | CPU | Intel Virtualization = Enabled

    Although I am recommending the AHCI setting above, please note there is a bug associated with that setting if using an Ultrabay hard drive adaptor and second hard drive.  In that situation until the bug is fixed, you must flip the Serial ATA setting to Compatibility and add the second hard drive to the boot order of the machine.  If you don't, you will see one or more bugs we've already identified and reported to Lenovo.  They are working on BIOS fixes at present.

    OS INSTALLATION

    I use retail media for all of my installs.  I want to see what you see.  The following installation is based on the full Windows Vista Ultimate DVD kit.  I am of course using the x64 disk and product key that comes with it.

    1. Boot the T61p from the Vista DVD.
    2. Answer the language question.
    3. Do not enter a product key.  Turn off auto activation.  The reason is simple.  You have 30 days to see if the applications you want to use work.  I already have a pretty good list started.  You can extend the evaluation period if you get in a bind at the end of the 30 days.  This should however give you plenty of time to evaluate your printers, applications, etc.
    4. Select the Ultimate sku when prompted.  Answer yes to the “I have selected..” question.
    5. Accept license terms.
    6. Click Custom for the type of installation.  It’s your only choice.  This is a "clean" install.
    7. Partition your drive appropriately.  I use the entire drive and don’t currently use Bitlocker.
    8. After installation is complete when you are prompted, specify a userid and blank password.  A password will be added later.
    9. After you get logged in, you’ll have wired but no wireless networking.  That will be solved in the next section on downloads.

    DOWNLOADS and INSTALLS

    I only install a small subset of all of the available drivers and software for the T61p from Lenovo or Microsoft.  My reasons are multifold.  I want to squeeze as much performance out of the machine as possible in order to run my applications and virtual machines.  I also tend to reinstall my world every few months.  I was doing weekly installs during the Windows Vista development cycles.  I am also getting ready to install Windows Vista SP1.

    Don't let this concern you.  I have actually installed everything via the nice Lenovo System Update client.  Lenovo does a great job of testing the drivers before they put them in the Support and Download area.  I trust the drivers there more than I trust the drivers coming off update.microsoft.com.  In fact, if I see a driver pop up in Windows Update, I will check the Lenovo area before I install it.  If it isn't on the Lenovo/IBM site, it doesn't get installed.

    1. Go to Lenovo.com.  If prompted, turn on the IE7 phishing filter.
    2. Click the Support and Downloads menu item.
    3. Fill out the filter for ThinkPad T61p and Windows Vista.  They do not have a filter for Vista x64 and x86.
    4. Download the following:
      1. NVIDIA 64bit video driver (7/11/2007) 7kd634ww.exe (71meg)
      2. Intel Pro 4965agn wireless driver (9/14/2007) 7kwv24ww.exe (27meg)
      3. Power Driver (7/10/2007) 7kuu06ww.exe (1.3meg)
      4. Power Mgmt Application (10/1/2007) 7ku423ww.exe (12.3meg)
      5. Intel Chipset Support (5/17/200) oss704ww.exe (2.4meg)
    5. Install the above drivers.  Keep in mind that the exe’s above just unpack the drivers to c:\drivers.  Install from there in the following order and manner.  I know it's five reboots but I like to make sure the update sticks before moving on.  Here you go:
      1. Intel Chipset.  Reboot after install.
      2. NVIDIA video.  Reboot after install.  Set preferred resolution and turn on Aero Glass.
      3. Power driver.  Reboot after install
      4. Power Mgmt application.  Reboot after install.  Review power gauge options and turn the gauge off on the task bar.
      5. Wireless driver:
        1. Run c:\drivers\win\wlanint2\vista\app\v64\iProInst.exe
        2. Select the Custom installation option.
        3. Only install the “Wireless LAN Adaptor Driver”
        4. Reboot.
    6. Time to install all of the updates from Microsoft Update.  Go to Control Panel | Windows Update.  Check for updates.  There are 83 updates as of 11/10/2007.  Hide and do not install the following updates:
      1. Soundmax audio driver.  Sound is already working and I had issues with this driver on previous installs.
      2. ThinkPad Bluetooth and Enhanced Data.  I only use a Bluetooth mouse so the inbox drivers that come with Vista are good enough for my needs.  If you want to use file transfer, tethering, etc., then you should probably ignore me here.
      3. NVIDIA video update (10/8/2007).  I had issues with this driver on one of my machines.  I also had issues with a NVIDIA update on a desktop machine during this same timeframe.  I'm a little gun shy on video updates and the one referenced above from Lenovo works very nicely.
      4. Languages not used.  There are a bunch of available languages now but I only install English.
    7. Have the Microsoft update client download and install the remaining 47 updates.  This will take about 30 minutes on a good connection.
    8. Reboot after updates are installed.

    OS CUSTOMIZATIONS and NOTES

    As I mentioned at the beginning of this, my goals for the installation of Windows Vista are to run lean and mean.  In order to accomplish that, I modify or disable several services in Windows Vista.  I am trading functionality, for a reduction in disk I/O, disk space conservation, and reduced CPU load.  I want to make sure I give as much performance as I can to the virtual machines I run on a daily basis for my job.  The Lenovo ThinkPad T61p is a very powerful machine and you should consider running Windows Vista with it's default settings before you start disabling functions.

    Here are the modifications I make:

    1. Turn of Sidebar and don’t start it on Windows start.
    2. Turn off the Welcome Center and disable it from starting on each login.
    3. Start| and right click Computer.  Select the Manage menu item.
    4. Go to the Services list and make the following services changes:
      1. Disable and stop the Windows Search service.
      2. Set Superfetch to manual and stop.
      3. Set Offline Files to manual and stop.
    5. Start | Computer | Properties | System Protection (Tasks list on left side).  Turn off System protection for drive c:\.  This is a space conservation measure.  I backup my machine weekly to external disk and before major installs.  If you aren't in the habit of doing frequent backups, and testing restores, you are asking for trouble.  Hard drives do fail.
    6. Start | Administrator tools | Task Scheduler application and disable the defrag task.  I turn on the visibility of the Admin tools on the Start menu properties.  Since I do pretty frequent reinstalls of the OS and Apps, I don't have a big need for routine defrags of the hard drive.
    7. Start |  Administrator tools | Local Security | Local Policies | Security Options and set the UAC:Switch to Secure Desktop to disable.  Secure desktop messes with LiveMeeting for my webcasts.  This is the only UAC setting I change. 
    8. Start | Control Panel | Folder Options | View tab and turn on the Always Show Menus checkbox.  I like those menus and they are a necessity for the change I make in the next few steps.  Unless of course someone knows a shortcut.
    9. Start | Control Panel | Network and Sharing Center | Manage Network Connections task
      1. Advanced Menu Item
      2. Advanced Settings
      3. Adaptors and Bindings tab
      4. Move the LAN Connection above the wireless connections.  I run wired a lot so I want to make sure the LAN card is being used instead of a slower wireless card.
    10. Use the NVIDIA control panel applet to control multiple monitor or projector mirroring, cloning and extended desktop settings.  This is also the place to set LCD scaling which is important when doing multimon demos using a projector.  LCD scaling settings are important if you want a lower resolution VM to stretch and fill the screen.
    11. Start | Control Panel | Power to change the laptop lid close behavior.  I set mine to do nothing on a lid close.  I also make lots of other subtle tweaks to the power settings.  If you install the Lenovo Power Management application, it does a great job of conserving power on battery.
    12. FN+PgUp in a dark closet.  Grin.

    That’s how I install things.  It’s a core OS install and I’m sure there are a number of other applications you might be interested in like the fingerprint reader.  You’ll find before you start installing applications that the T61p is fast, very fast.  Pay close attention to performance hits from other software and applications.  I would recommend a Complete PC, Ghost 12, True Image or some other backup before you start installing and changing the configuration above.

    APPLICATION INSTALLS

    Your operating system is ready at this point for application installs, domain joins, etc.  Before installing applications, I enable the administrator account and set a strong password for it and the ID originally created above during Vista installation.  I use the admin id for my application installs.  After your application installs are complete, you should consider disabling administrator.  I rarely if ever use it again after doing the installs.

    I hope you find this information useful.  Enjoy.

  • What is it?

    Edge

  • Windows Server 2008 Core screencast series - watch all eight parts here

    Windows Server 2008 includes an installation option we call Core.  Core is a stripped down version of Windows Server 2008.  It does not have a graphical shell like you've seen in Windows for years.  But don't let that fool you.  Core is very powerful and allows you to create a server that does what servers should do, efficiently and securely serve.

    In the following eight screencasts, you'll see Core in action.  We're going to start with a technical overview which will layout the premise for all of the subsequent parts.

    The Technical Overview

    windows2008logo Think of this first screencast like a fully baked chicken.  All nice, golden and ready to eat.  This screencast was recorded last because it's the end result of the installation and configuration of Windows Server 2008 Core.  In this screencast, we set the stage for what Core is, why you should care, what not to worry about, and other issues you might be thinking about.  I'll demystify a lot in a few short minutes.  The screencasts that follow it take us on a journey from the beginning, to the end point which is the baked chicken.

    At its "Core", the Windows Server 2008 Core installation option is a customer requested version of Windows Server.  You told us you wanted to build headless servers.  You told us to get rid of the fluff and just give you a server you could administer remotely or with scripts.  You told us to reduce the attack surface and only run what was needed.  You also told us that you wanted to create special purpose servers. 

    You asked, we delivered.

    Windows Server 2008 Core allows you to install the Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS), Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS), DHCP Server, DNS Server, File Service, Print Services, Streaming Media Services and Web Server (IIS) roles.  There are also a number of features you can install. 

    See all the details of installing and configuring Core in the Step-by-Step Guide.  I would however recommend you watch each video I produced.  There are a few tricks in the videos that are hard to glean from paper especially since all of the demos are performed using Windows Server 2008 virtualization.  So sit back, relax, and watch the first screencast video.

    Part 1 - Core Technical Overview (6:00)

    Installing Core in a WSv Virtual Machine

    There are a few things you need to know and learn when using the new hypervisor layer in Windows Server 2008.  All of the demos in this series were accomplished using two Windows Server 2008 virtual machines.  Each is the 64bit version of Enterprise Edition.  One is the full graphical install and the other is of course, a Core installation.  I used Camtasia 5 from Windows Vista Ultimate x64 to record each demo.  This was done across RDP.

    So there's the first trick.  You must have networking established.  You must open up the firewall.  And you must turn on the remote management feature.  Most of this is documented in the Core Step-by-step.  See how to do some of this in the next video on WSv prerequisites.

    Part 2 - Core WSv Prerequisites (7:37)

    Core Networking

    By default, Core network adaptors are set to use DHCP to get an ip address.  While this is sufficient for most workstations, you'll likely want to make changes and set a static ip address, specify a DNS server, etc.  Using the command line to make these changes is probably new for many of you.  NETSH is a powerful network shell interface that can be used for configuration and diagnostics. 

    Part 3 - Core Networking (6:37)

    Core Activation

    Nearly all Microsoft products require some form of activation now.  Windows Server 2008 is no exception and that includes the Core install option.  Fortunately, there's a handy tool that shipped with Windows Vista, and is now in Windows Server 2008 that lets you display, add, modify or change product key information.  SLMGR is a big script that will query, update and delete information related to activation and the product keys in use.  See the video for more detail.

    Part 4 - Core Activation (5:38)

    Domain Membership

    Now that we have networking and have activated the instance of Windows Server 2008 Core, we might as well join the domain and begin focusing on building out our server.  Domain joins can be accomplished either manually, or via unattended operations.  If you've been watching my previous Windows 2008 screencasts, you'll recall we created a Read-Only Domain Controller and joined it to the domain via an unattend script and DCPROMO.  This time we are just creating a member server, so we'll use NETDOM.  This video is very short but check it out.

    Part 5 - Domain Join (2:37)

    Core Role Installation

    Roles are the working sets of the server.  You can build a very specific single purpose server and have it run one role.  For instance, imagine you are YouTube and have racks and racks of streaming media servers in a data center.  There's no need to run any other roles since you are focused on scaling media serving heads for all of the client connections.

    On the other hand, you may be a branch location.  For your location, you many want several roles like Active Directory, File, and Print services.  Windows Server 2008 Core is flexible in that regard.  You only install the roles you need.  See the video on how to do that.

    Part 6 - Core Role Installation (3:46)

    Core Feature Installation

    Installing Core features is nearly identical to role installation.  There are a few other tricks and tweaks, but for the most part there is little if any difference.  Some of the features are very powerful so I'm wondering why they weren't promoted to the role designation.

    Part 7 - Core Feature Installation (3:49)

    Core Management

    I think we went overboard in some ways.  We've been so busy talking about the greatness of headless and scripting, that many of the demonstrations don't show that you can continue to use tools you already know to manage a Core server.  Don't get me wrong, command line provisioning and maintenance is cool, and will save a lot of money for big services and hosting providers, but that isn't the end all be all.

    So in the beginning Technical Overview, and in this section I try to bring all of that back home.  If you want to do something via the command line, go for it.  If you have a helpdesk that uses GUI tools, no problem.  Windows Server 2008 Core can be managed either way.

    Part 8 - Core Management (6:24)

     

    Summary

    You are really going to like Windows Server 2008.  When you start installing it, be sure to think about the Core option and the services you are placing on your network.  You have a lot of flexibility in how to deploy, maintain, monitor and manage those services.  I hope this series demonstrates that effectively.

    You may have noticed I didn't cover deployment in this series.  That is a very broad topic I plan to cover in the near future.  In the meantime, enjoy this series and let me know if you have any questions.

  • My MacBook Pro - first impressions

    I'm always like a little kid on Christmas.  It doesn't matter if it's a boring hard drive being delivered or something more expensive.  It's fun to track packages and watch for the delivery person.  Then, it's time to open your present.  Sean told me that opening the package was more fun than most.

    MacBookPro I was disappointed.  I expected the package to be kewl looking.  Instead, I got this brown box that looked as if it had been shipped from China.  Duh, it did come from China.  Just like my Thinkpad, it zig zagged across the planet to get to Texas.  My dog sniffed the package.  He looked like he wanted to do something else to the box.  So I get my trusty knife and start opening the box.

    Ah ha!!!

    Inside the box is a box.  The box inside is the cool looking black box that looks like it was the result of a marketing competition.  It has a pretty picture of the Apple MacBook Pro (MBP).  Now we're talking.  The box is slim.  It's probably the slimmest computer box I've ever received.  Excitement builds...  I notice the seal on the box is broken.  Uh oh.  I hate that.  I'm thinking someone (U.S. Customs) has had their dirty paws on my new machine.  I was right, somebody had.

    Don't Touch

    The Apple MacBook Pro is a work of art.  There is no denying that.  I open the box and remove it from the custom styrofoam sandwich.  It's wrapped in plastic but I notice someone has been into this part of the package as well.  Then I discover who.  You see, the package was diverted to Seattle so that someone could stick a damn asset tag on the work of art.  The tag is on the lid of the laptop.  That one tag made it look ugly.  They might as well have stuck the tag right in the middle of Apple.  I removed it pronto.  Note to readers: WD-40.  Although most of you use it for a lubricant, it's a great adhesive solvent.

    Now that the Pro is all cleaned up, it dawns on me.  This is the nicest laptop I've ever used.  I mean it's too nice.  I worry about scratching the darn thing.  I've never done that.  Sure I take care of my machines, but I've never been afraid to carry one around.  I'm over that now but one thing is for sure, the finish is slick so you have to pay attention to how you hold it.  My ThinkPad is utterly sticky compared to the MBP. 

    Power On

    I set this on my desk and hook up the power, plug in the ethernet cable and hit the power button.  I could see the OS X v10.5 DVD in the stuff I received but I wanted to see if it was already installed.  It wasn't.  So I wasted no time popping in the Leopard disk and starting the upgrade.  I'm perplexed.  My upgrade took about 1.5 hours but other people have reported upgrades that took 30 minutes.  Strange.  I did notice that it took WAY to long to verify the DVD disk media.  I may be mistaken.  It could have been checking the hard drive contents.  I don't really know.

    I actually had some issues during the subsequent reboots after the upgrade.  On a couple of the startups, it seemed to just hang with the spinning thing.  Whatever it was doing seems to have been fixed now.  Now Leopard boots rapidly, suspends nicely, and shuts down rapidly.  It does it so fast, I wonder if it really shuts down.  No time to worry about it now, I'll look under the covers down the road.

    Time to Drive

    Like all of the installs I do with Windows Vista, I spent some time setting system preferences and getting familiar with the new OS.  I had a Mac a long time ago at EDS for some dev projects, Microsoft MacMail, etc. but it's been a long time and this is very different from the MacOS of those days. I do of course verify wired and wireless networking is working.  I try out Safari.  I setup a pop3 account with the built-in Mail product.  Basically I check out most of the tools to confirm they upgraded correctly.

    I haven't really explored all of the stuff that came installed on the machine.  I'll hook up my iPod and stuff over the next few days,  but I'm really interested to see how Fusion works.  You might be wondering about Fusion.  It's the VMWare desktop virtualization product for OS X.

    Virtualization

    OS X doesn't ship with a built-in virtualization layer and feature set.  Neither does Windows Vista but just like Vista, there is a healthy after market.  I purchased VMWare Fusion and installed it on my Mac.  Today I installed Windows Vista Ultimate x64, Kubuntu v7.10, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 SP1.  All of the installs went without issue.  I like Fusion.  It works very nicely with OS X v10.5.  So far so good.

    Heat

    I've heard about the heat issues on the MacBook Pro for months.  It's definitely present on mine.  They run pretty hot.  It reminds me of the Dell Latitude D820 I used to use.  My wife uses the D820 now and the warmth doesn't bother her.  However, you aren't going to use a MacBook Pro directly on your lap.  I won't set it directly on my desk either.  I have a custom oak desk and I'll be damned if I'm going to burn an Apple insignia into the wood.

    Now keep in mind I've been pushing this Mac a little.  Installs tend to drive up the heat because the hard drive and DVD drive are running on max, nonstop, for a long period of time.  The fan inside the MBP spin up to high on several occasions today while I was doing the installs.  So how do you put a barrier between this hot little laptop and your skin or the precious wood of your desk?  Plastic my friends.  I use the Targus Podium Coolpad.  I don't have mine jacked up as high as they show in the picture, but you can decide by stacking the little plastic pieces that come with it.

    Hardware Impressions

    I love the backlit keyboard.  The keyboard feel is really good and I'm not getting lost on it too much.  I've learned a few of the shortcuts but I hate learning shortcuts.  By the way, backlighting doesn't work when using Fusion.  That's ok

    Networking works very nicely.  The wireless networking detected my wireless backbone and prompted me to use it.  Easy stuff.  Wired networking of course worked perfectly as well.  Here's a speed test result.  It's the very first one I've ever tried from this machine.  Now keep in mind this is from my Windows Vista virtual machine.  So it's going from the emulated network card in this Fusion VM, to the MacBook Pro Airport wireless adaptor, then out my fiber connection.  This is using default settings.  I have not tuned anything.  Check it out:

    :::.. Download Stats ..:::
    Download Connection is:: 13829 Kbps about 13.8 Mbps (tested with 12160 kB)
    Download Speed is:: 1688 kB/s
    Tested From::
    http://testmy.net/ (Main)
    Test Time:: 2007/11/02 - 11:23pm
    Bottom Line:: 241X faster than 56K 1MB Download in 0.61 sec
    Tested from a 12160 kB file and took 7.203 seconds to complete
    Download Diagnosis:: Awesome! 20% + : 125.56 % faster than the average for host (verizon.net)
    D-Validation Link::
    http://testmy.net/stats/id-S48C30NDP
    User Agent:: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 6.0; WOW64; SLCC1; .NET CLR 2.0.50727; .NET CLR 3.0.04506; Media Center PC 5.0) [!]

    The screen is nice.  I like the screen in my ThinkPad T61p better.  They are both super bright if needed.  I turned the MBP ambient light sensor off.  It works good during the day in my brightly lit office, but I noticed it was having a hard time deciding a level earlier tonight so I turned it off.

    I've grown accustomed to lots of connectivity options and would prefer to have more USB ports on the MBP.  I would also like to swap the two USB ports that are there.  The one on the right side appears to be powered at a higher level.  This comes into play with my 2.5" USB drive enclosure since it must plug into that port.  I would rather have it on the left side for convenience. 

    I love the weight and feel of the machine.  I can't wait to travel with it, although my cell phone card won't work with it.  I have a PCMCIA card and the only slot available is the 34MM ExpressCard slot.  If I get something new, I'll probably look for a card that has software for both Windows and OS X and uses the USB port.  If someone has a recommendation on one, let me know.

    The speakers are very good for a laptop.  Considering Apple makes the iPod and their artist connection, this doesn't surprise me.  I haven't tried the microphone or external speaker ports yet.  I also haven't tried the DVI connection to an external monitor yet.  That will all come in time.

    Summary

    The machine is solid.  It's no wonder it's selling like hot cakes.  You get what you pay for and you pay more for the MacBook Pro.  A recent article rated the T7700 based MBP the fastest laptop "they've tested".  The MBP is fast, but speed should not be your only criteria.  Lust should be included as well.

    Apple needs to fix the thermal issues, but it's the only real glaring issue I have with the machine thus far.  OS X runs well enough on it.  There are some obvious bugs in Leopard but they'll get some of that ironed out.  I am a little shocked I've already seen two serious system crashes.  There isn't much excuse for that in such a tightly controlled platform.

    I'll have a better feel for the reliability in four weeks.  You tend to get a sense for such things over the course of a month or so.  I'll write more about the software over the next few weeks.

  • DVD Adventures with the Zune 80, Archos 605 WIFI and Zen Vision W

    It seems like every year around this time, I'm in exploration mode on the new gadget in my portfolio.  This year is no exception and there were some unexpected surprises with my testing results.  If you look back at last years post, you'll see we had the PSP, iPod Video, Zune 30 and Zen Vision W in the mix.

    Dressed This year the Zune 30 has been replaced by the Zune 80 and I added the Archos 605 WIFI.  The Zune 30 is a Microsoft asset so I gave it to Bryan Von Axelson and it not included in this years test round.  The iPod and PSP were dropped from the testing.  Which of course leaves the Zune 80, Archos 605 WIFI and Zen Vision W as the three players that made my cut for testing. 

    Why?

    I cut the PSP because I am no longer interested in dealing with memory sticks.  I cut the iPod Video because the screen is too small and the only reason I keep it around is to test iTunes podcast integration.  Keep in mind the iPod isn't the iPod Touch.

    So Which is my Favorite?

    I might as well cut right to the chase.  There are two answers.  For audio, the Zune 80 is a strong favorite and it isn't just because I work for the evil empire.  I like the new device, I like the new Zune software, and I like the Zune Marketplace Pass all-you-can-eat audio buffet.  I would like for Robert Plant and crew to make some of the Led Zeppelin tracks available as part of Pass collection for "free" but I guess if you helped define rock, you can pretty much call your shots.

    For video, the Archos 605 WIFI is the hands down favorite.  This essentially unseats the Creative Zen Vision W because the Vision doesn't support the higher bit rates I would prefer.  The Archos player is thinner, smaller, supports more video playback formats, has longer battery life (with the extra battery), is touchscreen, etc.  Basically you'll have to pry it from my cold dead hands.  It's a keeper.

    What were the surprises this year?

    Naked I set out this year to see if I could move my transcoding to the H.264 standard.  The Zune 80 adds additional video playback and output support for that format and others.  Nope, no can do.  I would need to buy plug-ins for the Archos, and the Zen Vision W doesn't support H.264.  Since the Zune 80 doesn't support DivX AVI, it meant I need to move back to Windows Media Video (.WMV).  The problem with moving back to Windows Media Video is that the Creative Zen Vision W doesn't support bit rates above about 768 on the video side.  Drat.  There's an upside and downside to that.  The upside is that the video file plays on all of the players.  The downside is the loss of resolution and that the WMV transcodes take quite a bit longer than going to DivX AVI or some of the other formats supported by my utility.

    The Zune 80 screen is very forgiving with videos encoded at lower bit rates.  The Archos and Zen are less forgiving because of their 4.3" screen size but thankfully the lower bits rates are still good enough.  If the Creative Zen Vision W dies or I sell it, then I will probably double the bit rates.  In the end I was able to come up with some settings and therefore output that would run on all three players in the test.  This means I can transcode a DVD one time and use it across my main three players.

    Tools and Formats Used

    Like last year, I am still using the Xilisoft conversion tool.  It has been updated and includes support for Apple TV, H.264. Zune, etc.  It's pretty easy to use and it's faster than the version I was using last year.  I like this utility because it creates video for a variety of popular players and formats.  The other aspect I like is the ability to clone an existing profile in the tool and modify it for your needs.  I usually test a variety of video sizes so I like lots of choices from the profile.  My only complaint about the tool I'm using is it's cropping support.  That really needs to improve if you want to chop black bars.

    Here are the settings I am using for video conversion:

    2.40:1 Widescreen - 480x270 video size, 768 video bit rate, 128 audio bit rate, Pan and Scan zoom.

    1.85:1 Widescreen - 320x180 video size, 768 video bit rate, 128 audio bit rate, Pan and Scan zoom.

    4:3 Fullscreen - 320x240 video size, 768 video bit rate, 128 audio bit rate, Pan and Scan zoom.

    Summary

    As you can see, I dropped support for a couple of players this time around and it helped reduce the requirements for video support.  I am a bit disappointed in the Creative Zen Vision W player supported video and audio.  I should have paid more attention to the lack of detail in the specs for that device before I bought it.  The Zen makes up for it by having a great screen with rich color and contrast.  My wife likes that player so we'll still use it for another year or two.  Windows Media Video (WMV) is king this year so we'll use it as the playback format on my media players.  I'll be writing a review shortly focused on the Zune 80.  Until then, happy holidays.

    [UPDATE 1]  I think I posted this too quickly.  I am already seeing an issue I don't think I can live with, so I need to make a decision.  The tool I'm using is taking WAY too long on the WMV transcode.  All of the testing above was done using short five minute clips so I didn't see how drastic a difference there was.  I can take a couple of paths.  I can still move to H.264 which would mean I can build a repository on that format the Archos and Zune 80 can play.  This cuts off the Zen and would mean I would still need to transcode DivX AVI for it.  Or, I can look for a new tool that does WMV very quickly.  Time to write Xilisoft for their suggestion.  If you have a tool you like, let me know.  Thanks.  Sad.  Bummer.  Back to the drawing board...

    [UPDATE 2] The tool I'm using has three encoder settings.  wmv1x, wmv2x and wmv3x.  wmv3x is the one that is the default and takes forever.  For instance, one DVD took 4 hours to convert.  It worked perfectly after the conversion (the Zune 80 doesn't need to convert), but it takes much longer than I had anticipated.  wmv1x and wmv2x both take a little over an hour, but the Zune 80 does a conversion on the sync.  It would appear the conversion on the sync would eat any time gained by using the other settings.  I'm more seriously considering a two format approach.  H.264 for the Zune 80 and Archos 605 and DivX AVI for the Zen Vision W.  This will be the easiest method since the Zen will be used infrequently by my honey.  I'll wait to hear back from Xilisoft Support, but I'm guessing that's going to be the final solution.

    Can we all just get along?  :?)

  • What is it like to run Windows Vista on this?

    Area51 ALX This should get your blood pumping.  I mean, what's it like to run Windows Vista on an overclocked Quad processor like this?  Let's consider the first part of the specs:

    • Intel® Core 2™ Extreme Processor (45nm) with Quad Core Technology
    • Extreme 3.0GHz, 1333MHz FSB, 12MB full speed level 2 Cache.
    • Alienware Factory Over-clocked from 3.0GHz to 4.0GHz
    • Intel® X38™ Chipset
    • Standard 2GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz

    Holy cow!  That's a lot of juice my friends.  I wonder how much power it draws when it starts.  See the rest of the technical specs here.  Looks like a wicked fast machine.  The case isn't bad either.

    Who's bold enough to order one and not tell the wife, install it and have sitting there glowing at night when she gets up for a drink of water?  Sorry, even I'm not that brave.

    I'm guessing the Windows Vista Experience Index on this baby is a 6.0.  It'll be interesting to see what happens when it runs SP1, assuming of course 6.0 is not longer the top score possible.

    Bet Michael Dell isn't running Ubuntu on this!!!

  • Virtual Machine Additions for Linux - now available for download

    linux logo Virtual Machine Additions for Linux are designed to improve the usability and interoperability of running qualified Linux operating systems as guests or virtual machines of Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1.

    Now with support for SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 10
    Microsoft is committed to testing and supporting many third-party operating systems for use as guest operating systems on Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 virtual machines. To help make sure that you have a favorable experience when you run third-party guest operating systems in Virtual Server 2005, Microsoft Product Support Services (PSS) has created a product support model for these third-party guest operating systems. This support model is consistent with the support model that is used for Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1. Product support for the Virtual Machine Additions will be provided through the normal support channels available for Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1.

    Virtual Machine Additions information
    To improve the interoperability between virtual machines running Linux guest operating systems and Virtual Server 2005 R2, Virtual Machine Additions are available for Linux guest operating systems. You can install these Virtual Machine Additions components in your Linux guest operating systems to improve the following operating system capabilities:

    • Guest and host synchronization for time synchronization, for heartbeat generation, and for coordinated shutdown operations
    • Mouse driver
    • Display driver
    • SCSI hard disk emulation


    More information on the download @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=BF12642F-77DC-4D45-AE4E-E1B05E0A2674&displaylang=en

  • Apple cratered my Mac

    apple I decided last night to finally let the Apple update software download and update my Apple MacBook Pro.  I received the Pro a little less than a month ago and immediately upgraded it to "Leopard" which is OS X v10.5.  As with all of the modern operating systems, OS X includes a tool that notifies you of software updates, security patches, and other updates to the OS.

    Last week I went to Georgia to visit relatives and play with the newest members of our family.  Before doing that, I took a moment to look at the Apple forums to see if anyone was having issues with the OS X v10.5.1 update.  Sure enough, there are quite a few problems.  The problem is that I mostly forgot about those checks and when I pushed the button last night, I was in denial.  There's no way that could happen to me.  Not the kid.  No way.

    Wrong!

    You know that little sixth sense that tells you not to do something?  Most good IT Pros have it.  That's why we're Pros.  Well, pay close attention to that sense.  I didn't.

    More importantly, I broke a cardinal rule.  I didn't run a backup first.  I mean come on.  This is Apple with those cool Vista versus Mac commercials.  There's no way in hell they would dare release an update that would cause a catastrophic failure of my Mac.  Right?

    Wrong!

    So what happened exactly?  Heck if I know.  All I know is that the Apple app said it had an update for iPhoto and OS X that would require a reboot.  Let's see, I wonder how many updates I've applied to Windows XP and Windows Vista in the last 5-6 years that required a reboot.  I have never cratered a Windows machine such that it would not do anything other than boot from DVD.  Sure, I've had blue screens on bad video drivers but those are exceedingly rare now.  I've had to boot to safe mode a few times.

    I take that back.  I cratered a Windows Server drive one time.  I shut down my Windows Vista machine in a hurry, pulled the drive out of my laptop, and popped another drive into the laptop with Windows Server 2003 on it.  Just as I popped the drive in and it connected, I noticed Vista wasn't really done shutting down and it wrote to my server drive.  You ever have that sinking feeling in a moment like that?  I knew, just knew bad stuff happened.  Sure enough, that drive got whacked somehow by the write.  Good thing I had a dupe of those demos.

    Back to the story on OS X.  I messed around with the machine doing drive diags and such.  I knew this wasn't a hardware failure.  I knew a kernel component or something got replaced or hammered and was missing.  I started to take it down to my local genius bar and say, "Here genius, you fix it!!!"  But I'll be darned if I'm going to let an OS X update hose my Mac and get away with it. 

    What to do?

    When the tough get going, the tough restore.  Yea, I punted.  I figured the only way out of this mess was to resort to a backup from Time Machine.  Sure enough, I had several to choose from.  The last good one was from 11/13 so I thought about what I would lose.  Since I didn't take the Mac to Georgia, I knew not much.  In fact, the only thing I added was a new version of the Messenger:mac beta I'm testing.  That's all I lost by using the backup.

    Which brings me to a point.  Are you backing up?  I know many people who don't.  Imagine losing the hard drive of your Mac or Windows machine right now.

    Let that sit on your brain for a moment...

    Can you afford to lose EVERYTHING on that hard drive?  Your email.  Your pictures.  The serial numbers for electronic copies of software you purchased.  Your music.  The doctorate you've been working on for months and months.  The proposal and presentation you are delivering tomorrow that might make or break your company and job.  Scared?  Good.  Go buy an external hard drive tomorrow and plug it into your machine and do a backup.  Do one every Sunday night before you travel on Monday.

    Whenever my Mac gets used during the daylight hours, I plug in the Time Machine dedicated drive and let it do it's thing.  It's a good thing I do.  Saved my bacon.  Back up and running in less than an hour.  I'm still upset.  I never expected such a catastrophic failure.  I guess I should not be surprised at this point.  My Mac has been far from bug free.  I crashed it day one with Time Machine.  I crashed it twice trying to work with HD video.  Now this.

    Somebody needs to re-write some commercials I know...

    [UPDATE]  Sorry, but I just couldn't help adding a reference to "Leopard is the New Vista, and It's Pissing Me Off".  I'm pretty sure there are some inaccurate statements in the article, but it's a worthy read.  Summary, there's work to do in the Apple and Microsoft houses.

  • Good thing the Zune profanity filter is working

    clip_image002

  • Installing Zune on the managed corporate machine

    How many of you are running a corporate laptop and plan to install the Zune software?  Are you also using an internal Windows Software Update Server (WSUS) implementation?  If you are using such a configuration and aren't connected so that the WU client can connect to your WSUS servers, the Zune installation may fail when it goes to check for updates.  Ask me how I know...

    Consumer meet IT.  IT meet Consumer.

    [UPDATED]  I removed the reference to managed desktops.  This is really a mobile disconnected scenario.  See the comments for further clarification.

  • Time Machine crashed my Mac

    tm Yep, you read that correctly.  I kicked off the first Time Machine backup of my brand spanking new Apple MacBook Pro and after completing 10GB of the 30GB backup, it crashed OS X "Leopard" and forced a hard power off.  I was speechless.  I never would have thought an application in OS X could take down the system like that, but sure enough, I had this pseudo black screen of death telling me I must hold the power off button down, then turn the machine back on to recover.  I said pseudo because it was a really dark partially transparent background with bold white error text.  It certainly got my attention.

    I have since managed to have Time Machine complete the first full backup so we'll see what happens over time... Not a very good start.  One thing is for sure, don't bother ever trying to tell me apps never crash on OS X, Linux, or whatever.  It happens to the best of us.

    [UPDATE]  OS X also crashed when I plugged in a 2.5" USB drive enclosure.  In both cases I uploaded the logs and information to Apple.  I think the USB issue is going to be harder to fix.  Anytime electricity is involved, things get tricky.

  • Huge... Oh really?

    I've been watching a lot of internal traffic and discussion about laptop sizes.  I find it interesting that when people receive a 15.4" widescreen laptop, they think the laptop is huge.

    Oh really?

    Huge is relative.  Yes, it is going to be "huge" compared to the under powered 12" tablet PC you used to have.  It's going to be huge compared to the 14" laptop you used to have.  It's obviously going to be huge compared to the slick 13" laptop on the market.  But huge?

    compaqiii Oh really!

    From my experience vantage point, even the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p with the 15.4" and it's 9 cell battery isn't huge. And frankly considering past acquaintances, it isn't all that heavy.

    I think we need a time machine.  Then we could send some of these young whipper snappers back in time and hand them an Informer dialup terminal connected to a MVS mainframe.  I would love to film that.  Can you imagine their fear when they discover 1200 baud and no Internet?

    I can see the cold turkey shakes when they discover Google and YouTube aren't there.  I can see their face when they attempt to look up COBOL verbs.  "Sorry dude, you're going to have to use that thing on the shelf.  You know, that thing called a book!!!"  Ha ha ha.  They would think they are being Punked.  Heck for that matter, the MIPS in the T61p is higher than the first mainframe I ever used.

    Ok, back to the topic.

    Here are some specs for some current laptops, laptops I own or possess, and other laptops and tablets in use by Microsoft employees.  As you can see in the specs, there isn't a HUGE difference in the size and shape unless you are comparing the MacBook Pro to the massive Dell XPS M1730.  The T61p weight is with the 9 cell battery and two hard drives.  One in the primary bay, and one in the Ultrabay hard drive caddy.  I am approximating the weight since I don't have a good digital scale.

    Most of the other weights were taken from published specs and are likely the laptop with the smallest battery they make, a single hard drive, etc.  Some of the laptops or tablets in the list don't support using another drive in the bay where a DVD/CD drive normally is.  The MacBook Pro is a good example.  What you see is what you get with it.

    Make/Model Width Depth Thickness Weight
    Lenovo Thinkpad T61p 15.4" widescreen 14.1 10 1.2 7.3
    Apple MacBook Pro 15.4" widescreen 14.1 9.6 1 5.4
    Dell Latitude D820 15.4" widescreen 14.2 10.3 1.4 6.3
    Dell Inspiron 6000 15.4" widescreen 13.9 1.2 1.5 7.3
    Toshiba Portege M200 Tablet 11.6 9.8 1.3 4.6
    Dell XPS M1710 17" widescreen 15.5 11.3 1.7 9.3
    Dell XPS M1730 17" widescreen 16 11.9 2 11
    HP nx9110 15.4" widescreen 14.3 11 1.7 8.2
    HP 8510w 15.4" widescreen 14 10.2 1.1 6.1
    HP 6910p 14.1 widesreen 13 9.4 1.1 4.7
    Toshiba Tecra M5 14.1" 12.3 8.5 1 6
    Toshiba Tecra M4 14.1" 12.9 11.4 1.5 6.4
  • How do you deal with 888 new Inbox messages?

    I'm going to assume a lot of you have at least seen or heard about email rules.  Hopefully you use them to triage messages hitting your Inbox.  I know people in my org who don't use rules.  Today would have been a wake up call for those people.  As you might have guessed from my blog, I'm a PMP enthusiast.  PMP = Portable Media Player.  And unless you were really busy today, you might have noticed we started selling the next generation Zunes.

    Well, our internal Zune email alias got pounded today with congratulations, product reviews, internal reviews, questions, you name it.  To the tune of 888 messages that hit my Inbox in the past 24 hours.  Yes, you read that correctly.

    Our Exchange servers have been busy.  And I still have 3000 unread messages in my mailbox.  If you aren't using rules, you will need to learn before you come to work here.  In fact, I am interviewing people all day Friday.  A new batch of questions comes to mind...  grin

    [UPDATE] In the past 5 minutes it jumped 40.  WOW.

  • http://edge.technet.com launches !!!

    Edge

    As you can see at http://edge.technet.com, we are launching a new online portal for IT Pros.  Expect to see lots of content in the form of podcasts, screencasts and videos.  I have some interesting stuff coming.  My EDGE id is KingCobra.  Head on over and register if you want a cool name, before all of the cool names are taken.  I used my Live ID for the registration process and recommend you do the same.

    The official launch is next week so be patient while some of the features are enabled this weekend.  Have fun!

  • Zune 80 First Impressions

    The Hunt

    Zune 80GB

    The early bird gets the worm and I almost missed mine.  When the new Zune's went on sale a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a big deal.  I went so far as to stop by Wal*Mart at midnight to try to snag one.  The discussion with the late shift was pretty interesting.  I asked, "Do you have any of the new Zune's?"  The ladies responded, "I'm not sure if we have any Zooms.  We'll have to check in the cage."  Twenty minutes pass.  "Sorry, we don't have any Zooms.  Who makes it?"  Sigh...

    There was another Wally World on the way home so I asked the guys there.  They knew exactly what I was looking for but they said they have not received their shipment.  Maybe on the truck tomorrow.  Oh well, it was worth a shot. 

    The next morning I got up early.  I was talking with my wife about the possibility of finding one at the SuperTarget and getting a $25 gift card with the purchase.  It just so happens she was planning on going there and getting a Starbucks along the way.  How convenient!  Grin.  So I follow her to see if they have one.  As it turns out, they didn't but we spent nearly as much on other Christmas gifts anyway.  I took the gifts, produce and head home.  It's looking like I am not going to bag my game.  But I am a skilled hunter.  Time to use the tools of the trade.

    After putting up the groceries, I fire up my trusty laptop to see what's happening on our internal Zune email alias.  I figure if there's a channel supply issue, it'll be apparent pretty quick since I'm an hour behind the east coast but ahead of the west coast sleepy heads.  I spy a tip.  According to the tip, the CircuitCity stores seem to have more stock than most retailers.  The one by me has been pretty good at having hard to find stuff because it's a little off the heavy trodden path of the shopping areas in the metroplex.  Sure enough, a call to customer service indicates they have two.  I'm at the desk five minutes later.  I bag my game and head home to eat some music and video.

    The Unit

    I immediately unpack the goods.  Slimmer 80GB player, check.  Premium ear buds, check.  Sync cable, check.  Hey, where's my Zune pouch?  Drat, no cover for the unit.  Fortunately the legacy iPod Video I have has a little pouch that came with it that is unused. Now I wish I had not sold my Belkin case to Bryan when I gave him the Zune 30.

    dimensionsThe Zune 80 is similar to the Zune 30.  It is obviously thinner (3.6mm).  In fact, it's slightly thinner than last years iPod Video 80GB player but 2.4mm thicker than this years iPod Classic.

    I like the size and I really like the feel of the surfaces.  It is not slippery.  The black surface reminds me of my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p.  The back is brushed silver.  I can't wait to see the 80 with the laser etched artwork.  That is going to look very kewl on this unit.

    I plug my Zune 80 into the laptop and let it charge for a couple of hours.  While it does this, I review the manual.  Read The Fabulous Manual (RTFM).  I install the Zune software and of course check out the premium ear buds.  More on those later.  Since I am a video buff, I of course have an eye on the screen.  I am a little under impressed.  I knew it was only slightly larger than the Zune 30 but I was hoping it would be more widescreen than square.  Nope.  What were we thinking?  Have any of you purchased a TV or HDTV in the past couple of years?  Was it square or widescreen?  Of the past thirty DVD's you purchased, were any FULLSCREEN ?  Gosh, I hope not.

    The new squircle Zune pad is interesting.  I am not used to it yet.  It seems a little sensitive to me.  I keep selecting the wrong song or video.  It's probably just me.  I noticed someone was talking about using this with gloves on and having a hard time.  After testing it with gloves on, there are two things I notice that aren't possible with gloves.  You cannot press in the middle to select an item, and you can't raise or lower the volume.  That requires a direct touch from your finger.

    The navigation system is easy enough.  Moving around and playing media is pretty straight forward.  Changing settings is easy.  I immediately check the wireless status and make sure it is off.  I want to save precious battery life.

    Speaking of battery life, I've been doing my sustained video playback tests.  So far it appears the Zune 80 will play video for about 3 hours 30 minutes when the LCD brightness is set to high.  If you set the brightness to medium, it adds an hour to the playback time.  From totally dead to totally charged takes about 2 hours when using the USB port on my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p. 

    The screen itself is very nice.  It has good contrast and color however I am used to finer grained controls for brightness, contrast, gamma, etc.  I am also wishing the Zune 80 had zoom and aspect ratio controls for video playback.  To compensate, I have to create video output that works well with the Zune.  That isn't trivial and I'll cover that in more detail in another post.  I attempted to get some notes on paper with a previous post, but it was rushed before we left town to visit our family in Georgia.  I am taking my time this time around and it will be much more detailed.  Although the screen is obviously much larger that many other portable media players, I still prefer widescreen.  I prefer big widescreen.  4.3 inches is my preference and right now I'm still digging the Archos 605 WIFI screen more.  The Zune 80 is going to be much easier to travel with when space is at a high premium, but I usually have plenty of space in my backpack.

    The ear buds that come with the Zune 80 are good.  I like the magnetic tips to help keep the cords managed.  I also like the braided cords to help keep things from getting tangled.  You get some noise from the material used in the cords, but I didn't notice any of that on my recent flights to Georgia and back. 

    image The Software

    I like the new Zune software in many ways.  It's easy to move around and figure stuff out.  I would prefer more color schemes for the software.  I like dark themes like the previous version.  This version is a bit dainty for me but it is bright and easy to see.  Some users have commented they don't like the play and pause controls in the bottom right.  It doesn't bother me. 

    I purchased a three month Zune marketplace pass and downloaded some music.  The software is very music focused although I have seen some pretty terse feedback on the changes in categorization and scoring.  I added a portion of my music repository to my personal ThinkPad and let the Zune software add it to my collection then sync to the device.  It's all pretty straight forward.  I am not a big music fanatic (any more).  When I was in college it was different because I was a DJ, but I'm much more into video now.  The Zune marketplace is lacking the type of video I am interested in (movies and television programming).  Syncing my movies into the collection and over to the device was pretty slow.  They were not conversions because I had already encoded the .WMV files to support the Zune.  I can't tell if it's a Zune issue or another symptom of the bugs we are tracking with the ThinkPad and non primary hard drive copies and moves.

    I would prefer having my Zune show up as a hard drive to my laptop.  I would also prefer being able to manage my collection on the laptop differently from the Zune device.  I understand why the Zune team is doing this, I think, but I much prefer the way Archos and Creative expose the hard drive and the folders.  I think at the very least we should have an advanced mode that allows for exploration of the hard drive through traditional tools like Windows Explorer. 

    Summary

    The new Zune 80 holds it's own.  There's a lot to like and it will be a solid seller this season and beyond.  Since I am mostly into video, I am still looking for a larger screen, better video controls, and a deeper video offering from the Zune marketplace.  I will also be looking for better battery life, a removable battery, or extra battery options from Microsoft or other partners.  This years Zune offering took another great step forward and I look forward to future generations.

  • Guess what is getting ready to go on sale !!!

    Zune

    The next gen arrives in a few hours.  I can't wait to try the video and podcast support.  More details later tonight or in the morning assuming I can even find an 80GB Zune player in my area.  Time to call CostCo.

  • Matt enters the "Dawg Pound" and lives to tell about it

    Like all of the team members on my team, Matt Hester has a high definition video camera.  He has a special relationship with the Cleveland Browns NFL front office and they allowed him to film an interview with Gordon Foust, the Browns IT Director. 

    Matt asked me beforehand, "What questions would be interesting to readers of our blogs?"  I said that's easy.  I would like to know how technology has changed the way a NFL team prepares for, and more importantly, wins a game.

    See Matt's results at http://blogs.technet.com/matthewms/archive/2007/11/02/what-happens-when-it-and-football-collide-cleveland-browns-style.aspx.

  • Windows Live Writer is LIVE !!!

    WindowsLiveServices

    Go get it and the rest of the goodies @ http://get.live.com !!!

  • TiVoToGo likes my Zune 80 and Archos 605 WIFI

    TivoLogo One of the people that discovered my blog and the Archos 605 WIFI posting asked me about using TiVoToGo with the Archos player.  I've been meaning to try out the TiVo software so it was just the incentive I needed to check things out.  I like this time of year.  I get to burn some deserved vacation time and fiddle around with my gadgets instead of server software.  That and watch football, eat lots of goodies, and drink a few beers.  So many things to do, not enough time.

    A few months ago when I bought the TiVo Series 3, I thought it would be kewl if I could offload the recordings to one of my portable media players.  I tried the TiVo desktop software briefly then, but I never took the plunge and purchased the Plus option that allows you to create H.264 or MPEG-4 "portable" versions of the recordings.  I made that purchase yesterday and last night put it to work.

    As it turns out, it works pretty well.  I transferred about six weekly series episodes and a couple of movies to my laptop where the TiVoToGo software is running.  Those transfers end up being some files with the .tivo extension.  They are full blown HD versions of the recordings and look killer on my ThinkPad T61p 15.4" widescreen or Dell 24" flat panel.

    TiVoToGo During the transfer process, you can also kick off an additional transcode that will produce "portable" versions of the video.  The portable versions are down resolution versions of the high def recordings so there is a serious loss of bits during the process.  You can specify a variety of formats and for my tests I picked H.264 and MPEG-4

    For comparison, the movie Happy Feet is 10GB in size after the transfer from the Series 3 to my laptop.  The portable version of the movie is 750MB.  Where did all of those bits go?  Well, from looking at the resulting playback, I would estimate the bit rate to be less than 700k. 

    All of the H.264 and MPEG-4 conversions played well on the Zune 80 and the Archos 605 WIFI player.  Because the screen on the Archos 605 is much larger, the lack of detail in the video is more noticeable.  I didn't think the resulting bit rate and playback was great, but I would not characterize the video and playback as poor either.

    So how long do the transfers and transcoding take?

    The file copies take a pretty long time.  There's actually more going on during the file copies, or so it seems.  Keep in mind the files are pretty huge.  I use a 1000BaseT network at my house so the network isn't a bottleneck.  There appears to be some conversion going on during the copy from the TiVo box to your PC.  Another conversion takes place after that copy completes if you have specified you want a portable version.  This takes lots of time, and I was using my dual core laptop.

    How would I set this up?

    The TiVo desktop software lets you create a subscription called "auto transfer".  If you have a home server or desktop running the TiVo software, then it would automatically pull the recording off the TiVo and drop it to your PC.  You could of course have the portable version created at that time.  And then you could automatically sync that to a Zune 80 if the folder is being watched.

    This is the holy grail.  We really need that type of support and automation in Windows.  We're working on it.  Until then, enjoy solutions like this with players like the Archos 605 WIFI or Zune 80.

    There's a couple of other things worth noting here.  The movies came from HBO HD and Starz HD.  The weekly shows came from the local HD affiliates of ABC, CBS, etc.  All of this was delivered to my TiVo Series 3 via Verizon FIOS TV.  I understand some of the cable systems block what I accomplished (from the "premium" channels like HBO).  I personally think that stinks and see no reason for the block.

    The video world as you know it is going to change soon.  Watch and see what happens over the next 3-5 years...

  • Gang of puppies!!!

    Dogs rule, cats drool.  It's actually the other way around (usually) but in the video, it's clear that the puppies are squarely in control of the situation.  See Amits blog post and video at http://www.amitvaria.com/2007/11/04/gang-of-puppies.  Funny stuff.  The Pink Panther theme was genius.

  • New Mobile Specialist hired !!!

    NewMobileSpecialistIn case you've been wondering where I've been, I've been recruiting and interviewing candidates.  Well, I found an excellent candidate and we've been in intensive training in the deep woods of Georgia.  Here he is...  I know, he's a bit young but we need to start early these days.

     

    Happy Holidays everyone !!!



    "See you" after the holiday break.

  • Xbox Live is 5IVE !!!

    Don't forget our friend has a birthday this week.  Yep, that's right.  On November 15, the Xbox Live service celebrates it's fifth year of defining online gaming.  I was on Xbox Live before it launched.  How do you think I got my kewl gamertag?  Alpha baby, alpha.

    See http://www.xbox.com/en-US/community/events/liveis5ive/default.htm for more cool stuff happening this week.

  • Now they are making this hard on me... Zune Originals

    ZuneOriginals_Zune80GB_Kenzo-300dpi 

    For the first time, consumers also will have the option to customize their Zune player with laser-engraved designs and personal text through a new Web store called Zune Originals. Customers will be able to purchase a Zune player directly from Microsoft at http://www.zuneoriginals.net and choose from a collection of laser-engraved artwork designed exclusively for Zune by 18 internationally recognized artists.

    See the press release @ http://www.microsoft.com/Presspass/press/2007/nov07/11-12ZuneCustomizationPR.mspx.  Click the pic above to go see more of the pics in high resolution.

  • Get Microsoft Hyper-V server for $28

    While we were sound asleep this morning, the Europeans were announcing some important details about the Windows Server 2008 family of products.  One of the most interesting announcements wasn't the new name for Windows Server virtualization (WSv) now called Hyper-V.  No, instead the most fascinating detail is the price.  $28 US.  WOW!  I thought it was a typo the first time I saw it.

    Here are the details from the press release:

    Microsoft Hyper-V Server

    Microsoft Hyper-V Server, a hypervisor-based server virtualisation product, complements the Hyper-V technology within Windows Server 2008, allowing customers to consolidate workloads onto a single physical server. In addition, Microsoft Hyper-V Server will increase original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners’ ability to offer customers simplified, reliable and cost-effective virtualisation solutions that can easily plug in to their existing infrastructure. Partners including Dell Inc, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Fujitsu Ltd, Hitachi Ltd, HP, IBM Corp, Lenovo, NEC Corp and Unisys are already committed to working with Microsoft to offer solutions based on Microsoft Hyper-V Server once it is available. The estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for Microsoft Hyper-V Server is $28 (US).

    “Microsoft and Dell are continuing to work together to provide virtualisation solutions and by offering Microsoft Hyper-V Server across a wide variety of Dell servers,” said Rick Becker, vice president of Software and Solutions at Dell. “Our joint customers can continue to leverage their expertise with Microsoft technologies to rapidly provision new services and better manage and simplify their IT environment.”

    “The combination of Microsoft Hyper-V Server, industry-leading HP ProLiant and BladeSystem servers, and our comprehensive services portfolio provides customers with an adaptive infrastructure that is simple to operate, reliable and cost-effective,” said Scott Farrand, vice president of Industry Standard Server Software at HP. “HP plans to support customers in the adoption of Microsoft Hyper-V Server by delivering solutions that help them realise the benefits of a virtualised environment.”

    Server Virtualisation Validation Program

    In response to industry and customer demands for more comprehensive technical support of virtual machines, Kelly also announced the Server Virtualisation Validation Program. Beginning in June 2008, vendors will be able to self-test and validate certain technical requirements of their server virtualisation software running Windows Server 2008 and prior versions. The programme will enable Microsoft to offer cooperative technical support to customers running Windows Server on validated, non-Windows server virtualisation software.

    “Microsoft has worked with industry partners to create a technical support model that will meet customers’ growing demands,” Kelly said. “As more customers deploy and virtualise Windows-based applications on Windows Server 2008 or other server virtualisation software, this programme will help ensure that customers receive a joint support experience for their physical and virtual infrastructure deployments.”

    “Technical support of virtualised images is an industrywide challenge,” said Roger Levy, senior vice president and general manager of Open Platform Solutions for Novell. “Our relationship with Microsoft provides us with a jointly supported solution today. Novell and Microsoft continue to collaborate to optimise bidirectional virtualisation between Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise with Xen. Microsoft’s server virtualisation validation programme provides customers with additional peace of mind when they run Windows as a guest in a validated environment such as SUSE Linux Enterprise.”

    See the remaining details @ http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/virtualization/default.mspx and http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/editions/overview.mspx.