Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

May, 2008

  • Dell XPS 420 six month report

    xps420_bluray I've had my Dell XPS 420 six months now so I thought I'd give you an update on my impressions of the machine and changes I'm made to it since the initial purchase.  In reality, it just now does everything I want correctly.  Windows Vista SP1 fixed the last issue I had with the machine.  So once again for all of you that want to stick with Windows XP, this machine is a really good reason to go with Windows Vista.

    My XPS has been running Windows Vista Ultimate x64 since nearly day one.  All of the applications I use work really well on the 64 bit platform, even though most of them aren't native 64 bit compiled apps.  I am using two main video editing tools.  Sony Movie Studio Vegas Platinum Edition and Expression Studio 2.  Vegas is my workhorse and I am getting ready to create my first high definition DVD on Blu-ray.  I don't yet have a Blu-ray disk burner, so if someone has a good recommendation, let me know.

    A few weeks ago I pulled the two 512MB RAM sticks and replaced them with two 2GB sticks.  I have a total of 6GB of memory now in the machine.  I don't really need all of that memory but the memory at dell.com went on sale and I had a $200 gift card waiting to be burned.  So I got some memory, a Zune charger for my wife, and some other stuff.

    The one thing that hasn't worked correctly until recently is the machines ability to wake up from sleep and record a program.  If you are buying one of these to be a DVR, then that would be a key feature that needs to work.  Mine didn't.  It would sleep correctly.  It would wake up on time and attempt to record.  But the machine wouldn't record.  It had something to do with how long the tuners need to wake up before they were ready.  I guess they need strong coffee like I do.

    A few days ago I upgraded the firmware on my ATI TV Wonder Digital cable tuners.  Here are the links to the new updates:

    32 bit: http://ati.amd.com/support/drivers/vista32/ocur-vista32.html

    64 bit: http://ati.amd.com/support/drivers/vista64/ocur-vista64.html

    After I upgraded the tuners, I installed Windows Vista SP1.  I was told after applying SP1, I should re-apply the NVIDIA video drivers for my 8600 GTS so I did that as well.  Magically everything works now.  For the past three or four days it has woken from it's slumber, recorded whatever I had scheduled, then gone back to sleep ten minutes after doing the recording.  Yaaay !!!  It has never done that correctly until this week.  I don't know exactly what fixed the issue.  It was probably the combination of the firmware upgrade, and SP1.

    Now keep in mind my XPS 420 is a pretty lowly model by XPS standards.  It has the Intel Q6600 quad core processor.  The video card is a good video card, but it is by no means a top of the line card.  But my machine is very quiet and does exactly what I want it to do, and I have high confidence it will continue to do so for the next three to four years. 

    If you are considering one of these, buy with confidence.  Rock solid.  Nice looking.  Good price.

  • Upgrading Windows XP machines?

    vista_wallpaperDuring the conference call my team had on Friday, we were discussing the upcoming content we are planning for the August-December timeframe.  One of my team members who shall remain nameless stated that most of the customers he has talked to aren't upgrading existing Windows XP machines to Windows Vista.  Instead, they are just buying new machines with Windows Vista as the old XP machines roll off the books and are re-purposed, or die.

    Is that accurate?  Is that what you are doing?

    None of the security, network, search, etc. improvements warrant an upgrade of an existing machine, even with Aero glass turned off so that it performs on par or better than Windows XP?

    [UPDATE for 5/18]  For those of you that want to call me a confused idiot and other derogatory remarks, or want to spit venom at Microsoft in the form of comments here, don't bother because I am unlikely to publish your art.  If you want to be polite, courteous and offer some insight into the decisions you or your customers are making, then that is welcome.

    My wife thinks you are all crazy.  The says Spider Solitaire alone is worth the upgrade to Windows Vista.  Grin.

    [UPDATE for 5/19]  I watch referrals to my blog and noticed a few of you have picked up on what you think is a story here.  First of all, you should know this article has no basis in fact.  The person on my team that made the comment was offering an opinion but he has hardly spoken to every Microsoft customer and gathered any empirical data to support such a statement.  Second, the small smattering of comments don’t indicate any particular fact or trend either.  My questions were posed to initiate some dialog on the subject, nothing more.

    I am always perplexed at why people go looking for dirt.  I guess dirt sells.  I’d rather have a conversation about what we are doing right and wrong. Offer an opinion on which way I think people should go.  So here’s mine. 

    Buying a machine with Windows Vista is a smart move.  If the OEM has done their job, then the out-of-box experience should be good.  Your experience is going to vary depending on the OEM and of course they know if they do a sub par job, your return business is at stake.

    As for the upgrade question, this is something you’ll have to decide but it should not be too terribly hard to test.  We worked hard to provide you an array of hardware and software compatibility tools.

    Windows Vista offers a lot of benefits, even for older machines.  I’m running Windows Vista Enterprise on a Compaq Evo n620c and it runs very nicely.  The machine is nearly five years old and only has one gig of RAM.  Your experience will vary and I respect the decisions you make. 

    I just want to know why you make the decisions, and what we can do better down the road.  That’s what blogs are for.  Having that conversation. 

  • The 8GB RAM Laptop Era Begins

    DellM6300 If you've been paying really close attention, you noticed Dell quietly began to sell Windows Vista 64 bit Precision M6300 workstation class laptops.  They've actually been selling them for a while.  What's new is that they are shipping them with Windows Vista x64 and 8GB of RAM.  As you can see at right, this machine doesn't come cheap.

    Or if you have some real bucks to blow, checkout the PC MicroWorks Edge.

    Now you might be asking yourself how much those rare 4GB SoDIMMs cost, and where to get your hands on some.  I have good news.  A number of memory makers are getting ready to start shipping the 4GB wonders.

    If my information is true, the 4GB sticks will be about half the price of what the 2GB sticks were when they released.  As you'll recall, when 2GB sticks first started shipping, they were about $1000 each.  Not many people bought them at that price.  We certainly didn't.  We bought a second laptop instead. 

    If you dig around on the grid you won't find them just yet, but they are coming.  Dell obviously has a supply.  You won't see them in the accessories area just yet.   At least I could not find them.

    My information indicates the street price for a 4GB DDR2-667 SoDIMM will be in the $400-550 range.  Looks like Dell is offering them on the Precision M6300 at the top end of that scale.  Surprise Surprise.

    When?

    If the information is accurate, in the next few weeks.  This is good timing for my team.  We are penniless and at the end of our fiscal year end budget.  But a whole new budget starts July 1.  I know what I want for Christmas.

    What on earth do I need 8GB of RAM in a laptop for?  Virtual Machines of course.  Just think, I could run approximately eight instances of Windows Vista at one time.  A Vista Fest.  Obviously I'm more interested in a virtualization environment that includes a broader portfolio of our products.  Windows Server 2008, Hyper-V, System Center Virtual Machine Manager, System Center Configuration Manager, System Center Operations Manager, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Exchange, etc. all running on a single laptop.

    Think I'm crazy?  Yea, probably.  But by doubling the amount of memory, we certainly have the ability to create some fascinating configurations to mimic very real solutions.  Unless you are pushing the virtualization limits, or have a very advanced workstation requirement, you are unlikely to need 8GB of RAM.  But for those of us that do, it's about time.

    [UPDATE for 5/28]  Kingston is now selling the 4GB sticks.  See http://shop.kingston.com/partsinfo.asp?ktcpartno=KTL-TP667/4G.  Hope you have some bucks if you want them right now.

  • How much does your AV product impact performance?

    vista_wallpaper This time last month I pitted Windows Vista against several desktop operating systems.  One of the longer tests I ran was a file copy test to see who was the I/O king.  Over the past few days I've run some additional tests.

    One of the tests I ran was the same copy of 42GB of data from an external SATA drive to the internal PATA drive of my Compaq Evo n620c.  The n620c was running Windows XP SP3 at the time and finished the copy in 30 minutes.  Huh?  Now how is it that my oldest machine turned in a smoking time?  Nearly one of the best.

    Of course I slapped my head when I noticed I had not installed CA eTrust.  It's unusual for me to have a machine that doesn't have eTrust installed.  This is especially true if the machine is ever going to be used with a VPN connection to our corporate network, or any network outside my homelan for that matter.

    So how much overhead does your AV product add to a sustained bulk copy? 

    Lots.  In fact, it really surprises me that the T61p with Windows Vista x64 turned in the top scores and the MacBook Pro didn't lay waste to all comers.  The T61p had eTrust installed during it's testing and the Mac didn't.  The Mac doesn't need AV, right?

    So how much overhead does an AV product add to the time it takes to copy data?  Well it really depends on the data mix, the direction of the copy or move (reads or writes), and other factors like the operating system architecture.  In this case, the copy from an external drive to the internal drive of the Evo n620c took twice as long when AV was installed. WOW.

    Which brings me to another point that is seldom raised during 64 bit discussions. Everyone knows that in order to go above 4GB of memory use, you need to move from a 32 bit address space to a 64 bit address space.  And everyone understands the implications of more memory for things like virtualization, large cache areas for database performance, etc.  But rarely do I see a discussion of I/O performance when people talk about the move to the 64 bit world.  At least not in the desktop discussions.  But the performance improvements are there.  I'll see if I can dig up some benchmarks.

    In the meantime, the ThinkPad T61p with Windows Vista x64 is still king.  King over OS X.  King over Windows XP.  This is especially true when you consider my OS X machine had no anti virus product installed.

    If you are wondering about the Compaq Evo, it has been upgraded to Windows Vista Enterprise x86.  I'm sure a lot of you consider that a downgrade.  But I'm going to run it for a while to see how it does.  It has a measly 1GB of RAM, an ancient ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 video card, but a smoking 100GB 7200rpm Hitachi PATA drive.  Wanna guess what the Windows Vista WINSAT index score value is?  Here's a clue from 2006.

  • Rob Westover – rest in peace my friend

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    Last Monday and Tuesday I had the pleasure of working alongside Jamie Westover at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas.  Jamie is wife to Rob Westover.  It seemed odd to me that Rob wasn’t there having some fun with us because he was a lover of fun places, and particularly loved Las Vegas.  Rob passed away Tuesday night in Seattle and it came as a big shock to us all.

    For those of you that don’t know Rob, he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  Kind, funny, smart, fun loving, hard worker and loving husband and father.  He was one of the original members of the team I’m on, and his legacy on this team and others will be felt for a long time coming.

    The picture above was taken for the “Microsoft Across America” campaign we did a couple of years back.  Rob was our model as you can see.  Rob was a great sport about the whole thing and the picture captures part of his essence. 

    Rob would not want us to cry in our beer.  Instead Rob would want us to mix up a batch of something yummy and toast to the fun and adventures we’ve shared together.  Rob will be missed greatly by all that knew him.

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  • Anyone can write an article these days…

    Everyone has a blog, including my dog.  For the past few years the debate on whether blogs are journalism has been discussed.  Are they?  What’s the difference in writing for a magazine or online publication and a blog?  Someone checks the facts?  There’s an editor to uphold the reputation of the publisher?  Well it seems times are a changin.

    Normally I don’t care to think about it much until someone forwards me a link to an article that seems out of place.  The latest round of journalism I received a link to is the article, “Windows XP SP3: The Perfect Reason to Avoid Upgrading to Windows Vista” by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.  Now keep in mind this is on the CIO.com website.  I don’t know if they printed the article.  I certainly hope not.  But after reading the article I wondered what the agenda is for the site.

    vista_wallpaper There are certain aspects of the article I’m cool with.  I certainly have no problem having someone say, “Windows XP SP3 is the best Windows PC operating system I've ever used”.  Sounds good, right?  But is it accurate?  Maybe it is the best Steven has used, I don’t know.  I can say without a doubt, that is not the case for me.

    For me, it’s Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, then Windows XP.  I mean really.  Windows Server rocks.  2003 is as solid as they come, and 2008 is looking really good as well.  But I’m a server guy so I naturally show more love for the server stuff.  But it’s early for Windows Server 2008 and I don’t like to declare success for an OS until it has some history.  Let’s not forget a lot of code is shared between Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.  But I’m confusing the issue.  I digress.

    The article is about desktop operating systems.  It’s interesting to me that the conclusion of the article is that Windows Vista is a pig.  But the author states, “My personal minimum configuration for Vista is 3GB of RAM, a dedicated graphics processor with 512MBs of RAM to call its own and a 2007 or newer dual-core processor (like, say, a 2.33GHz Intel Core2 Duo E6550)”.

    What?

    Now I’m confused.  Steven basically says Windows XP is great.  Then he says Windows Vista is a pig.  Then he advises what you should run to get outstanding Windows Vista performance.  He didn’t actually say that, so I will.  You can get outstanding performance, and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

    Let’s rewind to December 29, 2006.  On that date, I wrote a blog post on Installing Windows Vista on a Compaq Evo n620c.  When I did that article, I was actually surprised at how well Windows Vista ran on the machine.  Now don’t get me wrong, that machine doesn’t hold a candle to my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p running the 64 bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate.  But it isn’t supposed to.  And that’s the point.  But it did run Windows Vista and with that comes security, management, and networking improvements.  Windows Vista isn’t just a new theme.

    Machines evolve with user wants and needs.  The software that runs on those machines also evolves.  If you look at the Windows Vista ecosystem, it has improved dramatically since we launched the product.  My blog post and install of Windows Vista on December 29, 2006 was using the real RTM bits of Windows Vista.  Doesn’t 12/29/2006 already seem ancient to you?  Well it isn’t, but Microsoft and it’s hardware and software partners have made a huge amount of progress since that time.

    If you have machines that still have value and run Windows XP well, kewl!!!  However, the machine I did the install on above is no more.  It died.  I took it to PC Recycle.  It’s been replaced.  That’s ok because it was almost five years old and had been properly beaten up by a group of presenters during it’s life.  In short, we got a lot of value from that machine.  For the record, I have another one.  I have a Compaq Evo n620c sitting right next to me that is nearly identical to the previous machine.  It currently has Windows XP SP3 on it.  But it only has 1GB of RAM so it really isn’t designed for Windows Vista. 

    So do yourself a favor.  When it comes time to replace a machine, get a machine with a good CPU, plenty of RAM, and a great GPU.  Users want eye candy.  They want Flash and Silverlight websites.  They want high definition video.  They want a snappy operating system.  Windows Vista is very snappy with the right mix of components.  Don’t bother trying to run Windows Vista with a NVIDIA 6200 graphics card like Steven did.  At least not if you are trying to run Aero Glass.  For heavens sake, turn off Aero in that case. 

    There are many reasons I totally disagree with many of the commercials and articles I’ve seen lately.  In fact, I’ll be exploring a lot of that over the next few months.  There’s a lot of FUD out there and I hope to dispel a lot of the bad information I see.  I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but like I told a Windows Marketing Manager on the phone today, it’s time to start stating some facts.  You hear enough FUD and you start to believe it.  Trust me, I fell into the same trap until I started testing things on my own.

    Over the next few months we’ll revisit application compatibility, driver support, updates on deployment techniques, hot machines you should consider, etc.  I think you’ll find the information I have coming very useful and will help you make informed choices.

    “See” you again soon!

  • David Archuleta – America Idol Winner

    As much as I would have liked to see the rocker David Cook prevail, I think David Archuleta edged Mr. Cook in the final performances.  I’m sure David Archuleta and his amazing voice is going to be announced the winner of American Idol tomorrow night.  The David versus David finale was a great showdown.  Congratulations to them both.

  • An Activation Process That Works

    Last December I purchased a Dell XPS 420 and included in the package were some fine products from Adobe.  The package included Photoshop Elements 6.0, Premiere Elements 4.0, and Soundbooth CS3.  When I switched from the 32 to the 64 bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate, I forgot to deactivate Soundbooth CS3.  Actually, I didn't forget.  I didn't know it was required from a license management point of view.

    A month or two later I installed Soundbooth on my laptop.  Activation worked and I've been using the product for sound edits.  A couple of weeks ago I tried to install Soundbooth on my Dell XPS 420 again and use it, but it would not activate. 

    This weekend I started digging around on the Adobe website to see if their license allows for the product to be installed on more than one computer.  The FAQ at http://www.adobe.com/products/activation/ clearly states that I can do that.  Here's the relevant entry text:

    "The activation process supports installation on two machines. The Adobe product license agreement allows the primary user to install the product on a primary computer and also on a home or laptop computer for his or her use, provided that the two copies are not used simultaneously. While the activation process supports installing and activating Adobe software on two machines, the usage of the product on the second computer is restricted to the user who licensed the software. Allowing others to use a second copy of the software violates the product license agreement."

    Cool!!! Now What?  So I check the support area for a telephone number.  What's the chance I can get this resolved on a Sunday afternoon?  Sure enough, technical support is open for business so I ring up the folks on their support line.

    I explain the situation to a nice gentleman handling support calls.  We go through the process of telephone based activation which is similar to Microsoft products.  He reads me back the authorization code and a few minutes later I am fully activated.  That was one of the more pleasant supports calls I've ever had to deal with.  I didn't have to wait on hold for any lengthy period of time, the CSR was polite and knew exactly how to fix the issue, I could understand him and he could understand me, and everything was resolved in less than ten minutes.  Wow.

    I am fully functional again, or rather, the software is. I can move the license at will to another machine when desired.  Soundbooth has a Deactivate function off the Help menu.  I simply use it to deactivate, then install and activate on the new machine.  Nice.  I wish all software did this, including ours.  I know what you are thinking because I've had this discussion with many people over the past couple of years during Windows Vista demos and discussions.

    Adobe seems to be doing the right thing at least at it pertains to consumer product use and license management.  Be sure to look carefully at your Adobe products before you flatten a machine.  Don't make the same mistake I did.  Manage those digital assets wisely.

  • I’m Sharing My Bookmarks

    We launched an interesting new service at http://social.technet.microsoft.com/bookmarks.  It’s just getting rolling but I can already see this might have some interesting possibilities.  For instance, once this puppy gets really loaded with data there will be some great visualization and filtering capabilities. 

    If you want to see the links I am adding, goto http://social.technet.microsoft.com/bookmarks/en-US/user/KeithCombs/.  I just started so don’t laugh.  Which reminds me, home many bookmarks do you have in IE, FireFox or Safari?  I have a little less than 900 but I’m guessing some of you have several thousand.

    If you decide to start adding bookmarks to our social site, try to tag them on the add so other people can discover them easily.  Enjoy.

    [UPDATE for 6/3/2008]  John Martin provided another blogpost at http://blogs.technet.com/johmar/archive/2008/06/02/why-social-bookmarking-will-be-different-on-msdn-technet-and-expression.aspx that gives you more insight into the current implementation of this idea, and what we hope will come out of it.  I had some pretty good ideas I sent to John and some of the other folks on his team.

    I’m a little skeptical on all of this “social” stuff.  I posted 86 links so far. I wonder, what would be deemed socially unacceptable on “My Bookmarks”.  Grin.  No, I’m not going to test those limits.  I probably should go check and see what the rules are just in case.  I certainly don’t want to get in trouble for posting a link to the new P250 or something like that.

  • Laptop Multimon with the Matrox DualHead2Go Digital Edition

    DualHead2GoDigitalEd A few days ago I ordered the Matrox DualHead2Go Digital Edition.  You are probably wondering what I am talking about.  It's a cool device that allows a laptop, or a regular PC for that matter drive two monitors in one of the Windows Vista  "Multimon" modes.  I've been wanting one for a while now.

    I've been watching some internal email discussions on the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p and its use with a docking station to drive multiple monitors.  I have seen a number of issues reported around resume issues, the laptop "forgets" it's display configuration, black screen of death, etc.  In short, it seems the docking station isn't working out very well for some people.  I don't believe the root cause of the issues have been identified.  It is not apparent yet if it's the Windows Vista TMM service, Lenovo hardware and drivers, or the video chipset and drivers.

    So while the powers that be triage the issues, I got off the fence and purchased my device from jr.com.  My shipment arrived late this evening and after cooking some kabobs on the grill, I decided to check it out and see if it worked as advertised.  It does.

    Preview My first round of tests was with my personal ThinkPad T61p.  The picture above is misleading because there is a missing cable that is required.  The device is powered and controlled via a USB cable.  This is depicted more accurately in the picture to the left.

    Input to the unit I have is VGA.  Output is DVI.  I thought this was a bit strange since it's supposed to be the DVI digital edition.  Therefore if you are going to use this with a Mac, you'll have to use the dongle.  Since my monitors are already having their input converted via DVI->VGA dongles, I just stuck them right on the unit.  I did that because my KVM is VGA.

    After installing the Matrox PowerDesk SE software I was able to fully control the display modes desired.  I have a Dell 2007FP 20" LCD, and a Dell 2407WFP 24" Widescreen LCD.  You can configure the modes a variety of ways, but I set the DualHead2Go to drive the external monitors at 3360x1050 resolution.  I was hoping to drive them at 3520x1200 but I haven't yet figured out if it will do that.  I think it won't.  3360x1050 looks pretty good.  I am planning on replacing the 20" with another 24" LCD and at that point I should be able to drive the twin 24" displays at 3840x1200 which would be the native resolution of both displays.

    The next set of tests I ran involved my el cheapo KVM switch.  I have the IOGEAR GCS632U which is a 2 port USB VGA switch.  For this series of tests, I used my Dell XPS 420 and my work ThinkPad T61p.  As before, I installed the PowerDesk software on both machines.  I fully expected this to fail but much to my surprise, it works pretty well.  The best resolutions for the mismatched monitors ended up being 3360x1050.  Matched 24" monitors are looking like the ticket.

    ThreeWayThe DualHead2Go unit will supposedly drive the two external displays as well as the laptop display for a total of three displays as shown in the screenshot at right.  I have not tested that yet.  I have also not tested this with my Apple MacBook Pro and OS X 10.5.2.  I'll probably get around to both of those tests later and report back.

    The USB cable and connection serves two purposes.  It powers the unit and provides persistent setting control.  When you use the KVM I have, you lose some of the persistent settings on the machine that is not connected via the USB cable.  The two settings I particularly like are the setting to specify where dialog boxes are centered, and how applications behave when maximized.  Not having full control of either of those settings is a minor nuisance to me. A better KVM switch with full USB uplink support would likely solve that issue long term.

    So far I have not hit any issues.  I have set all of my machines to suspend and after resume the monitors remember the extended display settings.  You can easily drag an application from one monitor to another.  I tested HD playback of Windows Vista recorded TV content and that played without issue. 

    Keep in mind all of my machines are running 64 bit versions of Windows Vista Ultimate so I assume this is going to work with the x86 versions as well.  Pretty impressive technology.  The unit itself is pretty small so if you want to take it on the road for a trade show or conference, this will be a handy gadget for booth demos.  I'll update this post in a few weeks after I get another 24" LCD panel and have a chance to test the twins.

    For those of you that want multimon but don't want a full docking station, this is an interesting option.  Now obviously it doesn't have the drive bays, USB ports and other docking station features, but if your main goal is to drive multiple monitors, it works rather well.  Be sure to check out the compatibility wizard to see if your laptop or desktop will work.

    [UPDATE for 5/12/2008]  Bad news.  Although this works well directly connected to my ThinkPad T61p, or via my KVM switch, I noticed an unacceptable amount of degraded performance on live and recorded HDTV playback on the Dell XPS 420.  I’m pretty sure this was due to the Matrox driver that is installed and in use.  Your needs may be different.  If you want dual monitors for a laptop, this is certainly an attractive alternative to a docking station.

  • Windows Vista 30, Rootkits 0

    I’m glad to see some positive press on Windows Vista.  Security is a tough business and when you’re on the desktops of millions of computers, everything is magnified to the Nth degree.  A couple of recent articles and postings are getting a lot of attention.  See “Vista's Despised UAC Nails Rootkits, Tests Find” by John E. Dunn.  This of course got picked up on the popular site Neowin.

    Since a lot of you aren’t yet running Windows Vista, here’s a quick refresh on the tech.  In Windows Vista, there are two types of user accounts: standard user accounts and administrator accounts. Standard users are equivalent to the standard user account in previous versions of Windows. Standard users have limited administrative privileges and user rights—they cannot install or uninstall applications that install into %systemroot%, change system settings, or perform other administrative tasks. However, standard users can perform these tasks if they are able to provide valid administrative credentials when prompted. With UAC enabled, members of the local Administrators group run with the same access token as standard users. Only when a member of the local Administrators group gives approval can a process use the administrator’s full access token. This process is the basis of the principle of Admin Approval Mode.

    See the TechNet article, “Understanding and Configuring User Account Control in Windows Vista” for a detailed review of UAC.  If you want to see it in action, see the following 4 minute screencast.

  • A real world Linux experiment?

    There's a pretty interesting blog post at http://contentconsumer.wordpress.com/2008/04/27/is-ubuntu-useable-enough-for-my-girlfriend/.  I have not read through all of the comments yet (510 and counting).  After a brief scan of the main article, it occurs to me that the test would be interesting to run on a machine with Microsoft Windows Vista and on Mac with Apple OS X.  Of course each time you would have to find someone that isn't particularly educated on the operating system they are being tested on. 

    Might be fun.  What do you think?  Maybe I should test my wife on my MacBook Pro to see what happens.  Maybe not.

  • Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 Update - download now available

    Like Virtual PC 2007 SP1, we have released an update to Virtual Server 2005 to support some of the latest operating systems.  New support now includes the following:

    Additonal Guest Operating System support:
    Windows Vista® Ultimate Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1)
    Windows Vista® Business Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1)
    Windows Vista® Enterprise Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1)
    Windows Server® 2008 Core
    Windows Server® 2008 Standard
    Windows Server® 2008 Datacenter
    Windows Server® 2008 Enterprise
    Windows Server® 2008 Small Business Server
    Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 3

    Additional Host Operating System support:
    Windows Vista® Ultimate Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1) (non-production use only)
    Windows Vista® Business Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1) (non-production use only)
    Windows Vista® Enterprise Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1)(non-production use only)
    Windows Server® 2008 Core
    Windows Server® 2008 Standard
    Windows Server® 2008 Datacenter
    Windows Server® 2008 Enterprise
    Windows Server® 2008 Small Business Server
    Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 3 (non-production use only)

    Get the download @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=a79bcf9b-59f7-480b-a4b8-fb56f42e3348&displaylang=en.

  • Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 SP1 RTW - now available for download

    For those of you that like to run desktop virtualization, we have finally updated and release VPC 2007 SP1.  The main focus for this release was to support Windows Vista SP1, Windows Server 2008 and Windows XP SP3.  Now that all of those products have been released, here you have it.

    Additonal Guest Operating System support:
    Windows Vista® Ultimate Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1)
    Windows Vista® Business Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1)
    Windows Vista® Enterprise Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1)
    Windows Server® 2008 Standard
    Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 3

    Additional Host Operating System support:
    Windows Vista® Ultimate Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1)
    Windows Vista® Business Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1)
    Windows Vista® Enterprise Edition with Service Pack 1 (SP1)
    Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 3

    Get the download @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=28c97d22-6eb8-4a09-a7f7-f6c7a1f000b5&displaylang=en.

  • Springboard Live! Virtual Roundtable: Let’s Talk Windows Vista Security

    springboard

    Join Microsoft Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich and a panel of IT professionals and security MVPs as they discuss Windows Vista deployment, security configurations, challenges and real-world solutions. Ask your questions live during the event or email them in advance to vrtable@microsoft.com.

    Register today to join the discussion in June. This event will be broadcast live on this site, at 9:00am Pacific Standard Time, June 18, 2008, available on demand shortly after its conclusion.

    Register @ https://ms.istreamplanet.com/springboard/Default.asp

  • WorldWide Telescope – screencast now available

    Early this morning I downloaded the new WorldWide Telescope application from Microsoft Research.  After exploring the galaxies, I decided this would be a cool screencast to demo the application for those of you that might not otherwise download, install and begin exploring.  Your children are going to love this.  Heck, you might have some fun, too!!!

    The screencast is 5 minutes and was recorded at 1280x720.  You should really see the application on my monitor at 1920x1200.  Breathtaking is such an understatement.  You’ll notice when watching the video that the panning isn’t very fluid and that is because I captured at 15 frames per second which is a low FPS for motion.  You’ll also notice I am not capturing the audio of the application.  That’s ok, it’ll just be an extra incentive to go check things out for yourself.  So here’s a quick demo.  Be sure to double click the Silverlight control to go full screen.

    Get Microsoft Silverlight

    Media Player direct link @ http://msinetpub.vo.llnwd.net/d1/keithcombs/wwtelescope.wmv.

    Here’s a partial description from the http://www.worldwidetelescope.org website:

    The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is a Web 2.0 visualization software environment that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope—bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world for a seamless exploration of the universe.

    Choose from a growing number of guided tours of the sky by astronomers and educators from some of the most famous observatories and planetariums in the country. Feel free at any time to pause the tour, explore on your own (with multiple information sources for objects at your fingertips), and rejoin the tour where you left off. Join Harvard Astronomer Alyssa Goodman on a journey showing how dust in the Milky Way Galaxy condenses into stars and planets. Take a tour with University of Chicago Cosmologist Mike Gladders two billion years into the past to see a gravitational lens bending the light from galaxies allowing you to see billions more years into the past.

    WorldWide Telescope is created with the Microsoft® high performance Visual Experience Engine™ and allows seamless panning and zooming around the night sky, planets, and image environments. View the sky from multiple wavelenghts: See the x-ray view of the sky and zoom into bright radiation clouds, and then crossfade into the visible light view and discover the cloud remnants of a supernova explosion from a thousand years ago. Switch to the Hydrogen Alpha view to see the distribution and illumination of massive primordial hydrogen cloud structures lit up by the high energy radiation coming from nearby stars in the Milky Way. These are just two of many different ways to reveal the hidden structures in the universe with the WorldWide Telescope. Seamlessly pan and zoom from aerial views of the Moon and selected planets, as well as see their precise positions in the sky from any location on Earth and any time in the past or future with the Microsoft Visual Experience Engine.

    Story continued at http://www.worldwidetelescope.org/whatIs/whatIsWWT.aspx.

    Download it @ http://www.worldwidetelescope.org/experienceIt/ExperienceIt.aspx?exp=true.

    [UPDATE for 5/14/2008]  A question came my way.  The person wanted to know how this application differs on Windows Vista and Windows XP.  Interesting question.  First, this application is a prime example of the difference that Windows Presentation Foundation in Windows Vista can have on the end result of an application.  The most obvious difference is the liberal use of the Glass effects in the Collection thumbnail bar (top region), and the Context thumbnail bar (bottom region).  On Windows XP you do not get this transparency and you lose some of the visual appeal of the application.  Another visual clue is the Finder Scope tool.  This tool has transparent regions that are not transparent on Windows XP.  A better visual experience on Windows Vista for sure.

    The second thing I noticed when I was comparing the two was the speed at which the application pans, images render and the overall stability.  Windows Vista has a more fluid feel on my machine and the pans, zooms and renders appeared quicker.  I haven't run any benchmark timings so I don't have solid proof right now. 

    As for stability, I've been running the application since it's release on Windows Vista Ultimate x64 on two different machines and have never crashed it, even under heavy load with the Camtasia screen capturing software running.  When I ran it on the same ThinkPad with Windows XP Pro x86, it faulted at one point during my testing to do a quick check of the visual differences.  That was on Windows XP SP2.  I am installing SP3 right now and will do a shakedown cruise again.

  • Class Reunion GPS Mashup

    I have often wondered why it is that I live in a popular part of Texas, yet I never see anyone I know from high school or college.  It makes you wonder if we are really like two ships passing in the night.  Sure we see a radar blip on the screen and know not to come too close, but we never really look people in the eye anymore, so you wouldn't really know if you just walked past an old best friend.  Maybe we just look too different from when we were sixteen.

    Or maybe you're at a concert or sports event and there are like 10-100 people you know, but you just never happen to go to the concession stand at the right time and spill a chili dog on their white shirt on the way back.  Ever get the feeling you've missed someone by just a hair?  You know, just like Nicholas Cage in "Next".  Well it's highly doubtful they have the two minute power and are avoiding you, so how would you improve the situation?

    Maybe we should have embedded RFID or GPS chips.  It would be interesting.  Think of the mashup.  What if you could look back over the past decade and see where your paths intersected with your old friends?  I mean seriously, wouldn't it just piss you off to know that on the same week you were in Maui, or St. Thomas, or Tahiti that a long lost dear friend was there, too?

    You would think the current generation of youngsters would never have this problem.  I mean lets get real.  This is the high tech everyone has a cell phone, ipod, iphone, uses instant messaging and twitter generation.  I still crack up remembering my teens snotty remark a few months ago.  "Email is for old people".

    Well, we'll see if they keep track of their friends over the next 20 years any better than we did.  My teens still don't know GPS is built into their phones.  Whipper snappers.

  • Brain Fuel

  • The Cheesy Music Grammy goes to… Server-Quest !!!

    image

    Every time I go over to the www.Server-Quest.com website I’m reminded of why we made Windows, high definition audio and video.  I mean it’s a serious time warp. If you ever ran DOS, or if you ever played Doom, you’ll nearly hurl when you start checking out the website

    But that’s part of the fun.  Pretty tricky game.  Apparently it doesn’t like my keyboard.  See how many geekpoints you get.

    Geeks Rule!!!

  • Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V RC1 now available for download

    ws2008 The Release Candidate 1 (RC1) update to the Hyper-V role provides improvements to security, stability, performance, user experience, forward compatibility of configurations, and the programming model. All users of the Hyper-V role are encouraged to apply this upgrade. After you install this item, you may have to restart your computer. “Once you have installed this item, it cannot be removed.”

    That last sentence sounds a little fishy to me.  Checking on it.

    Get it @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=7edaa89f-9f64-488d-93c0-858d2d8799df&DisplayLang=en.

    You’ll likely want the management component updates as well.  Another good reason to run Windows Vista instead of Windows XP.  Sorry, I could not resist. 

    Management Console Updates

    Windows Vista x64 update - http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=c420d8a3-f0a7-415a-b748-3726d66bf0c3&DisplayLang=en.

    Windows Vista x86 update - http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=d0284cee-0e79-4453-895a-11aa8cfe6e6a&DisplayLang=en.

    Windows Server 2008 update - http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=2b357cf0-5691-4f06-a153-5fbd9c3ea4d0&DisplayLang=en.

  • What time is it in New Zealand?

    I’m under a gag order.  I can’t talk about American Idol until Stuart and the clan in New Zealand have had a chance to see the show.  I’m not going to spoil it for them tonight.  Enjoy the show Stuart.

    [UPDATE]  Apparently the other side of the planet is still weeks from the finale.  For some reason, they still have five contestants left.  I don't really understand that.  In this day and age, why aren't they showing this stuff near real time planet wide?  Odd.  Very odd.

    Oh well, here's my synopsis.  The best man won.  David Cook consistently delivered the best performances the entire season and took home the gold in the end.  The finale show itself was just ok, but that's what TiVo and the fast forward buttons are for.

    Although some of the critics of the show said the acts were too old and forgettable, I don't think some of the contestants will agree.  I mean lets face it, how many of us wouldn't love to be lead singer for ZZ Top?  Or to get to sing with Graham Nash?

    The show had it's moments.  Good and bad.  But at least now we know you really can have dreams come true.  David Cook goes from Tulsa, Oklahoma bartender to American Idol champ.  Lets hope he can handle the fame and fortune.  Rock and roll DC.

  • Messenger for Mac 7 released - now available for download

    Messenger for Mac 7 is an integrated communications client that enables you to communicate with contacts within and outside your organization. Messenger for Mac 7 is a Universal application that is built to run on both PowerPC-based and Intel-based Macs and makes it easy to take advantage of the full power of real-time communications.

    I have been part of the beta program for this with my MacBook Pro and it works very nicely with my Communicator contacts.  I haven't tried the webcam with it in a while, so I'll need to run some tests next week.  Maybe I can get Matt Hester to fire up the babycam at his house. 

    Get it @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=20726B11-2AE8-4828-8B66-2964E277166D&displaylang=en.

    [UPDATE]  I had to use a Windows machine to download the file.  Safari crashed.  FireFox didn't like it either.  Go figure.  Safari is a safari all right.  :?)

  • Need the time? Check out this killer Silverlight example !!!

    Michael S. Scherotter created a stunning Silverlight application using Expression Studio.  See the full frame version at http://xmldocs.net/ball/.  I particularly like the night mode.  For details on the creative process and mechanics, see his blog post at http://blogs.msdn.com/synergist/archive/2008/05/24/beauty-with-silverlight.aspx.  Here's the iFrame version of the application.

     

  • Imagine Cup US Finals - Photography

    Chris Henley  spent some time in Los Angeles California this last week working with college and university students from around the United States.  They were competing in the Imagine Cup Finals in the categories of photography, software design, and game design.  He was so impressed with the work that they had done.    Chris shot some video footage while at the event and wanted to share some of it with you so you could get an idea of what the competition is like.

  • 100 degrees at my house today - splash

    My weather station hit 100 today.  That marks the beginning of Summer in my book. Glad my pool is in ship shape and ready for swimming.

    I should have just grabbed the screenshot of weather.com yesterday.  The entire US looked like it was sun burnt with red 80's, 90's and 100 degree temps all across the land.  The poor folks in Phoenix were 110+ I think.  That's early for them.  I hope this isn't a clue of what to expect this summer.  I really don't want June-September 100 degree days.  It gets old after a few weeks.  It'll drive you insane after about 6 weeks. 

  • Microsoft Environmental Technologist – Mark Aggar interview

    This years Imagine Cup has an environmental sustainability theme.  The projects all focused on the environment and our impact on it.    Busloads of High School kids for around the greater  LA area came in to look at the projects.  It was so nice and refreshing to see their take on the future of software and our technologies. 

    Microsoft is focused on environmental sustainability and Chris Henley was able to corner Mark Aggar (one of Microsoft's Environmental technologists) for a short interview about his participation at Imagine Cup and some of his thoughts around how software might impact the environment. 

  • If the All Spark touches this... RUN !!!

    I stumbled across this awesome Xbox 360 case mod done by someone here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.  I'm always amazed at the art and handiwork that actually goes into such a project.  Follow the link to the DFW Clan site were you can see some of the step-by-step progress.

    gator9

    http://forums.dfwclan.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=6

    Doesn't that eye just creep you out? Imagine what might happen if the All Spark pumped some energy into this thing.  Scary to think about.

  • Geeks rule – Don’t mess with my Mac

    apple Score one for the good guys.  Or in this case, good girlz.  An alert Macbook owner noticed her ID was logged in and she managed to remotely control her stolen Mac and take pictures of the thieves.  Busted!!!

    Full story at http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008805090392.

    I guess those silly built-in cameras are good for something other than myface.com pics.  Mug shots baby!

  • My image shack is going down

    The service I use for images on my blog is going down tomorrow night.  I'll probably spend some time tomorrow updating some links so it isn't coyote ugly.  But in the event something else interrupts my day that is more important, I thought you should know.  A lot of the other blogs on technet.com will be in the same boat. Apparently they are doing major power maintenance on the building that houses the "servers" I use.  Trust me, I am moving my data.  This was really the last straw for the provider.

    [UPDATE] I have copied all of my data off the old service provider and now have a copy on our new home with Limelight Networks.  I have updated all of the image links for the posts currently making up my homepage at http://blogs.technet.com/keithcombs.  Actually, I left one image alone so I can easily see when the old provider goes down.  I'm going to be updating other parts of my blog over time.

  • Anyone hit the Lotto lately?

    FerrariCalifornia