Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

August, 2010

  • Exchange Online Overview - Domain and User Setup

    imageFor the past couple of years I’ve been on our hosted Exchange services for my personal email.  Because it was the dogfood service, it isn’t exactly the same service that you can buy at microsoft.com/online

    I decided to take the plunge and purchase a real production subscription to Exchange Online.  I’m glad I did.  It’s only been a few weeks, but so far it’s been a good ride.  Best of all, my wife likes her new hosted mailbox.  Priceless.

    Why is this worthy for your consideration?

    Cloud computing and services aren’t just a fad.  Frankly some of the concepts have been around for several decades.  Remember Ross Perot?  He started a company called Electronic Data Systems (later EDS) and the whole goal of the company was to run applications and services in huge information processing centers for customers.  They served many virtual markets like Healthcare, Banking, Manufacturing or Insurance.  Big systems and big integration challenges.  That hasn’t changed. 

    The Internet continues to morph and evolve. Networking to your business, home and smartphone is pervasive or soon will be. We all enjoy information discovery, sharing, email and social media.  Five years ago you would not think twice about buying a server and running your email from it using Microsoft Exchange, Small Business Server, or a host of other products on the market.  Publishing to the web from that server was pretty easy and allowed you to share information with partners, customers, family and friends.

    But bad stuff happens.  Where do you house the server?  Who will support it when you are 35,000 above ground on a flight to an important business meeting?  How quickly could you respond to a hardware problem if you are 1,600 miles from the server?

    With cloud services, you can have someone else make sure the hardware and software is working properly and providing common or custom application services.  Microsoft has packaged some of our industry leading products into online cloud based services. Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS) and Exchange Online are two such offerings.  Exchange Online is actually part of BPOS but can be purchased separately if you chose.  So why build an expensive email server when there’s a low cost alternative in a state-of-the-art data center?

    Getting Started

    So how do you get started and how much does it cost?  Getting started is really easy.  There are three easy steps initially to create an account and link some services.  First, head on over to the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS) or Exchange Online product areas of microsoft.com.  In each of those sections you’ll see some pricing information and the “Try It Out” button.  Click the button to start a 30 day trial.

    From there, it’s pretty straight forward.  I actually have two accounts.  I started by buying Exchange Online for my personal email.  I figured $5 per person for a 25GB mailbox hosted in the data center with SPAM block and quarantine was a no brainer.  The minimum number of mailboxes you can order is five and that’s exactly how many family members I knew I could put online immediately. 

    Like I said, this was a no brainer.  Sure beats buying and running your own server.  I did that when I first started using a Verizon FIOS Business plan and although it was a great learning experience, something would always go wrong with the server while I was traveling or unavailable.  Besides, what does it cost you to buy and run a server?  I can’t buy a server and run Exchange for $300 per year, can you?

    Last week I decided it would be prudent to have a different domain for testing and demo purposes so I purchased a domain from my web hosting provider (1and1.com), then started setting up a BPOS demo environment.  The BPOS product folks let me have the account at no charge for a limited period of time, so that is what we’ll use in the following screencast.

    Because DNS propagation times are unpredictable, I provisioned the keithcombs.org domain prior to capturing the screencast.  I could certainly have hit the pause button and waited, but that tends to stretch your day so I took the safe route.  In my experience with 1and1.com and the verify steps, you can verify a domain within minutes.  The sole exception I’ve seen so far was my wife’s personal domain, but that’s a long story.

    So here’s the first screencast.  It should give you an overview of the initial setup, some of the administrative pages, steps and tips.  If you are watching via the embedded Silverlight player below, be sure to double click it for a full screen 1440x900 resolution view.  The full screen button is also the far right button on the player controls.

    Exchange Online Screencast Part 1 - Account Logon and Domain Setup (14:45)

    Get Microsoft Silverlight
    Get Microsoft Silverlight

    Screencast File Download - if you would like to download the Windows Media Video file and watch with Media Player, by all means right mouse click Part1.wmv and save the file locally.

    If you would like to start looking at the online documentation, see http://www.microsoft.com/online/help/en-us/helphowto/Exchange-Online.htm for a great starting point.  The screencast above demonstrates portions of the steps in the Add a Domain to Microsoft Online Services section.  The complexity of adding and using a domain with Exchange Online will depend on your domain registrar or hosting provider.

    Adding Domains and DNS

    I am using 1and1.com as my web hosting provider.  Adding, changing and deleting DNS records via their web based control panel is pretty easy.  In fact, the Exchange Online team has written some specific instructions for a variety of popular registrars and hosting providers.  See the instructions for 1and1.com Domain Verification as an example.  You’ll see other instructions at http://www.microsoft.com/online/help/en-us/helphowto/Exchange-Online.htm under the Setup | Domains area of the page.  Click the More arrow to expand the section.

    Keep in mind you don’t have to use one of your personal or business domains during the trial.  When you created the account, the domain that was created is fully registered and ready.  If you do a whois lookup on the domain, you’ll see it has the appropriate DNS and mail exchange (MX) records assigned.  For instance, here’s the dump of the DNS records for cowboykeith.

    image

    I just decided to add another domain so that you can see it’s easy to use one or more domains in the BPOS and Exchange Online provisioning panels.  I could have just used the domain above, created a mailbox, and started testing with it.  It’s up to you.  Speaking of which, lets see how to add a user and configure an email client to send and receive email.  You won’t believe how easy we’ve made that.

    Exchange Online Screencast Part 2 - Adding and Testing Users (16:33)

    Get Microsoft Silverlight
    Get Microsoft Silverlight

    File Download - http://msinetpub.vo.llnwd.net/d1/keithcombs/screencasts/exchange_online/part2/Part2.wmv.

    Adding Users and Importing Email

    See?  I told you it was easy to create a mailbox, Outlook profile, and start sending and receiving email. The Online Services Sign In application makes all of that easy on your users.  Be sure to grab it from the download center at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=5c2ca866-4107-4ae5-98d5-76bf1b18ff87&displaylang=en or on the Home tab of the admin.microsoftonline.com portal.

    If you need to add users in bulk, that import process is fully supported so be sure and checkout the documentation for steps on how to do that.  See the file format specifications for details on the .CSV layout, examples and other steps in the online help.

    After you have the initial Exchange Online user Outlook profile created and working, don’t forget it’s easy to add an existing .PST file for use in the client.  If you have important email in the .PST file, I would recommend importing it into Exchange Online via the import wizards that are part of Outlook.  Sure beats drag and drop unless you have a small amount of email.

    Like I mentioned in the screencast, importing a bunch of data into Exchange Online is a time consuming process and your mileage will vary depending on the amount of data, and the speed of your network connection.  Synchronization takes time so test and plan accordingly.  And please, communicate this to your family members, customers, or business associates.  The last thing you want them to do is kick off the import, then try to run catch a flight or some other urgent appointment.

    In summary

    This was an overview of how to get up and running fast with BPOS and Exchange Online.  You don’t have to commit any of your production domains to this process for testing.  You can jump into a 30 day trial for Exchange Online right now and don’t forget, the Exchange Online subscription is month-to-month so you can make a change at any time.

    We obviously didn’t cover a lot of other topics like co-existence, directory synchronization, disaster recovery planning, or other mundane chores like creating contacts and distribution lists.  That’s ok, we have plenty of topics to cover coming up.  I hope you found this post informative.

    Other Key Resources and Links

    [NOTE] The screencasts above were captured, encoded, and wrapped with Silverlight using Expression Encoder 4 Pro.  No other tool was used.  I used the VC-1 codec settings for Screen Capture, then set the VBR range from 1MB for average bitrate, to 3MB at the peak.

  • Lenovo ThinkPad T410 - mini review

    T410Want a solid 14” business class laptop?  Look no further than the Lenovo ThinkPad T410.  It’s the upgrade from the T400 and like the T400, it’ll do just about anything you throw at it.  My wife uses the T400 and loves hers.  She likes it better than her previous T61p because it’s smaller, lighter and easier to carry around.  Because the ThinkPad T410 has been on the market now for a little while, look for a good deal or promotion. 

    This review will be pretty brief.  The machine is solid and I have few complaints.  I took some pictures of the T410 sandwiched between a W510 and the X201 eval units I had.  We’ll go over those in a few minutes.  Let’s review the specs of the machine, screen, keyboard, performance and other traits first.

    The Specs and Performance

    Lenovo ThinkPad T410 Model 2522-K4U. Intel Core i7 processor i7-620M with dual-core, PC3-8500 1066MHz or PC3-10600 1333MHz DDR3, non-parity, dual-channel capable, two 204-pin SO-DIMM sockets, 14.1" (358mm) WXGA+ (1440x900) color, anti-glare, LED backlight, 220 nits, 16:10 aspect ratio, 300:1 contrast ratio, NVIDIA® Quadro® NVS3100M, PCI Express® x16, 512MB memory.

    As you can see, this machine is well equipped.  Most of the machines that have come on the market the past few months are trying to balance performance with battery consumption.  Most machines in this class size and weight also have the same CPU, GPU and chipset. In the case of this T410, the chipset is identical to the HP 8440p I reviewed back in March.  It also scored an identical result on the Windows 7 Experience Index (WEI). CPU = 6.8, RAM = 5.9, Graphics = 4.9, Gaming Graphics = 5.9, Hard Disk = 5.9. 

    Not exactly a blazing score, but very respectable for a 14” business class machine.  It wasn’t designed to play Starcraft II or Call of Duty.  Your call of duty are those spreadsheets staring you in the face. Grin.

    The Keyboard and TrackPad

    The Lenovo/IBM keyboards are legendary and this machine’s keyboard is also very good. I’ll leave it up to the old timers to rate this keyboard against the legends of the past. You really notice the keyboard when you attempt to use other brands.

    I really did not like the keyboards on the HP machines for a couple of reasons.  The biggest reason was that the keyboard was shifted to the left and not centered in the machine.  There is no such issue on the T410.  It’s centered right down the middle like it should be.

    Like the W510 I have, I like the small little touches Lenovo has applied to the keyboard dressing.  Little lights in the key for caps lock, mic mute, etc.  I especially like the mic mute light.  Comes in real handy on conference calls and such.

    I am not a big fan of the new trackpads.  I prefer a smooth surface and I still haven’t found the right settings for palm and finger sensitivity and pressure.  On occasion the mouse does bizarre stuff and I have yet to figure out if it’s me or the trackpad.  It’s probably me but I am still searching for the answer.

    The Screen

    The LCD screen in the T410 isn’t anything special.  It’s actually pretty average.  Screen angles are ok, brightness is ok, colors are ok, etc.  It’s just ok.  On the upside, the screen resolution is 1440x900 which is a good res for a 14” screen.  I really can’t tell if the screen is any better or worse than the T400.  They look pretty similar to me.

    Most of the laptops I use are plugged into a KVM switch when I am not traveling.  Therefore, the machine is used more with an external LCD monitor than it is the built in LCD panel.  So I wouldn’t get too hung up about the screen unless you use it 100% of the time.  If you do, then that would be an important shopping point.  The screen is certainly better than the HP 8440p.  I found the 8440p dimmer in comparison.

    Chassis and Build

    The T410 chassis and build quality is very good as expected.  There’s easy access to the two SoDIMM slots from the bottom cover.  The battery is nicely integrated to raise the device slightly off your desk or lap.  There is plenty of venting to keep the machine reasonably cool during normal operations.

    Access to the 2.5” hard drive primary bay is relatively easy (one screw). You can swap the DVD drive with a hard drive caddy if you want to run with two hard drives.  The DVD bay is called the Ultrabay and it’s 9.5mm high. 

    I didn’t detect any noticeable flex in the device thought the LCD lid does have some.  The LCD lid is hinged with the famous stainless steel hinges which drop into the frame for a sturdy connection.

    I don’t like the new speaker grills.  This is true for the T410 and the W510.  The look like great dust and crud catchers.  I’m wondering what they will look like after three years.  Probably pretty scary.

    Photo Tour and Comments

    • Front - as you can see in the picture, I have the W510, T410, X201 tablet and X201s stacked on top of each other to give you a size and port placement comparison across these machines.  I’ll be using the W510 for the next three years as it’s my daily machine now.  All four of the machine have a lid release level and several of the machines have the Ricoh multicard reader on front.  The black shiny bump on the tablet is an antenna. It looks nearly identical to the bumps that were on the T60p.
    • Back - like the front, there isn’t a lot going on in the back.  You can easily see the intake and copper cooling coil on the T410 and W510.  If you look closely you can see the thickness or height difference between the T410 and W510.  It isn’t a massive difference but you can tell when you are holding on to them.  Notice power plugs into the back of the T410 and W510.  It’s on the side for the X machines.  The yellow port on the left back of the W510 is a powered USB 2.0 port.
    • Top - the top down view of the machines is slightly off center so it makes the picture look a little weird.  The shadows also play tricks on your eyes. I lined the machines up flush left (or pretty close) and you can see the two X machines are the same width.  It’s pretty clear how much smaller they are compared to the T410 and W510.  That’s a blue Windows 7 lid sticker on the W510.
    • Left - as you can see, most of the ports are located on the left side of these machines. Please refer to the Front and back pics for the stack order.  Notice on the T410 and W510 the DisplayPort connection.  The W510 has two blue USB 3.0 ports and a USB/eSATA combo port.  Firewire IEEE 1394 is also present on the W510.  Pay particular attention to the size of the X machines.  The X201s is much smaller from depth and thinness perspective.  If I would have lined them up flush with the front edge it would be much more pronounced in the picture. In your hand it’s a huge difference.  Another interesting thing on the X machines is the 54mm ExpressCard slot present in the pic.  That surprised me.
    • Right - like the left side, there’s all sorts of interesting stuff to notice. The hard drive adaptor in the W510 can also be used in the T410.  It leaves that ugly little gap in the W510 Ultrabay but on the bright side, there’s room for the fatty Blu-ray drive. The W510 has a 34mm ExpressCard slot.  The Ricoh multicard reader is also visible.  The combo audio jack is visible on the T410 and W510.  I really don’t know what Lenovo was thinking on the combo jack.  The T410 also has a 34mm ExpressCard slot and you can see the eSATA port just below it.  Look closely at the back rubber feet on the X201s which is the machine on the top.  The battery is so thick the normal feet don’t even touch.  You don’t really notice this when the machine is on your lap, but I thought I would point it out. The W510 has an oddly placed Ethernet port on the right side.  I’m glad it’s close to the back.  This sort of stuff really makes you wonder how machines are designed.

    Virtualization Capabilities

    Because I felt a number of Microsoft employees would buy the T410 for their daily machine, I tested Windows Server 2008 R2 on it with Hyper-V.  That install wasn’t without its share of complications.  As we have discovered in the prior generation of ThinkPads, there is no inbox driver for wired and wireless networking when it comes to the R2 install.  You must still download the ethernet driver from lenovo.com then manually update the banged out ethernet device in Device Manager.

    Be prepared to install the R2 SP1 beta because it resolves a number of issues trying to run Hyper-V on the T410 and W510 with this class of processors.  To clarify, it’s required.  After installation, I didn’t see any further problems.  Ship that puppy.  Grin.

    I did not test VMWare Workstation 7 or Oracle VirtualBox and probably won’t before I return the eval unit.  If you plan to run any of the virtualization products, you are going to want to procure the Ultrabay hard drive adaptor/caddy and add a second hard drive.

    Summary

    Another solid machine from Lenovo.  If you are looking for a 14” machine that is easy to carry in a backpack or messenger, you’ll like this machine.  With 8GB of RAM and a second hard drive, you have a small but powerful platform to handle a variety of scenarios and roles.  This isn’t a gaming machine, but the GPU should be able to handle a variety of needs with the occasional gaming session.  Enjoy and buy with confidence.

  • Lenovo ThinkPad X201s - mini review

    imageIt’s fascinating to have one of the smallest ThinkPads made, sitting side-by-side with one of the largest.  The mighty W510 sitting next to the diminutive X201s.  But don’t let size fool you.  The X201s evaluation unit I received has more under the hood than you’d expect.  The W510 I have is my machine refresh laptop and will be with me for the next three years.  Sure makes for an interesting comparison.  But this post is about the little guy so lets dive in.

    The Specs, Performance and Battery Life

    The model I received is the ThinkPad X201s 5397-FFU.  It has the Intel® Core™ i7 processor i7-640LM (dual core), Intel HD Graphics, 12.1” WXGA+ 1440x900 resolution screen, 320GB 7200rpm Hitachi hard drive, modem, Intel Ethernet, Intel 6200 WIFI, etc.  The model came with the 47+ six cell battery so that is what you see in the picture tour below.

    The Windows Experience Index number for this machine is a paltry 3.3.  However, that number is somewhat misleading.  The dual core CPU scored a 6.5 which is very good.  The memory that came with this eval unit scored a 5.9 which is also respectable.  The hard drive scored a 5.9 which is about as good as it gets for a 2.5” laptop hard drive.  The only way to improve that is to move to a SSD drive.  I recommend the Intel X-25M 160GB Second Generation drive if you do.

    The place the machine falls down on performance is the GPU.  The Intel HD Graphics only scores a 3.3 which ends up being the overall WEI as a result.  If you are just going to use this machine for email, spreadsheets, surfing the web and other tasks that aren’t graphics intensive, you should be fine with this machine.

    As for battery life, I did a test today that was pretty interesting.  I set the Windows 7 power management profile to balanced.  I changed the settings so the LCD would not dim or turn off. I then fired up Tweetdeck and let it monitor the tweets on the internet.  The machine lasted for five hours on battery.  This is the 6-cell 47+ battery so obviously setting or creating a power profile that is more aggressive at power management is going to extend those results.

    The Size and Feel

    I don’t have the exact specs because this model isn’t listed in the tabook.pdf comprehensive reference materials. This machine is easy grabbed and carried around with one hand.  Sitting on the couch you can balance it on one knee.  It’s not tiny netbook size, but not far off.  This machine would pair nicely with the W510.  Use the W510 for chores like video encoding or compiling code, but when you need to travel grab the X201s and hit the road.  In fact, having carried two ThinkPad T61p’s around many times, I would have no problem traveling with the W510 and the X201s.

    The machine feels good to hold onto.  The battery design is easily gripped.  And of course the case is tacky so it isn’t slippery like some other devices that will remain nameless.

    The Keyboard, TrackPoint and TrackPad

    One of the commenter's at a forum area I read mentioned that a benefit of the widescreen laptops is they provide enough room for a full size keyboard.  Barely.  The keyboard is certainly full sized but it’s edge to edge.  Pretty cool in my book.  It got me thinking, how does the keyboard size compare to the W510.

    That was easily answered.  I just opened the W510 up and set the X201s on top of the keyboard.  They look nearly identical from a size perspective.  The X201s keyboard feels great. ThinkPad owners will feel right at home.

    If you are a TrackPoint user, you’ll find the red dot in the usual spot.  If you have historically been a TrackPad (Ultranav) user, then you’ll probably find yourself using the TrackPoint more with this laptop.  The Trackpad is pretty small and one of the few complaints I have about the machine.  From looking around on the Internet, I am not alone.

    If I were Lenovo engineering, I probably would have considered a different design.  The mouse click buttons above the trackpad are full size, so it seems there was an opportunity to make them smaller and the TrackPad bigger.  I know you can order a X201 without the trackpad, but I guess the current design is as good as it gets.  There’s only so much room and I’d rather have a full size keyboard.

    The Screen

    I am quite impressed with the little screen.  Certainly 1440x900 resolution on a 12.1” screen isn’t going to be for everyone, but I like it and wouldn’t think twice about ordering it for long term use.  Your other option on the X201 is a 1280x800 native res screen and I’m sure that would drive me nuts over time.  The brightness for the 1280x800 screen is 200 nits but the 1440x900 screen on the eval unit I have seems brighter.  I have no way of knowing for sure due to the lack of official specifications.

    Keep in mind the machine and any video monitors you might use are being driven by the Intel HD Graphics onboard chipset.  This is not a high performing GPU.  It is designed to get the job done for an Information Worker (IW) role and it certainly handles Windows 7 and some of the typical apps like Office 2010 with ease.  See the section below on virtualization about concerns with the video driver.

    A Photo Tour 

    The following photos show the ThinkPad W510 on bottom, then the T410, then X201 Tablet, and finally on the top you have the ThinkPad X201s.

    • Front - as you can see in the picture, I have the W510, T410, X201 tablet and X201s stacked on top of each other to give you a size and port placement comparison across these machines.  I’ll be using the W510 for the next three years as it’s my daily machine now.  All four of the machines have a lid release level and several of the machines have the Ricoh multicard reader on front.  The black shiny bump on the tablet is an antenna. It looks nearly identical to the bumps that were on the T60p.
    • Back - like the front, there isn’t a lot going on in the back.  Notice the 6-cell battery and feet for it.  It has the rest of the X201s jacked up in the air in the back.  It’s a little odd.
    • Top - the top down view of the machines is slightly off center so it makes the picture look a little weird.  The shadows also play tricks on your eyes. I lined the machines up flush left (or pretty close) and you can see the two X machines are the same width.  It’s pretty clear how much smaller they are compared to the T410 and W510.  That’s a blue Windows 7 lid sticker on the W510.
    • Left - as you can see, most of the ports are located on the left side of these machines. Please refer to the Front and back pics for the stack order.  Notice on the T410 and W510 the DisplayPort connection.  The W510 has two blue USB 3.0 ports and a USB/eSATA combo port.  Firewire IEEE 1394 is also present on the W510.  Pay particular attention to the size of the X machines.  The X201s is much smaller from a depth and thinness perspective.  If I would have lined them up flush with the front edge it would be much more pronounced in the picture. In your hand it’s a huge difference.  Another interesting thing on the X machines is the 54mm ExpressCard slot present in the pic.  That surprised me.  It you wanted to run a virtualization product like Hyper-V and attached an external hard drive via an eSATA ExpressCard you could.
    • Right - like the left side, there’s all sorts of interesting stuff to notice.  The primary hard drive bay and cover is visible on this side and the eval unit I have has a standard Hitachi 320GB 7200rpm hard drive.  I would replace that hard drive right away with a good fast SSD drive to reduce heat and noise. Look closely at the back rubber feet on the X201s which is the machine on the top.  The battery is so thick the normal feet don’t even touch.  You don’t really notice this when the machine is on your lap, but I thought I would point it out. The W510 has an oddly placed Ethernet port on the right side.  I’m glad it’s close to the back.  This sort of stuff really makes you wonder how machines are designed. The hard drive adaptor in the W510 can also be used in the T410.  It leaves that ugly little gap in the W510 Ultrabay but on the bright side, there’s room for the fatty Blu-ray drive. The W510 has a 34mm ExpressCard slot.  The Ricoh multicard reader is also visible.  The combo audio jack is visible on the T410 and W510.  I really don’t know what Lenovo was thinking on the combo jack.  The T410 also has a 34mm ExpressCard slot and you can see the eSATA port just below it. 
    • X201s compared to the W510 - you’ll notice I called this picture “Father and Son”.  I thought it was fitting.  I opened up the W510 and placed the X201s on top.

    Virtualization

    This machine is obviously not built to run a server operating system.  And it was designed to run several virtual machines.  But that doesn’t mean it won’t. The Intel i-7 CPU in this model does have Intel-VT capabilities and will run Windows Server 2008 R2 with the Hyper-V role.  I did a limited test.  It installs.  I started creating a Windows 7 Enterprise x64 VM and it was happily doing that as well.

    Given this machine has a decent dual core CPU, is capable of having 8GB RAM, has a 54mm ExpressCard slot for high speed eSATA I/O, it isn’t out of the scope of reason to use the machine for some demos or virtualization.  There’s just one problem.  The Intel HD Graphics video drivers really didn’t like Windows 2008 R2.  They also didn’t like the SP1 Beta.  I downloaded and tried the lenovo.com and intel.com video drivers.  I didn’t have success.  Therefore I could only get the standard VGA driver to work the ships with Windows Server.  This is going to b a problem for anyone wanting to use the LCD native resolution, multiple monitors, or an external projector.

    Summary

    If you are looking for a 12” screen laptop, this should be on the list of candidates.  If you really must have an optical drive, you’ll probably either want to purchase the expansion base, or use an external DVD drive like I do.  If you must have the optical drive in the laptop, then you should look at other models from Lenovo like the X301 which apparently isn’t going to be around much longer.

    imageWhen I did some Bing searches for the specifications, I noticed this particular model was selling for $1900 at many of the online retailers.  Considering it’s pretty well loaded up, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.  Size and convenience has a cost. 

    Lenovo has the X201 on sale right now and a Model 3249 with the WXGA 1280x800 screen is $1189.  See the configuration at right for the rest of the items in that order.  You can certainly configure a machine that has a lower cost, but this is pretty similar to the evaluation unit I have, except for the screen.

    Like I said, this is a cool little machine that appears to be the replacement model for the X301 that is supposedly going out of production.  Lenovo has been saying that for several months, but considering they didn’t upgrade the X301 to a i3, i5 or i7 processor it looks like eventually the X301 will disappear from the buying site.

    In the meantime, enjoy the X201s.  It’s a great little machine.

  • Original Sized screenshots with Windows Live Writer

    image

    This particular blog post is the result of some testing using Windows Live Writer, and how it behaves for images that are pasted.  In essence, I now have the default set to preserve the original image and upload it, but create a medium sized version for the blog post.  That wasn’t the default.

    How do you do that?  Well, the key button is highlighted and selected below.  Get a picture set the way you want it manually, then click the “Set to default” button.  The next time you create a blog post and paste a picture in, it will apply those settings.  It’s as if a macro runs when the paste happens.

    image

    In my case it becomes really obvious because I currently have my pics set to center alignment.  When I paste the pic, it dances form left to center.  Pretty cool looking and a nice visual that it’s working properly.  This does not work if you are pasting from some sources where you’ve used the “keep formatting” paste option.

    This feature is present in the current shipping version of Windows Live Writer.  It is also present in the beta at http://explore.live.com/windows-live-essentials-beta.  Enjoy.

  • Happy Anniversary Windows 95 !!!

    Windows95BOXSHOT

    And just in case you forgot how to install it, see http://support.microsoft.com/kb/q151062/.  And just in case you really can’t stand these new fangled graphical user interfaces, here’s how to make sure you can always boot to the command line.  See http://support.microsoft.com/kb/q141721/. LOL.

  • Texting World Record Broken Using Swype

    galaxy_s_swype

    It hasn’t been “certified” yet, but it looks like Melissa Thompson, Samsung, Android, and Swype currently own the world texting record.  See Tom’s article on the subject.  I’ve heard good things about the Windows Phone 7 tech so maybe I’ll try and break the record when the devices come out.

  • Installing Windows Server 2008 R2 on a HP Elitebook 8540w – the elusive smartcard driver location

    This week one of the Microsoft employees came to me and asked about using the HP Elitebook 8540w with Windows Server 2008 R2 as his production workstation environment.  In our corporate environment, that means the machine must have a rather stringent set of requirements that must be met to connect to our network on a regular basis.

    imageOne of those requirements is the use of a smartcard.  The HP 8540w has a built-in smartcard reader but if you go look at the hp.com driver download area, good luck finding it.  It’s actually there but it’s so thoroughly buried you would have an extremely difficult time finding it. 

    So where is the elusive driver? It’s actually part of the install package for the media card reader driver.  The media card and smartcard readers are apparently both made by Ricoh. 

    I can only assume someone decided it would be intuitive to slap both sets of drivers into one package and you would just use your Kreskin abilities to figure it out.  We did, so you don’t need to.

    And now due to the magic of Bing and Google, you can actually find the answer.  The link above is a link to the landing page for the driver, not a link to the actual install package.  On that page is the download button that will provide the sp46972.exe installation package.  If you install that, you’ll magically get the drivers for both readers and they should start working properly with R2.  When you insert your smartcard, make sure you have internet connectivity so the .Net driver will flow down off the update.microsoft.com servers.

    [Note] It appears there is another later version of the package.  The guy that came to me for help tested sp46972.  This newer package coughs up sp46999.exe and is on the HP FTP server at ftp://ftp.hp.com/pub/softpaq/sp46501-47000/sp46999.exe.

  • Important Update Released on 8/24 for you Hyper-V laptop users

    ws2008 r2 blog logoFirst things first.  Hyper-V isn’t supported on laptops.  However, a lot of you run a variety of products that work well enough. Windows Server 2008 R2 of course includes the Hyper-V role and I’ve been running this for years now on the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p. 

    For those of you that have moved to an Intel i5 or i7 based laptop, you may have encountered the CLOCK_WATCHDOG_TIMEOUT BSOD.  A previous hotfix was available for manual download and installation.

    Fortunately there is a new update rollup on the update.microsoft.com servers that will automatically flow to your servers if you let it. KB2264080 is now available and I plan to test it next week on a clean install with my Lenovo ThinkPad W510. 

  • Monsters on Post-It Notes by John Kenn

    john147

  • Windows, TRIM and other SSD Mysteries

    windows7rc_bloglogoThe Lenovo ThinkPad T61p I am using to write the post has the second generation Intel 160GB SSD.  I also used to have the first generation drive in the 80GB flavor but sold it for a couple of reasons.  Capacity and TRIM support were the main reasons.  The astute reader and knower of all laptop specs will be quick to point out that running a SSD drive in a T61p is a waste of money.  That is partially right.  We’ll talk about that later.  Before we do, lets get some background information.

    Background

    I routinely clone disks with a variety of tools. Here lately I’ve been using Acronis TruImage Home 2010.  I have been doing that for years and it is usually the result of moving to a new bigger hard drive.  Moving from one rotational disk to another isn’t any big deal.  But I was worried about the implications of moving a Windows 7 install from a rotational disk, to a SSD drive.  Why?  Because all sorts of stuff behaves slightly differently depending on the storage devices present in the machine.

    Common sense tells you that cloning a hard disk and doing a restore to a SSD drive isn’t the preferred route to SSD goodness.  But other factors can come into play.  Like time.  You know, the time it takes to install the OS, your apps and your data on a new drive.  So cloning is fast, but how do you know if the new drive is being properly recognized by Windows 7?

    I started exploring that very question about a year ago and have seen so many questions on the subject since then, I thought I would share some information on the subject.  Before you do anything, you should read the article on the E7 blog about SSD support in Windows 7.  Be sure to follow some of the links in that post for additional information. 

    imageGUI and Command Line Tools

    There’s good news and bad news on the user interface and tool front.  I’ll save some of the bad news for later.  Let’s start with the easy stuff and work our way towards, well, stuff you might not like.  Let’s start with some graphical tools.

    One of the first things you should do to check and see if Windows 7 recognizes your SSD drive is to check and see what disk defrag thinks about the situation.  You can launch the disk defrag application a couple of different ways.  Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Disk Defragmenter is one way.  Or the simpler way is Start | key in DFRGUI.EXE and hit Enter.

    Once Disk Defragmenter is running, click the Configure Schedule button.  After that, click the Select Disks button.  I see the following on my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p with the lone Intel SSD drive.

    As you can see, the SSD is not scheduled to be defragmented which is good.  This is a good first indicator Windows understands the drive isn’t a rotational disk so there’s no need to run the task against that drive. 

    Intel created a SSD toolbox that can be used to further inspect their drives, display information, perform maintenance, etc.  Notice I said their drives.  It’s my understanding it can’t be used on other SSD drives (officially).  That’s a bummer because it does provide a nicely formatted display of some key information.  You can find the toolbox several different ways at intel.com.  It appears they have a vanity URL for the kit at http://www.intel.com/go/ssdtoolbox.  It appears v1.3.0.000 from 3/22/2010 is still the most recent version.

    When I run the toolbox app, I see the following:

    image

    I want to dump out the drive information and look a couple of specific words to see how Windows 7 is interpreting the drive.  The first one I want to look at is Word 217.  I want to look at Word 169 second.  In order to do that, I need to click the View Drive Information button.  It’ll dump a bunch of information to the drive info portion of the app.  You’ll notice we can export this to .CSV format if we like.

    Next, we scroll down to Word 217 – Nominal Media Rotation Rate.  We should see a value of 1 for the SSD drive if it is being detected properly as far as the storage drivers are concerned.  Here’s what I see for my drive:

    image

    Now it’s time to get down to business and see if the drive is supporting TRIM.  Scroll up to Word 169 to see if the Data Set Management Support is set to 1.  Here’s what I see:

    image

    At this point we can see that the storage drivers and Windows will detect and use the Intel SSD properly.  There are other tools out on the internet that will display portions of this information in a GUI application.  For now, we are going to jump into the command line and take a look at some other information.

    Launch an elevated command console and run the command, “fsutil behavior query disabledeletenotify”.  This command line utility, syntax and results are documented at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc785435(WS.10).aspx.  Here’s the result I see for the Intel drive I have:

    image

    As you can see, the file system is notifying the storage device (my SSD), that clusters have been freed due to a file delete.  This is a good thing and what you should expect to see from this command.

    And lastly, the bad news.  I have a nifty command line utility called atatool that dumps out the information in a formatted fashion.  The info is very similar to what you see in the Intel Toolbox above but much more detailed.  At the moment, this utility is internal only.  If we manage to get this placed on the download center, I will let you know.

    When I execute “atatool –identify 0”, it dumps the information to the command console.  The zero is the number identifier for the drive we are working with and was obtained using the –list command line argument for the tool.  After scrolling down to Word 169, I see the following:

    image

    And if we scroll down to Word 217, we see the following:

    image

    Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?  Keep in mind when I did all of this a year ago, it was just before I bought the drive you see in all of the screenshots above so the values were different.  My previous drive didn’t support TRIM so the drive was destined to degrade performance over time.  With the new drive, it should keep it’s fresh out-of-the-box speed for quite some time.

    As for the “waste of money” comment way above in the start of this post, let me clarify a couple of things.  First of all, the Intel SSD drive I’m using is twice as fast as any 7200rpm drive you might stuff in the primary bay of the ThinkPad T61p.  That’s actually a decent return on the investment.  Just don’t go putting the SSD in the hard drive adaptor for the Ultrabay.  The I/O drops off sharply there and considering a 500GB 7200rpm drive is well below $100 now, you are literally flushing money down the drain.  Get a 320 or 500GB rotational hard drive instead and save your pennies for a new ThinkPad.  Enjoy.

  • I Spy the Win7 and R2 Service Pack 1 Beta

    ws2008 r2 blog logoWhen we first made the SP1 Beta available a few weeks ago, it wasn’t particularly easy to discover and download.  It’s a little easier now.  Just head right on over to the Microsoft Download Center @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=c3202ce6-4056-4059-8a1b-3a9b77cdfdda.

    Keep in mind this beta is nearly required for the latest generation laptops running the Intel i7 proc and Windows Server 2008 R2 with the Hyper-V role. 

    In order to download and install the Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Beta you must currently have a Release to Manufacturing (RTM) version of Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 already installed.  Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Beta is available for installation in English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish.

  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager Self-Service Portal 2.0 – RC now available

    SCVMM_logoVMMSSP (also referred to as the self-service portal) is a fully supported, partner-extensible solution built on top of Windows Server 2008 R2, Hyper-V, and System Center VMM. You can use it to pool, allocate, and manage resources to offer infrastructure as a service and to deliver the foundation for a private cloud platform inside your datacenter.

    VMMSSP includes a pre-built web-based user interface that has sections for both the datacenter managers and the business unit IT consumers, with role-based access control. VMMSSP also includes a dynamic provisioning engine. VMMSSP reduces the time needed to provision infrastructures and their components by offering business unit “on-boarding,” infrastructure request and change management. The VMMSSP package also includes detailed guidance on how to implement VMMSSP inside your environment.

    Important: VMMSSP is not an upgrade to the existing VMM 2008 R2 self-service portal. You can choose to deploy and use one or both self-service portals depending on your requirements.
    The self-service portal provides the following features that are exposed through a web-based user interface:

    • Configuration and allocation of datacenter resources: Store management and configuration information related to compute, network and storage resources as assets in the VMMSSP database.
    • Customization of virtual machine actions: Provide a simple web-based interface to extend the default virtual machine actions; for example, you can add scripts that interact with Storage Area Networks for rapid deployment of virtual machines.
    • Business unit on-boarding: Standardized forms and a simple workflow for registering and approving or rejecting business units to enroll in the portal.
    • Infrastructure request and change management: Standardized forms and human-driven workflow that results in reducing the time needed to provision infrastructures in your environment.
    • Self-Service provisioning: Supports bulk creation of virtual machines on provisioned infrastructure through the web-based interface.Helps business units to manage their virtual machines based on delegated roles.

    Go get it @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=fef38539-ae5a-462b-b1c9-9a02238bb8a7&displaylang=en.

  • Exchange Server 2010 SP1 – now available for download

    ExchangeSvr2010_v_rgbMicrosoft Exchange Server 2010 helps IT Professionals achieve new levels of reliability with greater flexibility, enhanced user experiences, and increased protection for business communications.

    • Flexible and reliable - Exchange Server 2010 gives you the flexibility to tailor your deployment based on your company's unique needs and a simplified way to keep e-mail continuously available for your users.
    • Anywhere access - Exchange Server 2010 helps your users get more done by giving them the freedom to securely access all their communications - e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging, and more - from virtually any platform, Web browser, or device.
    • Protection and compliance - Exchange Server 2010 delivers integrated information loss prevention, and compliance tools aimed at helping you simplify the process of protecting your company's communications and meeting regulatory requirements.

    Get SP1 @ http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=50b32685-4356-49cc-8b37-d9c9d4ea3f5b.

  • IT Pro Interviewing - Level 100

    Once upon a time ago, Kai Axford an I were interviewing candidates for the Third Amigo.  Kai and I looked down at the resume for the next person and it had Matt Hester's name on it.  I looked at Kai and we both rolled our eyes.  We knew disaster was about to strike.  But we decided to give Matt a shot at joining the crew.  We had high standards, at least at that point.

    Matt was already in a interview room along the hallway with other finalist candidates.  Kai and I walked in and shook Matt’s hand.  We all sat down and got comfortable.

    Microsoft has a reputation and history of having some interesting interview techniques.  Problem solving skills are tested.  Open ended questions might be asked.  I dropped a bomb on Matt to see how he’d react.  I said, “Matt, you know those interviews where they ask lots of questions with no particular right or wrong answer?”  Matt answered, “Yes.”  I replied back, “This is not one of those interviews.”

    Matt kept his composure and didn’t wet himself.  Matt, Kai and I joke about that interview off and on with nothing but affection for Matt.  Grin.  I couldn’t help but think of it when I watched the following. 

    In Matt Hester’s honor…

    Get Microsoft Silverlight

  • Lenovo X201 Tablet – mini review

    imageI wasn’t planning on reviewing the Lenovo X201 Tablet I have sitting here on my desk.  I didn’t request the eval unit but Lenovo made a minor boo boo when ordering the X201 eval I wanted to look at, so here it is.  Might as well say a few words since it’s here.

    If you want to see some pictures of the device, checkout the gallery on lenovo.com.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures of this machine although you can see it in the ThinkPad sandwich I made.  I’ll have those pics online when I get to the T410 and X201s review.

    The Specs

    The eval unit I have is the 3093-26U model.  That’s the Multitouch (not Outdoor) screen.  The CPU is the Intel i7-640LM dual core. The screen is WXGA (1280x800) TFT color, anti-glare, LED backlight, 300 nits, 16:10 aspect ratio, 500:1 contrast ratio.  The drive is a 128GB Solid State Drive (SSD) / SATA 3.0Gb/s, 1.8" wide, 8mm high.

    The Screen

    The X201 Tablet is typical.  It has a small screen and pen input.  The pen is side mounted inside the machine.  The screen is also multitouch though I had some issues with proximity accuracy.  I went through the calibration drill and that helped. 

    When the screen on full brightness, it is plenty bright for indoors (300 nits).  It also has that grainy or pixelly look to it that is typical of tablet and multitouch screens.  When in tablet configuration, I like surfing the web in portrait orientation.  The screen clarity would prevent me from buying and using this machine.  It’s just too grainy for my preferences. I didn’t like the W510 multitouch screen for the same reason.  Guess I’m picky.

    The Size, Weight, and Chassis

    The X201 Tablet is much larger than the sister X201s.  Keep in mind the battery sticks out in the back so this is part of the illusion.  I think the battery in the model I have is the 8-cell battery which puts the weight right under four pounds.

    The rest of the machine is all Lenovo ThinkPad.  Matte black finish.  The keyboard is nicely sized and feels good.  The trackpad seems very small to me but there isn’t much room to work with below the keyboard.

    The overall chassis feels firm and strong to me.  I didn’t detect any excessive flex.  Because this is a tablet, this machine doesn’t have the traditional stainless steel hinges and I have no idea how that screen pivot holds up over time.

    The eval unit they shipped me didn’t come with the Ultrabase so I have not seen one in action.  The tablet itself has three USB 2 ports (one powered), VGA connector, ethernet port, modem port, and multi memory card reader.  I was a bit surprised to see that it also has a 54mm ExpressCard slot.  This could come in handy for an eSATA or TV Tuner card.

    On the bottom and side of the device is easy access to the two SoDIMM RAM slots, or access to the hard drive bay.  The eval unit I have has a 1.8” SSD drive from Samsung in a 2.5” adaptor.  The bay itself is 2.5” so you can use full sized 2.5” SSD drives or standard rotational disk.

    Speed and Performance

    I didn’t do any benchmarking of a formal sort, but I can tell you anecdotally that the speed is pretty good.  The i7 processor is plenty powerful and of course your mileage is going to vary depending on the hard drive or SSD drive in the machine.

    The Intel HD Graphics chipset seems to get the job done well enough with Windows 7.  I have not tried and Flash based websites or observed and DVD or Blu-ray playback so I don’t know how the GPU stands up under those situations.  It probably does well enough though keep in mind one of the machine design points is battery conservation, not blazing gaming speed.

    The Windows 7 WEI is a 3.3 for the eval unit I have. 6.3 for the i7 CPU. The RAM in the machine scored 5.5.  The SSD drive scored a 6.9.  The Intel HD GPU scored a whopping 3.3 on graphics and 4.8 on gaming graphics.

    Next up, the Lenovo ThinkPad X201.  Now there’s a keeper in my book.

  • The IT Investigators Interview Microsoft Corporate VP and CIO, Tony Scott

    TonyScottMatt Hester and I have a podcast show called the IT Investigators.  We like to have fun interviewing a variety of guests on wide ranging topics and this episode is no exception.  We reached out to Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Tony Scott

    The body of questions center around general information technology skills and how they are changing in various situations.  Some of the answers will surprise you. They certainly did me.

    Matt and I also wondered about Tony’s time at Walt Disney Company.  I mean after all, it is the magic kingdom so Matt just couldn’t resist asking about casual Friday and exploring your inner self with the characters of Disney.  Tony was a good sport about it and talks about his stint as a bear.

    The podcast is right at twenty four minutes and although the cell phone gods intervened right at the end, we managed to get a number of questions answered.  I think you’ll find it is a good listen.  Hope you enjoy it.

    The Changing Nature of IT Skills – Interview with Tony Scott (24:18)

    Get Microsoft Silverlight
    Get Microsoft Silverlight

    Files for Download and Offline Play – please right mouse click the format you want and SAVE AS to your PC or Mac.

  • Katrina Retrospective: 5 Years After the Storm

    On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast. Five years later, NASA revisits the storm with a short video that shows Katrina as captured by satellites. Before and during the hurricane's landfall, NASA provided data gathered from a series of Earth observing satellites to help predict Katrina’s path and intensity. In its aftermath, NASA satellites also helped identify areas hardest hit.

    Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

    Silverlight player and Video (00:3:03.450) – the following video is a 720p HD video with a 4MB data rate.  The actual video is 90MB in size and your internet connection will need to be fairly beefy to watch this with no buffering while the progressive download takes place.  If you don’t have a fast connection, hit play then pause a few seconds later.  The download should continue thus allowing smooth playback after it completes.

    During playback, double click the video for a full screen view or use the full screen button on the player controls (far right button).

    Get Microsoft Silverlight
    Get Microsoft Silverlight
  • "How will the iPhone compete with this?"

    image

    Engadget.com has a great article on the coming game titles for Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox Live integration.  Check it out at http://www.engadget.com/2010/08/16/xbox-live-launch-titles-for-windows-phone-7-finally-revealed-we/.  I used one of the comments from the article for the title of my post.  Seemed fitting to me.

    See the press release at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2010/aug10/08-16winphonegames.mspx.

  • TechNet Professional Subscription - 25% off with code TNITQ406 until Halloween

    Interested in purchasing a TechNet Professional subscription? This offer is for NEW TechNet Subscription Professional orders, and only valid for redemption in the US.  Offer is valid until 10/31/2010 subject to change.  See the details on Matt Hester’s blog post.  Confused on the differences in the subscription offerings?  Check out the differences on the comparison page.

  • Lock and Load - It’s nearly Halo Reach time

    Bungie launches Halo Reach on XBOX 360 and XBOX Live September 14, 2010.  Have you been practicing?  Are you ready?  Here’s a little video to get you properly focused.  Enjoy the new wallpapers in the meantime.  Makes for a nice Windows 7 theme.

    Get Microsoft Silverlight
    Get Microsoft Silverlight
  • Honey, I just heard a Pop. Was that a bug hitting our grill?

    KiaPop_side

    KiaPop_top

    I’d hate to see a tangle between one of these (KIA Pop concept) and an Escalade.

  • Windows Live Essentials – new beta now available for download

    image

    Got get the new beta @ http://explore.live.com/windows-live-essentials-beta.

  • Hardware Photo Contest Winners

    spotpuff

    See the creativity at http://www.techreport.com/discussions.x/19464.

  • PHP 2.0 Drivers for SQL Server released !!!

    phpdriverMicrosoft is announcing an important interoperability milestone: the release of the Microsoft Drivers for PHP for SQL Server 2.0!!

    The major highlight of this release is the addition of the PDO_SQLSRV driver, which adds support for PHP Data Objects (PDO). The PHP community has signaled that PDO is the future as it removes data access complexity in PHP applications by enabling developers to focus their efforts on the applications themselves rather than database-specific code.

    Providing the PDO_SQLSRV driver enables popular PHP applications to use the PDO data access “style” to interoperate with Microsoft’s SQL Server database and make it easier for PHP developers to take advantage of SQL Server's proven track record and to leverage features such as SQL Server's Reporting Services and Business Intelligence capabilities. In addition to accessing SQL Server, both drivers (SQLSRV and PDO_SQLSRV) also enable PHP developers to easily connect to and use Microsoft's cloud database offering, SQL Azure, and enjoy the benefits of a reliable and scalable relational database in the cloud, as well as functionality like exposing OData feeds.

    See the full blog post and details @ http://blogs.msdn.com/b/sqlphp/archive/2010/08/04/microsoft-drivers-for-php-for-sql-server-2-0-released.aspx

  • Windows Home Server (WHS) “Vail” Beta – now available

    Vail

    Windows Home Server is part of a long-term vision by Microsoft to create a new platform for the home. Windows Home Server helps families and home-based businesses with multiple computers to organize, share, and automatically back up photos, videos, music, and other important documents. With over 130,000 registered Microsoft Connect users, there is a stong and vibrant community of enthusiasts helping to improve Windows Home Server software.

    Windows Home Server code name "Vail" is the version 2 release of Windows Home Server, now based on Windows Server ® 2008 R2.  There are some exciting new features that you can try out if you choose to join the Windows Home Server Connect program such as:

    • Extending media streaming outside the home or office
    • Improvements in multi-PC backup and restore
    • Simplified setup and user experience
    • Significantly expanded development and customization tools for partners
    • Much, much more!

    Sign up @ http://connect.microsoft.com/windowshomeserver.

  • Samsung Galaxy Tab revealed – here’s the teaser

  • OSU Buckeyemobile goes fast, real fast

    Matt Hester is from Ohio and is of course a Buckeye football fan.  What he probably didn’t know is that there’s more to life than football.  It’s true, and some enterprising folks at the university just went 286 and 297 miles per hour in a battery powered “Bullet”.

    image

    See he full story at http://www.autoblog.com/2010/08/24/ohio-state-universitys-buckeye-bullet-claims-another-electric-s/.

  • Scubacrafting anyone?

    scubacraft

    Man, I need to win the Powerball.  I keep seeing fun toys I’d like. Check out the Scubacraft.  Sweet.

  • Toshiba Libretto W100 – now available for order

    I’m not sure why they still have the word concept in the video because this just went from concept to reality.  Who’s ordering one?