Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

May, 2011

  • Circa 1996

    kcombsI was looking through some of my old source code (pre-Microsoft) when I stumbled on a HTML folder.  In that folder I found some pictures from some the earliest digital pictures I recall ever taking.  I think they were taken with a Kodak camera I had recently purchased. 

    As you can see, I’m a hotshot technical wizard sitting proudly in front of my Sun SPARCstation.  I think the pizza box in the picture is a SPARCstation 5 with the 17” monitor.  That particular cube is a cherished double cube and along the wall behind me out of sight are a number of machines including Macs, Novell Netware servers, and of course Windows machines running early Exchange 4.0 bits.

    There are a few interesting tidbits about the photo.  First, I am clean shaven and wearing a tie.  Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve done either.  Second, it was right before I started my adventure here at Microsoft.  Yep, that’s correct.

    July 1, 2011 will be my 15 year anniversary with Microsoft.  Wow.  Man, it seems like just yesterday at times.  And I’m still having a lot of fun here.  I’ll have to write some stories about the early days before too long.  It’s good to reflect.

  • Samsung Series 9 NP900X3A-A03US Acquired

    I picked up a Samsung Series 9 NP900X3A-A03US today.  I let my wife hold it briefly and nearly didn't get it back. It would have been fun to have this at Tech Ed USA 2011 last week to show off.  It only weighs about 2.8 pounds. 

    I'm currently creating the factory disk set and will report my thoughts about the machine very soon.  When folded this machine feels like a weapon.  Impressive design.  But it's time to begin some tests to see if it's a keeper or not.


  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 gets official


    See the landing page at  For more on the specs, see the data sheet.  I hope to have an evaluation unit to torture soon.

  • Dell XPS 15z Launched


    See the product site at I am a big fan of 15" screens.

  • SKYPE!!!

    imageREDMOND, Wash., and LUXEMBOURG – May 10, 2011 – Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: “MSFT”) and Skype Global S.à r.l today announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement under which Microsoft will acquire Skype, the leading Internet communications company, for $8.5 billion in cash from the investor group led by Silver Lake. The agreement has been approved by the boards of directors of both Microsoft and Skype.

    The acquisition will increase the accessibility of real-time video and voice communications, bringing benefits to both consumers and enterprise users and generating significant new business and revenue opportunities. The combination will extend Skype’s world-class brand and the reach of its networked platform, while enhancing Microsoft’s existing portfolio of real-time communications products and services.

    See the rest of the press release @  Press conference info @

  • Here’s the keyboard I use


    Looking for a decent keyboard?  I replaced the keyboard on my home office desktop a few months ago and I am pleased with the choice I made.  I actually tried several non-Microsoft keyboards and even considered buying one of the famous IBM Model M keyboards.  Love those.  In the end I decided the black Sidewinder pictured above suited my needs.

    I like the action and feel of this keyboard.  The backlighting is pretty cool, too.  I really don’t use the backlighting much but on occasion if I am working late it comes in handy. I had problems with some of the keyboards I tried being compatible with my KVM switch.  This one doesn’t allow me to use the hotkey features of the KVM so I need to manually press the KVM buttons to switch from machine to machine.  Old school but I can deal with it.

    If you are looking for a decent board, this should be on your list of consideration.  Let me know if you have any questions.

  • Samsung Series 9 900X3A - mini review

    900x3aA little over a week ago I purchased the snazzy Samsung Series 9 900X3A at Costco. When I returned it yesterday the lady working the returns desk asked me, "Why is this machine so expensive?" 

    That's a really good question and one each of you is going to need to answer for yourself.  I had three main reasons for the return.  Lets start with the good stuff and work our way to the features I didn't like.

    Executive Summary

    If you want one of the coolest machines on the market, one that will have MacBook Air owners eyeing it conspicuously, look no further than the Samsung Series 9 laptops. At 2.88 pounds, you'll barely notice this machine in your Tumi executive laptop brief.  Packing plenty of power for your Excel spreadsheets, the Intel i5 powered 900X3A is perfectly suited for executives and information workers alike. This machine is really a work of art, but lets look into the science.

    Things I Liked

    If there was something really horrific about this machine I would certainly get right to the point. Since there wasn't, I'll start off with positive attributes of this machine since there are a number of them.  The first and most striking feature of the machine is it's uncanny good looks.  That alone almost kept me from returning the machine.  It's really a fabulous work of art.  So slim and light.  This combined with a great slate device would be a powerful combination for the frequent traveler.  In fact, this particular machine makes you wonder why you would ever need a slate.

    There is some science associated with those good looks.  Samsung used Duralumin as the material for the lid and chassis of the machine.  This adds a considerable amount of rigidity to the design though I would like to see more stiffness in the LCD lid. The dark gray and black finish it very good looking though it does attract it's share of fingerprints.

    The 13.3" matte screen is very nice, bright and colorful. The Samsung SuperBright 400 nit screen can easily be used outdoors in the shade.  I didn't test it in direct sun but it worked well under an umbrella poolside. The screen is a typical 1366x768 16:9 ratio widescreen display and has vivid color and decent contrast.  Screen angles were ok but considering this isn't an IPS screen, I didn't figure it would rate excellent. Color calibration was very good and I would not have expected less from Samsung, makers of the excellent Series 9 HDTV.

    The 900X3A has a backlit keyboard.  I have always wanted one but my primary work and personal computers have never included this.  Backlighting comes in very handy in low light conditions like a long night flight.  The 900X3A will automatically turn the backlight off when not in use and wake it back up when the keyboard or trackpad is used.

    I mentioned earlier, the 900X3A is powered by an Ultra Low voltage (ULV) Intel Core i5-2537M.  This dual core processor runs from 1.4 GHz all the way up to 2.3 GHz with the benefit of Turbo Boost.  Likewise, the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU runs at 350 or 900 MHz depending on the boost.  Please note that the lower clock speeds and TDP allow this chipset to run in the tight quarters of the Series 9 chassis.  In the week or so of use with this machine I never felt it was underpowered.  I didn't tax it much, but it seemed plenty powerful for it's designed purpose.

    After creating the factory disk set, I wiped the SSD drive and installed Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1.  I then installed the Hyper-V role and promptly created a 64 bit Windows 7 virtual machine.  This worked without issue though I would never think of this machine being a fulltime virtualization platform.  The fact it worked was interesting to me.

    Because this machine has the ULV proc, it is able to conserve power and achieve decent battery life.  In my tests the 900X3A managed 5-6 hours of battery life with WIFI networking.  The first test I tried the battery lasted 5 hours with the WIFI network active, Outlook 2010 running and receiving email, Tweetdeck up and running, and .mp4 movies playing the entire time from the SSD drive.  The second test of 6 hours was similar but without the movies.

    Power management on the 900X3A was very good though I would have preferred more fine grained controls.  The notebook boots quickly, sleeps fast, wakes up in a couple of seconds and shuts down clean and quick.  I didn't really care for the way Samsung locks down some of the power properties like lid close actions, but I understand them.  Part of the reason the machine performs well under these conditions is due to the 128GB mSATA SSD drive

    Another benefit of the ULV processor is low heat.  The last thing I would ever want is a notebook computer that runs too hot to use on my lap when I am traveling.  I've had a few and they were annoying.  The 900X3A ran nice and cool in the week I used it.  The fans were nice and quiet. On rare occasions you could hear them spin up but Samsung did a masterful job of suppressing the noise.  Interestingly enough, if I lifted the front edge of the machine off my desk slightly, I can hear the fan more prominently. Sitting flat on the desk they were near inaudible.

    Stuff I Could Not Live with

    As I took notes over the course of a week, I noticed things that started to annoy me were adding up.  Some of my dislikes were fairly cosmetic, but others weren't.  In the end, the fabulous looking machine got 86'd and returned. Here were some of the things I would improve.

    Although the screen was a bright matte screen, it is a native resolution of 1366x768.  Sorry, I just can't take that low of a resolution for work or play.  I am used to 1440x900 or 1600x900 on the bottom end and I draw the line in the sand there.  This also means the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 is going to be dead on arrival, too.  Screen quality and resolution are important to me.  I could certainly live without a fancy IPS screen with great viewing angles, but I won't sacrifice resolution.  If the Series 9 had a 1600x900 screen I probably would have kept it.  I would have preferred a 16:10 ratio 1440x900 screen.

    Next up was the keyboard. The backlighting was kewl but not enough to override the productivity hit I took typing.  Now keep in mind I have been using ThinkPad keyboards (the gold standard) for years so this certainly was a contributing factor.  But after a week of use, it was such a relief to switch back to my personal T410s.  I don't like flat Chiclet style keys.  I like the gum, not the key style.

    I could not stand the Clickpad.  It was just too flaky and erratic for me. I understand after talking with some folks that a new firmware was released to address some of the issues I saw.  I hope so.  I'm normally a mouse guy, but considering the 900X3A is USB port constrained, I tried to use the clickpad as much as I could.  It was hard.  I hope they resolve this.

    Since I mentioned USB ports, this machine is rather constrained in that department.  There are only two.  One USB 2.0 port and one SuperSpeed USB 3.0 port.  Access to those ports is under the right and left side of the machine via the pull down access ports panel. With no optical disk drive built into the machine, you'll be using an external CD/DVD drive with this machine.  The bigger challenge is using a hard drive enclosure for backups that uses two USB ports for data and power.  Those Y cables aren't designed for use on both sides of a machine.

    While we are talking about ports, you should be aware that a dongle in needed for the Ethernet connection on this machine.  In addition, there is a micro HDMI port but you'll need a cable or adaptor to convert that to VGA, DVI, or DisplayPort.  I am not a big fan of carrying around dongles like this because they get broken or lost.

    Unfortunately for the 900X3A, there is no Samsung docking station for this machine. Another Microsoft employee directed my attention to the Samsung Central Station which might be interesting if I didn't already have a desk full of large LCD panels, a KVM switch and other peripherals.  I would certainly need a solution that works with my existing desktop.  There might be some third party port replicators that would fill the void.  I think the same challenge with the ThinkPad X1 is coming when it shows up at my doorstep.

    The Broadcom wireless card in the 900X3A didn't work with both bands of my dual band Netgear WNDR3700 wireless router. It could not detect and use the 5 GHz band.  On the 2.4 GHz band it only managed about half of the speed of my other notebook computers on the same network.  I am not sure why that's the case but I also noticed the 900X3A also doesn't see the other networks around my home.  It appears something is inhibiting the speed and range of the notebooks wireless capabilities. And considering the conversations about it on the internet, it certainly isn't my home network.  It would have ben nice to take this machine to Atlanta and Tech Ed 2011 for a proper field test.  That's the best way to figure out if it's really an issue or not.

    I listed the 128GB SSD drive in the likes area above primarily because, well, SSD drives are great.  They are fast and folks coming from a traditional hard drive will be impressed.  However, 128GB is too small for my needs.  The actual capacity of the drive 119GB and I can fill that rather fast with the OS, applications and personal data.  Nearly 20GB of the drive is consumed by a hidden recover partition. If you decide to delete that partition, make sure you have it backed up first. The 119GB mSATA drive is the largest such drive on the market so expending internal capacity will be impossible until another drive comes out. 

    If you want more information on the mSATA SSD drive, see the article written by Les Tokar last week.


    So there you have it, some of my impressions after using the Samsung Series 9 900X3A for a little over a week. I realize I could have kept the machine for much longer given the Costco return policy, but I was afraid I would drop it or something so I figured it was best to return it after I made my mind up.  No sense in temping fate with a $1600 machine.

    I have not tested the model with the TPM chip so I haven't tested it with our internal DirectAccess implementation, or BitLocker.  I believe Samsung PR was considering sending me one but I don't think that is necessary now.

    I also didn't test the machine's performance characteristics thoroughly with synthetic benchmarks or any heavy real world tests. The 900X3A seemed plenty fast for email, web surfing, and using other office applications.  I'm sure it will perform even better with 8GB of memory. It isn't designed to be a powerhouse so I didn't spend any time testing it from that perspective.

    I'm sure many people will love the machine. It's thin, light and sexy.  But with the screen resolution and other factors I listed above, this model simply wasn't a keeper for me. 

  • And the gloves come off - ASUS UX21 revealed


    Reported everywhere.

  • HDHomeRun PRIME and PRIME 6CC finally go on sale - scheduled June shipping

    imageHDHomeRun PRIME:

    • Premium digital cable TV for your PCs
    • Triple tuner - watch/record three channels at once from one or multiple computers
    • CableCARD - all the digital cable channels you subscribe to, including HD and premium channels in 100% digital quality
    • Windows 7 Windows Media Center - full featured DVR
    • XBOX 360 - extend Windows 7 Windows Media Center to your big screen through your XBOX 360
    • More information: HDHomeRun PRIME 3CC
    • Pre-ordering through NewEgg

    HDHomeRun PRIME 6CC:

    • Home-theater form factor - add 6 premium cable TV tuners to your home theater system
    • More information: HDHomeRun PRIME 6CC
    • Pre-ordering for the 6CC will be online in the coming week

    Both models are expected to begin shipping in volume in July, with the 6-tuner model expected to ship a little ahead of the 3-tuner model.

  • HTC Trophy™ Brings Windows Phone 7 To Verizon Wireless

    HTCTrophyBASKING RIDGE, NJ — HTC Trophy™ is the first Windows Phone 7 device to come to Verizon Wireless, bringing a new dimension of gaming and entertainment to the nation’s most reliable 3G network.

    Windows Phone is the only phone that lets you play games with Xbox LIVE. Customers can sync directly with Xbox LIVE mobile to access their avatar, profile and gamer score to keep track of their wins. HTC Trophy also allows consumers to play by themselves or challenge friends in turn-based games. In addition to the many mobile gaming features, customers who buy an HTC Trophy before July 15 get a free Xbox 360 console game. Game enthusiasts can choose from Halo: Reach, Kinect Sports and Lode Runner – up to $60 value.

    Additional features:

    • 1 GHz Snapdragon® processor
    • WVGA 3.8-inch touchscreen
    • Surround sound through SRS WOW HD™
    • 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash
    • 720p HD video capture
    • 16 GB on-board storage
    • Wi-Fi connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n
    • Global ready - allowing customers to enjoy wireless voice and data service in more than 200 countries, with more than 125 with 3G speeds
    • HTC Hub-customization through downloadable applications that offer even more entertainment and productivity
    • View and edit Microsoft Office® documents, including Excel®, Word® and PowerPoint® with the Office Hub and data access on SharePoint® servers

    See the complete announcement at

  • Microsoft Security Intelligence Report - Volume 10 - now available


    Go get it @

  • Is this a computer or a purse?


    This picture caught my eye.  And no, I don't need a new wallet.

    Stolen from

  • Porsche 911 GT3 RS4 breaks cover


    Some day I’ll have one. See

  • Free Office 365 Jump Start 5/24-5/26 - Register now!

    BannerO365-300x250Just one week after TechEd, Microsoft Learning is hosting an exclusive three-day Jump Start class specially tailored for IT Professionals looking for real-world proof of how cloud-based Office 365 enables you to solve more problems from more places.

    This course will be delivered via virtual classroom on May 24-26, 2011 from 10:00am-4:00pm PDT. Over 2,300 people attended our last Jump Start, "Microsoft Virtualization for VMware Professionals," so please register today. 

    This fast-paced, demo-rich online course will feature expert instruction and real-world demonstrations of the Office 365 platform, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online.

    Attendees are in for a treat because Microsoft Technical Evangelist, Adam Carter (Bomb) will be team teaching this course with the best of the best. Throughout the course, leading experts for each technology -- Mike Kostersitz, Office 365 Program Manager; Naomi Alpern, Senior Consultant Exchange Online; Jeff James, Solutions Architect; Jerome Berniere, Senior Program Manager; Mark Kashman, Senior Technical Product Manager; Matt Burnett, Senior Consultant SharePoint Online -- will be joining Adam to share the latest with Office 365.


    Day One — “Office 365 Platform” | May 24, 2011 | 10am-4pm PDT
    Microsoft Office 365 Overview for IT Pros
    Deploying Clients for Office 365
    Administration & Automation using PowerShell
    Identity and Access Solutions
    Directory Synchronization

    Day Two — “Exchange Online” | May 25, 2011 | 10am-4pm PDT
    Exchange Online Overview for IT Pros
    Exchange Online Administration
    Staged Exchange Online Migration
    Hybrid Options with Exchange Server & Exchange Online
    Exchange Online Archiving & Compliance

    Day Three — “Lync & SharePoint Online” | May 26, 2011 | 10am-4pm PDT
    Lync Online Overview & Configuration for IT Pros
    SharePoint Online Overview
    SharePoint Online Administration
    SharePoint Online Extensibility & Customization
    Office 365 Deployment Overview

  • Talk TechNet - MultiPoint Server with Andy and Kevin - 5/4 at 9am PST

    TalkTechNetWindows MultiPoint Server 2011 provides both teachers and students the latest and familiar Windows experience. And it gives teachers new tools to orchestrate and manage students’ use of computers, so computers become an effective learning tool in classrooms, libraries and labs.  Call in or ask questions live with a couple of experts.

    Join Matt, Keith, Andy Goodman and Kevin Royalty on 5/4 at 9am PST for an episode on a great new server for education environments.  Andy and Kevin are MVPs specializing on this product and other products like SBS and Windows Home Server.  This is a great opportunity to get some questions answered on MultiPoint!

    Presenters: Keith Combs, Sr. Program Manager, Microsoft Corporation, Matt Hester, Sr. IT Pro Evangelist, Microsoft Corporation, Andy Goodman, Microsoft MVP,, and Kevin Royalty, Microsoft MVP, Total Care Computing Consulting

    Register now @

  • May the 4th Be With You


  • Next major release of Windows Phone, code named "Mango" previewed

    HD7S_FrontREDMOND, Wash. — May 24, 2011 — Microsoft Corp. today previewed the next major release of Windows Phone, code-named “Mango,” through a series of media events around the world. “Mango” will deliver more than 500 new features to push the boundaries of the smartphone experience around communications, apps and the Internet.

    The “Mango” release will be available for free to Windows Phone 7 customers and is scheduled to ship on new phones beginning this fall. More details on device update timing will be provided closer to availability. Windows Phone will also add support for additional languages, expand access to apps by launching Windows Phone Marketplace in new countries, and partner with new OEMs to enable expansion to new markets.

    See the full press release at

    See the team blog post and press conference replay video for more information.

    The 4G phone mention at the 1:23 mark in the reply got my attention. Looks like Santa will be bringing me a new phone this fall. According to Andy Lees remarks, this should happen before the launch date anniversary.  I really hope that's true. 4G speed for the new "Mango" features will rock.

  • ATT Samsung Focus knocks the iPhone off the hill?

    See for their take on the Readers Choice Awards for 2011.

  • Three Day Weekend - let your hair down


    Just in case you won the lotto -

  • Fabulous Case Mod on full display


    See for the competitive entry.  See for the gallery of pics on this machine.  Bet you wish your multimon desktop machine was this clean and kewl.

  • Office 2010 Service Pack 1 Announced - June release

    ofc-brand_h_rgbWelcome to TechEd Atlanta! For those of you unable to attend the event in person, we’d like to take a moment to introduce our Service Pack 1 release.

    Service Pack 1 is on track for release at the end of June.

    SP1 releases for both Office client suites and SharePoint server products will be made available. All language versions of SP1 will release simultaneously. Initially, Service Pack 1 will be offered as a manual download from the Download Center and from Microsoft Update, and no sooner than 90 days after release, will be made available as an Automatic Update.

    SP1 will include many interesting changes. Across the client suites and server products, SP1 offers a sprinkling of improvements to make a strong 2010 release wave even stronger. During TechEd and beyond, teams on will update their blogs with more specific details of 2010 Service Pack 1 contents.

    See the rest of the announcement blog post @

  • Microsoft Partner Network team releases a great Windows Phone app

    Recently, during the Interactive Leadership Forum session we held, we were sharing several social media and online resources we have and are bringing out for partners and one partner asked the question, “I didn’t even know about that resource. How can we keep track of these informational resources?” Not only is that a great question, but how do we take it a step further to go beyond just helping make partners aware of the resources available, but also make it even easier to consume those resources?

    To that end, today I am happy to announce the availability of the Microsoft Partner Info mobile app that brings you this information as a Microsoft partner, delivered directly to your phone. The Microsoft Partner Info mobile app brings together a large collection of Microsoft Partner information resources and pulls them into on single visual interface with the information just a touch of your fingertip away.

    See the full blog post at Eric Ligman's Partner Community blog. And by the way, this is also available for the Android platform.  See the full details in the blog post. Looks like a really cool app.  Enjoy.

  • Mini Fridge or Xbox 360?