James O'Neill's Blog

April 29, 2006

IE is cool again

Filed under: Beta Products,Internet Explorer,Windows Vista,Windows XP — jamesone111 @ 10:49 pm

I remember the year hen 3 versions of Internet explorer were released. That was before I came to Microsoft, when the web was still new and browsers were exciting – partly because (to outsiders at least) Microsoft seemed scared of Netscap. The Netscape battle ran its course, and I joined Microsoft as IE 5 hit the market, that was 6 years ago, since then we’ve moved up to version 6. If IE6 were a vegetable it would be a plain boiled potato; ubiquitous, reliable, but not exactly exciting.

Between 2000 and 2005, the biggest improvement I saw to IE was the Google toolbar. I installed it to block pop-ups as much as for searching (Google’s add-in lets you search for highlighted text, which I like). Windows XP SP2 gave IE6 a pop-up blocker, and lets you enable and disable add-ins like flash.

Other browsers have appeared, notably Mozilla Firefox. If IE 6 is a boiled potato, then Firefox is mashed and seasoned and then some. The Mozilla project seems to have concentrated on making a good browser – which happens to available under its own open source license – not the other way round. [If you have a big, established competitor, you only win market share by having a better product – it amazes me that some people don’t get this]. They didn’t invent tabbed browsing but it works well,  I use OneNote 12 beta a lot: I like tabs.  I like the way Firefox handles history. A choice of search engines are accessible via the toolbar and there’s a highlighted text search, tied to Google.
As a cross-platform product, Firefox doesn’t support Active X – which breaks some applications, usually corporate intranet ones. But it closes off some routes to attack the PC from the internet: some Firefox fans equate this with invulnerability – wrongly as it turns out me it meant no QuickTime content. There were other minor glitches; no tool tips and a few pages that don’t render properly. One can drop back to IE6 – but in the corporate world who wants to support 2 browsers ? Firefox auto detected the proxy server on the Microsoft network, and connected to the internet without fuss.  It doesn’t render pictures using image colour management (nor does IE – but I’m told Apple’s Safari does) – again colour management is platform specific. I assume that’s why it doesn’t use Windows’ certificate store, so organizations with internal CAs will have extra work to push out certificates.
Administration and a confidence that people test against it are reasons to stick with IE6, but for a while now some in Microsoft have had the uncomfortable feeling that Mozilla’s browser is more likable than ours. As the cliche has it: that is about to change…

My main computer is no good for Vista, which I run on my “demo” system. I’ve found myself switching to that simply to use IE7. Last night I put IE7 beta for Windows XP on the old laptop, and … Wow ! So what do we get.

Tabbed browsing that’s better than Firefox – opening new tabs and closing the current tab are only one click away, and there is a “Quick tabs view.”
Click to enlarge
Re-arranging the top of the screen to accommodate tabs has meant that the top tool/address/menu bars have a revamp – it looks better, but more importantly it works better

Proper RSS support. Firefox has some clue about RSS – they even put the BBC news on their “Live bookmarks” tool bar, but you still have to open each link to see more than the title – that defeats the whole purpose of RSS. IE7 goes so much further. It renders the RSS page (Firefox will apply a style sheet if one is specified) But lets compare my blog’s page RSS link .

First in Firefox . Click to enlarge and then in IE  Click to enlarge Notice how IE7 will filter to items containing a keyword as well ?

Then there is the way IE7 handles feeds – a background process downloads them – and [this is the magic bit] other applications can pick them up. So this VBS script will list your feeds from a command prompt.

set rssmgr = createobject(“microsoft.feedsManager”)
set rssRoot = rssmgr.rootFolder
wscript.echo “You have subscribed to ” & rssroot.Feeds.count & ” RSS feeds”
FOR each feed in rssroot.feeds
 wscript.echo feed.name

IE7 handles history better too. One click brings up Feeds, Favourites and History. 9 times out of 10 you don’t want the Window after you’ve found the page so, by default, they disappear again. The Vista version of IE7 searches for keywords in the page, where Firefox only searches the title. (The history search in the XP beta of IE7 isn’t working for me at the moment).  IE7 also has search on the toolbar – no need for an add-on any more – but it doesn’t have “right click to search”. It uses Open Search to add to the choice of search engines, it’s easy to add the corporate search page to it, and a lot of the engines which use Open Search can also deliver regular results as RSS feeds.

IE7 continues to support Active X but it’s smarter – it asks before loading a controls it doesn’t know – like the Apple Quick time one. This “opt-in” helps to stop a web page using a legitimate control in an illegitimate way.

IE7 also links to an Anti-phishing service which warns the user of dangerous sites, and lets them report possible scams, which are more of a threat to most users than active-x attacks

And last of it it’s easier to read thanks to cleartype -some things don’t seem to work with cleartype, but IE7 sure does. It also zooms, and the text stll looks perfect. 

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 25, 2006

RSS for the bewildered.

Filed under: Internet Explorer,RSS,Windows Vista,Windows XP — jamesone111 @ 5:04 pm

The volume of web content is overwhelming. And it keeps changing – we could spend all day just checking discussions, news, blogs and so on in the hope of finding something new (a process I call “Optimistic Browsing“).
Shouldn’t stuff come to us ? After all, computers are good at polling. I don’t want it in my inbox – that’s like having the day’s TV or the supermarket’s special offers delivered with the post.

Enter RSS “Really Simple Syndication”. And it is Really Simple. It’s a standard for an XML document to give a list of items on a web site. Items in the list are either a self contained block of text, such as a blog post, or a link and a short explanation of what is found there, or something to download.

That’s it!! – a way of giving a list of items. Why get excited about that ? Suppose the XML document is dynamically created so that as content on the web site changes, downloading one document lets you see new stuff without the need for optimistic browsing making it perfect for blogs, or news – places where RSS has found a natural home.

If XML seems scary you can skip the next bit, but I wanted to show just simple an RSS feed for news can be: I’ve edited the BBC’s one down slightly but not much.

<?xml version=”1.0″>
<rss version=”2.0″>
  <title>BBC News | News Front Page | World Edition</title>
  <description>Updated every minute of every day</description>
  <copyright>Copyright: (C) British Broadcasting Corporation</copyright>
  <lastBuildDate>Thu, 01 Sep 2005 14:33:21 GMT</lastBuildDate>
   <title>Shots disrupt US storm evacuation</title>
   The evacuation of hurricane victims from New Orleans’ Superdome is disrupted after a helicopter is shot at.
   <guid isPermaLink=”false”>
   <pubDate>Thu, 01 Sep 2005 14:33:23 GMT</pubDate>

So a feed consists of one or more channels, which have one or more items.
A channel has a title, a description, and so on. It can tell the reader software how to behave – such as the number of minutes to wait before getting an update (the time to live or TTL).
I trimmed this channel down to one item: each item has a title, a description, a link, a Globally Unique ID (the GUID – the BBC use the page’s URL for this) and the publication date.Like channels, items can have extra tags.
You’ve probably heard of “Podcasting“, a podcast item is just like any other RSS item except it has an Enclosure Tag, like this:

  <title>Broadcast from September 1st 2005 </title>
   BBC correspondents take a look at stories in their regions.
  <pubDate>Thu, 01 Sep 2005 11:00:00 +0100</pubDate>
  <guid isPermaLink=”false”>
  <enclosure  url=”http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/radio4/xxxxx.mp3″
   length=”8473360″    type=”audio/mpeg”   />
The only things which has changed is the enclosure tag replaces the link tag, and says what to download. Yippee ! I can download radio shows and listen to them at my convenience.
But wait… The enclosure is a URL and a mime type. Who said it has to be an MP3 file? It could be photos, calendar items, software updates, homework assignments, document templates, product information. In short not Podcasting but Anycasting. This blogcast by Darren Strange  shows how the next generation of Sharepoint will make lists into RSS feeds – and how Outlook 12 will be able to consume them. Darren’s video is only 14 minutes long, but if you’re in a hurry to see the RSS stuff skip forward to 5:45

Now, when we get Windows vista we get a new version of Internet Explorer – IE7 Beta has been back-ported to Windows XP. IE7 understands RSS (and other formats like Atom, which do the same job). There’s a good summary about it in the RSS team blog  .IE 7 recognises links to RSS on a web page, it manages subscriptions and downloads and offers a simple view of the feeds. But the power is in NOT using IE as a viewer. It’s simple for other applications to use the content – a screen saver which shows your pictures can leave fetching and parsing the XML documents to IE.

You may have already got an RSS reader – I’ve been using Attensa for Outlook 11 – I don’t want the stuff in my Inbox, but Outlook is the best reading tool I have – Eileen talks about other readers  Putting RSS into IE won’t make the readers go away the CEO of Newsgator makes some good points on this.

Here’s an easy prediction, with RSS reading in Outlook 12, RSS support in IE7 and all sharepoint 12 lists available via RSS it’s going to be very big over the next year or two.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 24, 2006

MCP exam in Live communications server

Filed under: Events,Real Time Collaboration — jamesone111 @ 4:59 pm

VUE and Prometric are now taking bookings for the beta of Exam 262 “Microsoft® Office Live Communications Server 2005 – Implementing, Managing, and Troubleshooting”. In its beta form the exam number is 71-262, and takes 4 hours. Use the promotional code TS262 to book the exam for free – the number of places is limitted so be quick !

You can take the exam between April 27th and May 10th, there will be a wait of a few weeks before you get the results

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 23, 2006

An evening with …

Filed under: Events,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 9:39 pm

Well me actually …

I’m presenting on Let’s take a look at Windows Vista At Microsoft in Reading on the evening of Tuesday May 9th… Registration is only a couple of clicks away… go on, you know you want to.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 22, 2006

Communicator mobile access – Now availablle !

Filed under: Mobility,Real Time Collaboration — jamesone111 @ 7:50 pm

If you use Live Communications Server and have a Windows Mobile device you need to have a look at Communicator Mobile.

A cell phone is not the ideal thing for a long IM conversation – even if you have a Bluetooth keyboard (as I do).
Sometimes, your phone is your only connection. Once in while I find it enormously helpful to check presence before making a call – usually when I’ve failed to reach one person and I’m thinking about who to call next (you can start a call or message from Communicator Mobile as well as IM). It’s one of those tools that you don’t use every day but it’s very useful when you do use it, a bit like the >Sat Nav software I also have on my phone. I’ve even had someone IM me the address where we were due to meet, and fed it into the Sat Nav.

It does make me wonder who wants to carry an iPOD, a Blackberry and a phone, AND have a sat nav device in the car.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 19, 2006

The Women of Microsoft

Filed under: General musings,Webcasts — jamesone111 @ 10:44 am

I found out that that my boss did a video for Channel 9 when she was last in Redmond. It’s quite unusual for them to do interviews with people from outside the US so it’s a bit of a coup for them to want to interview her.

Eileen’s video is in the “Women in Technology” section… I’ve got mixed feelings about this: I’ve had Male and Female bosses and there are traits which you tend to find in one group or the other. I’ve also had Good and Bad bosses, and I’ve found no correlation between gender or gender specific traits and being good or bad. I don’t like dividing people up into arbitrary groups, whether that’s based on gender, race, age, education or anything else. I’ve thought for while that a “melting pot” with diverse people bringing different talents and experience strengthens a company, and striving for that Strength does a lot more to equalize opportunities, than “Equal opportunities” policies found where managers hire people just like themselves [Think about it, companies don’t consider ethnicity when hiring but some only hire people with university degrees – do equal proportions of all ethnic groups get degrees ? Might someone have something different to add to a company because they didn’t go to university ?]. BUT on the other hand if there are people out there who think your education or career have to match a particular template, or that only men in their twenties thrive at Microsoft, then lets do what ever is needed to overturn that – including doing stuff about some of those arbitrary groups. It’s good to challenge those assumptions.

Talking of assumptions, when someone’s job is “head of HR for Microsoft” it’s easy enough to jump to conclusions. Lisa Brummel has that job and has an interview on the same Women in Technology page as Eileen: the Channel 9 folks say “Don’t dismiss her when you hear she’s in charge of HR; instead listen to this bright, passionate, interesting woman ….”. Lisa will be over to meet people from the UK soon and it looks like she will be more interesting than I first thought. Like I said it’s good to challenge those assumptions.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 18, 2006

The Virtual Mac – a little idle speculation

Filed under: Apple,Virtualization,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 2:14 pm

Apple’s “Boot camp” software has created a big stir, hasn’t it?

Apple is a leader in industrial design: which is why my wife has an iPod Nano – the iPods have a magic to their design which no-one else seems able to match. The number of things which borrow from the original iMac design shows how other designers admire it. I’ve just bought a new Samsung TV and I didn’t consider Dell’s offering but I’d look at an Apple TV. As well as design, Apple has brand kudos that Samsung, Dell and (yes) Microsoft lack, so the idea of Windows on Apple hardware is seductive.

Some comments have suggested that Boot Camp is the start of unbundling the Mac OS from Apple hardware. As I see it (and remember a blog IS a personal view not a company one), this would give Apple two problems. Firstly could they be the Bang and Olfusen of PCs – selling good designs at a premium? I’d love a B&O television but I bought a Samsung. How many people would covert an Apple PC but actually buy a Dell or whatever their retailer has on special offer ?

Secondly, if they sold the Mac OS separately; who would buy a “Dell Mac”? Mac users – at the expense of Apple hardware sales. The “Anyone but Microsoft” brigade might buy one as a nicer alternative to a Linux desktop. Corporate customers? 6 years in Microsoft Consulting Services have shown me the difficulty of making changes. Anti-Microsoft people say this makes us complacent – but they just don’t get it. Our biggest competitor is old versions – customers don’t blindly upgrade – indeed I saw customers refuse to run the latest service pack never mind the latest OS; so I don’t see corporate customers stampeding to a new OS.

In any case, does Apple want to support all the graphics cards, network cards, sound, motherboard chipsets etc used in PCs ? Microsoft has been doing it for 20 years and 3rd party drivers are still the biggest cause of crashes. To me this looks like an expensive way for Apple to deprive itself of hardware revenue.
So, for now at least, Boot camp is as far is goes. My wife would love a Mac at home but doesn’t want to spend the money. I need Windows, and neither of us want to booting a seperate OS (especially as we have come to expect fast user switching on XP).
If we had a Mac, we’d be better off with Virtual PC , which doesn’t run on Intel Macs (or some equivalent which does) That made me stop and think.
I discovered Virtual PC Express will be part of Vista Enterprise. Full Virtual PC allows as many machines as can run in the host’s available memory, but requires a license for each. The Express edition allows only one Virtual Machine and is for Software Assurance customers who get rights to run a copy second of copy of their OS (or a downgrade of it) on a licensed PC. In this way they get a “parachute” for software which isn’t supported on the new OS.

Now… Virtual PC emulates fixed hardware – like Intel Macs do. Mac OS under Virtual PC (express or otherwise)? Given a suitable (licensed) extension to Virtual PC it might just work, it’s incremental business, not cannibalization, for Apple. The odds are that it will never happen, but if it does, you saw it here first.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Passion: or "What the hell am I doing here ? "

Filed under: About me,General musings,User Groups — jamesone111 @ 8:00 am

I’ve been on holiday for a few days. Before I went, I met a visiting school group. I was asked to talk for 10 minutes on “Why software is exciting” and – let’s be honest here – not everyone thinks it is exciting. What I could  talk about was why software excites me and why being excited matters.
One of our placement students was also meeting the school, and answering a question about desirable qualifications, he said that when he was interviewed it was more useful to talk about how he’d worked at an orphanage in Ecuador. I jumped in – it’s passion. Top of the Microsoft values list is honesty and integrity; once we’ve established that the person we’re interviewing isn’t a crook, next on the list is passion; if a candidate don’t give a damn, it doesn’t matter how well qualified they are.

My session contained 3 quotes: one was the give-a-damn meter I’ve quoted before. One was from the cover of Robert Townsend’s book “Up the Organization” my favourite book on business which I first read 25 years ago.
“If you’re not in business for fun or for profit, what the hell are you doing here ?”
Actually this is from the book’s section on excellence. “Things should be done excellently. Otherwise they won’t be profitable or fun. And if you’re not in business for fun or profit what the hell are you doing here”. But what do you need for excellence ? Passion ! If you don’t give a damn why go beyond OK ? [I must talk about Honda’s “OK factory” advert some time].
Of course we want profit and fun – you can’t really enjoy something you don’t care about – even if it is done excellently. I wanted to show how passion, fun and excellence are all linked.

My last quote was from Hugh Macleod’s “Hughtrain
“Merit can be bought. Passion can’t.
The only people who can change the world are people who want to. And not everybody does.”

This matters to Microsoft. We have the resources that would let us hire everyone who got a first class honours degree in computer science. That’s buying merit. We have to select for passion. It makes business sense: if you care about you’re work you’ll do it better and for less money than someone who doesn’t.

Hugh Macleod is interesting – he draws great little thumbnail cartoons and is pretty free in his use of the “f” word, but a lot of what he has to say turns on the idea that people don’t want to buy a product based on cost and benefit alone. They also want to believe in brands. That means companies have to know what they believe in, and articulate it. Like Microsoft’s current  “Potential” ads compared with the old “Agility” ones (both made for us by the same people). Like Microsoft giving some of its people (like me) time to talk about it in blogs, to schools and so on.

Macleod has got something to say on one of my other interests – why people write drivel; either they don’t have passion for what they are talking about or they can’t express it.

“Being creative” is not the hardest thing in advertising. That’s easy. Being able to write about the client’s product with conviction, with passion, with genuine humanity is far harder. Most copywriters can’t do it. If you can do it, there’s always going to be a market for it. Be excited.
Most copywriters “can’t do it” for one of three reasons:

  1. They’re hacks. Hacks cannot write. Not really write. They can futz around, make it look fancy and professional, but they cannot inject it with any resonant human spirit, for they lost all that themselves years ago.
  2. Their clients are idiots and won’t let them write properly. Any time they try to write like a human being (as opposed to a whipping-boy-for-cash) their client kills what they do and sends him back to his cube for a re-write.
  3. Fear. Also commonly known as “practicality.” It’s a competitive world out there, so to minimize risk and avoid conflict with their paymasters, they pre-emptively rid their work of any human quality, and replace it with dry, blathering, meaningless corporate-speak instead. If you do this often enough, it starts to feel normal.

I’m kind of hardcore about this. I think if you’re writing meaningless drivel, it’s your fault. You chose to work for this guy, you took his money, you cashed the check. It’s not his problem, It’s your problem. All writers are responsible for their own experience. “The client won’t let me” doesn’t cut it.
The thing to do is only work with people whose vision and character excite you.

This last sentence hadn’t registered when I spoke to the school group, I told them the same thing in my own words. “Seek outlets for Passion and work with people who share it”. That’s what I’m doing here.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 4, 2006

Virtual Server Big News, Linux shock and clarity.

Filed under: Linux / Open Source,Virtualization — jamesone111 @ 1:41 pm

Last week I posted about an advance notice of announcement that is was due that this week – it was far from clear.. A few hours later I got advance notice of the Virtual Server news which came out yesterday, which was a model of clarity.

Item 1: On Monday April 3rd, Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise Edition will be available at no charge, free, gratis, complimentary, on the house. This is the full Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise edition available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions that we shipped in Q4 CY2005. This is not a trial or limited version in any way. This is a fully-supported product, not some unsupported Trojan horse designed to get you to update a multi-thousand dollar per-processor, per-server product. Virtual machines created today with Virtual Server will be able to migrate into our hypervisor based Windows virtualization. This is a risk free proposition and it’s the real deal.

That’s pretty clear I’d say.

Item 2: On Monday April 3rd, we are also announcing our Linux support (see below) and availability of our VM Additions for Linux. In case you’re wondering how these distributions were picked, it’s simple. We asked and listened to our valued customers

We’re supporting 4 Enterprise and 5 standard distibutions:  Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1 (update 6), Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 (update 6),  Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9; Red Hat Linux 7.3, Red Hat Linux 9.0, SuSE Linux 9.2 , SuSE Linux 9.3 , SuSE Linux 10

To get virtual server goto the download or order page and click the link under “Register” on the right hand side. The Linux components are at Microsoft Connect  (click available programs on the left). Both require passport to register.

The mention of hypervisor in that mail is quite important – Service pack 1 for Virtual Server 2005 R2 will support virtualization capabilities in new chips from Intel and AMD, and that’s a stepping stone to the new architecture that will be in Longhorn server.  

This is good on its own, but combined with

it looks like the virtualization group (now including my predecessor in this job ) are really on a roll.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Rumours, silliness and the things we get up to in presentations.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 11:02 am

First off I’m doomed unless I change the rules of the game. I just read in Eileen’s post about the roadshow we have contests to see who can finish closest to zero seconds on the countdown clock. These folks present well, with passion and manage to watch the clock… As the new guy, what chance do I have? But … there is a game that lawyers play of sneaking words into their closing speeches (journalists do the same thing with conference reports). Now if I get them to change to including as many vegetables or pop group names or whatever in our presentations I might have a chance. That could be a metaphor for so many things …

Secondly. I’ve been active in web photographic communities ages so I thought I’d post a link to the Colour management post and the pictures I took working in India a few weeks ago. Since the links come to a Microsoft web site I thought I better explain that I worked for Microsoft and but I didn’t want to get into “My OS is better than yours” arguments – the kind one of my colleagues terms the ‘You suck’ … ‘No you suck’ argument. I illlustrated this for one of the people in the forum.

Poster A. I’m thinking of getting a new computer.

Poster B. I’ve got a Mac, you should get one too.

Poster C. Macs are pretty, but Windows is more flexible.

Poster D. Windoze is evil man. Look at all the money M$ makes. You should get linux [gives list of distributions]

Poster B. Linux is hard. My granny can use a Mac, and she’s been dead for 10 years

Poster D. If she can’t build a kernel she shouldn’t have a computer, tree hugger.

Poster C. Have you looked at Windows XP-Dead Grandparent Edition ? It’s got lots of features {lists them. All of them}

Poster E. Yeah, but that’s the problem XP DGE is so bloated. It’s been downhill since Windows 3.0, and we didn’t get Viruses in those days.

Poster D. And those features are just a cover for Micro$oft to steal your brain.

Poster C. {Gives feature by feature justification, explains 15 years of changes in viruses. Denies brain stealing rumour. Misses meal)

Poster A. None of you have given me a reason to choose one OS over another.

Posters F-Z WE DON’T CARE !!

One of the forum regulars came back and said I’d missed a few …

Poster K. Why do you need a computer? In my day we did everything in the darkroom – computers are just cheating
Poster J. Hey, I’m new here and I’m not sure if this is the right place – does anyone have a recipe for pancakes?
Poster L. Grab yourself a 3174 and run it green screen to an OS/390 host. If you’re short of cash then AS400s are going for about £129 on eBay. Those fancy Mac things are really based on RS6000 technology anyway. Apple steal everything just like M$.
Poster X. Nah – OS/390 hasn’t cut it since they renamed it z/OS….

He also asked if XP-DGE is an official rumour about vista. I get to officially denysomething! To the best of my knowledge, at this time, we have have no plans for a “Dead Grandparent Edition” of XP or Vista. Actually serious point here, although Vista will have five versions they align with what you want to do rather than the hardware that you have, so “DGE” could be a Vista product, but not an XP one. Still if the DGE turns up on slashdot you’ll know where it started. Shame I missed April fools day.

Thirdly …and how’s this for a segueway… the Dead Granny on the car is one of the great urban legends this morning I got a mail headed “Do Lemmings Commit Mass Suicide?” my first reaction was to reply with the question about the ablutions of bears. But it was promoting a web site de-bunking some other popular myths worth a look and there’s a win a holiday competition. Checking on whether the suicidal lemmings are true or a myth I found that the penguin story I love so much is also a myth.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

April 3, 2006

Join DPE, Visit interesting places, meet interesting people ….

Filed under: Events — jamesone111 @ 2:25 pm

After a week in the job I’ll still feeling a little bit of culture shock between working in Microsoft Consulting Services and Developer and Platform Evangelism; as that settles out I write about it a bit more. One change is that instead of talking to people one at a time. I’m talking to bigger groups, like the Technet 2006 technical road show.  We’ve just announced.

You can see from the link we’ve got some interesting looking venues (Inmarsat stands out for me) and I’m looking forward to meeting people. As the blurb puts it. “the day would not be complete without a Session giving you… An overview of Windows Vista. James O’Neill will show you why he is excited by this release and outline the positive impact this product will have on your life as an IT Professional.”

We’ve given a release date for vista and we’ve had some criticism because it won’t be in the shops before the holiday season. Brian Vallentine, who heads up the Windows group said something like “If your product is good, customers will not worry for long if it was late. They never forget a buggy product, even if it is delivered on time”. I can’t find anyone inside or outside Microsoft who disagrees. Though there have certainly been some folks who feel hurt by the delay (another thing about changing jobs is I have time to read what they say, and what follows on from that). Here’s a snippet from one of those

Another reason — big reason — why the Microsoft commenters are so passionate: They give a damn. Whatever else you may think about their comments, their Give-A-Damn meter is registering in the Green. Sure, it may seem like I’ve got it ass backwards and they’re pegged out in the dreaded Red zone.

I’m sure a few are indeed red-zoning, but what I see mostly are folks who want to to be the best. They want their team to be the best. They are proud people. They are winners. They hate the thought of losing — in any endeavor… to any person or thing.

The people who work for Microsoft are not only some of the best minds in the computer industry, they give a damn about what they do. That is a good thing.

So if you want to hear why I “give a damn” about Vista, come along. I’m not on my own though, there are 4 other sessions.

  • 2007 Microsoft Office System – People Ready Software for the New world of work
  • Exchange 12 Overview
  • Providing Secure access to applications with ISA 2006

  • Making Your Life Easier With Windows Server 2003 R2

Those alone make it worth checking out .


This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

The other man’s grass is greener – a guide to colour in Windows

Filed under: Photography,Windows Vista,Windows XP — jamesone111 @ 1:08 pm

Most weeks, one or other of the photography forums I visit will contain one of the following questions

“Should I set my camera to use sRGB or Adobe RGB as a colour space ? ”

“Why do my pictures look different in different programs ?”

“My Pictures look great on screen but lousy when I print them out, what am I doing wrong ?”

“Someone told me that I need to set my ICM profile, to I’ve set everything to sRGB and my pictures look worse than before”

And all these come down to managing colours

There is more than one way to represent a colour digitally, but the most common formats use 8 bits to represent each of 3 primary colours Red, Green and Blue.
For example these 3 bytes might have values of 240, 160 and 80. 80,80,80 would give a darkish grey. 160,160,80 would add some yellow to this making a brownish colour, and an extra 80 units of red would give us a sort of orangey colour. Unfortunately if you’re photographing a bowl of fruit “sort of orangey” is a bit too vague. You want an orange to be exactly the right shades of orange a lemon to be… well … lemon and so on.

We need a dependable way to map numbers to real colours, but this is easier said than done, two different models of scanner will produce slightly different numbers when scanning the same print. Two monitors (or the same monitor with two different sets of settings) will display slightly different colours for the same sets of numbers. And two printers will produce different colours when printing those same numbers.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Lewis Carroll: Alice through the looking glass.

If, like Humpty Dumpty, each device insists that its mapping of colour to number is correct, a print won’t match a scanned image and after adjusting an image to look perfect on the monitor it will look wrong when printed. Enter Image Color Matching (ICM) – and to save jumping between the British spelling to the American one, but I’m going to call it ICM from now on.
ICM uses a Profile to convert between a set of Colours (the colour space) and numbers (nobody calls it a number-space). If a profile says that in a given file 240,160,80 means a specific shade of Orange, then other software which understands profiles can then say “A-ha ! This monitor displays that shade of Orange using 245,155,82, and the printer needs to be sent 235,158,82 to give that same Orange on paper”

Windows XP supports ICM, but applications need to understand it – quite a few applications provide their own ICM support rather than using what is the OS in order to work with older operating systems which lack ICM support.The principle is the same though…

Image file values + image profile –> Colours

Colours + Screen profile –> screen output values

Colours + Printer profile –> Printer output values

Image Colour profiles can be embedded in TIFF and JPEG files. If there is no embedded profile you will either need to tell the software that is opening the image which profile to use, or it will make an assumption – which for software that doesn’t understand profiles is more-or-less standard sRGB . So:
Rule one. Stick to sRGB, unless you’re sure that your software supports profiles. How do you know ? The International Color Consortium have a page to test the ability of software to recognise embedded profiles

What you will notice if you open the page in Internet Explorer is that IE doesn’t support profiles. If you save the image from the lower left corner and open it in Windows Explorer, you’ll notice that it DOES support profiles.

Assuming your software does support profiles, is one profile better than another ? The size of the colour space – the Gamut varies from profile to profile. You can see this quite easily if you download the XP Colour control panel applet. Its colour plot feature lets you compare the gamut of two different profiles. Adobe’s RGB has a wider Gamut than sRGB, – it can do Redder reds, and bluer blues; that’s got to be good, right ?

But then why do specialist ink makers like Lyson make “Small Gamut” inks? In some jobs – like producing graphics arts logos – you want the most intense colour and it doesn’t matter much if you can’t discriminate between very similar shades of the same colour. Other jobs- like making subtly toned black and white images need that discrimination but don’t need intense colours. So Rule two. If you change from sRGB, pick the profile that suits the job. Serious photographers who shoot in RAW format (i.e. not letting the camera convert to TIF or JPEG) can get an advantage here. Some RAW converters will let you specify the final colour space – so the photographer can convert the RAW data from the camera’s sensor to a JPG optimizaed for the internet (sRGB) or a TIF or JPG for their intended print (adobe RGB or Lyson’s small gamut). They always have the RAW data so they can make different files for different printers. When the camera saves as a jpg file the compromise between representing extreme colours or distinguishing very similar ones is made once and for all.

The next step is to set the profile for your printer/ink/paper combination. Printers and their inks don’t automatically give sRGB output – indeed those specialist inks don’t even try. So Rule three: accurate printing depends on adjusting for the printer/ink/paper combination. ICM Profiles automate this (there are other ways: cameras and printers can use “ExifPrint” or “Print Image Matching” to embed a profile in the data which describes the image – this isn’t an ICM profile – and some editors will strip the data out). Often manufacturers have downloadable ICM profiles, and you can buy profiles from third parties or use specialist software to create your own. The Control Panel applet helps to install profiles, and associate them with displays, Printers and scanners. If an application uses the profile and the printer driver is told to make no adjustments to the colours, the image will print as the camera or scanner intended even if the print and on-screen display don’t match.

Which brings me to the display: many monitors are set incorrectly. Rule four: adjust your monitor for accuracy not for the most pleasing image. There are two routes to accuracy: one is to set the monitor to match a profile (calibration), or create a profile for the way the screen is set – which helps if you can’t adjust the monitor settings correctly. If accuracy is critical the monitor should be re-calibrated periodically, because they do drift – that Control Panel applet will remind you to do so.

At it’s simplest calibration just means adjusting the monitor by eye so it displays a file to match an accurate reference print. There are devices which will profile the monitor or help to calibrate it: there is quite a range of prices from about £60 ($100 US) upwards; and some companies will rent out the devices.

So that’s it.

1. Use the profile for the job – if in doubt stick to sRGB.

2. Software that understands profiles, combined with printer profiles mean accurate prints.

3. Screen calibration and profiles give you WYSIWYG (what you see is what you’ll get) previews of your pictures.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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