James O'Neill's Blog

January 8, 2009

Songsmith – there goes a chunk more time !

Filed under: Music and Media — jamesone111 @ 11:34 pm

Embarrassing personal revelation time. I sing in the car, in silly voices. Anyone who hasn’t heard me doing “Winston Churchill sings Dido’s ‘White Flag’” has had a lucky escape. I mention this because the folks in Microsoft research seem to have been putting something together for people with as little singing ability as me.

Watching the FriendFeed that went on during SteveB’s CES keynote in the small hours of this morning there was a plaintive howl from Long Zheng “He didn’t talk about Songsmith, but it made the press release”. What the heck is Songsmith ? Which press release because I couldn’t find it. Well it’s up there now. I hate it when something comes along and says “You know you haven’t go time for this … and yet you’re not going to be able to resist”.  My sister is a part-time evanglist for Korg’s Kaoscilator  – I’ve got one thanks to her – and I’m already wondering about the possibilities of combining it with songsmith. Normally parents get wound up by kids making music – in my household it could be the other way round.

There’s a nice video at the MSR SongSmith page but I don’t seem to be able to embed it here. Go look, but only if you don’t have a pressing deadline !

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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 client Betas on Technet

Filed under: Beta Products,Windows Server 2008,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 3:33 am

I’m not exactly delighted to be be blogging at 3:13 in the morning, but I’m watching the keynote from CES. In the last 45 minutes we’ve published a press release about Windows 7. Steve Ballmer said that “Technet and MSDN subscribers can download it now”. I was watching site propagate and the downloads are there. now. What do you mean you’re not a technet subscriber ? Well you’ll be able to get it in a few days.

I picked up from Mary Jo’s blog that there was a live friend feed for those watching. Mary Jo picked up that everything says “the beta” not Beta 1 or some such. Someone else who was thinking in the lines I outlined in the my previous post and suggested that shipping 7 or July 7th (7/7) was too good to miss. Touch in Windows 7 is going to get a lot of attention. I can see quite a few “lightweight surface” type apps being built with that.

Bonus info: Halo Wars will be out in February and a new Halo 3 game (Halo 3 ODST) will be out before the end of the year.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Windows 7 – not a very well kept secret

Filed under: Beta Products,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 1:55 am

We’ve got a projector in the office which gathers various streams of news and shows them on the wall, and today it keeps talking about Windows 7. It seems SteveB is making a speech tonight and everyone expects it to announce the beta of Windows 7. (Mary Jo has some more ideas what he might say)

So in preparation for its arrival here are a handful of thoughts about beta testing , and the next version of Windows.

1. Remember what a beta is for. It’s a two way thing; you discover what might have problems, what’s new and great and what’s new that you just don’t like. You test thoroughly. Try those crappy old apps and old bits of hardware (I’m told that some things which need coaxing to work on Vista are more likely to work on 7 out of the box. If it can’t be made to work on Vista with the app compat toolkit,  it probably can’t be made to work on 7 either). It might also be your first tilt at IE 8.  But it is a two way process: if you find something which doesn’t work we want you to report it. That was our reason for  letting you have it.

2. Products ship when they are ready part 1. I’ve seen all kinds of rumours about when Windows 7 client and Server 2008 R2 will ship. One intriguing one is that PCs shipped after July 1 will get a free upgrade. Free upgrades from RTM onwards used to be the rule. With Vista we had upgrades 24th October 2006, and RTM was in November. If this rumour is turns out to be true that says a release will not be much after July 1. I’ve always reckoned on 3-4 months for a beta and a month for a release candidate as a good rule of thumb. There isn’t time to do usual two betas and two or three release candidates by July, which makes another rumour – of only one beta the only way that will work. I don’t have any inside scoop on this.  We said the new client OS be 3 years after Vista. Exactly 3 years means RTM in November and launch parties in 2010 – nice fit for my timescales for 2 betas and 3 RCs .  Unless something is said in the Ballmer speech remember my old saying, those who really know don’t talk and those who talk don’t really know. Some great things are already being said about 7, but

3. Products ship when they are ready, part 2. A beta, by definition is not ready. Life will not be free of all disruption I’d be surprised if anything in the a beta OS trashes my data. But staring at a dead file system with nothing to do but mutter “that was a surprise” * isn’t something I’m going to let happen. So I’m going to try to get a fresh hard-disk and copy my data to it and leave the old one alone. And I’m going to be sure to test the backup and restore system :-) 

4. A lot will be written about the OS, much will be junk . Jason Perlow at ZDNET gives a great example. “There’s no run menu”. Press the [Window] key instead of [Window] & [R] or click start (rather than click start, click run) and type what you would have typed in the Run box. It works the same, and its quicker. And it finds things before you’ve typed the whole name. The mentality of saying “I must have my run box in floating window named run and it can’t be merged with search” is just… well, Jason’s colleague  Ed Bott just stops short of calling him a luddite. There are other good points in Ed’s post too. I’ve long held that he knows what he’s talking about.




* Back in my days in Microsoft consulting services , we would be asked to review designs and tell the customer that they good be guaranteed to work. I’d always explain that such guarantees are impossible but we can say we’ve reviewed it and if competently implemented nothing about it leads us to expect a problem. Of course if a problem arises we will say “COR ! That was unexpected”. That always raised a laugh, but the serious point was we




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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

January 5, 2009

Lies,Damn lies and licence interpretations.

From time to time people ask me who I write for, and I always say I write for myself in the hope that there are enough people out there like me to make a reasonable size audience. It always surprises me how many people inside Microsoft read this blog, not to mention the number of competitors who come here to read my impeccably researched and completely impartial comments (and in return I read their lies, twisted truths and false malicious implications. Ha. Ha.)

Someone pointed me to a post of Mike DiPetrillo’s from just before Christmas with the so charming title of “Microsoft lies to their customers again.”. Mike’s beef is that people who work for Microsoft have said things to customers which contradict what we have posted in public. Unwilling to resist a good title, he’s chosen to make this ineptitude sound like some sort of corporately organized conspiracy… The odd thing is that he is complaining about something you’ll hear people from his company say. During  2008 people from VMware complained that Microsoft was playing dirty with licensing rules for virtualization – that VMware could not use the bundled instances of the operating system included with Enterprise and Datacenter versions of Server 2003 R2 and Server 2008. Allowing customers to do less with your product if they also buy someone else’s product tends to have regulators beating your doors down. If customers get a certain number of bundled instances with a licence that has to apply regardless of the virtualization technology. Indeed, I constantly have to explain to people the reason that you can’t use anything but virtualization on top of Windows Server Enterprise with the full compliment of 4 VMs is that if you did that you’d have 5 working copies of Windows vs 4 with VMware and someone would cry foul. We put out a Licensing FAQ to try to make things clear. (I wish we lived in a world where the licence agreements could be so clear that no FAQs were needed but legal documents and clarity rarely go together).
However… Not everyone at Microsoft understands all the nuances of licensing, or government regulation. Every so often I see someone saying “VMware told my customer they could assign a server licence to a box and use that licence for windows VMs running on VMware. Where do I find something to fight that lie” and some kindly person has to point out it is no lie, and steer the poor chap to the FAQ.  If anyone out there meets Microsoft people who are still getting this wrong (and don’t have a better channel) mail me and I’ll gently set them straight.

[Update] The rest of this post has been overtaken by events – it is easier to remove it than to explain…

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Thinking about 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 3:19 pm

Once upon a time I studied economics. Listening to commentators telling us how bad things are and how much worse they are set to become makes me think about two things. First it is very easy to talk the economy into a downward way of thinking. Second, and more important, the difference between a recession and a run-away boom is about 5% of the turnover of the economy. Jobs are being lost, but 95% of people who had jobs in the best times will still have them in the worst times. More companies will go under (which you can choose to see as a clearing out) but most companies will survive.

Which isn’t to say this is going to be a comfortable year. I think some companies are going to take hard look at where they are spending their money  and what generates a return and what doesn’t. And if you work in IT pre-emptively rating your group’s performance in a few basic  areas seems smart.

  • Are we doing all we can to help make our people more productive ?
  • Is IT helping us connect with our customers ?
  • Is IT efficient and cost effective of itself ? And does iy help or hinder business responsiveness ?

Productivity almost speaks for itself. Failing to invest (in the guise of saving money) can mean slowly bleeding to death. When investment funding is plentiful a business can invest in risky projects – some will fail but the winners compensate for the losers. When funding is scarce project selection has to be more conservative: success needs to be assured, even if the returns are smaller. Projects which improve productivity are smart.

Connecting with customers: I’m convinced that in hard times the mentality of “there are other places I could spend my money” is stronger. Showing customers why they want to do business with you is something that ALWAYS matters: failing to do it when your competitors are hungrier and customers are choosier can be fatal.

Here’s a couple of examples. I talked about my gas bill in my last post. I’ve tried to use the company’s web site. I’m registered, but no power on earth seems able to get site to recognise the account number on my bill. Contrast this with my broadband provider: I phoned them to say they seemed to be offering a better a tariff and they switched me to it there and then and told me I could save more if I switched to on-line billing: which works and can recall old bills for me. Who do I feel happier with ? Who’s at risk of losing my business ? [I did put my details into a price comparison site, which told me I could save £185 … on the same tariff with the same company, with no special offers … sigh ]

Efficiency goes hand in with agility… If your whole time is spent fire-fighting it means that “just doing the basics” is soaking up all the budget and there’s nothing left for the new stuff.  You  can’t be agile unless you’re efficient, and Agility matters more when times are tough. Maybe your company will get to buy out a competitor : can you merge their IT into your own?  Can you help launch new products or initiatives ? Or are you the anchor holding the company back , part of the reason it couldn’t move with the times and will get taken over. Every time I talk about virtualization I talk about the ease of deploying a new server: it’s both agility and efficiency. Every time I talk about PowerShell I’m thinking about efficiency : Jonathan gave me a bunch of examples for how being able to do something for the business quickly in PowerShell was key to being able to do it at all

There are examples of all of these on a new UK focused web site http://www.microsoft.com/uk/leverage/ with a number of all of these on. But there’s more; with the economy in bad shape companies with strong finances – like Microsoft – can help their customers and trading partners. That page has a link to Microsoft Financing , which offers a way to finance IT projects without the need to encroach on the funding for other things.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

January 2, 2009

Gas bills and the people ready business.

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 3:29 pm

It’s a constant puzzle to people from the US and Europe that Britain seems to be split brained about weights and measures. We buy our petrol in Litres, but our beer in Pints. My French car gives me a read-out of fuel consumption in Miles per Gallon, but is taxed in Grams of CO2 per Kilometre. Yet our roads are measured in miles. I think of the pressure in my car tyres in pounds per square inch, but the pressure in a diving cylinder in Bar.  The two pound Christmas pudding which is currently waiting to be turned into ice cream only says on its label that it is 908 Grams.  The list is endless. The BBC reported just before Christmas that the pint was to be allowed to stay. (It’s not the first time that has been reported ). Of course the 20 ounce Imperial pint perplexes Americans where the 16 ounce pint rules (after all with 16 ounces in a pound, why shouldn’t it … ) And giving body weight in Stones … I might was well give my height in Atto-parsecs

Still… in an age when things are supposed to measured metrically its a wonder to me that the Gas meter we had installed a few years ago measures gas in Cubic feet. Or to be strictly correct about it hundreds of cubic feet. I mention this, only because I have spent more of this morning than I care to admit trying to figure out how my estimated gas bill for the next year was worked out. Gas is priced in Kilowatt hours, so there is a conversion from  Hundreds of cubic feet,which goes.

  • Take the difference between the two meter readings.
  • Multiply by an unexplained correction factor of 1.02264
  • Multiply by 100 to get cubic feet, then multiply by 0.02831 to get cubic meters.  Truncate this number to 2 decimal places.
  • Multiply volume by calorific value, which isn’t in calories, but in Joules per cubic meter (39,099,990 on my bill) ,
  • Since a watt is a Joule per second, 3600 Joule Seconds is a Watt hour, and 3,600,000 is a kilowatt hour, so divide joules by that

This gives a number to the nearest 0.01 kwH, even the reading is only accurate to the nearest +/- 50 CU ft (about 15 kWh)

Once upon a time the Gas company would send a little man round to read the meter every so often, but my last bill was an “estimate” which was more than double the amount of gas I’d used. Based on this estimate they made a guess at how much gas I would use next year.  So I tried to work out what that would be, and I was left thinking that a people ready gas company would quote their conversion numbers in kWH per measured cubic foot (0.314 on my bill), then you could get there in one step. What surprised me is having told the gas company I used LESS gas than they estimated, they’ve sent me a recalculated forecast for my usage will be for the next year … and they’re estimating it will be More !  Of course there is no hint for how the estimates are arrived at, but my simple estimate of “average of the last few years” , suggests a far smaller number.  It’s well within the capabilities of the systems the company has to put this information on a bill.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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