James O'Neill's Blog

November 30, 2009

The nights are drawing in, stoke up the fire and listen to some senior Microsoft Execs

Filed under: Events — jamesone111 @ 4:47 pm

My colleague Graham Watson has a secured a number of senior folk based in Redmond to do some on-line chats – which we’ve styled as fireside chats. Although the map on the side of this blog tells me I have readers in the Southern Hemisphere, but here in Britain and in Redmond this is the season for such things. Here’s what we have lined up for the next month or so. They are run at 8AM Redmond time, which is 4PM UK, and repeated at 6PM Redmond (2AM for UK insomniacs).

  • Dec 1st Cloud side chat: Microsoft Online Services and the evolving world of software + services
  • Dec 3rd Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 – Solution Accelerator
  • Dec 8th SharePoint 2010 for Developers
  • Dec 10thWhat’s new in Office 2010 and Implications for IT Pro’s
  • Dec 15thWhat’s new in Office 2010 for Developers
  • Dec 17th SharePoint 2010 for IT Professionals
  • Jan 12th Microsoft IT: Chief Architect and CTO

If you need to like to register for any fire side chat,  on that page you’ll also find the up to date list of Chats and a link to a survey so you can give us feedback or suggest future topics

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Shouldn’t regular reboots be a thing of the past ?

Filed under: Windows 7,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 8:38 am

A few days ago I linked to a post of Viral’s which showed some of the holes in the hype around Google’s “Chromium OS” or more accurately just-enough-os-to-run-a-browser.   He had an interesting link showing the work from Phoenix to slash the POST time – and you can’t help but be impressed when Windows starts booting within 2 seconds of hitting the Power button, but has booted and loaded a local HTML file into IE in about 15 seconds. I suspect a lot of the speed improvement comes from loading the OS from a solid state disk. But I keep wondering who is it who keeps booting their machines over and over. I often say in my presentations that when I travel by train I notice people starting their laptops up from cold, and shutting them down cold, and under XP up to SP2 I had problems with a machine with loads of memory refusing to sleep, so I can understand that.  I’m a pretty heavy user of my PC, but I don’t reboot for weeks on end. I see it as  like retuning the TV, something you do every few hundred hours of use. When I do, I start outlook, communicator and IE and they remain open pretty much until an update needs me to reboot.

I got to thinking “How long have IE and so on been running”. I’d make excuses for Outlook as I’m running the Beta of 2010.  I put the following command into PowerShell

Get-Process| sort starttime  -ErrorAction silentlycontinue | format-table –auto -property name, starttime, @{name="CPU"; expression={("{0,10:n1}" -f $_.cpu)}}

and it came back with the following

Name                  StartTime                  CPU
----                  ---------                  ---
taskhost              16/11/2009 19:45:24       21.6
dwm                   16/11/2009 19:45:24   10,451.2
explorer              16/11/2009 19:45:25    3,404.1

iexplore              16/11/2009 19:46:25    1,012.0
iexplore              16/11/2009 19:46:33    4,644.0
iexplore              16/11/2009 19:47:44    7,187.0
FOXITR~1              16/11/2009 19:51:33        8.5
iexplore              16/11/2009 19:53:08    3,025.5
iexplore              16/11/2009 19:53:41    2,744.7
iexplore              16/11/2009 19:55:28    4,553.5
mobsync               17/11/2009 10:14:04        2.3
iexplore              17/11/2009 11:14:48    4,331.6
communicator          19/11/2009 11:26:43    2,313.3
OUTLOOK               20/11/2009 11:45:33    4,614.2
FOXITR~1              20/11/2009 13:33:01       32.8

powershell            29/11/2009 13:02:00       22.1

As you can see it’s about two weeks since I logged on, (although the machine has been an out of hibernate and sleep a few dozen times) and I started IE pretty much at once – one of the web pages was PDF which opened in Foxit reader and has remained open (IE 8 spawns multiple instances of itself). Outlook – beta status not withstanding – has been open for 9 days. Some days I wonder if the problem is in the naming of the functions – that we’re somehow conditioned to shutting things down. I should propose to the Windows team they change the labels “Shut-Down” and “Hibernate” and possibly “Sleep”, calling hibernate something like “Save Windows”, so they convey Power-off-and-start-from-nothing-next-time, Power-off-and-resume-next-time and so on.

So I’m curious to know how many people want to see faster boots and how many people see my way of working as one they use now / will use ?

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 29, 2009

Windows Deployment information

Filed under: Windows 7 — jamesone111 @ 2:39 pm

A couple of posts back I put talked about how easy it is to use Windows Deployment Services with a video to reinforce the point: some roll outs of Windows 7 will need nothing more. Depending on exactly what is needed there are plenty more tools out there.

Looking for something else over the weekend I stumbled upon the deployment section from the Windows 7 resource kit as a free e-book. Going all the way back to Windows for Workgroups in the early 90’s I’ve thought that (a) the resource kits are some of the best books to come out of Microsoft Press (b) If there is a res kit for a product you work with you should have it on your shelf.  The Windows 7 one runs to over 1700 pages – thick enough, as someone said, to stun an Ox. I was one of the small army of people made a small contributions it, so the only thing that keeps me from buying a copy is the complimentary copy which (I’m told) is on its way to me. I like to thumb through a real paper book and pencil the occasional note in, but I also like having a searchable e-book (Manning publishers gave me a complimentary e-copy of Bruce Payette’s Powershell in action and it’s a whole different experience as a searchable text).  So even if you have already bought the hard copy I’d recommend pulling down the PDF.  This is no mere sample chapter . It runs to 330 pages – I haven’t read every word: what strikes me about having skimmed it is it’s completeness.

Bonus Link

Sometimes you don’t want a complete reference but a set of easier to digest pieces, and there are there is a 5 part series in the deployment section of the Springboard blog which covers a lot of useful ground; so that’s an alternative starting point.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 28, 2009

How easy is it to deploy a Virtualized server ?

Filed under: Virtualization — jamesone111 @ 10:50 am

A couple of posts back I showed the video of deploying an operating system with Windows deployment services. But if you have an image in a Virtual hard disk , it is quicker to copy VHD file than it is to make an image of its contents and then expand the image back onto a new system. That’s one of the options in System Center Virtual Machine Manager, so at tech-ed one of the demos I did was to to show how that worked – Andrew and I were showing how the new version of SQL server can be pre-installed with the Operating System. I captured the rehearsal version to show just how quickly this can be done, and the ease with which we can set the virtual hardware settings and configure the things which are set at first boot (like the administrator password, domain membership).

Bonus Links.

Over the coming weeks I plan to put up some more short screen casts focusing on specific tasks in SCVMM but in the meantime I’d like to share the a longer piece of work from my US-based colleague Kevin Remde. He broke a session he ran, entitled Overview of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 into 6 parts of roughly 30 minutes each. Here are the links.
Part 1 SCVMM Administration

Part 2 Common management of Hyper-V and VMWare

Part 3 The SCVMM Library

Part 4 User Roles and the Self Service Portal

Part 5 Integration with Operations Manager

Part 6 SCVMM wrap-up

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 27, 2009

Decisions Decisions, and “When is a phone not a phone ?”

Filed under: General musings,Mobility — jamesone111 @ 2:08 pm

Someone at work (no names, no packdrill) keeps telling me I’m set in my ways, and I keep disagreeing, since I’ve always thought it’s one of my personality traits to challenge the status quo (see Apparatchik vs Autistic). But I’ve been forced to confront my own conservatism when it comes to phones.

I’ve had my E650 since April 23rd 2007. Our phones normally get replaced after two years, but we wanted to make Windows mobile 6.5 the base level for phones and so people renewing were asked to wait for the new phones to start arriving.  2 years and 7 months have been hard on my E650. Being shoved in pockets with coins and keys has done horrible things to the finish, and it’s been dropped onto hard surfaces on several occasions – even bouncing down a flight of concrete steps. When I get fidgety I play Bubble breaker, obsessively, 200 games without leaving my seat is not unknown (yes, yes, another Asperger’s type behaviour, don’t think I haven’t noticed). I’ve played just under 12000 games, and if a typical game involves 100 button clicks that’s well over a million key activations. The keypad is getting to the end of its working life.  I need 3G data only rarely but when do the E650’s lack of it is a nuisance. 

As Magritte might have said, this is not a phoneFor the moment we have a choice of 2 phones the Samsung Omnia Pro and the HTC touch pro 2 either would be a new form factor for me.The Samsung has a qwerty thumb-pad which isn’t as good for dialling numbers as a 4×3 keypad and not great for typing messages (some people – Blackberry users think this compromise is ideal. I don’t) and it can’t use a standard USB cable to charge. So I’ve ruled that out. The HTC can use a standard USB (although HTC have added the ability to output sound and video via extra pins), and has a slide out keyboard for messages and correcting documents. But no keypad on the front, and it has GPS integrated so I no longer need to worry about my bluetooth GPS puck; and the big screen should work nicely with co-pilot. It’s a nice piece of industrial design, and it’s had good reviews especially for the 480×800 resolution screen.I wrote a piece called the mobility dilemma before I got the E650, and a lot of it still applies. iPhone users seem to manage doing everything including typing messages by caressing the screen: the slide out keyboard removes my biggest objection to the iPhone design, yet after 17 years using phones with 4×3 keypads, some instinct says without one it’s not truly a phone. (“See: you are set in your ways” … “No I’m not, because of the next question”).  Why am I carrying a telephone ? These days I use my “mobile” more as a PDA than a phone – but it is designed to be a phone first. When I ring someone it is almost always using a saved or emailed number, so the lack of keypad  to dial from shouldn’t matter. My PC has replaced my desk phone thanks to Office Communications Server and communicator, so if the telephone isn’t the best template for a mobile device why cling on to it ? I’ve rationalized getting the HTC by telling myself I’m going to stop carrying a “phone” and go back to a proper PDA (I loved the original iPAQ back in 2001) – just a PDA which can do phone calls. I have a suspicion one iPhone user I know (she knows who she is) will say “A-ha you get it now. Phone calls aren’t the main function why not optimize for the other stuff”. Indeed “Phone” may turn into a throwback term like “dial” or “ring”. The order should go in on Monday and the experience should give me the material for for some more posts once it arrives.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 26, 2009

How to deploy Windows: Windows deployment services.

Filed under: Windows 7,Windows Server 2008,Windows Server 2008-R2,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 12:23 pm

I saw something recently – it must have been in the discussion about Google’s bootable browser new “operating system” which talked about it taking hours to install Windows. I didn’t know whether to get cross or to laugh.Kicking around on youtube is a video I made of putting Windows 7 on a Netbook from a USB key (The technical quality of the video is very poor for the first couple of minutes, the installation starts in the third minute) . It took me 25 minutes from powering on for the first time to getting my first web page up. It was quick because I installed from a USB flash device. It would be quicker still on a higher spec machine, especially one with a fast hard disk. 

Installing from USB is all very well if you are go the machine(s) to do the installation(s). But if you have many machines to install, or you want to have users or other team members install at will then Windows Deployment Services is a tool you really should get to know.  WDS was originally a separate download for server 2003, then it got rolled into the product so it is just and installable component in Server 2008 and 2008-R2. There are other add on which round out deployment capabilities but there are 3 scenarios where WDS alone is all you need.

  1. Deploying the “vanilla” Windows image to machines. This can be Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Server 2008-R2 or Windows 7. I haven’t checked on deploying hyper-V server, it may be a special case because the generic setup process may not create a line that’s needed in the boot configuration database.
  2. Deploying a Windows image, customized with an unattend.xml file – again the same version choices are available , but now if you want to install with particular options turned on or off you can do so (The Windows Automated Installation Kit helps with the creation of this file, among other things)
  3. Creating a “Gold Image” machine with applications pre-installed, and capturing that image and pushing it out to many different machines [There are a few applications which don’t like this, so sometime it is better to run something to install ].

One thing which many people don’t seem to realise is that since Vista arrived one 32 bit can cover all machines, and one 64 bit image can be used on all 64-bit machines. Those images not only handle differences in hardware but can also be multi-lingual.

By itself WDS doesn’t address installing combinations of applications and images, nor does it automate the process of moving users data off an old machine and onto a new machine. I’ll talk about some of these things in future posts: but if you thinking about the skills you’ll need to do a deployment of Windows 7 (for example) understanding WDS is a key first step; the next step is answering the question “What do I need that WDS doesn’t give me ?”

Because I have to deploy a lot of servers. I put together a video showing WDS being used to deploy Windows server (server core is also the smallest OS and so the quickest to install as a demo). Because my Servers are most virtualized I have another video in the pipeline showing System Virtual Machine manager doing deployments of built VMs.
You get an idea of the power of WDS, but the fact the video is only 6 minutes long also gives you an idea of its simplicity.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Panel discussion: So, you want to be an MVP ?

Filed under: Blogcasts,Events — jamesone111 @ 12:36 am

Since I just mentioned Andy Malone, one of our MVPs, I should also say that he got a session together in Berlin to talk about our “Most Valued Professional” program and asked me to to join the panel, which had two MVPs, an would-be MVP, an Ex-MVP working for Microsoft Greece, and two other Microsoft people who deal with MVPs. If you wonder what we’re talking about when we mention MVPs or think you might like to be one , this is well worth a listen


This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 25, 2009

Interview: Cybercrime , defence against the dark arts.

Filed under: Events,Security and Malware — jamesone111 @ 11:44 pm

When I was at Tech-ed in Berlin a couple of weeks ago I recorded an interview with Andy Malone, one of our MVPs, as a follow-up the session he ran on cybercrime. The results have now been posted, and apart from wishing the camera crew had told me just how awful I looked on camera I think it’s quite a good interview – my job when I do these interviews is to try get the “guest” to talk about what they know, and not show how much I know , this is Andy’s specialist subject, so it wasn’t hard to do. If this piques your interest he does longer sessions for various Audiences, just put his name into your favourite search engine.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Announcing the PowerShell Configurator.

Filed under: Powershell,Virtualization,Windows Server 2008-R2 — jamesone111 @ 11:17 pm

For a little while I have had a beta version of a project I call PSCONFIG on codeplex. I’ve changed a couple of things but from the people who have given it a try, it seems that it is working pretty well. It’s aimed at servers running either Hyper-V server R2 Or Core installations Windows Server 2008 R2, although it can be useful on just about any version of Windows with PowerShell V2 installed. Here is breakdown of the what is included.

Installed software, product features, drivers and updates
* Add-Driver, Get-Driver
* Add-InstalledProduct ,Get-InstalledProduct ,  Remove-InstalledProduct,
* Add-WindowsFeature , Get-WindowsFeature, Select-WindowsFeature, Remove-WindowsFeature
* Add-HotFix,  Add-WindowsUpdate, Get-WindowsUpdateConfig , Set-WindowsUpdateConfig

Networking and Firewall
* Get-FirewallConfig , Set-FirewallConfig, Get-FirewallProfile , Get-FireWallRule, New-FirewallRule
* Get-NetworkAdapter, Select-NetworkAdapter, Get-IpConfig , New-IpConfig , Remove-IpConfig, Set-IpConfig

* Get-Registration , Register-Computer

Page file
* Get-PageFile, Set-AutoPageFile

Shut-down event tracker
* Get-ShutDownTracker , Set-ShutDownTracker

Windows Remote management
* Get-WinRMConfig , Disable-WinRm

Remote Desktop
* Get-RemoteDesktopConfig , Set-RemoteDesktop

* Rename-Computer
* Set-DateConfig , Set-iSCSIConfig  , Set-RegionalConfig

It has a menu so it can replace the SCONFIG VB utility , to show how it works I’ve put a Video on you tube (see below). It includes on-line help and there is a user guide available for download from codeplex. The documentation is one step behind the code, although the only place where I think this matters is that the New Firewall rule command doesn’t have any explanation – hopefully if you use tab to work through the parameters it is obvious . Obvious as a release candidate I’m looking for feedback before declaring it final. Codeplex discussions are the best place for that.


This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Two Posts from Viral worth a read

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 5:21 pm

I don’t normally blog just links, but after Google took the chrome OS into the open last week I was going to put something up, I enjoyed the post from Fake Steve Jobs on the subject when it was first announced, but Viral has done a better job than I would have done.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been having a frustrating time putting videos together with a lot of time waiting for them o render: this would have been even more frustrating had Viral not sent me an invitation to Pivot.   He’s written that up too. I saw a post from Mary-Jo about Pivot a few days back and it is fascinating. It is a great way to slice through “proper” databases – anything that is a catalogue can be browsed any which way.

To avoid just throwing the links out there, let me just thrown in my tuppence on Pivot: it might get people thinking about Taxonomy. They’ll say “Wouldn’t it be great if we could that with Photos”; and then they’ll hit something of a wall. To visualize the problem I’d like you to think of St Paul’s Cathedral – which is on anyone’s list of the most iconic buildings in London. [A quick Bing search shows Paul is a popular enough Saint to have cathedrals named after him in quite a few other cities round the world]. Suppose you had a huge database with pictures of buildings. Which slices through that database might come up with St Paul’s ?  Buildings in London / Buildings in England (not Scotland or Wales) / Great Britain (not Northern Ireland) / The United Kingdom (England Scotland Wales, and Northern Ireland) / Europe. Places of Worship, Churches / Protestant churches / Cathedrals. / Cathedrals in capital cities. Buildings by Sir Christopher Wren. Buildings started in the 1600s. Buildings completed in the 1700s. Buildings built following the great fire of London. Buildings with domes. Classical Buildings. Important places in the life of [anyone buried / Married there]. Places mentioned in Films/Books. How do we get the information to make all the different slices we want associated with every picture ? I can see that if we geo-tagged it something clever could know the boundaries for London or Europe, and whilst we might put St Paul’s in a picture title, at a pinch the city or names of famous architects might make it to the keywords, but how many people would tag a picture of St Paul’s with “Nelson”.  It’s by no means clear how these problems can be solved, [I’ve got a personal taxonomy for classifying photos, but making it shareable is something else] however, that should not blind us to the data sets where problem has been solved already: they can give some fascinating results. I spent a little while with films and endangered species databases. You find yourself saying “I never knew …” which is the point of these things.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 23, 2009

A few thoughts on the power of social media

Filed under: General musings,Social Media — jamesone111 @ 1:12 pm

Click for the originalBack in the middle of October I started writing about couple of big events so-called “world of social media”. One was the reaction to a piece which appeared in Daily Mail about the death of Stephen Gately. On Twitter Stephen Fry showed 140 characters is no bar to a devastating response. “I gather a repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with has written something loathesome [sic] and inhumane.”  Without the space constraint his blog post,  covered more of the issues including his self-confessed tendency to engage the mouth before the Brain is up to sufficient revs. By linking up some of the other comments – not least Charlie Brooker’s demolition piece – Fry became a focus for the the reaction (in fact, to a lot of the media it seems Twitter is Stephen Fry). The storm of complains to the press complaints commission was greater than their web site could handle. Derren Brown picked up the story and linked it with another I had also seen on Twitter: to travel on the London underground – or indeed to simply be in London at all means having cameras of many different organizations watching your movements.  The latin tag Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? “who can guard the guards themselves” has been around for a couple of thousand years: recently people have said looked at their camera-phone and thought “We Can”, and started to turn lenses back at the organizations who watch them.  Jonathan MacDonald did that when he saw a London Underground employee being abusive to a passenger. It caused a fuss on twitter and reached the Mayor of London and powers-that-be at Transport for London, and within a few days the man had resigned.

Both can be held up as examples of how campaigns can be “Orchestrated” using social media. But only by people who don’t understand it.

One of Margaret Thatcher’s more famous quotes was “There is no such thing as society”; and, if I understood what she meant correctly, she would have argued that there is no such thing as a cloud – just billions of water droplets in lose formation. That thinking says Society is not an entity of its own right , just the imprint of millions of individuals: society doesn’t do things people do things, and so on. Seeing the impact of “society” is like seeing a shadow : unless you live in the world of Peter Pan, a shadow does not lead a life of its own. I’m sure arguments can be had about whether the idea is right (and whether I’ve correctly explained the sound bite) but it is a good way to think about “Social Media”.This cartoon of Hugh’s came in about the same time, and summarized part of what I had been writing

From the start, internet has reduced the “friction” in communication. I don’t know if Bill Gates coined “at the speed of thought” which was part of one of his book titles, but with (effectively) instant one-to-Many or Many-to-many communication, ideas can spread about fast as you can think them. Forums pre-date the Web: dial-up bulletin boards were there in the 80s. But it would take hours for a message to spread, the same effort pushing out a message on the internet causes it to spread faster and further (because there are more people on-line), that’s what “less friction” means. Initially the web had a model was like newspapers: few had the capital needed to get their message out and there was little by way of reply. Your choice was simple, read or not read. Web 2.0 has become a shorthand for describing a place where anyone can choose to have a voice, and inevitably most of those voices are noise. Trying orchestrate that is as pointless trying to shape clouds. But every so often someone will say “I think this” and others will join in and say “So do I”, and a wave develops.

Click for full size version Once, Daily Mail columnists could assert, with relative impunity, that as a homosexual Steven Gately lived an unnatural life and died an unnatural death. If people found such a column “loathsome and inhumane” what could they do about it ? Who would write a letter to the paper or the press complaints commission? I suspect the only people who would have put to paper would be those who felt their own lives were being called “unnatural”. But in October people who neither cared much for Gately’s music nor shared his way of living his life paused and said “No one should be written about like that”. It’s possible to argue that people adopted that view because someone like Stephen Fry told them to, but Jonathan MacDonald’s video didn’t have a famous name telling people to do anything  and still people saw it and said “No one should be treated like that”.  Each comment saying so was like a rain drop – and when a lot of people coalesce around an idea we get a storm. The BBC’s Moral Maze programme was not the only place where people wondered aloud when this legitimate democratic protest (and they cited the Trafigura injunction case, described by PR week here) and when it shades into rule by lynch mob – I can’t help feeling that the answer is “when you disagree with it”.

The ability for ideas to spread quickly changes how we put our messages across. On the right are a couple of comments a few minutes apart from my Twitter feed. First, Sharon links to this comment – again from Stephen Fry. “Today, Britney Spears tells her PR manager, ‘Why should I care about this journalist of this newspaper with a big circulation? I will reach their circulation just by typing into my keyboard.’ So well, whole newspapers are on the one side filled with resentment against Twitter, on the other side they are using it and searching Twitter messages.”  It seems it is not just Britney who thinks like that. James picked up that McLaren tweeted the fact that they signed Jenson Button for next season 15 minutes or so before they posted the press release.

I’m starting to see people in Microsoft get that what is said about us in the different kinds of social media is at least as important as what we say. It isn’t always knowing to know what is being said and it is telling much harder to tell noise from the thunder of an approaching storm, but we are learning, for example what was said about Tech-ed or our Wembley on twitter was used as evidence for the success or failure of different parts of those events. And for the launch of Windows 7 the main Microsoft web page had a collection of quotes from ordinary people on twitter about how great the product – in past years these would have come from journalists. Does that mean the profession  of journalist will peter out ? I doubt it, because just as social media allows a spotlight to pointed at the “loathsome and inhumane” so it allows it to be pointed at the great piece of writing or photography: that’s all that happens when a you-tube video “goes Viral”

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 21, 2009

A Windows 7 trick for multiple sound cards

Filed under: Windows 7 — jamesone111 @ 8:27 pm

imageI’ve mentioned here before background noise drives me nuts (it’s one of boxes that gets ticked doing Asperger’s questionnaires). Some noise in the office is unavoidable, but it’s long been my view that filling other peoples workspace with noise from your computer is plain rude :  I have been known to ask people “Do you need to borrow some headphones”.

I still have not replaced the headphones which were stolen along with my laptop bag a few weeks ago, but I have another, quite bulky, set of headphones with a boom Mic: they plug into the USB port and show up as a second sound device.  This gives me a problem. How do I now if sound is going to come out the speakers in my laptop or out of the headphones ? Given my attitude to other people when they fail to keep their computers silent I’m going to deserve some flack if I start a broadcast to the whole office.

Quite by chance I discovered that Windows 7 can display volume controls for each of the sound devices (right click the volume control, and go to volume control options to decide what is displayed.)  So, I can mute one device and have sound coming out of the other. That’s perfect. It turns out that the headset becomes the default audio device when it is plugged in, but if I come back to my desk, don’t plug it in the on board sound stays muted – so I don’t disturb the office, but if I plug the headset back in, it is not muted. Perfect.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 19, 2009

“ThriveLive! Online IT Professional Virtualization Tour

Filed under: Events,Virtualization — jamesone111 @ 6:14 pm

My colleagues from the other side of the Atlantic  Dan Stolts, Blain Barton, Yung Chou and John Baker have lined up a a set of on-line sessions on virtualization aimed at IT Professionals.  
They will go from the desktop to the enterprise, Covering VHD native boot , Windows XP mode, Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V™, and  System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM).

When : Thursday, December 10, 2009 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM Pacific Time (US & Canada)  / 4PM-8PM (UK)  Register here.  I tend to drop into these things from home, and listen to the sessions which interest me as the clock shifts from working day to early evening.

Here’s the full Agenda.


Dan Stolts: on VHD Native Boot We’ll kick off the afternoon by exploring VHD Native Boot, which is a new feature for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. VHD Native Boot can be used as the running operating system on designated hardware – without a parent operating system, virtual machine, or hypervisor. This is one of the best virtualization features to date for technology professionals of every kind – from enterprise to small and medium-size business pros and consultants


Blain Barton on Windows XP Mode

With Windows XP Mode, it’s easy to install and run multiple Windows XP productivity applications directly from your Windows 7-based PC. Do you have application compatibility issues? Windows XP Mode can ease those compatibility headaches, because it gives you the best of both worlds. You can easily run older Windows XP business software – including web applications that require an old version of Internet Explorer® – while taking advantage of the many benefits of your Windows 7 desktop. This is a can’t-miss session for IT pros who juggle both new and established software and web applications.


Yung Chou on Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V
It’s time to focus on enterprise with an overview of Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V. In this session, we’ll look at how to create virtual machines in Hyper-V and demonstrate how the snapshot feature can easily revert the virtual machine to a previous state. You’ll come away from this session with a sold understanding of all the capabilities and new features in Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V.


John Baker on System Center Virtual Machine Manager
Finally, no virtualization discussion is complete without a conversation about management. When it comes to managing virtual infrastructures, System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 (SCVMM) is the best of the best. This member of the System Center family of system management products provides a straightforward, cost-effective solution for unified management of physical and virtual machines

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 18, 2009

Saving the world, and your sanity, one gadget at a time.

Filed under: Real Time Collaboration,Windows 7 — jamesone111 @ 7:42 am


For as long as we have been talking about “Green IT” I’ve thought the opportunity to save carbon emissions by using IT to reduce travel was far greater than the opportunity to reduce the carbon emissions of IT itself. That’s not an excuse for leaving your monitor on or not using the Power saving features of Windows 7 (and Vista) or Server 2008-R2, but a recognition that the savings that be made by reducing the amount we fly or drive to where we do business – and maintaining less office space when we get there are greater than the savings that would be made if we turned all the IT off.

As a high tech company you’d expect Microsoft to be further down the track of using this technology than most doubly so as we produce some of the technology which makes it possible. While I was at tech-ed in Berlin we had an “environment day” where web-cams were handed out for all who wanted them. We already try encourage flexible working – in my old role in consulting things couldn’t be all that flexible, but in evangelism I work from home a day or two most weeks. I’m more productive without the hubbub of the office, and cutting out the journey doesn’t just save carbon. I get between 40 minutes and an hour back at each end of the day when it is of most value to me.

We have a web page about what Microsoft UK is doing environmentally , everything setting a ceiling on the C02 emissions allowed for new company cars and lowering it each year, to a “proximity printing” system which cuts down the amount left unclaimed on printers and which is credited with saving us 50,000 sheets of paper per month  Think of it as a tree a week.

I picked up the web cam on when I got back from Berlin. I don’t do many video calls – I find our RoundTable video conferencing useful because I can see a group (and it seems rude not to let them see me), but 40 odd years of using the phone has proved to me that 1:1 doesn’t need video calling, so I don’t now how much use it will get It’s a Life-Cam show , and it has a clever way mounting on a stand, laptop lid or monitor. Both front and back have the socket part of a ball and socket joint and then the stand and clip provided have the ball part, which is magnetic. The joint means the camera angle can be adjusted easily, and if you need to attach to anything else the “ball” part of the is provided separately with a self adhesive backing. Image quality seems pretty decent even in low light– it has a 2MP sensor which it samples down to 800×600 for moving pictures, and up to 8MP for stills. Sadly it doesn’t seem to support WIA, and given what I’ve just said about the environment, our packaging police could find ways to reduce the packaging. Fortunately the packing includes a case so the lens doesn’t get scratched to bits in a laptop bag. It comes with a CD and it tells says install the software first. This is where Windows 7 gets clever. 


Oh darn – it knows this software won’t work – quite rare for Vista software not to work on 7 and knowing what will fail is quite clever in itself, but not new – Vista did that. But I don’t remember Vista ever offering the next step – knowing the signature of things which don’t work you can check in a database and see if a fix has been logged and guide the user to it. Like this.



And Hey presto everything is installed. Since I don’t use Windows Live messenger – only office communicator, I dug out the details of how to make the button on the camera activate communicator. Now lets see how much use it gets….

 Update. I pasted in the wrong link for “how to activate communicator”  – thanks to David for pointing that out.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 17, 2009

Making word clouds (Part 2: how to use it , and clouds from twitter).

Filed under: Music and Media,Office,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 2:04 pm

Attached to this post is a Zip file containing Twitter.ps1 the PowerShell script I use to get information from Twitter, and since the word cloud work grew out of that it has ended up in the same file.  It also contains noise.dat the list of noise words which you can customize.

If you want to use it you will need to have PowerShell V2 installed – if you are on Windows 7 or Server 2008-R2 you have it already, otherwise you need look up KB968929 and  you can download WINRM and PowerShell 2.0 for anything back to Windows XP. The code has been tried on the Beta of office 2010 and on office 2007 and should work with PowerPoint from earlier versions but hasn’t been tested.

Click for a larger versionThe first thing you need to do is to load it , any version of Windows form Vista onwards flags files which have been downloaded from the internet and PowerShell can be a bit fussy about those. I suggest that you when you have downloaded the ZIP file you right click it go to properties and click Unblock on the general page before you extract the files. Once you have extracted the files start PowerShell and you need to enter two commands 
CD [folder where you extracted the files]  

. .\twitter.ps1

note that is Dot, space, dot backslash twitter.ps1:  it won’t work without the dots.

I have included a sample file, Macbeth.txt to get you started, it is the text of… the Scottish play. So you can now type the command

Format-wordCloud Macbeth.txt

Click for a larger version PowerPoint should start in the background and it will put together your first word cloud. The text for this will be all horizontal, all default colours and fonts and all words and no phrases. The biggest text will be 80 point and the smallest 16 – if your example turns out like the first one of mine you can see that we might want to change the –maxfont and –minfont settings or the –howmany parameter to fill the space better. When it finishes the function gives a fill percentage – that is: the total space occupied by the words as a proportion of the slide area. Mine came out at just under 50% , and experience tells me not to expect more than 75% so I might increase the font size to –maxfont 100 –minfont 20 as there are plenty of words – I don’t want to fill the space with more words.

It’s not bad for a first attempt , but it has my, our, your,his, me , him , us and No too prominently, these can be taken out with the –extraNoisewords parameter,like this:

Format-wordCloud macbeth.txt -ExtraNoiseWords  my, our, your,his, me , him, us, no

We can introduce some colours – if you enter the this command it will show you what the colour selections are


The colours numbers are Red + 256 * Green + 65536 * Blue , so the default is 4 black, 1 red, 1 green , 1 blue.
In addition we can make about 25% of the words appear vertical, and use a font which looks right for Shakespeare

Format-wordCloud macbeth.txt -ExtraNoiseWords  my, our, your,his, me , him -RandomVertical 0.25 -RgbSet $rgbset -fontName “Blackadder ITC”

Click for a larger version The final thing to try might be to look something on twitter. It takes several seconds to run a twitter search for the last 1500 posts (that’s the –Deep switch) so it is better to store the result, in case you want to run with a different set of parameters so let’s see what is in showing up in the F1 world today, first get the tweets , the put just their titles into the cloud.

$searchResults = Get-TwitterSearch “F1” –deep

$searchResults | Foreach {$_.title} | Format-wordCloud -phrases -RandomVertical 0.25 -RgbSet $rgbset –uniqueLines –maxfont 60

The -uniqueLines switch is there for something which I have mentioned before – the tendency of people to retweet an identical post many times – you can spot this happening when a long phrase becomes very prominent, which is often the case if a couple of news stories dominate a search, even with this in you can a few stories are repeated in slightly different forms.

I can’t show everything here. Obviously you can do a lot once the slide is created in PowerPoint: one favourite trick is to do select all and set the animation for every bit of text to Appear 0.1 second after previous.  I tweaked the colours and layout for the F1 tweets from twitter in PowerPoint as well. I haven’t shown –randomtwist (the value is the maximum angle of twist in degrees), but that needs a lot more fiddling after the layout is done. Nor have I shown -randombold or -randomItalic which work just like random vertical – (phrases are always in italic). No two layouts which use any of the Random parameters will be identical, and sometimes it is worth running the format again with the –useExisting switch(and no filename –text or piped data) to see if you a second one looks better than the first.

You can export $words to a csv file with $words | export.csv –path MyWords.csv , and modify it in excel or use it as a template for your own text. If you do you’ll notice there is a URL column – you can assign links to the text if you want to. Once you have the text you want as a CSV file you can reimport it with $words = import-CSV MyWords.csv and run format-wordcloud with the –useExisting switch

As you can see there’s lots to play with. PowerShell seems quite happy to process very large amounts of text – I got the text of War and Peace and it took a while to process the words but it worked just fine. So try your own text and combinations of settings.  But let me stress the disclaimer that covers everything here – it is provided “AS IS” with no warranties, and confers no rights.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

Making Word clouds (Part 1: how it works).

Filed under: Desktop Productivity,Music and Media,Office,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 9:41 am

I’ve been playing with word clouds on and off for the last couple of months, and finally I’ve decided the time has come to share what I have been doing. 

Word clouds turn up in all sorts of places, and I wanted to produce something which could take any text, be customized, and let me edit the the final version. The last requirement was key, because anything which produces a bitmap graphic at the end is not going to be easy to edit. I’ve seen it done with HTML tables but they are hard redesign (You can’t move words round easily). So it needed to be something like Visio or PowerPoint, or WMF which can produce a drawing containing text. Eventually I settled on PowerPoint. Although I’m using the beta of Office 2010 it relies on an object model for PowerPoint which hasn’t changed for several versions. And, since I only seem to program in PowerShell these days I wrote it in PowerShell. This gives me an easy way of taking any text – like Tweets from Twitter – and pushing it into a cloud. So I wrote my longest single PowerShell function yet to do the job.


  1. If Not already connected to PowerPoint, get connected. Start a new, blank, slide

  2. Get a list of “Noise words” from a file (I used a copy of the Noise.dat, which is part of Windows Search, as a starting point) and merge that list with any passed via the –ExtraNoiseWords parameter.

  3. Take text from a file (specified by the –Filename Parameter) , a PowerShell variable or expression (specified by the –text parameter) or from the pipeline in PowerShell, and  produce a “clean” set of words by:

    1. Removing anything which is not a space, letter, digit or apostrophe from the text.

    2. Removing `s at the end of words, and convert “_” to space.

    3. Splitting the text at spaces.

    4. Removing “words” which are either URLs or numbers .

  4. Count the occurrences of the words , and determine the “cut-off” frequency which words must meet to get into the final cloud (a –HowMany parameter sets the number of words, if this is the default value of 150 and the 150th non-noise word occurs 10 times, accept all words with 10 occurrences, even if that gives 160 non-noise words )

  5. if the –phrases switch is specified:

    1. Find phrases which contain any of the words which meet the cut-off frequency.

    2. Ignore those phrases which don’t make the cut-off frequency.

    3. Repeat the process looking for longer phrases which contain the phrases which were just found. Keep repeating until no phrases are found which meet the cut-off frequency.

    4. Add the phrases to the list of found words and reduce the count of their constituent words.

  6. Remove noise words, and two word phrases where one is a noise word, and words which do not reach the cut-off frequency, sort the list of words by frequency and then number of letters

  7. Store the words in a global variable ($words) so that the function can be re-run with the ‑useExisting switch. $words can be reviewed or exported and re-imported later.

  8. If the –noPlot  switch is specified , stop leaving the words and phrases found and their counts in $words.

  9. Set additional properties on the word:
    Set the font size for the word, scaled between the values set by the -minFont and –maxFont parameters (these default to 16 and 80 point respectively)
    Set the margins to the value specified in the –Margin parameter – Powerpoint uses quite generous margins by default, but script defaults to 0.
    If –RandomVertical and/or -RandomBold, and/or -RandomItalic values are specified, generate random number for each and if it are less than the specified number, set the text attributes to true
    If -Randomtwist is specified set the twistAngle attribute to a random amount up to the value of randomtwist
    If multiple rgb colours have been provided using the -RgbSet parameter, select one at random. If not the default PowerPoint colour will be used – normally black.
    If the -fontname parameter has been provided  and is a single name, set the word to use it it, if multiple fonts have been specified select one at random. If not font is specified the default PowerPoint font will be used. 

  10. Place the first (most common) word in a Powerpoint Shape (rectangle) at the centre of the slide, store the positions of its corners as properties of the word

  11. Place each remaining word in its own shape at the top left corner of the slide, setting its properties as already defined. Get its size from PowerPoint, then try to place it around the boundaries of each existing shape, stopping when the placement won’t overlap with any of the other placed shapes. (The starting point for this method was something I read by Chris Done it was here but his pages on word clouds only show up in Search Engine caches now.)  Note that the the more shapes which have been placed, the longer each new shape will take to place. Store the positions of the newly-placed shape’s corners as properties for use placing future shapes.

  12. Stop when either the number of words cannot be placed exceeds the value in –maxFailsToPlace (3 by default) or all words have been placed successfully.

In part 2 I’ll include the PowerShell code: the example above was from the Tweets about teched and I’ll show some more examples, with the command lines which were used. As you can see from the above, there are 20 or so parameters to explain.

Update Thanks Ian for letting me know that Chris’s Page is missing in action, the italicized part of point 11 has been changed accordingly.

tweetmeme_style = ‘compact’;
tweetmeme_url = ‘http://blogs.technet.com/jamesone/archive/2009/11/17/making-word-clouds-part-1-how-it-works.aspx’;

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 6, 2009

The point of Windows 7 libraries and search

Filed under: How to,Windows 7,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 10:06 am

In my previous post I mentioned a correspondent – his name is Andy – who’d written asking the question “What the hell is the point of libraries and if you have the name of the person whose idea they were please post it for summary flaming” He made another comment which I think goes to the heart of it.

…  as with the advice to people to avoid Vista unless buying with a new machine and then only a powerful one which one then customises to remove things like pointless indexing, I am now launching the ‘destroy or develop libraries’ campaign!

I’d like to drill into that.  I just checked my home machine’s asset tag with Dell and it will be 6 years old next week. I wanted to replace it but I spent £30 on upgrading the memory to 2GB and although the graphics card can’t do glass effects,  it runs Vista well enough on its 2.2GHz Celeron (single core) processor that the replacement has been postponed indefinitely. It works as a media center and streams stuff to the TV via the Xbox. Memory is critical though: I’ve been saying since Windows 3.0 “don’t worry about CPU , throw memory at systems.”   a 256MB XP system isn’t going to make a happy upgrade, on that we can certainly agree.

But  “Pointless indexing ?” Indexing is a low priority task and only consumes resources when files change, so removing it saves very little and costs a lot. The big thing , the HUGE thing for me as a user in Vista is search, and clearly no index: no search. Anyone who has got into the Vista or Windows 7 way of working will understand that, just as internet search engines mean we don’t try to remember many complex URLs any more, so on Vista and 7 we don’t remember complex paths to find files.
When I first  first worked on Sharepoint (it was still called Tahoe at the time!) it became clear to me that file hierarchies work poorly.  Do you organize files by date, by subject, by type? If you write thousands of letters how do you name them so you can find all the letters for a given customer ? Or all the letters for customers interested in the WidgetMaster 2000 ? Bluntly, if you can’t find the stuff, is there any benefit in keeping it ? And it’s not just in office automation settings that this matters. I had over 30,000 photos on my PC at the last count. How do I quickly get to the Vulcan Collage I used in this post – did I put it in folder of “pictures for blogging” or did I make a folder for the vulcan shots and put the collage with the source pictures, or did I save the collage with other collages. To find it I just press the “Windows key” and start typing “vulcan” in the box on the start menu. Starting programs which are not on quick launch bar… life is too short to remember folder hierarchies on the start menu: I hit the same key and start typing the program name. Want to remove a program? Why bother to remember where that is in control panel? I hit the same key and start typing “remove” and the correct link to control panel appears. And Windows search is the search for Outlook. With my recent car problems I found I hadn’t got the number for the fleet management people in my contacts. So I typed “Fleet” in the search box and a second later there was a mail with the number I needed. I am totally dependent on search now.

image Indexing has a beneficial side-effect. You can create virtual folders based on metadata. I know a couple of people who flinch when I use the term meta-data but it is simply data about the data: its author, creation date, subject, tags and so on. Office Documents have “document properties”, MP3 and Windows Media files embed information about the song title, artist, composer, length and so on. JPEG and TIF images contain embedded EXIF data which contains camera information as well as artist, tags, title etc.  On the left you can see this being put to use in Windows 7. I’ve ringed the “arrange by” option; and here “tag” has been selected. In some places Tags are known as “keywords”, but as you can see in the screen shot (click for a full size version), a tag can contain multiple words. “Arrange by tag” tells windows “Select all the files in this folder and its subfolders, grouped by their tags" (a file can appear in multiple places if it carries more than one tag). Since each group is treated as a “search folder” I can search arrange results by metadata, so I can have “Infra Red-tagged Pictures also tagged Oxfordshire” Or “Pictures of Aircraft taken in July 2009” and so on.  I can drag the search folder to favorites or the desktop or my task/quick launch bar to call it up again.


But wait – there’s more ! In the second picture you can see I’ve typed something in the search box (ringed). Normally this would be something for a free text search over all the metadata fields. But I’ve typed FocalLength: so this will search in a specific metadata field. I haven’t specified an exact match but typed >280 so it only returns pictures where I was using my longest lens zoomed to the maximum length. Also notice on the menu bar that the search can be saved: that keeps a search folder to apply the same search criteria to my files in the future.

If you’ve opened up a the picture on the left you’ll have seen it contains some shots of the wild rabbits which come into my garden – and I seem to have gone down a bit of a rabbit hole here because the question was about libraries  – and I’m talking about Search folders. You can’t save files to a search folder – it isn’t a “place” – and a search narrows the selection to just some of the items in a branch of the file system…


Libraries use the index beneath the surface, but work in the opposite way to search folders. They bring together multiple file system branches. That’s it. I think Andy thought they were more sophisticated, but there’s only filtering if you do a search: the 4 default libraries which link together 4 of the “MY” folders with their “Public” counterparts. So now it doesn’t matter if something is in “My Music” or “Public Music”, I can find it in the “music” Library. And this isn’t limited to folders on my computer -  You can see on the left that my computer belongs to a Windows 7 HomeGroup and I’ve added the music folder from another member my Music library – this wasn’t the best staged demo because the netbook I’m connecting to only has the Windows sample music on it – which I’ve removed from my laptop, that’s the one non-blurred item .

Adding a folder to a library is a simple matter of going to the library’s properties, and clicking “include”. Any of the folders which comprise the library  can be set as the default location for saving. In effect, the Documents folder is “My Documents” with the extra ability to find public documents. You can change  the name of library so you could call it “All Documents” or even “My documents”. If you neither use the public folders anything there would be no harm in deleting the default libraries. Conversely if you’ve built up a complicated hierarchy of folders, so you might have “letters 2008”, “Letters 2007”, “Letters 2006”, “Invoices 2008”, “Invoices 2007” and so on, you could create new libraries for letters and Invoices.

Now, Andy’s complaint was essentially that he knew users for whom any change is bad. And my previous post I owned up to the fact that my first reaction to any change is “What did they do that for”  He says

unless totally new to computers, the addition and forcing users to default to libraries adds another level of confusion to non-tech savvy people. My mother… has been using PC’s since the 8086 days and had got to grips with DOS/File Manager/Explorer/My Computer/Computer for years before you introduced ‘My’ documents, pictures etc. I then had to spend time explaining the concept of a virtual pointer to a set of folders held elsewhere. We got there in the end although the desire to navigate to them via the C: drive remained for a while.

When we do make these changes we spend thousands of hours in usability labs to makes sure different categories of users can pick them up easily, and if we made everything exactly the same as it always has been it would be a brake on progress. Although Andy emphasised “forcing users to default to” when I did a quick check, everything I tried remembers the last folder things were opened from or saved to. I also have a vague memory that the pre-release versions of Windows 7 opened explorer at the libraries folder but the release version on machine opens at Computer – of course you can have shortcuts to open any folder you want. For some people’s’ machines “MY” in front of documents isn’t needed, you can rename the “MY” away. All the “My” folders are actually pointers so if you have always used C:\Documents, you can navigate via the Hierarchical path in the file system as before, if you can re-point the default location, any program which calls the Windows API to say “where is the default location for Documents will go to there and not keep trying to take you back to somewhere under users

Now, following that, some bright spark decided to demonstrate to logical human beings that had spent years learning how a hard disk could be navigated that logic and common sense is not required for using computers and in fact is detrimental to their use. I write of making the hard disk subordinate to the desktop in explorer when Vista was launched.

Andy’s point actually applied prior to Vista. On the Desktop you have a computer Icon, if you open computer it contains drives, if you open a drive and navigate to your user folder it contains the desktop. Where once we had a tree structure with the some root which contained all the drives, now we have a loop. I understand what he means though, having spent years with learning ways to impose a logic to cope strict hierarchies we’ve now said “you don’t need to force yourself into thinking that way any more”. No one forced to change how they organize their files: that’s important.  Personally I navigate to my documents via libraries, the “my documents” link in my home folder (which I have as a favorite) via the C: drive, and from Cmd and PowerShell prompts.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 5, 2009

Car trouble – a possible metaphor for new software ?

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 12:26 am

A little over a year ago I mentioned I had taken delivery of a big Citroen. It’s my seventh, I’ve likened it to driving a church – not as a criticism but because of the sense of serenity inside, due in no small part to Citroen’s clever HydroPneumatic suspension. Last night as I was leaving work a warning message appeared: “Suspension failure – do not exceed 55 MPH”. Initially I thought it might be a diagnostic problem, but as the journey went on it was clear that there was something seriously wrong – 15 years ago Citroen number 3 had a hydraulic leak and the early stages of that felt similar (on that model brakes and Power steering were on the same hydraulic system as the suspension, and this happened when working at the other end of the country; the last part of the journey to the local Citroen dealer was memorably scary.).

Systems whirred into place and the local Avis got a call to deliver me a car, which the did amazingly quickly. So I have been driving another car today. Its ride was worse than the faulty Citroen. The brakes were didn’t feel right, the power curve of the engine seemed wrong, the seats were very nice leather – which is odd on a rental car – but wrong. Control positions, wrong. Heating and Air con: wrong. Instruments, strangely styled and , you guessed it, they’re just wrong too. Though I did have to concede it has boot the size of Belgium.* The odd thing is that this has been one of the best selling cars in Europe for years. Clearly a lot of people don’t seem to think there is anything wrong, with the controls, instruments, road manners and so on. It’s just a question of being used to something else. As a former colleague once put it WIKIWIL: what-I-Know-is-what-I-Like. 

Since I put the final version of Windows 7 on my laptop, I haven’t installed Mind Genius – my preferred mind mapping software, and I’ve got a couple of things simmering away in my head which need it, and so I installed the new version 3 on tonight. It uses the office 2007 style ribbon. I knew and liked both version 1 and 2, but the adoption of the ribbon takes me back to when office 2007 arrived; what was familiar was taken away and it all felt wrong. I can’t recall anyone telling me they liked the ribbon on first sight, but very few have maintained a dislike after a few hours working with it. My first hour exploring Mind Genius 3 has been the same, grinding of teeth and wanting to shout “why did they have to change it” with the occasional “OK, that’s clever”. I expect the new version will work better than the old – they have not taken away the ability to thoughts in quickly which is the essence of Mind Mapping.

Working as an evangelist for new versions of software it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing those who don’t take to it as luddites. Today was a good a reminder for me that it takes a while to persuade me of a change, so why shouldn’t other people be the same? Even things which are “better” aren’t to everyone’s taste. It was a timely reminder because of  mail  I had today, which asked
“What the hell is the point of libraries and if you have the name of the person whose idea they were please post it for summary flaming”
Now, a mail entirely in that vein wouldn’t normally get an answer, but the writer made some good and intelligent points so I’m going to devote the next blog post to that.


* For any US readers “boot” = Trunk, and “Belgium” is a country which produces proper chocolate. 

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

November 2, 2009

You can’t be a 21st century admin without PowerShell

Filed under: General musings,Windows Server 2008-R2 — jamesone111 @ 6:11 pm

When I was at school my father gave me a copy of an article he’d seen at work. I remember nothing of the article itself, but the title has stayed with me: “You can’t be a 20th century man without maths”. I think even then “You can’t be a [time] [person] without [skill]”  was a  Snowclone – I’ve adapted it from time to time – hence the title.  In a recent conversation someone asked me if I knew “That sunscreen thing” which was turned into a song by Baz Luhrmann (On you-tube) and having been reminded of it, I found it wanted to morph into the the opening of a session I was doing on managing Server 2008-R2 The original began

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

newskill.. it was all I could do to avoid opening with “Ladies and Gentlemen: Learn Powershell. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, PowerShell would be it”, the long term benefits of PowerShell …”

I’ve been saying the same thing in different ways a lot recently. The slide on the left was in the session I delivered at the big Wembley event in October.  A few people picked up that I’d said “Everyone should learn PowerShell”, and I’ve since had to explain that this requires a suitable definition of “Everyone”. But it is my firm belief that IT professionals working Microsoft technology are at an advantage if they know at least the basics of PowerShell. Being able to automate complex processes , and show that the steps have been followed isn’t a new idea ; it always was important in the mainframe and mini computer world. There are plenty of situations where using a graphical interface is easier than using an obtuse command line tool, yet the focus on GUI tools in the Microsoft world means that command line and scripting skills are less prevalent among system admins than is the case in Unix / Linux world. Those skills can mean better efficiency, or allow tasks to be carried out which would otherwise be impractical. If the setup is simple or IT management is not a persons main job, doing the work optimally matters less because there isn’t much of it. If there is little repetition writing a script takes more time than it saves. When IT is your main role and includes repetition of complex tasks then scripting puts you ahead. Of course I equate “scripting” with “PowerShell” which simplifies things too much: the tools will vary between environments – I took the following list from one of the Slides in the Wembley deck: – it is not designed to be complete but to show pre-eminence of PowerShell in the Microsoft world.

In Server-R2 there is: Not forgetting that we also have
  • PowerShell for Active Directory
  • PowerShell for Applocker
  • PowerShell for Best Practices
  • PowerShell for BITS transfer
  • PowerShell for Clustering
  • PowerShell for Group Policy
  • PowerShll for Installing components
  • PowerShell for Migration
  • PowerShell for Remote-Desktop
  • PowerShell for Server Backup
  • PowerShell for Web admin
  • PowerShell for Exchange 2007
  • PowerShell for HPC
  • Powershell for HyperV @ codeplex.com
  • PowerShell for OCS in the OCS Res-kit
  • PowerShell for SQL 2008 R2
  • PowerShell for System Center

You can see anyone who says “I don’t do PowerShell” is at a disadvantage, and the first thing to explain to them  that opening up a PowerShell window and running the cmdlets which are provided by any of the above is no different from starting a CMD.EXE Window and entering commands there – in fact it’s easier because the way parameters and help are handled is consistent. The idea of an environment extended with task-related Snap-ins which we saw with the GUI management console is the same in PowerShell – we load something which understands the task into an environment which provides the UI. The cmdlets are just a foundation: building things up from them takes things to another level. But you can build things up around free-standing programs too – by allowing them to be scripted, PowerShell makes it possible to deliver things which otherwise would be too time consuming. The example I’ve been using to show this is the following:  In Server 2008 R2 we have a new feature called off-line domain join; ODJ allows you to create a domain account for a computer, and a file containing the information needed for that computer to be added to the domain. This file can be applied to the OS offline without needing to boot it, logon as an administrator, connect and change the computer name and member-of setting from the default workgroup to the chosen domain. The command to do this is a traditional .EXE and it looks like this.

djoin /provision /domain MyDomain /machine MachineName /savefile filename

Great … but what if you have 1000 machines ? Are you really going to sit there all day typing the names in, and checking you didn’t mistype any or miss any out ? If you have a list of machine names in a text file, you could do this with PowerShell

Get-content Machines.Txt | forEach-object {djoin /provision /domain MyDomain /machine $_ /savefile $_ }

For each machine name (line)  in the file machines.txt the command will run djoin with that name as both the machine parameter and the filename parameter.

The successful admin is not automatically the one who knows every possible way to use every possible command in PowerShell. Nor the one who turns their back on GUI to do everything from the command line , but the one who understands the tools available for the task at hand, can select the right one, and can put it to use competently. PowerShell is one of the tools available in so many cases in the Microsoft world, that you can’t meet that definition without it.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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