Category Archives: Microsoft

Windows 2000 Launch in Chennai

(Flashback date: October 15, 1999)

The other day while going through my photo archives spotted these photos – rows of desktop PCs, bulky CRT monitors and people sitting on ground with wired mouses. I could recognize Windows 2000 in the Monitors, its startup screen had a distinct white background with colours for the Windows logo.

Windows-2000-Chennai-Launch-PCs

venkat with friends19

What was being done by my colleagues seen above was setting up about half-a-dozen PCs with Windows 2000 Beta (B2). That build was notorious for its stability especially around COM+. We needed COM+ subscriber/publisher model to work across machines and that sub-system worked only on flawless networking. This whole exercise was preparations were meant for Microsoft’s launch event in Chennai for Windows 2000.

COM+ = COM + MTS + Services

With Windows XP technical support expiring with yesterday, you are left wondering how much of then technology has become obsolete quickly!!

Windows 8.1 update gets back Windows

Yesterday I upgraded to Windows 8.1 Upgrade, which is available for immediate download for subscribers of Microsoft MSDN Developer program. You can read the full list of changes in blogs.windows.com, Windows 8.1 update is a minor update (I didn’t notice a version change in System Properties) with improvements mainly for keyboard & mouse users.

Here are my top four picks from the many features in Windows 8.1 update:

Power button (shutdown/restart) next to the user name in start screen top right. This is correcting the mistake of hiding this in Charms bar->Settings button in Windows 8. In a tablet like Surface/Surface Pro closing lid should make a shutdown/restart button redundant like in iPad but Windows is still used a lot in Desktop PCs

Windows81-Update

Including a “Window” title bar on top of Windows Store (a.k.a. Metro) Apps as well. This makes it convenient for Keyboard/Mouse users to interact with Metro Apps easily including minimize, close & Split. This simple addition has made Metro Apps to be “Windows”

View connections link when you click on Network icon in Taskbar or Networks from Charms->Settings. It was super hard to find the network adaptors and connections in Windows 8

View-Network-Connections

Start screen icons including Right-click context menu & multiple selections

Lastly, I like the fact that on touch devices like Surface Pro, the keyboard and mouse improvements don’t affect the first class touch interface. For example the mouse right-click properties menu doesn’t appear when I am using touch in Surface Pro, instead the bottom fly out menu appears like I will expect on a touch interface. Similarly the Window title bar doesn’t appear when Windows Store (Metro) apps launch in a touch device like Surface Pro.

Overall, I do like the changes in Windows 8.1 update. When I read about this update I thought the improvements will be too tiny to notice, but after you use them you realize they do make every day usage of Windows less jarring between Desktop & Windows store environments. Windows Store (aka modern or metro) is the future, Microsoft is absolutely right in investing on it. At the same time Windows from 1.0 till 7.0 has evolved, grown & benefitted from years of tweaking & learning; those productivity improvements need to be preserved till the alternative is mature enough to take over seamlessly.

 

MSDOS.NET

(Backdated Post: 25/08/2000)

Being April 1st, it is appropriate for this post.

In late 2000 when the Microsoft world was going crazy on announcement .NET, it was .NET everything everywhere. Within the Microsoft user groups at that time, the joke used to be, anyone trespassing any Microsoft building in Redmond will be renamed as *.NET. So I would be called Venkat.NET if I was spotted by a Microsoft Product manager.

In this background during Microsoft Tech Ed 2000 India, in the organizing team we had to manage a 15 minute empty slot in the schedule. We couldn’t leave it free. We needed all the attendees to be in one hall, so that we could get the main hall ready without hindrance. And that was slot I used unravel for the first and only time anywhere in the world – Microsoft DOS.NET, the DOS operating system being upgraded beyond anyone’s imagination.

optimizing for performance, availability with msdos.net

msdos.net - dir outputs XML, Batch files exposed as COM+ objects, complete multi-threading & object pooling capability in MSDOS

Doing this session was fun, everyone enjoyed, yes the audience too like the spoof and laughed at it. It’s a different story that many years after this session Microsoft did re-architect and reimagine the humble command line to integrate with .NET when they released PowerShell.

SharePoint Conference 2014

SharePoint Conference 2014 is happening this week in Las Vegas and through online I am catching up with the events there. In the main keynote I watched in Channel9 (now the link takes to a discussion and not the actual keynote), some interesting statistics was shared by Microsoft:

  • 10000 people attending SharePoint conference 2014in Las Vegas 
  • Over 3.4 Million developers working in SharePoint & Office around the world
  • Office 365 is now a $1.5Billion per year business for Microsoft, seen 500% YoY growth
  • Over 60% of Fortune 500 companies use Office 365

Windows Phone 8 GDR3, Nokia Lumia Black

For my Nokia Lumia 925, I got the updates about a week or so back. I got both Nokia Lumia Black firmware upgrade and Windows Phone OS GDR3, I didn’t notice at that time these two were different, so I don’t remember whether both came together or I got GDR3 (aka Update 3) sometime earlier.

The Nokia Lumia Black Firmware update (WPcentral article) is about improvements to Glance Screen (which I never had any complaints), camera and Bluetooth 4.0 LE.

About-Black

I found the GDR3 to be more interesting, this adds Driving mode (a welcome feature), screen orientation lock (I wish there was a quick access to this through a button), App switcher improvements, custom ringtones and Wi-Fi during setup (an annoyance in WP before this).

About-GDR3

Taking screenshots of Windows8 Apps in Windows 8.1

Taking screenshots in PC seems has been a post that repeats every few years once in this blog. The last time I wrote on it was in October 2007 where I talked of using then Windows Vista’s Snipping Tool & other freeware tools, in November 2004 about using (then new) Microsoft OneNote to take screenshots. I can’t believe it has been nearly 10 years from that post!

Now we have Windows 8.1 in our PCs & Tablets (or at least I do) and there are new features in this release of Windows (Windows 8.1) to help you to do screen captures especially of Windows8 Apps (nee Metro Apps).

There has been few ways to do screen capture in Windows that still work in Windows 8.1, we will recap those below:

1) Windows 8.1 continues to ship Snipping Tool OOB. Go to Start Screen->Search Charm and type Snipping Tool (or) All Apps screen, scroll to Windows Accessories and click on Snipping Tool (as shown below). You can store a shortcut to Snipping Tool to your Desktop or Taskbar for quick access. The caveat with Snipping Tool is that, it works only with classic Desktop apps (Win32 Apps) and not with Windows8 Apps (CKA Metro Apps)

Snipping-Tool-Windows81
(Click on the image above to enlarge)

2)  You can use Keyboard shortcuts. My favourite is to use PrtScn Key if you are using a regular sized physical keyboard. This copies the entire screen to clipboard. For copying only a particular windows use Alt+PrtScn.  You are using a tablet you can use Windows Logo + Volume Down button, this will save the entire screen to a file in your Pictures\Screenshots folder. The last method is similar to what you will do in Windows Phone 8, where you will use Home button (Windows Logo) + Power Button.

The new feature that’s introduced in Windows 8.1 is to use the Share Charm (Note this feature is not available in Windows 8). To use it, from any screen in Windows 8.1 say a Metro App or Start screen pull up your charms bar (Windows Key + C or Swipe from Right edge of screen), select Share charm option, just below the title (Share) you will see a pull down menu, select “Share a screenshot” option. In some cases like in Desktop Apps, Screenshot will be the only option in Share Charm and then you will not find this drop-down menu.

Screenshot-in-Apps-Windows81
(Click on the image above to enlarge)

The beauty with using Share Charm for getting screenshots is that it works for both Desktop & Metro Apps, works even on Start Screen itself.

Screenshot-in-Start-Windows81
(Click on the image above to enlarge)

Footnote: If you are one of those who use Microsoft OneNote in Desktop and the shortcut Windows Key + S, you will find it not working in Windows 8.1 That’s because in Windows 8.1 this shortcut has been taken over by Search Charm. You can get that functionality back by following this blog post on the steps to assign Win+A using Registry. 

Windows Azure Portal–Trouble logging

At my firm Vishwak Solutions as a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner we were one of the earliest users of Windows Azure & Office365. Initially we used Azure mainly for providing additional scale in production situations. With Windows Azure adding IaaS recently we are nowadays using it more often for Development & Testing scenarios.

For one of our internal data capture applications we were using SQL Azure for standalone Database workload. We created a separate Azure account for this purpose using our corporate email ID (abcd@vishwak.com) but provisioned as a Microsoft Account (aka Windows Live ID). Incidentally we are using Office 365 (Exchange Online) as our email service for Vishwak.com.

Around end of last month (November ‘13) when we tried to login to Windows Azure Dashboard using this ID (abcd@vishwak.com) we got the error  “We are having trouble logging you into the portal Please contact Customer Service for assistance“.

Azure-Login-Issue

Contacting Microsoft India support at the given numbers (1 800 11 1100 & others) began a wild goose chase for next 1 week. Our case was shuttled between India support, MSDN support,  a non-exist number, Windows Azure subscription support & Microsoft online services support but no one could offer a solution.

Finally, we ourselves found the solution in this Microsoft forum page.  The solution (Case 1 as described in the forum page) was to sign out. Then when signing in again, to select Microsoft Account and not Organization account when we are greeted by the disambiguation dialog as below. Even though ours is an organization account (Office 365) since we got provisioned with a Microsoft Account before the October 2013 changes in Azure sign-in.

Azure-Login-Fix

Doing this, solved our problem. I just wish we found this solution earlier.

Resetting Surface Pro 1

Read here on my post on upgrading Surface Pro “1″ to Windows 8.1

In the mail App for last few weeks Hotmail.com mails are not getting downloaded. In Accounts option it says there is a certificate error and I couldn’t find a way to fix it. This  Hotmail ID is my primary Microsoft Account used to setup Surface Pro, which means I am allowed to remove it and reconfigure.

Before I tried anything else to fix it, I wanted to make a system image & recovery disc. I couldn’t do a recovery disc.  I got an error saying can’t find recovery media. I tried to use Reset PC option, I got the same error. For reasons unknown to me, I have a Recovery Partition of 7GB in my Surface Pro but it doesn’t contain anything. So I was left with the option of creating a new recovery disc using standard Windows 8.1 ISO file. The process to do that (to use ReagentC.Exe and extracting Install.WIM from ISO) is outlined here in detail.

Once I did the above, I reinstalled Windows 8.1 using the standard ISO file by mounting it and running setup. This meant all the Surface Pro specific drivers/firmware didn’t make it in the fresh installation. I needed to go to Microsoft and download Surface Pro Driver Pack and install individual drivers that were broken.

Now I have everything working fine in my Surface Pro.

Office 365 Password sync

Read here on my (positive) experience of using of Exchange Online (Office 365) for over a year now.

In the current configuration we were using, for each user the password for their emails (Office365) was different from their office network (local Active Directory). Even then there was a way to pass through single sign-on, which meant any user signing in to Office365 the authentication will be done over the internet (secure connection) to our local AD (Active Director) Domain Controller (DC). We didn’t go with this option then, as this would have required us to have our DC servers available all the time, which was not possible in our case. Due to frequent power cuts in Chennai (India) then and temporary Diesel shortage (to run our automatic diesel power generator) we were practicing night time and weekend shutdown of servers in our local development centre. There was no way for Office365 to cache our AD or have a backup AD then.

Recently Microsoft two options to solve this situation and still provide single sign-on. One was to go with Windows Azure Active Directory and sync it with our on-premise AD, then have Azure AD authentic Office 365 users. Second was to use the newly announced Office 365 Password Sync tool (How to implement Password Sync). We decided to go with the second option as it was the easiest, cheaper of the two and fitted our availability requirements. This option allows password of users to be synched (both ways) between our on-premise Active Directory and Office 365, and it doesn’t require our On-Prem servers to be available all the time.

Once we decided implementing it was easy, took our Windows System Engineer just few hours to understand the whole implementation, test it and go live. Our users are loving it, including myself!

Update (29/Nov/2013): After I posted this, our System Engineer Rajesh K, pointed to me a correction. Once you implement Password Sync, Office 365 doesn’t allow users to change their password, they need to change it in their Active Directory (through Windows client or other options). On exception to this, organization’s Office 365 Administrators can reset a user’s password which will get synced back to Active Directory.

Office365-PasswordChange

 

References:

  1. Office 365 Password Sync *Part of Directory Sync*
  2. How to troubleshoot password synchronization
  3. Plan for managing Office 365 accounts using Windows Azure AD
  4. Adding Sign-on to your web application using Windows Azure

XBOX One launch craze

I am in Redmond this week, midnight today is the launch of Microsoft’s new gaming console XBOX One. I have heard of multi day lines for buying new products from Apple, but this is the first time I am seeing one and for a Microsoft product. I am seeing “Q” lines marked in Bellevue Square mall in front of Microsoft Store and in Best Buy,Bellevue where I see determined fans camping in tents in the parking slot.

Bellevue Microsoft Store 2

Bellevue Microsoft Store 1

The technical specification and features of XBOX One are impressive, with two AMD Quad Core CPU (for the first time a gaming console on x86 architecture showing how far it has come from the humble 8086 introduced in 1978), 8GB RAM, 500GB HDD, Blu-ray Disc player, 4K video output, 7.1 surround sound, HDMI pass through, Gigabit Ethernet and a brand new Kinect sensor (which doesn’t require huge empty space in front of it). XBox One runs a Windows OS Kernel in a hypervisor which is meant to support Skype calls and other apps from Microsoft.

I am not much in gaming, so at this moment I am not planning to upgrade from my XBOX 360 & Kinect v1.