Monthly Archives: October 2009

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Useful Links: October 2009

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

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Protecting my netbook with BitLocker

One of the reasons I run Windows 7 Ultimate edition on my netbook is to take advantage of features like BitLocker. For those who are not aware of this technology, BitLocker has offered whole drive encryption for fixed hard disks since Windows Vista but Windows 7 also includes encryption capabilities for removable devices (BitLocker To Go).

Even though I don’t keep much data on my netbook, it’s exactly the sort of device that’s likely to be lost or stolen and it seems like a perfect candidate for data encryption – although my main concern was that I might encrypt the device and then lock myself out (and I’m not the only one who’s had those concerns). Luckily there are options for key recovery – ranging from storing a copy of the key in a file or in Active Directory (not applicable for me as my netbook is not domain-joined) to the most basic printing the key on a piece of paper and keeping it in a safe place (i.e. not the carry case for my computer!).

So, armed with the knowledge that I had backed up all my critical data, just in case something went wrong, last weekend I “BitLockered” my netbook and I’m pleased to say it was really straightforward (especially as Windows 7 creates the necessary drive partition at install-time). It would have been even easier if my computer had a trusted platform module (TPM) chip but, even so, Windows can be configured to allow encryption without a TPM – I just need to supply a startup key when I turn the computer on – in this case I used a small capacity USB thumb drive to store the key, then remove it from the computer after the drive has been unlocked. In effect, I can only start (or resume) the computer with that USB “key” – or enter the recovery key to disable the encryption entirely.

There are two common ways to allow Windows to use BitLocker without a TPM: one involves editing the Local Security Policy and the other uses a few registry tweaks, which is the one I chose:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\FVE]
"UseAdvancedStartup"=dword:00000001
"EnableBDEWithNoTPM"=dword:00000001
"UseTPM"=dword:00000002
"UseTPMPIN"=dword:00000002
"UseTPMKey"=dword:00000002
"UseTPMKeyPIN"=dword:00000002

To revert to the default settings, use a .reg file with the following contents:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\FVE]
"UseAdvancedStartup"=-
"EnableBDEWithNoTPM"=-
"UseTPM"=-
"UseTPMPIN"=-
"UseTPMKey"=-
"UseTPMKeyPIN"=-

Then, using Windows Explorer, right click the drive you want to encrypt and select the option to turn on BitLocker, and follow the wizard. Make sure you store a copy of the recovery key, as this will be required to recover the data on a BitLocker protected drive.

It took a while for my drive to encrypt and, despite almost every reference for this that I’ve seen saying that a dialogue box will be presented showing encryption progress, I didn’t see this – all I saw was that the drive was almost full and lots of hard drive activity, then I got my free space back and the icon for the drive had a padlock and a key on it. Now, if I right click the drive there are options to manage BitLocker, including duplicating the startup key and saving/printing a new copy of the recovery key.

All in all, it was pretty painless and I haven’t noticed any performance degradation but if someone does take a fancy to my netbook, they won’t be able to access the data on it.

For more information, see the Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption Step-by-Step Guide on the Microsoft TechNet website and the BitLocker drive encryption team blog (although that hasn’t been updated in a while). Michael Pietroforte has also compared BitLocker with TrueCrypt, concluding that TruCrypt lets you choose your own recovery passphrase; however BitLocker can be managed with Group Policy and the keys can be stored in Active Directory Domain Services. There’s more information on storing BitLocker keys in Active Directory on the TechNet website (domain controllers must be running Windows Server 2003 SP1 or higher and schema extensions are required).

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Apple’s new multitouch mouse misses the point

Last week Apple updated its product line, ahead of Microsoft’s Windows 7 launch, and one of the new announcements was a replacement for the “Mighty Mouse”, which was quietly killed off a few weeks back after years of doing anything but living up to its name (as Adam Pash notes in Lifehacker’s coverage of Apple’s new lineup).

I first heard about Apple’s new “Magic Mouse” on Twitter:

“RT @real_microsoft: RT @Mirweis Once again #Apple seems to have nosed ahead of #Microsoft with the multitouch mouse: http://bit.ly/IZrjv

[@michaelsfo]

and Apple’s latest mouse is a multitouch device that uses gestures to control the screen. As should be expected, it looks great but, as TechRadar reported, it doesn’t support a key gesture – the pinch zoom that we first saw on the iPhone and that Apple has made synonymous with multitouch through its advertising.

Furthermore, there’s no touch screen on any of Apple’s refreshed line-up. In fact, the iMac changes are mostly evolutionary (and there’s a new unibody entry-level MacBook). Meanwhile, with the launch of Windows 7, Microsoft now has advanced touch capability available within the operating system. A multitouch mouse is cool – seriously cool – but the real advantages of touch come with touch screens and other displays that take concepts like the Microsoft Surface table into mainstream computing uses.

Some people might not think touch is really a big deal, or that it’s just a bit gimmicky right now – but step back and take a look at what’s happened with smartphones: in 2007, Apple launched the iPhone and all we’ve seen since then is an endless stream of competing devices – each with multitouch capabilities. Now that’s crossing over into the PC marketplace and, unlike tablet PCs, or early Windows Mobile devices, there’s no need for a stylus and that’s why I believe touch will become much more signifcant that it has been previously. Only yesterday, I watched my young sons (both of whom are under 5) using one of Ikea’s play kiosks and they instantly knew what to do to colour in a picture on screen. As soon as prices drop, I’ll be buying a multitouch monitor for them to use with a PC at home as I expect touch to replace the mouse as the interface that their generation uses to access computing devices.

Far from nosing ahead of Microsoft, I believe Apple has missed the point with its new mouse (please excuse the, entirely accidental, pun). Just as in the years when they insisted that mice only needed a single button (indeed, one of the problems that made the Mighty Mouse so unreliable was that it offered all the functionality of a multi-button mouse with several contact switches under a single button shell in order to maintain the appearance of a single-button mouse), now they are implementing touch on trackpads and mice, rather than on screen. Sure, fingerprints on glass don’t look good but that hasn’t held back the iPhone – and nor would it the iMac or MacBook if they implemented multitouch on screen. For now, at least, Apple is holding off on touchscreen displays, whilst mainstream PC manufacturers such as Dell are embracing the potential for multitouch applications that the latest version of Windows offers. As for the criticism that multitouch monitors are spendy and Apple’s mouse is not, the monitors will come down in price pretty quickly and, based on my experience with Apple’s previous mouse, I won’t be rushing out to spend £55 on the latest model.

As it happens, I bought a mouse to match my white MacBook a couple of weeks ago. Ironically, its from Microsoft – the Arc mouse – and it manages to look good, feel good, and fold up for transportation with its (tiny) transponder neatly connected (with a magnet) to the underside. It seems that Jonathan Ive is not the only person that can design functional and stylish computer hardware (most of the time).

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Microsoft and Sky launch Sky Player on Windows 7

In my post earlier this evening about the Windows 7 launch, I mentioned new content providers in Windows Media Center and that was one of the other big announcements today – Sky and Microsoft announced the addition of Sky Player, Sky’s online TV service, to Windows Media Center in Windows 7, creating a new and exciting way to watch live and on-demand TV from Sky on a PC.

In a few days time (27 October), Sky Player will also be available on the Xbox 360 and, whilst it can also be accessed from other platforms, the integration into Microsoft’s media offerings is part of Microsoft’s multi-screen entertainment strategy which will bring a wide range of live and on-demand entertainment programmes to the Windows platform.

The service will give Windows 7 users access live and on-demand pay TV currently available via Sky Player, including movies, sports, entertainment, children’s programming, music, arts and documentaries.

Sky Player in Windows Media Center on Windows 7

For existing Sky TV customers, Sky Player in Windows 7 provides an alternative to their set top box in order to view their Sky TV. For new customers, Sky Player in Windows 7 will offer a wide range of live channels and on-demand content via a number of monthly subscription packages.

According to the press release:

“Windows 7 enables audiences with a broadband Internet connection to watch TV from Sky on a PC. In addition to offering digital music, photos and personal videos all in one place, Windows 7 makes it easier to discover great TV, sports and movies from Sky straight from the PC desktop, via a new desktop gadget. Users can also browse programme galleries or search for shows using keywords.”

Ashley Highfield, Managing Director and Vice President Consumer and Online at Microsoft UK (formerly of both the BBC and Project Kangaroo), commented:

“The way UK consumers interact with TV is changing. Audiences now want to consume great quality TV anywhere and at any time and are demanding a lot more from their TV experience. With the launch of Windows 7 and through partners such as Sky, we are making new things possible and delivering TV to British viewers the way they want it”

Sky recommends a 2Mbps broadband connection and when asked if the content was high definition, Sky’s Director of OnDemand, Griff Parry, said that the company is looking to improve the service over time but for now the focus is on great quality standard definition programming.

Maybe one day we’ll see the BBC’s iPlayer integrated in a similar manner – I certainly hope so!

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Microsoft launches Windows 7 – is this the best Windows yet?

Every now and again, tiny tech bloggers like me get a break and are invited to events alongside “real journalists”. So, here I am, at London’s Hospital Club, brushing shoulders with the UK’s mainstream media – from the BBC and Sky through to TechRadar and The Register, covering Microsoft’s Windows 7 Launch.

Windows 7 is like no other operating system release that I’ve known. Unlike its predecessor, it’s enjoyed massive press support from the outset, with a widespread beta programme (around 8 million official users and 7 million more “unofficial ones”), a solid release candidate and the software itself was released several weeks ago. Volume license customers, developers, technology specialists and Microsoft partners have had access to the final release of Windows 7 for almost three months, evaluation copies are available on the web – and this operating system already runs on a huge number of the world’s PCs – that’s before it’s even launched! I don’t remember this much buzz around any new Windows release – at least not since Windows 95.

Tomorrow marks the general availability of Windows 7 in the retail channel, making it the de facto choice for consumers and small businesses when purchasing new PCs – 14 million of which are expected to be sold in the UK over the next year – and many of those who have purchased PCs since July are also entitled to an upgrade.

Ashley Highfield, MD and VP of Consumer and Online at Microsoft UK, said that Windows 7 marks a pivotal turning point for Microsoft – listening to consumers and understanding what they want – to offer simple, easy, fun computing – whether at home or work.

He explained that the UK is at a tipping point where a survey indicated that around 78% of people see the work/life balance as fluid – there is no more “9 to 5″ and many of us expect to access social media at work, in exchange for working on e-mail at home in the evening. In addition, Internet advertising revenues now exceed those for TV advertising, and the sales of PCs exceeded televisions this summer, marking a fundamental shift in audience behaviour.

Microsoft’s ultimate vision is often described as “3 screens and a cloud” (devices, PCs and TV) – in effect Microsoft is the glue to bind together our digital lives and Windows 7 is key to building that vision.

I’m used to working with Microsoft in the enterprise space – where they are either recognised as a provider of software development tools or of IT business and infrastructure applications. But, for the consumer, Highfield explained that Microsoft’s offerings have been a little patchy over last few years… I don’t think I heard the word “Vista” uttered once by Microsoft at today’s press launch – it’s almost as if it’s become V-v-v-the-operating-system-that-must-not-be-named.

Microsoft believe that Windows 7 is an exemplar of change – alongside Bing, Windows Live services, Windows Phone, and Xbox 360 it marks a new dawn for Microsoft’s relationship with its consumers.

So, what’s so great about Windows 7?

Julie Larson-Green, Microsoft Corporate VP for Windows Experience was heavily involved in the programme to bring Windows 7 to market. After presiding over the Office 2007 release, with its controversial ribbon user interface, Windows 7 could have gone either way but I really believe that Microsoft has done a good job with Windows 7.  Larson-Green credits this to the diagnostic information that Microsoft received via the Customer Experience Improvement Programme – so much data that they had to cap the results at 1 billion sessions. This information allowed Microsoft to validate their research on how to simplify everyday tasks. In addition, pre-beta copies of Windows 7 were distributed to developers as long ago in late 2008, allowing them to start developing applications for the new platform. today, more than 16,000 software and hardware companies are building solutions on Windows 7 and over 44,000 developers are enrolled in the Windows Ecosystem Readiness Program.

Leila Martine, Windows Consumer Business Group Lead at Microsoft UK talked about how Windows 7 delivers on a simple promise: making it easier for people to do the things they want on a PC. The new operating system offers a streamlined user interface and significant new features that make everyday tasks easier and allow people to get the most out of computers of all styles and sizes.  The following are a few of the many ways that consumers can experience a more simplified PC with Windows 7:

  • Simplifies everyday tasks:
    • Taskbar: completely redesigned to help cut clutter, and get more done, with features like thumbnail previews of webpages, documents and even running video.
    • HomeGroup:  easily share files and printers with other Windows 7 PCs.
    • DeviceStage: shows the status of all connected devices such as cameras and mobile phones, making it easier to synchronise and manage them.
    • Photos and Videos: Windows Live Photo Gallery and Windows Live Movie Maker offer customers great free options to edit photos and videos, then to easily share them including uploading to popular websites such as Flickr and YouTube.
    • Snap: drag an open window to the screen’s border and automatically re-size it. Snap two different windows to the left and right borders for a perfect comparison.
    • Shake: click a window pane and shake the mouse to minimise all other open windows.  Shake the pane again to restore the windows to their original sizes. 
    • Internet Explorer 8: Microsoft’s fastest, easiest, and safest browser ever with many new security features such as SmartScreen filtering.
  • Works the way you want:
    • Faster on, faster off:  every Windows 7 user can benefit from the focus on underlying performance, faster startup, resuming and shut down time, together with enhanced power management.
    • Mobile made easier: all mobile computing settings are in one place with the Windows Mobility Center.
    • Protecting your PC:  Safeguarding data on the PC is easier with advanced backup capabilities and the free Microsoft Security Essentials download to protect against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.
  • Makes new things possible:
    • Windows Touch: interact with the PC with a touch-screen monitor, using fingers and multi-touch gestures.
    • PlayTo: stream digital music, videos, and photos to other PCs or devices such as an Xbox 360 connected to a TV.
    • Internet TV: new content providers (such as the Sky Player) and an improved interface make it even easier to watch TV on the PC.
    • Rich gaming and graphics: Windows 7 includes performance enhancements that take power gaming and entertainment to a new level, with 64-bit support and DirectX11 graphics.
    • Location-aware printing – documents are sent to the right printer whether it’s at home or at the office. Offline files allow users to work offline and automatically synchronise between a PC and documents on the office network.

(and that’s not even considering the many business benefits with DirectAccess for clientless VPN connectivity, Branch Cache for efficient file transfers, BitLocker and BitLocker To Go for fixed and removable device encryption, and AppLocker for software control.)

Having worked with Windows 7 for over a year now, I know that the real improvements are subtle.  When I’m asked why Windows 7 is so great I can’t point to one single feature but I can tell you that if my corporate IT guys tried to take me back to Windows XP they would have one hell of a job prising my PC out of my hands.  My Windows 7 and Office 2010 desktop includes so many timesaving shortcuts that stepping back to Windows XP and Office 2003 is like going back in time.

What will it cost me?

Windows 7 goes on sale at midnight tonight with estimated retail pricing as follows (although actual pricing may vary by retailer):

  • Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade: £79.99 until 31 December 2009, £99.99 thereafter
  • Windows 7 Professional Upgrade: £189.99
  • Windows 7 Ultimate Upgrade: £199.99
  • Windows 7 Home Premium: £149.99
  • Windows 7 Professional: £219.99
  • Windows 7 Ultimate: £229.99

There are also some limited time deals available including a discounted upgrade of £49 with new PC purchased until 2 Jan 2010; a family pack offering 3 licenses for £149.99 and the current Student offer of £30 for Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional.

Shop around for the best deals

As might be expected, the major UK retailers are committed to Microsoft’s Windows 7 launch and Jeremy Fennel, Category Director at DSGi explained that they can tell it’s a good product as it hasn’t needed Microsoft to hype it – the press and customers have already done that.  DSGi’s customer research says that customers want a better user experience with fewer interruptions, better battery life, and faster startup/restart times – with Windows 7 delivering all three. 

By far the most telling statistic I heard all morning about the potential for Windows 7’s success related to the Windows 7 pre-order offer.  DSGi experienced what Fennel called “a phenomenal reaction” to this and sold more copies of Windows 7 in 3 weeks than they sold of Vista in the whole of its first year!

Fennel also indicated that awareness of Windows 7 has ramped in the last 4-6 weeks – with 60% of consumers delaying new PC purchases until launch.  In order to build Christmas sales, DSGi’s trade in promotion starts tonight – with up to £100 off when trading in old PC at Currys and PC World as well as half price installation (at £24.99) and free expert advice from their specialist tech support service, the TechGuys.

That’s just DSGi’s campaign – I have no doubt that other retailers will be similarly competitive in their Windows 7 efforts in the run-up to Christmas.

In summary

Windows 7 is a solid, reliable operating system packed with features and functionality that can be used to derive significant benefits for consumers and enterprise customers alike.  Already enjoying significant interest from press and customers, there is little doubt that this will be a successful release for Microsoft but it will always have it’s detractors, citing problems such as upgrading from XP, cross grading from other product editions, or running obscure applications on PCs cobbled together from various arcane components.  Even though Windows runs on around a billion PCs worldwide, new computing models threaten its dominance and Microsoft needs to remain relevant in 2010 and beyond. One journalist asked Microsoft how relevant Windows will be by the time that Windows 8 comes along [in 2012] and Ashley Highfield’s response amused me greatly: “Give us a chance we’re just launching Windows 7″ but I’m sure Windows will be with us on the desktop for a while yet – particularly if Microsoft is able to execute their “3 screens and a cloud” vision – and I have little doubt that they will. Windows 7 is important to Microsoft – and it is, quite possibly, the best Windows yet.

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Native VHD boot Windows 7 or Server 2008 R2 from an external USB drive

Guest PostAre you excited about Native VHD Boot for Windows 7 (Enterprise or Ultimate) and Windows Server 2008 R2 but wish you could use an external USB drive to store the .VHD files? Well unfortunately it isn’t officially supported but, if that doesn’t worry you too much, you might find this post interesting…

Background

In order to get Native VHD Boot working from an external USB Disk, there are a few things we need to understand about device drivers and their load orders.

Setup and the PnP manager configure devices starting with the system root device, followed by the child devices of the root device, the children of those devices, and so on. To influence the driver load order outside of this sequence, we need to change the .INF files for the USB related drivers, specifying relevant values in the service-install-section, specifically the StartType and the LoadOrderGroup entries.

A PnP driver should have a start type of SERVICE_DEMAND_START (0x3), specifying that the PnP manager can load the driver whenever it finds a device that the driver services. USB drivers normally behave in this manner and have this start type.

However, if a driver is required to boot the machine (such as when, oh I don’t know, maybe attempting something like native VHD boot from an external USB drive), the drivers for the device should have a start type of SERVICE_BOOT_START (0x0).

On system boot, the operating system loader loads drivers of type SERVICE_BOOT_START before it transfers control to the kernel. These drivers are in memory when the kernel gets control. Boot-start drivers can use the .INF LoadOrderGroup entries to order their loading. You can see the List order at HKLM/SYSTEM/CurrentControlSet/Control/ServiceGroupOrder.

For Native VHD Boot from an external USB drive to work, we need to modify the behaviour of six device drivers:

  • usbccgp – Microsoft USB Generic Parent Driver
  • usbehci – Microsoft USB 2.0 Enhanced Host Controller Miniport Driver
  • usbohci – Microsoft USB Open Host Controller Miniport Driver
  • usbuhci – Microsoft Universal Host Controller Miniport Driver
  • usbhub – Microsoft USB Standard Hub Driver
  • usbstor – USB Mass Storage Driver

The USB drivers have a LoadOrderGroup entry of Base, which is considerably down the list, and critically much later than we need to use them as a boot device. We therefore need to modify the LoadOrderGroup to something more appropriate that will be processed earlier in the boot cycle. There is some debate about the best entries to use for this purpose, and whilst it seems the below is technically most appropriate, I began this journey with all entries set to use Boot Bus Extender and have continued to use that without issue. However, you may want to try the settings below as an alternative:

  • usbccgp – Boot Bus Extender
  • usbehci – Boot Bus Extender
  • usbohci – Boot Bus Extender
  • usbuhci – Boot Bus Extender
  • usbhub – System Bus Extender
  • usbstor – SCSI Miniport

So, to enable Native VHD Boot from an external USB drive, we need to modify the StartType and LoadOrderGroup of each of those drivers, and critically, ensure that they don’t get reset to their defaults.

Requirements

You’ll need a computer running Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 and a suitable external USB drive to store your .VHD files and to create the necessary bootloader. You’ll also need the following tools:

Process

Disclaimer: This is close to a step-by-step guide, but it assumes a certain level of technical knowledge and understanding. Hopefully I’ve made it as easy to follow and as painless as possible but tread carefully. To quote Scott Hanselman:

“This is some advanced stuff and you may lose a finger. No warranty express or implied.”

To begin with, we need to create our .VHD file. Mike Kolitz has created a fantastic script called WIM2VHD that takes much of the hard work out of this task for us. The example below uses a Windows Server 2008 R2 WIM file as source, and creates a 49GB Enterprise edition dynamically expanding .VHD file from it.

From an elevated command prompt, run the following command:

CSCRIPT WIM2VHD.WSF /WIM:"M:\Sources\SERVER\install.wim" /SKU:SERVERENTERPRISE /VHD:"M:\BootVHDs\W2K8R2ENT.vhd" /SIZE:50176 /DISKTYPE:DYNAMIC

Now that we have created the .VHD file, we need to make some changes to the operating system contained within it. From the same elevated command prompt used for the previous command, we’ll use diskpart.exe to mount the .VHD. Note the use of LIST VOLUME so that we can see the correct volume number, select it, and assign a drive letter to it – you’ll need to change the number in SELECT VOLUME to match your environment:

DISKPART
SELECT VDISK FILE="M:\BootVHDs\W2K8R2ENT.vhd"
ATTACH VDISK
LIST VOLUME
SELECT VOLUME 8
ASSIGN LETTER=R
EXIT

At this stage, I use the offline servicing tool, dism.exe, to change the default language, keyboard layout and timezone to something more appropriate for the United Kingdom. You can obviously make other changes too if necessary:

DISM /IMAGE:R: /Set-SysLocale:en-GB
DISM /IMAGE:R: /Set-UserLocale:en-GB
DISM /IMAGE:R: /Set-InputLocale:409:00000409
DISM /IMAGE:R: /Set-TimeZone:"GMT Standard Time"

Next, we need to make changes to the registry for each of the six USB device drivers. We’ll use the built in reg.exe command to do this. By default, when an operating system is launched from a dynamically expanding .VHD file using native VHD boot, it expands to its maximum size, reverting to its dynamic size when it is shutdown. I also modify the VirtualDiskExpandOnMount registry value to prevent this:

REG LOAD HKLM\TEMP R:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\usbccgp /v Group /t REG_SZ /d "Boot Bus Extender" /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\usbccgp /v Start /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\usbehci /v Group /t REG_SZ /d "Boot Bus Extender" /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\usbehci /v Start /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\usbhub /v Group /t REG_SZ /d "Boot Bus Extender" /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\usbhub /v Start /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\usbohci /v Group /t REG_SZ /d "Boot Bus Extender" /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\usbohci /v Start /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\USBSTOR /v Group /t REG_SZ /d "Boot Bus Extender" /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\USBSTOR /v Start /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\usbuhci /v Group /t REG_SZ /d "Boot Bus Extender" /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\usbuhci /v Start /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
REG ADD HKLM\TEMP\ControlSet001\services\FsDepends\Parameters /v VirtualDiskExpandOnMount /t REG_DWORD /d 4 /f
REG UNLOAD HKLM\TEMP

The next step is to modify the .INF files so that the operating system does not reset these values to their defaults at any point. As some of the files require SYSTEM permissions to modify them, we use the excellent SysInternals psexec.exe command to launch a command prompt in the SYSTEM security context.

PSEXEC –i –d –s C:\Windows\System32\cmd.exe

From the resultant command window, we use Horst Schaeffer’s INI File Tool to modify any .INF files that might reset the device driver values to their defaults:

INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usb.inf [StandardHub.AddService] StartType   = 0                  ; SERVICE_BOOT_START
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usb.inf [StandardHub.AddService] LoadOrderGroup = Boot Bus Extender
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usb.inf [CommonClassParent.AddService] StartType   = 0                  ; SERVICE_BOOT_START
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usb.inf [CommonClassParent.AddService] LoadOrderGroup = Boot Bus Extender
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf [EHCI.AddService] StartType   = 0                  ; SERVICE_BOOT_START
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf [EHCI.AddService] LoadOrderGroup = Boot Bus Extender
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf [OHCI.AddService] StartType   = 0                  ; SERVICE_BOOT_START
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf [OHCI.AddService] LoadOrderGroup = Boot Bus Extender
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf [UHCI.AddService] StartType   = 0                  ; SERVICE_BOOT_START
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf [UHCI.AddService] LoadOrderGroup = Boot Bus Extender
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf [ROOTHUB.AddService] StartType   = 0                  ; SERVICE_BOOT_START
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf [ROOTHUB.AddService] LoadOrderGroup = Boot Bus Extender
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usbstor.inf [USBSTOR.AddService] StartType   = 0                  ; SERVICE_BOOT_START
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\usbstor.inf [USBSTOR.AddService] LoadOrderGroup = Boot Bus Extender
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\brmfcsto.inf [USBSTOR.AddService] StartType   = 0                  ; SERVICE_BOOT_START
INIFILE R:\Windows\inf\brmfcsto.inf [USBSTOR.AddService] LoadOrderGroup = Boot Bus Extender

Now we delete the precompiled INF files, and copy our modified INF files to appropriate locations. Note that the file locations differ for x64 and x86 builds.

For x64 builds only:

DEL /Q R:\Windows\inf\usb.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usb.inf_amd64_neutral_e2b28ecac19a29af\usb.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\winsxs\amd64_usb.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_26ed589d28235a16\usb.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\inf\usbport.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usbport.inf_amd64_neutral_5a41ca742f7973cc\usbport.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\winsxs\amd64_usbport.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_19b7511a1d3ea7fd\usbport.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\inf\usbstor.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usbstor.inf_amd64_neutral_c301b770e0bfb179\usbstor.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\winsxs\amd64_usbstor.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_a47b405db18421ea\usbstor.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\inf\brmfcsto.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\brmfcsto.inf_amd64_neutral_2d7208355536945e\brmfcsto.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\winsxs\amd64_brmfcsto.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_7fe64f7a6167bcf6\brmfcsto.pnf
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usb.inf R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usb.inf_amd64_neutral_e2b28ecac19a29af
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usb.inf R:\Windows\winsxs\amd64_usb.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_26ed589d28235a16
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usbport.inf_amd64_neutral_5a41ca742f7973cc
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf R:\Windows\winsxs\amd64_usbport.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_19b7511a1d3ea7fd
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usbstor.inf R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usbstor.inf_amd64_neutral_c301b770e0bfb179
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usbstor.inf R:\Windows\winsxs\amd64_usbstor.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_a47b405db18421ea
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\brmfcsto.inf R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\brmfcsto.inf_amd64_neutral_2d7208355536945e
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\brmfcsto.inf R:\Windows\winsxs\amd64_brmfcsto.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_7fe64f7a6167bcf6
EXIT

For x86 builds only:

DEL /Q R:\Windows\inf\usb.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usb.inf_x86_neutral_e24d8d3fec6e4567\usb.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\winsxs\x86_usb.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_cacebd196fc5e8e0\usb.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\inf\usbport.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usbport.inf_x86_neutral_ba59fa32fc6a596d\usbport.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\winsxs\x86_usbport.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_bd98b59664e136c7\usbport.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\inf\usbstor.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usbstor.inf_x86_neutral_83027f5d5b2468d3\usbstor.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\winsxs\x86_usbstor.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_485ca4d9f926b0b4\usbstor.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\inf\brmfcsto.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\brmfcsto.inf_x86_neutral_39ae61431a44cded\brmfcsto.pnf
DEL /Q R:\Windows\winsxs\x86_brmfcsto.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_23c7b3f6a90a4bc0\brmfcsto.pnf
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usb.inf R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usb.inf_x86_neutral_e24d8d3fec6e4567
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usb.inf R:\Windows\winsxs\x86_usb.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_cacebd196fc5e8e0
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usbport.inf_x86_neutral_ba59fa32fc6a596d
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usbport.inf R:\Windows\winsxs\x86_usbport.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_bd98b59664e136c7
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usbstor.inf R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\usbstor.inf_x86_neutral_83027f5d5b2468d3
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\usbstor.inf R:\Windows\winsxs\x86_usbstor.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_485ca4d9f926b0b4
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\brmfcsto.inf R:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\brmfcsto.inf_x86_neutral_39ae61431a44cded
COPY /Y R:\Windows\inf\brmfcsto.inf R:\Windows\winsxs\x86_brmfcsto.inf_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_23c7b3f6a90a4bc0
EXIT

The next part is optional. It creates a differencing .VHD from the original file. The allows you to leave the base .VHD file intact and make all subsequent changes to the differencing .VHD instead. It’s a great way of building a base operating system image and then branching it for development work or testing. Once again, make sure you note the correct volume number when doing this. So, from the original elevated command prompt:

DISKPART
SELECT VDISK FILE="M:\BootVHDs\W2K8R2ENT.vhd"
DETACH VDISK
CREATE VDISK FILE="M:\BootVHDs\W2K8R2ENT_DIFF.vhd" PARENT="M:\BootVHDs\W2K8R2ENT.vhd"
SELECT VDISK FILE="M:\BootVHDs\W2K8R2ENT_DIFF.vhd"
ATTACH VDISK
LIST VOLUME
SELECT VOLUME 8
ASSIGN LETTER=R
EXIT

Now all that is left to do is to create a bootloader on the external USB disk and create an entry for our Native VHD Boot. When you BCDEDIT /COPY {default} below, note the resultant GUID that you are given and use that instead of the {5aaa2c7a-a627-11de-83c7-001372bf1815} listed in the example. So, continuing from the same command window:

BOOTSECT /NT60 M: /FORCE /MBR
BCDBOOT R:\WINDOWS /S M:
BCDEDIT /STORE M:\BOOT\BCD /COPY {default} /d "Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise"
BCDEDIT /STORE M:\BOOT\BCD /SET {5aaa2c7a-a627-11de-83c7-001372bf1815} DEVICE VHD=[LOCATE]\BootVHDs\W2K8R2ENT_DIFF.vhd
BCDEDIT /STORE M:\BOOT\BCD /SET {5aaa2c7a-a627-11de-83c7-001372bf1815} OSDEVICE VHD=[LOCATE]\BootVHDs\W2K8R2ENT_DIFF.vhd
BCDEDIT /STORE M:\BOOT\BCD /SET {5aaa2c7a-a627-11de-83c7-001372bf1815} DETECTHAL ON

And that’s it. Reboot your computer, select your external USB disk as your boot device, and you should see the entry you created above. Windows will start, perform the final stages of setup (rebooting a couple of times in the process) and you will be done.

I have personally used this method to store a large number of .VHD files (fixed, dynamic and differencing) and to use them to boot Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate in both x64 and x86 platform versions, and the various Windows Server 2008 R2 editions, and found it to be an extremely flexible option.

I’ve even had some success swapping the external USB disk between machines. It doesn’t always work (and to be honest, I haven’t had the time to look any deeper into why) but I’ve used the same native VHD boot instance on a Fujitsu Siemens Celsius H240, Lifebook T4210 and Lifebook S7220, swapping it backwards and forwards between machines and letting Windows manage the driver changes each time without issue.

I’ve also had success with native VHD boot using .VHD files created from Windows Backup and have recently started looking at using the files created from the SysInternals Disk2vhd tool too. Pop back sometime soon and you may even find another guest post documenting those particular adventures…

[MW: Sounds great Garry! Looking forward to it]

Uncategorized

Native boot from VHD on a Windows XP computer

Guest PostLike almost every other corporate in the world, where Mark and I work there is a standard build deployed to everyone. The default in our particular organisation is a 32-bit Windows XP OS regardless of the capabilities of the laptop or desktop it is deployed to. Over the years, this has caused a number of problems that have required an increasing number of “exemptions” from standard policy to allow people to run a different Windows version or platform.

Whilst this hasn’t been too much of a problem for the majority of the Architects that Mark and I work with – after all, we’re fairly self-sufficient when it comes to supporting our environments and are infinitely capable of collectively dreaming up ever more creative workarounds for the things that don’t work – it isn’t a solution that’s manageable at scale.

Then, along came Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 and with them came the introduction of a great new feature – Native Boot from VHD. With a little configuration, this has enabled us to leave the existing Windows XP corporate build in place, and to deploy a 32-bit or 64-bit Windows 7 (Enterprise or Ultimate) or 64-bit Windows Server 2008 R2 build side-by-side, crucially without having to make any changes to the Windows XP build or the existing disk partitioning scheme.

To achieve this, we created a new Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 bootloader, and “chained” the original Windows XP bootloader from it. At boot, this allows us to select a Native Boot from VHD into, for example, a 64-bit Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise build, or to select the chained bootloader which allows us to boot into the corporate Windows XP build.

Of course, you’ll need to create your VHD-contained Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 OS build and put it to your local disk, and this post doesn’t go into that detail, but once you have done that, the steps below will allow you to create a new bootloader and chain your existing Windows XP corporate build from it.

To begin, boot your computer using your Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 installation media.

When you reach the Install Windows screen, select your preferences in the Language to install, Time and currency format, and Keyboard or input method boxes, and then click Next. 

Do not click Install now. Instead, click Repair your computer.

The search for supported operating systems will fail, and the System Recovery Options dialog box appears with the Restore your computer using a system image that you created earlier option selected. Click Next.

The Re-image your computer tool will fail to find a system image and will display a dialog informing you of this. Click Cancel on the dialog, and then Cancel again on the main tool window.

The System Recovery Options menu appears. Click Command Prompt.

To write the new Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 bootloader:

BOOTSECT /NT60 C: /FORCE /MBR

To create a BCD store from the Windows VHD:

DISKPART
SELECT VDISK FILE=C:\BOOTVHDS\W2K8R2ENTX64.VHD
ATTACH VDISK
ASSIGN LETTER=X
EXIT
BCDBOOT X:\WINDOWS /S C:

Set up the VHD native boot:

BCDEDIT /SET {default} DEVICE VHD=[LOCATE]\BOOTVHDS\W2K8R2ENTX64.VHD
BCDEDIT /SET {default} OSDEVICE VHD=[LOCATE]\BOOTVHDS\W2K8R2ENTX64.VHD
BCDEDIT /SET {default} DETECTHAL ON

Set up the legacy boot:

BCDEDIT /CREATE {ntldr} /d "Chain Legacy Bootloader"
BCDEDIT /SET {ntldr} DEVICE PARTITION=C:
BCDEDIT /SET {ntldr} PATH \ntldr
BCDEDIT /DISPLAYORDER {ntldr} -ADDLAST

To put things back to normal, should you ever need to:

BOOTSECT /NT52 C: /FORCE /MBR

Technology

SharedView: Free desktop sharing across the ‘net

My friend and colleague Garry Martin just dropped me a mail to see if I’d help him test a new Microsoft application called SharedView.

I say “new” because it only went to version 1.0 yesterday, but SharedView (formerly code named Tahiti) has been around for a while now – Scott Hanselman wrote about it last year and Mary Jo Foley covered it back in 2007.  So what is it?  Basically, think Live Meeting, then strip out the VoIP bit, and the hassle.  What you’re left with is SharedView.  This application lets me share my desktop (or selected applications) with up to 15 other users on an ad-hoc basis.  It works through firewalls with no configuration and, whilst a Windows Live ID is required to set up a session, connecting should be as easy as clicking a link to navigate to a web page.  Because of this architecture though, it does need a working Internet connection (i.e. it won’t work between two computers on a private network).  It seems to cope pretty well with disparate screen resolutions too – I’m running 1280 x768 and Garry was on a higher-resolution display but the downscaling was still readable.

And I haven’t mentioned the best bit yet.  It’s free (and available from the Microsoft Download Center).

Waffle and randomness

Recessions get rid of the idiots!

Anthony Hilton at MPN 2009In my previous post about last week’s Microsoft Partner Network 2009 event, I mentioned that the London Evening Standard’s Anthony Hilton (who claims that he helped the BBC’s Robert Peston start his career and says that “he was an irritating little s*d even then”) gave a very interesting talk on why recession is not necessarily bad for business.

I’m no economist but I found the talk fascinating – and highly relevant to the times in which we are living – so I thought I’d share some of Mr. Hilton’s comments a little further…

I’m not sure what his original views on the current recession were but he claims to have changed his mind after the collapse of Lehmann Brothers.  The last downturn in the UK was in 1992-3, so no-one under 40 had really experienced the effects in their adult life but Hilton reckons more and more companies will be short-lived.  To put this into context, the FTSE 100 index, recognised as a list of the UK’s top 100 companies and frequently used as a measure of business prosperity, was created in 1984 and fewer than 20 of its constituents have stayed on the index throughout its life. Not all of the companies that have dropped off the index have disappeared but their businesses have changed.  It’s the same story for the Sunday Times Rich List – only 7 out of the original 200 featured individuals are still on it, proving that we all need to raise our game.

Looking forward for the next few years in the UK economy, Hilton draws parallels with the 1970s where we saw 2 years of easy money and rising property prices before a crash, the doubling of the stock market in the first half of 1975 and then in 1976 the government’s finances collapsed, inflation took hold, and the IMF was called in.  This is the W-shaped recession that many commentators speak of and it’s not necessarily going to be the same this time around but the message is clear: don’t always believe what the stock market is telling you.

So, will we have a double-dip (W-shaped) recession? Anthony Hilton argues that’s not really the point – what we can expect to see is a period of much tighter, slower growth.  For the first time, a credit crunch has been based on consumers, not businesses.  Until recently, we were all spending 105% of our income with the extra 5% sucked out of rising house prices so, for the next 10 years or so we need to spend 95% to redress that balance, leading to subdued consumption and a low growth rate in the economy of around 1.5% (i.e. not enough to remove unemployment).

1.5% growth doesn’t sound too bad though but it’s worth considering it is an average.  Within that 1.5% are some dynamic parts of the economy and some that are pretty much dead – indeed a newspaper would be very happy for 1.5 growth but is more likely to shrink by 10% and the same is true for construction, the automotive industry and property, which will all contract.  On the other side of the balance are businesses growing at 10, 15, or even 20%.  Even if the overall position is flat, dull and depressing, there are still some opportunities and many really successful businesses have been launched in difficult times – if one believes in a business enough to invest in it during difficult times then that’s probably a good thing!

Indeed, Hilton goes further as recessions can be good news because they get rid of the idiots!

To explain that a little further, consider that peoples’ mindsets change.  When times are hard, they will generally try anything to get out of a sticky situation but, when things are a little easier, companies are reluctant to gamble.  Meanwhile, customers favour those who are willing to change.  But the real productivity and innovation is made up of a lot of small, incremental change, rather than a big bang – and these small changes add up to major changes across the board.

Those businesses that are flexible, nimble, and open will prosper – saving money, driving innovation and getting more for less.

To close, Anthony Hilton drew from Charles Darwin, born 200 years ago and whose ideas of natural selection are often described as “the survival of the fittest”.  This tells us that those species that are successful are not the biggest, strongest, or the best resourced… but are the most adaptable.  In business the same holds true: if your business can adapt then the opportunities presented should be well worth the effort.

Uncategorized

Microsoft Partner Network 2009

Microsoft Partner Network logoAfter the excitement of the Office 2010 CTP release in July’s Microsoft Worldwide Partner conference keynote, I did intend to write something on this blog about the other key announcements.  Those plans didn’t come to fruition for a variety of reasons (although I’ve written plenty about Windows 7 since) but one of the main announcements was the relaunch of the Microsoft Partner Programme as the Microsoft Partner Network, based around:

  • Capabilities – Microsoft is looking for partners who invest early with deep skill sets and the 30 competencies will include an advanced level for those who will invest early and commit early.
  • Customers – a customer satisfaction survey will be part of the partnership renewal process.
  • Connections – making social media work for business, embracing the best of the web with the best of social media to use these technologies in business.

I work for a Microsoft Gold Certified partner and it seems to me that these changes could be significant.  No longer is being “big” enough to get support from Microsoft – the partnership is a two way commitment and it’s clear to me that Microsoft will favour those partners who are helping to drive their products forward, rather than being dominant forces in the IT industry in their own right.

There’s nothing wrong with that – indeed that’s what partnership should be about – working together to jointly promote one another’s business for mutual gain, rather than thinking of the relationship in terms of software supplier around which to provide a service wrapper, or a hardware layer, or additional software functionality, so I spent a day last week at Wembley, at the Microsoft Partner Network 2009 event in order to learn more.

George Alagiah hosting the Microsoft Partner Network 2009Hosted by the BBC’s George Alagiah (who was amusing, personable, and very capable when one over-zealous attendee stormed the stage to try and put his question forward, much to the amusement of the other attendees!), the event featured a succession of Microsoft executives, customers, and even the London Evening Standard’s Anthony Hilton, who gave an extremely interesting talk on why recession is not necessarily bad for business although I was less impressed by the afternoon session with several London Wasps players and coaching staff (now, had it been Northampton Saints, I may have had a different opinion, although Rugby Football Union team building still seems irrelevant at an IT conference, even one focused on partnership).

So, what were the key messages from the day?  Well, what follows are based on the notes I made (I also twittered throughout the day on #MPN and #MPN2009) and are hopefully relevant to readers of this blog:

  • Microsoft UK’s Ask A Partner number has changed to 08448006006.
  • The Microsoft Partner Network is about supporting innovation using Microsoft products and the General Manager of Microsoft UK’s Small, Medium Enterprises and Partners Group, Scott Dodds, characterised a successful partner as one that:
    • Deploys/adopts/embraces the latest software versions.
    • Makes use of partner network resources to drive new business.
    • Differentiates themself with solutions built on Microsoft technologies to drive new business (including partnering with other Microsoft partners).
  • Commenting on the state of the UK IT Market, Dodds said “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste!”, citing a need to pour energy and passion into a business, to look at what works and what doesn’t in the business – and then to reinvest and refocus, not retrench.
  • Dodd’s message to partners was to look for opportunities through innovation, to deepen and strengthen customer relationships, and to compete and grow share.
  • Anthony Hilton, from the London Evening Standard backed up Dodd’s message (I’ll write a separate post on his presentation) and his closing statements were that businesses can grow in difficult times, by shifting to focus on transformation of the business – thinking about the creative rather than about the destruction.  If a business can adapt then the resulting opportunities will be well worth the effort.
  • John Noakes, a Partner Technology Specialist at Microsoft (not the Blue Peter presenter) spoke about how 1999 is different to 2009 – now business are investing to survive and are looking for cost reductions.  Price, cost and value are different things but cost reduction is on everyone’s mind… but it’s not just about concentrating on costs or on innovation.  If we’re really smart, we can reduce costs to enable investment in innovation.
  • Software plus services is about combining the best of cloud-based and on-premise solutions. 
  • Noakes listed seven points to talk to customers about that are highly relevant in today’s business world: unified communications; enterprise search; business intelligence; cloud computing; social computing; mobility; and virtualisation.
  • James Akrigg, Head of Technology for Partners at Microsoft UK claimed to have completed an installation for his demonstration in the car on the way to Wembley – I’m not sure if that shows dedication or a lack of planning but he took a look at some of the Microsoft technologies that are coming to market in late 2009/2010 and claimed to be fighting hard not to say that he’s “superexcited”.  Using an alternative job title of Microsoft CSO (Chief Simplication Officer), he expressed a view that product+product=more opportunities.
  • Nick McGrath, Microsoft UK’s Director for Commercial Market Strategy was clear in his articulation of Microsoft’s strategy: innovate for the long term; grow market share.
    • On innovation, he spoke of 2009/10 opportunities including new versions of Windows (client and server), Office, SQL Server, SharePoint, Exchange, and Windows Mobile.
    • With regards to growing market share, McGrath stressed that Microsoft is focused on partnership (cf. Oracle, who have bought 39 ISVs in the last 3 years) before moving on to attack VMware’s “virtualisation tax” and Google’s privacy issues, asking if their applications are really business ready?  He then talked about working with partners to growing market share together and called for partner to use their partner managers to get Microsoft’s attention.
  • Dr. Andrew Herbert, Managing Director of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, United Kingdom (referring to his labs as “Ye Olde Research Labe” compared with Microsoft’s new research laboratories in Cambridge, Massachusetts!) explained that Microsoft Research works on everything from theorem proving to the practical implementations of technology, advancing the state of the art in computer science, transferring this technology to Microsoft businesses and leading Microsoft into the future.
  • Microsoft Research staff have no milestones, targets or scorecards,  and Herbert said that they get up in the morning and decide what they want to do, which not only sounds great but in practice makes the organisation very agile so that it can help the company to respond to challenges (e.g. Microsoft needed its own search engine and Microsoft Research could work on it rather than buying in search services… the result is Bing).
  • Other examples of Microsoft Research’s work in Cambridge include:
  • Microsoft Research’s vision is create seamless experiences that combine the magic of software with the power of the Internet across a world of devices and Herbert spoke of 3 screens on the cloud: big (TV); medium (PC); and small (smartphones and other personal devices) with seamless integration between the three before showing a UK General Post Office film from 1969 looking at telecommunications in the 1990s which may have been a few years out but it was spookily accurate, predicting many technologies that we take for granted today.
  • Herbert then closed by highlighting the long investment periods that are required to grow software markets, with waves of innovation and again mentioning the power of combining client devices with cloud-based infrastructure.
  • Gordon Frazer at MPN 2009Microsoft UK Managing Director, Gordon Frazer, spoke of at what’s happening in Microsoft’s UK business, again highlighting the vision of PC, phone and web providing seamless experiences across all aspects of our lives.  He too stressed the point that Microsoft’s big opportunities are focused on the long term and being tenacious, citing 4 releases of Windows before it was widely accepted [and it’s generally noted that most Microsoft products reach maturity at version 3], highlighting a total research and development budget of $9.5bn, and demonstrating Microsoft’s big opportunities using a surprisingly candid red/amber/green (RAG status):
    • PC $4.2bn (green).
    • Phones $1bn (amber).
    • TV and entertainment $1.6bn (amber).
    • Servers $2.2bn (green).
    • Communications and productivity, creativity and socialisation $7.2bn (green).
    • Search and commerce $2.1bn (red).
    • Enterprise infrastructure $2.7bn (green).
  • Frazer also shared some advice from the Microsoft’s UK company event last Monday at which employees were told to take care, take share, take pride.  The point being made at Microsoft Partner Network was that market share is an indicator of success, regardless of whether the market is growing or contracting.
  • He then highlighted that the Microsoft partner ecosystem accounts for 241,000 jobs and £20.5bn in revenue.  Over the period 2009-13 the IT market is expected to grow, with 78,000 new jobs and 2,500 new companies, representing a 1.8% growth vs. a decline of 1.0% in the UK’s GDP.  Microsoft’s Britain Works programme is intended to help 500,000 people into work by 2012 and to make IT the engine for the UK’s productivity, efficiency and economic impact.
  • James Akrigg returned to talk about supporting partners in their future:
    • The people within the organisation who need Microsoft resources are not necessarily those directly involved with the partnership and encouraged partners to expand the number of people with access to the Partner Network resources.
    • Resources available include: campaign resources for The New Efficiency marketing campaign (e.g. events in a box); te latest product logos; a Gear Up guide (e.g. to make partners aware of licensing changes, so they can build competitive solutions); a demonstration showcase suite; and opportunities for collaboration – so that partners can join forces to offer complete solutions.
    • Akrigg also highlighted resources to connect with customers, including Microsoft Pinpoint (to find products, services, and more with the help of an online community that connects businesses with Microsoft Certified companies) and showed the Partner RSS Hub for partner news. 
  • The rest of the afternoon was taken up with the London Wasps section that I have already commented on, before the main event closed down; however there was a public sector breakout session at the end of the afternoon in which Microsoft UK’s General Manager for the Public Sector, Dr Nicola Hodson spoke about how even cutbacks present opportunities – as government organisations are looking for strong business cases with a fast return on investment. 
  • Highlights from the public sector session included:
    • Microsoft worked with North Leamington school, deploying Windows 7 as part of the Innovative Schools programme.
    • Tony Ellis from the London Borough of Brent spoke about the challenges of running his IT operation, targetting front line services to some of the most deprived areas in London:
      • Councils offer a huge breadth of services – which means a breadth of IT requirement – and 85% of all government services are provided by local councils.  Brent doesn’t spend much on IT (in fact they have the 2nd lowest budget in London), but they believe they spend it wisely, making use of Enterprise CAL arrangements to deploy Office 2007 to 3,500 users, to move from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, to deploy OCS 2007 R2, IAG and SCOM, and are planning a SharePoint deployment for 2010.  The authority is also piloting Microsoft’s BPOS service as well as a virtual desktop infrastructure on Hyper-V but, after this investment, Brent plans to sweat these assets.
      • Ellis spoke of challenges including working with public/private partners; efficient data management (structured and unstructured); traditional vs. cloud infrastructure (G-Cloud); security and trust; anytime anyplace anywhere; and the green agenda – before closing by saying that it is tough in the public sector, and there are budget reductions, etc. but there is also a great opportunity for the use of IT in government – saving noney, making IT a critical enabler, and ensuring that staff make full use of the tools.
  • The Health Future Vision video from Microsoft’s industry innovations group at Microsoft dates back to 2007 and is a view of technologies may provide more seamless connections across healthcare providers and equip patients with the knowledge and control they need for a more comprehensive, personalized healthcare experience.  It seemed a little strange to show this in the UK (where the NHS Connecting for Health programme has attracted plenty of criticism) but it did show the potential for the use of IT within healthcare services.

Mark Wilson with George Alagiah at MPN 2009In all, I was a little dissappointed with the Microsoft Partner Network 2009 event.  There were some interesting speakers, and some important messages, but the afternoon was a bit weak.  To top it off, the draw to win an Xbox 360 was performed whilst some of us were still in the public sector session – but at least I did manage to get my picture taken with George Alagiah (thanks to John Rule for taking over the camera for me)!

The presentation materials from Microsoft Partner Network 2009 should soon be available on the Microsoft Partner Network website.

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