Virtual Server 2005 R2 has gone RTM – and it’s not expensive either

This week is Microsoft’s IT infrastructure conference for EMEA – the IT Forum. Last year I missed it because my wife was heavily pregnant (and my son was born that week). This year, of course, it was his first birthday, so I’m missing it again. Not to worry, because Paul Thurrott is covering the major stories in the Windows IT Pro magazine network WinInfo Daily Update and John Howard’s blog has much more information.

One of the IT Forum news stories concerns Virtual Server 2005 R2 (formerly SP1). A few weeks back I wrote about Microsoft’s virtualisation roadmap and several news sources are reporting that in his keynote speech, Microsoft’s Bob Muglia announced that Virtual Server 2005 R2 has been released to manufacturing. Furthermore, the new pricing model is just $99 for Standard Edition and $199 for Enterprise Edition – it seems that Microsoft really is serious about competing with VMware. At that price for Virtual Server, and with the VMware Player attacking the low end market (although I’ve heard mixed reports about how good it really is at handling Microsoft VMs), it’s hard to see where Virtual PC fits in all of this.

Watch out for long path names on an NTFS volume

I came across an interesting issue earlier today. Somehow, on my NTFS-formatted external hard disk I had managed to create a file system structure which was too deep.

Whenever I tried to delete a particular folder tree, I received strange errors about files which couldn’t be deleted:

Error Deleting File or Folder

Cannot delete foldername: The file name you specified is not valid or too long. Specify a different file name.

I thought that was strange – after all, I’d managed to create the files in the first place, then I found that if I drilled down to the files that would not delete, there was no right-click option to delete the file. Finally, I found that some folders displayed the following error when I tried to access them:

Can’t access this folder.

Path is too long.

It turned out that the problem folders/files had path names in excess of 255 characters. By renaming some of the top level folders to single character folder names (thus reducing the length of the path), I was able to access the problem files and folders, including deleting the files that I wanted to remove.

A plea for user-friendly firewall messages

I consider myself to be reasonably technical, but even I struggle with firewall messages like this one:

Example firewall messageThis is a real screenshot from my company-supplied notebook PC. I don’t know what an integrity personal policy alert is, although I can hazard a guess. I certainly don’t know what triggag.exe is, but I can see it is trying a DNS lookup. Should I allow that? I don’t know, but I need to get on with whatever I did that launched that dialog so I click Yes (and probably tell it to remember the answer too).

According to, triggag.exe is part of CA Unicenter Software Delivery but to an end user, this dialog might as well say “to carry on working you must make this dialog go away. Do you want to make this dialog go away?”

As long as the IT industry produces software which outputs messages as cryptic as this (and as long as administrators keep deploying that software), we will never get users to take security seriously.

Here endeth the lesson.

Trying to resolve wireless LAN connectivity issues

Somewhat ironically, as I scraped the ice off my car window early this morning, I was prompted to blog about the issues which the summer heat had caused on my wireless (802.11b) network earlier this year. In truth, like many planned posts to this blog, it’s something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now…

It all started when I tried to make two changes at the same time on my wireless access point (I should know better). After having problems setting up WEP (I got it working, but Windows XP kept on dropping out and re-connecting to the network every few minutes), I tried a firmware upgrade (in the hope that would fix things, or even allow WPA). The firmware upgrade didn’t help and the drop-outs continued, especially with one PC in another room (about 10 metres away but with a few wood/plasterboard walls in between).

At about the same time, we had new next door neighbours on one side, and our neighbour on the other side put a wireless network in his house.

Added to that it seemed that the remote PC would fail to connect whenever the weather was hot…

A lack of WiFi security using WEP/WPA is something I can live with (in the short term – I do use MAC address filtering, but if anyone was that bothered they could monitor traffic, capture a valid address and spoof it), so I set about investigating the other issues, including why hot weather would affect WiFi connectivity! Reading around on the ‘net unearthed a load of advice (but nothing specific about the weather), including the following (mostly from PC World magazine’s article on wireless networks that do more, Netgear’s advice on improving wireless range by tuning equipment, HP’s prevent wireless interference article and Microsoft’s 10 tips for improving your wireless network):

  • Picking the best location. Distance, and the objects in between a computer and a wireless access point (WAP) will all affect performance, as will the height above the floor, distance from a wall and proximity to metal objects (including CDs/DVDs!). The fact that my WAP needs to be connected to both power and wired network meant that I couldn’t put it in the middle of the house, but I did manage to move it along the wall so it was a little bit closer to the remote PC.
  • Change channels. the 2.4GHz spectrum used by 802.11b is particularly susceptible to interference from items such as microwave ovens, 2.4GHz cordless telephones, power lines, Bluetooth devices, light fixtures and of course other 802.11b networks. Whilst the 802.11b band is divided into 11 channels, each 22MHz wide, they overlap one another and only channels 1, 6, and 11 are totally separate. I wondered if the new networks in the neighbourhood were interfering with ours and after installing Network Stumbler (which I found from the Tech FAQ 802.11 software tools page), I found that one neighbour’s WPA-protected router was using channel 1 and that the other side were using channel 11, so I picked channel 6. I’m not sure how 802.11g is affected (both my neighbours were using 802.11g), but one article I read suggested that 802.11a is less likely to experience interference.
  • Boost the signal. I’ve yet to try out the Pringles can antenna idea (or the alternatives from hackaday and Shawn Morton) but 802.11b networks can be boosted by either purchasing an additional antenna, or by just making sure that it is upright (802.11a networks already operate at the maximum permitted signal strength). Other measures include omnidirectional antennas but a new WAP would have been cheaper (and would let me move up to 802.11a/g).
  • There’s also a whole load of discussion about the correct Windows XP wireless configuration. None of that really helped (and it was all working fine until it got hot outside and I upgraded the WAP firmware) but there are two interesting threads at Overclockers and ARS Technica.
  • Think about what else might be interfering with the signal – even something as innocuous as a stack of CDs, as explained by Don Jones’ cleaning up wireless clutter article.

I still haven’t found out if the weather really does affect WiFi connectivity (I guess it could as extreme weather does affect TV and radio reception) but it seems strange we’ve not had a problem in previous years. If anyone has any ideas I’d be glad to hear them.

Visual Studio Express Editions and Coding4Fun

Visual Studio 2005 Express EditionsEven though I’m no developer, I have been known to knock up the occasional script and once upon a time I could even have considered myself to have programming skills…

…Well maybe now I can start to build them up again as Microsoft are offering the Visual Studio 2005 Express Editions for free. More details are available on the Microsoft website (check out the FAQ) but basically, for web developers there is Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition; for database developers there’s SQL Server 2005 Express Edition; and for Windows developers there are Visual Studio Express Editions for Visual Basic, Visual C#, Visual C++ and Visual J#. Microsoft is pitching these as “lightweight, easy-to-use, and easy-to-learn tools for the hobbyist, novice, and student developer” but there is nothing stopping them from being used in a corporate environment (aside from the reduced functionality feature sets).

For anyone (like me) who is new to coding, or returning after a break of several years, MSDN has a coding4fun microsite.

SQL Server 2005 Express Edition: now available for download

SQL Server 2005 Express EditionBack in February, I blogged about SQL Server 2005 Express Edition – the successor to the Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine (MSDE). Now that SQL Server 2005 has been launched, SQL Server 2005 Express Edition is available for download from the Microsoft website. For further reading, check out my SQL Server 2005 overview and new tools for managing and administering SQL Server 2005 posts.

Dropping out of the smartphone world

Last year I blogged about my entry to the world of mobility, courtesy of a Nokia 6600 connected to Orange. Unfortunately my experience of Orange was not great (poor customer service, coupled with a network which unfortunately doesn’t work very well in my house, even though I live on a hill) and as I suspected, I never used many of the smartphone capabilities of the 6600.

I’ve been out of contract for a while, but have been deciding what to do – should I go for a Windows Mobile 5.0 device (difficult to find on my preferred network – Vodafone), or just accept that I don’t need anything special because I have another mobile for work (a Nokia 6021) and that my personal phone is just a way to a) keep my number and b) mean I can ignore the work phone in the evening and at weekends?

As my new company car arrived last week and I have a fully-fitted car kit for a Nokia 6021, I decided to get myself another 6021 so I have two identical handsets (one for work and one for personal use), both of which can be used legally in the car. Unfortunately, the excellent reseller I used last year ( doesn’t deal in pay-monthly Vodafone contracts and I didn’t want to use the Carphone Warehouse or Phones4U as they have their own billing companies (both of which I have used, and both of which offered lousy customer service), so I went direct to Vodafone Retail. Except that I didn’t – and nor should you!

Whilst having difficulty contacting my local Vodafone Retail store, I called Vodafone’s customer services department, who, after I pointed out that not being able to contact a store to enquire about stock before driving over to buy a phone is a pretty poor start to a customer-supplier relationship, eventually told me about Vodafone’s telephone sales team on +44 (0)800 015 8079.

Even though there was no mention of it on the Vodafone website, I managed to get a Nokia 6021 free of charge, connected to Vodafone’s Anytime 75 tariff (for £16/month instead of £20/month), including 75 minutes of cross-network calls, a data bundle (with 100 SMS messages which can also be used for GPRS/WAP/MMS and would normally cost me another £6/month), plus free insurance for 3 months (which I declined), as well as the current stop the clock promotion whereby if you commit to an 18 month contract off peak calls are capped at a 3-minute charge. I reckon that using that lot, my monthly bill should drop by about 40% and I’m back on a network that I can use in the house!

Unfortunately, although Vodafone shipped the handset with next-day delivery (for just £3.95), I can’t use the phone until my number is transferred from Orange next Monday…

So, the moral of that story is do not sign up to Vodafone in a Vodafone store or on the ‘net – call them on +44 (0)800 015 8079 instead.

Finally, the plethora of devices that I carry (2 mobile handsets, a PDA and an iPod Mini, plus a notebook PC when I’m working) means that my Pocket PC is not seeing much use either, so expect to see one used (but mint condition) Nokia 6600 for Orange (boxed) and a used HP iPAQ Pocket PC h2210 (boxed) for sale on eBay soon!

Tracking down music from TV adverts

Have you ever heard a song on an advert and thought “I really like that – I wonder who it’s by and what it’s called”?

Well, I did exactly that tonight and a few minutes later a Google search for t mobile mates rates ad music turned up a fantastic link – the HMV music from TV page, which told me that the track I was looking for was “Ooh La La” by Goldfrapp.

Unfortunately for both HMV and T-Mobile neither of them made any money from this (I switched my mobile back from Orange to Vodafone today and I bought the Goldfrapp track at the Apple iTunes Music Store) but it’s definitely worth a look if you like the music you hear on a TV advert!

Microsoft developer road trip CD

In a few days time, Microsoft are launching a whole host of products including Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005. To complement the launch events and associated webcasts, Microsoft have produced the Microsoft developer road trip CD – a 45 minute audio download featuring information on Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and the .NET Framework 2.0 from Microsoft’s own developer and platform group experts.

Designed to be listened to on the move, either in the car or on your favourite media player, this should allow you to get up to speed on what these new product releases are all about in just a few short trips.

An interesting approach to information management

Most of us have far more information in our feed readers than we can ever cope with (on top of all the unread e-mail newsletters) but a couple of nights back Microsoft UK’s Paul Flaherty gave out a great tip for searching for information contained in favourite blogs. He suggested adding all your favourite RSS feeds to an Outlook-integrated feed reader and then using Lookout (or any desktop search tool) to search Outlook when trying to find that snippet of information that you’re sure you saw something about somewhere…