Vista upgrades – don’t confuse Express with Anytime

Another item that I picked up from episode 4 of the Windows Weekly podcast, was that Microsoft has announced two upgrade schemes for Windows Vista – potentially confusing for some prospective purchasers:

  • Windows Vista Express upgrades are intended to allow for upgrades to Windows Vista for anyone who purchases a PC with Windows XP installed over the coming weeks.
  • Windows Vista Anytime upgrades are intended to allow users to upgrade between Windows Vista product editions (e.g. Home Premium to Ultimate).

There’s more information about this at Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows.

Finally, there’s the standard operating system upgrade path from Windows XP to Vista – as far as I know there is no marketing name for that yet!

Why Windows Vista was codenamed “Longhorn”

Blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground recently – between work and home (new baby + toddler = full days / short nights) I’ve not had much time. Even rarer recently has been anything Microsoft-related – apologies, normal service will be resumed shortly – although short of reporting the news (long awaited release of Windows Defender, impending Windows Media 11 release), which is better left to the likes of Paul Thurrott, there’s not been a lot to say as Microsoft UK events have also been a bit sparse – presumably waiting on the Windows Vista release. Talking of the infamously delayed operating system it should be here very soon… one rumoured release to manufacturing (RTM) date of 27 October has now passed but 8 November is another date I’ve heard… so I’m about a month out with my competition entry… I should have stuck with my original instinctive answer!

On the way to work this morning, I was listening to Leo Laporte and Paul Thurrott discuss Windows Vista on the Windows Weekly podcast and was amused to hear where the codename for Windows Vista (Longhorn) came from… quoting from the SuperSite for Windows Windows Longhorn FAQ:

“Remember that Windows XP was code-named Whistler and the next version of Windows, at the time, was code-named Blackcomb. Both of these names come from ski areas in British Columbia, close to Microsoft’s headquarters. At the foot of Whistler Mountain, there is a saloon named Longhorn that serves the local skiing population.”

So, the theory was that you can’t get from Whistler to Blackcomb without passing Longhorn… hence the name for the new operating system version, which was originally planned as a minor release, but soon became a major upgrade.

Notes on server hardware developments

I’ve just spent the day with HP, learning about their StorageWorks EVA SANs and the current ProLiant server roadmap. It was an interesting day, but most of what was discussed can be found on the HP website; however I did pick up some snippets of information that might be useful:

  • Firstly, when comparing Intel and AMD figures for the power consumption of their servers – if Intel quote the wattage, they quote the mean value, whereas AMD quote a peak figure – so it’s heard to draw accurate comparisons.
  • Secondly, as I reported when I wrote about HP blade servers a few weeks back, 3.5″ Ultra320 SCSI disks are being discontinued in favour of 2.5″ serial-attached SCSI (SAS) disks. The main difference (apart from the smaller form factor) is that SAS disks are switched between lanes (cf. a shared bus with Ultra320), increasing performance in a linear manner with each disk connected to a controller (whereas a shared SCSI channel will typically exhibit a bell-curve in its performance characteristics). Also, the smaller physical size of the disk means that a 10,000RPM 2.5″ disk will provide more-or-less equivalent performance to an similarly specified 15,000RPM 3.5″ disk and that less energy is required to spin it, meaning a lower power consumption (and less heat generated).
  • One of the other changes in the server lineup is a general move from PCI-X to PCI Express (PCIe) slots offering improved performance (many servers allow a combination of the two to be specified).
  • Finally, the new iLO2 management processors (as well as iLO with firmware v1.82 or later) now support schema-less AD integration and iLO2 has a much-improved remote console, with most of the Java code removed, increasing performance drastically.

There’s no real “story” to any of the above – they are just a jumble of notes that might be useful in understanding where HP (and other vendors) are heading in the industry standard x86/x64 server space.

Remotely controlling Mac OS X using VNC

I frequently control my Windows computers remotely from other Windows, Linux or Mac OS X computers using a remote desktop protocol (RDP) client; however there is no RDP server built into Mac OS X (not surprisingly, as RDP is a Microsoft protocol) and Apple’s remote control product (Apple Remote Desktop) is a little pricey for a network with only one Mac!

All is not lost though, as I’ve found that I can use VNC Viewer (Free Edition 4.1.1 for X) on my Linux (Fedora core 5) box to remotely control my Mac (OS X 10.4.8) – I could probably use a Windows VNC client too but I haven’t tried yet.

All that is required on the Mac side is to enable Apple Remote Desktop in the System Preferences (Sharing, Access Privileges, VNC viewers may control screen with password) and to set an appropriate password but, initially, I was having problems whereby the VNC Viewer refused to connect and returned the following error:

Unknown message type

It seems that the solution is to set the colour level connection option to use full colour (all available colours) – once this was set I was able to connect to the Mac and control it remotely.

Problems reformatting the memory card in a Nikon D70 camera

Nikon D70
Last week, I experienced a photographic crisis… five minutes before leaving home to visit my wife and newborn son, Ben, in hospital (on the day that my two children would meet one another for the first time – a significant family event worth photographing) I had a problem with the Lexar Pro 512MB 80x CF memory card that I use in my Nikon D70 camera (and I couldn’t find a spare card).

Normally, after making copies of my photos (to an external hard disk, backed up to another disk, with occasional DVD backup), I delete all but the most recent file from the card using the computer and the camera recognises the free space, picking up with the file numbering where it left off previously; however this time I deleted all of the photos using the computer and then copied back the most recent one (I also used a Mac instead of a Windows PC but am not sure that is relevant), after which the camera refused to recognise the free space.

With time at a premium, reformatting the memory card seemed like the easiest option so I tried to do this in-camera; however despite appearing to do the job, the camera still reported itself as full and old pictures were still visible. Luckily, some frantic googling turned up a Tom’s hardware guide forum post on the subject – it seems that using the camera’s menu to reformat the card instead of the format buttons works as intended – this method certainly did the trick for me (Nikon D70 firmware revision A and B2.00).

Providing extra USB and FireWire capacity for a Mac Mini

One of the problems with the current Apple Mac Mini model is a lack of USB ports. Strictly speaking, not so much a lack of – 4 USB and 1 FireWire sounds plenty but the keyboard takes one of them (although the keyboard includes a 2-port USB hub, which I can use for my mouse, it’s not powerful enough for most devices), my external hard disk takes another, then there’s my iPod, my scanners, my video camera, etc.

If I had an Apple Cinema Display then the balance would tip back in my favour (as it includes a USB and FireWire hub), but I don’t – instead I saved almost £200 by not buying an Apple monitor and am very happy with my Fujitsu-Siemens Scaleoview S20-1W (incidentally, this seems to have dropped in price since I bought mine).

The trouble with most external USB hubs is that they come with a huge power brick, but for Mac Mini owners wanting to maintain the stylish appearance of their components there is an option – the Belkin Hi Speed USB 2.0 and FireWire 6-port hub for Mac Mini. Designed to be placed under the Mac Mini, with the same width and depth dimensions, it uses one of the existing USB ports and the existing FireWire port as uplinks and power sources, providing a net increase of 3 USB and 1 FireWire port, of which two ports (1 of each type) are positioned at the front of the unit – ideal for iPods and other often-removed devices.

Belkin Hi Speed USB 2.0 and FireWire 6-port hub for Mac Mini - F5U507uk

The only drawback I found was that the supplied USB uplink cable didn’t reach to the uplink port – I guess Apple must have moved the ports when they redesigned the Mac Mini for Intel; but thankfully they work, regardless of whether I use the port marked “to computer”. The power indicator, which exactly matches the Mac in both location and style, is also a nice touch although I do wish the device had been given the aluminium finish of the Mac Mini rather than iMac-style white plastic.

There are alternative products available, some including additional hard drive capacity, but they are difficult to get hold of in the UK, and mostly seem to be much taller, with ugly manufacturer logos on the front, or huge power indicators.

There’s also a 4-port USB-only version, but the 6-port USB and FireWire hub seems a better option to me and it was only £29.99 (shop around on the ‘net and you should be able to get if for less than £25). Now… if only they made one in silver with a built in CF slot, and perhaps even room for a 2.5″ SATA hard disk drive, I’d be very happy!

Implementing real time block lists for spam control

The Spamhaus Project
A couple of months back, I wrote a post about controlling spam using the Microsoft Exchange Intelligent Message Filter. Whilst it has to be said that the IMF has been effective in reducing my spam volumes (with very low false positives – strangely enough my blog posts are the ones it has most trouble with) it’s still not catching all of the unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) that I receive, so this week I resorted to another spam control – real time DNS block lists.

Various lists exist with details of known spam relays and the one I’m using is from the Spamhaus project. Actually I’m using two of their lists – the Spamhaus block list (SBL) and the Spamhaus exploits block list (XBL), both of which are free for non-commercial use – I may add other services later.

Setting up the block lists within Microsoft Exchange Server was reasonably straightforward, following advice from Daniel Petri (further information can be found in Microsoft knowledge base article 823866). I then tested the service as recommended at Crynwr Software’s spam blocking resources page. After initial problems testing the service as my mail was being routed via my ISP’s relays (but I could see the conversation when I telnetted to Crynwr’s servers) I switched to DNS-based routing and received a satisfactory response to the e-mail tests – most importantly showing the following text in the SMTP conversation:

550 5.7.1 knownspamserveripaddress has been blocked by Spamhaus
Terminating conversation

So, that’s another tool in my anti-spam arsenal. The UCE levels appear to be tailing off now… hopefully I’m not dropping too much “real e-mail”. One day I hope to be able to say (in the style of John C Dvorak) “I get no spam”.

E-mail protected by SBL advisory E-mail protected by SBL advisory

Installing Nikon Scan 4 as a Photoshop plug-in

Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 EDLast night I set up my Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 ED film scanner with my Mac Mini. As the Mac already had Adobe Photoshop CS2 installed, I expected Nikon Scan 4 to install a plug-in (as Nikon Scan 3.1.4 had with Adobe Photoshop 7 under Windows XP) but this was not the case (it had worked previously for my Canon CanoScan N656U flatbed scanner).

After contacting the Nikon European customer support desk (who in my experience are always helpful), I copied the Nikon Scan Plugin 4 file from Applications > Nikon Software > Nikon Scan 4 > Plug-ins to Applications > Adobe Photoshop CS2 > Plug-Ins > Import/Export. Now Photoshop CS2 has a Nikon Scan 4 entry under File > Import, allowing me to scan directly to Photoshop.

Message hygiene principles for Microsoft Exchange Server

Whilst researching my post on the Microsoft Exchange intelligent message filter a couple of months back, I came across the following message hygiene architectural principles, which Microsoft promotes as best practice:

  • Anti-spam filtering must be performed before anti-virus filtering.
  • Anti-spam filtering should be performed for inbound mail only.
  • Anti-spam filtering should remove messages (cf. quarantining messages).
  • Anti-virus filtering must scan both inbound and outbound mail.
  • Anti-virus filtering must be mail-direction aware.
  • Anti-virus filtering must block messages that it cannot scan.
  • Anti-virus and anti-spam filtering system must integrate with Exchange Server.

Catching up on events by listening to podcasts

Maybe it’s a sign of getting older but, along with new tastes for full-bodied red wine and extra mature cheddar cheese, talk radio (mostly BBC Radio 4) has joined my list of preferences; and as I regularly spend approximately 12 to 15 hours of my working week driving around south-east England this is a perfect opportunity to catch up on the modern equivalent of talk radio – podcasts.

Podcasting (and the various derivatives thereof) have really caught on over the last year or so (helped by Apple’s bundling of podcatching capabilities within iTunes) and were the main reason I bought an iPod last year, although it’s probably worth mentioning that you don’t need an iPod – any digital media player will do – the main requirement is to be able to receive new podcasts via an RSS feed and synchronise with the digital media player. My iPod is connected to the car stereo via a 3.5mm headphone jack but other options include the Griffin iTrip and burning MP3 CDs to listen to via the normal CD player.

Much of the available content originates from the United States but there is some British content too – many “old media” companies have jumped on the podcasting bandwagon and even the BBC has some content available for download. I highly recommend The Now Show but many popular radio shows now have podcast derivatives and even BBC News has got in on the event with audio and video podcasts.

It’s not just broadcast media that is using podcasting to reach new audiences though – forward-thinking organisations have recognised the power of the corporate podcast (e.g. First Direct); and when Microsoft launched Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and the .NET Framework 2.0 last November they released a 45 minute audio download to complement the launch events, featuring information from their developer and platform group experts.

As a techie, podcasting is a great way to keep up-to-date with industry news and the UK trade weekly IT Week now has a short podcast discussing two or three of the week’s top stories. The TWiT network also has several podcasts that I listen to routinely – including This Week in Tech, Inside the Net and MacBreak Weekly – and last week this list was extended with a new Windows Weekly podcast featuring well-known Microsoft commentator Paul Thurrott. Other tech podcasts that I listen to include The iLifeZone.

If, like me, you are suffering from e-mail, blog and paper-based information overload, then I recommend podcasting as an alternative method for catching up on events.