Coalface Tech: Episode 4 (Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2)

Coalface Tech podcast graphic
Remember the Coalface Tech podcast that James Bannan and I kicked off? Well, after a long break, we finally got another episode out. To be fair, I didn’t have a lot to do with it – the logistics of scheduling podcast recordings between the UK and Australia, battling with VoIP technology, editing audio, losing our hosting provider and fitting it in with work and family life was all a bit too much. Episode 3 was recorded but, by the time we had it ready, it seemed a bit past its sell by date, so James has recorded episode 4 with a new member of the team: Craig Fiegert, who is a Melbourne-based consultant.

The closure of APC Pro magazine caused us some issues and we’ve moved everything across to the coalfacetech.com domain (which is currently working off James’ site). For existing subscribers, we hope to be able to put some redirects on to point to the new feeds but, for the time being, you can either listen to Episode 4 via the web or resubscribe at:

Coalface Tech (MP3 podcast) Coalface Tech (MP3 podcast).
Coalface Tech (AAC podcast) Coalface Tech (AAC podcast with chapter markings and context-sensitive links, etc.).

The iTunes feed (which is the one that gets us recognised) should be back and running as soon as the redirects go in and I’ll also look into submitting the podcast to the Zune Store. Meanwhile, Google Feedburner will tell us if anyone is actually listening!

In short – thank you for bearing with us. Hopefully we’ve got through the worst of the infrastructure issues and James hopes to get new episodes out more regularly now. I’ll still be involved in the background and will make an occasional appearance but, until then, enjoy James and Craig’s discussion of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

What happened to Coalface Tech?

Coalface Tech podcast graphic
Last year, James Bannan and I launched a podcast called Coalface Tech
. At the time we thought we were the only guys doing a podcast for IT Pros, by IT Pros (since then, I’ve discovered and started listening to RunAs Radio) but, to be honest, we broke the golden rule of podcasting/blogging and didn’t post regularly (frequency is less of a concern, but if you post monthly, then that’s what people expect you to continue doing).

The main problem was one of hosting. APC Pro Magazine, who were hosting our episodes, closed down. Episode 3 was recorded and edited, but had no-where to go to. There were also scheduling issues (two guys on opposite sides of the planet, with limited time for recording), and some fairly major family events for each of us.

We do hope to get the podcast going again at some point, and I was heartened when a listener dropped me an e-mail to say “where have you guys gone?” All I can say is, please keep our feed in your reader and, hopefully, there will be a new episode there one day.

Coalface Tech: Episode 2 (interview with Microsoft’s Michael Kleef and Jason Leznek)

Coalface Tech podcast graphic
After some late-night editing, Episode 2 of the Coalface Tech podcast that James Bannan and I produce is online at the APC Magazine Pro website.

As a result of my timezone blindness, combined with Skype problems, James and I didn’t manage to record our usual conversation for this episode but, a couple of weeks back, James hooked up with Microsoft’s Michael Kleef and Jason Leznek to chat about some of the management features in the Windows client and server operating systems as well as how we can start to prepare ourselves for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

If you like what you hear, then you might like to consider subscribing – there are two podcast feeds available (MP3 and AAC) – if you use iTunes then I recommend the AAC version as that’s the enhanced podcast with chapter markings and context sensitive links but MP3 should work for just about everyone. The AAC feed is also included in the Podcasts directory on iTunes:

Coalface Tech (MP3 podcast) Coalface Tech (MP3 podcast).
Coalface Tech (AAC enhanced podcast) Coalface Tech (AAC enhanced podcast) (or subscribe via iTunes).

If you don’t like it, please tell us why. We’re still learning how to do this podcasting stuff and there’s a lot to take on board but we really would like feedback – including suggested topics for discussion.

Going forward, James and I hope to get an episode out every month. They are time-consuming to produce though, so please bear with us if the schedule is not as regular as we’d like.

Finally, here are the show notes for episode 2:

  • Mark introduces the podcast.
  • James interviews Michael Kleef and Jason Leznek:
    • We start off with the guys introducing themselves.
    • Michael explains that group policy management is core to both the server and client versions of Windows 7, and how Windows PowerShell provides command line access to group policy objects.
    • Starter GPOs in Windows Server 2008 R2 are enhanced – providing templates of ADMX settings to kickstart creation of a new template.
    • Group Policy preferences are not known by many customers but are new in the Windows Server 2008 and Vista SP1 RSAT tools to do more than policy allows. Whereas policy enforces fixed settings, preferences are more like suggestions and can be targetted to provide a variety of settings, which can also persist across logons and in many cases remove or reduce the requirement for logon scripts.
    • James asks why GPO administration would need to be scripted – Michael explains that automation can be applied to backups, reporting and any other repetitive operations.
    • Jason suggests another scenario where different business units have similar but different settings and how scripting the policy creation can reduce the effort in creating the new objects.
    • Michael explained that these features will work downlevel where the client operating system supports the settings – not all settings will be applicable to downlevel operating systems and so policies may need to be written accordingly.
    • When asked what IT Pros can do to get ready for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008, Michael suggests getting familiar with group policy preferences (and you only need a Vista SP1 machine – no domain changes needed – you could still be using Windows Server 2003). Jason added that it’s the RSAT tools that are required (including an updated version of GPMC). [of course there’s far more to do in order to prepare for a new operating system release but this needs to be taken in the context that Michael and Jason are subject matter experts for specific areas of Windows.]
    • Michael talked about how to work in a mixed environment – you might need separate policies for XP and Vista [and 7] in certain circumstances but many settings will work cross-platform.
    • When asked how the upgrade path will work as Windows Server 2008 R2 comes in – Michael stressed that fresh 64-bit installs will be required (R2 is 64-bit only and there is no direct upgrade path from 32-bit) but that services will co-exist between versions of Windows Server.
    • When asked about the implications for organisations moving to Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 in terms of business value, Jason explained that there is a better together concept with many new features benefitting from the latest client and server releases – for example: Direct Access enabled an end user to access network resources seamlessly without the need for a VPN; or branch cache, which allows files to be cached locally for efficient use of network bandwidth.
    • Like a dog after a bone, James keeps on digging to find business value in Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 for those organisations that have already deployed Windows Vista. Jason talked about features like Bitlocker to go, which not supports the encryption of data on removable devices in Windows 7 as well as the productivity improvements that the technologies Jason had already highlighted could potentially provide.
    • Michael then explained how group policy applies to remote connections.
    • Just as the interview draws to a close, the conversation turns to application compatibility [probably the biggest sticking point when it came to Vista deployments and just as critical for a Windows 7 deployment…] and Michael referred to one of James’ articles in which he recommends that customers start testing applications on Windows Vista SP1 in preparation for Windows 7.
  • Please give us your feedback!

(Next time, we should be back to the normal format and we have a new team member as Alistair Weddell joins us to perform the post-production work that is the bulk of the effort in producing this podcast.)

Submitting podcasts to iTunes

One of the few things I managed to get done last week was to submit the enhanced podcast (AAC) version of the Coalface Tech RSS feed to Apple for inclusion in the iTunes podcast directory.

Actually it’s remarkably straightforward but here’s a few pointers for anyone who is getting started with this podcasting lark.

First up – you need to understand that there are two things called iTunes:

  • Apple’s online store with audio and video content (depending on whereabouts you live in the world).
  • Apple’s media player for Windows and Macintosh PCs, used by millions of iPod and iPhone owners worldwide (as well as many people with other devices, I’m sure).

Next – you need to understand that podcasts are generally distributed using an RSS feed (just like blogs but with enclosures containing the media files). The RSS feed is structured using XML.

You can subscribe directly to the RSS feed (and even view it in a browser), or you can use a podcast directory (such as the iTunes Store).

James had created the original XML for our RSS feeds (one for the MP3 version and one for the AAC version of the podcast) using a feed generator (I’m not sure which one he used but there is a basic podcast RSS generator available in the TD Scripts webmaster utilities). Not all feed generators support the iTunes-specific metatags though and it’s useful to know what these do.

Armed with the two feeds (one with iTunes metatags for the AAC feed and one without for the MP3 which is not on iTunes), I tested them in my iTunes client application (selecting Subscribe to Podcast… from the Advanced menu to see what metadata is displayed in the feed and the downloaded episodes). This let me tune the tags until I saw something that approximated the desired information.

Once I knew the XML was correctly formatted (tested in iTunes and in various web browsers), the final versions were uploaded to the web (in testing you can use any accessible HTTP server but for live deployment you probably want to think about providing a reasonably permanent URL and the media files themselves need to be somewhere that bandwidth is not a problem – for Coalface Tech, that hosting is kindly provided by Australian Personal Computer, Internode and Sun Microsystems but I also considered using Liberated Syndication).

Next-up was time to submit the podcast to Apple for inclusion. There is a moderation process but within 24 hours we had received confirmation that we were live in the iTunes directory!

Coalface Tech in iTunes

And that was about it really – remarkably straightforward, especially when armed with Apple’s detailed instructions for making a podcast.

All I need to do each time we create a new episode is update the XML for the RSS feeds (create a new section for each episode) and notify iTunes that we have posted a new episode (although it should automatically check every day).

Coalface Tech: Episode 1 (Microsoft PDC 2008)

Coalface Tech podcast graphic
Last month, James Bannan and I released a pilot episode of a new podcast called Coalface Tech – the idea being that IT Pros should have a slightly different take on IT industry developments to the professional journalists that cover this.

We’ve taken on board the feedback that we received and, whilst it’s still a bit rough around the edges, Episode 1 is now online at the APC Pro magazine website.

In this episode, we look at some of the major announcements from Microsoft’s 2008 Professional Developers’ Conference – Windows Azure and Windows 7 – as well as some interesting things to come out of Microsoft Research.

PDC may seem like old news now, but our aim is not to report the news – like this blog the intention is that we provide a commentary from the perspective of those who actually implement the technology.

If you like what you hear, then you might like to consider subscribing – there are two podcast feeds available (MP3 and AAC) – if you use iTunes then I recommend the AAC version as that’s the enhanced podcast with chapter markings and context sensitive links but MP3 should work for just about everyone. We’ve also submitted the AAC feed to the iTunes store (it’s still under consideration but will hopefully be in the index soon).

Coalface Tech (MP3 podcast) Coalface Tech (MP3 podcast).
Coalface Tech (AAC enhanced podcast) Coalface Tech (AAC enhanced podcast).

If you don’t like it, please tell us why. We’re still learning how to do this podcasting stuff and there’s a lot to take on board but we really would like feedback – including suggested topics for discussion.

Going forward, James and I hope to get an episode out every month. They are time-consuming to produce though, so please bear with us if the schedule is not as regular as we’d like.

Finally, here are the show notes for episode 1:

  • 00’00” Introduction (agenda) and summary of feedback from the pilot episode (excuse the ums and ers, we do get more confident after a few minutes; Mark should remember he’s not an Aussie; hopefully we’ve improved the production a little in this episode).
  • 02’23” Windows 7: James’ first view of Microsoft’s forthcoming OS release (he’s also written about Windows 7 for IT Pros); no massive changes between Vista and 7 – slicker and some new features but not a major release; touchscreen – a real possibility or just a niche technology?; Conchango/Tesco prototype WPF front end for online groceries; boot from VHD; Application compatibility is just as key to a Windows 7 deployment as it is to Vista – even the 6.1 version number is to maintain application compatibility!
  • 15’53” Slight diversion to discuss Mark’s plans for Windows 7 on Lenovo IdeaPad S10 netbook; and it turns out that James has been running Vista Enterprise SP1 on an Acer Aspire One; if you’re using an SSD drive then consider the NTFS partition alignment.
  • 19’25” Windows Azure: James interviewed Greg Stone (Microsoft Australia CTO); Azyure or Azuuure? (or Red Dog!); a hosted services platform to provide a flexible infrastructure, leveraging from existing development tools; watch out for spiraling bandwidth costs; not buying infrastructure looks attractive – as does rapid provisioning; a lot of the details are still to come (support, costs, etc.); usage-based billing may represent a challenge for some organisations; KPI-based model; this model will not suit everyone but Software plus Services is a little more realistic that software as a service; Microsoft Online Services are already competing with partners – what’s the impact on our jobs if the infrastructure goes into the cloud; Microsoft has proved that it does have a strategy for cloud computing.
  • 33’07” Microsoft Research: Surface becomes SecondLight; you can build a primative surface table with a cardboard box, a sheet of paper, a sheet of perspex and a webcam; heat sensors used to control building environmental systems; Microsoft Research is more interested in academic computer science than in new products.
  • 41’06” We want your feedback!
  • 41’37” Closedown: how to find James and Mark; a thank you to our sponsors – Australian Personal Computer, Internode and Sun Microsystems.
  • 42’36” End

Coalface Tech: a podcast produced by IT pros for IT pros

Coalface Tech podcast graphicWay back in June, I wrote that James Bannan and I were thinking of launching a podcast – the theory being that we are both full-time IT guys who write about IT in our spare time, rather than professional journalists who write about IT but don’t need to worry about keeping the lights on.

Well, last month, we finally recorded the pilot episode for what has become known as “Coalface Tech”, and APC Mag has kindly given us a home on the web (multimedia downloads would blow my bandwidth allowance for this site very quickly!) – please do check it out and let us know what you think.

Please bear in mind that this is a pilot and we still have some work to do on the audio production (next time I will use a headset!) and the RSS feeds (for MP3 and AAC versions of the podcast) are not live yet so you can’t subscribe via iTunes (we’re working on it!). James and I are looking to schedule another recording soon but, in the meantime, check out the pilot episode – and please do leave a comment if you have any constructive feedback about podcast length, frequency, potential topics or anything else that seems relevant!