MVP Open Day UK at Bletchley Park

December 5, 2012 Leave a comment

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I was honoured recently to be awarded the MVP award by Microsoft.
The first event as an MVP I have been privileged to attend as a newbie, was the open day for UK and Ireland awardees that was held at Bletchley Park last week.

Apart from a great 2 days of meeting other MVPs and hearing some great sessions, we were afforded a tour of the museum, with it’s unrivalled collection of computers old and new.

Of course, most people will know Bletchley as the home of the code breakers from WWII. It rightly deserves its reputation as a place of great genius, that the allies and the wider world have benefited from as a result of what happened there during the war.

Here are a couple of the snaps I took during the visit that I hope will inspire techies old and young alike to go and visit. Even if you are not a techie, it’s well worth a day out with the kids. It’s an important part of our heritage, as a country of ingenious computing industry founders like Alan Turing who worked there.

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A working  rebuild of the now destroyed original Colossus computers commissioned in WWII.
Absolutely amazing to see how the reverse engineering of an unseen crypto machine (the Lorenz, not the Enigma machine – that was the Bombe – also a working copy of which is here) was done, and how this accelerated the interception of German communications during the war. This literally saved lives.

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The Harwell Dekatron (aka the WITCH). Just the week before, it had been fully restored and working thanks to the computer conservationists and now on show at Bletchley Park. The oldest original functioning electronic stored program computer in the world. That’s quite amazing in itself. But it actually works! Of course, your average mobile phone has more computing power these days, but let’s not take the shine off what is an extraordinary achievement getting this back to it’s former glory.

 

 

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Recognise this piece of more
‘modern’ kit?

 

 

 

 

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Oh happy days. I remember many a school classroom kitted out like this in the ‘80’s.

What ever happened to that generation of kids? Smile 
And more importantly, why are the kids of today not coding from the age of 6 like we did?

Go visit. Details here http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/museum1.rhtm

Windows 8 Shortcut Keys

December 5, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been trying to convince all I meet recently that they should take a look at Windows 8 if they haven’t already. I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but every, and I mean every ad break on TV right now contains Windows 8 adverts. Not a bad thing IMO, especially with Christmas round the corner.

One thing I have found on my travels from the uninitiated, is they feel that without a touch PC, they are missing out. I myself do not have one, and am quite happy on my lappy with keyboard and mouse – thank you very much. If anything, my productivity has increased since using Windows 7. That’s not to say if Santa is reading, that a new tablet wouldn’t be appreciated.

One of the reasons is (and perhaps I am forced to a little more to be fair), I am using more shortcut keys than ever before. So I thought I document a few here for those wanting to try it out, and see for yourselves. Incidentally, you can grab a 90 day eval here of Windows 8 Enterprise to see what all the fuss is about.

startscreen

Windows key Brings up the start screen (like the start menu – but more real estate!). Also toggles you back and forth to the desktop. Hit this, start typing the name of an app, and you’re away. Great by itself – but more fun with friends!
Windows key + left arrow snaps the current app to the left of the screen
Windows key + right arrow snaps the current app to the right of the screen
Windows key + up arrow maximises current app
Windows key + down arrow restores/minimises current app
Windows key + Q shows all installed apps
Windows key + R run dialog
Windows key + X admin tools – great for IT Pros. All the family favourites here
Windows key + I brings up the settings pane, great for control panel or personalisation
Windows key + C brings up charms
Windows key + M minimises current app
Windows key + S creates a screen clipping (requires OneNote)
Windows key + E Launches file explorer
Windows key + <number> Launches an app from the taskbar, counting left to right
Windows key + D shows the desktop
Windows key + P second screen settings
Windows key + W search settings
Windows key + F search files
Windows key + Tab switches between Windows 8 apps (like alt+tab for x86 apps)
Windows key + U Ease of access center
Windows key + T toggles between taskbar apps
Windows key + H share charm
Windows key + K devices charm
Windows key + L locks the screen
Windows key + Enter starts Narrator
CTRL + + zooms in when on the start screen
CTRL + zooms out when on the start screen
CTRL + left arrow switches between groups of apps when zoomed out on the start screen
CTRL + right arrow switches between groups of apps when zoomed out on the start screen

Of course, there’s a whole load more to Windows 8 than this, but hope that helps the keyboard folks out there like me!

If I’ve missed one, comment please and I’ll add it in.

Categories: Windows 8

Windows 8 Application Compatibility–What Are My Options?

December 3, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been doing a bit of work recently with application compatibility, or more commonly known as appcompat for short.

While I have found that there is a heap of documentation on the Microsoft Springboard site for detailing how-to’s on particular topics, one thing I’ve not really been able to put my finger on, is what exactly are the options for IT Pro’s in Windows 8 environments?

First, I would urge you to familiarise yourself with the excellent information that you can find in the appcompat area here. I will next attempt to summarise the whole issue of application compatibility, and why it warrants time spent dealing with it, before I move on to what we can do to deal with any issues that arise.

Setting The Scene

If you are not aware of why this is a massive problem, let me explain.

Suppose you run an enterprise network, such as a high street bank. There’s a good chance you are still running an older operating system on your client computers, with older applications to boot.  So let’s suppose we imagine that a company runs Windows XP with Office 2003 and other business applications on their client computers right now.

The company realises that Windows XP’s days are numbered, with extended support ending in April 2014. This is a big deal to many companies, as they will loose their accreditation, or compliance rating if they are using out-dated, or more importantly, out of support products. For many organisations like banks, this simply won’t do.

So the solution is simple – right? Upgrade to a new operating system and applications. After all, having skipped a couple of versions, they are ripe for a refresh anyway, and they surely have wrung every last drop out of their investment in an operating system they could well have been using since 2001! (Most people wouldn’t dream of owning a car that long, never mind a PC).

Is it a problem?

Yes and no. But mostly yes.

If you are running a PC now with Windows XP, and that era of applications (or even older than that in most cases), then a lot has changed over the years to where we are now. This is not the place to detail all the in’s and out’s, so check out this link for more info why this is a big deal.

Suffice to say, older applications can just simply not work, or need fixing to make work on a modern OS such as Windows 8.  The fact is, a typical organisation will need to assess this, as if an application is found to be incompatible with Windows 8, that could potentially be a show-stopper in the deployment of a new desktop refresh.

Where do I start?

Understand what you have.

I did some work for a UK bank not so long ago, and they found that they had over 12,000 applications in use at that time. The intention was to reduce that to 7,000 (still a big number, but way more manageable!), as part of deploying a new operating system to replace Windows XP.

If you don’t know what you have got installed on your machines, here’s a quick summary of your options in how to find out.

  • Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit – a FREE tool that runs without agents on your PCs and gives you centralised reporting on readiness of hardware, but in this context, also tells us what applications (and their versions) are installed on the computers.
  • Asset Inventory Service (AIS)– one of the constituent components of the MDOP suite for software assurance customers.
  • System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) 2012 – much more than just helping to inventory computers. This can help meter software usage as well, and of course can be used to deploy applications and operating systems.
  • Windows Intune – cloud based computer management of computer assets that may or may not be domain-joined. Great for home workers, or field based computers. This is an awesome technology by the way, check it out on the 30 day free trial.

  • ACT Now!
    I mean the Application Compatibility Toolkit.

    This is a fantastic tool that can also report on what applications are installed, but more importantly, will assist the IT Pro in evaluating which applications are critical, are high priority and will help you spend the right time in the right areas. For example, there’s no point spending a week trying to make an application work, if only 3 people in the entire company actually use it.

    This tool will help highlight which applications are known to not work, or have fixes suggested by the community database it taps into.

This brings me to the point of this blog post.

What are my options?

The Options

As of Windows 8, we no longer have XP mode as an option.
It was a stop-gap solution, which frankly, should always have been used as a short-term appcompat solution.  This used to allow us to run a Windows XP virtual machine in Windows 7, thanks to Windows Virtual PC. This is not a supported configuration (neither is MED-V for the same reasons at the time of writing) for Windows 8, so let’s move on to what we CAN use to help resolve appcompat issues.

    The following list is in no particular order as it depends on why the incompatibility exists in the first place, or how much time and effort should be put into making it work if an easier/cheaper way around can be found. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to include rationales for each option. I am happy to update this if folks have suggestions, but it should be seen as a starting point, as in some cases more than one option may exist for a given situation.

    Technology What it does When is it appropriate to use it?
    Get a new version or patch from the original vendor Brings the application current to a supported configuration on Windows 8 that allows it to run Simple and quick way of bringing an incompatible app into a supported configuration. Sometimes the low-hanging fruit that IT Pros need.  Always check this first!
    Choose a new app Replaces an incompatible app with one of equivalent functionality that runs on Windows 8 Replace the faulty app with a whole new one.
    Sometimes cheaper than spending time trying to make an existing one work, or where the original vendor has gone out of business or is not interested in patching the older version.

    Maybe there’s a new app in the Windows 8 Store? Smile

    Create a fix Use the ACT tools to create a ‘shim’ or fix(es) to fool the application that it is running on an older OS When an app *almost* works, but needs a helping hand to eliminate runtime errors, such as demanding a particular version of Windows or IE, or insisting on admin rights to function.

    Dozens of fixes are available in ACT. Often used in enterprise environments.

    Light bulbTip: check against the community database with this to save time and effort.

    Remote Desktop Services (RDS) Session Virtualises a desktop session Apps are installed on a server, then run via RDP in the Remote Desktop Connection program included in Windows (also available for MAC users)

    intranet or homeworkers or field based users can run line of business apps without the need for a domain joined computer.

    Also good for older machines that won’t meet the hardware specification for a newer OS

    (can also be accessed via a browser)

    RDS RemoteApp   similar to above, but just the app is presented via RDP, not an entire desktop session.

    Avoids the ‘double desktop’ problem users otherwise may face.

    Great for hybrid scenarios where some apps are run locally, and some from the RDS server.

    (can also be accessed via a browser)

    Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Presents Hyper-V Windows client virtual machines with RDS Allows older computers to run Windows 8 and newer applications alongside their existing OS that wouldn’t locally support the new apps.

    Users connect to Windows 8 VM’s via RDP.

    Can also be used to provide rapid access to the new environment ahead of a planned deployment later.

    App-V avoids apps being installed locally in the ‘traditional’ way.

    apps are streamed to the desktop and can be cached and run from there

    Apps must be compatible with the underlying Windows OS in the first place. This does not directly solve appcompat issues.

    It can be used, however, in situations like needing to maintain an older version of an app, alongside a newer version, where that would otherwise cause a conflict with both being installed locally. Imagine installing Office 2003 and Office 2010 on the same computer.

    Can be used to allow older add-on’s or plug-in’s to work in conjunction with older apps.

    Can avoid loading code on to a machine in the traditional way.

    Speeds up app deployment.
    Apps can be used before all the code is streamed to the computers for rapid deployment.

    Hyper-V hosts virtual machines that could be legacy operating systems including older applications not really a great option, and not one that Microsoft want you to folllow, not least of which is because of licensing implications. Guest OS’s would need a licence as well as the host.

    Would allow, for example, a Windows XP virtual machine to be installed and incompatible apps loaded onto it.

    A clunky way to solve appcompat problems, and not really dealing with the problem, just postponing it.

    Used in a minority of situations (if at all) as it would be a large overhead on the PC.

Boot Note

Just to add something into the equation I did not say up top, but to get you thinking – also consider the BYOD situation, where users may be using their own computers.  This could also now include Windows RT devices, where x86/x64 applications simply do not run. What if, for instance, a user wishes to use their RT device like a Surface? Well there actually is a RDP client for Windows 8 in the Store that users can pull down. This would give them access to RDS and VDI of course (see above). 

This could well be the way forward for some organisations. They may simply not have apps installed locally any more. I’ll leave you with that thought!

Feel free to comment on ideas/omissions I may have inadvertently missed.

Seasons Greetings with PowerShell

December 3, 2012 1 comment

So it’s got to the time of year again where folks are already starting to wrap presents and put up decorations. So far in our house, only my eldest daughter has bought AND wrapped all her gifts – good for her, whereas mum and dad still have some work to do…

Anyway, to cheer myself up, I have dusted off the annual PowerShell script from the loft, and am putting the tinsel around it out for all to wonder at.

Try this in PowerShell to amuse yourself in the countdown to the big day.

# Function to calculate the number of days until Christmas
# Call by typing ‘Days-Left’
Function Days-Left
{
$xmas=[system.datetime]”25 December 2013”
$today=get-date

#Working out the number of days to go
$days = ($xmas.dayofyear – $today.dayofyear)

write-host “There are$daysdays until Christmas!”
}

Alternatively, try this one-liner as well.

Write-Host (“There are “ +(([system.datetime]”25 December 2013”).DayOfYear – (Get-Date).DayOfYear) + ” days until Christmas!”)

Merry-Christmas folks!

Categories: Windows 8

MDOP 2012 now available – introducing new feature – UE-V

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

MDOP has always been an excellent compliment to managing Windows in the corporate environment.

Now MDOP comes with a new technology that I think is well worth a look; UE-V. Yes, I know, another acronym for us, but I think it’s pretty cool. UE-V stands for User Environment Virtualization. Essentially this tackles the age-old problems of roaming profiles, RDS session profiles, folder redirection and all the fun that goes with owning different settings across these. Now, users can have application and operating system settings monitored by the UE-V agent, and their settings centrally stored.

When users move between Windows computers, and even VDI sessions (which is pretty neat!), their settings follow them to the PC or session. It’s fully integrated with Group Policy for management and administrators can manage what applications the templates look for on the systems with the UE-V Generator.

The apps managed by UE-V include locally installed apps, App-V deployed apps, and RemoteApp apps with RDS services.

UE-V Agent Architectural Diagram
Links:

UE-V landing page on Springboard
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows/hh943107

Watch the overview video
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows/hh925634

To find out more about MDOP, check out the following links:
http://blogs.windows.com/windows/b/business/archive/2012/11/01/mdop-2012-now-available.aspx

MDOP landing page on Springboard
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows/bb899442.aspx

Categories: Windows 8 Tags: ,

Windows 8 Jump Start

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

If you happened to miss the 1 day jump start event, the recordings are now available online for your playback pleasure. There’s some really great content here for IT Pros including DirectAccess, Windows To Go (see my previous blog post) and more!  They are in bite-sized chunks, and a good way to find out more about the new features that are of interest to folks supporting Windows 8 in enterprise environments.

If you are new to Windows 8, the tips and tricks is well worth a watch to get into the basics of the interface changes. Presented by Joey Snow, an evangelist from DPE, and Stephen Rose from Windows.

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-gb/windows/jj687764.aspx

 

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Categories: Uncategorized

My Windows 8 ‘Feature of the Week’–Windows To Go

October 24, 2012 3 comments

In what is likely to be an irregular feature on my blog, I just have to talk about a new and cool feature of Windows 8 I’ve been testing the last few days.

Windows 8 Enterprise edition contains many cool features, some known (and improved) from Windows 7 such as BitLocker, Applocker, Branchcache and DirectAccess to name the main ones.

Windows

But the one feature worthy of call out in this post is Windows To Go (herein abbreviated to WTG).

The idea behind Windows To Go is that you have a copy of your operating system on a stick. You prepare that memory stick on a Windows 8 Enterprise computer, then simply plug it into another PC.  Almost like a cuckoo with the PC hardware for your own use.

Forget roaming profiles – I now have a full roaming PC with me, in USB format. First time I plug it in to a different PC (assuming I have set the boot order to USB first), it will detect hardware and load drivers as needed. From there, after a minute or two, I can use the desktop with all my apps loaded. Simply shutdown, unplug and take it to the next PC to use it there.

For those whose shoulders and back suffer from carrying round laptops all the time, it’s well worth a look. I just need to carry a USB drive, and use a ‘donor’ machine to plug into to use it.

Sounds too good to be true? Give it a go.

Remember though, that you must shutdown the PC before ejecting the memory stick. If you unplug it while the operating system is running, then it will freeze the PC until it is plugged back in. You have 60 seconds to do this, and it will resume from where it left off.

USB 3.0 external drives have to be from the supported hardware list (see links at the bottom for supported models). Currently as I type there are only 3 available.  32GB is the minimum size required for this. Do not try to shoehorn a standard USB memory stick for this – it just won’t work.  I have the Kingston, and it works like a dream, if a little warm when in use. It uses an SSD drive, not regular flash memory – which is part of the specification.

 

Here’s my summary:

Pro’s:

  • Fully portable operating system
  • use any PC hardware that has USB 2.0/3.0 to boot from (that will ordinarily run Windows 7 or 8)
  • apps and settings are included, as it is a full O/S on the drive
  • Bitlocker is available to use for added peace of mind

Con’s:

  • WinRE is not available for recovery. How could it be? We are booting straight into an alternate O/S, not touching the C: drive at all on the local machine we plug into.
  • Store (for Windows 8 apps) is disabled (but you can enable it if you wish). This means app downloads from the store won’t work out of the box. ‘Regular’ apps can still be installed though in the old fashioned way though.

Also know:

  • Hibernation is disabled. It will only work in a startup and shutdown fashion.
  • Push button reset won’t work. See above.
  • Internal Disks are inaccessible when booted from WTG. They do not appear whatsoever. You only see the USB device’s drive (and mapped drives, Skydrive etc).
  • Mix & match CPU architecture will only work in a backward compatible way. i.e. if I have a 32-bit WTG installation, I can use that on a 32-bit or a 64-bit PC (as long as it’s using a legacy BIOS- not so with UEFI), but if I have a 64-bit WTG installation, then it can only be used on 64-bit PCs. No drama really, it’s what you’d expect.
  • You can prepare your own corporate images with the usual tools of ImageX, DISM

Hardware manufacturers links:
http://www.wd.com/wtg
http://www.supertalent.com/wtg/
http://www.kingston.com/wtg/

Step-by-Step Instructions for enabling Windows To Go:
http://social.technet.microsoft.com/wiki/contents/articles/6991.windows-to-go-step-by-step-en-us.aspx

Find out more about Windows To Go here on TechNet:
http://technet.microsoft.com/library/hh831833.aspx

And download the 90 day trial of Windows 8 Enterprise here:
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-US/evalcenter/hh699156.aspx?ocid=wc-tn-sb

 

EDIT: new devices now added to the list include IronKey and Spryrus devices. Good to see the list growing.
http://technet.microsoft.com/library/hh831833.aspx check the list here.

Also I’ve been asked this question a lot recently, Microsoft DO NOT support Macs at this time for WTG, (even though they would meet the min spec for host computer)  -yes – it’s an Apple thing 🙂