Windows Server User Group returns with April 6th event in London

After a few months without a meeting, the Windows Server User Group are hosting an event at Microsoft’s London HQ (at Cardinal Place, near Victoria Station) at 6pm on the 6th April. There will be two sessions: Microsoft’s Bill Orme will present Active Directory – Rights Management Services (AD-RMS) and how it can integrate with the cloud, and Simon Veale of the Oxford Computer Group is presenting on Active Directory – Federation Services (AD-FS). The formal sessions will be followed by far less formal drinks in the Ha Ha bar afterwards.

If you’re in the area, I’d suggest getting yourself along to the event. See all the details and the registration link on the Windows Server User Group site.



Windows Phone 7: What will still be missing at the end of 2011?

In Steve Ballmer’s keynote at the Mobile World Congress yesterday, Microsoft outlined what’s coming to Windows Phone 7 in updates for the remainder of 2011. There’s some good stuff there: copy and paste will come along with some performance improvements in the first half of March, followed later in the year by some 3rd party multi-tasking, Twitter integration in the People Hub, enhanced support for SkyDrive in Office, and a mobile version of IE9, supporting HTML5 and utilising hardware accelleration via the GPU. It all sounds very positive, but what is still missing?

In fairness, they did say that this isn’t an exhaustive list of what they’re adding, so here are the slighlty less high-profile things that I’m hoping get added to the list:

  • Gapless music playback
  • Variable playback speed for audiobooks/podcasts without changing pitch
  • Over-the-air podcast support in the OS
  • Ability to take screenshots
  • Allow 3rd party apps (and IE!) to save media to audio/video store
  • Offer Bing voice search outside the USA
  • More options to organise the full app list (alphabetical doesn’t scale well)
  • A remote desktop client
  • Mass storage functionality (to allow phone to be used as a USB drive)
  • Custom ringtones
  • Custom accent colours
  • Allow developers to “lock” capacitive buttons (it’s too easy to hit the Bing button when playing some games)
  • Remove/increase the cap on the number of apps that can get push notifications
  • Relaxed restrictions on use of low level APIs for key developer partners

It may be that some of those things are in the updates, but I’m going to bet that I’m still hoping for some of them to appear into 2012.

Of course it’s not clear yet quite how good some of the things that have already been annouced are going to be. I’m especially thinking about the multi-tasking and the SkyDrive support in Office – I’ll stick my neck on the block and say I’m expecting they’ll both have annoying limitations. Still, this is a new operating system and it’s at least moving in the right direction.

While I’m writing about what’s missing, there are some apps that I would especially like to see on the platform from 3rd parties. Hopefully they’ll be with us by the end of 2011 too:

  • Audible
  • Skype
  • TripIt
  • Gowalla
  • TweetDeck
  • BBC iPlayer
  • Flash (although I nearly left it off – it depends how quickly sites move to HTML5)

What have I missed? If there’s some feature or app that you are desperate to have on Windows Phone 7, let me know in the comments… free on WP7 or not?

Over the last day or so, lots of blogs covering Windows Phone 7 and other mobile devices/gadgets, including big-hitters like Engadget, Boy Genius Report, Wired and Pocket-Lint have been reporting’s announcement that they’re bringing free streaming to an end on all platforms other than the web and Windows desktop client, with the exception on Xbox360 and Windows Phone 7.

That seems to be diametrically opposed to the email message that sent direct to me and other users of their WP7 app, which was:

From February 15 you will need to be a subscriber to listen to Radio stations on devices, including your Windows Phone 7 app.

I tried to work out what was going on here, and the best that I can see is that the email message was wrong (which is odd).

The FAQ on this says:

  • Microsoft X-Box Live (also with Kinect) – App free with X-Box Live Membership in US and UK
  • Microsoft Windows Mobile 7 – Free in 2011 in US and UK; subscription required for radio in Germany
  • Wired did a Q&A with’s Matthew Hawn, who said:

    …they are free-to-their users specifically because MS has subsidised the radio experience. This is no different than a mobile carrier choosing to subsidise an experience for their customers too. Xbox Live customers are paying for a great set of gaming experiences and was a great fit for them. We see the Kinect experience as an excellent one. And it is also ad-supported.

    So that clears it up then. Microsoft clearly has that deal in place for the remainder of the year; whether it continues beyond that will remain to be seen, although since is built in to the Xbox360 dashboard, I don’t expect they’ll want that to be an inconsistent experience going forward (unless they decide they want to have Xbox owners getting their music via Zune Pass in future).

    For their part, must have thought that I was in Germany, or at least somewhere outside the UK/US. Me and a number of other WP7 users who also posted in the comments on multiple blogs that they received the same message. In fairness, I have since checked, and although I had the correct timezone set and a .uk email address, my profile didn’t have my country saved. I’ve now updated it, so hopefully they’ll know that I can carry on listening on WP7 without subscribing.

    The dangers of using the bin to store things you want to keep

    When you build IT systems and you put limitations on how they are intended to be used, it goes without saying that people will try to find ways of getting round those limitations. In my organization, we’ve always been fairly liberal about what users can do with our systems, but there are some times that we have to put limits in place. For example, we don’t have an unlimited amount of disk space, so we have to put quotas on storage capacity for each user’s email and files. 

    It turns out that some people try to work around these quotas by deleting email messages or files that they want to keep and take advantage of Outlook/Exchange’s Recover Deleted Items feature and the shadow copies of home directories on file servers (seen as Previous Versions in Windows Explorer). Some people may get away with working like that for some time, simply recovering the content during the retention period and then deleting it again so that it doesn’t impact their quota. 

    As a way of working that’s about as safe as storing your important paperwork in the bin and hoping that you’re always there to take it out before the cleaner comes along to empty it. From time to time, routine maintenance on the file servers will result in shadow copies being lost – it’s not that we’re being careless with them; that’s just the way it works. If your mailbox has to be moved from one Exchange mailbox store to another, you’ll lose the ability to recover your deleted items. We try to keep these instances to a minimum because those features are useful for quickly recovering when accidents do happen, but sometimes they are necessary in the course of keeping the systems running as reliably as possible. 

    Throwing things away and then hoping that the bin doesn’t get emptied is not a solution. If there are legitimate reasons why your quota isn’t big enough, then the IT departments of most organizations will have solutions in place – they are, after all, there to service the IT needs of the business. We have a system for requesting increases to home directory quotas and an archiving service for infrequently accessed data (which we require to be compressed), and other solutions for even bigger data requirements, such as large sets of research data. We also have an Exchange archiving system to store larger amounts of old mail. If none of those meet the specific need, then we’re happy to help our users to find a solution that works.

    I find it amazing that in so many companies the IT department are viewed as the police and that some people in IT view their users as potential criminals, rather than being on the same side. IT people should have a healthy awareness of security issues, and that probably can’t be expected of every member of every organization, but it’s possible to be careful without being obstructive. In most cases, IT is a service department, enabling other parts of the business to do the things that make money. If people inside or outside your IT department don’t see it that way, then I’d suggest that your business is probably not working as efficiently as it might.

    A user is likely to get a much better response if they can demonstrate that they’ve already taken steps to help themself as much as they can. That’s not unusual – you are more likely to give to a charity if you can see that they’re spending money wisely; less likely if you see all their staff are rocking a Sony Vaio or MacBook Air. If you’re asking for a couple of extra gigs of storage, but you’ve already got half a gig of mp3 files in your home directory, then it’s not going to be taken as seriously; like that Twilight audiobook that you helped your colleague download to his iPod and forgot about.

    The best tips that I can offer users to better manage their quotas are these…


    •  The biggest quota hogs in mailboxes are attachments. Find them quickly by sorting your email by attachments. If you are keeping messages with attachments you don’t need, remove the attachment or delete the message (whichever is appropriate).
    • If you do need an attachment, look at saving it somewhere outside your mailbox – if you’re likely to forget where you put it, reply to the message (just to yourself) with the details of what the attachment was and where you’ve stored it. That way, when you need to find it and you’ve found the original message, you can look for related messages and find your note-to-self.
    • If you have sent a message with an attachment, it’s likely that you already have that file saved elsewhere. Think about whether you need another copy of it taking up your mailbox quota in your Sent Items folder. If you don’t, remove it. Again, you can reply to the message, to yourself, with a note of which file you removed.

     Home directory:

    •  Use a tool to visualize the contents of your home directory. The tool I use for this is WinDirStat which shows files by relative size, with different colours for each file type. It only takes seconds to click on a few of the bigger blocks to see which files are taking up the most room and deciding whether you still need them.
    • If you have files that you don’t need to access frequently, consider compressing them. Use ZIP compression if you’re restricted as to what you can install or may need to open the file elsewhere or share with others. Otherwise, I recommend 7-Zip, which you can carry around as a portable app (7-Zip Portable), and 7z compression.
    • Note that compressing the newer Office files like docx, xlsx and pptx won’t gain much space as they are already a ZIP archive. Don’t believe me? Change the file extension to .zip and see for yourself.
    • Try to avoid extending your home directory by copying things onto a single external USB hard drive. Don’t make yourself responsible for the only copy of a valuable file. If it’s data that is valuable to the business, make it a priority of the company to ensure that it’s stored safely and securely (preferably using the 3-2-1 rule: keep 3 copies; use 2 different types of storage media; keep one copy offsite or at least offline).


    Microsoft Server & Cloud ICAB

    If you’re a dedicated IT professional or software developer working with Microsoft’s server products, like Windows Server, Microsoft System Center and Microsoft Forefront then you may want to think about putting yourself forward as a member of the Server and Cloud International Customer Advisory Board (ICAB). I’m a member and I know a number of other very bright people who are contributing, so it’s looking like a group that can provide Microsoft with some really good feedback and recommendations.

    Here’s the skinny in Microsoft’s words:

    We’re looking for developers and IT pros who use Windows Server and/or System Center to join the Microsoft Server & Cloud iX International Customer Advisory Board (ICAB). The ICAB is an invitation-only community of customers who advise Microsoft on improvements we can make to our product guidance. We ask our ICAB members to fill out two surveys a year and, from time to time, to weigh in on innovations in product guidance (like the articles on MSDN and TechNet). In return, we offer invitations to exclusive conference calls to discuss innovations coming out of our team, a private community board where you can network and discuss technology issues, and invitations to exclusive events at conferences like Tech Ed, the MVP Summit, and Management Summit. For more information, see If you are interested in joining the ICAB, email –and thanks very much. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on our products and guidance.