Category Archives: 12032

Microsoft’s Certified Career Day

If you’re an IT Pro and you aren’t thinking about cloud technologies, then you probably aren’t reading technology blogs either, so I’m assuming that you, dear reader, are conscious of the shift towards the cloud. You might also be thinking about getting skilled up and certified as a cloud expert for the benefit of your career.

On Tuesday 12th March (from 08:30 PDT), Microsoft is running a Certified Career Day to talk about the technologies, the direction and the certifications they have available. There’s quite a line-up of experts on the schedule, so I expect the content is going to be pretty interesting.

The audience numbers for the free broadcast are limited, so you should sign up ASAP (and you might win an Acer tablet too). Head over to to register.

If you haven’t done so already, you might want to start familiarising yourself with Windows Server 2012. It’s been redesigned from the ground up with the cloud firmly in mind. There are two ways that you can do that easily. If you have a spare computer you can test on, grab the trial ISO image that will give you 180 days for evaluation, otherwise you can grab the Virtual Hard Disk and boot your PC into it without impacting your primary OS.


Windows Server 2012 ISO

Windows Server 2012 VHD

Time to move on from Windows XP

Just a reminder that we’re now inside 500 days until the end of support for Windows XP. I’m sure I don’t need to go into the reasons why your organisation doesn’t want to be running an OS that Microsoft doesn’t support anymore. If you aren’t ready to jump to Windows 8, then Windows 7 is a perfectly good step up from XP.

Whatever you decide to upgrade to, just make sure you do it before 8th April 2014.

Win8/RT Tip: Make your Picture Password harder to guess

One of the nice things that Microsoft have done in Windows 8 and RT for people using a touchscreen, like on the Surface, is provide a new way of signing in with a Picture Password. They expain in a comprehensive post how secure it is, but in practice I believe that many users will reduce the level of security by too closely following Microsoft’s examples.

What are the chances that a large percentage of Picture Password users select an image of family members or pets, or similar and then create their three gestures by circling heads and drawing dots on, or lines between, noses? With no scientific basis other than the experience I’ve had of seeing how bad most people are at selecting passwords, I’m going to say it’s going to be a significant number.

My solution is actually pretty simple and effective from both an aesthetic and security perspective.

Don’t use a single photograph, but instead select 6-10 images of your chosen subjects and then use Microsoft’s free Photo Gallery software to create a collage with far more points of interest and more potential points to use in your gestures.

In this case, I’m selecting a few pictures of my son: 

You then go to the Create menu and select Auto Collage (I choose Large Landscape in case I also want to use it as desktop or lockscreen wallpaper).

At this point you’ll be asked to name the file that’s going to be produced. Now, because it’s an auto collage, you don’t get any say over the positioning or order of the images so you might not like the result first time round. I removed one of the images from the selection and then created a second collage:

Now, just think of the different number of things that I could circle, or draw points or lines on, in that image. Yet it’s still personal to me and it’ll be easy for me to remember my own gestures.

I think the images produced by this method make for a really nice looking and more complex picture to use for Picture Password. You could obviously use a different method to produce your own collage where you take more control of it, but I was going for free and easy here.

That said, if you’re set on a less complex single image for some reason, please consider how easy your gestures might be to guess. If they were easy for you to think up, they could be pretty easy for someone else to guess in five attempts if they manage to get hold of your device, so put at least one of your gestures in an area of the image that lacks an obvious point of interest.

Windows 8 Arrives

Today marks general availability for Microsoft’s Windows 8 and also their Surface tablet running Windows RT. I’ve been using Windows 8 for some time and I do like it, but there is a learning curve and it does take a bit of getting used to. I just wanted to post a couple of links to help people get up to speed as quickly as possible…

Firstly, for the absolute beginner, we have Joanna Stern’s 8 Things You Need to Know About Using Windows 8 on ABC News. Joanna does a good job of going throught the most important things you need to get started in a video that runs under 4 minutes.

One additional tip from me – to make the Start screen really pop by bringing those tiles to life, you’re going to have to launch some of the apps first. Jump into Weather, News and Sport, then back to the Start screen and see the difference.

The Microsoft Windows site has some How-To guides to particular features on it’s Get to know Windows page and if you find yourself stuck, you can get help from the Support page.

IT Pros, you can get a bit more in-depth info from the Windows 8 Jump Start on TechNet.

Not enough info? Got an insatiable desire for Windows 8 knowledge? O’Reilly have a couple of free webcasts coming up:
8+ Features You Will Love to Use in Windows 8 on the 31st October
Getting Started with Windows 8 on the 1st November

Incidentally, Microsoft added something like a thousand new apps to the Windows Store in the last 24 hours. Skype is now there, as is Lync. In addidion to those, I recommend you add OneNote to your Windows 8 or RT machine – it’s my favourite Office app and you’re getting it here for free with SkyDrive synching. If you want something to really show off how good apps can look on Windows 8/RT, then you should get the beautiful Cocktail Flow app.

Free ebook: Introducing Windows Server 2012

Microsoft Press have released a free ebook called Introducing Windows Server 2012, which does exactly what it says on the tin.

There are three versions available, depending on where you want to read it:

Introducing Windows Server 2012 RTM Edition – PDF ebook
Introducing Windows Server 2012 RTM Edition – ePub format
Introducing Windows Server 2012 RTM Edition – MOBI format

I read the version of this book that was based on the beta and found it very informative. It’s now been updated to the RTM version, so there’s no reason not to grab it now.


NEBytes: Windows 8 and Imagine Cup North East

If you’re in the North East of England, get yourself along to NEBytes tomorrow evening (Wednesday 21st March). I’m collaborating with Ben Lee and Ross Dargan to give you as much depth as you can handle on Windows 8, and we’re getting to see what some of the student teams have been doing for the Imagine Cup.

There’s plenty space, so come and join us at Newcastle University (Claremont Tower, room 1.02) from 18:30 – please register at Eventbrite if you’re coming.

Why I hope Windows 8 ARM tablets don’t have a full desktop

There has been a significant amount of speculation and rumour surrounding the existance of a full desktop experience on Windows 8 devices powered by ARM processors. These are the lower priced tablets that are going to exist in the same market as the iPad and various Android tablets, like those make by Samsung and Asus. Before anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with this has a panic, there’s going to be a normal Windows desktop on fully-fledged laptop and desktop PCs, but on tablets it makes less sense as a user interface. It’s not like you could just take your favourite desktop application that you’re running on Windows 7 and put it on a Windows 8 device that’s using some SoC (system on chip) architecture anyway – it would need to be recompiled to work with those systems.

The main reason that I don’t want the desktop is because I don’t want developers, including (especially) Microsoft, to be able to treat the Metro UI as a skin that you can just scratch away to reveal something that they designed 10 years ago. It’s not that the 10 year old design isn’t perfectly functional on a desktop, but on a device with a touch interface it’s going to be fiddly at best.

What I want is for everyone who is developing for Windows 8, especially tablets, to have to think about the user experience using touch. The Metro design language works particularly well for this (some would say to the detriment of the traditional keyboard and mouse user), so for goodness’ sake, let’s please make sure that it’s used consistenly.

I’ve had far too many experiences in the past, particularly with smartphones, which are in some ways more closely related to tablets than PCs are (which is why Apple and Google have taken the opposite approach to Microsoft), where you have a really nice skin up front, only to find that you’re only two taps away from something that looks like my A-Level Computing project in Borland Delphi!

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. 

Bing Dynamic theme brings auto-updating wallpapers to Windows 7

Whether or not you think that Bing’s as good as Google in the search result stakes, I don’t think I’ve met a single person with anything negative to say about the fantastic photography that Bing uses as a daily backdrop for its website. It was no surprise that they released some of these beautiful images as themes for Windows 7. We had Bing’s Best, Bing’s Best 2, Bing’s Best 3 and Bing’s Best: Japan, but what a lot of us were really looking for was a theme that would automatically update and not force us to keep checking for more. (Incidentally, I had downloaded all of those theme packs and just copied all of the image files into a single theme which would rotate my wallpaper through all of them.)

Now there is the Bing Dynamic theme, which promises “two new photos from Bing every week for three months, with this Windows 7 theme that updates automatically through an RSS feed.” Personally I’d be happy to receive daily updates (after all that’s how often they update the web page, and in more than one locale – it’s a different image in the UK and US every day), but this is better than nothing.

You can find the theme either by going directly to its Windows downloads page, or by right-clicking on the Windows 7 desktop, selecting Personalize from the menu and then hitting the “Get more themes online” link. Either way, when you download the theme pack you will be asked if you want to download enclosures, i.e. the image files attached to Bing Dynamic’s RSS feed – you do.

The few images that I’ve seen since I installed the theme this morning are great, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what Bing Dynamic is going to deliver in the future.