Category Archives: 16705

Free Microsoft Tech Showcase Events

Microsoft has teamed up with some of its Microsoft Learning Partners to provide free first-look clinics covering Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, Visual Studio 2012, SQL Server 2012, Exchange 2013, SharePoint 2013, and Lync 2013.


These events are happening all around the world, so you should hopefully find one near to you. I found out about these from a Microsoft UK blog that said they were being run “across the UK” – looking at the currently published list of events, “across the UK” is defined as London and Wokingham, so your mileage may vary.


Still, it’s worth a journey because event offers these opportunities:


  • Lead the Technology Wave – Get a first-hand look at new, breakthrough product features available with Microsoft’s most recent technology releases.
  • World-Class Education – Receive instruction from Learning Partners – the premier technical and instructional specialists endorsed by Microsoft to deliver training on Microsoft technologies.
  • Boost your Career – Learn about the latest Microsoft training and certification offerings to elevate your skills to the next level.

To find an event near you, head over to http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/community/events.aspx

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.

Remote Server Admin Tools for Windows 8

If, like me, you’ve been keenly awaiting RSAT for Windows 8, there’s been a spot of confusion lately. Some people were declaring that the RTM tools were available even though the page was clearly labelled “Release Preview”, then the page disappeared from the Microsoft Download Center completely. Happily though, the wait is over and you can now download 32- or 64-bit versions:


Remote Server Admin Tools for Windows 8


This is good news for people who want to use the new Server Manager to manage their infrastructure from their desktop (Windows Server 2012 will work natively, obviously, and you can add support to Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 SP2 servers by installing WMF 3.0 on them). It’s even better news for people who want the PowerShell modules that come with Windows Server 2012 on their desktop!

PowerShell 3.0 for Windows 7 and Server 2008

Along with the launch of Windows Server 2012* yesterday, Microsoft released the Windows Management Framework 3.0 for some downlevel clients. In the package you get PowerShell 3.0, and updated versions of WMI and WinRM for Windows 7 SP1, Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 SP2. If you were looking for support on XP and Vista you are out of luck.


WMF 3.0 also contains the Server Manager CIM Provider that you’re going to need on your 2008 R2 SP1 and 2008 SP2 servers if you want to manage them with the new Server Manager in Windows Server 2012 or Remote Server Admin Tools for Windows 8 (RSAT for Win8 is yet to reach RTM).


Download WMF 3.0 at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=34595


* Make sure you click that link to the online launch event; windows-server-launch.com has a load of learning resources for Microsoft’s amazing new Server release, especially around management and virtualisation.

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!