Coffee and Code in Oakville

Yesterday morning I was sitting in Artisano’s Bakery and Café in Oakville (as I am now) and twitted as much.  Barry, a fellow Oakvillain whom I met in Seattle when I was living in Montreal replied that it was a great place, and would I be there in the afternoon… we could start our first Oakville Coffee and Code.  I told him that I would not, but why not today?  I posted something like ‘Coffee and Code in Oakville… come talk Windows 7’.

Barry replied that he couldn’t be here, but a few other people replied that they would be.  The mayor of Oakville, Rob Burton, retweeted my message with the tag ‘Windows 7 is good’. All of a sudden we’ve got ourselves a ballgame!

I pinged a few people at Microsoft Canada… ‘Try to come by if you can, and tell people.’  Suddenly fifteen people are twitting that there’s a Coffee & Code in Oakville today.  This is getting cool!

I came to the café early… my wife (who is pregnant) wanted to have lunch HERE.  My pleasure, I got to see her in the middle of the day.  As we are sitting having lunch Mayor Burton came to our table and expressed his regrets that he couldn’t join us today, but that he is running Windows 7 Release Candidate (Build 7100) on two machines, and is loving it.  He spent a few minutes talking with Theresa and I before letting us get back to our lunch, and sitting down for his.

It is now nearly 1:30 and I have no idea who is going to come down to discuss Windows 7… or Server 2008, EBS, Home Server, or whatever; however I do know that whoever shows up is going to have a great time meeting colleagues and peers… and I can assure you that we WILL be holding these meetings more often!  (Of course, as a lot of us are IT Pros and not Devs we might have to call it Lattés and LANs :) just like they do in Ottawa!)

What happened to my computer’s rating in Windows 7?

 

I got a frantic call from a friend this morning.  ‘I installed Windows 7 last night; When I checked my System Rating the Windows Experience Index was 5.9, and now it’s only 4.1!  Why is my system slower?’

This is not the first time I have gotten this question, and indeed noticed the same thing when I first installed Windows 7.  Let me reassure you that your computer has not lost any of its oomph… in fact, it will have gained some, as Windows 7 is a more efficient OS than Vista, with a smaller footprint.

Firstly let me say a quick word on the Windows Experience Index.  Windows rates five key components in your computer that combine to determine your system’s performance, which are Processor, Memory, Graphics, Gaming graphics, and Primary hard disk.  It assigns each a subscore between 1.0 and 7.9.  The lowest of these scores is your computer’s Windows Experience Index.  It does not mean that your computer will not perform well with a low score; the CPU and RAM on my laptop are rated 6.5 each, but the Graphics is a 4.3; Most of what I do that requires high performance is not video-intensive, so the lower subscore and consequent System Rating does not really affect me.  If I were to resell my laptop to someone whose main interest is playing video games then they would probably think twice before buying it.

The only constant in the world of computers is that hardware gets better.  Gordon Moore predicted in 1965 that “The number of transistors and resistors on a chip doubles every 18 months.”  Ten years later he extended it to 24 months, but Moore’s Law has been remarkably accurate.  Essentially what this means is that computers are MUCH faster now than they were 40 years ago… or 2 years ago.  (to show how far we have really come, in 1965 there were about 60 transistors and resistors on a chip; Intel’s Itanium processor currently has in excess of 1,700,000,000 transistors)

All this to say that our computer components get faster.  Rather than Windows 7 increasing the upper limit rating from 7.9 to 12.9, they have moved the bar without moving the goalposts; that is, your hard drive that used to have a 5.5 rating may now have a 3.5 rating, to make way at the top end for newer, higher-performance drives.

What does all of this mean to your system’s performance?  Nothing.  It will not run slower because its rating has been lowered… in fact because of the improvements to the way Windows works it will actually run better; it will simply have a lower rating… to which we ask the question: So?  I drive my car at 110km/h on the highway; when I drive in the US I have to switch from metric to Imperial, so I am now driving 70mph… am I driving any slower?  No, just measuring the speed differently.  However since the Interstate highways in the US are better roads than the highways in Canada (well, not in Michigan…) I will have a more pleasant, quieter ride.  It’s the same with your computer… same system, better and smoother ride.  Enjoy it!

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

Bootable USB media for Windows 7

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

My first computer had a cassette drive; my next had two 5.25” floppy disk drives (which cost nearly as much as the computer).  Going forward my next computers had both 5.25” and 3.5” drives, as well as a new invention called a hard drive.  The floppy drives went HD, and soon CD and DVD drives came (and would progress from being read-only, to write once, to write many over the course of a decade).  All the while the hard drives went from 10MB to HUGE… terabytes.  Recently I ordered my first computer that has only a hard disk (a solid state drive to be specific) that will not have any disk drive of any sort… a netbook.

For most software I can simply copy it over the network, but how am I supposed to install an operating system onto it?  I can do that over the network too (more on that later), but the simplest way is to use media that I can connect directly to the netbook.

I actually have a few choices; I can connect an external DVD-ROM drive to it, which would effectively double the weight of the ultra-light machine.  However there is a much simpler way that also has the benefits of speeding our installation up immensely…  installing from a high-speed USB key.  This article will give you the simple steps to create that USB key.

Firstly most of us downloaded our Windows 7 RC (Build 7100) as an ISO file.  Rather than burning it to a DVD I usually mount the ISO using a free tool called Magic ISO.  This tool creates a virtual DVD drive for us, and assigns it a new drive letter, which we will have to know later so take note of it… let’s call it Drive W.

We need a USB key that is at least 4 Gigs.  We are going to wipe it so make sure you don’t have anything important stored on it.

  1. Open a Command Shell (stop calling it a DOS window!) with elevated privileges.  The elevated privileges are important later on.
  2. Type the command ‘DISKPART’ and press Enter.
  3. Make sure your USB key is connected and type LIST DISK into the Diskpart shell.  Note the number of the USB key – in my case it was 1 but if you have multiple hard drives it will likely be different.
  4. Type SELECT DISK 1 (or the number you got from LIST DISK) and press Enter.
  5. Type CLEAN.
  6. Type CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY.
  7. Type ACTIVE.
  8. Type FORMAT FS=NTFS.  (This might take a few minutes… you could as easily do a QUICK FORMAT)
  9. Type ASSIGN.
  10. Type Exit to close the Diskpart shell.

At this point we need to know what drive letter Windows assigned the USB key.  For this example we will call it X:.

  1. Navigate to the BOOT directory of your Windows 7 disk (i.e.: W:\BOOT)
  2. Type BOOTSECT /NT60 X:
  3. Close the Command Prompt.

Once these steps are complete all that is left to do is to copy the entire contents of the Windows 7 disk onto the USB key… you could either use an XCOPY command, or do it within Windows Explorer.

That’s it!  Your USB key is ready, and all you have to do is pop it into your workstation/laptop/netbook/tablet and boot up… remember that you must boot from the USB device though… you may have to set this in your BIOS, although for my Dell Inspiron Mini 9 all I did was press and hold 0 during boot to bring up the one-time boot menu.

One little gotcha… remember to create your USB stick with the right platform of Windows 7… so if your netbook has an x86 processor (most if not all of them do) then your x64 Windows 7 will not install… I won’t make THAT mistake again ;)

I hope this helps… in my next article in the series we will get a bit fancier and use the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit to create a USB deployment point that will include the application files and drivers!

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

Smartphones and Windows 7… VERY smart!

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

I moved into my new office this week.  I have a desk, a chair, a plethora of computer equipment, and a entire bookshelf.  What I don’t have yet is an office phone, which frankly will come but is not really a priority right now.  Everyone is still going to reach me on my mobile phone anyways, so there is nothing to worry about.  Of course, because of the nature of my work I do spend a bit of time on conference calls which depending on the matter may last an hour or longer; this is uncomfortable to be sure – there are only so many times I can switch hands so my elbow doesn’t fall asleep, and besides, having to hold the phone makes it difficult to type notes.  I am spoiled because for most of the past three years I have had a hands-free Bluetooth earpiece for just these occasions.  Actually the earpiece was primarily for talking while driving, and since my new car has built-in Bluetooth I don’t need it anymore… and besides, Gingit (the devil puppy) ate it.

clip_image001I came across this screen by accident, but have been wildly mad about it since.  It is the Bluetooth Phone Operations and Settings screen, specifically paired to my HTC Touch Pro.  This feature in Windows 7 has made my life much more comfortable, especially in my office with no land line.  I have my smartphone paired to my laptop, and this new feature allows me to:

  • Use my phone to connect to the Internet;
  • Initiate a call through the smartphone;
  • Listen to audio from my phone through the computer speakers; and
  • Use the computer as a speakerphone for calls on my phone.

I have been tethering to my phone to connect to the Internet for a couple of years, but love the fact that all of these features are in a single screen.  I also do not listen to a lot of music on my smartphone… it drains the battery, and besides, I have a Zune :)  however the ability to use my computer (with, let’s face it, MUCH better audio than the phone) as a speakerphone makes my life much easier.

Because I do spend a lot of time talking to my computer (no, I have not lost my mind… I record podcasts, and stay tuned for my post on voice recognition in Windows 7!) I invested in a headphone with a good microphone (Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000) which I use to listen to music, as well as record any number of items.  I have it connected to my laptop docking station’s USB port and when I am in the office I wear it… and when a call comes in I simply have to pause my music and take my call.  I have so far conducted seven conference calls through this method and have been very impressed by the quality… not to mention the fact that my elbows are thanking me!  In return I am thanking the dev team at Microsoft that came up with this quite intelligent bit of code!

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

How do YOU want to be supported?

Over the past six years I have had the honour of leading and participating in two major Canadian IT Pro user groups; I have spoken at scores of user groups across the country and around the world, and have been in touch with so many of the user group leaders from around the world, both as a speaker, and MVP, and a council member. I have heard a lot of the same complaints about the difficulties involved with running a group that I have experienced myself.

We have tried to come up with the right equation that makes things work. So let's start with a simple equation, changing the numbers because a) I do not know what the actual numbers are, and b) the math is much simpler. You are Microsoft. You have $10,000, and ten user groups that need to be supported. Of those ten groups two have the ability to raise money through alternate sponsorship and the remainder to not, but that does not mean that those groups are any less passionate… they just do not have the same advantages. You know that the IT community is important across the country you have to figure out how to best use your money to maximize the benefit across the country. How would you do it? Remember that your $10,000 is not only money that you can give them; any prizes or other benefits that you dole out must be paid for out of your budget as well.

This morning I had this conversation with someone of influence and it is not a simple exercise… it is a real issue that Microsoft Canada needs to deal with. We came up with what I thought was an interesting idea. Please let me know in the Comments field below what you think, and how you would do it.

One of the greatest requests I have heard as a community leader is the need for training. In Montreal we started a study group a few years ago that helped more than twenty members achieve their first certifications, but also gave them their first exposure to certification training, as well as a better understanding of the value that certifications hold – not to mention the value the knowledge they gained has!

If a user group decided tomorrow to hold a study group for fifteen members on Windows Server 2008 and decided to fund it out of pocket the cost would be prohibitive. The Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) courseware that are used in Instructor-Led Training (ILT) is closer to $400 per course. However the cost of taking one of those courses with a Certified Partner for Learning Solutions (CPLS) is between $1,200 and $1,500 per week. Of course we could use non-MOC courses or books… the MS Press books for Server 2008 cost between $60 and $80 per book. Either way, the cost is extreme.

Of course those prices are what you and I would pay as individuals… but for the sake of this exercise we are Microsoft Canada… and our internal costs are a fraction of what an individual would pay… although they are still real and need to be counted in our budget. 

Now let’s switch back for a moment to being a community member, thirsty for learning but unable (or unwilling) to pay the thousands of dollars required to take a five-day ILT, not to mention the week I have to take off of work.  If my local user group were to offer the same training, but in evening sessions over the course of three weeks rather than all day over a week, would I be willing to participate?  And if so what would be the value to me, or more accurately, how much would I be willing to spend on it?  If it were offered for $150 would I even hesitate?  Probably not.

So let’s put our Microsoft hat back on for a minute; I know that I can buy ten training kits for a user group for $500.  The group can then get ten members into a study group who are each willing to spend $150 for the three weeks of evening sessions.  My $500 sponsorship of the group has now netted them ten certification kits, a full-blown study group in a box, PLUS $1500 cash!  Not bad for a day’s work!

Let’s assume our last role for this discussion; the community leader.  I am a community leader because I believe in the cause, but probably because I want to see what I can get from it as well; I want to help the community and one of the ways that I can do that is by helping them to become certified in the latest and greatest technology.  However without the sponsorship money I can’t do much.  Last year Microsoft gave me $1,000 so I was able to hold a few meetings, serve pizza, and so on; I couldn’t do much more because everything costs money.  This year Microsoft is giving me the option of sponsoring the group for $500 (times are tough all around!), or giving me ten study group kits.  I can get the study group together and charge each member $150, and rather than have half as many presentations as last year I can have twice as many, PLUS the study group!  I could go one step further… if more than ten people are interested I can invite twenty members, and charge a lower fee to the members who will not have the material… this can be a real boon for my group!

Another benefit that I see as a user group leader is the ability to tailor the sessions to my group.  I might have a couple of great MCTs who are willing to contribute their time, but how about if we were to make this more of an interactive study group instead of an ILT… we could assign modules to individuals who would have to learn them well enough ahead of time to present them to the group… each module would belong to a different member, and my MCTs could sit back and help them along, rather than present the whole module.  Not only would individual members get to know their chapters better, but after ten modules I would have ten members who now have experience presenting in front of an audience; so when Member A becomes involved in a project on Technology Q he can send me an e-mail and say ‘Hey Lead, I would like to do a presentation on this really cool technology that I have gotten into!’  Ten new potential speakers for the group, rather than always having to rely on the same folks, or the guys from Microsoft.

Change hats once more, back to the user group member: Now I am thinking that being a member of a user group really does have value beyond just going to presentations… which, let’s face it, we can go to even if we are not members most of the time.  Being a member of a user group can give me so much more… depending on what I am willing to put into it!

Back to the Microsoft Hat: So for seven of my groups this model works great… I have invested $3,500 for them and they have collectively raised $14,000… all the while delivering more value and benefits to their users, possibly building the next generation of UG leaders for when my current leads are ready to step aside, and have helped at least seventy people to earn current certifications on the technologies that are important to them.  I still have $6,500 left in my budget… I can use some of that for the groups that cannot get a study group to work, but can also use it as a travel budget to be able to send my IT Evangelists out to more cities and to do more presentations for all of the groups.  I can put some of the money towards better prizes for the UG events.  I could even add extra cities to the TechDays Canada tour if I wanted to, thus allowing me to broaden our reach… and hopefully proving to Corp that the UG community is one of the best ways to really support communities across the country!

So let’s take off all of our hats now… I am me, and you are you.  Hopefully you are a member of your local user group, and have enjoyed the benefits from it.  Do you think that this model would work?  Would you be willing to pay a nominal fee to join a study group in your area if the technology was relevant to you? 

What would you do to improve upon this idea?  What ideas would you have?  In short, how would you, as a community member, want Microsoft to support the community in a time where budgets are down and expectations (and breadth) are increasing?  Please let me know in the Comments space below, and I promise you that your ideas will be heard.