Category Archives: 9963

Book review: Windows 7 Inside Out

Perhaps it’s because I keep finding new things about Windows 7 that I really like… Today’s one was that you can drag the top (or bottom) edge of a window to the edge of a screen and have that window fill the screen vertically, but keeping the left and right edges still (great for when you don’t want it maximised, or docked to the left or right). Another favourite of mine is that you can Shift+Right-click on a file and see “Copy as Path”, which is great when you want to paste the full path into a textbox, or PowerShell, etc. I don’t know if this was available in Vista, but I’ve only noticed it since I’ve been using Windows 7.

…but anyway, perhaps it’s that, but I thought it might be worthwhile to pick up a book about Windows 7. I ordered Windows 7 Inside Out (by Ed Bott), and it arrived this week. It’s not short (about 1000 pages), but I flew through it. I guess because I’m already an experienced Windows user, I skimmed a lot of pages. A lot of the features discussed aren’t new, but Windows is such a large technology that it’s good to look through a good reference book, and with Windows 7 having a lot of new features, it was great to be able to go through this book looking for nuggets that I didn’t know.

And there are plenty of things that I’m just not that interested in. There are sections in this book about IE8, Windows Media Center and Windows Live. It’s not why I picked up the book. They’ll be useful for anyone who borrows the book from me, but I ended up skipping those sections almost completely. I’ll end up going back to them one day maybe. The book comes with an eBook version, which I’ll stick onto my phone and load up when I need it.

Ed Bott (the author who I doubt has a brother that shares my given name) is a journalist, and it shows in his writing. I found it easy to read, and the book is full of tip sections.

So yes, I picked up the tip about dragging the top border from the book. But I found the Copy as Path option myself. Nowadays, I hold Shift down whenever I right-click, just in case there’s an extra option in there I’ll like.

A busy month – a new book, a new car, a new phone

I don’t know why Septembers are always busy. This one feels like it’s been interesting, and I’m not sure life will be the same again.

But first, some of the biggest news – the book that I wrote a couple of chapters for is now available for purchase!

nielsen_cover150[1] A challenge was put out a while back for SQL MVPs to write a book for charity. Paul Nielsen spearheaded it, and I’m pleased to say that there was a massive response. I wrote two chapters, and this week we have had the notice that the book can now be purchased from Manning Press. If you go to http://www.SQLServerMVPDeepDives.com you will be able to buy the Early Access Edition, which will get you updated electronic copies as the chapters become available (final layouts, images, etc still appearing). All the royalties for this book go to charity rather than the authors, so buy up! I promise to sign any copy put in front of me, but if you go to the PASS conference in November, you can probably get at least 40 or so of the other authors to sign it instead.

I’m planning to get a signed copy brought back from the US, and will auction it off to members of the Adelaide SQL Server User Group, giving the money to charity too.

It feels good to have the book finished!

September has also busy for a number of reasons. The company is growing nicely, celebrating a year this week, and keeping my time somewhat occupied. We achieved Gold Partner status with Microsoft at the end of August, and are ticking along well. On a more negative note, the winter has taken its toll with flu in the family, which is lousy – but we also bought a new car (finally got the people mover we’ve been promising ourselves). I replaced my old phone with an iPhone (part of me thinks that I’ll go back to Windows Mobile next time), and bought my wife one too (plus a DS for her birthday). I feel like we’re more gadgety than ever!

Not to mention TechEd Australia, which was a fun time. Grant Paisley surfing at Dreamworld was a sight to behold, and I hope there are photos somewhere! I gave a talk on SQL Azure, which gave me a number of headaches leading up to the conference, finding new things I wanted to mention on a daily basis! I also gave a talk on the danger of scalar functions in SQL Server, which I will be repeating in just over a week at Wagga, a couple of days after presenting at the Albury/Wodonga .Net User Group. An email arrived about half an hour after my scalar functions talk, saying that someone in the audience had just applied the principles I showed and made some vital queries run thirty times faster! Terrific news I think.

Bringing another laptop (an HP Mini) home from TechEd has also added to the number of gadgets in the house…

Tomorrow I hope to be able to write that I have been awarded MVP status for another year, which will be a tremendous honour. I keep wondering how much longer I’ll be able to remain in the company of such a fantastically skilled and helpful crowd. Every time I receive the award I’m both humbled and proud, and feel amazingly blessed.

A review: "Learning SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services” by Jayaram Krishnaswamy

A while back I got asked if I’d review this book, but as they could only get me a copy in PDF format, it’s taken a while to get to it. Whilst I like having electronic copies of books, I generally prefer to read them in paper form, and just have the electronic copy for reference.

But anyway – this book calls itself “A step-by-step guide to getting the most of Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services 2008”. At 536 pages, I remember my first thoughts being that it seemed awfully long for the level that it’s aimed at. However, as I went through it, I found that this was largely down to the sheer number of screenshots. This is great, and particularly for an eBook. It means that someone trying to learn about a particular screen can easily click the “Next Page” button until they see that screen.

As for whether or not I’d recommend this book to someone learning Reporting Services – well, it depends on your style of learning.

If you want something deeper, that explains more about the choices you’re making, and the paradigms you should be considering, then maybe this book isn’t for you.

But if you want to jump into SSRS, looking at example after example, to get a hands-on feel for the product, then this book is great. It feels like labs when you’re reading it, and that’s going to suit a lot of people.

A really good book on BI

Business Intelligence is so much more than the technologies involved. Doing BI well is about delivering the right solution for the client, and being able to plan accordingly, about finding a match between the technologies and the business needs, and about being able to come up with a good design that incorporates not only the data warehouse, but also the OLAP database and client interfaces.

When I first picked up Smart Business Intelligence Solutions with Microsoft SQL Server 2008, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know whether it would be design heavy, or technology heavy. I suspected it would be the latter, but without going deeply enough into the technologies.

But I was pleasantly surprised. It seems to be heavyweight enough in both design and technology. There are useful sections on every technical aspect of Business Intelligence, including Data Mining, Beginner and Advanced MDX, and more. And yet there are useful sections about BI principles – the kind of things that you come across in books by Kimball.

I feel like there are an increasing number of really good books about SQL Server, and this is definitely one.

A review – SQL Server 2008 Internals

I’m reading SQL Server 2008 Internals at the moment. I say ‘reading’, because I think it’s going to be long-term thing. It’s just so full of useful information, that I’m sure I’ll be reading it over and over for a long time yet.

Kalen Delaney’s books are always great, but in this one she has help from Paul Randal & Kimberly Tripp, Conor Cunningham and Adam Machanic – all SQL Server legends in their own right. The book they have made is just excellent, and should be read by everyone who wants to get deeper into SQL Server. There are some sections I’ve only skimmed over so far, whilst others I’ve read thoroughly. In time I think I will have read every page multiple times, but this is definitely a resource that can be read that way (yes, Kimberly, it has a good index).

It covers so much useful stuff it’s hard to think of a better resource for SQL Server 2008. It doesn’t go into design very much, but it will affect your design decisions. It doesn’t go into writing queries, but it will affect the queries you write. I really think this book would be an asset to anyone who wants to know more about SQL Server.

[Updated: This link should take you to where you can find and buy the book. MSPress have 50% off their books until June 30, 2009, which makes this book an even better investment]

A review – Microsoft Windows PowerShell Step By Step (Ed Wilson)

Another book review, and another giveaway for the Adelaide SQL Server User Group. This time, it’s Microsoft Windows PowerShell Step By Step.

Last month I had picked up the Windows PowerShell Scripting Guide, wondering if it was going to be a good recommendation for people who were interesting in getting into PowerShell. Even though I thought the book was very good (particularly if you want to use PowerShell to access the innards of a Windows installation), it didn’t seem like the right book for recommending for PowerShell beginners.

This book is though, and I’ll definitely recommend it for people wanting to get into PowerShell.

It’s worth pointing out that it’s a thinner (and cheaper) book than the other one. It certainly doesn’t cover how to perform the variety of Windows Admin commands that the Scripting Guide did. But what it replaces that with is a guide on getting the most out of PowerShell. PowerShell is used in so many different products now, it’s no longer just the domain of Windows Administrators. Developers can use PowerShell for unit tests. DBAs can use PowerShell to perform routine maintenance. Just about everyone in IT could use PowerShell to make their job easier. My background is in development, not system administration, so I’m always keen to write code to automate tasks. I was never that keen on VBScript, but PowerShell gives me a much richer environment while also being much closer to the system itself. I can hook into subsystems of Windows and .Net objects easily, and into environment variables, certificates and more, piping the results into other functions and utilities to extend the scripts as much as my imagination can provide. I’m always happy to recommend PowerShell as an important skill for the future.

And this book can people get introduced to PowerShell, walking them (step by step, just like the title suggests) into the depths of PowerShell – leveraging functions and providers, and a good introduction to using PowerShell with WMI and Exchange. I’ve enjoyed reading it, and plan to re-read it a few times over the next months, looking for those techniques that I’m not using (yet) but that I’d like become more familiar with. PowerShell reminds me of my early days using the vi editor (which I still use as my preferred text editor in Windows). We were forced to use vi at university, and the learning curve felt very steep. It seemed as if I learned some new (and better) way of doing something every day, to the extent that these days I still find it by far the quickest way to edit many types of text files. This book feels like those fellow students of mine, pointing out features I didn’t know existed even after I felt proficient (although I’m pleased to mention, not as many as I thought there might have been).

The book also has a CD full of examples that I need to find time to go through (and tweak, and practise, and learn). It includes a bunch of utilities, and an electronic copy of the book as well. Having said that, the book isn’t too big to carry with me for a while, and I’m sure will be a regular read for those “no electronic device” periods of flights.

A review – Windows PowerShell Scripting Guide

As a User Group leader, I have the chance to review books for MSPress (and then give a copy away to the user group too!). So at the end of last month I got sent a copy of Windows PowerShell Scripting Guide, by Ed Wilson (I hope that link works – if it doesn’t, find it in the Windows section).

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this book. I had just done a presentation at the user group about PowerShell with SQL Server, and I was curious to see what kinds of things this book covered. People ask me now and then about a book for learning PowerShell, and I wanted to see if this could be the one to recommend.

As a book for learning PowerShell, I’m not sure that it’s really the best one to grab. I intend to get a look at Microsoft Windows PowerShell Step By Step (also by Ed Wilson) to see how it compares. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t recommend this book to people.

What this book does give is a nice overview of PowerShell, followed by a bunch of areas within Windows for which people often do scripting. So for me, this is really handy. I don’t consider myself much of a Windows Administrator, and this book does a nice job of filling in some of the gaps. It’s quite heavy on the WMI side, but that’s probably fair enough (considering that you really can’t do much in Windows Scripting before wanting to take advantage of WMI). It goes through subjects such as services, shares, logs, networking, user admin, IIS, and more. As someone involved primarily on the SQL side, I’m not sure how much I’m really going to use much of this, but there will definitely be times when I do. Scripts for creating local users and groups will certainly come in handy, as will many others in the book.

This book also comes with a CD, containing all the scripts that are in the book. It seems like a great resource, which I’m sure I’ll go back to repeatedly. The book is over 650 pages, which will certainly take up space in anyone’s bookshelf, but if you’re a Windows Administrator, or someone who’s just looking to expand their PowerShell ability, then I can thoroughly recommend it.

If you’re a member of my user group, then you can currently buy this book for 40% less than the price listed at the MSPress store, but as well as that I’ll have a copy of it to give away at the March meeting.