Tech-ed Berlin 2009: Day 3

Yesterday evening I started reading in Windows System Internals 5th edition, and then read some fiction and went to bed early.


People sometimes say ‘Oh wow you can go to tech-ed, be sure to go to this place or that and do some sightseeing…’. Tech-ed ends at 19:00, by which time I am tired from having to pay attention all day. Then I have to eat something, go back to the hotel, finish my report, and shower. By then it is past 21:00, and all I want to do is just a bit of reading and then sleep long enough so that I can pay attention all day again, next day. Seriously: if you don’t stay for the weekend, the amount of time you can spend being a tourist is limited if you want to make the event itself worthwhile.


Anyway, I had breakfast as usual. I am not going to repeat my breakfast report every day unless something changes ok? By now we all know that if the hotel has bacon, I eat it. It is as simple as that. Never change a winning team. Bacon, coffee, orange juice, and the day begins.


CLI306: How to deploy Windows 7 on a stick.


I had to choose between this and DEV208: Triple boost your application with ‘7’, .NET4.0 and Intel multicore. The reason I didn’t go to that one was that it specifically mentions ‘Intel’ multicore, which leads me to believe that the talk is done by an Intel rep, and thus only a glorified marketing blurb for intel CPUs. After all, for all practical intents and purposes, the CPU type means nothing for the software development. Make no mistake it can have a huge impact on performance, but that is no different between intel and amd.


In hindsight, choosing the deployment session was perhaps the bad decision. This session was mostly about using the deployment workbench. It was basically an hour long demo with narration. The deployment workbench looks like a great tool, and I’ll definitely play around with it at home to see how it works. It has some nice features, like being able to import drivers in your setup, as well as applications.


It has always been possible to import drivers in a windows setup, but it involved a lot of manual work, text file editing, the ritual slaughter of a goat, and about 30 tries before you got the last setting right. Been there, done that, have the goat carcass to prove it.


All in all this was not an uninteresting talk, but the title was misleading. When someone says: Deploying ‘7’ on a stick, I would expect it means that you deply ‘7’ ON the stick and then boot from it. Instead, they deployed ‘7’ FROM the stick. They made a bootable stick that then installed ‘7’ onto the machine that the stick was booted in. Too bad, because that is not nearly as interesting to me.


INT308: Deep Dive in Windows Workflow Foundation


This session is hosted by Nuno Godinho.


I watched it for 5 minutes, and then decided that it was not for me and left, and went to CLI322.


CLI322: Windows 7 Applocker


I’d rather have gone to the 2008R2 failover clustering session, but that was full so I decided to check out the applocker session. It is interesting enough to learn more about, and since my daughter is nearly at the age when she can start using a computer, it may come in handy. J


Basically, Applocker is a technology that allows you (the admin) to create blacklists or whitelists of applications that can be run on a computer. These policies can be configured to have permissions based on user name or user group, meaning that these policies are no longer specific to a machine, but to users as well, and this can be very powerful.


With the policies you can control the execution of exes, scripts, and dlls. Currently there is no good way to work with managed applications yet if they are not exe based (for example web apps running in the Java runtime.)


The rulesets can be created using wizards, manually, or via powershell. It looked pretty impressive. It is also possible to build a reference machine, and then scan that machine for everything that’s installed and generate rules base off of that to give you a configuration head start.


And as with other policies that were mentioned yesterday (for example in the Kerberos talk)  it is possible to deploy these policies in an audit mode, enabling you to monitor the impact of these policies on your environment before you actually enable them, thus allowing for a smoother implementation.


Lunch


Lunch was a winner today as well. I had poached salmon, broccoli, carrots, and pasta. I didn’t go to any of the lunchtime sessions because nothing interesting was running, and you can really only attend them if you run to the lunch hall, shove people out of the way in the buffet line, and then ram the food down your throat while running back to the other side of the conference center where the sessions are held.


Instead I took the time to eat, and then ambled to the community lounge to sit in a sofa, read my email and write the previous part of my report.


OFS218: What’s new in Office2010 for Developers?


This session is hosted by John R. Durant


My alternative would have been ARC306: The architecture of predictive programming, but I have not idea what that would be about, so for all I know it would have been totally useless to me.


Otoh, the title of this topic mentions developers (which I am) and office 2010 (which I don’t know much about) so there is a good chance I’ll learn something useful here.


First of All I should mention John’s presentation style. The man is a born speaker. Have you ever watched one of Chris Rock’s HBO standup comedy specials? You can find them on youtube if you haven’t. John is a bit like that. Despite the fact that I am not really the intended audience for this talk, he manages to make it interesting enough that this hour and 15 minutes zooms past.


As to the topic at hand, it is really a bit out of my league. He basically demoes a lot of the new data interfacing options in office 2010, which implement online – offline presentation capabilities, as well as an underlying sync framework to cope with data changes.


This is all very exciting stuff for people who are involved with enterprise document management / generation. Especially when sharepoint is involved. I really see the benefits for those people, as it enables them to do a lot of nifty things for document generation and presentation that is invisible or at least unobtrusive to end users.


In my job, this is not something I am involved in at all. Still, it was very interesting to see what can be done with tomorrow’s office technology. Once there was a time when I could still keep in touch with the different office interop technologies just by making some simple samples. Nowadays, the world of office automation is a vast landscape of technologies and options that is very hard to navigate for those who are not involved with it on a daily basis.


DEV309: The Windows API Codepack


This session is hosted by Kate Gregory, and I had to attend it for several reasons. I’m a system software developer (cunningly disguised as a system administrator), so the Windows API is something I am interested in. It is about managed code development, which is something I do more and more. And Kate is a superb speaker so I had faith that one of the only ‘real’ developer talks this tech-ed would also be a good one.


There was a long break before this talk, but I decided to turn up early enough to get a good seat. It has been my impression so far that developers really get the short end of the stick this tech-ed, and any real development session is jumped by the developers in the audience like a limping gazelle by a pride of lions. And whaddaya know: it is 20 minutes before the start of the session and the room is already filling up nicely. Go Kate!


<snip>


It is now a minute or 2 before the start of the session, and the room is getting packed. And it is a big room. Take that, tech-ed event organizers! Tech – ed should be about development, NOT boring IT pro stuff.


Anyway, Kate held an interesting talk about developing for Windows 7 features, using managed code.


Instead of showing lots of code, Kate showed a selection of Windows 7 features that make the difference between ‘XP/2003’ era programming and ‘7’/2008R2 era programming (For the sake of not embarrassing ourselves, well just pretend Vista never happened. J) and then showed how easy it is to use those features in your application, through the use of the Windows API Codepack.


The first topic she handled was the taskbar, and how your app can do all sorts of interesting stuff with the application icon. Then she discussed the application thumbnails and restart / recovery behavior. And finally she covered some aspects of making your application powerstate-aware.


All in all it was a very interesting talk, filled with stuff you can use right now, with very little time, and a very big payoff.


I wish I could say more about it, but this session had lot’s of cool demos, and it is rather difficult to explain why it was cool, and what she made those features do. Go to the codepack website and play with the codepack samples. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.


CLI310: Is Virtualization a silver bullet for compatibility?


This talk is hosted by Jeremy Chapman, and some other guy I didn’t catch the name of.


This is where I have to admit that I attended this pretty interesting talk purely by accident, since in all my naivety I had just looked at the title and thought: Virtual Machines. As it turned out, it was about application compatibility, and What Windows does in order to make sure that older applications work with ‘7’.


Interestingly, one of the speakers mentioned that ‘Virtual’ is now the new ‘.NET’ (anyone remember Microsoft .NET Server?) or ‘Live’ brand that is slapped onto every new technology, because it is a marketing buzzword.


The talk started off very well, with the explanation that in ‘ye olden days’, backwards compatibility was king. This started changing after Bill Gates’s famous TWC memo, but Vista was really the first new OS where backwards compatibility was clubbed in the back of the head, and then beaten up in a back alley by ‘security’ and ‘stability’.


As a result, there was a lot of wailing, and the gnashing of teeth, because now there was a ton of applications who were no longer allowed to do the naughty things they were used to doing. UAC and running as a standard user were the biggest application compatibility hit ever in the history of Windows. Btw remember folks: every time you turn off UAC, Steve Ballmer kills a kitten.


The speakers then gave specific examples of the different ways in which apps would be causing problems.


After that, they proceeded to discuss the various ways in which Windows tries to fix it. The first thing they mentioned were the app compat shims, that can be used to trick an application into thinking everything was ok. One such example is configuring the shim to give a specific Windows version when the application asks for it, because the version check is implemented wrongly by the application. There are a number of shims shipped by default, but you can also create custom ones by yourself if you need to.


And there are things like folders that are now in a different location or have a different name. These are now created as junctions to those new folders.


App-V was briefly discussed as a way to separate applications from each other, but I missed the earlier talk about them so I cannot say much about that.


The most interesting thing I learned was some background on how the new XP mode works. It is basically a fully activated Windows XP virtual machine running in the background, which shows the UI of the applications its running in the ‘7’ desktop. They even mentioned that it has the ability to install USB drivers. I have to try this at home, because it would finally allow me to use that Canon digital camera with the wonky software without having to install and configure a separate VM for it. Of course it’ll still run in a VM, but in a way that it doesn’t bother me so much.


Of course it is still a local XP vm, and you have to make sure it is patched, maintained, etc. For home use that is not an issue, but for enterprise use it is a pain. For that, the have something called Med-V, which is basically the enterprise version of XP mode, which allows admins to centrally manage and maintain those virtual machines.


I ended up in this talk by accident, but it was very useful, and gave me a better understanding about the ways in which Windows deals with compatibility.


Day 3 wrap-up


Another day filled with learning. The food was great, the company was great, and so was the schnitzel I ate for diner this evening. It was so unbelievably good, and again very cheap. Only 12 euros for the diner + 1 pint of warsteiner.


Tomorrow, tech-ed finishes at 18:15, so today I took some time to get directions to the nearest toy store, so that I could buy something for my daughters.

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