Microsoft has released Visual Studio 2010 and Office 2010

This is slightly old news, but Microsoft released Microsoft Visual Studio 2010.  You can get more details on what it includes and the new features at http://www.microsoft.com/visualstudio along with prices.  If you are a student, then you should be able to download it from your college’s MSDNAA site, or you can sign up at http://www.dreamspark.net to download it for free.  You will have to use your campus email address, as they verify that you are a student.

Microsoft also finalized and released to manufacturing, their Office 2010 suite.  For students, they include a special version of the “Professional” version for $99.00.  (This price is per ZDNet, as I haven’t seen the final prices).  If you’re a Technet subscriber, you can download it now.  Otherwise it will be available to the general public in June.  You can also purchase the Office 2007 Ultimate Steal (if you are a college student) right now at http://www.ultimatesteal.com and are eligible for an upgrade to Office 2010 for free when it’s actually available.  Essentially this means that you’ll only have to pay $69.00 or so for Office 2010 Ultimate (or any version that they send you for the upgrade)—which is well worth the money.

Have a great day:)
Patrick.

My Experiences with Google Calendar Part 2.

In Part One, I described my experiences with trying to sync Google Calendar with Microsoft Outlook and FranklinCovey PlanPlus.  I also discussed how this creates a security issue—as I’m forced to run three programs as an Administrator, and two of them are Internet-facing programs.

In this post, I’m going to lay out why they’re at fault, and touch on what each company should do to make life easier for their users.  So, here we go.

Microsoft is at fault because they designed Outlook to require Administrative privileges to perform some action on the calendar that Google Calendar wants.  They are also at fault because they are blocking access to their Live products from third-party applications.  Originally it was to prevent “spammers from creating millions of accounts”—but everyone saw through that to the real reason—money.  They are charging for the access to Live Calendar from e-mail clients.

Google is at fault for two reasons.  One is that they are trying to do something with the Calendar Sync that requires Administrative privileges—even though Vista and the “new way” have been out for almost four years now.  Before you say “Well they HAVE to do it that way”, my argument is this.  PlanPlus seamlessly works with the same Outlook API for the calendar—without administrative permissions.  So, why can’t Google Calendar Sync?  The second thing is this:  They stopped developing this application. It’s at 0.93—and has been for almost a year now.  The error that I had was first reported in March, 2009.

FranklinCovey is only at fault because they’ve moved from their desktop application to an Online format.  That’s not really a bad thing—just not something I’m up for.  The downside is that they don’t offer features like synching to your Google Calendar or other online calendars in the desktop application—and probably never will.

It’s almost time for a Perfect Storm.  Microsoft needs to wake up and realize that as more people realize that they can access Gmail and Google Calendars (along with other Google Apps and Docs) from ANY email client, they will stop paying for the ability to access their Live products from MICROSOFT’s email clients.  Truth is, the only reason I won’t drop my hotmail/msn emails is because the msn one is tied to my ISP, and the rest are secondary accounts.  So, I’m paying for it whether I use it or not.

So, here’s the end of my rant.  This is what I want to see (although it won’t happen). 

MICROSOFT—Open up the live.com products to third party clients again.  The idea that it was to prevent spammers is BULL.  It didn’t do anything to curb spam.  It didn’t do anything to curb porn.  It caused you to close your chat and groups—because the revenue increases that someone claimed you would get didn’t materialize.  People said “Screw off” instead, and moved to other sites.

GOOGLE—Open the source code for the Calendar Sync up.  If you’re not going to develop it on a timely schedule, then let someone else pick up the torch and run with it.  You have the potential to steal a lot of Microsoft’s thunder. But, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  Why? Because you haven’t updated the Calendar Sync site since it was put up.  Your error message section is a joke.  You haven’t developed the application in about a year—and you haven’t fixed any bugs in it.

FRANKLINCOVEY—You’re not really doing anything wrong, but I would ask you to not stop developing the application.  Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket (PlanPlusOnline).  There are people who don’t want to pay a monthly fee for the service (or who can’t afford it).  I would actually encourage you to take a look at JetBrains and their Omea Pro application.  You could take a hint from them, and create the potential Outlook killer.  They incorporate limited (stress limited) time management with the ability to access your emails, feeds, documents, and even web pages.  All from one application.  YOU could do this too.  Except yours wouldn’t be a limited time-management program.  It would be a Time Management Program that integrates all aspects of productivity in one place.

Have a great day:)

Patrick.

Microsoft Releases Out of Band Update for Internet Explorer

If you haven’t heard this already, there was an incident where Google and about 20 other companies were hacked last month.  It allegedly is tied into the Chinese Government.  Because of this, a few things have taken place.

Google is threatening to pull their Search engine out of China (at the very least they are threatening to stop censoring search results at the request of the Government) and they threatened to delay the release of their new phone in China.

People were throwing blame around at different companies and different applications for this hack.  It turned out that the hack was done on Internet Explorer 6.x—due to an unannounced vulnerability.

Microsoft is reported to be releasing an out-of-band update today for this vulnerability.  They also recommend the following steps to mitigate it:

  • If you are running Internet Explorer 6, it’s time to upgrade. 
  • Regardless of whether you are planning on upgrading, you should set your Internet Zone to “High”
  • Internet Explorer 7 and 8 users (on Vista or Windows 7) should enable “Protected Mode”.
  • All users should enable Data Execution Prevention (DEP) on their computers.  DEP prevents the computer from executing code which is stored in memory that is supposed to only contain non-executable code.
  • You should be running in non-Administrative accounts (or have UAC enabled) to restrict the rights of an infected user.  This is something that everyone has been preaching since the dawn of Windows XP.

There are people who are trying to tweak this vulnerability to work in Internet Explorer 7 and 8 on Vista and Windows 7.  One of the people claims that DEP won’t mitigate this, if the application doesn’t “opt-in” to it.  I’m not sure if he is referring to Internet Explorer (which you will opt-in by enabling DEP) or the malicious code.  Also I’ve read that some systems (namely netbooks and older CPU’s) do not have “Hardware DEP”, so enabling it doesn’t actually work. ***I can’t verify this***

So, what should you do???

First and foremost you need to get updates.  This is regardless of whether you use Internet Explorer or not.  It’s better safe than sorry—especially since some programs do not follow the rules about default browsers.

This is a good time to try out Firefox with the No-Script addon and also Google Chrome.  I would even suggest Apple Safari, but I haven’t used it very much to know what it’s limitations are.

Some people would say this is the time to remove Windows, and switch to another Operating System (namely Linux) or buy a Macintosh.  While I love Linux, I don’t think that is the best solution in this case (although I would encourage people to try a Live CD out).  And I definitely cannot recommend spending $1,000+ on a new computer—just to get a Macintosh.

The short end of the stick is this.  Update your computer after 10:00 am PST today.  I would recommend an alternative browser.  However, since this potentially affects Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, and anything else that uses Internet Explorer, you NEED to update the computer.

On a side note, Microsoft is also releasing an advisory about a Kernel vulnerability.  This requires the attacker to be able to log into your computer from your computer (meaning not from the Internet).  It remains to be seen if they will have a patch for this today or not.

Have a great day:)
Patrick.

Microsoft Changes their Browser Ballot Screen—Again.

The tech news is abuzz this week because Microsoft agreed to make another change to their “Browser Ballot Screen” in the European Union again (in hopes to accommodate complaints by a rival browser maker).  The complaint was that by putting the browsers in Alphabetical order (which would make sense to any normal human being, IMHO), it favors Apple’s Safari Browser over everyone else.  This from the same people who initially complained that having Internet Explorer first favored the default browser over all of them.

So, Microsoft agreed to generate the ballot screen randomly, and remove the Internet Explorer icon from the top-left corner of the window.  If this is acceptable, then people who have Internet Explorer set as their default browser will receive this via Automatic Updates in the future.

I have some opinions about this….

1.  Is this the end of the whole quibble?  I don’t think so. Personally, I think that one of the other browser makers (probably Opera, since they are the ones who seem to be screaming the loudest) will run the ballot screen a few hundred or thousand times, and count how many times each of their rivals shows up first.  Then they’ll complain that it’s skewed towards their rival (if it’s more than they show up).

2.  Is this even an idea that should be pursued at all?  Yes and no.  On the one hand, I do understand that it’s Microsoft’s operating system, so they should have a right to package their own browser with it.  Apple does with Safari.  Linux does with Konquerer and Mozilla.  Google’s Chrome OS will do it with Chrome.

On the other hand, I agree that the end-user should be offered a choice.  Most end-users aren’t even aware of other browsers.  Look at the video a few months ago from the US State Department, where Secretary Clinton said that they won’t use Firefox, because they would have to update it (it automatically updates).  She wasn’t even aware of Firefox—had to ask for clarification about what it was).  So, having the ballot screen is a good idea (if nothing else, to inform the users).

3.  In as much as I think the ballot screen is a good idea, it shouldn’t have come around because of a court mandate.  And Microsoft shouldn’t be the ONLY company (and Windows shouldn’t be the ONLY Operating system) which offers this.  Apple and Linux should have ballot screens offering the user a choice of browsers as well.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  Also, I don’t think this should be limited to Europe.  I think that Microsoft, Apple, and the Linux distributors should put this in for every country.  WITHOUT A COURT MANDATE DIRECTING THEM.

4.  I also think that this should be an Automatic Update regardless of what browser is set up as your default.  I can tell you that I know people who have only heard of Internet Explorer and Firefox.  They haven’t even heard of Opera, Safari, or Chrome.  And if they have, it was in passing.  Oops, the makers of Opera may read this and push that it be given out to anyone who has Internet Explorer or Firefox as their defaults now…

Let me know what your opinions are on this whole deal.  Do you feel that it should have even happened?  Do you think that it’s going to be resolved with this current plan for the screen?  Do you feel that it should be done on all operating systems, or just Windows?  Would a ballot screen influence your choice at all?

Have a great day:)
Patrick.

Windows 7—UAC

Ahhh UAC.  This was one of the most despised features of Windows Vista.  It was intended to improve security by creating the equivalent of “Super User’” (su) or “Sudo” in Linux.  The concept is that if the action that you (or software) is taking could change the system (for good or bad), you had to be an Administrator or super-user to do it.  Normally, you ran as a standard user.

However, Microsoft messed up.  Where Linux only requires super-user or sudo (Sudo allows you to use the super-user mode for the specific installation or command that you’re performing—without having to essentially log in as the super-user.)  for certain things, Microsoft required it for virtually everything that you did on the computer.  They also had two options:  On (full) or Off.  Typically users would either turn it off, or just click “Yes” or “Continue” for everything.  Either way, it’s not secure—and it defeats the purpose.

With Windows 7, Microsoft went a long ways towards improving UAC.  Now, it has a slider with three settings:  High (Full like Vista), Medium (the default) and Off.  Technically, there are four settings.  The only difference between the higher and lower ones are whether it dims the desktop.  The triggers are still the same. With the default, you’re only prompted if software tries to change something on the computer.  So, you can move things, or delete things without an annoying prompt.  While a lot of actions will show the “Shield” for UAC, only a few of them actually generate a prompt.

With Windows 7, Microsoft has gotten a lot closer to the Linux version of super-user.  This is good for two reasons.  1)  There’s a good chance that the average user won’t ignore the prompts and will be more secure. 2) If a Windows user migrates over to Linux or vice versa, they’re already familiar with the concept.  An unnoticed bonus is that Apple won’t be able to use the UAC in their ads now.

So, if you are a current Vista user, my suggestion is this:  When you upgrade to Windows 7, leave UAC on for a while.  Give it a fair shake and see if you like it.  If it’s still too annoying, see if it’s set on High.  If it’s set on the default, you could try the lower setting (Notify me if programs try to make changes on my computer- but don’t dim the desktop).  If that still doesn’t satisfy you, then you could turn it off.

I’ve been running Windows 7 since the Beta 1 was released in January.  When I tested (and used Vista) I turned UAC off within a few days because a few programs wouldn’t install properly with it on.  I haven’t changed UAC once on Windows 7, and installed all of the programs plus more.  Hopefully you’ll find that UAC is better, and that you’ll let it do it’s job—protecting you.

Have a great day:)
Patrick.

Windows 7 – Day 2 (Day 1 post launch)

Ok, so you’ve purchased your copy of Windows 7, or your computer with it preinstalled (or upgraded to it).  Now you’re sitting here looking at this new operating system and trying to figure out where to go next.  If you’re like most people, you’ll start looking at all of the websites—and be inundated with tons of information about what Windows 7 can do, should do, and won’t do… 

I say relax.  While there are changes, at the heart of Windows 7, it’s just an operating system.  It’s going to do the same things that Windows 1.x through Windows Vista did.  And in most cases, you can still do those things the way you’ve done them in the past.  The changes are just there to try and make a simpler way to do those things—but you’re not required to use them.

Remember that unless you choose to delete or format something, or you just yank the power cord out of the wall, you can’t really do anything to mess up the computer.  So, take a few minutes to look around and get used to the place.  After all, you’re going to be living here for the next couple of years (unless you decide to purchase a Mac, downgrade to XP if it’s an option, or switch to Linux).

The first thing you should do (as you always should) is go to http://update.microsoft.com (like Vista, this will open up the Windows Update pane of the Control Panel) and get your updates.  Do this BEFORE you start listening to your music, or watching your TV.

If you installed Windows 7 clean (or upgraded from your previous Operating System) then you need to make sure that your antivirus and firewall are running properly.  If you purchased a new computer, then you need to decide if you want to keep the antivirus that came packaged with it, or switch to another one. 

While all of the blogs and sites will post their opinions about the different antivirus programs that are bundled with computers, one thing that all of us can agree on is this:  You need to pick one, make sure you can get updates, and update it.  If you like what came with your computer, make a note to purchase it (since most likely it’s a limited trial).  If not, then wipe it off now and put one on that you do like.

Remember that regardless of whether you purchased a PC with Windows 7, installed it, purchased a Mac, or even switched to Linux, the computer is only as secure as you make it.  Practice safe computing, and you’ll fare pretty well—regardless of what issues there are with the Operating System.

Have a great day:)
Patrick.

Windows 7 is available today… Go Get It….

Today is the day that Windows 7 is officially launched (General Availability).  You can probably find it at your local Wal-Mart or Best Buy.  And you can get some pretty decent deals online as well.

Newegg is offering Home Premium for $99.00, Professional for $139.99 and Ultimate for $179.99.  These are pretty decent rates for the product.  But, you’ll have to act fast.  These deals are only good for  a limited time.  Also, it should be noted that these are the OEM versions of Windows 7—not the retail versions.  The main difference is that with an OEM version, it’s locked into the first computer that you install it on (where a retail version can be transferred to another computer).  Also the OEM version comes with no support from Microsoft (as it’s intended for computer manufacturers or builders).

If you are considering the retail versions, then there are a couple of things that you need to be aware of.

  • If you purchase a copy that says “Upgrade” on it, you need a valid Operating System on the computer that you’re upgrading.  This locks the keys together so to speak.  What this means is that you can’t transfer the original operating system to another computer (because it’s tied to the license for Windows 7).
  • If you purchase a “Full” version of Windows 7, you can upgrade from another operating system, or do a clean installation.  The main difference between this, and the upgrade version, is that you can then transfer the original operating system to another computer (if it’s not an OEM copy).  This is also why the “Full” version is more expensive than the “Upgrade” version, and why they are both more expensive than the “OEM” version.

If you purchase an “Upgrade” or “Full” retail version, you will get both the 32-bit and 64-bit DVD’s in your box.  However there are a couple of limitations that you need to be aware of.

  • If you have a 32-bit processor, the obvious limitation that you can’t install the 64-bit version on there applies.
  • You can only install one copy.  So, if you install the 64-bit version on your main computer, you cannot install the 32-bit version on a second computer (without an additional license) or transfer that copy to someone else.
  • Also, if you install the 32-bit version and later want to migrate to the 64-bit version, you can use Windows Easy Transfer to migrate your files and settings.  HOWEVER, if you install the 64-bit version, and later decide that you want to go to the 32-bit, it won’t work. You will have to copy your files manually to another drive, and reinstall and reconfigure your settings.

Hopefully with this quick guide, you’ll find what you want.  And I hope that you’ll enjoy Windows 7 as much as I do.  I really liked Vista (although on one of my computers it didn’t run as well as expected), but I’ve upgraded completely to Windows 7 and won’t look back.  It’s quite possibly one of the best Operating Systems that Microsoft has released.  I won’t say it’s the best Operating System out there, because that’s a matter of preference and a matter of specific situations.

Have a great day:)
Patrick.

Windows Home Server—The Unsung Hero

Microsoft created Windows Home Server a few years ago.  You’ve probably never heard of it though.  It doesn’t have the sexiness that Vista was supposedly going to have—or Windows 7 is reputed to have.  It’s not flashy or sporty and not advertised in commercials (or really anywhere at all).

But, it is probably the best (or one of the best) operating systems that Microsoft has ever put out.  And it may be one of the best operating systems in general.  This is coming from someone who likes Linux and Windows.  And this is mainly aimed at the consumer markets (which is what Windows Home Server is aimed at).

Windows Home Server only requires a 1 Ghz processor (32 or 64 bit) and 512 MB of RAM (although I would recommend at least 1 GB).  Once you’ve installed and updated it, you don’t need anything attached except drives.  I originally installed it on an AMD Athalon XP 1800+ computer (that I built in 2003) and moved it over to an E-Machines W3400 desktop.

You install the connector software on the rest of the computers on your network.  Then configure the backup options on each computer and move your files over to the server.  It even provides you with some default locations for your files (and you can create more folders).  Once you’ve moved everything around and configured everything, WHS sits there and does it’s job.

WHS will back up every computer on the network (that has been configured).  It checks to see if the computers have antivirus/antispyware installed and checks for critical updates on the computers.  If one of your computers fails, or you need to upgrade it’s hard drive, WHS provides you with the most recent image of what the computer looked like (up to the last backup).

It really IS a centralized location for everything.  I’ve got my recorded tv saved to the WHS.  I also save my iso files and all of my installers there.  So, if I choose to wipe this computer, I can reinstall everything from WHS (or restore an image).  And I have my music stored there.  No more having to make sure my desktop is running, so my laptop can listen to music or watch videos.

If you have computers that meet the requirements and are basically sitting around collecting dust, then this is an option for you.  You can buy external USB drives (as many as you have USB ports available for) and add internal drives to it.  Then just install WHS and set everything up.

Have a great day:)
Patrick.

From Windows XP To Windows 7

There has been a lot of discussion about the upgrade paths to Windows 7.  And most of the latest have focused on the lack of upgrades from Windows XP.  This would seem to be a daunting issue—especially for corporations.  And it would seem like a daunting issue for consumers as well.

In truth, it’s probably more of an issue for corporations then it is for the average person.  But here are some things to know.

Installation methods:

Your only real option is a custom install (a fancy way of saying clean installation or wipe the drive and start over from scratch).  If you’re considering this type of installation, and are a consumer, the first thing you need to do is run the File and Settings Transfer Wizard from the Windows 7 disc (Windows Easy Transfer).  You will want to save the files and settings to an external drive or DVD’s.  And you’ll want to make sure that you don’t password protect the file.

After you have installed Windows 7, you will have to reinstall all of your programs.  You may be thinking “How do I know what I had installed, and what I want to reinstall?”  That’s one place that your Windows Easy Transfer comes in.  The first thing you’ll want to do is re-run that application and restore the files and settings to the new (upgraded) computer.  At the end of this, you’ll have the option to view a report.  This report will list all of the programs that you had installed (and in some cases, will provide you with links to the programs).

My Programs won’t run on Windows 7

Undoubtedly you will run into this situation eventually.  One or more of your programs won’t want to run in Windows 7.  You have two options at this point.  You can try to install them in Windows XP compatibility, or you can see if there’s an updated version of the program that runs in Windows Vista/Windows 7.  The only problem is in some cases, you’ll have to pay for the upgrade.  However unless the upgrade breaks features that you need, or the cost is so high that you can’t afford it, you’re better off buying the upgrade.

You have one other option that corporations will most likely have (and use).  If you choose to purchase a copy of Windows 7 that is “Business Professional”, “Enterprise (for corporate users)”, or “Ultimate”, you will have access to “XP Mode”.  XP Mode is similar to Virtual PC—in that it uses VPC, but it’s a specially configured copy of Windows XP.  There is an issue though that needs to be considered here too.  Your computer must be new enough and have the right BIOS and hardware configurations to support XP Mode.  The computer must support “Hardware Virtualization”.

If your computer doesn’t qualify for XP Mode, then you still have options.  If you had purchased a full version of Windows 7 (not an OEM version that comes with your computer, or an “Upgrade” version), and you don’t have an OEM copy of Windows XP installed on the computer (preinstalled from the manufacturer), you can install Virtual PC and install Windows XP inside of the Virtual Machine.  You may run into issues with activation, but probably nothing that you can’t take care of over the phone.

Final thoughts

Finally, before you take my word for this (or the word of the other news reporters and bloggers) do some research.  As of this posting, you have 10 days before you can get a copy of Windows 7.  Probably more—depending on how you’re going to get your copy.  Research the programs that you use on a regular basis.  Find out if they will work with Windows 7, or if you can upgrade. 

If it’s going to cost you money to upgrade, find out if you can use Virtual PC/XP Mode.  Also find out if there are trial versions available for your programs.  This will allow you to start using them now, and put off the cost for a short time.  But most definitely research all of your options before you rule out anything.

Have a great day:)
Patrick.

Setting up a Windows Home Server

A long time ago, I was in the Windows Home Server beta.  It was a useful solution for backing up my network and I enjoyed testing it out immensely.  However, there were a few things that I wished it could do.  At the end of the beta, I stopped participating, except occasionally looking at what they offered for us to test.  Now, I’m getting back into the swing of things.

Windows Home Server (if you’re not familiar with the product) is based on Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003.  It has been reconfigured for what Microsoft deems a home user’s needs.  It provides you with a centralized backup system for all of your network computers (up to 10) and monitors certain factors of the network (antivirus installed, updates needed, and whatever the security center provides).  You also have the option of web-based access to your files, music, pictures, and video from any computer that can access the server.

You’re given a web-link to yoursitename.homeserver.com which will provide the web access.  And you’re not limited to the computers in your network when it comes to accessing and downloading from your server.  Anyone who has a username and password can use any computer (as long as it will run the necessary ActiveX controls) to access the server.  Best part is, you can use Remote Desktop from the server to any computer inside of your network (which is capable of receiving the connections)—all from outside of your network via a browser.

I’ve set up an evaluation copy of Home Server, and am in the process of tweaking things.  And I intend to move it to another computer in the near future.  Some of the things that I’ve ran into include the following…

  • If you have your network cable connected during the initial installation, you will run into a problem where any name you put in for the server triggers an error message “The name you have chosen is already in use on your network.”  The fix is simple, unplug the cable and try the name again.
  • If you have an IP address in the 192.168.x.x range, then you need to do three things.  1)  Create a static IP on the server. 2) Make sure that UPnP is enabled on your modem or router before you start the configuration of Remote Access on Windows Home Server. 3) Configure your router or modem to forward the following ports to that IP: 80 (HTTP ), 443 (SSL or SSH access), and 4125.  You’ll want to cover your bases and choose “Both” in the TCP/UDP options.

The latest beta (PowerPack 3) is supposed to allow Windows Home Server to automatically pull your Recorded TV shows into the storage.  Prior to this, you had to do that manually.  Record them on your Media Center PC and then copy them over.  I’m not entirely sure what all of the advancements are, but that one alone seems great.

One unfortunate thing about Home Server is, you have to purchase antivirus programs that are geared towards it (or towards servers in general).  There are a few “free” programs, and some of the others are low-cost.  Hopefully the Antivirus that you have installed on your personal computers will have a family pack that works on Home Server.  Otherwise, Avast, AVG, BitDefender, F-Secure, and NOD32 are probably the chepest options.  But, you’ll want to check into this yourself.

As I play more, I’ll post about my experiences.  Currently, I’m on the 120 day evaluation.  Which is nice, because it gives me 4 months to decide if I want to spend $99.00 on a copy, $399.00 on a low-end system, or scrap the entire thing.

Have a great day:)
Patrick.