Come to the Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 Premier Roadshow

Australian Premier Support customers: Join us for an overview of the new stuff in Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8!

This series of events will run for the entire day in each city and showcase 4 sessions of about 90 minutes, on a range of Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 client topics. All topics will be presented by the best Premier Field Engineers across Australia and New Zealand.

Except they got me for Sydney! I’m covering the new Networking features.

Windows Server 2012 – Networking

Connect from anywhere, more working and less waiting, better network management via cost-aware networking. Sound interesting? This session provides a general overview, including many of the improvements to DirectAccess, BranchCache, and general networking improvements in Windows 8 and Server 2012.

Details and signup:

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/shyam/archive/2012/08/16/windows-8-and-server-2012-road-show.aspx

 

And if you’re at Tech.Ed 2012 AU, you can catch Darth Chad and I presenting on the enhancements to Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess.

 

Windows 8 UX Fundamentals–free virtual training

I’ve been working on the Windows 8 Application Excellence Lab circuit recently, helping push Metro-style apps from good to great!

Metro apps look visually simple, but conveying your app’s information in a simple and visually appealing manner isn’t just a matter of “removing stuff”. The best apps look simple, present information appealingly and effectively, and delight the user with their interactive behaviours.

Why tell you this? Well! There’s some free virtual training coming up with the Windows UX team:

Windows 8 UX fundamentals–free virtual training

On 14th June from 9am to 5.30pm PST, the Windows User Experience team is running sessions on how to design great apps that use the platform in cool ways and follow UX guidelines. After the training, you’ll be able to design and build experiences that follow the tenants of great apps, use intuitive information architecture patterns, and use best practices for designing flexible layouts, touch, contracts, and much more.

Sure, for Aussies, it’s an early start and finish, but if you’re looking to brush up your Windows 8 application, or just interested in thinking about how you might construct a deconstructed app, it’s worth a look!

More at the Windows 8 developer blog.

Telstra HTC HD2 Connection Settings

The Shiny New Phone


I bought an HTC HD2 sight-unseen from the Telstra online store yesterday, and the “five business days” for delivery worked out to be one in total. Score!


With the phone as supplied, aspects of the phone are uncustomizable, and the Internet connection is one of those things.


Most Internet-connecting items worked fine – browsing the web, Twitter, etc – but ActiveSync kept complaining about my connection settings. I verified passwords, server settings, but nothing seemed to work.


The Fix


A tip from a colleague fixed it:



Go through the ActiveSync Wizard to add your mail information. On the very last page, there is an Advanced button. Click that baby and you’ll find a connection drop down. Select the Internet or Telstra.Internet connection.


And now, I have mail through Exchange again. W00p!


Now, to work out how to uncustomize the HTC Sense app a bit.

Max Payne 2 on Xbox Originals

Awesome, in a word.

Max Payne® 2- The Fall of Max Payne

Wins my award for most heartbreaking game ever. With some pretty funky action along the way.

I wasn’t as much of a fan of the first one, though if you play them back to back, they run very well together.

(Though the part in MP2 that always troubled me was how the people you’re shooting at don’t get damaged per se; they just take an endless supply of bullets and get tossed around. Breaks suspension of disbelief. Well, that and the whole “Bullet Time” thing, which was done very well in this one.)

Mesh Gush

Hi Everybody! I’ve been laying low for a while, in read-only mode, sorting, filtering, evaluating and generally catching up on stuff!

So, why break radio silence now? Well, I’m popping up to offer a quick endorsement for the Mesh platform, which was recently opened up to Australian testers.

I’m excited. I love it, and it’s not even finished.

Right now, you could liken it to Foldershare plus Skydrive plus Remote Desktop, just with the out-of-the-box stuff in the preview.

But there’s more to come, and the glimpse you get is absolutely compelling.

I love that I’m a mouse-over and click away from Remote Desktop to any of my machines.

I love that I can synchronize folders between any number of my devices, and have a copy kept online in my Live Desktop.

I love that it’s a platform, and having seen some demos of what’s possible from a programming perspective, I can’t wait to get my SDK on!

At present, there are some To Be Implemented features, the odd glitch and so on (as you’d expect from a CTP), so feel free to ignore me for a while, I’ll just say “told you so” later! 🙂

One tip I’ll pass on: Quite a few people requested a versioning feature for files and folders in the Mesh forums (and note that right now, folders you share with other people are writable by them) – Windows Vista has this built in already, in the form of the Previous Versions feature that you can use to recover a document in a given folder – just get the Properties, and then check the Previous Versions tab for the folder (or document).

Go get a Mesh!

My Next Laptop – an XT

A new year, another new laptop, incorporating the lessons learned from last time. Interesting choice of nomenclature for the new Dell tablet range.

<memory lane>

My first PC (mostly-)compatible was an XT-class machine. I think we got it in 1988, maybe 89. I had no idea that 286 and even 386s were available already! What an exciting time I was in for…

Twin 360K floppy drives, it had, and a green CGA monitor. 640K and an 8088 (Turbo! 10Mhz! Compatible! 4.77Mhz!). DOS 2.0 (or was it 2.11?)

I still remember trying to use good ‘ol Commodore 64 BASIC commands (LOAD *,8) before it was explained to me that these EXE or COM things were what you used, and the DIR command showed you what they were.

“So LOAD ‘SPACEWAR.EXE’,8 ?”

“No, you just type the name before the EXE”

“Ohhh”… so the commands I could type were actually extended by the EXEs present… wow. Cool!

The steel “desktop” case of the thing was quite possibly larger than any case I’ve owned since then.

Quite randomly, after about a year, I came home from school to a grinning Dad, who couldn’t wait for me to turn on the computer (for a change; it was more commonly “go outside and do some exercise!”).

I flicked the big red switch, and then noticed the screen wasn’t green any more! Awesome! Text mode was full-colour, but I rapidly discovered that four colour CGA was graphics mode (with a choice of two strange palettes! Who knew Ultima V was actually purple, white and cyan?).

And then, just after that had registered, I heard the grinding noise of a new 40MB hard disk spinning up inside the case! What luxury was this!? How many floppy disks could I abandon!? ALL OF THEM! (except those bastard ones with turbo-unfriendly copy-protected-disk schemes).

Then I saw EGA and VGA at a computer store near school. Wow. Six months later, I’d saved up enough to replace the CGA card with an EGA card. I was hooked on upgradeability. Happy sigh. Fun times.

</memory lane>

Dell Latitude XT, seen here in non-Tablet orientation, for real people, with real needs. Quite why Dell would want to invoke memories of the clunking old monster, associated with their svelte new Tablet is beyond me, but it worked, and somewhat more randomly than you might suspect, mine’s on order now!

I think I mentioned before that I didn’t really care if it was a Tablet per se, just as long as it had a touch screen I could jab with a finger. Re-reading what I wrote last year, I’m quite happy that I’m at least internally consistent.

I found that reviews were quite scarce, so I’ll write up my e-pinions as I go, as per usual. Time permitting (did I mention I’m busy until March already?)

Idle speculation: The next version will be the “AT”… (you can laugh when it suits you. No pressure.)

Oh yeah, and Happy New Year, and all!

Two New Updates for Aussie Windows Vista Media Centre Owners

The Media Center dev team have been working to address a couple of problems that have particularly affected some Australian Media Centre users, and we now have updates available from Product Support.


While the fixes are available, the KB articles documenting them aren’t yet published (at the time of writing), but we’re working on getting them out as soon as we can.


In Australia, you can call Support on 13 20 58 (1,4) or use a pre-existing support arrangement (Partner, Premier, etc) to obtain either hotfix directly from Microsoft PSS.


If there’s a problem getting them sent to you, you may need to explain that the articles are still in production, but the fixes are ready and available from the hotfix site.


As with all hotfixes, our recommendation is that if you aren’t affected by the problem directly, you should wait for a future public update or service pack containing the updates.


Media Center is available in the Windows Vista Home Premium and Ultimate editions.


First, there’s an update that provides a more reliable way of keeping custom Guide data in the registry, without having to adjust windows services (for example, KeepKey), registry scripts, scheduled tasks or registry permissions.


935685 – MCUpdate Crash when disableUpdateDiscSvc is enabled * – KB article being finalized. When published: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/935685



In short: the update allows Guide providers to set the disableUpdateDiscSvc registry value to 1 without crashing the MCUpdate process when it runs, to retain their custom guide data registry key.


I would expect that you’ll likely be directed to install the hotfix by your EPG provider, and they will set the registry key with their installation/uninstallation, but check with them!


In case technical details are wanted:


Registry location: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Media Center\Service\EPG
Value: disableUpdateDiscSvc : DWORD : 1


Removing the value or setting to zero should return to normal behaviour (the discsvc key will be overwritten when MCUpdate runs, returning the guide to its default setting).


This next problem seemed to crop up fairly recently on my installation: when channels retitled themselves (as often happened with Channel 7 during a special event or similar), MCE (or rather VMC as folk are calling it now) would sometimes assume it had found a new replacement channel, and forget about the old channel on the same frequency. This led to a loss of Guide data on an occasional basis (and scheduled recordings would often not work on the new channel), It affects Terrestrial Digital TV stations only, far as I know.


938927 – Opportunistic Scanning causes loss of EPG/Guide data * – KB article being written. When published: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/938927



Once the hotfix is installed, opportunistic scanning can be disabled by setting a specific registry value:


Registry location: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\ CurrentVersion\Media Center\Service\GLID
Value: DisableActualStreamOpportunisticScanning : DWORD : 1


This one you’ll need to install and enable yourself (unless the guide provider does the registry key for you – they’re generally very nice people, so expect to see a tickbox in their programs in the future).


We’ve had good results in testing, but you might want to consider rerunning Media Center setup after installing the hotfix to rescan all your channels from scratch – if the channels are already weird when you install and enable, they might stay that way.


Again – neither KB is done yet, but we’re working hard on them. In the meantime, contact Support to get the updates directly from us.


See also Mike Hayton’s post in the XPMediaCentre.com.au forums.


This post is provided “AS IS” and confers no warranty.

HDMI on (my) LCD TVs sucks (aka The Campaign For Pure Pixels)

Before I get into the rant: I am thoroughly ignorant of any and all video standards. Do not expect this post to contain much in the way of factual value.

I’m housesitting at my parents’ place at the moment. They have a recent-ish 32″ Panasonic LCD TV. They have my old XP Media Centre PC driving it.

Until last night, it was plugged in via VGA cable exclusively, but I thought I’d try a DVI to HDMI cable instead, as the VGA quality is terrible but I haven’t had time to fiddle with it to date.

To expand on that “terrible” a bit – the screen is 1280 by 768 pixels. The screen doesn’t seem to support this resolution through VGA, but instead scales 1360×768 to 1280, making everything a bit grainy and distorted at the individual pixel level. It supports “WXGA” mode for input which helps with the distortion a little, but trades that for colour depth – suddenly everything is banded horribly. So, terrible.

The Panasonic has the same problem as the Sony Bravia I have at home – the list of resolutions supported via HDMI are the “classic” HD resolutions. 576p, 720p, 1080i.

None of these wonderful standard resolutions are the native physical monitor resolution, so in any resolution mode, I’m going to have display pixels that aren’t exactly one physical pixel big.

For most video content, this probably isn’t the hugest deal – video tends to be fast-moving, enjoyed at a distance, and fuzz is quite tolerable.

For text, though, it’s the kiss of death. Icons look a bit odd. Windows and the cursor alias while moving across the screen. And there’s worse!

Worse – Cleartype is designed to work at physical-pixel precision, and there’s no “blurry monitor mode”, which means that the super-large (or just oddly-placed) pixels make the usually-subtly-coloured “rounding” pixels visible on the edges of letters. Which kinda breaks the effect.

With me so far? Well, life gets worse again: Compounding the already-not-insignificant feeling of dread, OVERDRAW!

Whoever figured overdraw was something important to preserve via HDMI – in the HD era – needs to consider whether they’re really the best person for the job they’re doing.

The resolution I’m actually running now from Windows’ perspective, to a screen with 1280 horizontal pixels and 768 vertical, is something like 1180 by 684. Yes, I have to reduce the logical resolution even further to compensate for the sucky consumer HD resolution hardware.

In short: the colour displayed is vastly improved now, but blocky pixels are noticeable up close.

Overall, it’s an improvement from the VGA cable, but it’s also not quite the same in terms of screen real estate.

Is there a solution? Can I get my pure 1:1 pixel mapping with a non-monitor TV? 

Do I just have to suck up the standard HDMI formats as-is? Does your LCD or Plasma TV report itself as supporting a nonstandard 1:1 format via HDMI (like, 1366×768 or 1920×1200 or, heck, 1024×768)? Is that even possible? (if so, recommendations, please!)? Am I the only person that cares about this!?

Bring back DVI, I say. That was when men were real men, women were real women, and pixels were real display pixels.

Just saw Sunshine

Sunshine on IMDB.

Well. If it had ended about four minutes before it did, it would have been a classic in my book. In fact, when I buy the DVD, I might make a “Tristank’s Cut” version that skips the very end. Or maybe mashes it up with Jurassic Park, or something. Yes, dinosaurs were on the spacecraft, and sabotaged it so that it fell into New York, in the form of a ship.

Quick Plot: Sun dying, Earth freezing. Spaceship sent to send big ‘ol nuke into heart of sun. Not everything goes to plan.

Er, anyway – I’d thoroughly recommend this movie to anyone that enjoyed Alien, or any good space-thriller. Come to think of it, has there been one since?

The production is stunning. And by stunning, I mean totally spray-your-ashes-over-a-wide-area stunning. The music intermittently pounds and soothes you, setting the tone perfectly, the sound effects (I particularly loved the lonely bleeps and bloops through solar static) are spot-on, and there are some crazy visual effects. Let the experience wash over you (rather than spending time trying to break the effects down), and you’ll have a very enjoyable experience.

Special mention: the lumbering menace of the rotating sections of the ship. Every time one scudded past, I was concerned. A subtle and unexpected payoff from it too.

There’s a pretty decent Flash exploration tool providing some backstory not in the movie, and some foreshadowing of events to come at the movie site: http://www.sunshinedna.com/explore/uk/

My rating: Four out of five cold-burning stars.