Category Archives: Microsoft

The tablet wars are not a foregone conclusion

Marco Arment spent a hell of a lot of time trying to make the simple point that the tablet wars are a foregone conclusion in favor of Apple.  The thing that stuck out about his review of a review is that it spends so much time frothing at the mouth because someone said something nice about a competing Apple product that’s true. But if Ars says the hardware of the Tab 10.1 is nicer than the iPad and it’s a true statement, what’s the problem?  The Ars review pointed out that the third party hardware support on iPad is still beating Android.

When you get to the bottom line, Mr. Arment’s conclusion like so many pundits is that the tablet wars are over and Apple owns the market due to its dominance in app support.  If these pundits are right, then every other hardware maker in the industry will just have to hang themselves, fire everyone, and close up shop.  Or the more realistic outcome is that everyone else will tighten their margins and start competing on price.  When nicely configured Android tablets are selling for $300 or less on a more mature Android 3.x OS and a maturing app market, they will be competitive on price and value.

Beyond Apple and Google, Microsoft Windows 8 tablets will start showing up with something that looks like a very usable touch interface in the fall of 2012 (3 years after Windows 7).  The third party app market will be thin but it will run existing Windows software and drivers so that you can do things like print without sticking your iPad or Android device in a copier.  Microsoft will likely make MS Office (including Outlook email) usable on a tablet interface and it will be enterprise manageable in terms of maintenance and security.

The Windows 8 tablets whether they’re on ARM or Intel x86 SoCs (without legacy PCI support) will be competitive on a hardware level for the first time.  The main thing that really bothers me is the fact that Windows 8 won’t show up for more than another year and things can change in that period of time, but it doesn’t mean that the market will only support one or two players.  Microsoft is probably very late to the party, but the game is not over by a long shot especially when the value aspect of Windows tablets come into play.  While the PC makers will be reluctant to participate in a “race to the bottom” in profit margins, that is the harsh reality that they operate in.  Windows 8 tablets will essentially be netbooks with capacitive touch screens which means they shouldn’t really cost more than $100 over the price of existing netbooks.  That puts Windows 8 tablets in the $350 to $500 price range which is very compelling to the stingy PC shoppers who aren’t going to buy Apple.

So a SQL Server Transaction Log ate Your Free Space.

This weekend I came across an unusual circumstance that I thought I would share with many of those part-time SQL Server admins. I currently maintain more than a couple of SQL servers. Because SQL Server has a good maintenance program I don’t spend the money on a third party software for backup. Instead I setup the maintenance plan to create a backup every 6 hours and then push the file to a network share. For some reason or another, the network share came detached and the backups filled up the local data volume. This effectively shutdown the server. I cleared up the space, restored the mapping, and didn’t think much more about the problem. I noticed that I was getting a backup file from each database but failed to pay attention to the transaction log.
This is where my new problem that consumed my weekend started. Friday night at 7pm I got another phone call about the SQL server being out of disk space again. Again I had no space on the volume, but the space wasn’t consumed by the backups. Instead, the transaction log which is normally a couple of gigs in size had ballooned to 100GB in size. I had attached an external USB drive to push a backup of the transaction log to and tried to shrink the transaction log from the SQL Server Manager. This only give me about 3 GB of storage back, but they were quickly consumed as soon as the end users started using in their application again. I then kicked off a backup of the database and then transaction log. I now had 99% of the space free in the transaction log file, but still could not shrink the database. I had fought and fought with the database trying to get that free space back.

Finally at about 2am, running out of ideas, I deleted the transaction log file and started up the database again which effectively locked the database for a lot of people. Having migrated the database before, and knowing that a simple restore of the database could easily fix the problem, I took the most recent backup which was actually taken after end users were cut off from the server and restored the database. After the restore, I again had the same problem of a database with a 100 GB transaction log file. This time however, I for some reason threw caution to the wind and performed yet another shrink to the transaction log file. Finally, I freed up 75% of the space on the volume which allowed everything to return to normal.
Why I had to backup and restore the database before I could perform an effective shrink of the database, I do not know. If this has happened to other people, I would like to know the reason behind this.
My corrective actions include scripting a compression command on the backups to reduce their size.  I also plan on creating a trigger to notify me by email when the disk space is low, 20% is one of my favorite guide lines as far as that is concerned. I am considering running a network mapping script to reattach the volume of the server before the files are moved over so that the network volume that I monitor won’t be so easily missed with the other backup files that I file on the backup storage volume.  I don’t like using compression because of how having to decompress a file to restore it effectively adds to the lengthy process of getting the database back to working order.  Then again, having a few extra copies of the database around is also handy.

I am open to other input. I thought I would just share my wonderful late night experience with others in hope to get some improvements or perhaps help out other admins who might run into the same problem.

Steve Ballmer Moving Microsoft in the Right Direction?

For those who don’t know me, let me establish a few positions that I have taken over the many years that I have been working in IT before me writing a piece I never thought I would write. First, I do not particularly care for Microsoft and have been known to go great lengths to avoid using or buying their products. I am even writing this on my Ubuntu laptop for now. And I won’t claim to be a free software preacher either. I feel that every job has a proper tool, many have more than just one.  For example when I am home browsing on the internet, that tool could be an Apple Product or a Windows Product, or an alternative such as Linux.  They all do the job well.  When I work, I use Windows 7 x64 bit because I need the memory for the work that I do.
Second, as much as I dislike Microsoft, I loathe Steve Ballmer even more. In my personal opinion, Steve Ballmer is the mouthpiece that rattles on endlessly as though possessed by an otherworldly spirit while the rest of the company appears to want to present itself in a better way. While many key people in Microsoft try to reach out to Open source communities and bring in developers or try and encourage hackers to work with Microsoft to improve security, Mr. Ballmer will spout ramblings of IP theft and threaten lawsuits just moments later and place bounties on the head of anyone who exploits security flaws. The man seems about as in control of Microsoft as a dog owner would be of a Rottweiler walking through a butcher shop. The man has been notorious for being a clown on stage and jumping around like the dancing monkey boy moniker he has earned.

Which is why as much as it pains me to say this, but I feel Sam Diaz of ZDnet is wrong on saying that Steve Ballmer should remove  himself. Over the past five years, Microsoft has suffered a lot of brain drain and replaced a great many good managers with technical goals with business men that are out for pure profit.  One such great loss include one of my personal idols Ray Ozzy.  The problem with losing those engineers, the visionaries of the company is that eventually without the visionaries, the company runs out of ideas to market and lacks direction.  Ballmer finally realized this and appears to be changing his tune.  You see, he has shown something of what I would call growth.  He made a mistake and is showing signs that he has learned from that mistake.  Much like when I tear apart a computer and for some reason, I misplace a jumper or get the wrong power supply or purchase a CPU that won’t work with the existing motherboard. I can easily just abandon the computer or give it to some one else for a discount price because I can’t make it work.  Or I can try and troubleshoot the problem, fix the computer and learn something from the experience.  Another example would be taking the star basket ball player out of the game for being a ball hog after he finally learns how to pass to the other members on his team.  Steve Ballmer seems to have learned one of the valuable lessons in running a business.  That is running a technology company with only businessmen as executives is a bad way to run a business.

Now for why I feel so strongly about this.  For the last decade I have seen more people chase after jobs in the “business” world rather than the engineering world because they didn’t want to deal with the complexities of math and feel they could get an equal or better paying job than some one who actually did the heavy thinking.  I have a co-worker that chose to be an manager of information systems instead of a computer science major for just such a reason.  Bill Gates spoke for years about the need for more H1B Visas because of the talent shortage in engineers.  Steve Ballmer didn’t do much to help the problem by showing everyone that marketing and sales were important to the business while letting the engineers disappear.  Hopefully this is a high profile enough movement and successful enough that more companies will push to get engineers and more technical people into positions of leadership.  With that notion perhaps, and this is a long shot, people will see an engineering degree as a way to make real money instead of thinking the only college degree is an MBA.

So yes,  I want Steve Ballmer to stay as the CEO of Microsoft, not because I like the guy.  Not because I like the company.  Not even because I don’t like the company.  I want Steve Ballmer to be CEO so he can put more engineers in power and hopefully set an example that sometimes the person with the engineering degree gets to call the shots, which by what I still call a long shot, but start getting more students to enroll in college as engineers.  These hopes are the reason that I feel Steve Ballmer is moving Microsoft in the right direction.

Novell’s Patents and Why CDTN Holdings Wants Them.

The web was a buzz earlier today with news that Microsoft wasn’t the only company being involved in CDTN Holdings and some including ZDNet and ComputerWorld blogger Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols tried to speculate just what patents each of the member companies of CDTN Holdings would want and why.
First many thought that VMware would jump at the opportunity to get an OS to complete their stack and as I found out talking to a few PR employees from VMware, they pretty much already have everything they need from Novell, or so they say. Of course, VMware is owned by EMC who is a partner in CDTN holdings, so the VMware reps didn’t exactly inform me accurately.  After a quick search I did happen to find patent number7,793,101, which is Verifiable virtualized storage port assignments for virtual machines . I think I could see why VMware might want a crack at that patent portfolio now. I noticed that there are several more storage based and virtualization based patents for VMware and their parent company EMC to hand pick through. Keep in mind that Microsoft is also competing in the virtualization space as well.
In the storage space there are a few other gems including:

  • 7,844,787 Techniques for data replication with snapshot capabilities
  • 7,844,580 Methods and systems for file replication utilizing differences between versions of files
  • 7,809,910 Backup archive management
  • 7,774,568 Clustered snapshots in networks

VMware is also dabbling in identity management, also something that Microsoft has been working with for some time. Oracle and Apple also have identity management needs and would probably not hesitate to pick up a couple patents for their own related products.
With Identity Management we have a whole slew of goodies to pick through including:

  • 7,770,204 Techniques for securing electronic identities
  • 7,774,826 System and method for determining effective policy profiles in a client-server architecture
  • 7,793,340 Cryptographic binding of authentication schemes
  • 7,793,342 Single sign-on with basic authentication for a transparent proxy
  • 7,774,827 Techniques for providing role-based security with instance-level granularity

All four companies might be interested in improving their application deployment technologies with the following patents:

  • 7,730,480 System and method for creating a pattern installation by cloning software installed another computer
  • 7,739,681 Delayed application installation
  • 7,730,179 System and method for policy-based registration of client devices

The point I am trying to make is that each of these four companies have much to gain for the capital they put together to get access to these patents.
Many of us know that Microsoft is all about their Operating System, their Active Directory architecture, Search, their entry into Cloud computing.
EMC is the storage giant, but they also own VMware, RSA, Atmos, vBlock, Mozy, RecoverPoint, Documentum and have just as much if not more to gain than Microsoft.
Oracle while everyone knows is a database company, has bought more companies than anyone else, and leverage patents from Identity Management to Virtualization. Don’t forget that they own Sun Microsystems and happen to have Virtual Box.
Lastly we have Apple, who seems to stand out as while being worth more than anyone in this venture, appears to have the least to gain. However, when considering identity management, Apple would be quick to take advantage. Novell has quite a few data synchronization patents that could help out their MobileMe services. Single SignOn could be a big plus for them as well. They don’t really seem to have as much to gain from what I can tell, but then again, Apple doesn’t think like most companies. We could see them try dive into the enterprise with some of these patents or perhaps they could push themselves to the cloud.
All in all, we have four companies that are going to benefit greatly from the jewels of Novell, their patents. And while everyone was too busy worrying about the UNIX copyrights, the patents which I consider much more important were being handed over pretty much going unnoticed by the media.
Trying to figure out the direction that Attachmate will take Novell is very scary, especially handing out all of the patents like they did. As a Novell customer myself, I am concerned. Then again, who really knows the direction of the tech industry in the long term.

The Aftermath of this transaction is most interesting. Novell was a real hot potato that no one company wanted entirely. The market share of Novell has been slipping since the 90’s, and their recognition is even less. When talking to a salesman for a backup software company, he failed to even recognize the name and recommended that I speak to a tech. Yet, much to the dismay of many, when the patents for Novell were up for grabs, these four companies were first in line.  Microsoft, Apple, EMC, and Oracle are bitter enemies on several fronts, and yet they put aside their differences to pick apart this former powerhouse.

Kinect modified to capture true 3D video

Kinect modified to capture true 3D video
Oliver Kreylos has produced one of the most amazing demonstrations of true 3D video I’ve ever seen using an off-the-shelf Microsoft Kinect. This is not the cheesy stereoscopic tacky “3D” moniker being affixed to recent movie titles but actual video footage that you can rotate in three dimensional space.

Words can’t begin to express how impressed I am with this.  Just imagine a football game captured like this.  All live events should be captured like this even if it’s only one camera.

YouTube HTML5 slightly better, but still bad

Earlier last month, I found that YouTube’s HTML5 beta wasn’t even worthy of being beta.  Three weeks after that, Jan Ozer ran some CPU performance tests between YouTube Flash and HTML5 on Mac OS X and Safari and found that CPU performance was better on HTML5.  However, my tests (using same 720P video posted by Jan) on Windows with Google Chrome showed that both are equally bad CPU hogs, but HTML5 was also very buggy and still had very bad image quality.

Full story »

YouTube HTML5 not even worth of being beta

Google is beta testing HTML5 for video playback on YouTube, and my initial impressions of the technology are not good at all.  A few months earlier, I couldn’t get Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Google Chrome to run HTML5 video.  I am able to get the latest version of Chrome to render the video, but the results look terrible in its current stage.

Figure 1: YouTube HTML5 beta interface
YouTube HTML5 beta interface

As you can see in Figure 1, the rendering is horrible compared to Figure 2 in Adobe Flash mode.  The image scaling looks like it merely using pixel duplication rather than something decent like cubic interpolation much less something good like Lanczos3.  That’s why the image looks extremely blocky and pixilated.  There’s no apparent support for 480P, 720P, or 1080P either.

Figure 2: YouTube Flash 10 interface
YouTube Flash 10 interface

In Figure 2, we see a mature Flash 10 interface with much nicer quality image rendering as well as higher resolution support.  This isn’t to say that there’s fundamentally something wrong with HTML5, just that the current implementation on YouTube has a long way to go before it can replace Flash.  This is a major issue for iPhone/iPod/iPad users and Steve Jobs is throwing his whole weight behind HTML5 and has no intention of supporting Adobe Flash.

There’s good reason not to like Flash as it is very buggy and full of security holes that expose its host operating system to nasty malware attacks.  Furthermore, the performance of Flash on many laptops and nearly all netbooks is horrible short of having a really fast laptop with rarely deployed dedicated graphics hardware.  Microsoft Silverlight (which has been beta tested on iPhone) performs much better on similar hardware than Adobe Flash so there’s a possibility that HTML5 mode might also perform better.  But until the implementation becomes much more mature and capable, HTML5 doesn’t even appear to be worthy of being beta.

Microsoft’s new booklet design tablet “Courier”

This has to be one of the coolest things I’ve seen it a while, but word is emerging about a new secret Skunk Works project called “Courier” which is a new innovative “booklet” design. This thing apparently has 2 7″ LCDs on a rigid hinge and it looks like something that might be direction tablet computers are heading towards.

One thing I’m not sure about is whether this design allows you to operate it like a notebook computer with a virtual keyboard if you need to type an email. Had this device been invented 10 years ago when a lot of people didn’t know how to type, it would have been an instant mega hit. These days, almost everyone knows how to type so they’re probably going to want a keyboard. It’s also not clear if you can flip the booklet back to back so that you have something you can hold in one hand though I doubt it since it’s probably too big for that. While it’s definitely a very cool device, I’m not sure if it’s as useful to me as a laptop. The user interface looks good but who knows if it actually works as responsive as it appears in the video. Ultimately, this may be a very nice niche product but I think it needs to be smaller, thinner, lighter for easy standing operation.

Read more about it here.

Microsoft Office Web Apps looks pretty impressive

Microsoft Office Web Apps is looking pretty impressive. The real time collaboration is something you can’t even do on the native Windows applications. Having the conditional formating in Excel, all the other rich animations in PowerPoint, and native Office compatibility makes this look extremely usable. Microsoft already has had a usable Outlook Web application for a long time and this just seems to be the natural extension for the entire Office Suite.