Windows Enterprise Desktop

June 15, 2009  11:18 PM

Meet A Key Figure Behind the Win7 UI: Julie Larson-Green

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

A great story in Western Australia Today ( features Ms. Larson-Green, the person behind the ribbon technology introduced in Office 2007, who has since taken over ownership of the Windows 7 UI and its usability (called “Windows Experience”) prior to the imminent launch of that new flagship OS in October, 2009. The story is entitled “Meet Microsoft’s antidote to Vista” and describes Larson-Green’s background, motivation, and focus in helping to prepare Windows 7 for beta testing and launch. Refreshingly her self-professed goal is to “…build an operating system that doesn’t require people to take computer classes or master thick manuals.” Larson-Green credits a work history that includes waiting tables and answering customer support calls at Aldus (now part of Adobe) for sensitivity to customer wants and needs, and empathy with their trials and tribulations.

She focused on more centralized planning, and better coordination to create a more cohensive and intuitive look and feel for Windows 7. She also worked hard to eliminate the scores of pop-ups, alerts, and notification that system developers mean to be informative, but which bedevil ordinary users who simply want nothing more than to get them out of the way (to me, this finally explains the consolidation of alerts into the Windows 7 Action Center, and why only generic alerts get issued periodically–I hadn’t realized the noise had gone away, but had definitely noticed its reduction subliminally).

According to the story, Larson’s mantra is best stated as “user in control’ (hooray, what a simple but significant concept). The goal was “…to build an operating system people could use without studying first, one that would let them get right to reading the news or sending email without dragging them down a rabbit hole of setting and configurations. A system with manners…”

Larson-Green is already at work on Windows 8, though her group is still engaged in occasional tweaks to Windows 7 (though this will freeze solid in mid-July when the RTM version goes to OEMs for the October 22, 2009 release). Larson-Green says she plans to measure how well Windows 7 is doing “…by conversations she overhears at Best Buy and comments posted by bloggers.” Her hope is that people will like it. If my recent experiences in getting to know and writing about Windows 7 in the past three months are any indication, I don’t think she’s going to be too disappoointed.

June 12, 2009  4:51 PM

Get ready for Microsoft Morro

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Last November, MS announced its plans to create a no-cost consumer security software product. Code-named “Morro,” this solution is supposed to debut in H209 and be able to deal with viruses, spyware, rootkits, and Trojans. It’s going to be low-footprint on the client side, and use Web-based services and scanning technologies to keep resource consumption and local file sizes small and zippy. Ultimately, Morro will replace Windows Live OneCare, and take over the low-end security role for the company.

Recently, lots of published accounts have mentioned that MS is now testing Morro internally in-house, and is preparing a public beta of the technology (see this ComputerWorld story, for example). This Reuters newswire story posted on Wednesday, June 10, indicates that this beta will be unleashed “soon.” Interestingly, stock values for both Symantec and McAfee dropped with this news, with investors guessing that those companies will lose (paying customer) market share in the face of an at least potentially credible free product. Well-known Windows maven Paul Thurrot is quoted in the ComputerWorld story as suggesting that news of the imminent beta was leaked prematurely, and that “…it wasn’t supposed to be today,” apparently confirming that “soon” means “not yet.”

When the product does make its appearance, even enterprise administrators might find it worthwhile for certain applications. Chief among these will be the new Windows XP Mode available in copies of Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions. Even VMs need security software, and this could be just the ticket for sufficient coverage to keep those occasionally used virtual desktops safe and secure.

June 10, 2009  4:43 PM

Patch Tuesday June09: A Real Whopper!

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OK, so yesterday’s Patch Tuesday does the deed for June. It’s a monster: 10 security bulletins, 31 vulnerabilities addressed, and involving most versions of Windows itself, IE, and various MS Office and related elements (Works, Word, and Excel). Even the Windows Print Spooler and OS Kernel get in on the act!

Of the 10 bulletins issues, half (5) are critical, and fill some gaping widely-known holes in MS security. Chief among these: the dual WebDAV gothas for IIS publicized in May (explained in this Ryan Naraine blog from 5/19) and the infamous Pwn2Own vulnerability discovered in March at the CanSecWest conference in Vancouver.

I downloaded mine for Vista yesterday and they appear to have installed and taken without a hitch. You’ll probably want to start testing these right away, if you don’t plan to deploy them as-is.

Bulletin ID Rating Target Remarks
MS09-018 Critical Active Directory, Server 2000/203 2 remote code execution items
MS09-019 Critical IE version 5-8 8 vulnerabilities, including remote code execution items
MS09-020 Important IIS 2 vulnerabiliites allowing elevation of privilege
MS09-021 Critical MS Excel 7 vulnerabilities including remote code execution
MS09-022 Critical Windows Print Spooler 3 vulnerabilities, including remote code execution (Windows
MS09-023 Moderate Windows Search Single vulnerability could allow info disclosure
MS09-024 Critical Microsoft Works converter Could allow remote code execution
MS09-025 Important Windows kernel 4 vulnerabilities that could allow elevation of privilege
MS09-026 Important RPC Could allow execution of arbitrary code or takeover
MS09-027 Critical MS Word 2 vulnerabiltiies could allow remote code execution

June 3, 2009  3:32 PM

Windows 7 Launches on 10/22/2009

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OK, now the rumors are no longer rumors, and the launch date, aka GA (General Availability),  is out thanks to Steve Ballmer’s keynote at Computex (much) earlier today in Taipei, Taiwan, and Brandon LeBlanc’s “Date for General Availability” posting to the Windows 7 Team Blog yesterday.

Here’s the deal, in broad strokes:

  • Windows 7 hits store shelves on 10/22/2009, ostensibly to have it ready for the holiday buying season (lots of others outside MS are speculating it’s more of a pre-emptive strike against Android which becomes available at the end of October)
  • The Windows 7 Upgrade Option will kick in “soon” which permits those who purchase a new and qualifying PC to exercise  “…a special deal to upgrade to Windows 7…” Look for Brandon to blog about this program with dates and more details as “soon” becomes “real soon,” I guess! (According to TechARP, a usually reliable source for leaked MS secrets, this will happen on July 1.)
  • RTM should occur some time in mid-July, with Windows Server 2008 R2 following in the same time frame.

OK, now what  I want to know is when MSDN and TechNet subscribers can lay hands on the RTM version. I hope we’ll see some more information on that very soon. Not only am I itching to get and use this code, I’m also working on a book that we’re going to have to review very thoroughly to make sure it agrees with the RTM version in all respects and in every screenshot. Stay tuned!

June 1, 2009  8:56 PM

No more “3-app-limit” on Windows 7 Starter Edition

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

It just goes to show you that sometimes enough hullaballoo can cause even the biggest of dogs to change its bark. Case in point: the hue and cry that followed the disclosure earlier this year that Microsoft’s Windows 7 Starter Edition would be limited to 3 simultaneous applications while running. Ed Bott showed that this wasn’t really a hard and fast limit anyway, because it included as many browser tabs as you might want to open in a single window, and apparently didn’t charge for use of OS-based utilities (Windows Explorer, Microsoft console programs, Accessories, and so forth).

Nevertheless, I’m pleased to report that on May 29, Windows 7 product manager Brandon LeBlanc posted to the Windows Team Blog an item entitled “Let’s talk about Windows 7 Starter.” Among other tidbits of interesting info, includes the news that Windows 7 Starter will no longer impose any arbitrary limitations on the number of apps it can run at the same time. Of course, given the kinds of machines that are typical for the netbook platforms at which it aims, I suspect that CPU limitations will still play a role in the number of apps anybody will want to keep open at any given moment.

What’s just as interesting about this posting is the list of things that Windows 7 Starter does NOT include, which I quote verbatim from LeBlanc’s posting:

  • Aero Glass, meaning you can only use the “Windows Basic” or other opaque themes. It also means you do not get Taskbar Previews or Aero Peek
  • Personalization features for changing desktop backgrounds, window colors, or sound schemes.
  • The ability to switch between users without having to log off.
  • Multi-monitor support.
  • DVD playback.
  • Windows Media Center for watching recorded TV or other media.
  • Remote Media Streaming for streaming your music, videos, and recorded TV from your home computer.
  • Domain support for business customers.
  • XP Mode for those that want the ability to run older Windows XP programs on Windows 7.

To me, most of these limitations make a lot of sense. The only one I’d complain about is the multi-monitor support one: given that most netbooks offer resolution of 1024×600 or so (especially those with 10.1″ screens or smaller) it strikes me as cruel and unusual to keep me from hooking up an external monitor when one is available. The hardware includes a VGA (or equivalent) video out port, so why should the OS restrict its use?

Let’s make some more hullaballoo! Maybe we can get MS to back off on this, too. I’ve already posted this observation to the comments on the blog. Perhaps you could, too?

May 29, 2009  7:12 PM

Post SP2-Gotcha Rears Its Ugly But Interesting Head

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Previously aswoon with relief at a more stable system after installing Vista SP2, I failed to notice an interesting dilemma: although I can access local area network resources, and have no trouble using the Internet, Vista thinks I’m not connected to any network. This leads to a very interesting display in Windows Explorer, in fact:

Although ED-PC isn't connected to the network, it sees everything else out there!

Although ED-PC can see all local machines, Vista says not connected

I conducted a little research into this situation and learned that this problem has persisted since Microsoft introduced SP1 for Vista — I guess I should be grateful it waited this long to bite one of my systems — and that there’s no easy fix available. I tried leaving, then rejoining my local workgroup, rebuilt my TCP/IP protocol stack, uninstalled then reinstalled my NIC driver — all to no avail. Looking over the various fixes others have attempted — see this discussion on the MSDN Forums entitled “Windows Vista – LAN working properly, but Vista says I’m not connected,” for example — I see I hit most of the high points. But since nobody else has been able to fix this, either I supposed I shouldn’t feel so bad.

Nonetheless, I can’t help it. It bugs me no end when things don’t work like they’re supposed to, and I can neither fix them nor figure out why or how they broke. Maybe that’s what keeps me banging my head against Vista after all these years, eh?

May 27, 2009  4:14 PM

Windows Vista SP2 Hits the Download Center

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With a publication date of 5/25/2009, Windows Vista Service Pack 2 actually hit the Microsoft Download Center yesterday (5/26/2009). It’s official title is “Windows Server 2008 Service Pack 2 and Windows Vista Service Pack 2 – Five Language Standalone DVD ISO (KB948465).” Not only does this image roll up Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista in a single ISO image file; it also includes both 32- and 64-bit versions of both OSes. The following Vista versions are also included:

  • Windows Vista Business
  • Windows Vista Enterprise
  • Windows Vista Home Basic
  • Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Windows Vista Ultimate

On the Server side, 32- and 64-bit versions for standard processors are available, plus a version for Itanium-based systems as well.

There’s also a TechNet article available dated 5/26/09, entitled “Service Pack 2 for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista.” This is where most people will want to go to grab their downloads, because you can get separate versions here for ISO (the preceding item in the initial paragraph), but also separate links for x86, x64, and ia64 (Itanium) versions are also available. You’ll also find a link here to the Windows Service Pack Blocker Tool, and a FAQ that describes its recommended uses.

It will still be a while before Windows Update provides automatic access to Windows Vista SP2, so you may want to give the TechNet link above a visit in the meantime.

May 24, 2009  6:26 PM

Microsoft Office 2010 Technical Preview Leaks

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Last week, starting May 15, the pre-release version of the forthcoming MS Office 2010 started to make its way into a select group of invited participants as part of Microsoft’s Technical Preview (whose official pre-release date isn’t until July). As has become typical for such previews, no sooner did this happen than screenshots of the new product began appearing online. Also as typical, Malaysian site ArsTechnica was the first to scoop this information, with their release on May 15 of a comprehensive set of screenshots, which have since been removed at the request of the Microsoft legal department. That said, CNET still has a pretty comprehensive set available as of May 24, but who know if they’ll still be there by the time you look for them.

What emerges is an installation process that’s more like the one for Office 2007 than it differs from that sequence, but where lots of details about look and feel have changed, and where more elements than ever before are present in the Enterprise version. There’s a bit more of a Windows 7 theme to the product, with the use of large icons and screen layouts reminiscent of the new OS everywhere. There is also quite a bit more network smarts in the suite, with more advanced options for content sharing, access control, and the ability to create PDF outputs. You can also choose to hide the whole Ribbon at the top of the screen, when you’re trying to maximize text viewing or input area on screen (this will be handy for those hardy enough to use Office on a netbook PC).

There are some amusing aspects to the preview itself (“Send a smile” for positive feedback, “Send a Frown” for negative). Outlook 2010 gets a bit of a makeover that looks to be for the better, with more intelligent Ribbon integration through its own explicit tab (instead of a top-left Window button). New elements include InfoPath Designer and a SharePoint Workspace, with reworked icons for all suite components.

It looks like this will be an interesting release for the leading enterprise productivity suite. I’ll be curious to keep up with — and report on — “push” installation capabilities, and other enterprise-focused features and capabilities. So far, news on this front is pretty non-existent.

May 22, 2009  4:40 PM

Vista SP2 Push Still Some Ways Out

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Although Microsoft released Windows Vista SP2 to manufacturing (RTM) on April 29, and to MSDN and TechNet subscribers in early May, it’s still not available for download elsewhere. As of this morning, neither the Microsoft Download Center nor Windows Update shows hide nor hair for SP2 anywhere. On its Microsoft Update Product Team Blog for May 20 we finally got some news about what’s going on in a posting entitled “Get ready for Vista and Win2k8 SP2.”

According to the MU Team, Vista (and Windows Server 2008, which share a common code base) SP2 “…will be available in the coming weeks on the Download Center (DLC), and also through Windows Update and WSUS.” But according to Nick Clark, by way of Mary Jo Foley, automatic updates for Vista SP2 won’t start getting pushed until June 30, 2009.

Why such a long delay before automatic push? Enterprise users should know this answer better than anybody else. Rolling out any service pack, including SP2, takes prior testing and may involve possible remediation or even a postpone/no-go decision, which in turn takes time. This approach also leaves the door open for some organizations to use the Microsoft Service Pack Blocking Tool to prevent the SP2 update from being applied prematurely.

As for me, I started testing various SP2 versions (including a slipstreamed install for both x86 and x64 versions) a couple of months ago. I liked what I found and saw enough to switch my production units over to SP2 in the last week (thanks to my MSDN subscription), and believe that many others will want to switch over to SP2 as time and opportunity permit. In fact…knock on wood as I write this…I haven’t had a single stability problem with my production machines since the day after installing that service pack (I did, however, have problem during the reboot phase of the install on one of those machines and got tagged in Reliability Monitor for an unexpected shutdown when I had to hit the reset button to get the SP2 install to continue through the reboot phase successfully). Other than that, it’s been surprisingly smooth sailing on the sometimes choppy Vista waters ever since! Look at the “monotonically increasing trend line” in Reliability Monitor since 5/14 (the day after my install on the problem machine).

Starting the day after the install (5/14) an unbroken upward trend.

Starting the day after the install (5/14) an unbroken upward trend.

May 20, 2009  6:46 PM

Unusual AV Package Makes the Scene

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

One of the great joys of writing a blog is that the author gets to choose the topic, no matter how odd, weird, or unusual it might be. Though its relevance to enterprise Vista is, I freely and cheerfully admit, tangential at best I simply had to chime in about the new Klingon anti-virus package from Sophos. I stumbled across this in today’s Security Watch blog from veteran malware researcher and expert Neil Rubenking, did a double-take, checked the article, and ROFL or maybe even LMAO.

Not Klingon script, just phonetic Klingon using the Roman alphabet

Not Klingon script, just Klingon tranliterated into the Roman alphabet

As it turns out this is really just the Sophos Threat Detection Test with interface screens dubbed into Klingon. I have four things to say about this software product (provide yourself with appropriate derisory sound effects for each one, please):

1. Some companies obviously look farther for new markets to exploit than others.
2. The product is a clear testament to the ability to separate UI from underlying functionality.
3. Some software engineers obviously have too much time on their hands.
4. Did April first come late this year?

Even so, it’s a real hoot. Check it out. Perfect for those security-conscious Trekkies on your gift list, too.

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