Last XP2 Fixes Out Tomorrow

As mentioned before, tomorrow will be the last time Microsoft says it will issue patches for XP SP2. And I'm glad it is at least releasing this final batch, as one XP fix is critical. The problem centers on the Help and Support Center in XP and Windows Server 2003 vulnerabilities.

Another critical plug involves the canonical display driver in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. Microsoft Access is also in line for a critical fix, with the patch applying to Access 2003 and 2007.

The good news in all this? There are only four fixes this month.

One of the things I like about Patch Tuesday is that Microsoft gives IT a heads-up on what's coming -- nearly a week in advance. Of course this may also give hackers a heads-up as well.

Are you happy with Patch Tuesday? Let me know at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on July 12, 20100 comments

NSA: Security Help or Intrusion?

The National Security Agency (NSA) isn't just concerned about government computers -- but also cares about private computer that, if compromised, could harm national security.

The NSA is working on "Perfect Citizen," a system that detects hacks into power plants, transportation systems, health care entities, defense contractors and other critical organization. It also reportedly will help shield Google.

The NSA has always been a highly secretive organization (I reckon it kinda has to be), and this has led to fears of unwarranted intrusion such as through ECHELON, a system that can monitor worldwide electronic communications.

Similar concerns are being expressed towards Perfect Citizen. Privacy advocates fear the system could be abused by current or future administrations to spy on who they deem to be NonPerfect Citizens.

Do you trust the government, or like Eric Schmidt, believe that if you have something to hide you shouldn't be doing it? Send your opinions, if you dare, to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on July 12, 20105 comments

SQL 2008 SP2 CTP Stacks the DAC

Microsoft floated out a SQL Server 2008 SP2 CTP earlier this week that might seem like just a bunch of tweaks and fixes all rolled up into one. But apparently there's more to it than that. What I'd love is for someone to explain whether (and how) features like the data-tier application (or DAC; apparently DTA, which makes more sense, was taken) make DBAs jobs easier (or harder).
--By Michael Domingo

Posted by Michael Domingo on July 09, 20100 comments

What's the Best Windows Deployment Tool?

Microsoft released an update to its free toolkit for deploying Windows and Office 2010 yesterday. If you've used it before, that was the beta. Microsoft fixed some earlier issues and now calls it "Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010 Update 1."

I watched a demo on using the toolkit for operating system migrations and I have to say it gives me appreciation for what many IT pros may now face: upgrade issues. As you've no doubt heard with great tedium, Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows 2000 both lose security update support next week (July 13). Shops may be moving to Windows XP SP3 or jumping to Windows 7.

This deployment tool is free, but it sure doesn't seem easy to use, but I'm no IT pro. What really is the best tool for an OS migration in your experience? Please tell Doug (and the world) what you like at [email protected].
--By Kurt Mackie

Posted by Kurt Mackie on July 09, 20100 comments

More Microsoft Partner Network Details at WPC Next Week

The threat of raised pitchforks from Microsoft's Partner community has the company reconsidering a few changes that Redmond editor-at-large Jeffrey Schwartz reported on this week. Specifically, there's this double-dipping issue that might affect some of Microsoft’s smaller partners, which number in the thousands, as the company transitions to the MPN. We'll know for sure next week when more details will be released during the Worldwide Partner Conference. (Keep up with WPC 2010 news  here in this newsletter and at this link on the site.
--By Michael Domingo

Posted by Michael Domingo on July 09, 20101 comments

Windows 7 and Video Performance

So you bought a brand-new multicore PC running Windows 7 to handle your graphics and video needs with ease. It probably works fine, but if the application taps the VC-1 video codec, it's not cooking on all multicore burners, according to Microsoft.

The VC-1 video codec does not use all of the cores in three-core and six-core machines, Microsoft acknowledged last week in a tersely worded help page. Ironically, Microsoft appears to have contributed most of the technology for this video codec, which is functionally equivalent to Windows Media Player 9.

What this all possibly means is that Blu-ray disc players aren't leveraging the power of some multicore machines running Windows 7. The issue may also affect Xbox 360 game consoles, which also use VC-1, as well as a few other video codecs.

Codecs compress and decompress media files. Most computer users probably don't care about them, as long as the video frames run smoothly. To find out what codecs are used in an application, users can right click while a file is playing to check the properties, according to a Microsoft FAQ. Additionally, the FAQ points to two non-Microsoft tools that will discover the codecs being used on a system.

There's no word from Microsoft on when the problem with the VC-1 video codec in Windows 7 will be resolved, but certainly someone has noticed the performance hit. How about you? Have you noticed any video performance issues running Windows 7 on a multicore machine? Tell Doug about it at [email protected].
--By Kurt Mackie

Posted by Kurt Mackie on July 07, 20100 comments

Ballmer Kills Jobs

Now that's a headline that might get attention on the front of The National Enquirer. But we're talking lowercase j in the subtext, so the assumption right away is that it means job cuts at Microsoft. Even that might seem like big news, if the rumors at TechFlash (which we spied via Foley at All About Microsoft) are true. But not all is as it seems, as the cuts might be just continuing on from the cuts the company announced last year.
--By Michael Domingo

Posted by Michael Domingo on July 07, 20100 comments

Security Risks Comes with XP SP2 Support Ending

It feels a bit alarmist for one researcher to claim that we're doomed now that Windows XP SP2 support is ending this week. But if numbers don't lie, then Softchoice, in its estimation, believes nearly half of the computers they analyzed for their report are still running that version. Whoa! What's stopping these folks from upgrading? Ideas, anyone? And haven't they heard of XP SP3 by now? Send your thoughts to [email protected].
--By Michael Domingo

Posted by Michael Domingo on July 07, 20104 comments

Doug's Mailbag: Win 7 Issues, Azure's Cloud Cost

While the general consensus is that Windows 7 is a winner, here are some problems readers have found with the newest Microsoft OS:

We are keeping Windows XP for now because of the strange behavior of Windows 7. On our test machine, when someone logs off and another person logs on, the Internet refuses to work. Just a white screen in the browser. You have to restart the computer for the Internet to work again. Some programs seem to take a coffee break because they will launch only half the time. Other programs get tired of working after an hour and decide to lock up. In managing some files, when I try to select more than one file, Windows 7 decides to copy the files to the same folder as a "copy of" file. Where's my sledge hammer? With many other frustrations and all the weirdness and glitches in Windows 7 we will stick with Windows XP until Microsoft can get it right.

Thanks for asking about this. I was starting to think that I am the only one experiencing some Win 7 weirdness. Largely, though I love Windows 7. But something is clunky sometimes (at least on the 64 bit platform).

  • Outlook white screen: Outlook will launch into this "infinite loop" state once in a while when opening a new message. I thought that I had narrowed it down to some Outlook plug-ins, but I continue to see this behavior twice a month. When this happens, it will ask to restart. You can let it restart, but the only think making it go away entirely is a reboot.
  • Random shutdowns of Visual Studio 2008: this happens about once every three weeks.
  • Launching of IE 64-bit set from Outlook embedded links: even though I have IE 32-bit set as my default browser (see no Flash plug-in for IE 8 64-bit), clicking on links people send me via e-mail will launch the 64-bit IE.
  • Invalid file handle on applying tags to multiple files: Go to your pictures library, highlight 50 pictures and attempt to put the same tag on all of them. You will get a file handle error every time. I have reproduced this on multiple boxes, so I know it is not just me.

One reader gives his thoughts on Azure's pricing plan:

I just had to chime in with my two cents on Azure pricing...

In the beginning (when Azure was first announced at PDC), Windows Azure captured our imagination! Cloud computing for the rest of us. A true pay-for-what-you-use system. The Amazon model was to let you license a virtual PC and you could deploy your services to this virtual instance. The upside to the Amazon model is simplicity. The downside is overhead. It's likely that the OS on your virtual machine is going to consume more resources than your service. That's where the Windows Azure model was exciting. You host your service, not your OS.

They have not followed that model (as far as I'm concerned) and now you have to pay for "Instance Hours," which is how long it's been deployed (not CPU hours as you might expect). I learned this the hard way when I had two "Hello World" instances deployed for 3 months.

Much to my chagrin I owed Microsoft a few hundred bucks! They were gracious to refund most of that, but only after weeks and weeks!

While everyone is coming down on Microsoft for its pricing model and SLA (you need two instances to get any SLA), their pricing is still congruent with Amazon. The criticism lies in the fact that it has taken them so very long to decide what their pricing is going to be, and the big misunderstanding of "Instance Hours" vs "CPU Hours."

Counting bandwidth, transactions, storage space, connections, etc. are just the best metrics we have for determining fair usage. I do not consider "Instance Hours" fair usage, however.

What IT professionals need to understand is that the cloud is not about saving money on a server -- it's about saving money on an infrastructure. The infrastructure includes good SLAs (Service Level Agreements), IT management costs, software costs and bandwidth costs.

You never have to worry about upgrading the OS or database, a server going down or running out of bandwidth.

Azure is somewhat competitive on its rates, but not as much as I had hoped.

Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on July 07, 20100 comments

Windows 8 Leak Tells Little

Slides reportedly explaining some new features in Windows 8 are making the rounds, and the news is not exactly earth shattering.

There was no information about a new, more reliable and speedy kernel, nor any hint of blockbuster features. Instead the slide deck talks about using less power, faster wakeups, a possible 3-D interface (my eyes are getting blurry just thinking about it) and implemented facial recognition to replace passwords. 

Given past history, the new Windows could be out next year, so I expect more leaks soon.

Posted by Doug Barney on June 30, 20101 comments

Twitter a Privacy Twit

Twitter has agreed that it is not exactly God's gift to privacy and told the Federal Trade Commission it will do better. Apparently Twitter led users to believe their privacy was protected far more than it actually was. The key problem is it's far too easy for hackers to gain administrative control of user accounts.

As part of the settlement Twitter "will be barred for 20 years from misleading consumers about the extent to which it maintains and protects the security, privacy and confidentiality of nonpublic consumer information." I guess after that, Twitter can go back to its old tricks.

I'm not sure how Twitter's admission went, but it could have sounded something like this: "Ftc we prmise 2 du bettr & r sory, reely reely sory."

By the way, if you're interested in the topic of tech companies and privacy, be sure to read our July 2010 cover feature, "What Does Microsoft Know About You?," available online here.

Posted by Doug Barney on June 30, 20100 comments

Happy Tenth to .NET

The .NET Framework turns 10 on June 22. We were alerted to this by Jim Payne, a longtime .NET developer and loyal Visual Studio Magazine and MSDN Magazine reader. I was at Network World running the news group when it launched, and Bill Gates personally toured, giving details of the system. At that time it was largely designed to thwart Java's multiplatform push.

Payne himself penned a piece in honor of this special occasion. Check it out here.

Posted by Doug Barney on June 30, 20100 comments