Annual releases for Windows and Lync, what’s next?



There’s been a bit of fuss in the tech press this week after the next version of Windows, codenamed Windows Blue, leaked onto the Internet.  Whilst I’m sure its all very exciting in its own right, I think there’s another aspect to this release that’s worth talking about, and that’s Microsoft’s new fondness for annual release cycles.

In addition to Windows, Microsoft have also recently started to talk about a 2014 release for the next version of Lync, their unified communications platform.  This is of course all in addition to the monthly releases made to the Office 365 cloud services.  The ‘click-to-run’ deployment tools for Office 2013’s subscription licenses would also allow MS to easily release regular upgrades of Office.  If this is a sign of things to come what will it mean?

In some ways this is great news, it means we’ll get lots of new technology and capability.  Certainly from I’ve heard of the new Lync release it’ll be a worthwhile update.  Looking at it from Microsoft’s perspective they get  to bring their cloud and on-premises releases closer in line, helping them to demonstrate the long term value of their subscription model and Software Assurance (their name for software maintenance contracts).  The later in particular is something that has haunted MS since Vista’s late release – lots of companies effectively paid for an OS upgrade they didn’t get, and it’s cost MS dearly in lost Enterprise Agreements.

The problem with more frequent release cycles is that deploying software, especially new software, isn’t actually all that easy.  Sure Windows Blue will do just fine with consumers, but companies often struggle with the current three year release cycle for the major products.  Few organisations deploy every version of software they’re entitled to, for many every other version is more appropriate.  That’s not because these organisations don’t know what they’re doing, it’s because making changes costs money, money spent on peoples time, testing, training, communications, you name it.  Why change if what you have is working well?  Thinking ahead to next year, I know that I would have a hard time justifying any significant changes to software we might have only just deployed (yes that’s you Lync 2014).

I suspect that MS know exactly how hard keeping up will be – hell, they employ teams of people targeted solely on getting people to install and use the software they’ve already bought – and is hoping that IT organisations will look at the number of upgrades they’re missing out on and start moving towards Office 365 where MS does all the leg work for them.  There’s something to be said for that, and as their wider suite of cloud services matures the 365 and inTune platforms are likely to form a bigger part in companies futures.  But they’re not for everyone, and for those who can’t, or don’t want to buy into the cloud could be in for a frustrating time.

Google Keep, Google Reader and Trusting the Cloud


Today Google released a new note-taking and to-do application called Keep.  New Google tools are always interesting, but this one should particularly interest me as I’ve used OneNote, and to a lesser extent Evernote, for years now.  I’ve got a huge amount of notes and diagrams stashed away, and having it all in one place in a single app that lets me organise and search it is genuinely useful.

So why has Keep left me in two minds?  On the face of it Keep looks like a great little app, the video above shows roughly what it looks like and does – nice eh?  I use Google Apps for my mail and other stuff so it should be perfect…

And yet Google’s recent retirement of it’s Reader application has left me with questions.  Every year Google has a spring clean, announcing the closure of a few tools or apps with a few months notice.  The first big one was Google Wave, and last week they announced Reader was on its way out, but they are just two of many.  Each will have had enthusiastic users left out in the cold, Reader more than most I imagine.

The ease with which Google has turned off Reader does beg the question of whether investing time and information into Keep is going to be worth it.  Sure its free, but there are other free note-taking apps out there.  Evernote is the obvious one, they’re successful enough to rely on and its their core business – they’re probably not going to turn it off.

Maybe I’m stuck in the past, thinking back to the days when you had applications on dvd’s that will always work… but I also see the huge value of the dynamic development the cloud apps bring.  IMHO if the likes of Google are going to keep the trust they’ve earned from their customers they’ll need to start being more open about product lifecycles and support policies.

Enabling two-finger Right-click in Windows

If you use a MacBook for long and then go back to a PC laptop you’ll probably get quite annoyed by the fact that you can’t right-clicking by tapping with two fingers. At least I was. While the option seems to exist in the drivers for the commonly used Synanaptics touchpad, it doesn’t seem to work. That’s ok though as there’s a registry key that does!

All the normal warnings about registry editing apply, but simply open up the registry editor by going to Start > Run and typing Regedit in Windows 7, or in Windows 8 type Regedit at the start screen.

Once open navigate to:
HKEY_CURRENT_USER > Software > Synaptics > SynTP > TouchpadPS2

There, right click and select New, DWORD Value. Name the value ‘2FingerTapAction’. Once created, double click it and set the Value Data to ‘2’. If you want a three finger tap to be a middle-click, create another called ‘3FingerTapAction’ and set it to ‘4’.

Then log off and log on, and it should all work. Easy.

Microsoft User Experience Virtualization

Who dreams up these names eh?  Who knows… Well actually I do, usually it’s Microsoft.  User Experience Virtualisation is a new user state virtualisation tool that’s just gone into public beta.

Whatever OS you use, all of your personal settings and preferences are likely to be kept together separate from others so that each person that uses the computer can customise it to their liking.  These profiles hold details of the OS setup, application specific config and even documents.  In both Windows 7 and Mac OS X this all sits in the ‘Users’ folder.  That’s all well and good, but what if you use more than one computer?

These days the ability to make this profile information available across many (or any) computers is called User Virtualisation, or in MS’s parlance User State Virtualisation.  In my day it was just plain ol’ roaming profiles.  Whatever the name you give it, people have always liked being able to logon and use to any computer, and today companies are increasing looking to centralise their computing using technologies like VDI.   In doing this they might just issue people a different random computer every day, or have apps delivered from many different remote computers.  This capability then is as important as ever.

There a number of ways to do this of course, out the box Windows has ‘Roaming Profiles’, companies like AppSense will sell you dedicated solutions and both Citrix and VMWare provide tools in support of their desktop virtualisation tools.  It’s interesting to then that Microsoft is adding a new tool to their Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP) called suitably, Microsoft User Experience Virtualisation. 

Having taken a quick look at UEV, it seems to be a good step up from roaming profiles in terms of how and when the personal settings are applied, but it does seem to introduce a host of new management requirements. 

One of the big limitations of Roaming Profiles is that the sync only ever happens at logon and logoff.  It looks like EUV is much more flexible, applying application settings when applications start and close, and Windows settings on logon, when the computer is locked and when you connect to a remote computer. 

This should work well when users roam between computers or use applications presented from different systems (local, App-V, VDI, etc).  In theory you could also use it to restore settings following a computer rebuild.

The down side is that it achieves this by having specific ‘Settings Location Templates’ for each application you want UEV to process.  The template tells the agent which application to monitor, and what registry keys and files need to be saved and applied.  Whilst this does ensure that only the setting you want are processed, if you have lots of applications creating the templates could potentially be a lot of additional work – especially if you’ve already gone through the hassle of compatibility testing and packaging/sequencing your apps for Windows 7.   If you’re waiting for Windows 8 however it would be worth taking a look so you can incorporate this into application planning.

The beta of UEV is available now from the Connect site.

Apple Mac OSX Wi-Fi Diagnostic Tools

Like a colleague of mine, for the last few weeks I’ve had some random issues with my home Wi-Fi network dropping out.  It’ seems pretty random, though happens more in the evening – just when I’m likely to be using it.

It’s an odd problem, especially as its cause is normally invisible interference, the only symptom is the Wi-Fi not working.  I figured that that there must be some tools out there that could help identify the cause, hopefully visualising it in some way so I can see what’s happening. 

I’ve posted before about a Windows tool called inSSIDer that does a good job identifying other wireless networks around you.  Keeping an eye on this few a few days ruled out a competing Wi-Fi network, and to be honest I doubt another wireless work could kill my network as completely as I’ve been seeing – they’re designed to be tolerant of that sort of thing.

I also did quick search for Mac tools, there doesn’t seem to be much out there, but a few sources did point to a native tools included in Lion, Apples own Wi-Fi Diagnostics.  It’s not all that easy to find if you don’t know it’s there, but you’ll find it in the /System/Library/CoreServices/Wi-Fi Diagnostics folder.

In Finder click the Go menu and ‘Go To Folder…
Enter in /System/Library/CoreServices/Wi-Fi Diagnostics and you’ll find at the bottom

Start it up and you’ll be given four options:

Apple Mac OSX Snow Lion Wi-fi Diagnostics


The first, monitor performance give you a simple chart of both signal and noise strength over time – this is really very handy, it showed me that when my network drops out the amount of noise sky rockets way above the signal strength.


Apple Mac OSX Snow Lion Wi-fi Diagnostics


The second option shows a log of significant events that happen on your network, such as joining a different network or changing AP.  I didn’t bother with a screen shot as not much really happens in here and it’ll mostly be empty.

The third option allows you to do a full packet capture of the traffic on your network, the traffic to and from your computer or traffic on nearby networks.  These can be saved in the standard .pcap format and opened up in wireshark, but you can’t view them in real-time using the tool itself.

The last option shows a detailed log of what’s happening on the network, I don’t pretend to understand that much about what’s happening but I’d assume it’s useful into on the right hands!

Apple Mac OSX Snow Lion Wi-fi Diagnostics


So there you go, if you have a Mac there’s a handy little tool hidden away within it that could help troubleshoot Wi-Fi problems.  Now I just need to figure out what might cause three 30 second bursts of 2.4GHz interference over a three minute period and therefore stops me streaming movies to my Xbox!