Posts Tagged 'Microsoft'



Looking forward to… the Zune Fall ’08 update!

This coming Tuesday, September 16th, is notable for a couple of reasons: First of all, it’s my birthday (wha?  24-years-old again??), and secondly, it is the launch date for the Zune 3.0 “Fall Refresh”.  Rather than re-invent the wheel, here’s a link to a good write-up from the Zune Insider site.

It’s interesting because the upcoming Zune hardware is more-or-less indistinguishable from the previous generation.  One of the flash-based Zunes is releasing in blue, and the 80gig Zune is being followed up with a 120gig model.  Microsoft is really a “software” company, though, and that’s where the changes are really being made here.

WHAT I LIKE

For starters, the upcoming firmware “refresh” is available to all previous Zunes — even the original launch 30gig Zunes!  Let me tell you how awesome that is.  Most “previous gen” media devices are left in the dust when the next version comes out, but the Zune team has done a remarkable job of keeping everyone on the same page.  It’s really pretty cool, and a model that others should follow, in my opinion.

Secondly, the 3.0 firmware brings a strong focus on “community” — both on the devices themselves, and in the desktop software.  The initial Zune mantra was ‘Welcome to the Social’, and that appears to really be happening, though a bit later than intended.  Although Microsoft was clearly aiming at the share-your-songs-over-wireless angle from the get go, that has had a lot of water doused upon it as the Zunes aren’t nearly as prevalent as some other players out there.  It’s really a chicken-and-the-egg conundrum.  That said, the wireless song sharing is really great, and I enjoy using that with other Zune owners that I know.  In fact, I’ve been frustrated at times when a friend of mine will have a song I like on their iPod, but I can’t get it from them in any way.  Not the end of the world, of course, but I like having the ability to swap songs with fellow Zune-ers…. and I *actually* do know quite a few of them, believe it or not!

The new refresh allows for subscribing to “Channels”, which is pretty cool.  Think of them as dynamic, third party playlists that you subscribe to.  You can also “tag” songs for download while listening to the FM radio on your Zune.  I listen to the radio more these days than I used to, so that might come in pretty handy from time to time!

Thirdly, the Zune is set to finally feature some games.  At launch time, the Zune Marketplace will have ‘Hexic’ and ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ for free, with more to follow, I’m sure.  Not enough to turn the tide, I’m sure, but nice nonetheless.

Check out these great videos from the Zune team!

WHAT I’M NOT SURE ABOUT

A bit of the new Zune functionality relies upon wi-fi connections, which are nice and fast, of course, but somewhat less handy than a 3G or GPRS network.  I typically don’t have wi-fi in my car, for instance, or out at the park, and thus I cannot access some of the “community” features that I might like to have.

Although the fact that the newest Zune firmware will function on all previous models, it would’ve been nice to see some additional hardware updates: touchscreen, improved battery life, etc..  Perhaps next time?

MOVING ALONG

The Zune “Fall Refresh” is a nice, evolutionary step forward for this platform.  Clearly the Zune team has some vision here, and it very much revolves around “music enthusiasts” and a that community.  It’s a different approach, to be perfectly honest, and is somewhat of a gamble, as so much focus has been placed upon discovering new music, sharing your preferences, and actually having an audience that cares.

All of these features are playing to a particular Zune strength, however, and that is the Zune Pass.  Sharing music, tagging songs from FM, and so forth all work just fine with the pay-as-you-go method, but they are really inviting when you subscribe to the Zune Marketplace via the Zune Pass.  For $14.99/month, you have access to all of the music that Zune has to offer, and there is a lot to be had.

This is a first for me, but I believe that I will be moving that direction.  In our home, we are already big proponents of the “streamable movie”, with very little care that we don’t ‘own’ them like the days of yor.  You can thank Netflix for that transition.  It’s really only natural that I would consider going the same route with my music.  Why?  Because there is a LOT of great music out there, and I’d love to have access to it.  I don’t ‘own’ the music, of course — I’m really just ‘leasing’ it, but I’m not sure that it’s that big of a deal for me any longer.  I am buying musically digitally more and more, and the physical CDs that I purchase get ripped to my collection, and then put away — sometimes for good.  For the cost of about 1 CD/month, I can download 20 albums/day, if I want to.  That’s pretty awesome.  If I stop paying for my Zune Pass, of course, then that music is “locked” and I can’t play it any longer.  That said, I can always use another service *or* purchase those albums that I just have to have.  I’m thinking that “renting” your music is the way things are going, though.

Lastly, the Zune Pass is a trick that Apple doesn’t have yet.  I want to support it if only to stick-it-to-Steve-Jobs.

</bitterness>

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My Zune makes me sad… :(

I have sadness.

Much sadness.

My Zune 80 makes me sad.

Why do you do this to me, Zune?

Haven’t I loved you?

Haven’t I heaped praise upon you?

Haven’t I wiped your screen clean?

Haven’t I kept you safely and securely in my pocket?

Haven’t I charged you fully when you required it, with n’ery a thought of the electricity bill that I would incur?

Why do you show me 50% battery life left, and then turn off?

Why does the Zune “support” team have NO IDEA what I’m talking about?

Why is this now happening on my 2nd Zune device?

Why do you mock me, Zune?

I thought you loved me.

You’re a tease.

==========================

Update: 09/22/2008

It appears that this battery issue has been resolved by the latest 3.0 firmware update for the Zune devices.  Basically, I returned a non-defective Zune because the Zune support team couldn’t atleast muster the phrase “why don’t you wait until the upcoming firmware release”.

Anyhow.  I’m glad it’s resolved now, so I can get back to being all lovey-dovey with my Zune!

De-ghetto-ify your Windows XP!

Let’s face it: the standard interface for Windows XP is starting to look pretty long-in-the-tooth.  In fact, I’ve never been a big fan of it.  That said, there are literally millions of users still working in XP every single day.  Personally, I say “move to Vista”, but for those of you who can’t (or won’t) take the plunge, here’s an easy way to make your XP-erience just a bit nicer!

Step1
Download the free “Royale Theme” for Windows XP.  Click here to download the .zip file.

Step 2
Open the .zip (compressed) file and double-click the ‘Royale Theme for XP’ file to install.  Keep all defaults and complete the setup process.

Step 3
Right-click on your desktop and choose Properties.  (Alternately, you can go to START > CONTROL PANEL > and double-click on DISPLAY)

Step 4
In the Display properties, you should be on the Themes tab.  From the Theme drop-down box, choose the ‘Royale’ entry and then click OK.

Step 5
Your interface will be quickly changed to start using the ‘Royale’ theme, which is quite nice looking, in my opinion.

Note:  You’ll also notice that your wallpaper is automatically changed.  Head back into the Display Properties, choose the Desktop tab, re-select your previous wallpaper (or a new one, if you like), and click OK.  Done.

————————————-

Before

After

Subtle changes in some respects, but it definitely helps the XP interface feel more “fresh” and “current”.  Again, my opinion.

For those of you who are wondering about the origins of this theme, evidently it is an *official* Microsoft theme that was extracted from the ‘XP Media Center Edition’ install.  Nice!

Enjoy… 🙂

The ol’ Xbox 360 is (back) in the hiz-zouse

We were happy to receive our *replacement* Xbox 360 this past Friday.  Not too long of a wait, I must say.  I wondered if we would receive a “repaired” X360 (our original), a refurbished unit, or an entirely new unit altogether.  Well, I am happy to report that we received a brand new console that was manufactured just a few weeks prior!  How cool is that? 🙂

Funny that I should say “cool”.

Our new console has twice now done something that we never, ever saw on our previous unit: the 2-red-quadrants-of-shut-offed-ness.  Ever seen this?  Evidently this is the message that your Xbox 360 has reached some sort of internal temperature threshold, and then shuts itself down.  Microsoft even has a KB article on this.  This “behavior is by design”, I imagine.  I’m guessing that the (almost certainly) heat-related RRoD issues are now dissuaded by lower temperature thresholds in the Xbox.

Less heat = less issues = less RRoD = less failed units = less $$$ out the door

To be fair, we’ve always kept our console in a TV cabinet.  Evidently this is an undesirable situation, as the (above) KB article states…. “Do not put the Xbox 360 console in a confined space, such as a bookcase, a rack, or a stereo cabinet, unless the space is well-ventilated.” Guess what?  That’s where we keep our entertainment stuff!  Now we’re just leaving the doors of the TV cabinet open while we use the X360, but at the expense of our hearing and sanity.  Geez these things are loud.  Too loud.  WAY TOO LOUD.

It’s obnoxious.

Meanwhile, the rest of the getting-our-Xbox-up-and-running-again experience has been fine.  Our profiles and saved games were all fine.  Connecting to our wireless required re-entering the key, but that’s easy-to-do.  All in all, a fairly smooth transition.

The exclusive RRoD club

This past Saturday, my son pressed the power button on our Xbox 360 and received this in return…

For the unlearned among us, that is the infamous “Red Ring of Death”.  I’ve heard about it for the past couple of years now, but had never actually seen one in person.  Until now, that is.  Strangely enough, my buddy (and neighbor) EJO was also recently inflicted with the RRoD.  My X360 was a tried and true “launch” console, and EJO purchased his shortly thereafter launch.

Wacky.

Anyhoo… Microsoft has extended support for the Xbox 360 to 3-years in cases involving the RRoD.  That’s a good thing, since my box (a gift from my brother, I might add) is over 2 1/2 years old!  Certainly well out of the standard 1-year warranty.  To take advantage of this extended warranty, simply go to Xbox.com, click on the Support link, and then click on the ‘Repair Your Console’ graphic on the right-hand side.  It’s just that easy!  Well, it should be.

To be perfectly honest, I ended up contacting the Xbox Support team five times.  For 3 days in a row, their support ticket system was down for “updates”.  Not cool.  Equally as aggravating is their voice-activated phone system which makes me feel like an idiot for talking to no one, while simultaneously extending my hold times.  Thanks, Microsoft.  For whatever reason, I’d have to reiterate the entire issue + my steps to resolve it each and every time I called.  Perhaps that was due to the “updates”, but it’s still frustrating.  All that said, my final call to Microsoft was easy and well-handled.  A prepaid shipping label was emailed to me — you can also opt to have a labeled physically mailed to you, or an entire shipping box — and I received it within hours.  I packed up the Xbox — minus my custom faceplate, wireless receiver, and harddrive — and shipped it off.  I should see it again within 2 weeks, or so I’m told.

I guess we’ll see.

Lastly, I’m curious as to whether or not I’ll received my same X360 back, or some refurbished unit.  I’m assuming a refurbished one.  Here’s hoping it works well for years to come!  I’ll check in after the replacement arrives…

Windows 98 — I so don’t miss you!

I was tasked with setting up a virtual hard disk install for Windows 98 today.  Like many software companies, we are finding *great* benefit to having virtualized operating system install images.  In our case, we use Microsoft’s Virtual PC 2007 at the desktop level, and Virtual Server 2005 at the server level.  Both are great products.  I’m also slated to check out VMWare for converting “live PCs” to virtual hard drives.  That’ll be very cool, if it works.

But I digress.

Setting up virtual hard disks is pretty easy, but Windows 98 presented some unique challenges.  For starters, finding an .ISO image of Windows 98 proved more difficult than I thought.  Actually, I ended up having to make my own .ISO image from a Win98 install CD that we had buried several years ago.  I put in the physical CD, and then used ISO Recorder to make an .ISO image out of it.  Easy.  The first real problem arose when it dawned on me that I couldn’t boot from a Windows 98 setup CD.  Hmmmmmmm.  Virtually speaking, I essentially have a completely unused harddrive and a Win98 CD, at this point.  Guess I need to bust out my FDISK and FORMAT skills again!  I downloaded a Win98 ERD “virtual floppy image”, mounted that in my Virtual PC session, and I was off and running.  I used FDISK to create an active, 10gig partition — way more than is necessary for Windows 98 — and after a reboot, performed a FORMAT C: /S, which copies the system files for a DOS-bootable C: drive.

After all that fun, I booted from the Win98 ERD once again — which enables CD-Rom support — changed to the D: drive, found the install directory, and started ‘setup.exe’.  The install itself was relatively pain-less, but the final installed version was quite slow.  No bother — I simply selected the Action menu within Virtual PC and installed the Virtual Machine Additions.  One reboot later, Windows 98 is running much more smoothly.  My custom install takes up slightly less than 250mb on the harddisk.  That’s almost laughable!

Anyhow, having not used Windows 98 is quite some time, I was really reminded how little I miss that operating system.  Don’t get me wrong: back in the day I was most definitely a “Win98” fella, but things have most certainly moved on over the past decade.  The default “sliding” menus, the “web view” folders, Active Desktop (ugh!), and the folders that pertually open new folders, instead of using the existing one.  What a mess!

That said, my task is complete.  I can copy this out to the network for the occasional employee to download and test against.  Otherwise, I think we’ll just be steering clear of the old Windows 98 install.  No “nostalgia” is worth the hassle of having to use that old, rickety OS again….

 

Getting to know you, IIS 7.0

So… I’m finally getting around to installing and *using* some Windows 2008 servers around our office.  I like Windows 2008 so far.  It installs nicely, looks good, performs well, and appears to be very secure.   Not that previous versions of Windows Server were bad or anything.  In fact, the web server that I’ve just replaced was loaded with Windows 2000 Server “Standard” and was, at one point, up and running for nearly 3 years without a reboot!  That’s impressive, if you ask me.  Why replace the server then?  Well… eventually a dual P3-500mhz server starts feeling a bit sluggish 🙂

That said, I’ve just installed a Dell PowerEdge 1950 1U rack server with dual quad-core CPUs and 8 gigs of RAM.  It’s impressive today, but will be roughly the specs of my cell phone in a few years.  That’s technology for you.  Anyhow, a new box deserves a new OS.  Windows 2008 Web Server (64-bit) was installed, and that task went swimmingly.  The “web server” role in IIS 7.0 is a default for a “Web Server” OS, naturally, so that was taken care of.  Otherwise, IIS 7.0 is a different beast from its predecessors.  Very different.

In migrating to our new web server, I had forgotten to implement an “http redirect” off of one of our websites.  Basically, folks browsing to the old URL of http://www.mysillydomain.com/folder should be taken to http://www.myOtherSillyDomain.com instead.  I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s always been an easy task in IIS 5.0 and 6.0.  It should be just-as-simple in IIS 7.0, right?  Well, yes and no.  Basically, I couldn’t find it anywhere.  I searched online, browsed some blogs, and even (*gasp*) checked the help files.  They mentioned this awesome “HTTP Redirection” module, but it was nowhere to be found.

Finally, I decided to check the Add/Remove Roles portion of Windows 2008.  This is a setup first introduced in Windows 2003 and has carried forward.  It’s a good thing, actually, because it means that Windows Server installs relatively cleanly, and doesn’t include server functions that you never intend to use.  It’s also more secure, since items like POP3 access or an FTP server aren’t installed and running upon OS install, thus less to exploit.

What do you imagine I found?  Right there in the “Web Server” role — installed by default, if you remember — is the much-discussed “HTTP Redirection” feature.  Evidently that particular feature is NOT part of the default configuration.  Perhaps the help files could’ve mentioned that?  How about under the “HTTP Redirection” heading it says something like “Optional Install” so that I have something to go on?  Am I asking too much?  Perhaps.  Regardless, after checking the box and hitting “Install”, that feature was installed and ready for me to use.  It works just fine.

Live and learn.