Home » Ask the Expert

Category Archives: Ask the Expert

Surface Pro 3: Two weeks later

Are there problems with it?  Yes.

Do I absolutely love it? I love my kids and my dogs… but I suppose I do like it as much as I have ever liked a laptop or tablet… and I have had quite a few of them over the years!

What are the problems? There is really only one that you should be aware of if you are thinking of going out to buy one.  It’s the patches and the battery.

How, you may ask, do patches and batteries wind their way into a single problem?  Simple… as you probably know, everything in computers is managed by software drivers… and that includes the battery to some extent.  When you buy the device (or any device) you are prompted to apply patches, and at this point a couple of them for the Surface Pro 3 are firmware updates.  You apply the first one, and then you have a problem…

…Windows tells you there is no battery detected.  Worse, if you unplug the device it shuts off immediately.  The firmware update actually tells the computer that there is no battery installed.

BUT THERE IS! Wait a minute!  I was using it unplugged just a few minutes ago!  Where did it go?  Oh… I get it!  The pesky firmware is what screwed me up.  Let’s check to see if there is ANOTHER firmware update.  Plug it in, connect to the Internet, run Windows Update… By Jove, there it is!  Install it, and presto changeo, there’s my battery!

…and what a battery it is!  My original Surface Pro probably gave me 3 hours of battery (with Hyper-V and a bunch of other things draining it).  The Surface Pro 2 was probably closer to 5.  The Pro 3? I haven’t had it run dry on me yet… for the first time in my laptop-owning life I am not afraid to leave the house in the morning without the charger.

THE SCREEN BOSS, THE SCREEN!
(Imagine the voice of Hervé Villechaize if you would…)

Yes, there are a lot of improvements over the Surface Pro 2, but wow I never would have imaginged that the 1.4″ difference in screen size (12″ over 10.6″) would make that much of a difference.  As I told you recently I have an external 16″ screen that I keep in the trunk of my car so that I can have the dual screen experience on the go.  I don’t know that I have pulled it out once since I got the Pro 3… the combination of the slightly bigger screen and the much improved screen resolution make the extra screen redundant… at least when I am on the go.

Don’t get me wrong… the day the Pro 3 docking station is available I am buying it – I have pre-ordered it from the Microsoft Store, and I have the voucher for it (from something else I returned).  All I need is the e-mail saying it is in… and I expect that to be around the same time the remaining Surface Pro 3 models (with the Intel i3 and i7 CPUs) are released, sometime in August.  When I am at home (or an office) I will still want the multi-screen experience.  On the go?  Not necessary anymore.

A lot of people are saying I should have waited for the Intel i7 version, but the reality is I have not found myself lacking.  The Surface Pro 3 runs everything I need it to with 8GB of RAM and the Intel Core i5 CPU, and frankly I don’t want to spend the extra money (the i7 version will come in two models – 256GB storage for $1,599, and the 512GB model for $1,999.  Too rich for my blood, but thanks!

Conclusion

I am asked pretty often (including 3 minutes ago, as I sit at the Microsoft Store in Square One Mall blogging) whether the Surface Pro 3 is really a laptop replacement.  The answer, as with everything, is that it depends.  I would think that for the vast majority of people the answer is yes.  If you are a true hard-core gamer? Maybe not; there are some gamers who need more than 8gb of RAM.  If you are a coder? I have a friend who is a programmer who needs to run virtual machines running more than 8gb of RAM at all times.  (Did I mention that I LOVE the fact that it runs Hyper-V?  Well I do…). Aside from them?  I don’t know too many users – even power users – who need more than 8gb of RAM ever, not even occasionally.  For them (like myself) I would say that this is the device for you.

If you are in the Greater Toronto Area come down to the Microsoft Store at Square One or Yorkdale Malls to check it out! :)

The Wonder that is TechEd

The quiet of the Exhibitor Hall is disturbed by the sounds of preparation.  To my left there is a crew frantically working to fix something with a carpet.  There is some hammering, more yammering, and the sounds of carpet tape being unfurled. To my right there are two security agents talking, but they are too far off for me to know what about.  Somewhere in the distance the beeping of a crane reminds us that conference centres are a weird mix of indoors and out. Slowly… VERY slowly, the vendors and the booth bunnies are filtering in, mostly sitting around, many checking e-mail, others chatting quietly.

Day Two of TechEd North America is underway upstairs, with sessions and breakouts and hands-on-labs.  I rather suspect that many of the people attending those sessions are moderately hung-over, which would be par for the course for any major IT convention.

Thirteen hours ago, midway through my last shift in the Microsoft Springboard Booth, there were thousands of people milling about.  A great mixture of people wanting to learn, wanting to teach. A lot of people were out to collect swag for sure – at our booth they would range from asking for a box, reaching in and taking a box, to reaching in and trying to take a handful of boxes.  A few actually asked what was in the boxes, but to many that mattered less than getting something for free.  Some people, when they asked, would get a spun yarn about the contents… it breaks up the monotony. 

In truth, the best thing that we are giving away at the Springboard booth does not come in a box.  It doesn’t even come on the lanyards in the form of passes to the hottest party at TechEd (the Springboard Community Event!) but rather a link… www.microsoft.com/springboard, which is the link to the Springboard site, the best place for the IT Pro to learn about all things related to Windows 7, Office 2010, Internet Explorer 9, Desktop Deployment, Application Compatibility, and the Optimized Desktop.  It has articles, KBs, forums, and blogs.  Whether you are just now thinking about transitioning to Windows 7 and you need help planning your deployment, or if your entire org is on Windows 7 and you have questions about support, it’s there.

Of course TechEd is much bigger than our booth… the Microsoft pavilion is the center point, but if you look to the left and right (as well as the front and back!) you will see vendor booths, community booths, and more.  HP is here in full force, as is EMC… I count at least three CPLSes represented as well as several on-line and video learning companies – companies that sell practice exams and other exam-prep material.  There are vendors demoing their hardware, others selling software.  Of course the new trend is people selling cloud-based solutions, which until recently was geek-speak for vapourware, but now is a very real and viable solution, and critical in this day and age.

There is an entire section of the Exhibitor’s Floor dedicated to community… the MCT Lounge, the MVP Lounge… Blogger’s Row, Microsoft Learning, GITCA and other User Group services.  There is a stage where I saw Richard Campbell interviewing Mark Minasi yesterday, and of course the Microsoft Company Store, your one-stop shop for Microsoft-branded crap, but also a 20% discount off all books which ROCKS!

Upstairs there is a section devoted to exam-crams, as well as an entire exam center where I know of several people who have taken my advice to GET CERTIFIED!  One friend, I hope, will be taking his FIRST EVER certification exam exam today or tomorrow… and I will be there to be the first to congratulate him and welcome him to the MCP fold.

What are you looking for? If it has to do with IT then it is here in Atlanta, at Microsoft TechEd 2011 North America!

IT Pro Connection & the TechNet Flash

A couple of weeks ago Microsoft released Microsoft iSCSI Software Target for download, and I was thrilled.  I immediately decided to write about it, but before publishing what would end up the first of three articles, I decided to ping my buddy Rick Claus, IT Pro Evangelist for Microsoft Canada, and ask him if he wanted the articles for the CanITPro Blog (http://blogs.technet.com/b/canitpro). 

The first article, entitled All for SAN and SAN for All,  was published on April 7th.  It was simply an overview of SAN technology, and why having a software SAN that was supported by Microsoft was hugely important.

The second article, Creating a SAN using Microsoft iSCSI Software Target 3.3, goes through creating the target (LUN).  I included explanations and screen shots, but stopped short of creating a cluster.  We simply create the LUN and then connect to it with the iSCSI Initiator.

The title of my third article was changed without anyone asking or telling me.  I had originally called it At Last… Redundancy for All! but I have to settle for a more descriptive Creating HA VMs for Hyper-V with Failover Clustering using FREE Microsoft iSCSI Target 3.3.  Fortunately that is all that was changed, and it went live this morning (Monday April 18), eleven days after the first in the series.

There was a bonus to this series too… Microsoft Canada sends out the TechNet Flash every week, with the top piece normally being an editorial from one of the IT Evangelists.  Last week they invited me to write 150 words introducing the technology and linking it to the articles.  If you’ve ever spoken to me, sat through one of my presentations, or read my blog (duh!) then you will know that I am not a man of few words… but my original submission was exactly that!  It was then extended by 30 to expand on a thought, but it was cool nonetheless.  I am told it is the first time the ‘top page above the fold’ piece was given to a community member, and I am very excited about that! 

I hope the pieces help you, and I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback!

Get on the Bus!

For the third year in a row the Springboard Bus Tour will hit the road leading up to TechEd.  If you have never met the bus you are missing out, because it delivers expert advice, great learning, and huge career benefits to IT Pros.  It delivers answers to questions you may have been having about desktop deployment, virtualization, managing consumer-devices in the office, cloud solutions such as Intune and Office 365, Application Compatibility, and much more! MSW-Tour-CityBanners

This year I am very excited, because my city (my adopted city, really…) has been chosen as the launching point!  That’s right, on May 2nd we will be taking over the MaRS Centre, South Tower at 101 College Street in downtown Toronto, CANADA!  (Yes, I know there’s a typo on the registration page… we’re fixing it!

So if you live in the Golden Horseshoe – or really anywhere from London to Kingston, Buffalo to Orillia, come join us for a great day of Windows 7, Office, MDOP, and more!

REGISTER NOW and save your seat for this free day of technical demos, Q&A sessions, and real-world guidance from Microsoft experts. We’ll see you on the road… and make sure to come say hi to me, Sean, and the rest of the STEP MVPs!

Oh, and remember… if you are not in or around Toronto, the Springboard Series Tour Bus is making stops in Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Dallas, and Columbus… so you still have a chance to catch up and learn!

MSW_Tour_AllupBanner

Creating a Multi-OS Deployment Point with MDT!

Hey folks,

I know for months you’ve been on me because the screen shots in my Multi-OS Deployment Share post were lost. Today I am glad to say that I have created a video of it for the DPE team, and am glad to share it with you here!

Remember, this video creates the deployment point only; in order to put it onto a USB key, you would follow the instructions in my post Creating a Bootable USB Key.

I created this demo using my trusty HP ProLiant server running Hyper-V, and as always relied on Camtasia Studio for recording the video. Thanks to HP and TechSmith for the help… couldn’t have done it without you! –M

A Do-it-Yourself SWMI? No sweat!

Ok, let’s be honest.  We all know that we need to secure our Active Directory infrastructures, but many of us are not entirely sure how.  You may even know that Group Policy is a great tool to do it centrally, but with literally thousands of Group Policy settings available in Windows Server 2008 R2, where should we start?  You may even be advanced enough to realize that you should probably secure different OUs differently… but what policies should we apply to our Domain Controllers? to our Virtualization Hosts? to our Clients? and so on…

If you have the time (and the money) I strongly suggest taking Jeremy Moskowitz’s course on Group Policy… a one week deep-dive into Group Policy, and you will likely be an expert.  For the rest of us, Microsoft has created the Security Compliance Manager tool which will actually create the appropriate Group Policy Objects (GPOs) for you, list the settings for you in an easy-to-manage Microsoft Office Excel spreadsheet, and then allow you to apply them to the appropriate Organizational Units.

Don’t get me wrong… you should probably dedicate a day or two to getting to know this tool, but once you do, you’ll be done Smile  Check it out at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc514539.aspx and take the first step toward a Secure, Well-Managed Infrastructure!

Creating a Bootable USB Key

It seems that some of my articles got chopped during the move to WordPress.  Doh!  Here are the simple instructions to create a bootable USB key:

  1. Open a Command Prompt session with Administrator privileges.
  2. Run the Disk Partition utility (diskpart.exe)
  3. Type List Disk to see a list of drives on your computer.  Determine which is your USB key and select it. (Select Disk 2)
  4. Type Clean.
  5. Type Create Partition Primary.
  6. Type assign.
  7. Format the disk… I usually suggest using Windows Explorer using the Quick Format option.
  8. (back in DiskPart) type Active.
  9. Exit DiskPart and the Command Prompt.

At this point your USB key is bootable, and you simply have to copy the proper files onto it.  I generally create a Media Deployment Point in Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, and then copy the contents of the proper directory (x:\Media\Content) onto the key.

Have fun!

%d bloggers like this: