Category Archives: Blog

MCITP: Server Boot Camp, Virginia Beach

It was REALLY last minute… on Friday I got a mass e-mail from a training provider scrambling to replace a trainer who had cancelled at the last minute.  By some miracle of scheduling I was available; after a few hours of back and forth e-mails I booked my flight for Sunday to be at the training facility Monday morning.

All boot camps are hectic.  The pace is often ridiculous… it is frantic to rush through 15 days of classes in 10 days, but with a group of students as good as these, who have met the prerequisites and have the drive and the discipline, then it can be done.  We completed the first course (6421: Configuring and Troubleshooting a Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure) in four days instead of five, and the students all wrote the exam Thursday evening and Friday morning.  All passed (one needed to use his Second Shot Free, but that’s what it’s there for!) the first exam (70-642) and earned their first certification (MCTS: Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuration) and were psyched and energized to tackle two more courses over a six day period.


It cannot be easy for them.  The pace that the curriculum dictates I maintain is frenetic.  They are all drinking from the fire hose, and many have been learning concepts that they will never have the opportunity to implement or work with in their day to day jobs.  However the morning of Day One they all answered the questions I ask of every class, starting with ‘Why are you here?’ They all have their reasons, and since their employers all sent them most of them revolve around ‘I need the certifications and/or training to keep my job.’  I respect that.

During the two week class two of the seven students have celebrated birthdays.  These were marked by the class going to lunch together, happy birthday wishes, and (very small) token presents.  Neither birthday boy/girl missed class because they were out partying or celebrating too late.  Several times over the fortnight smartphones have vibrated with messages of the world coming to an end back at the office… yet nobody took time off of class because they understand the importance of learning.  When labs break they work out how to fix them, or ask for help (first of their fellow students, then of me).  When concepts are unclear the fellow students help clarify.  It is wonderful to watch.

None of them have complained about the pace, none has shied away from homework and I have not once heard a complaint about the extended work days and early morning.  As Master Lee (see my previous post about Master Lee’s Joonbi Taekwondo) taught his new student last night, our ability to succeed hinges on our willingness to work hard to achieve our goals.  As Grand Master Kim makes us recite before and after class, Everything is up to my mind, Sir!

These students know all of that, and have the work ethic, and now the certification, to prove it!

Way to go class!

An Real Honour from a True Geek Leader

Earlier in the week I received a Direct Message on Twitter from Jeff Wouters.  He is one of the IT Pro bloggers that I make a point of referencing whenever I can.  He is out of the Netherlands, and one of three IT Pros out of that country that I know and REALLY respect.

So when Jeff pinged me and asked if I would mind if he put The World According to Mitch on his Blog Roll, I was truly honoured.  Although I didn’t actually have a blog roll until then, Jeff’s honouring me prompted me to add one, and his blog (Jeff Wouters’s Blog) holds the current top spot.

Thanks Jeff!

Defective Microsoft Access? I don’t think so! Ask the Community!

Earlier today a LinkedIn contact asked me a question about Microsoft Office Access.  I don’t know a while lot about Access, but here is why I am such a huge proponent of the IT Pro Community.

The contact is someone who I met at a community event – an event I did on Windows Vista at the Association of Independent Consultants in Mississauga, Ontario.  We haven’t seen each other since, but we exchanged cards, and I remembered who she was.  She remembered me as the Microsoft MVP, a group of awardees that Microsoft bills as ‘Independent Experts, Real World Answers.’ 

Now, I honestly don’t know a lot about Microsoft Office Access.  Once upon a time I learned how to program simple databases, but that was about it… and in 2001.  However what I do know is how to reach out to the community, so I shot out a quick call to my community peeps on Twitter that I had a question about Access.  A bunch of people replied that they could help, including a member of the Krewe… a group of crazy nuts who know how to party at TechEd, but also do a LOT of great stuff… and they know their technology!

Brian Bell currently serves on the Syndication and Outreach workgroups with the Real Estate Standards Organization, The Microsoft International Consumer Advisory Board, The Krewe of Tech-Ed, and is VERY active as a leader and volunteer with The Boy Scouts of America (along with his son, Dillon).  Outside of that, Brian enjoys boating, fishing, whitewater, the beach, Cape Fear River, anything outdoors related, and most importantly, Brian enjoys spending time with his family and friends.  You can check out his entire blog at

So Brian and I took the conversation off-line.  I sent him the question, and he asked me to give him a few hours to get me the answer.  Sure enough, a few hours later he came back with a whopping answer!  It could never have happened without community.

The question was:

There is a conflict I’m dealing with trying to resolve. It relates to the use of an Access database to facilitate furniture and equipment asset information. There are claims that the database is “defective” and I know that this term may have different meanings in the software industry. I also wondered if I could discuss the scenario with you to see if you think it is something they can legally claim is defective or if the issues they encountered were “human error” which I think it is or could queries from the database just disappear or become corrupted while the file was being transferred from a USB storage device to their private mainframe. The tables are intact.

The answer from Brian Bell is:

USB Drives have been proven problematic in the JET database world…. And it is so that Microsoft Access uses Microsoft JET…..

The proper sequence AFTER writing the DB to a USB drive is to COMPLETELY close Access after the save with the USB drive still plugged in and wait about 20-30 seconds AFTER you THINK Access is closed (or go to taskman (I use the task monitor from Microsoft Sysinternals ) and make sure it has completely closed. Once completely closed, The USB drive must be “ejected” from the USB control panel and NOT unplugged until after the “it is safe to remove your device” has appeared..

Not following those guidelines specifically can cause issues and even IF that is followed correctly, problems can still occur. (Think back to our glory days when access databases almost always corrupted themselves when writing to a floppy)

If it is a multi-user environment where multiple users are trying to access the data off of the flash drive, that will also cause issues… This is because access uses Microsoft JET. SQl is required for multi-user accessing of data in a database so it is safe to assume these issues can also occur in a virtualized environment as well. This also includes if other users are attached (not using, just even attached in some way) to the database you are trying to save it will or can corrupt. You can use the UserRoster JeT tool to verify thie user count or attachment see

Opening and / or saving the dabatase in another program other than the same version of access (including the use of 3rd party apps) can cause corruption.

So,the basics which you already know.. Access is simply a tool. It’s essentially a database management system… Nuts & Bolts, it’s a container of objects that simply contains a table or multiple tables of data.

As long as the database you are using was created within Access and not another program imported into Access, there cannot be a defect as the relational objects were created by their own parent within its own container of table or tables.

While Access is not defective, there are parts that work WITH access that can be problematic.

These can include a poorly designed database table, corrupt connectors, odbc emulators or drivers /etc. Defective software.

Common problems with Access are issues surrounding its attributes.

With an Access 2007 or 2010 database the database cannot exceed 2gb minus the system object space.

The database has a max number of just over 32000 objects. It cannot have more than 1000 modules when HASmodule = true is set.

An object name can’t have more than 64 characters, no more than 14 characters in a password, no more than 255 users concurrently using the database, no more than 20 characters in a user or group name, (See bottom of email for the complete attribute table)

Exceeding any of the capability attributes can cause problematic issues with the database.

Now from your email, it looks like the database “appears” to be ok but when the data is moved (I am assuming saved as database) to a usb drive, it then appears to be corrupt?

Things to look for when things aren’t saving correctly are the obvious.. Is BitLocker running? Does the USB drive contain any encryption or other software? (Have you tried a different brand/style/size USB drive that has been newly formatted) Are the versions the same on the read PC as they are from the PC writing the file to the database?

I would also look at UAC, Group Policy and NAP settings if on a network. If on a network I would look on both the master GP server and the client PC to make sure something isn’t replicating the GP rules in the LAN or WAN.

I have seen corruption on DBs also if pulling over VNC, RDP and/or VPN.

If pulling by using a query or call, has it been triple checked? If so, try the call and remove the full call and just pull a small portion off of the same database to see if a “smaller” query returns good data…

Doyou have logging and debug on so you can see when the failure occurs exactly what is failing or can you send me the details of the error?

The bottom line is, Access is not defective however there are hundreds of things around access that can cause issues and be problematic…

If any of the attributes in the table below are exceeded, (assuming you are running access 07 or 10 , if not and you are running 03 0r 00 or 97, then the attributes are much lower the earlier in versioning you go…)

If you copy (save) the DB to the drive are you opening FROM the drive and not copying from the drive back to the computer? Depending on read/write rates for i/o that could perhaps cause an issue..




Total size for an Access 2010 database (.accdb), including all database objects and data

2 gigabytes, minus the space needed for system objects.

Note You can work around this size limitation by linking to tables in other Access databases. You can link to tables in multiple database files, each of which can be as large as 2GB.

Tip For more information on reducing the size of your database, see Help prevent and correct database file problems by using Compact and Repair.

Total number of objects in a database


Number of modules (including forms and reports that have the HasModule property set to True)


Number of characters in an object name


Number of characters in a password


Number of characters in a user name or group name


Number of concurrent users





Number of characters in a table name


Number of characters in a field name


Number of fields in a table


Number of open tables

2,048 including linked tables and the tables opened internally by Access

Table size

2 gigabyte minus the space needed for the system objects

Number of characters in a Text field


Number of characters in a Memo field

65,535 when entering data through the user interface;
1 gigabyte of character storage when entering data programmatically

Size of an OLE Object field

1 gigabyte

Number of indexes in a table

32 including indexes created internally to maintain table relationships, single-field and composite indexes.

Number of fields in an index or primary key


Number of characters in a validation message


Number of characters in a validation rule including punctuations and operators


Number of characters in a field or table description


Number of characters in a record (excluding Memo and OLE Object fields) when the UnicodeCompression property of the fields is set to Yes


Number of characters in a field property setting





Number of enforced relationships

32 per table, minus the number of indexes that are on the table for fields or combinations of fields that are not involved in relationships*

Number of tables in a query


Number of joins in a query


Number of fields in a recordset


Recordset size

1 gigabyte

Sort limit

255 characters in one or more fields

Number of levels of nested queries


Number of characters in a cell in the query design grid


Number of characters for a parameter in a parameter query


Number of AND operators in a WHERE or HAVING clause


Number of characters in an SQL statement

Approximately 64,000*

*Maximum values might be lower if the query includes multivalued lookup fields.

Form and Report



Number of characters in a label


Number of characters in a text box


Form or report width

22,75 in. (57.79 cm)

Section height

22.75 in. (57.79 cm)

Height of all sections plus section headers (in Design view)

200 in. (508 cm)

Number of levels of nested forms or reports


Number of fields or expressions that you can sort or group on in a report


Number of headers and footers in a report

1 report header/footer;
1 page header/footer;
10 group headers/footers

Number of printed pages in a report


Number of controls and sections that you can add over the lifetime of the form or report


Number of characters in an SQL statement that serves as the Recordsource or Rowsource property of a form, report, or control (both .accdb and .adp)





Number of actions in a macro


Number of characters in a condition


Number of characters in a comment


Number of characters in an action argument


Project specifications

The following list of tables applies to Access 2010 and Access 2007 projects:




Number of objects in an Access project (.adp)


Number of modules (including forms and reports that have the HasModule property set to True)


Number of characters in an object name


Number of columns in a table

250 (Microsoft SQL Server 6.5)

1024 (Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, 2000 and 2005)

Form and Report



Number of characters in a label


Number of characters in a text box


Form or report width

22 in. (55.87 cm)

Section height

22 in. (55.87 cm)

Height of all sections plus section headers (in Design view)

200 in. (508 cm)

Number of levels of nested forms or reports


Number of fields or expressions that you can sort or group on in a report


Number of headers and footers in a report

1 report header/footer;
1 page header/footer;
10 group headers/footers

Number of printed pages in a report


Number of controls and sections you can add over the lifetime of the form or report


Number of characters in an SQL statement that serves as the Recordsource or Rowsource property of a form, report, or control (both .accdb and .adp)





Number of actions in a macro


Number of characters in a condition


Number of characters in a comment


Number of characters in an action argument


The Genesis of my Career as an IT Consultant and Trainer

I can’t believe it has been eight years… I wrote this article for TechRepublic while I was still working for IGS Security in Montreal.  These articles are the genesis of my career as a computer consultant and IT Trainer and Presenter. 

The first article tells of how and why I began to transition from a day job working as an in-house IT Professional for someone else’s company.  It follows some of my thought process and the steps I took to ensure I would not get fired before it was really time for me to move on.  Of course, when I wrote it I had no intention of moving on, it was simply the natural course of actions that took place.

Article on Balancing Consulting with a Day Job

The second article is about how I got my start as an IT Trainer… even before I was certified!  I started volunteering to teach computers a few hours every week at the YM-YWHA Computer Drop-In Centre in Montreal.  My old friend Gabriel Mekies put his heart and soul into that place, and I hope that my contributions helped!

Volunteering your IT experience pays off professionally and personally

It is weird to go back and find articles I wrote so many years ago… I was in a very different place in my life, both professionally and personally.  It is good to see though that I was on the right track, and that I have stuck with it!

Keep Your Word, Be a Hero.

Last night I forgot to go out and buy soy milk for the baby.  We had half a container left and it wasn’t a NOW NOW NOW emergency, but I still told Theresa I would, and I forgot.  So this morning without being bidden I got out of bed a few minutes early, and while Theresa was in the shower I popped out to the store.  When I came back she and I were joking around and I pointed out that I was happier correcting my own mistake without being reminded than I would have been if she had pointed out my mistake.  She replied (rightly) that I was trying to get credit for doing my job… so no dice.

She was right of course… I am not a babysitter, I am a father taking care of my son.  If I told my wife that I would buy milk yesterday, I should not expect credit for remembering to buy it today.  That is the way I am, and the way most people should be.

More on that later…

When an e-mail blast came across my smartphone this morning from a training company that I have never worked with but respect, I was surprised to see that it was for a course that started on Monday.  Normally these last-minute frantic requests are tagged with ‘I have a trainer who is deathly sick’’ or ‘My trainer’s mother died.’  This one was ‘MY TRAINER BAILED ON ME.’  I felt bad, and since the class is one that I am qualified to teach, and because the work I have planned for the next two weeks is writing work that could as easily be done from a hotel room as from my office, I replied.  When the deal was all but signed, she told me that I was a hero and should have a cape and theme music.

While I think having my own theme music would be cool, I don’t think I would be much for capes.  I am glad that I can pull her fat out of the fire, but it got me thinking about what a hero is.

Having served in a forward unit of the military I fully understand the most common usage of the word, but there are a lot of heroes out there that don’t get recognized.  A mother who raises her children is a hero to them; at work the people you rely on every day in order to get your job done may not seem like a hero… but ask the person I am dealing with whether she thinks the trainer who ditched her could have been a hero.

The old adage says that oxygen isn’t important until you aren’t getting any.  People who do the day to day jobs that allow us to do our day to day jobs may not seem like heroes, but where would we be without them?  His irresponsible actions – essentially breaching his contract – would have caused my contact to through no fault of her own be in breach of contract with her client, which might have resulted in legal actions and penalties but would certainly have resulted in severe damage to her reputation.

Am I a hero for taking this gig?  Of course not; I am a contractor who is glad to take the gig.  My contact is paying the difference between what the other guy was willing to charge and what I insist on charging, but that is surely less than what it would have cost her to not fill the trainer spot.  I hope the trainer who reneged on his contract did so for very compelling financial reasons (he told her that they just weren’t paying him enough) because I am reasonably sure that he will never work for this company again.

When I say that all you have to do to be a hero is to keep your word, I mean it… if you don’t feel that you are appreciated for what you do, see how much worse it is when you don’t do it.

Have a great week-end everyone!

A New Stage in my Life

It didn’t start as I had expected it eventually would.  A week ago I was driving and I had the strangest sensation… I would look down at the dashboard periodically and when I looked up I felt as if I was going to lose consciousness.  Of course when you are driving down the highway with your family in the car it is an extremely bad idea to lose consciousness, so I channeled my energies to… stay awake, for lack of a better term.

As the days went on I noticed the experience was getting worse, and pretty consistent.  It did not matter how well I had slept, or if I was listening to music, or if there were people in the car.  Also I noticed that it was not only happening when I drove, but also in all sorts of other situations. 

Of course I told Theresa immediately, and I did my best to compensate… I did not look at the dashboard, for example.  I turned my smartphone off when I drove.  We hoped it would go away; Tuesday I took my older son on a day trip, and realized it was getting worse.  When we got back to Oakville I dropped him off at home and went to the walk-in clinic.  The doctor reassured me that my blood pressure and blood sugar were normal – I have been on a diet for two months and thought the weight loss might be an issue, but that didn’t seem plausible if my sugar was normal.  I thought it could be ocular, and he agreed it was definitely possible, but to be safe I should make an appointment to see my family physician (whose office is one floor above the clinic).

My family doctor saw me this afternoon, and confirmed that it was likely not a tumour, and that my suspicion was very plausible.  He told me to see an optometrist, and if he couldn’t rule out vision issues or glaucoma then I should return for further tests. 

I sat in my car and Binged the term optometrist Oakville Ontario and came up with a decent selection, and started calling.  The first two could not see me for a couple of weeks, but the third was able to fit me in this evening.  I zipped down to Oakville Place and met the doctor, who chastised me for waiting four years between checkups.  He also told me that my age and my profession have conspired against me, and that although I was indeed tumour and glaucoma free, I did need glasses.  He wrote me my prescription,and I went next door to Lens Crafters, as I phoned Theresa to meet me there – after all, she looks at my face a lot more often than I do!Mitch Glasses 2

By the time she got there I had picked out three frames, none of which I ended up choosing.  Truth be told, I think the Oakley frames were possibly 5-10% nicer than the Club Monaco pair that we ended up choosing, but for the $210 difference I was just as happy with these.

So the day after my thirty-ninth birthday, and for the first time since Boot Camp, I am wearing glasses indoors.  I remember in my last year of high school when Dr. Foreman prescribed my first pair.  I remember the excitement of the novelty wearing off in a hurry, and I never quite did get used to them, nor was I very religious about wearing them.  I suspect that this time I will have the maturity and discipline to take the time to get used to them.  Despite the constant cajoling of my wife who keeps telling me it is a sign that I am getting really old, I think I can get used to them, especially since this time we took the time to find the right pair that would be part of my face for the foreseeable future.  Theresa, it should be mentioned, can make as much fun as she wants, as she is blind as a bat and has worn glasses as thick as my smartphone since she was a child.  You would think she would be a little more understanding, what with the coincidence of this happening the day after my birthday!

Am I going blind?  No.  Truthfully I can really see as well without the glasses as I can with them.  They are helping my eyes to adjust their focus… I hope they will help me keep my professional focus, and maybe even keep me from getting tired as quickly as I have in recent years.

A Brief History of how Microsoft (and others) Changed the World… Part 1.

In October of last year I pitched an idea to the editor of Backbone Magazine for an article about how Microsoft changed the world.  We were a month shy of the 25th anniversary of Microsoft Windows, and I thought it would be a fitting and timely piece.  He asked me to write a short piece on my view of it, but after sitting down at the keyboard for a few hours I realized that I was over 5,000 words… and had not nearly finished.  Peter and I agreed that the piece would be wrong for Backbone, but I have continued to work on it with the goal of publishing it here.  As it is a combination of history (although I have not checked most of the facts – they are from memory) and opinion, where better to publish it than on The World According to Mitch.

The following is only the first installment… there will be several parts to this article before it is done.  I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane, and look forward to your comments and feedback! –M

In 1974, chiefly on the strength of an article about a kit-computer in a fringe magazine, a company was incorporated in New Mexico by a Harvard dropout and a couple of friends. Within five years nearly every home computer in the world would be running their software.

While that may seem like an incredible feat, we must put it into the perspective of the day, which is that while there were a lot of people trying to develop a market around the home computer, there weren’t really all that many such machines out there, and the ones that were out were not what we would recognize today as ‘personal computers.’ In fact they had a much closer resemblance to video game machines with keyboards – in fact some of the biggest names were exactly that.

It certainly would have been a far-out prediction to make in 1974 that not only would most households in the developed world have at least one and often several computers in it, but that they would be as ubiquitous as a toaster and in many cases begin to replace common devices such as television, radio, and the telephone.

How did we get from there to here? The music revolution can be attributed to a number of recognizable factors, such as the development of the MP3 file format and personal digital music players such as the iPod. What were once called ‘Record Stores’ are going bankrupt faster that you can take notice of an industry’s demise. Voice over IP (VoIP) has started replacing the Switched POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) in recent years, but it was fifteen years ago that people started connecting their microphones to their computers for the express purpose of speaking with people remotely. Before that – as far back as the early nineteen eighties – computer-savvy people (kids may have been the most prominent but there were plenty of wired-in adults as well) were connecting their computers over the tradition phone system (using a device called a MoDem) to chat with (and in many cases to make) friends on public and private Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes). The Department of Defense (DARPA, actually) had already collaborated with universities to develop an international network of interconnected mainframes that was originally called the ARPAnet but which today is open to all and is more commonly referred to as the Internet. Television was not meant to be a passing fad, but with the development of technologies that allowed highly compressed transmission of audio-video over the ‘Ether’ has forced traditional television to evolve without any identifiable plan, while tolling the death knell of the video rental store.

All of this was done independently (although admittedly the two industries that seem to be the common thread to the development of the enabling technologies are, strangely enough, the military and the adult entertainment industry. Strange bedfellows indeed!) and to attribute all of these technological evolutions to a single company or even a single movement would be folly. However it would be a lie to say that our world has not been changed by the advent of the personal computer industry.

In the 1970s the personal computer (a term that had not been coined yet) was strictly the domain of hobbyists and enthusiasts – often referred to derogatorily as ‘geeks’. We had come a long way since the only way we could interact with computers was with Machine Language (that world-changing leap is credited to Admiral Grace Hopper, USN) but that did not mean that we could still have an intelligent, fluid conversation with them. Many of us remember the first time a computer said Hello to us… however in order for that conversation to take place someone had to first create a program to do so… something like the following:

10 PRINT “Please type your name.”

20 INPUT Name$

30 PRINT “Hello, “ Name$ “! How are you today?”

40 INPUT How$

50 IF How$=”Good” THEN PRINT “That’s great! I hope it continues!”: GOTO 100

60 PRINT “That’s too bad. I hope your day gets better!

100 END

Enthusiasts all over North America were learning the Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC) that was created by that group of kids in Albuquerque. The first ‘creation’ that the Microsoft Corporation marketed was a resounding success… but still not nearly popular enough to actually change the world.

In 1979 there were several home computers on the market, but three of the most popular were the Atari 800, the Commodore VIC 20, and the Apple ][. Atari was a pioneer and industry leader in video games, and making the leap from one industry to the other was, at the time, not too much of a stretch. Commodore was better known for business machines and devices – they made the PET computer but also filing cabinets. It was the Apple Corporation – essentially a couple of guys named Steve working out of their garage – that was the dark horse; they were also hungrier than their competition, and had something that the established players lacked, in that they were just like their target market – hobbyist geeks. In all likelihood nobody reading this article is currently using a computer by Atari or Commodore today… certainly not as their primary computer. However statistically there is a decent chance that some of them are using an Apple, and if you expand that out to mobile devices that percentage shoots up from the single-digits to the very high double-digits. They have had good times and bad, but of the major players from the dawn of the personal computer era Apple is one of the few that remain.

Apple was so successful with the Apple ][ line (including the ][+ and the most popular //e) that companies started developing ‘clones’ of the platform – essentially copies of the computer that looked the same, felt the same, and ran the same programs. In the early 1980s while high-end computer stores were selling the real McCoy for around $3,000 smaller computer stores (and electronics stores and eventually department stores) began selling these clones for about half the price. They were so successful that they began to hurt Apple’s bottom line. When it was time to develop the next platform they would not make the same mistake… they would create a proprietary system that could not be copied so easily. Although rumours of Mac clones would occasionally come up, nobody ever successfully cloned Apple’s GUI-based system.

Microsoft’s founders decided early on that they could either make hardware or software, but to make both would mean to make neither well. They had done very well with the BASIC language that was on most computers of the day. When they were invited to Armonk, NY to discuss developing an operating system for what the giant of the day, International Business Machines, were calling the IBM PC, they made what might be one of the most fateful decisions in the history of the computer industry – rather than developing the OS and then selling it to IBM, they would license it to them, and every computer that IBM would sell would include that OS, and in turn they would pay Microsoft a licensing fee for. The leaders of IBM, who at the time were not convinced that the PC would ever amount to much, thought they were making a good deal. In retrospect, this decision would be one of the nails in the coffin of Big Blue, while at the same time would make a lot of millionaires and then billionaires at Microsoft.

While IBM was developing the PC they turned to another company – Mitch Kapor’s Lotus – to develop a couple of business applications for the platform. As they had traditionally made a fortune selling hardware, they missed the signs that the future leaders of the computer industry would not sell hardware but software. Like the Apple before them, the PC would be cloned for much less money – rather than developing their own CPU they turned to Intel and licensed the 8086, and did not think to write any non-compete agreements, which allowed Intel to sell their CPUs to companies like COMPAQ and others. Intel, who had not thought that anyone would really want to clone their CPUs, did not protect their designs very well.

Just as with the Apple //e, whose computers were cloned and sold cheaper by their competition, IBM’s PC was cloned and sold for a fraction of the cost. IBM was a giant that was too big to recognize the threat, and too set in its ways to notice the world passing them by. When COMPAQ was the first to market with e PC that was completely compatible with IBM’s, but which leveraged the power of Intel’s new 80386 processor, IBM was far too behind to catch up quickly. The once industry leader reinforced the industry view of them as a fading giant when they finally released the PS/2 line, and a number of them still ran the original 8088 and 80286 processors. Today, thirty years after the IBM PC was introduced, the vast majority of us have PCs that can trace their lineage back to that original machine made by IBM in Tampa, Florida. Very few of them are made by IBM, and even the ones who are direct descendants of the original are made by a Chinese company called Lenovo, who bought IBM’s PC business several years ago.

In the meantime Intel, whose CPUs were also being clone, was getting wise. While it was too late for the 80386 and 80486 lines, their next generation, the Pentium line, would be different enough in architecture that it would be difficult to properly clone, while at the same time changing the naming to an actual copyrightable name rather than a generic number ensured that their competition would have to begin to evolve on their own. One of those competitors (AMD) did and would again become real competition to Intel, but with their own product – not simply a clone of the original. (Although to this day we refer to 32-bit software as x86, from the original Intel design, it is important to note that it was AMD that was first to market a 64-bit processor, and while we do refer to that architecture as x64, the familiar i386 directory in Windows has quietly been retired, and the AMD64 is prevalent, if silent, in the Windows source and installs.

In the late 1970s XEROX (another major player in the business machines industry) dabbled with personal computers, but wanted to make the experience easier for the end user. They developed a prototype of a computer that did not need a keyboard for operation; rather they developed what would eventually be called a graphical user interface (GUI) that allowed us for the first time to interact with a computer spatially rather than with words and numbers. Rather than typing commands, the user would move a pointing device that would cause the cursor to move and control objects on the desktop (another term that would be coined later). While it was a brilliant idea, it was ahead of its time. XEROX determined that the projected cost of the PARC 9000 would be in excess of $13,000 – far too expensive to make it a successful product. They mothballed it, but would occasionally demonstrate it to visitors of their Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in Silicon Valley. Two fateful visitors were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, both of whom recognized possibilities that XEROX might not have seen.

If it is the widespread proliferation of the GUI that changed the world, then credit has to go to the Apple Corporation, who were first to market – first with the LISA and then with the Macintosh systems. They beat both Microsoft’s Windows and OS/2 (a joint development effort of IBM and Microsoft) by several years. When Microsoft did finally release Windows 3 (the first version that was commercially viable as a standalone product) in 1989 most people thought they were simply copying the hugely successful Macintosh, which was still only available to people willing to buy Apple’s computers. In fact they were still behind the trend, because by this time the most popular software for the PC was well and truly entrenched in businesses, and while they would run on Windows with a bit of effort, they were still text-mode applications that would only run using PIF files that would ‘wedge’ them into Windows.

During the course of the next few years, however, something phenomenal happened. Software companies started developing software to run on Microsoft Windows. At first it was the same desktop publishers that had been leveraging a run-time edition of Windows for several years, such as Aldus’ PageMaker and Ventura’s Publisher. It is easy to forget today that in those crossover days – when the GUI was not actually part of the operating system but rather loaded on top of it – that there was competition for the PC’s desktop. Digital Research released their version – GEM 3.0 – around the same time as Microsoft released theirs, and it was not immediately clear which platform would prevail. However Microsoft made it easier for third-party developers to create software that ran on Windows, and the battle did not last very long. It was Microsoft that came out on top. Soon those companies whose software led the industry – Lotus, dBASE, and WordPerfect to name a few large players – began developing GUI versions of their applications. The first iterations may not have been as easy to work with as their text-based versions, by running them on Windows the end-user could begin to do something they had never been able to do before… run several applications simultaneously. They could write a document in WordPerfect, reference their spreadsheet in Lotus 1-2-3, and then create a mail-merge with the dBASE database… without exiting any of them… just like some people did on the Macintosh computers that were very user-friendly, but had a much more limited number of available applications.

Microsoft had, of course, been creating software applications for several years, both on the PC and on the Mac. They had a word processor that was never as popular as WordPerfect, and what became Excel never took a lot of market share from Lotus 1-2-3. What they had going for them, however, was the vision of interoperability between the most common applications that were used in business. While other companies came to market with application bundles before Microsoft Office was even a vision, but the ability to not only work with the applications simultaneously, but to also be able to copy information from one and seamless paste it into another – while maintaining the proper format (whether source or destination) really was a game changer. That more than anything likely sealed the fate of fulfilling the prediction of a PC on every desktop.

To be continued… stay tuned!

I am You, You are Me.

A couple of months ago I was in the cafeteria at Microsoft and I came up with an idea for a blog article, which I then gave to Rick Claus for the IT Pro Connection.  It was originally titled ‘I am You, You are Me.’  He added the rest of the title, but I didn’t object.  It’s all about participating at user group meetings… and help with the community!  Check it out at I am you, you are me. We are Community!.

Gartner agrees with me… Hyper-V is for real!

In September Microsoft Canada contracted me as a Virtual Partner Technology Advisor, tasking me with evangelizing Microsoft virtualization solutions.  One of the reasons I was such a good fit for the role is that I am very familiar with both Microsoft’s and VMware’s server virtualization solutions – I teach and consult on both platforms.  I am a VMware Certified Professional (VCP 4) as well as a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) Virtualization Administrator.

For the past ten months I have (in an official capacity) espoused the benefits of Hyper-V and the Microsoft Server Virtualization Solutions.  I have visited over thirty partners and given a dozen or more presentations to user groups; I have taught at least five full classes of 10215A to partners and end users alike, and I continually hear the same question from IT Pros and users alike: ‘What you are telling us and showing us is nice, but can Microsoft really compete head to head with VMware for market dominance?  Are they really a legitimate player in the virtualization space that has for so many years been dominated by a single player?

My answer has been yes every time, and each time Microsoft releases new versions of Hyper-V – first 2008 R2, then this past winter Service Pack 1 – they come closer to technological parity.  The closer they come to being an equivalent technology (and they are now closer than ever!) the more the deciding factor is going to start coming down to price… and man, does Microsoft ever win in that category!

Of course it is easy to see me as biased, but I’m sure we all agree that Gartner is unbiased.  According to their latest (June 30, 2011) Magic Quadrant for x86 Server Virtualization Infrastructure, Microsoft has firmly taken a position in the Leaders square.  For years VMware alone occupied that coveted position (based on rankings along the X-axis of completeness of vision, and the Y-axis of ability to execute).  VMware (who it should be noted are still the leaders)  has Microsoft and then Citrix nipping at its heels.

According to the report:

Citrix and Microsoft have joined VMware in the Leaders Quadrant by increasing vision and execution respectively. Although market share leader VMware continues to set the standard in products and the pace in terms of strategy, Microsoft has increased its market share (especially among midmarket customers new to virtualization), and Citrix is leveraging its desktop virtualization strengths and its free XenServer offering to expand its server virtualization share. The road map from virtualization to cloud computing is rapidly evolving, and executing will be very important during the next year as this market continues to rapidly evolve and grow.

Interestingly one of the factors that many of the companies I have spoken to with regard to this choice – price, and the ability to make a profit off the solution – is called out in the report as both a key strength and a weakness ‘…when it comes to influencing the channel to promote its product, rather than its competition.’  Because Hyper-V is a free product (or, more accurately, is a component of a product that the client is already buying), there is nothing more to sell… the partners cannot mark up another product. 

One of the points listed in the Gartner report under ‘Cautions’ is the ‘Hypervisor dependence on a running copy of Windows as a parent operating system’ can also be viewed as a strength, because of the sheer amount of different hardware types supported, ranging from high-end server farms used in the enterprise to laptops and white-boxes that IT Pros, enthusiasts, and students may have in their basement as learning platforms.  For a recent presentation I was forced to downgrade my VMware hypervisor to an older version simply because ESX 4.1 was not supported and would not even install on my demo box. To quote the report:

The most significant hypervisor difference continues to be Microsoft’s reliance on a parent operating system on each virtualization host — which carries the benefit of a proven driver architecture, but the burden of potentially more planned downtime for patching and maintenance (however, Microsoft’s patch record to date for its parent operating system has been good).

All in all, I think it is going to be hard for VMware to remain the industry leader for long.  Let me be clear: they make great products.  Whatever my beef may be with the company, I don’t have a bad word to say against their server virtualization technology.  However with Microsoft catching up as fast as they are (System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2012 is currently in beta) it is hard to see VMware remaining the industry leader for too much longer without coming up with something so dramatically new and unique as to vault them once again ahead of all other players.

I look forward to seeing vSphere 5 (possibly being released as early as July 12th); from what I have read mostly through unsanctioned sites it will be VERY interesting to see.  However I still don’t see it being worth the price difference. 

One thing’s for sure… it will be an interesting couple of years in the virtualization space!

Office 365–Complex or Options?

Last week Microsoft officially launched its cloud-based infrastructure offering, Office 365.  As a virtual insider I have been using this solution for the past six months for my IT consulting firm, and frankly had forgotten that it was a beta offering.  That is because while the packaging may be new, all of the applications – both client- and server-side – are mature products that released to manufacturing long since.

I am not surprised by the number of negative reviews; the different offerings and price points are complicated to understand, owing to the sheer number of them.  For the do-it-yourself guy who is not very technical it may be difficult setting up the DNS records properly.  Some of the features available in the rich client versions are not available in the on-line applications.

While I may disagree with some of the criticism I want to be clear that I share your pain; this morning I finally opened the e-mail that essentially said that ‘The Office 365 beta program is over; we hope you have enjoyed using it… now it’s time to start paying for it!’ I was disappointed that there was no link in the e-mail that would lead me to where I could do that.

When I did log into my management site ( I was greeted with a simple, discrete line up top reminding me that I had 42 days remaining in my free trial subscription.  I was pleased by this because it takes the pressure off somewhat… until I click ‘Buy now’ and am told immediately that I need the E3 level subscription for my company. 


Fortunately a closer read let me know that I had other options… I have already purchased the Office Professional clients for my computers, so that would save me a ton of money.  So now I had to look at my other options:


These are the bundles available… but there are so many components, what if I only want to pick and choose the ones I want?


What… there’s more?  Wow, keep scrolling!


Ok at least I am near the end… all I have to do is expand Additional Services and I’ll know everything…


All of a sudden this is looking daunting and expensive… maybe I should just buy a license of Windows Small Business Server 2011 to run my infra… wait a minute!  I had one of those ‘smack my forehead’ moments.  Doesn’t Microsoft usually put together special packaging and pricing for small businesses?  Certainly the six of us who use our corporate e-mail (and SharePoint, and and and) would qualify as an SMB… let’s see if I can find that anywhere on the page…


Okay, let’s click here and see what turns up…


Now wait a minute… $6/month per user?  There has to be a catch… scrolling down I see this plan offers me all of the services I need (and still many that I don’t)… I am still looking for a catch!

I haven’t found one… If you have the Office client (which I do) or are willing to use on-line apps (which have most but not all of the functionality, and have the pesky disadvantage of not being available on airplanes) then smaller organizations are in luck. $72 per user/year is not a lot considering the time I would have to spend installing, configuring, and maintaining my own Exchange and SharePoint servers.

So what about the confusing options for Enterprise?  There are absolutely a lot of choices.  There are people who will always say that Microsoft can’t get anything right, and the people who poo poo these editions and tiers are the same people who would complain that if they had fewer choices they would be restricted in their options.

For smaller businesses it is a no brainer, and for larger organizations they will have to sit down and plan what options they need.  Does Office 365 need more thought than competitive options?  Sure… but it also offers more choice.

It was Twenty Years Ago Today!

Ok, well it wasn’t, but I had the Beatles running through my head.  It is amazing what can remind you of the oddest things from the past…

In June, 1988 I was finishing Grade 10 and my last computer course on the Apple //e was behind me.  I had made the decision to sell my old Apple clone and buy a new PC – it was an IBM clone that I bought from my buddy Steven Rich.. it had 640KB of RAM and a 40MB hard disk.  It was absolutely amazing!

One of my best friends at the time was a kid named David Jedeikin.  David was, as I was, a computer fanatic.  He was one of the last hold-outs of the Atari 800 which I had gotten rid of in 1985, and he is definitely someone I respected when it came to computers.  He kept asking me what was so great about the PC?

It’s got 640KB of RAM!’

What do I need that much memory for?

It has a hard disk!

Yeah but it is still low-res graphics and has no sound.

It runs all of this great software!

But it still doesn’t have graphics that compare to my GR8 mode!

It does everything you could even possibly imagine!

Really?  Does it do Windows?


Let’s put that conversation into perspective.  Today we live in a world dominated by Microsoft Windows.  Love it or hate it, there is no denying the impact that Windows has had.  It (along with Microsoft Office) are the only two consumer products in the history of the world used by over one billion people worldwide.  In 1988 Bill Gates was not a household name, and unless you worked with a very short list of applications (primarily desktop publishing) you probably had never heard of Microsoft Windows.

Like many IT professionals I make a decent living thanks to the preponderance of computers in the world.  Would we all be in the business without Microsoft Windows?  Well, maybe… Imagine an alternate History in which Microsoft didn’t make it big, either GEM or Apple or someone someone else would have won the war for the desktop. 

As a lot of people have pointed out to me, Microsoft doesn’t always get there first.  This is true with so many of the technologies I use every day – Apple released it’s GUI OS before Windows, and VMware pre-dated Hyper-V; several score companies released gaming systems before Microsoft came up with its X-Box and lord knows it took them a long time to get their smartphone right.  Before there was Microsoft Office Word there was WordPerfect, Word Star, and a hundred other word processors, just like Lotus 1-2-3 and VisiCalc pre-dated Microsoft Office Excel.

When people point these realities out they usually present them as a challenge.  That’s not how I see it though.  The truth is that first is not always best.  The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.  If you don’t believe me I ask how many of you listen to a Marconi radio, drive a Daimler, or enjoy your music on an Edison phonograph?

I haven’t spoken with David in a while, although I do plan to read his book.  I don’t know when he finally retired that old Atari of his, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his parents threw it out (or packed it away forever) when they moved off of Roslyn Rd.  I do know one thing though… whatever computer he is using today most likely does do Windows… if not in the way that he meant way back when.

Uninstall the VMM Agent from Server Core

I found myself with a weird problem this morning.

Most of the time I manage my virtualization environment with System Center Virtual Machine Manager.  However because of a client project I have re-implemented System Center Essentials 2010, which has most of the VMM components that I use integrated into it. 

In order to add virtualization hosts to SCE you have to ‘Designate a Host’.  I clicked on that and selected my HP ProLiant hosts.  Unfortunately it took a couple of seconds before reporting an error that said that an incompatible VMM Agent was already installed on the box.

With System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008R2, when adding hosts you have the ability to take over hosts that had previously been members of other VMM environments.  However I expect that also applies to compatible agents.  It didn’t take long to figure out I needed to uninstall the VMM Agent from my existing hosts manually.

My ProLiant ML-350 has a full install of Windows Server 2008 R2.  My ProLiant DL-585 has a Server Core install, which means uninstalling the agent has to be done manually.  It looks a lot harder than it has to be… on my server it is:

MsiExec.exe /I {049FF35D-4F8D-4DA0-A9EF-D7142186DBDF}

No problem, huh?  Of course that GUID is unique to each installation.  Fortunately there’s a great ‘cheat’ that is going to make your life easier.

1) Launch the Registry Editor, and navigate to HKLM-SOFTWARE-Microsoft-Windowsimage

2) Find the term System Center Virtual Machine Manager.  You will have to find the right one – there will be several instances of it.  One of them will have on the same key a String called Uninstall String.  Open that up, and select the entire string.

3) Paste the entire string into the command prompt and press Enter.

Wait a minute or two… but that’s it!  There’s nothing left to do.  It’s that simple.  Now I am able to Designate my Host without a problem, and System Center Essentials will install its own VMM agent.

Happy virtualizing, and have a great week-end! -M

A Brief Comparison of Features Between VMware and Hyper-V (Guest Blogger)

A few months ago Chris Childerhose, a consultant and MCITP with a local Microsoft Partner, impressed me when the afternoon of Day 5 of my class on Windows Server Virtualization (10215A) he sat the exam 70-659 and scored a perfect 1000.  He has since gone on to pass the remaining exams to earn the certification Microsoft Certified IT Professional: Virtualization Administrator 2008 R2.  As an advocate of Microsoft virtualization he was asked to put together a comparison to vSphere 4.1.  This is what he came up with.

Microsoft Hyper-V – Bundled Virtualization Software

clip_image002With Microsoft’s Hyper-V you can consolidate many servers down to fewer physical servers without compromising on services.  Hyper-V allows for the consolidation of multiple server instances as separate virtual machines running on a single physical machine (the Virtualization Host).

So how does Hyper-V compare to VMware, the de facto standard for virtualization? Microsoft has made great improvements to Hyper-V and with the latest release (2008 R2 SP1 has added many features that can be found in VMware.  This list outlines many of them:


vSphere 4.1

Hyper-V 2008 R2

Bare-metal Hypervisor imageESX/ESXi imageHyper-V
Centralized Hypervisor Management imageVirtual Center Server imageSystem Center Virtual Machine Manager
cross-platform hypervisor management imageNone imageSystem Center Virtual Machine Manager
virtual machine backup imageVCB  or 3rd party products imageWindows Server Backup, System Center Data Protection Manager, or 3rd party products
High Availability / Failover image(Via Virtual Center Server) imageFailover Cluster Manager
VM Migration imagevMotion (Via Virtual Center Server, Enterprise Plus) imageLive Migration
Storage Live Migration image(Via Virtual Center Server, Enterprise Plus) imageNo
Guest OS patching/management image(Via Virtual Center Server – not in next version) imageWindows Server Update Services (WSUS)
End-to-end OS monitoring imageNone image(via System Center Operations Manager)
Host/VM level optimization imageDRS (Via Virtual Center Server, Enterprise Plus) imagePRO (via System Center Operations Manager)
Application/service monitoring imageNone imagePRO (via System Center Operations Manager)
Integrated physical and virtual management imageNone imageSystem Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012, System Center Configuration Manager


There are differences in the products with VMware having some features that Hyper-V does not have, and vice versa. With Microsoft’s Server Management Suite Enterprise (SMSE) products like SCVMM (Service Center Virtual Machine Manager), OpsMgr (Service Center Operations Manager), and ConfigMgr (System Center Configuration Manager) you can monitor and administer not only the virtualization environment, but also the virtual machine operating systems, host operating systems, and the physical hardware much more richly and robustly than the VMware products can.

The Hyper-V role is available in all versions of Windows 2008 R2, as well as with the free Hyper-V Server 2008 R2. Guest OS licensing for the operating system does not favour either platform, because the Virtual Licensing Model that Microsoft released with Server 2003 R2 applies to both platforms.  The licensing is “1 + N” which means that based on the version of Windows 2008 you purchase you can run “N” virtual machines.

· Windows 2008 Standard – 1 + 1 virtual machine

· Windows 2008 Enterprise – 1 + 4 virtual machines

· Windows 2008 Datacenter – 1 + Unlimited virtual machines

While there is no difference on licensing, there is a huge difference with regard to the cost of the platform.  VMware does offer a free hypervisor (ESXi) but in order to use any of the advanced features (vMotion, DRS, etc…) you have to purchase licenses for it.  As well VMware is sold on a per-CPU basis, and with a ‘core tax’ for CPUs with more than six cores per CPU.

Microsoft also has the Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 which is a dedicated standalone product and contains only the Hyper-V role, Windows Server driver model and virtualization components. No additional license is required to use any of the advanced features, which can be implemented using tools such as Failover Cluster Manager.

One last major difference is to the certification program for each.  In order to become a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) you must take a one week class (which the instructor can decide to pass or fail you) and then take the exam.  In order to achieve any of the Microsoft certifications you can take a class, or you can choose to learn the technology on your own, and then sit the exam.

For further information on Windows 2008 R2 with Hyper-V please visit –

For further information on Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 please visit –

Five GREAT tips to remember when taking certification exams

I just read a blog article by Christopher Harrison, the Head Geek at GeekTrainer.  He points out five key things to remember when sitting certification exams.  Read them, know them, live them!  Then pass your exam! –M

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…, 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!