What has Rick Been Up To?

As has been pointed out, I am the author of a new book about Windows Home Server for Wiley Publishing.  The book is titled Windows Home Server: Protect and Simplify Your Digital Life, and it should be available in January ’08.  The book focuses on teaching computer users how to make the best use of Microsoft’s new Windows Home Server line of products to protect their data and simplify their computing experience.

The Amazon.com write-up covers things pretty well.

I’ve got a bunch of blog posts in my head covering what I’ve learned so far as I’m going through the authoring process for the first time.  The editors I’ve been working with at Wiley are great, and I’m really looking forward to completing the process and actually holding a real printed copy of the book in my hands.  I’ve found writing to be very enjoyable.  The technical research, and the setup for screenshots and such takes a lot of time, but it’s a geeky kind of fun.  It’s great to have an excuse to “play around” with my home server and computers each night.

Obviously, blogging is going to be pretty slow until I finish up the book, but as I’ve said before, that really shouldn’t matter.

Windows Home Server RTM’d

I’m late to the party, but if you haven’t heard, Windows Home Server has RTM’d.  Lot’s of bloggers already covering this.

From the outside looking in, this seems to have gone more smoothly than other Microsoft projects as of late.  Maybe Charlie Kindel can give us a post-mortem of how they managed to to keep things on track, or at least maintain the appearance of staying on track.

I’m looking forward to seeing the OEM machines actually hit the street, and see how they fare in the market. 

Windows Home Server Add-Ins I Don’t Have Time To Code

  1. Memory Stick Backups – A service that will run on my desktop or laptop and automatically back up my USB memory stick whenever I plug it in.  Each memory stick should be backed up to the same location on the server no matter which computer I plug it in to.

  2. Download Manager – Automatically hand off regular downloads from Internet Explorer to be downloaded and stored on my home server.

  3. User Account Sync – Automatically create user accounts on client PCs for each Windows Home Server user account.  Automatically update passwords.

  4. Favorites Sync – Sync my favorites to a folder on WHS. (I know I can do this with foldershare.  Add-in would be much better.)  Also include Desktop Sync, My Documents Sync, etc.


What Do You Mean My Address Book Is Full?!?

For many years, I’ve been a paying customer for Hotmail.  Now this isn’t as big a benefit as it used to be, but still, I like the service I get, and usually don’t have any issues.  Tonight, after sending an email, I tried to use the “Add Contact” feature, and was denied.  Instead of the expected result, I got the following:


This prompted me to check how many contacts I’ve got squirreled away.  Evidently, I’ve accumulated 999 contacts.  While I admit that it’s a lot, every one of those contacts was added for a reason, and now Windows Live Hotmail is telling me that I have to purge something if I want to continue adding contacts.

Now I’m in total agreement that my Address Book could use some serious spring cleaning, but I don’t like being forced into it.  Besides that, my current “Mailbox Usage” is resting at 6% of 4GB used.  This is not a space issue.  This is an arbitrary limit that was placed on Hotmail.  My question is: What is the functional or business requirement that caused them to set this limit at 999?  Basically, this tells power users and communicators that if they have more than 999 legitimate contacts, then Hotmail isn’t good enough for them.

I’m breaking up with Windows Mobile

For the better part of 5 years, I have carried a Windows Mobile device on a daily basis.  My first Windows Mobile device was a Dell Axim X5 (And for the nitpickers, it actually ran Microsoft Pocket PC 2002).  I had a short run with an SMT5600 Smart Phone, and an even longer run with an Axim X50v.  Since last May I have been a happy Motorola Q owner.  We’ve had some good times, checked email well over 1000 times, read blogs, navigated the eastern US.

The End of an Era?

But tomorrow, I’m saying goodbye, or at least fare-well to my Windows Mobile days.  I’ve got an order in for a Samsung SCH-u740.  When I first saw this phone, my initial gut reaction was “That’s going to be my next SmartPhone”, but after I realized that it didn’t run Windows Mobile, I brushed it aside.  Yeah it’s a cool phone, and the form factor is pretty innovative, but what about all the cool Windows Mobile apps that it can’t run?  You see, I had become a Windows Mobile snob.

Lately though, I’ve come to realize that Windows Mobile to me is like having a 800 watt home theater speaker setup.  You don’t really need that much volume, but there’s some geek appeal to knowing that you could shake your neighbor’s fillings loose with a simple turn of a knob.  Sports cars that can do 200mph fall into the same mental category for me.  Same with giant SUV’s that never set a wheel off paved ground.  It’s excess capacity, and frankly I don’t really need it.

My new SCH-u740 will let me check email, and I can browse blogs.  And it’s supposed to be a pretty good phone as well.  Plus it can do all of this without having Verizon’s outrageously priced unlimited data plan.  I’ll sign up for Mobile Web 2.0, and that will give me all I need.

My Next SmartPhone

Now I’m sure there are many Windows Mobile fans out there that are thinking “He just doesn’t get it”.  I used to be one of you.  But now I feel like I do get it.  My phone is a tool that I use to communicate, and I’ve found a phone that will let me communicate the way I like, at a lower cost, and in a form factor that I love.  Just because I usually prefer Microsoft technology doesn’t mean I’m going to blindly follow the Microsoft brand, when better alternatives exist.

There’s a 30 day window where I can return the new phone if it doesn’t live up to my expectations, so I guess Windows Mobile and I are really on a trial separation.  I’ll write up my post-Windows Mobile experience after I’ve had time to get used to the new phone, including what I think works better outside the Microsoft umbrella, and what I miss.

Google Maps playing catchup with Virtual Earth

Google Maps has released some street-level imagery with Street View. One interesting note is that this feature seems to have sidestepped Google’s typical protracted “Beta” phase. (Seriously, why is Gmail still in Beta?  Did they just forget to edit the logo?) 

The Street View interface is pretty usable and intuitive from a first take, I’d even say quite a bit better than the initial “driving game” style interface seen at preview.local.live.com

There’s been a bit of confusion about what the imaging vehicles look like with Engadget posting reflected images yesterday, and then later posting images of Immersive’s non-stealth imaging vehicle.

First shot of the van, captured from Google Maps


Immersive’s VW, from Immersive Media Website



Some are arguing that one or the other is incorrect, but the likely case is that the initial imaging was done with unmarked, inconspicuous vehicles and that future imaging will be done with those cute VW Beetles.

This same pattern was seen with Microsoft’s Streetside imaging vehicles (actually run by Facet Technologies)

Stealth Van: (found in a reflected image back in March 2006)



Non-stealth Truck: (spotted on the OH turnpike in June 2005)


Whatever the case, it’s very interesting to see competition in this space.  I’m just waiting for the 3d-city views and this street-level imaging to converge through some marriage of Photosynth-like technology, huge datasets, and lots of processing power.

Microsoft’s Surface Computing Emerges

If you follow the videos that come out of Microsoft Research, Microsoft Surface doesn’t contain too many surprises.  Still it’s a very intriguing concept, and I can see how it really can change the way we interact with information.  For announcements like this, I usually point to the press release, but the text description seems totally dead compared to the actual concept.  Head over to the Microsoft Surface website and watch some videos if you really want to understand what it’s about.

And the developer in me wants to know where the SDK is!  I’ll have to do some digging on MSDN and see if it’s already out there.

Windows Home Server, Realities of Beta Testing

My Windows Home Server machine has become such an integral and reliable part of my home network that it is easy to forget that it is not released software.  Early on, I set up some “extra” protection for my data.  All of my irreplaceable data is synchronized to other machines via Microsoft’s Foldershare (although I bumped my head on FolderShare’s arbitrary 10k file limit a couple of times, it was mostly a smooth process.)

Tonight I received a notification email from the Beta program that contained some very important information.  We are all expecting a new build, RC1, to be released soon, and when that happens, anyone who wants to update to the new build is in for some beta-induced pain.  Due to a bug in the CTP code, installation of the RC1 build will not support the “Server Reinstall” mode.  What this means for users is that your data may not be preserved if you blindly click through the installation.  The email states that all data should be backed up to another medium before you dive into the installation.  Reading through the details, it looks like there are circumstances where the data may remain intact, and if you have folder duplication turned on, it looks like the chances are better for preserving the shares. Hopefully testers will heed the warning, and back up all of their data just in case.

Another interesting point is the shutting down of the feedback section on Connect, which totally makes sense given that there has been a lot of duplication of info between the forums and Connect ever since they opened the forums.

For the curious, the full email is below:

Windows Home Server Beta Participants,

We wanted to briefly touch base with you all to help you prepare you for the upcoming Windows Home Server Release Candidate (RC) and also to say, thank you for your help and participation and for helping to make Windows Home Server even better! We have had a fantastic response to our beta program and we truly appreciate all of your efforts in helping us build a better product.

As of 5/23/07, we will be disabling the ability for you to submit feedback via Connect and will begin our transition of feature requests and problem reports to the Windows Home Server Forums. This is a natural evolution of our product development cycle. The forums are a very active community and we encourage you to participate, learn and contribute. You will still be able to query on feedback that Insider

We also wanted you to be aware of changes we made in the RC release that will impact you if you have large amounts of data that you do not have alternate backups of. In the RC the default option for Server Setup is going to be “New Installation.” The effect of this is you will not be able to easily upgrade from Beta 2/CTP to RC or RTM. This is going to be painful for some of you who have large data sets and we apologize up front for that. However, the changes we made were essential to ensuring a great user experience for the product moving forward and as beta testers we are sure you can understand.

For most of you, moving from Beta 2 or the CTP to the RC will involve backing up any data you don’t already have stored somewhere else and then copying it back on after you have “clean” installed the RC. If you have followed our guidance that you have backups of anything you were storing on the Beta or CTP you will have another copy of all of your data somewhere else anyway so the initial step of copying data off of your old installation should involve only recent changes and thus a small amount of data.

Server Recovery (the mechanism used to recover a Windows Home Server when the primary drive has failed and replaced) will be a choice in the setup UI in the RC and RTM. However, using this as a way of “upgrading” from Beta 2 or the CTP to RC is not officially supported. There are significant known issues (e.g. due to a bug in the CTP, using Server Recovery to move to RC or RTM will result in a loss of all Home Computer backups and any non-duplicated shared folders may or may not be preserved). We strongly recommend that you clean-install the RC.

We know this is going to be a painful situation for some of you. We tried to make it clear in our documentation and messaging that you should always have backups of any data you are storing on Windows Home Server during the beta and we also were very clear that while we would try to enable an easy upgrade path we could not promise it. We also know that some of you have very large data sets where having another backup is practically impossible and/or the act of copying such a data set is extremely time consuming (our instrumentation tells us that one of you has over 6.5TB of data!). However, based on beta testing feedback we determined that we had no choice but to make some changes to the system that broke the easy upgrade path. We appreciate your feedback as beta testers and thank you for your understanding and continued support.

At this point we *can* confidently say that we will support upgrading from the RC to the RTM version.

Thanks again for all of your hard efforts and contributions to making the Windows Home Server Product the best product possible.

Kevin Beares

Windows Home Server Community Lead