Windows XP End of Support

Yesterday was crunch day for many people out there still running Windows XP as Microsoft support for the aged operating system ended. Yesterday was significant being Patch Tuesday, the usual monthly release cycle of Windows Updates across the Microsoft operating system and product lines but for Windows XP, this is supposedly the last.

Some customers have already paid up multi-million pound deals to continue getting support for Windows XP beyond this date such as the UK government which agreed a £5.5 million deal with Microsoft to continue to receive support (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/microsoft/10741243/Government-pays-Microsoft-5.5m-to-extend-Windows-XP-support.html) but this only gives them an extra 12 months before the support ends once more. I think that people have left the Windows XP support issue to so late in the day to even give thought to that it’s costing them sums of money like this is a huge shame and a missed opportunity.

I work in IT and I’m a big evangelist for the latest and greatest from Microsoft so I’ve got a hugely biased view on the Windows XP support issue but this isn’t something that Microsoft have pulled out of the bag without notice. Microsoft have been warning people for quite some time that XP support would end and for an operating system first released in 2001, it’s had a fantastic run of 13 years but times have to move on as holding onto the past only hinders you long term.

You can see for yourself when Microsoft will be retiring support for applications and operating systems and the transition between phases of the support lifecycle at the Microsoft Support Lifecycle Index at http://support.microsoft.com/gp/lifeselectindex.

Windows 7

Windows 7 is a great mainstay operating system and for 99% of applications currently running on Windows XP, you won’t have an issue so moving to Windows 7 not only keeps you in support but it will improve the effectiveness of your employees due to improvements and usability gains in Windows 7 over XP, not to mention the ability to support a fuller and richer set of hardware features and capabilities: 64-bit anyone? Windows 7 has extended support available until January 2020 which gives you another 6 years before you need to worry about the problem. Windows 7 has a pretty similar look and feel to Windows XP which means the operating system isn’t a culture shock to them.

Windows 8

Windows 8 has improved a lot since it’s initial release with Windows 8.1 and most recently with the Windows 8.1 Update 1, not that I personally had a problem with it prior to these update releases but we know that others did for certain. Sure, there are going to be application compatibility issues with applications coming forwards from Windows XP to Windows 8.1 but that’s to be expected really when you try and make a 13 year technology jump in one hit but unless applications are making specific calls into hooks in the operating system there still shouldn’t be any major issues aside from perhaps browser?

The user interface and experience is going to be daunting for some people sure but Microsoft are aiming to quash this with more and more updates to Windows 8.1 to improve keyboard and mouse control for classical desktop users and actually, the majority of people will love it once they become accustomed to it.

I moved by mum over to Windows 8 and later Windows 8.1 sometime last year. She works for a government sector group in the UK and is one of these stuck on Windows XP and Office 2003 people by day. She took to Windows 8.1 like a duck to water and loves it and that’s on a conventional laptop, not even a touch screen device to really get the most out of it.

Internet Explorer

One of the biggest hang ups for Windows XP that I see is Internet Explorer. As sad as I find it both as an IT Pro and someone who tries to write code for websites, people still use Internet Explorer 6, 7 or 8 because some enterprise applications were designed for the ways that they uniquely rendered pages and moving upwards to Internet Explorer 11 seems like an unsurpassable mountain.  Old versions of Internet Explorer not only potentially harm the user experience because of limited or no support for modern Internet standards but also for security because the older browsers can be more susceptible to attacks through exploits which are often protected against either in more modern software or even at a hardware level thanks to improvements in technologies like Intel Data Execution Protection (DEP).

I’m aware of one organisation who is deploying Google Chrome to allow them to use a new HTML5 web application instead of upgrading from Internet Explorer 8.

Enterprise Mode in Internet Explorer 11 with the Windows 8.1 Update 1 release is designed to try and deal with this by allowing Internet Explorer to render pages in a manner consistent with older versions of Internet Explorer and we can control all of these settings as an administrator with Group Policy.

Group Policy Enterprise Mode

Office 2003

Yes, some people do still use. There are so many features, improvements and optimizations in every version of Office since 2003 that people working with Office 2003 must feel like they are being left out to pasture. I think if I had to go back to working with Windows XP and Office 2003 that a part of me would actually die. It’s even just the little things that make all the difference like Flash Fill in Excel 2013, one of my personal favourites.

If anyone has ever send you an Office 2003 format document such as a .doc and you are using Office 2010 for example, open that file, and save a copy of it as a .docx and check the file size difference. The XML file formats are so much smaller that if you were to convert all of a businesses existing documents to the XML formats, I’m pretty confident that you could reduce your storage growth expenditure for the forthcoming financial year paying for a large part of your Windows operating system upgrade project.

Upgrade Easily

Moving to later versions of Windows need not be as hard as some people fear either. System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) for example can be used with User State Migration Toolkit (USMT) to migrate a machine, applications and all of the users data and settings from a Windows XP machine to a Windows 7 machine using an automated task sequence process requiring no user input. You could even deliver it as a self-service offering for end-users to upgrade when its convenient to them.

Moving off Windows XP could even be the driver you need to review your technology approach and spur you to start looking at other options like VDI or tablet devices?

Try It You Might Like It

I guess what I’m getting at is that I work in IT, I deal with enterprises all day long and I understand the challenge but I still don’t quite understand how some people have managed to hang on to Windows XP for quite so long especially with the rise of the millennial in the workplace. These new workers are becoming more demanding of enterprise IT to provide technology experiences not only with more synergy to experiences they are used to in the home but also with the adoption of BYOD. Yes, BYOD adoption rates are questionable in both volumes according to who your source is and what exactly do you define as BYOD but there is no denying it is happens to varying extents.

I believe that there are a lot of organisations out there who have a perceived Windows XP problem because that’s what they think is the case through fear and uncertainty (FUD) spread through the media about new versions of Windows but I ask have you actually tried Windows 7 or Windows 8.1? Have you actually built out a device with the operating system and tested all of your applications? What is the cost to replace one or two applications that don’t upgrade quite right or the cost to revamp a web interface with a web developer for a couple of weeks verses paying large sums of money for special support arrangements for Windows XP with Microsoft, something which doesn’t actually help you solve the problem but only prolongs it’s effects upon you?

Build 2014 Day 1 News

Before I get into the meat, I need to point out that I wasn’t at Build. This post is based on information from the live blogs, news and tweets taken from those at the event.

If you are a Microsoft fan, this was a really big week for you. The Build conference always gets all the new toys (as do the attendees to pay back their ticket prices).

Last week Office for iPad was announced and released which was amazing for the Apple community but yesterday, Microsoft really rolled it’s sleeves up and delivered the goods for Windows and Microsoft users. The new features, updates and announcements are wide sweeping and as the updates and products are released, more will no doubt be learnt.

Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 Update

Let’s get the biggest one out of the way first. The Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 Update 1 will officially be launched on April 8th worldwide. I’ve been lucky enough to be running this update for about three weeks now since the .msu files accidently leaked onto the Windows Update Catalogue and my desktop and Surface are already running it. On the Surface, the impact is minimal but on the desktop with a mouse, it makes a big difference and it feels much nicer.

If you are a TechNet or an MSDN subscriber, the good news is that you can already download the updates. The updates are available for download as either a standalone update to apply to an existing Windows installation or as a complete Windows installation media with the update slipstreamed in. The update is in essence, a service pack too meaning that it includes all of the previously released updates for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 and includes the optional updates most people never bother to install and even some which Microsoft didn’t release previously, those which fall under the bug fixes and performance improvements category.

Windows 8.1 Update MSDN

For those of you who don’t know already, the update is aimed at improving Windows 8.1 functionality for desktop users with options to pin full screen immersive Apps to the taskbar, minimize and close Apps with a fly out title bar that appears when you hover at the top of an App. Additionally, there are now Power and Search buttons on the Start screen to save people who aren’t familiar with Windows 8.1 from trying to find the Charm bar.

The update also includes the new Enterprise Mode for Internet Explorer which is aimed at improving compatibility with Internet Explorer 11 and existing Line of Business applications, most of which will have been designed around existing versions of Internet Explorer like 6, 7 and 8. There is also an update for the server SKU to Active Directory for users with Office 365 to allow users to sign in to Remote Desktop Services sessions using their Office 365 email address.

Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2 Future Update Preview

Insight into a future update for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 were shown yesterday at Build including a demo of a hybrid Start Menu to further help desktop users. This hybrid looks on face value feels like the classic Start Menu but has an additional column on the right allowing you to pin Live Tiles to it and have the tiles update like they do on the normal Start Screen in Windows 8.1.

Personally, I like the Start Screen but I can see this is going to be a real winner for enterprise customers who are either still relying on Windows XP looking to get out of the support retirement hole they are currently in or for customers on Windows 7 looking to upgrade but aren’t quite convinced on the interface of Windows 8.1 right now.

This future update demo also showed how in the future, we will be able to have immersive Apps running in windowed mode further adding to the look and feel more comfortable for enterprises to deploy.

 Windows Phone 8.1

The Windows Phone 8.1 update has been much the talk of the blogosphere since early information about it started to leak. The main talking point is the Cortana digital voice assistant which is Microsoft’s answer to Siri. Sadly, the demo didn’t go particularly well for Joe Belfiore on stage but the premise is really there. In my current mindset, I can’t really see me finding huge value in Cortana but I will wait until I get my hands on it in two months when the update is released to tell for sure. Regardless of my thoughts, Cortana has a myriad of features allowing to you to interact with and control not only native operating system functions but also with third-party apps, something will Belfiore demonstrated on stage.

Aside from Cortana, there is now going to be support for VPN and S/MIME digitally signed email in Windows Phone 8.1. I will certainly be trying out the VPN capability back to my home as I’m interested to see if I can use the VPN tunnel as the default gateway which will then allow me to avail of my OpenDNS DNS protections at home on the move and mobile. Other improvements include the much asked for Action Center which will be the notification hub for Windows Phone, the ability to switch mid-call between GSM voice and Skype to enable video calling, similar to that of FaceTime and also improved controls for enabling and disabling phone features such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Flight Mode and the volume controls. There is also a new developer API to allow apps to customise the lock screen is ways we haven’t been able to do previously.

With respect to the VPN and S/MIME support, I will be interested to see and hear if Windows Intune gets an update to allow administrators to deploy these features over the air (OTA) and then have the settings enforced on the device so that the user of the handset can’t override or disable the VPN or email signing.

I’m a huge Windows Phone fan and I’ve been using it since day dot. The evolution of the platform has been exciting to be a part of and I’m really looking forward to this Windows Phone 8.1 update.

New Lumia’s

Stephen Elop came out on stage to present some new Lumia handsets, some of which may be available to buy with Windows Phone 8.1 before the update is available to existing devices which is interesting to note. The new Lumia 930 is the update to the phone I have right now, the Lumia 925.

The Lumia 930 looks amazing and is a GSM take on the Lumia Icon currently available on Verizon in the US. To say I’m pretty upset that I’ve got another 18 months on my mobile contract with Vodafone before I can look at another Lumia as a free handset upgrade is an understatement. I may have to sell one of my children so that I can get a Lumia 930 SIM free.

A couple of other Lumia’s were shown however these are low end devices aimed more at the developing markets than the hyper-consumer US and EU markets where the 930 sits.

Universal Apps

This one is absolutely massive, if the developer community pull together and work on it properly. The premise is simple. A single app which you can purchase from the store would be available across Windows Phone, Windows 8.1 supporting both Touch and Desktop modes and Xbox One.

Whether you need to pay for access to each platform separately is up to the application developer to decide but the fact that in the future, we could see Apps that we all use and love working in harmony across all of our devices is what you can clearly see Microsoft have been working towards.

With the power of ‘the cloud’ the App developers can allow the synchronisation of content and settings between all of these devices so that the user experience is consistent. Tweaks in Visual Studio are going to allow developers to provide modified interfaces per device so that the experience suits the form factor of your device best too.

Universal Apps is something which iOS specifically has struggled with across iPad and iPhone so if Microsoft and the developer community can make this work right, I think this is going to be a massive boost for the Microsoft eco-system and hopefully should see a lot more Apps being written for the platforms because developers can get the biggest bang for their buck (exposure and revenue vs. time spent coding) by having the App available across a wide range of devices.

Office for Touch

Many people, including myself, took to Twitter to have a bit of a moan about the fact that Office for iPad was released last week and that is looks great. The problem of course is that we still don’t have a dedicated touch version of Office for Windows to really take advantage of devices like the Surface. Microsoft answered these to demo a preview version of Office for Touch which isn’t even at the beta stage yet. For a set of Apps which aren’t even at the beta stage yet, it looked impressive so the finished product should hopefully blow us all away. The interfaces were clean and reminiscent of the interface shown last week with Office for iPad.

Judging by how good the preview version of the Apps looked, I’ve got my fingers crossed for an Autumn (Fall) release but nothing was said or committed with regard to shipping of this product. Either way, it can’t come soon enough as although the Touch Mode in Office 2013 is okay, all it really does is space out the icons some to make it easier for me to fat finger the icons and a fully touch oriented version of Office for Windows would make the experience on devices like the Surface a real leader.

Conclusion

There is a lot in the pipeline for Windows and Microsoft. New products, company reorganisations and announcements, this is going to be an exciting year to be a fan of and a worker in the Microsoft space. All I can say on the subject is Prepare for Titan Fall.

Whats Missing in the Lync Client for Windows Phone 7

Microsoft Lync is one of those fantastic products that I yearn for. It cross cuts the entire communication eco-system and gives you fantastic integration across the Microsoft stack including SharePoint and the Office application suite, however much to my dismay we don’t use Lync in my place of work and instead use the mediocre Cisco CUCM. To this end, my only experiences with Lync in a real-world ‘anger’ situations are when participating in calls hosted by other companies using Lync, Microsoft themselves being the main player for me.

For a long time now, there has been speculation of a Lync Client for Windows Phone 7 being released and this week it finally hit the marketplace not only for Windows Phone 7, but also for Apple iOS devices, Android and Symbian.

The app looks great in the screenshots, showing the features on offer well, however one huge feature is missing for me. The ability to use the app as a Lync Attendee Client: See Lync offers two different clients. The full blown corporate use client and the Lync Attendee Client. If you use Lync in a corporate scenario you will have the full client, however if you are like me and only use Lync to participate in sessions hosted by others, you use the lighter Lync Attendee Client which doesn’t require credentials and is designed around guest access.

Sadly, the Lync Client app for the mobile handsets released this week is only suitable for full client use scenarios as told by the app guidance notes in the Windows Phone Marketplace:

IMPORTANT: Microsoft Lync 2010 for Windows Phone requires a Lync Server or Office365/Lync Online account and will not work without it. If you are unsure about your account status, please contact your IT department.

He being me, I decided to install the app and try it anyway, but sadly the prescribed guidance was correct. This was a sucker-punch to me, and I think it will limit somewhat the ability for people to use the Lync Client. My only hope is that a separate client is released which does give you the ability to participate in Lync sessions as a guest.

If you are lucky enough to use Lync in a full deployment, you can get the app for Windows Phone 7 from http://www.windowsphone.com/en-US/apps/9ce93e51-5b35-e011-854c-00237de2db9e.

What Does the Windows Live SkyDrive App Do For You?

Personally, not a lot in a nutshell.

This post comes off the back of the announcement today from Microsoft of the release of a Windows Live SkyDrive app for Windows Phone 7 and Apple iOS devices. You can read the post for yourself in full from http://windowsteamblog.com/windows_live/b/windowslive/archive/2011/12/13/introducing-skydrive-for-iphone-and-windows-phone.aspx.

For Windows Phone 7, I don’t see the application providing a whole lot that isn’t already available through the Pictures and Office Hubs integrated into Windows Phone. Sure, it does have a few new features that aren’t previously available like the ability to share links to your documents or pictures and gives you the ability to create new folders within your SkyDrive account, but that’s it for the new stuff.

iOS device users get more because they currently have zero SkyDrive integration, but that still doesn’t give you integration, just functionality. For iOS device users, you could say that it does actually give them a lot more than a nothing nutshell, but obviously what I write is focused on Microsoft technologies (in case you didn’t guess from all my previous posts).

For me what would be a serious leap in the usability and resourcefulness of Windows Live SkyDrive would be the consolidation of Windows Live Mesh (previously Windows Live Sync and Microsoft Live Mesh as two separate projects) and SkyDrive, or the release of a SkyDrive desktop client. DropBox and many other online file repository sites have desktop clients allowing you download, upload, sync and use all of your content across your desktops, laptops and mobile devices, however SkyDrive and Mesh are currently flawed.

Windows Live Mesh allows you to sync files to your desktop with a desktop client, and allows you to sync that content across multiple devices including the ability to sync between Windows PC and Mac, however it is limited to 5GB and although the application and the Windows Live Mesh web interface state that the storage is based on Windows Live SkyDrive, the folders and content are isolated and not interoperable.

Consolidating the storage pools in Windows Live Mesh and Windows Live SkyDrive would allow you to sync content between iOS devices, Mac, Windows PC and Windows Phone which would be utterly living the dream. All of this of course is overlooking the additional features of Windows Live Mesh already available today including the ability to sync Internet Explorer favourites and Office Outlook signatures, Office styles and templates and custom dictionaries.

Just imagine for one moment: The ability to sync all of your documents and pictures to all of your devices both desktop, portable and pocket, and have changes to those documents automatically replicated to all your other devices, have your standard email signature available on all your devices to provide you with a truly unified front when sending and responding to email communiqué, all whilst having your own shorthand, TLAs and words available in the dictionary saving you countless autocorrect issues on your mobile device?

Copy and Paste in Windows Phone 7 Series

Windows Phone 7 Series (WP7S) has been a big topic of conversation since it’s announcement at Mobile World Congress earlier this year and since Mix’10 it’s now a source of controversy.

Microsoft are pulling an Apple on us all stating that Copy and Paste functionality will not be available in WP7S and instead they will provide a data detection service which will detect the presence of phone numbers, addresses, email addresses and more and that this data will be made available between applications.

The rationale is that according to Microsoft Research users are not using Copy and Paste on mobile devices, however I for one do use Copy and Paste on my phone and on this occasion I can’t really justify sticking in the Microsoft corner of the argument, especially after the debate and uproar over Apple not including Copy and Paste in the iPhone OS: this actually makes me feel pretty stupid for criticising Apple previously.

This aside, the data detection service does sound very useful – In the same elk as Skype automatically making telephone numbers in web pages clickable like you would experience on the desktop or how Outlook uses SmartTags to detect addresses in emails or calendar appointments.

Read the Full Post

Office 2010 Technical Preview

Office 2010 Technical Preview is the latest version of the Office suite. Currently in Technical Preview and scheduled for a public Beta release in July, some sneaky people have posted some builds of it to a torrent site in particular.

 I’m not going to name the site, but most people will be able to work out from the screenshot the site I’m talking about. There are various different torrents for it on the site, however some of them have comments to suggest that there is malicious content included, as described by Microsoft themselves here:

http://blogs.technet.com/office2010/archive/2009/05/19/leaked-build-and-staying-safe.aspxRead the Full Post

Roll on the Release Candidates

Well Microsoft have certainly been busy little bee’s with Windows 7 as a lot of my recent blogs show, but today is the next milestone and not just for Windows 7.

Microsoft today released Windows 7 RC, Windows Server 2008 R2 RC and also the Service Pack 2 for Windows Vista.

Vista users using RTM with the blocker tool will be disappointed to note that this tool has now been removed and will have to upgrade to SP1, however I personally think you should just go all the way to SP2.

Going along with the whole RC & SP release, last week also saw the release of Office 2007 Service Pack 2 which has a lot of stability and performance improvements, which for some will be welcome although I never really see any problems except perhaps in Outlook opening a huge attachment.

Windows 7 RC is available in x86 and x64 builds and is available currently to all TechNet and MSDN subscribers, as is Server 2008 R2 RC, however Windows 7 RC will be making it’s way to the public in the next few days.

Office 2007 Service Pack 2 and Windows Vista Service Pack 2 are both available from the the Microsoft Download Center at www.microsoft.com/downloads.

Have a great weekend.