Posts tagged Microsoft

Microsoft will release its hackathon tool to the world

It was used to manage Microsoft’s internal Oneweek hackathon and is slated for release next year

Microsoft is planning to bring its internal tool for running hackathons to the public next year, starting by allowing a few select colleges to test drive it at their own events.

It’s part of a plan by the company’s Garage division to help other organizations get better at handling the administrative side of organizing marathon hack sessions like the three-day-long bonanza Microsoft held in July as part of its Oneweek employee team-building session. Known inside Microsoft as the “Hackathon interactive project site,” it was built to help 13,000 employees and interns work on 1,700 projects during the Oneweek hackathon.

A screenshot of the OneNote for Learning project’s page in Microsoft’s Hackathon interactive project site.
Computerworld’s Best Places to Work in IT 2015: Company Listings

Now, Microsoft wants to make it available more widely to provide other hackathon organizers with the same tools it uses. The interactive project site gives hackathon participants several useful tools: They can search for projects to join, search for other people to work with, and share code from the projects they’re working on. Once they’re done, it serves as a showcase for projects that people have completed so that other participants can see what their peers have been up to.

Hackathons — marathon sessions where groups of people work on projects that are usually technical in nature — have become popular ways for people to get together and try out interesting concepts. At Microsoft, the Garage runs a number of hackathons every year around different themes, including its massive Oneweek session.

Those hackathons are important tools for Microsoft’s internal development efforts. Project teams from the Oneweek hackathon will be meeting with engineering teams around the company who are interested in the technology they’re working on so they can talk about potentially integrating the projects into Microsoft’s products.

Team Deep Vision worked during the Oneweek hackathon to create a machine vision system that uses an Android phone and two Microsoft Bands to help blind people navigate.

Garage Senior Director Jeff Ramos said Microsoft also expects to get 275 patents out of the Oneweek hackathon projects, which included a system for helping blind people navigate and a system to improve hydroponic lettuce growing on the company’s campus.

Microsoft’s tool was created to make it easy for people to get together and work on a project. Users can search for fellow hackers based on the skills those people have outlined in a personal profile. The site allows searches by both technical skills and non-technical skills, so hackers can find C# programmers, database engineers, graphic designers, marketers and everyone in between.

In addition to connecting hackers with projects, the tool also provides easy access to resources that teams need when they’re preparing to work on a project. As you might expect, users can easily get to Microsoft development tools like its Visual Studio development software and Azure cloud services through the platform.

In the future, Ramos plans to include links to non-Microsoft technologies like GitHub, Python and other popular development languages and tools so the product isn’t just parochially tied to the company’s ecosystem.

“So the aim here is really just to make it brain-dead easy for someone to walk into a [hackathon], open their lid and start working on that hack project,” he said.

The idea for the tool came about when Ramos attended a hackathon at the University of Washington. He said that when attendees arrived on the morning of the hackathon’s first day, they attended a small fair to learn about the different projects they could work on, before having to listen for over an hour to someone describe how they could get set up with different tools. It echoed experiences he had heard about from other hackathon attendees who also had to spend time on administrative tasks before getting to work on their projects.

“It was like man, these guys are going to have to spend half a day just to get ready to start hacking,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great if they could just come in and start writing code, and not have to worry about any of that stuff?”
Oneweek hackathon team meets around a table

A Oneweek hackathon team focused on building an adaptive learning platform sits together on a group of large bean bags.

The tool was designed to be used inside Microsoft, but Ramos said people inside the company loved it so much they wanted to share it with others. Marketers and salespeople who participated in hackathons wanted to let people outside Microsoft have access to it.

“I think it happened by enough people consistently telling us, ‘This is great, can I share it with my customer?'” he said.

Ramos wants to test the external version of Microsoft’s hackathon tool with two or three hand-picked colleges next year. Those schools can give Microsoft feedback about what worked and what they would like to see changed as Microsoft heads towards a final release, which is also slated for 2016.

Of course, getting this tool in front of college students also provides advantages for Microsoft. The Garage is actually a part of the company’s developer tools group, and Ramos sees the tool as a way to get Microsoft products in front of people early in their careers who might not have had much exposure to things like Visual Studio.

“It’s fascinating to me that when you talk to early-stage career people about Microsoft tools, there’s an information gap,” Ramos said.

In his experience, student developers are most familiar with free tools like GitHub. However, Microsoft has found that students tend to react favorably toward the company’s tools once they get access to them. The company is already trying to create those encounters: It has a “Community” edition of Visual Studio 2015 that provides free access to a basic version of the company’s development tools.

There’s still plenty of ground to cover if the Garage is going to ship this tool to the public. Piloting it with colleges will be a key step towards it release, but Ramos said there’s still work to be done before schools can get their hands on it, including handling issues related to privacy and drawing up license agreements.


MCTS Training, MCITP Trainnig

Best Microsoft MCTS Certification, Microsoft MCITP Training at

Microsoft fires back at Google with Bing contextual search on Android

“Snapshots on Tap” echoes a feature coming with the next version of Android

Microsoft has pre-empted a new feature Google plans to include in the next version of Android with an update released Thursday for the Bing Search app that lets users get information about what they’re looking at by pressing and holding their device’s home button.

Called Bing Snapshots, the feature is incredibly similar to the Now on Tap functionality Google announced for Android Marshmallow at its I/O developer conference earlier this year. Bing will look over a user’s screen when they call up a Snapshot and then provide them with relevant information along with links they can use to take action like finding hotels at a travel destination.

For example, someone watching a movie trailer can press and hold on their device’s home button and pull up a Bing Snapshot that will give them easy access to reviews of the film in question, along with a link that lets them buy tickets through Fandango.

Google Now On Tap, which is slated for release with Android Marshmallow later this year, will offer similar features with a user interface that would appear to take up less screen real estate right off the bat, at least in the early incarnations Google showed off at I/O.

The new functionality highlights one of the major differences between Android and iOS: Microsoft can replace system functionality originally controlled by Google Now and use that to push its own search engine and virtual assistant. Microsoft is currently beta testing a version of its virtual assistant Cortana on Android for release later this year as well.

A Cortana app is also in the cards for iOS, but Apple almost certainly won’t allow a virtual assistant to take over capabilities from Cortana, especially since Google Now remains quarantined inside the Google app on that mobile platform.

All of this comes as those three companies remained locked in a tight battle to out-innovate one another in the virtual assistant market as a means of controlling how users pull up information across their computers and mobile devices. For Microsoft and Google, there’s an additional incentive behind the improvements: driving users to their respective assistants has the potential to boost use of the connected search engines.

MCTS Training, MCITP Trainnig

Best Microsoft MCTS Certification, Microsoft MCITP Training at


So long (Vista), it’s been good to know yah

Windows 8’s predecessor in Microsoft’s every-other-OS-flops series now has a user share of just 2%

Windows Vista, the perception-plagued operating system Microsoft debuted to the general public in early 2007, has sunk to near insignificance, powering just two out of every 100 Windows personal computers, new data shows.

According to analytics provider Net Applications, Windows Vista’s user share, an estimate based on counting unique visitors to tens of thousands of websites, stood at 2% at the end of July.

Vista has been in decline since October 2009, when it peaked at 20% of all in-use Windows editions. Not coincidentally, that month also saw the launch of Vista’s replacement — and Microsoft’s savior — Windows 7. Within a year, Vista’s user share had slumped to less than 15%, and in less than two years fell below 10%.

Since then, however, Vista users have dragged their feet: The OS took another four years to leak another eight percentage points of user share. Projections based on the current average monthly decline over the past year signal that Vista won’t drop under the 1% mark until April 2016.

Vista’s problems have been well chronicled. It was two-and-a-half years late, for one. Then there were the device driver issues and ballyhoo over User Account Control (UAC). It was even the focus of an unsuccessful class-action lawsuit that alleged Microsoft duped consumers into buying “Vista Capable”-labeled PCs, a case that revealed embarrassing admissions by senior executives who had trouble figuring it out.

Even former CEO Steve Ballmer admitted it was a blunder. In a pseudo-exit interview in 2013 with long-time Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet, Ballmer cited Vista as “the thing I regret most,” tacitly setting most of Microsoft’s then-problems on the OS’s doorstep, from its failure in mobile to the slump in PC shipments.

Those still running Vista — using Microsoft’s claim that 1.5 billion devices run Windows, Vista’s share comes to around 30 million — have been left out in the cold by Microsoft and its Windows 10 upgrade: Vista PCs are not eligible for the free deal.

It’s actually good, at least for Microsoft, that Vista is on so few systems. The company will ship the last security updates for the aged OS on April 17, 2017, 20 months from now.

And there is a silver lining for Vista owners: At least their OS is more popular than Linux.

MCTS Training, MCITP Trainnig

Best Microsoft MCTS Certification, Microsoft MCITP Training at



Microsoft to release cross-platform Visual Studio 2015 by July 20

With this announcement, it looks like Microsoft plans to release Windows 10, dev tools, and .NET framework all within two weeks.

Microsoft has announced that Visual Studio 2015 will be released for download on July 20, along with the Team Foundation Server 2015 and .NET Framework 4.6. The company will also host a Q&A session online on the day of the release with the engineering team, as well as 60 deep-dive sessions to help users understand the new features of the platform.

S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of the Developer Division at Microsoft, made the announcement on his blog.

Visual Studio has become the de facto standard for Windows development, but with this release, Microsoft is going way beyond Windows. It will support cross-platform mobile development targeting iOS, Android, and Windows, as well as game development by targeting game platforms like Unity, Unreal, Cocos and more.

For its traditional use, Visual Studio 2015 adds proactive diagnostics tooling and the new Roslyn language services for C# and VB. Together, Visual Studio 2015, Team Foundation Server 2015, and Visual Studio Online help teams embrace DevOps with Agile backlog management, Azure cloud tooling, hosted continuous integration, and Application Insights across all the components of an application.

In March, the company announced two subscription flavors: Professional and Enterprise. The standalone, non-subscription version of Visual Studio Professional is available for $499, while the Pro version with an MSDN subscription is $799. The Enterprise edition with MSDN is $1,199. Microsoft will also offer a free Community edition of Visual Studio for open source projects, academic projects and education, and for small teams.

MCTS Training, MCITP Trainnig

Best Microsoft MCTS Certification, Microsoft MCITP Training at



Microsoft prepares Windows 10 for panoply of sensors

With the Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, users can view virtual 3D images within the everyday real world.
Credit: Microsoft

A unified sensor interface will allow Windows 10 devices to support a slew of new environmental, biometric, proximity and motion sensors

Windows 10 devices in the future could be measuring temperature, environmental pressure and carbon dioxide levels, as Microsoft provides an interface to support a wide range of sensors.

Microsoft is building a unified sensor interface and universal driver for Windows 10 that will support a slew of environmental, biometric, proximity, health and motion sensors, the company said last week at the WinHEC trade show in Shenzhen. Microsoft is also providing the building blocks for Windows 10 to support sensors that haven’t yet been released.

With support for more sensors, Microsoft hopes to bring “new functionality” to PCs, smartphones, tablets, gadgets and electronics running Windows 10, according to a slide from a presentation.

Microsoft is putting Windows 10 — which is due for release later this year — in PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart devices, wearables, gadgets and Internet of things devices. The company has also shown the future-looking HoloLens holographic headset working with Windows 10; together, the OS and the headset could act as a launchpad for new sensor applications.

Device makers could add barometer, pollution, ultraviolet, temperature, altitude and other sensors to Windows 10 devices. Also through the drivers, motion detection sensors will be able to track activities such as the number of steps users take in a day, and exchange data easily with other Windows 10 devices. The motion detection sensors will also take into account where devices are — on pockets, in hand or in bag — to ensure accurate measurements.

Microsoft is also using sensors to improve the way users interact with Windows 10 devices.
For example, a major attraction of Windows 10 is its ability to automatically switch between tablet and PC modes, which is made possible by sensors in hinges that detect the position of a laptop. Through a feature called Windows Hello, Microsoft is also using sensors to bring biometric authentication to Windows 10 PCs and tablets.

Windows 10 is friendlier to sensors than predecessor operating systems, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard officials said at a press gathering last month.

But sensors need to be identified and supported by the OS, much like other hardware components. The universal driver is designed to let device makers could plug a variety of sensors into Windows 10 devices and not worry about driver development. Microsoft will also provide a separate development kit for those who want to develop independent sensor drivers to expand the functionality of hardware.

Sensors are ubiquitous across devices, and a unified driver interface could aid Microsoft’s effort to put Windows 10 in more gadgets, appliances and other data-collecting instruments, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

Supporting more sensors in Windows 10 is also a key part of Microsoft’s plans to expand into the Internet of Things market, which revolves around data-collecting instruments feeding telemetry to Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, McGregor said.

Device makers could put sensors in mobile devices, but some sensors such as temperature and pollution monitors are more likely to go in street lamps or traffic lights. As part of Microsoft’s “mobile-first, cloud-first” strategy, data from such sources could be fed to Azure for further analysis, McGregor said.

“You have to be able to support the broadest array of applications, and the sensor data is critical,” McGregor said.

Microsoft is trying to unite disparate mobile, PC and embedded Windows operating systems under the Windows 10 umbrella. The company is encouraging the development of Windows-based devices via boards like Raspberry Pi 2 and Qualcomm’s DragonBoard 410c, which will be able to run a custom version of Windows 10 called Athens. Makers — do-it-yourselfers — have developed sensor-packed robots, drone, health monitors, gadgets and wearables with those boards.

In a separate presentation at WinHEC, Microsoft said it would also bring Windows 10 to its own Sharks Cove and Intel’s MinnowBoard Max board, which are used to prototype electronics, appliances and devices with sensors. The devices have low-power ports such as GPIO, SPI, I2C, and UART to which a variety of motion, imaging and other sensors can be attached.

MCTS Training, MCITP Trainnig

Best Microsoft MCTS Certification, Microsoft MCITP Training at

Windows 10 revealed: Microsoft’s next OS fuses Windows 7 and 8

At a press event on Tuesday, Microsoft launched the next version of Windows: Not Windows One, not Windows 9, but Windows 10, which combines the reborn Start menu with Windows 8’s colorful live tiles and adjusts its behavior depending on how you’re using your device.

Windows 10 will officially launch in the middle of next year, but you’ll have a chance to try it out before that via a new Windows Insider program, launching Wednesday. The platform’s most vocal fans will have a chance to download the technical preview before it launches next year.

Microsoft executives unveiled the new OS at a small press event in San Francisco, where the company tried to position the Windows 10 OS as a “natural step forward” for both Windows and Windows Phone, which will also be renamed Windows 10.

Windows 10 will be designed for the enterprise, Terry Myerson executive vice president of Microsoft’s OS group, said. It will have a “familiar” interface, whether it be for Windows 7 or Windows 8. “They will find all the tools they’re used to finding, with all the apps and tools they’re used to today,” he said.

Windows 10 will be compatible with all the familiar management systems, including mobile device management. MDM tools will manage not just mobile devices, but PCs, phones, tablets, and even embedded devices inpart of the Internet of Things, Myerson said. Enterprise customers will be able to manage their own app stores, so that ther employees get the right apps for them. As Windows 8 did, data security will be a priority, he said.

Windows 10’s ‘Task View’ includes multiple desktops, a feature long desired by power users.
Joe Belfiore, who runs part of the OS team focused on the PC experience, showed off the new OS, which he called a “very early build.” Yes, the new build has the Stat menu, combining the icon-driven menu from Windows 7, plus the added Live Tiles to the right.

Belfiore used the analogy of a Tesla to describe how Windows 7 users would feel when they upgraded—something that Microsoft desperately wants them to do: a supercharged OS, but one that will feel familiar.

One of the things that Microsoft wants to ensure is that Windows 10 is personalized results, including search results, Belfiore said.

Windows 8 had a universal app platform, with a common Windows Store that handle updates independently. Belfiore said that Microsoft wanted all those Windows 7 uses to get all the benefits of Windows 8 apps. Apps will be shown in the Live Tiles, with no real indication whether they are “classic” apps or modern, Windows 8 apps. Apps can be “snapped,” like Windows 8. Users will also not have to leave the Windows desktop to use modern apps, as expected.

Multitasking will also be a priority, with a stated goal being able to “empower” novice users, Belfiore said. On the taskbar there will be a “task view” where users can switch back and forth between different environments—whether it be 32-bit Windows 7 apps or modern apps. And yes, they will include virtual desktops, with the ability to switch back and forth between virtual environments. A “snap assist” feature will allow users to select similar windows to snap alongside other apps. And up to four apps or windows can be snapped to the four corners of the desktop, Belfiore said.

Even more advanced uses will be able to take advantage of new keyboard shortcuts, with the ability to ALT-TAB between desktops. “It’s a nice forward enhancement to make those people more productive,” Belfiore said.

Microsoft even improved the command line interface, with an improved keyboard interface. (You can use Crtl+V to paste now!)
Touch when you need it

Belfiore wrapped up by talking about touch: “We’re not giving up on touch,” he said. But he did say that that massive numbers of users were familiar with the touchless Windows 7 interface, while supporting those who have jumped to Windows 8.

So that means that the Charms experience will be revamped. When you swipe right on Windows 10, the Charms bar is still there. But Belfiore said that the Charms experience would change. When people swipe in from the left, Windows 10, you’ll get a task view. “I’m using touch in a way that accelerates my use of a PC,” Belfiore said.

Microsoft is also working on a revamped UI that isn’t is in Windows 10, yet. For two-in-on devices, a “Continuum” mode will adjust the UI depending on whether or not the mouse and keyboard is present. When a keyboard is disconnected, the Windows 8-style Start menu appears and a back button is available so that users can easily back out to a prior command. Menus grow larger. Bu when a mouse and keyboard is connected, the desktop mode reappears, Windows apps return to desktop windows, and the Start page disappears.

Now, Microsoft needs to take the next step: pitching enterprise customers, Myerson said. And that’s critical for Windows’ future, analysts said. Expect more details on the consumer flavors of Windows 10 early next year, more application details at BUILD, and then a launch of Windows 10 near the middle of next year.

“For businesses, I think there are some businesses who have picked it up and they are really early adopters, but in general, the sense—when we engage with customers, we’re not hearing a lot of reception out there,” Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said in advance of the briefing. “We’re hearing a lot of businesses even before whatever that thing comes out tomorrow, before that came out, businesses were saying, we’re going to hang out on Windows 7, it’s stable, it does what we need to do.”

Starting Wednesday, Microsoft will launch a Windows Insider program, distributing the technical preview of Windows 10, Myerson said. Through Window Insiders we’re inviting our more vocal Windows fans” to help refine the Windows experience, executives said. Users wil be able to sign up at, he said, where they will be able to hold private discussions with Windows engineers and give feedback.

“Windows 10 will be our most open, collaborative OS project ever,” Myerson said.

MCTS Training, MCITP Trainnig

Best Microsoft MCTS Certification, Microsoft MCITP Training at

Windows 7 hits mid-life, but no crisis — yet

The world’s most popular OS exits ‘mainstream’ support Jan. 13, marks midpoint of 10-year support lifetime

Windows 7 will reach the midpoint of its support lifetime this week when it shifts from what Microsoft calls “mainstream” to “extended” support.

The world’s most popular personal computer operating system exits mainstream support on Tuesday, Jan. 13. After that, although Microsoft will continue to issue security updates to all users for another five years, it will not add new features to Windows 7, and any non-security fixes — such as reliability and stability updates — will be issued only to organizations that have signed support contracts.

Next week thus marks the halfway point of Windows 7’s decade-long support stretch, which ends Jan. 14, 2020.

Windows 7 will continue to run, of course: The migration into extended support does not make it inoperable.

Windows 7’s user share is at a near-record high. In December, it accounted for 56% of all personal computer operating systems, and 62% of all versions of Windows. Since the debut of Windows 8, its purported successor, Windows 7 has increased its user share by about 12 percentage points, representing a gain of 26%.

That increasing share may not bother Microsoft, but it should businesses that decommissioned Windows XP PCs and replaced them with Windows 7 systems, ignoring Windows 8. With Windows 7’s life half over, those enterprises now have five years to complete a transition to another OS, probably Windows 10, the upgrade Microsoft will release this fall.

Five months ago, in fact, Gartner began urging corporations to start their post-Windows 7 planning if they wanted to prevent a recurrence of the end of Windows XP’s support, when many had to either hustle to make the support deadline, or worse, continued running the aged OS after patching ended.

“While this feels like it’s a long way off, organizations must start planning now,” said Gartner analysts Michael Silver and Stephen Kleynhans in August.

And the failure of Windows 8 to win enterprise hearts and minds has created one oddity: Even though Windows 7 has made middle age, Microsoft continues to let OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) sell PCs running the business edition.

Microsoft has yet to name an end date for OEM sales of machines powered by Windows 7 Professional. But because it has promised a 12-month notice, those PCs can still be sold at least until early January 2016, when the OS has but four years of life left.

MCTS Training, MCITP Trainnig

Best Microsoft MCTS Certification, Microsoft MCITP Training at


15 essential open source tools for Windows admins

Sure, Microsoft has a ton of useful admin tools, but terrific, complementary open source tools abound

15 essential open source tools for Windows admins
Microsoft admins seeking solid server-side tools know the mothership offers a mother lode of solutions for supporting Windows Server, Exchange Server, SQL Server, SharePoint, and so on. But for those with an eye on the bottom line or looking to branch out in supporting their Microsoft-based server room, plenty of free, open source tools from both Microsoft, via CodePlex, and third-party providers are available. Given Microsoft’s ongoing shift toward hosted solutions like Azure and Office 365, there is more incentive for Microsoft admins to keep an eye on what’s evolving in the Windows admin tools ecosystem.

Following is a roundup of open source tools every Windows admin should be aware of. We last surveyed this territory three years ago, and while some tools have cemented their place in the Windows admin arsenal, Microsoft’s shift in focus toward the cloud is giving rise to a new set of essentials.

Don’t see your favorite tool(s)? Use the comments section to contribute to the list!

WinDirStat, aka Windows Directory Statistics, is a disk usage tool that provides a variety of statistical views for analyzing how a system’s disk is being used. Every admin wrestles with disk space issues time and again, whether in support of user systems or when monitoring software generates an alert for a critical production server. Sometimes you can quickly see what is taking up all of the disk space on the troubled system, but for those times when it’s not so obvious or you are in a hurry, there is WinDirStat.

Network packet analysis and troubleshooting is a real art, one that requires solid training and years of hands-on experience. But a tool like Wireshark helps ease the learning curve, thanks to its many powerful features. One look at this free software-based protocol analyzer’s color-coding features and you’ll see how its superior usability makes Wireshark a worthwhile tool for any Microsoft shop.


No list of open source tools used by system administrators would be complete without a mention of PuTTY, one of the most widely used terminal emulators. Whether you need to make a serial connection to a switch, telnet, SSH, SCP, or rlogin, PuTTY can handle it. It’s been around since the late ’90s and has spawned dozens of imitators, but none quite like the original.


AMANDA Network Backup
Admins looking to ease the pain of backing up Windows-based systems should check out AMANDA, aka Advanced Maryland Automatic Network Disk Archiver. AMANDA provides the ability for an administrator to set up a single master backup server that can support both Windows desktops and servers over the network to a variety of media, including tape drives, disks, or optical media with NTFS support.

ZMANDA maintains and supports the freely available AMANDA, as well as ZMANDA Recovery Manager for MySQL. It also provides network and cloud backup services it sells commercially.


Nmap is a network mapping tool that is great for finding out what hosts and services are connected to a given network. While Nmap is often used in the context of security auditing, particularly for detecting open ports and vulnerabilities, many system administrators find it useful for simply keeping track of what is on their network, such as determining the operating system and hardware address of various hosts.

That’s merely scratching the surface. Nmap can be used in so many ways that it is very much worth exploring if you haven’t already. In addition to network inventory, Nmap can manage service upgrade schedules and monitor host or service uptime.


If you’re looking for a more graphical means of tapping PowerShell (aside from PowerShell ISE), then you should check out PowerGUI. This free graphical user interface and script editor is valuable in its own right, but perhaps more valuable is the community built around PowerGUI, which offers a vast store of contributed scripts and libraries for administering your fleet.

This tool was originally kept up to date through Quest, which was acquired by Dell. Some worried it wouldn’t be improved on going forward, but Dell has indeed continued to work on it.


7-Zip is a free, open source archive utility for compressing files. It’s a great alternative to better-known shareware, which should help you avoid the headaches of registering software or clicking through a bunch of warnings about an expired trial period. It supports 256-bit AES encryption and a wide variety of archive formats, so you probably won’t have to resort to another archive solution any time soon. Combine all this with fast, effective compression, and 7-Zip is easily a tool that you will find useful for yourself and the users you support in your organization.


Azure Storage Explorer
Although still in Beta, Azure Storage Explorer is swiftly progressing. It is a GUI tool for inspecting the data in your Azure cloud storage projects, including the logs of your cloud-hosted applications.

Keep in mind the variety of Azure storage “explorers” since folks often want to view their data easily. Jeff Irwin, program manager for Windows Azure Storage, put together a list of these storage explorers, and you can quickly see Azure Storage Explorer compares with other offerings. It is one of the few with the ability to work with block blob storage, page blob storage, tables, and queues.


If you find yourself often jotting quick notes in Notepad, you might want to check out Notepad++. Though easy and lightweight, Notepad is sorely lacking in anything but the basics. Notepad++, as the name implies, is an even better take on the trusty, built-in Notepad application. It’s a source code editor and Notepad replacement.

This is no program for simply taking quick notes. It has a tabbed interface that allows you to switch quickly and easily between multiple open files, and it offers spell-check, auto-complete, and syntax highlighting — perfect for writing scripts.

That’s only scratching the surface of what Notepad++ has in store. There are many text editors, but Notepad++ is one to always have at the ready.


UltraDefrag is a tool for Windows that can defrag system files, registry hives, and the paging file. It can handle NTFS metafile defragmentation, MFT defragmentation, the defragging of hibernation files, and more. It also provides HTML readable reports. This valuable addition to any Windows environment is continually updated to ensure improvements in performance.


VirtualBox is a must-have open source virtualization solution for any admin seeking to run guest OSes on Windows, Linux, Macintosh, or Solaris machines. Familiarity with virtualization is fast becoming essential for all system administrators. VirtualBox is a quick and easy way to get started running your own virtual machines. Whether you want to test something out before running it in production or sharpen your skills on an OS you are less familiar with, VirtualBox is a great way to try out virtualization without having to invest in costly software.

Using VirtualBox, admins can run virtual instances of a wide array of operating systems, including Windows, Linux, OpenSolaris, OS/2, OpenBSD, and even DOS. It’s an open source community effort backed by Oracle.


Angry IP Scanner
Admins often need to quickly scan their network to find a particular workstation or device. There are lots of ways of doing this and plenty of tools to choose from, but when I need something quick and simple, I use Angry IP Scanner.

Angry IP Scanner offers loads of features and can be extended further with additional plug-ins, but I like it for the fact that it is lightweight, not even requiring an installation. Give it a try and I’m sure it will become an indispensable part of your toolkit as well.


Windows Azure Platform Management Tool (MMC)
The Windows Azure Platform Management Tool enables you to manage your Azure-hosted services and storage accounts through an installed MMC console GUI. You can perform a variety of administration and management operations through WAPMMC, including hosted service management, diagnostics, certificate management, storage services, blog storage management, and so on. Anyone moving to Microsoft’s cloud will find this tool indispensable.


Google Analytics SharePoint 2013 / Office 365
This is an interesting solution for those folks who want to use the powerful and familiar Google Analytics tools within SharePoint and Office 365. It’s a sandbox solution that allows you to then paste the analytics code into Office 365 sites. It works with publishing sites and collaboration sites, so if your organization is hosting team sites, blogs, and the like, check it out.


This free, open source antivirus solution is essential for security-minded admins. ClamWin supports Microsoft Windows versions ranging from Windows 98 to Windows 8, as well as Windows Server 2012, 2008, and 2003. It includes a scanning scheduler that you can use to configure appropriate scan times, automatic signature updates, Microsoft Outlook attachment scan/removal, and more.

Although it may not be 100 percent comparable to a commercial real-time option for virus scanning, ClamWin is certainly a worthwhile tool, especially for shops seeking a free solution. There are other free solutions, obviously, but this one is also open source, a definite plus.


MCTS Training, MCITP Trainnig

Best Microsoft MCTS Certification, Microsoft MCITP Training at

Office 365’s spam filter gets smarter with bulk mailings

The Exchange Online Protection email security engine rates promotional messages on a scale of 1 to 9

In time for the holiday shopping season, Microsoft has refined how Office 365 handles bulk promotional emails from vendors like Amazon, eBay and Macy’s.

Those messages, which contain special offers, newsletters and other sales incentives, fall into a gray area between legitimate email and obvious spam. Depending on a variety of factors, recipients sometimes find them useful and other times annoying.

Now, Microsoft has added what it describes as a “simple, intuitive control” to the Exchange Online Protection (EOP) security engine in Exchange Online so that Office 365 admins can fine-tune the treatment of these messages for their domain.

EOP rates bulk messages on a scale of 1 to 9. The lower the rating, the less likely the message will be considered a nuisance by recipients. Criteria used to rate messages include whether recipients signed up for the mailings, whether the sender offers unsubscribe options and how many complaints the emails have generated.

Office 365 sets its default threshold at 7, meaning EOP will deliver bulk messages rated 6 and lower, and throw those rated 7 and above into the spam basket. However, admins can adjust the threshold to a different number.

“Bulk email can be a real nuisance for users. We hope that this feature will help you better manage the amount of bulk email your organization receives and look forward to continually improving our anti-spam service to meet your needs,” wrote Microsoft officials Shobhit Sahay and Chris Nguyen in a blog post Monday.

Microsoft is starting to roll out the improved email management capability now. Admins that want it activated right away on their domains can place a request with Microsoft via their account team.

MCTS Training, MCITP Trainnig

Best Microsoft MCTS Certification, Microsoft MCITP Training at




Windows XP: No IE9 for you

Microsoft becomes first major browser maker to drop support for world’s most popular OS

Microsoft’s new browser, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), will not run on Windows XP, now or when the software eventually ships, the company confirmed Tuesday.

The move makes Microsoft the first major browser developer to drop support for XP, the world’s most popular operating system, in a future release.

Although Microsoft excluded Windows XP from the list for the IE9 developer preview, it sidestepped the question about which versions of Windows the final browser would support. In an IE9 FAQ, for example, Microsoft responded, “It’s too early to talk about features of the Internet Explorer 9 Beta” to the query, “Will Internet Explorer 9 run on Windows XP?”
dialog box
This dialog box pops up during attempts to install IE9 Platform Preview on Windows XP.

That caused some users to demand a straight answer. “Please tell whether the final version will run on Windows XP SP3 or not,” said someone identified as “eXPerience” in a comment to a blog post by Dean Hachamovich, Microsoft’s general manager for the IE team. “If not, please be clear about it. Really, enough is enough of keeping users in the lurch about Windows XP support.”

Others bashed Microsoft on the assumption that IE9 would never run on XP. “Dropping Windows XP support is one of the worst decisions ever taken by [the] IE team, probably even worse than disbanding the IE team back in the IE6 days,” claimed an anonymous commenter.

Microsoft had offered up broad hints that IE9 was not in Windows XP’s future, however. Tuesday, a company spokeswoman said the new browser needs a “modern operating system,” a phrase that hasn’t been paired with Window XP for years. “Internet Explorer 9 requires the modern graphics and security underpinnings that have come since 2001,” she added, clearly referring to XP, which appeared that year.

Windows XP’s inability to run the Platform Preview or the final browser stems from, IE9’s graphics hardware acceleration, which relies on the Direct2D and DirectWrite DirectX APIs (applications programming interfaces). Support for those APIs is built into Windows 7, and was added to Vista and Windows Server 2008 last October, but cannot be extended to Windows XP.

Some users worried that by halting browser development for Windows XP, Microsoft would repeat a current problem, getting customers to ditch IE6 for a newer version. “Those who choose to stay with XP will be forced to [then] stay forever on IE8, which will become the new IE6,” said a user named Danny Gibbons in a comment on Hachamovich’s blog.

Tough, said Sheri McLeish, Forrester Research’s browser analyst. “This is the stick to get off XP,” she said. Windows XP users will solve the browser problem themselves when they upgrade, as most eventually will, to Windows 7. “What are they going to do, go to Linux or run XP forever?” she asked.

Still, IE9’s inability to run on Windows XP will prevent it from becoming widespread until the nearly-nine-year-old OS loses significant share to Windows 7. According to Web metrics company NetApplications’ most recent data, if IE9 was released today, it would be able to run on just over a quarter — 27% — of all Windows machines.

No other major browser maker has announced plans to stop supporting Windows XP, but several have dropped other operating systems or platforms. Last month, for instance, Mozilla said it would not support Apple’s Mac OS X 10.4, known as “Tiger,” in future upgrades to Firefox. Google’s Chrome for the Mac, meanwhile, only runs on Intel-based Macs, not on the older PowerPC-based machines that were discontinued in 2006.

The IE9 Platform Preview can be downloaded from Microsoft’s site. It requires Windows 7, Vista SP2, Windows Server 2008 or Windows 2008 R2.

MCTS Training, MCITP Trainnig

Best Microsoft MCTS Certification, Microsoft MCITP Training at



Go to Top