New Windows releases bring with them a bevy of new features, use cases and controversy. Indeed I can think back to every new Windows release dating back to Windows 95 and there was always something that set off a furor, whether it was UI changes or compatibility issues. For us technical folk though a new version of Windows brings with it opportunity, to experiment with the latest tech and dream about where we’ll take it. For the last month I’ve been using Windows 10 on my home machines and, honestly, whilst it feels much like its Windows 8.1 predecessor I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing.
Visually Windows 10 is a big departure from its 8 and 8.1 predecessors as, for any non-tablet device, the full screen metro app tray is gone, replaced with a more familiar start menu. The full screen option is still there however, hiding in the notifications area under the guise of Tablet Mode, and for transformer or tablet style devices this will be the default option. The flat aesthetic has been taken even further again with all the iconography being reworked, ironing out almost any 3D element. You’re also not allowed to change the login screen’s laser window background without the aid of a resource hacker, likely due to the extreme amount of effort that went into creating the image.
For most, especially those who didn’t jump in the Windows 8 bandwagon, the navigation of the start menu will familiar although I must admit after the years I’ve spent with its predecessor it’s taken some getting used to. Whilst the charms menu might have disappeared the essence of it appears throughout Windows 10, mostly in the form of settings panels like Network Settings. For the most part they do make the routine tasks easier, like selecting a wifi network, however once things get complicated (like if you have say 2 wireless adapters) then you’re going to have to root around a little bit to find what you’re looking for. It is a slightly better system than what Windows 8 had, however.
To give myself the full Windows 10 experience I installed it on 2 different machines in 2 different ways. The first was a clean install on the laptop you see above (my trusty ASUS Zenbook UX32V) and that went along without a hitch. For those familiar with the Windows 8 style installer there’s not much to write home about here as it’s near identical to the previous installers. The second install was an upgrade on my main machine as, funnily enough, I had it on good word that the upgrade process was actually quite useable. As it turns out it is as pretty much everything came across without a hitch. The only hiccup came from my audio drivers not working correctly (seemed to default to digital out and wouldn’t let me change it) however a reinstall of the latest drivers fixed everything.
In terms of features there’s really not much in the way of things I’d consider “must haves” however that’s likely because I’ve been using many of those features since Windows 8 was first released. There are some interesting little additions however like the games features that allow you to stream, record and capture screenshots for all DirectX games (something which Windows will remind you about when you start them up). Microsoft Edge is also astonishingly fast and quite useable however since it’s so new the lack of extensions for it have precluded me from using it extensively. Interestingly Internet Explorer still makes an appearance in Windows 10, obviously for those corporate applications that continue to require it.
Under the hood there’s a bevy of changes (which I won’t bore you with here) however the most interesting thing about them is the way Windows 10 is structured for improvements going forward. You see Windows 10 is currently slated to be the last major release of Windows ever but this doesn’t mean that it will remain stagnant. Instead new features will be released incrementally on a much more frequent basis. Indeed the roadmaps I’ve seen show that there are several major releases planned in the not too distant future and indeed if you want a peek at the them all you need to do is sign up for the Windows Insider program. Such a strategy could reap a lot of benefits, especially for organisations seeking to avoid the heartache of Windows version upgrades in the future.
All in all Windows 10 is pretty much what I expected it to be. It has the best parts of Windows 7 and 8 and mashed together into a cohesive whole that should appease the majority of Windows users. Sure there are some things that some won’t like, the privacy settings being chief among them, however they’re at least solvable issues rather than showstoppers like Vista’s compatibility or 8’s metro interface. Whether Microsoft’s strategy of no more major versions ever is tenable or not is something we’ll have to see over the coming years but at the very least they’ve got a strong base with which to build from.
All of my previous posts concerning Server 2012 (including those ones on LifeHacker) have been rather…high level focusing more on what you can achieve with it rather than some concrete examples. I’ll admit this can be almost wholly attributed to laziness as I’ve had Server 2012 running on my home machine for quite some time now and just haven’t bothered installing any additional features on it. However one of my close friends is in the throes of setting up his own aerial photography business (using UAVs, super cool stuff) and offered up his home server as a guinea pig for a Server 2012 install, provided I give him a working VPN in return.
Initially I thought that I’d install DirectAccess for him as it’s a pretty awesome piece of technology and implementing it appears to be a hell of a lot easier than it was on 2008¹. However the requirements for this were quite high for a VPN setup that would have at most a couple users, requiring a whole bunch of infrastructure that would serve no other purpose. In a rather strange coincidence one of my favourite Microsoft blogs, 4SysOps, wrote a post detailing the installation method for a SSTP VPN (one that tunnels over HTTPS) mere days before I was slated to go out and do the install for him.
Installing Server 2012 went incredibly smoothly and apart from a strange graphics card issue (the NVIDIA card he had in there didn’t seem to be able to regulate its fan without drivers, leading to it to lock up when it overheated) there were no problems. Following the guide was for the most part successful with everything going the way you’d expect it to. However there were a couple gotchas that we ran into along the way that I thought I’d detail here in case anyone got snagged on them.
We had several routing issues thanks to DNS entries taking far too long to expire, something we could have avoided with a little bit of forward planning. You can test the VPN internally by just using the local IP address however you probably won’t be able to get in as the SSL cert won’t match, but it is handy to test if all the plumbing is set up. However the most frustrating issue was that everything would seem to connect but would then immediate drop us out. Thankfully there were some events generated that allowed us to research this problem further but I’m not a big fan of the solution.
The error we were getting was something like “Error 720: The user <username> connected to port <server> has been disconnected because no network protocols were successfully negotiated”. There are numerous posts detailing this exact error and after trying many of the solutions the only one that worked was this one. Essentially it looks like, at least with SSTP VPNs, relaying DHCP requests doesn’t seem to work at all which is what causes this error. Setting up a static pool of IP addresses, and excluding it on the DHCP server, allowed us to connect in without a hitch.
It appears that this issue is a hangover from previous versions of Windows Server as the Routing and Remote Access console looks like it’s straight out of 2003 without much modification to it (apart from the Network Policies section). Now I’m not going to say that it needs a revamp, indeed once we got around that particular issue it worked perfectly, but it could use a little love.
Overall I’m pretty happy with my first real world Server 2012 install as I was able to get a technology that I had no previous experience with (VPNs) up and running in a matter of hours with little more than patience and a whole bunch of Googling. I’m now tempted to give DirectAccess a go at home as I’ve been meaning to set up a lab for a while now and being able to demonstrate some of Server 2012’s capabilities anywhere I have an Internet connection would just be plain awesome. That might be a little while off though as next week I’ll be in New Orleans, knee deep in TechEd goodness.
¹I can remember reading about it when it was first released and thinking I’d give it a go but nearly every install guide had DO NOT USE IN PRODUCTION plastered all over it. This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore as there are many production ready guides available and they’re all pretty easy to follow.
I’m probably one of the best kinds of customers. For starters I worked in retail for over 6 years so I know what I can do to make the process easier for everyone involved. More importantly though I usually spend an inordinate amount of time researching what product I want before heading out to the store or placing an order, meaning the sales/support people spend a whole lot less time with me, nabbing a sale without any kind of work whatsoever. Bearing all this in mind I don’t have a high tolerance for getting the bum steer when it comes to shopping online or in person but I’ll usually just take my business elsewhere instead of making a big deal about it.
Today however, I feel like making a fuss.
So there I was this morning, browsing my feed reader looking for inspiration as I usually do when I come across this post saying that Peggle, one of PopCap’s crack-like casual games, was free on the Amazon Android store for today only. Considering I shelled out for Plants vs Zombies on the iPhone and thoroughly enjoyed it I figured that whatever hoops Amazon made me jump through to get it would be worth it and would be a good candidate to test out my new Samsung Galaxy S II (review coming shortly!). So I hit up the web store and signed in using my Amazon account, downloaded the application, opened it up and hit the install button on Peggle. That’s when I received this lovely error:”The Amazon Appstore for Android is not yet available in your region”.
So after dicking around with Amazon’s unoptimized web interface (yeah they have an app but their website doesn’t seem to recognize Android devices), side loading their market app and inevitably handing over some personal information I’m not allowed to get the free application I sought after? Whilst I’m not an Android developer I’m pretty sure its easy to tell if a user is in a region where the app store is available before you make them download your application. In fact I’m so sure of this that I reckon it’s been done deliberately, forcing me to install their app store before telling me just so I don’t drop them completely once I found out that their free app du jour isn’t available to me. That’s what we call a bait and switch and that’s a real quick way for me to get the fuck out of there and never return.
I’ve bought stuff from Amazon in the past and had a good experience with them but this Android app store shenanigans has turned me off the idea of getting any application from them completely. If before I downloaded the application (which I did on my phone) they warned me that “You appear to be in Australia which we can’t currently service, press OK to continue to install the Amazon App Store” I would’ve been fine with that, since then it would just be me trying to skirt around their restrictions. Instead they let you sign up and only at the very last second, after you’ve given them your email and access to some personal data on your phone, do they tell you that it’s not currently available. For this the app has been uninstalled and it will take a metric shit ton of good will from them for me to install it again.
Sure this is a relatively minor quibble but like I said I’ve got little tolerance for this kind of crap, especially when there’s no technical limitation behind it. Not once yet have I had any problems with the regular Android market and it looks like it will be in my best interests to stick around on there, especially when Amazon has shown that they’re not interested in having my business. Maybe one day we’ll get over this whole idea of “regions” and we won’t have to put up with these kind of ludicrous restrictions, but until then I’ll just be taking my business elsewhere and Amazon can just fucking deal with it.