Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Windows Home Server “Vail” Drive Extender V2–New Features

Mark Vayman, a lead program manager on the Home and Small Business Server team just tossed out all the new features in Windows Home Server Drive Extender, version 2.  The information and discussion can be found in the Microsoft Forums, and I urge you to surf on over there and jump into the conversation with questions and comments.

Drive Extender is a storage technology first introduced in Windows Home Server's first release. The 1st generation of the technology was file based, and worked on top of "vanilla" NTFS volumes using reparse points. To address the customer feedback we have received and improve the system's resiliency to partial drive failures (seen many times by our support), the Drive Extender technology was updated to use block based storage below the file system similar to software RAID systems.

The following isn't an exhaustive list, but does try to enumerate the major new features as well as features which are no longer supported in the “Vail” version of Drive Extender:

Features carried over from the previous release:

  • Duplication can be turned on/off per folder.
  • Duplicated folders can survive a single hard drive failure.
  • Storage pool can be easily expanded using different drive types and various sizes.
  • Graphical representation of storage usage (AKA the pie chart) - isn't present in the beta, but is planned for the next milestone.

New/Improved features:

  • For duplicated folders, data is duplicated in real time to two separate drives - there is no hourly migration pass.
  • File system level encryption (EFS) and compression are now supported for Drive Extender folders.
  • File conflicts are gone, duplication works as intended for files in use as it is performed at the block level now.
  • The remaining amount of data to synchronize/duplicate is reported per storage pool.
  • All storage operations are executed in the background without blocking other server operations. Specifically, drive removal can be issued without impacting the online state of shares.
  • Drives in a storage pool can be named with a custom description to enable physical identification of the drive in the server.
  • Drive serial number and exact connection type is reported for each drive.
  • Drives which are bigger than 2TB can be added  to a storage pool.
  • iSCSI storage devices can be added to the a storage pool.
  • The system drive can be excluded from the storage pool.
  • A new low-level storage check and repair diagnostic operation was added.
  • All storage operations are performed with very low I/O priority to ensure they don't interfere with media streaming.
  • A new "folder repair" operation is available which runs “chkdsk” on the folder's volume.
  • To protect against silent storage errors (bit flips, misdirected writes, torn writes), additional information is appended to each 512-byte sector stored on drive. In particular, each sector is protected by a CRC checksum, which enables Drive Extender to detect data read errors, perform real-time error correction and self-healing (up to 2 bit errors per sector if duplication is disabled, and any number of bit errors if duplication is enabled) and report the errors back to the user and application. The overhead for this additional data is roughly 12% of drive space.
  • Data drives in storage pools can be migrated between servers, and appear as a non-default pool.  A non-default pool can be promoted to a default pool if no default pool exists.

Deprecated features:

  • A data drive from a storage pool cannot be read on machine not running the “Vail” server software.
  • Data isn't rebalanced across drives to ensure even distribution. The data allocation attempts to keep drives evenly used. A periodic rebalance operation is considered for the next version.

Known inter-op/support issues with the Beta

  • As with other software RAID solutions, Drive Extender isn't supported with BitLocker.
  • Drive Extender cannot share the same drive with other software based RAID systems (such as Microsoft Dynamic Drives)
  • Running low-level software storage tools—for example, defragmentation, full drive encryption, or volume imaging—on server folders may cause issues. These tools have not been fully tested in this release. Please avoid running these tools on the server.
  • Internally, the “Vail” software has been tested with up to 16 hard drives and with up to 16 TB of total storage capacity. We’re aware of a number of bugs that occur beyond these limits, so please keep your beta installations under 16 drives and 16 TB total drive space.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Windows Home Server Codename “Vail” Public Beta Available Today!

Today is an exciting day for me.  As you know, one of the products I work on is Windows Home Server.  Today we’re excited to announce that the next version of Windows Home Server (codename “Vail”) is available for you to try.  This is a BETA release, and while it may seem like you want to switch to it as your actual home server, we want to remind you that it’s still not sanctioned for production usage, because it just hasn’t gone through the hours of testing needed for us to feel confident that it’s rock solid.  Plus we’re still adding features!


What we do want to do with the Beta release, is get the public pounding away on all of our features, but most importanly our PC Backup and our new version of Drive Extender! We invite everyone to check it out by downloading the software from the Microsoft Connect site. (English language builds are available now).  If you don’t have extra hardware, Vail installs flawlessly into Hyper-V based environments and one of our MVPS already has a blog post on how to install it into VMWare.

What’s new?

  • Extending media streaming outside the home or office
  • Multi-PC backup and restore
  • Simplified setup and user experience
  • Expanded development and customization tools for partners

A Short Demo of the new features is available on Youtube

Before we go too much further, however, we want to pass along a couple of very important hardware-related tips on installing the Vail Beta:

  1. In Vail, we’re moving to a new underlying server platform that will only run as a 64-bit OS. We do not recommend running Vail on a 32-bit PC or existing Windows Home Server systems (even 64-bit Home Server systems) because there may be compatibility issues with some OEM drivers.
  2. Since it is still in ‘beta,’ please install the Vail code on a secondary computer as opposed to existing Windows Home Server v1 OEM systems (not even 64-bit systems) If you do install the beta on an existing system, you may experience a number of problems, including the inability to run WHS v1 add-in applications (even those provided by OEMs). Installing on a secondary machine will help ensure the best possible user experience, and we would like your feedback on what this scenario is like.
  3. Installation of the Vail OS on a PC will also require users to wipe all data from that PC or device.
  4. The hardware requirements for Vail call for a 1.4 GHz x64 processor, 1 GB RAM, and at least one160 GB hard drive. Full details and additional requirements will be posted on the Microsoft Connect download site.

Also, if you are a developer, this beta includes a new software development kit (SDK) that gives developers and partners even more ways to customize the OS and add new functionality and services to Windows Home Servers. Download the SDK here.

Finally, before you start filing bugs, some features yet to come are:

  • Changing a users password
  • Changing your home server password

Please refer to the official home server blog for the official announcement.

We look forward to hearing your feedback.  Please open issues and discuss on the Connect Website.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

McAfee Update Shuts Down XP Machines

McAfee corporate customers across the globe using Windows XP experienced massive shutdowns today as an update to McAfee's security suite deleted svchost.exe—a very common Windows process—causing machines to reboot continuously. McAfee has confirmed the problem and removed the faulty virus definition file from the update. Only McAfee's corporate users were affected.

If you or your workplace were affected, Twitter user scratchfury offers this (unverified) tip:

boot to safe mode, rename mcshield.exe, reboot, run Virus Console, pick Tools -> Rollback DAT, name back to mcshield, reboot

We don't have a machine to test it on, so follow his tip at your own risk, and only if you know what you're doing. If you've fixed it already, let's hear how you did it in the comments.

Courtesy of LifeHacker

The Next Wave of Productivity – Office 2010

Microsoft keynote speaker Stephen Elop talks about Office 2010 & SharePoint 2010

Wow, it’s hard to believe that Office 2010 is here already.  I’ve been running different forms of beta for just shy of a year!  In fact, I can’t even consider running Outlook 2007 anymore, as the new Outlook 2010 makes me sooo productive.  The new Outlook ribbon, the detailed calendar views, the ability to import my Facebook internet calendar directly into Outlook (2007 did it, but one-time only, 2010 will continuously do it, keeping me up to date). 

I’ve been using it exclusively for work, and the features are amazing, but I hear (and can’t wait to try) that it has some social connectivity for personal use.  Can’t wait to get it on my home PC!

Join Microsoft & Steven Elop at the virtual launch!

Click the graphic above, to add to your calendar, then watch Stephen Elop, President of the Microsoft Business Division, announce the launch of Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 on May 12, 2010 at 11 a.m. EST. The live Microsoft keynote focuses on the next wave of productivity that delivers:

  • End user productivity across the PC, phone and browser
  • IT choice and flexibility
  • A platform for developers to build innovative solutions

Join the virtual launch event with Microsoft executives, product developers, partners and customers to:

  • Find out how peers and partners are already seeing benefits to their business by leveraging the next wave of productivity.
  • Submit your questions through live Q&A.
  • Participate via blogs, tweets, social media networks, commenting, and more.

View on-demand breakout sessions showing how Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 meet the unique challenges people and businesses are faced with today, and provide the solutions they need for tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Create SUPER complex passwords with touch typing skills

I found this awesome tip on LifeHacker, one of my favorite blogs… Shift your fingers one key for easy to remember, super complex passwords!


You're constantly told how easy it would be to hack your weak passwords, but complicated passwords just aren't something our brains get excited about memorizing.

His clever solution: Stick with your weak, dictionary password if you must; just move your fingers over a space on the keyboard.

If you want a secure password without having to remember anything complex, try shifting your fingers one set of keys to the right. It will make your password look like gibberish, will often add in punctuation marks, and is quick and simple.

When John Pozadzides showed us how he'd hack our weak passwords, he listed his top 10 choices for getting started hacking away at your weak passwords. Let's take a look at how a few of those popular passwords fare when finger shifting to the right:

  • password => [sddeptf
  • letmein => ;ry,rom
  • money => .pmru
  • love => ;pbr

Something longer but still really lame, like, say, "topsecretpassword", becomes "yp[drvtry[sddeptf". These may not be perfect compared to secure password generators, but they're likely orders of magnitude better than a lot of people's go-to passwords.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Windows Media Player 12 Streams Your Media Library over the Internet

Windows Media Player 12 Streams Your Media Library over the 

Here's a new one to us: Linking your Windows Live ID to Windows Media Player 12 in Windows 7 allows you to stream your entire music library to any computer. Even better: no need to install third-party software with this method.

There are many, many ways to stream your music collection over the internet—but there's something appealing about using the built-in software that Microsoft bundled with Windows 7. If you're already using Windows Media Player 12, you can listen to your home music collection from any Windows computer through the internet. What's more, it actually should work with all your media, not just your music.

In order to use this feature, you'll need a Windows Live ID then you've got to link your Windows Live ID to your media collection. In Windows Media Player, navigate to the Stream menu and choose "Allow Internet access to home media." You'll want to "Link an online ID." If you see "Add an online ID provider" in the next box, click it because you'll need to download some software depending what version of Windows 7 you're running.

Windows Media Player 12 Streams Your Media Library over the 

Enter your Windows Live email address and password to link your media collection. Go back to the Stream menu, and click "Allow Internet access to home media." In order to enable another Windows 7 PC access, you'll need to repeat these steps. After you're finished, your library will show up in the Other Libraries category of the left-side pane in Windows Media 7.

We don't know a lot of people who actually use Windows Media Player, but this awesome feature could convince some—and it's something that would be great to see in more tight-fisted media players. (Ahem, iTunes, we're looking at you.)

Post courtesy of Lifehacker

Friday, April 09, 2010

Best of Bing – Windows 7 Themes

Are you on Windows 7 and like the Bing homepage images? You can have the best of them as wallpapers for your desktop! The first Bing’s Best theme pack was so popular, the team decided to release a second Bing theme pack: Bing’s Best 2.

In case you missed out on number one, I’ve listed them both below:

image BingBest2

You can also download both of them from here. Enjoy!

Post courtesy of Liveside.net