Azure Platform to Launch Fully in Feb 2010

Windows Azure, SQL Azure and .NET Services will go live as follows, according to a CTP newsletter I just received:

At PDC 2009, on November 17th, 2009, a number of new features in Windows Azure will be made available for the first time. The CTP will remain open through December 31st, allowing you to experiment with the full feature platform and to give us any final feedback.

Beginning January, 2010, new customers will have to sign up for an offer to access services on the Windows Azure platform. You’ll receive your first bill with a $0 balance, so you can see your exact usage while still enjoying free service.

On February 1, 2010, we will begin charging customers for using the Windows Azure platform.

This ‘delay’ from the anticipated commercial launch at PDC, is explained as follows:

Making the transition in these three steps accomplishes a few goals. First, it gives you a chance to explore our full feature set for free. Second, it allows our team time to get your feedback on the new features and address any issues that arise. Finally, it lets you preview exactly how billing will work before you need to start paying.

That’s some great spin, but at least it’s on the way.  Let’s see what these new features are in 3 weeks.


Google Maps’ Street View – The Online Dating Bunny Boiler’s Friend?

So after trolling searching the Internet dating sites you’ve gone on that first in-person date but it doesn’t seem like it will go anywhere, or perhaps, you’re a little way into a new Internet-initiated relationship and you’ve kept things on a first-name only basis and now things are not going very well.  At this point, you decide you’d like to walk away. 

In some cases (and this can happen), you may be concerned that your date may not take the news so well (especially if you had a long online courtship before meeting or he/she is just a little bit weird) and you may be wondering if there will be any unwelcome in-person ‘visits’ for a ‘talk’ (from either gender) this Halloween.

However, you feel confident that you have not provided your address or your phone number (you know about reverse look-up if you don’t pay the rip-off non-listed fee right?).

Just wait a second…

You may have mentioned the area of town you live in and your date/ex may have seen your vehicle or you may even have picked him/her up in it.

That shouldn’t matter though, because he/she most likely doesn’t have your license plate information (unless they texted it to their friends for their own safety of course), and even if they did, they don’t have access to the Government’s vehicle licensing database.

Oh… but who needs the vehicle licensing database, when you have Street View on Google Maps – now available in some major Canadian areas.

Yes.  That’s right.  If your scorned date/ex has a bone to pick, he/she can virtually cruise around your neighbourhood looking for your car, all from the comfort of his/her home computer without a neighbourhood watch captain in site.  It doesn’t matter if the license plate is blurred out because someone on a mission will just go and check out the real view on a few narrowed down options ;-).

So if you have an unhappy ex. and you thought they’d never find you while you move on to the next dating adventure, it’s time to park off the streets, in the garage or just lose the car and hope the Google van comes around again soon for a fresh picture…  Alternatively consider limiting disclosure of your home location to planet Earth and hope they don’t have great image searching software.

Win 7 RTM on an Intel X25-M (2nd gen) SSD

Back in July as Win 7 RTM’d, I got a new Dell Studio 14z notebook and at the same time, ordered an Intel X25-M 80GB 2nd gen drive – SSDSA2MH080G2C1.

Despite the back-order status on the SSD, the supplier assured me they would be coming into stock on the date indicated on their website.  My delivery date came and went and the supplier was none-the-wiser.  I eventually discovered that there had been a recall on the drives.  Don’t you hate it when you know more about this stuff than the supplier?  Where’s the value add?

Out of the blue, I received the drive last week, about 10 weeks late…

I didn’t think I’d have time to install it before next week, but waiting for a furnace service and testing some long-running workflow code provided the opportunity, because… using an SSD (especially this one) makes everything fast!

Here are the immediately noticeable benefits:

  • Windows 7 Pro 64 installed in about 12 minutes (excluding interaction)!
  • Windows 7 boots in under 15 seconds!
  • There is no HDD noise.
  • Hibernate and resume is super fast.
  • Applications launch very very quickly.
  • Installs are very quick.
  • The Win 7 WEI data transfer sub-score if 7.8, just 0.1 below the max.

The only bad part of the experience was the slight moment of panic when I thought I’d broken a motherboard connector (but hadn’t) for the keyboard (which had to be out of the way to swap the hard drive easily).  The drive has a SATA interface and a 2.5” drive form factor (including an extra layer of plastic to fill out its size to match regular drive depth).

Of course there’s the cost.  This drive was ~CDN$250 for 80GB.  I use 10,000RPM Raptors in RAID 0 on my desktop (yes I know its risky – that’s what back up for).  Despite the SSD cost, I may go for 2xSSD in RAID 0 for when I move from Vista to Win 7 on there.  I may also build a 4xSSD RAID10 setup for my hyper-v server’s VHD storage – should be interesting.  The price of these things can only come down.

There are no fancy benchmarks here – just a happy customer.  I have not had a chance to try any serious application use yet.  I use the machine for couch-development and presentations and will be installing Visual Studio and SQL Server (64-bit).  I will also try the new Virtual PC.  Perhaps more on that later.

A Peak at My Presenting Experience with Windows 7 RTM

So last night, I did a presentation on programming and extending SQL Server Reporting Services.  I may post more on that later.

I installed Windows 7 RTM (Pro x64) last Thursday when it came out to MSDN/TechNet subscriber because, well…, it’s kinda cool to use the new stuff.

I had no issues with SQL 2008 Dev SP1 (you are warned when you install the RTM that it’s not compatible and need the SP) and VS 2008 Pro SP1.

The latest Flash player, Adobe Reader and Silverlight 3 (surprising not in the RTM) all worked just fine.

I also used SlySoft’s Virtual CloneDrive (for opening .ISOs) without issue.

Three things I learned while doing the presentation in relation to Windows 7.

  • Either learn the new shell icons or set the taskbar to show text, not just icons – you don’t want to be guessing which thing is which because…
  • Aero Peak is not your friend for presenting.  While Vista added LivePreview (live pop-up thumbnails of applications that appear just above the task bar which you hover the cursor over the taskbar items), Window 7 includes Aero Peak.  By default applications with 2+ instances open (2+ IE, Visual Studio or Explorer instances that I needed open) have just one taskbar icon and you see multiple thumbnails above each icon when you mouse-over each one.  You can click on a thumbnail to switch to (and restore if necessary) it’s application window.  This is solid, but if you hover your cursor over one of these thumbnails, after a split second, the new Aero Peak feature kicks in.  All the other windows become just rectangular outlines and the window for the thumbnail you are over is the only window showing.  Even if the window is minimised it temporarily shows in its restored position.  Now roll to the other thumbnails and everything switches.  This sounds great for a single user, but it can be potentially confusing and jarring for the audience.  I liken this to when you are in a movie theatre and you hear random interrupting sounds from other people.  Those people don’t find the sounds annoying because they are controlling them, but to others it’s a bit random.  You really need to know which window is which or avoid Aero Peak unless you really need it.
  • Practice with extended desktops if you are going to use it and have things set up ahead of time and/or move the taskbar to the projected screen.  I had a prompt script open in Word on my laptop screen and had the main show projected from the extended screen.  This is nice because the audience sees things full screen, but it does mean you have to manage windows.  If you are going to say “I’m going to open…" you don’t want a window management pause while you drag across a screen that has launched on your laptop screen.  Also, when this setup is combined with Aero Peak/Live Preview activity, the audience cannot see the thumbnail interaction and so don’t know why there’s a less-than-smooth window-flicking experience occurring on the projected screen.  Therefore, it’s better to have the taskbar on the projected screen and/or avoid Aero Peak.

ServePath’s GoGrid Cheaper than Microsoft’s Windows Azure

… at the very least if you spend more than $150 a month, i.e. on a real application, based on the pricing information available to compare today.

Comparing GoGrid pricing details (on the Business Cloud pre-paid plan) to those for Azure:

  • For Storage, capacity prices are the same but GoGrid provides 10GB free.
  • For Compute, GoGrid is $0.12 per GB-hour as is Azure, but Azure doesn’t specify GBs of RAM, just hours so it’s hard to compare the detail.  GoGrid moves to just $0.10 or $0.08 per GB-hour on higher plans.
  • For Data in/out GoGrid is $0.25 (or $0.20/$0.17 on higher plans) out and FREE in, whereas Azue if $0.15 out + $0.10 in.

Microsoft says it will offer discounts for partners and plan at launch, i.e. still not information available to properly compare.

Another Tools Set-Back With Silverlight 3

I previously mentioned how limited the tools are in Visual Studio for Silverlight 2 – particularly the read-only design preview, compared to the full WPF editor, forcing coziness with XAML or learning of another tool (i.e. Blend).

Silverlight 3 was released today, and I wasn’t expecting a non-read-only editor (not until VS 2010), but I certainly didn’t expect what I found in the Silverlight 3 release notes (which of course I read after installing):

Design Preview Disabled in Silverlight 3 Tools

Due to performance and rendering issues, the preview window has been disabled in the Silverlight 3 Tools for Visual Studio 2008. The functionality of the XAML editor remains intact, including IntelliSense, error messages, and the ability to drag controls from the Toolbox into the editor. WYSIWYG XAML design can be done by using Expression Blend or Visual Studio 2010.

One step forward and another one back.

So it seems that to get visual editing I need to install the RC of Expression 3 or a Beta of Visual Studio 2010.

Working with pre-release or sub-par tools appears to be the norm these days.

There is also a noticeable lack of readily discoverable web-hosted live demos for Silverlight 3’s new features.  It would be helpful if the showcase allowed filtering by version feature use.

I’m wondering why SL 3 was released now instead of waiting for the tools to be ‘fixed’ (or at least for the 30 days to pass within which that they say Expression Studio 3 will be final)?  Are we going to find that SL 3 is pre-installed in Windows 7 next week?

There’s also this in the release notes which was also the case for beta versions of the tools, though not an unheard of arrangement with technology versions in VS (or worse – think BI tools):

Silverlight 3 Tools and Silverlight 2 Compatibility
Silverlight 2 projects cannot be created with the Silverlight 3 Tools for Visual Studio 2008. To create Silveright 2 projects, uninstall the Silverlight 3 runtime and the Silverlight 3 Tools from Add or Remove Programs and re-install the Silverlight 2 Tools for Visual Studio 2008.

It’s a good thing VPC/Hyper-V exists.

Full Expression Studio for MSDN Premium Subscribers

As part of his Silverlight 3 release announcement, Scott Guthrie stated:

Expression Studio 3 will be included as part of the MSDN Premium and higher subscriptions (meaning MSDN Premium customers don’t have to pay anything extra to get all of the Expression Studio products).

Technically Premium is the highest subscription but there are three of them: VS Pro + Premium, VS TE + Premium and VS TS + Premium.

If the implication is that VS Pro + Premium now includes the full Studio, then this is a much welcome albeit overdue upgrade, as previously only Expression Web and Expression Blend were available to VS Pro Premium – you needed VS Team Suite + Premium for the full Studio.  Also, previously only Partners at the lowest level (“Registered”) could get an Action Pack subscription (with web benefit) including the full Studio leaving Certified and Gold Certified Partners with just Web and Blend in their included VS Pro/TE + MSDN Premium subscriptions benefit.

Google could win at least the Mobile Consumer Space

If you look at Microsoft’s Project Natal, you know that Microsoft is trying to go after the rest of the family in the gaming space.  Once those people become comfortable playing games like raggedy dolls 😉 they’ll be comfortable using whatever entertainment or service Microsoft provides on the box.

It goes without saying that Microsoft is big in business and will likely continue to be but that focus may continue to be their undoing in other market segments – just look at Windows Mobile.  Take the consumer who is buying their first or next mobile device and just moving into social networking or electronic communications or those that currently have no brand loyalty.  Here, Google could gradually and quietly take over from Symbian, Apple and Microsoft.

Google Wave + Google Search + other Google applications on an Android-based phone, a mini running Android or even on any other low-cost device with a browser, could be a winning formula and all that any social networking consumer needs.

While Microsoft will dominate business, gaming and home entertainment, Google may well end up dominating most of the mobile consumer space (with a little work on the UI – and imagine if Google and Adobe got together…).

Microsoft needs to come out with a Windows Mobile device and fast – like this year.  It needs to be a .NET-based OS and have a flourishing and up-front application/music market place.  That means dismissing their hardware partners and bring out a cheap Zune phone (while extending Game Studio Express to be App Studio Express) – it’s painful to other but it’s the only real way for Microsoft not to lose this space altogether, and not to Apple, but to Google.

Microsoft’s Azure xRM Play is Important

Read this through and you’ll see how Microsoft could be enabling a LOB platform in the cloud for ISVs.  Beware however, that this could also be a research asset for Microsoft to bolster it’s own CRM and other offerings and potentially take out, devalue or acquire (for a lucky few) a few LOB app ISVs like it is or is not (depending on your point of view) with application hosting partners.