Microsoft cloud account problems

I am working extensively with Visual Studio 2013, Office 365 and Windows Azure, researching cloud development on Microsoft’s platform. It is in general a reasonable experience, but the way Microsoft manages its cloud accounts is a constant annoyance and sometimes a source of bugs.

The problem is that you cannot manage with just one Microsoft cloud account. I have an MSDN subscription which is a Microsoft account, and an Office 365 subscription for which I log in with an Organizational account, for example. Microsoft accounts are for accounts with Microsoft itself, while Organizational accounts are controlled by my business. The distinction makes some sense, but Internet Explorer does not cope all that well when you are using both, which for development seems unavoidable.

Right now, for example, I have encountered a bug. I want to log in to Office 365, so I browse to However, this is redirecting automatically to (it should not do this), which is a Microsoft account. So I get this screen:


This is for a Microsoft account, which will not work with Office 365. If I now present Organizational account credentials, it says the account is not recognized. If I present valid Microsoft account credentials, I get an error. “Sorry, that didn’t work”.


Agreed – but if I now click Sign out, I bounce back to the very same screen. In other words, I cannot sign out.

I have also seen the scenario where you cannot sign out of Office 365. You choose Sign out, Internet Explorer thinks for a moment, then logs you back in automatically. This may be a consequence of checking the mysterious “Keep me signed in” option when logging into Office 365. This should only keep you signed in until you specifically log out, but it can fail in both directions, asking you to sign in again later, or failing to sign you out. “Keep me signed in” is actually required for some features to work properly, such as Open in Explorer (or WebDav) in SharePoint online.

The inability to sign out is a security issue, since you may need to leave your machine, think you have signed out, and find someone else can access your account; though I suppose you can lock your Windows account to overcome this.

It can also be a practical problem. As a developer, you might want to log in with an Office 365 administrator account to configure a new app, and then with a non-administrator account to test. You need to be able to switch accounts for this purpose. It might be better to use a virtual machine for one of the two accounts.

I am not sure what the fix is, though it usually starts working again eventually. As ever, rebooting Windows may well help. Microsoft has a problems when signing out article which hints at some of these problems; it suggests that you to a couple of special logout urls to log out from an organizational account and logout from a Microsoft account but this does not always work. It also suggests clearing all cookies, which is a nuisance because then have to log back in to all your internet accounts, but even this can fail in my experience. Using another browser is a partial workaround. I do not know if you can get this problem in other browsers.

Visual Studio can also get confused. Imagine you are developing an Office 365 application hosted on Azure. You might have a Microsoft account for Azure along with the Organizational account for Office 365. You proceed through a publish wizard which needs both sets of credentials, and you are likely to get an error in my experience.

I can understand that this stuff is complex to get right, but from the user’s perspective logging in and logging out is basic functionality and something Microsoft should get right.rrrrrrrrr

First thoughts on Xbox One: difficult to recommend right now

I received an Xbox One on launch day last week.


I ordered this because I am interested in tracking Microsoft, and because I have had a lot of fun from the Xbox 360 and its predecessor, the original Xbox.

In the box you get the console, power brick, the new Kinect sensor, a single controller, a headset, and several leaflets including a pointless Day One “achievement” and a code to download FIFA 14.


Setup is a matter of connecting an HDMI cable to your TV or, in my case, a receiver, and the Kinect to its special port. I also connected an ethernet cable.


Finally I connected a digital TV PVR to the HDMI in. This enables the TV app on the Xbox One.

First impressions of the hardware are good. It looks elegant and feels well made. The controller is lovely to hold. The Kinect looks solid and sits comfortably in front of our TV.

I looked in vain for any specifications in the box. From other sources I believe the Xbox One has:

  • AMD chipset with 8 CPU cores at 1.75 GHz and 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500 GB hard drive
  • AMD GPU with 768 cores supporting up to 3840×2160 (2160p) graphics.
  • Blu-ray drive
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • 802.11n wifi
  • HDMI out, HDMI in, 2 USB 3.0 ports, S/P DIF optical audio out.
  • 7.1 surround sound

First impressions of the software are so-so. It began by downloading a firmware update, which went quickly enough. However that was just the start. The Xbox One dashboard uses an app model; almost everything is an app. Each app has to be downloaded and installed, including the Blu-ray player, Xbox Music, Skype and so on. Even the system settings is an app.

I made the mistake of registering my free download of FIFA 14 as one of the first things I did. The download is huge, and while it proceeded most of the other functionality showed as “Queuing”.

I expected to be wowed by some gorgeous effects in the new dashboard, but in fact the design is rather pedestrian. It is a tiled user interface but not quite the same as Windows 8. The dashboard features a larger tile which represents the currently selected app. This may be a live preview in some cases, TV for example. You can select this to run full screen, or you can have a snap view which shows a secondary app running alongside.

The dashboard overall feels rather spartan, especially to begin with when nothing much has been downloaded.

All of this contributed to an overall out of box experience of “is that it?”

I remember unpacking the original Nintendo Wii, running the Sports game, and having an amazing time. By contrast getting started with Xbox One was rather drab.

There is a video store where you can buy or rent downloads. I tried a few previews which show in extremely poor quality, which I trust bears no comparison to what you get if you actually pay. It beats me why you would show worse-than-VHS previews of movies when trying to tempt people into paying for a download.

There there is Kinect. I have mixed feelings. First, it really is amazing. It feels like a huge step forward from the original Kinect. I downloaded Kinect Sports Rivals preview, which lets you ride a water racer where you clench your fist to accelerate and move invisible handlebars to steer. It works perfectly even when you are seated. Technically that is a huge achievement.

At the same time I have to say that I would rather use a controller. Are we ever going to get equally precise control with motion sensors, compared to what you get with a controller? If it is a bowling game, motion sensors do make sense, but for controlling a water racer I am not so sure.

I am looking forward to trying the fitness app, but currently I a get a log-in failure with a message “unable to connect to token service”. It could be a firewall issue. Annoying.

Voice control is another big feature. Again, I have mixed feelings. It works for the most part very well. You say “Xbox select” and available options show in green text on the screen.

The main problem I have with the voice control is lack of consistency. I am willing to invest the time getting good at voice control, but only if I can do nearly everything with it. Unfortunately many apps are not voice enabled. So you can start the YouTube app with voice, for example, but not search within it.

I also worry that voice control will be a liability in some scenarios. Such fun to enter a room full of intense gamers and say “Xbox Go Home”.

It is getting there though, and worth some effort just to be able to go into a room, say “Xbox play Miles Davis” and have it be so.

That brings me to Xbox Music. It seems pretty good for streaming from Microsoft’s service, but not for much else. In my case I have a huge library of music ripped from CD and would like to be able to play it on the Xbox One. Rumour said that there would be support for DLNA streaming but I cannot see any sign of it.

FIFA 2014 looks good though football games are not so much my thing. I do miss having a little leaflet with a quick guide to the controls; a downside of download games.

There are not many games available and some are extraordinarily expensive, £68.99 for Dead Rising Deluxe Edition for example.

The YouTube app is nicely done and a good way to while away time, lack of voice search aside.

There are occasional Windows-like annoyances. You start the console, it says “Hello Tim” and you think you are signed in. You open Xbox Music and it says you must sign in. You select to sign in and you get another screen saying you should sign in. Then you sign in and it works.

There is a lot more Windows in Xbox One than in its predecessor. The SkyDrive app lets you view your uploaded photos which is handy. Internet Explorer is there and works reasonably with voice control, but lack of Flash is a big problem given that multimedia is important in the kind of web browsing you are likely to do on a TV.

So what do I think? On the plus side, the hardware seems excellent. I like the new controller. I like the Blu-ray support. I like the YouTube app.

The sad thing though is that as of now an Xbox 360 is a lot more fun, with its rich array of available games, and mature dashboard and apps.

Lack of any backward compatibility is a disaster at this point in the new console’s lifecycle. It is also disappointing that you cannot yet install Windows 8 apps, which would have instantly provided an array of reasonably priced casual games.

Populate XBox One with some strong games and apps, give the dashboard a bit more polish, and it could be really good. As it stands though, I find this hard to recommend. This is a long-term worry, since it gives the competition a head start from which the One may never recover.

Microsoft also needs to be a little less greedy in terms of pushing its subscription services and give us more fun out of the box.

Kinect is the major differentiator, and we will have to watch this space. The technology is amazing but where are the stunning and delightful games or apps that take advantage of it? Whether or not these will arrive is a big unknown.

Making sense of Salesforce 1 (it’s all about mobile)

At its Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Salesforce has been hyping up its newly announced Salesforce 1. The keynote left us in do doubt: it is fantastic, it does mobile, it does cloud, it does “internet of things”.


Co-founder Parker Harris describes Salesforce 1 at Dreamforce

But what is Salesforce 1? For those of us who like fluff-free facts, it has been difficult to discern. The APIs that make up the Salesforce 1 platform seemed on the face of it to be the same ones Salesforce has always had; yet the company says it has multiplied the number of APIs by 10 to create Salesforce 1 (a figure I still find hard to understand).

It is beginning to make sense to me. Salesforce 1 is a brand, a platform and an app.

As a brand, Salesforce 1 encompasses all the APIs that form the Salesforce platform. The best place to understand the current state of Salesforce 1 is here, where you can see links to all the APIs, including, Heroku, ExactTarget, Radian6 (social media listening), Pardot (sales automation), (service cloud) and GoInstant (build real-time multi-user apps). Those individual APIs still exist in their own right, but Salesforce 1 is a new brand that encompasses all of them.

There is also a Salesforce 1 app for iOS and Android. This is mainly an HTML5 app, which makes it odd that it is iOS and Android only. As I understand it, you can also use a mobile browser and get a similar experience, so it might not be too bad for Windows Phone users after all.

The Salesforce 1 app is actually an evolution of the Chatter mobile app. As I understand it, it is built with the Aura framework, for creating a responsive user interface, with strong support for touch control. The Chatter app was renamed Salesforce 1 at the start of Dreamforce.

The Salesforce 1 app is built around a feed, and Salesforce describes it as a feed-first approach. Chatter has support for Publisher Actions, which now in Salesforce 1 have a more prominent role, making the feed capable of initiating tasks and being a mobile-friendly centre of operations. Some vendors I have spoken to, such as FinancialForce (wholly owned by Salesforce), see this feed-first approach as being the core of what Salesforce 1 is about. 

When Salesforce talks about creating Salesforce 1 apps, that might refer to either of two things.

One is to create custom apps for your Salesforce users, which you can do without needing much code in some cases, which will be viewed through the Salesforce 1 app.

The other is to use the Mobile SDK for iOS or Android to create a native app. This does not have to be an HTML5 app, but could be if you want the quickest route to something that works.

According to CEO Marc Benioff, speaking to the press, much of the effort behind Salesforce 1 was in making the Salesforce browser UI properly mobile-friendly. He said that this includes mobile client libraries as well as the server APIs. Salesforce has an rapid visual builder for browser apps running on its platform, called VisualForce, and apparently getting these apps working nicely on mobile took huge effort.

Benioff gave the impression that VisualForce now works perfectly on mobile, but the booklet given to developers expresses reservations:

Only VisualForce pages enabled for Salesforce Mobile Apps and attached to a tab can be added to the Salesforce 1 navigation menu. Note that you may have to optimize these pages to work and/or display correctly on a mobile device.

Nevertheless, you can see the intent here, that anything running on Salesforce will work well on a mobile device. Benioff says that he only takes a smartphone with him when travelling, no laptop or even tablet, and he expects to be able to do all his work through it.

You could therefore call Salesforce 1 the optimisation of the Salesforce platform for mobile, subject to the iOS/Android limitation.

According to Salesforce then, the new mobile-enabled platform is more productive than other app-building tools. The idea is that many corporate apps can be implemented to run in the existing Salesforce 1 app, which perhaps more correctly should be called a client, while apps that need to be deployed more broadly, such as to consumers, can be built using the Mobile SDK and deployed to the App Store or Google Play.

Developers of course are used to these kinds of claims and will be sceptical. Still, if you have adopted Salesforce to the extent that all your users are on the system, then it might make sense to build apps with Salesforce 1 and have a lot done for you, including user management and authentication.

There is talk at Dreamforce of the “app gap”, the fact that typical enterprises currently have most of their apps designed for the desktop, but are planning for most of their apps to be mobile. That gap is an opportunity for Salesforce 1.

Against that, note that apps built with Salesforce 1 are not portable to other platform, and there are the usual questions about the extent to which businesses are willing to entrust their business to a third-party cloud platform, and if so, which cloud platform is the best choice.

Is Salesforce 1 the same old stuff repackaged, or something new? It is a bit of each.

As an aside, the focus here on iOS and Android will not be helpful to Microsoft/Nokia trying to sell Windows Phone in the enterprise. You can also understand why Microsoft is partnering with Xamarin to enable its .NET, C# libraries to work on iOS/Android. If enterprises are going mobile and largely not using Windows Phone to do so, Microsoft has no choice but to give full support to those rival mobile platforms.

Salesforce 1 and the cloud platform wars

Salesforce has announced Salesforce 1, but what it is? Something new, or the same old stuff repackaged?


Even if it is something new, the ingredients are familiar. Salesforce 1, I have been told,  is a new brand over the Salesforce platform, though it does not replace individual components like or Heroku.

At heart, Salesforce is a multi-tenant cloud database and web services API, designed originally for CRM but easily adapted for other purposes, and easily extended by third-party partners with their own apps. If you review the components of Salesforce 1 you will find the same core platform and services as before.

If you want a quick overview of what makes up Salesforce 1, I recommend this list of platform services, including quick app development using browser-based tools, Heroku for code-centric development using Ruby, Java, Node.js or Python, web site development with, a mobile SDK for iOS, Android or HTML5,  role-based user access management, private app portal, translation services, custom databases, social and collaboration services, reporting and analytics.

There is a new Salesforce 1 mobile app announced which you can customize. It only runs on iOS or Android; no support for Windows Phone.   

The Salesforce 1 proposition is that user identities are managed in the Salesforce database and that you build your cloud applications around them. Therefore the minimal Salesforce 1 product is One Enterprise App, at $25 per user/month, which gives you identity services (and a few others) and the app platform.

I would imagine that most Salesforce 1 customers will also use other Salesforce 1 products such as CRM or the Service Cloud. CRM, for example, runs from $5.00 per user/month for contact management to $300 per user/month for the Performance Edition, including the Service Cloud, workflow approval and unlimited custom apps. There is feature overlap between the various Salesforce products which may explain why the company encourages you to ask for a custom quote.

My immediate reflection on the Salesforce 1 announcement is that it is a cloud platform play. If you agree that the future of business IT is in cloud and mobile, then it follows that the future competitive landscape will be largely formed around the companies that offer cloud platforms. Large scale tends to win in the cloud, so for better or worse only a few companies will be able to compete effectively. Hence the cloud platform wars.

In this context, Amazon is strong on the app platform and cloud infrastructure side, but does not offer a complete enterprise platform, though recent announcements seem to me a move in that direction.

Google has immense scale and Android, but its strong focus on advertising and consumers perhaps hold back its enterprise offerings. If you run Android you are already hooked into Google’s identity platform.

Microsoft, perhaps oddly given its vast desktop legacy, seems to me a close competitor to Salesforce. Where Salesforce has CRM, Microsoft has Office 365, and where Salesforce has its own identity platform, Microsoft has Azure Active Directory. Apps for Office hook into SharePoint and Azure Active Directory in the same way Salesforce 1 apps hook into the Salesforce platform. There is no love between Salesforce and Microsoft, and constant sniping from Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM team. At the same time, there must be many businesses attracted to Office 365 for email and Office, and to Salesforce for CRM, which may lead to some difficult choices down the road. No wonder Salesforce is ignoring Windows Phone.

Microsoft Surface 2: still a hard sell at retail

I am a fan of Microsoft’s Surface 2; but looking at the display at Dixons in Heathrow’s Terminal 3 it is obvious that Microsoft has work to do in terms of retail presence.

There are no clues here as to why anyone might want to buy a Surface, and no indication that Surface 2 runs anything other than standard Windows 8, other than the two letters RT which you can read on the spec summary.

Windows RT is both better and worse than Windows on Intel. It is worse because you cannot install new desktop applications, but it is better because it is locked down and less likely to suffer from viruses or annoying OEM add-ons and customisations that usually result in a worse user experience.

Why did Microsoft not come up with a distinctive brand name for RT, such as AppWindows or StoreWindows or WinBook? I am open to negotiation should Microsoft wish to use one of my brand ideas 🙂

Surface 2 has excellent performance, Microsoft Office is bundled including Outlook (though without the ability to run Visual Basic macros), and it is expandable using Micro SD cards or USB 3.0 devices, all features I miss when using an Apple iPad.

I do use the desktop a lot on Surface 2. Simple applications like Paint and Notepad are useful especially since they have, you know, cool resizable and overlapping windows so you can have multiple applications on view.

The Apple iPad is better displayed and I am sure its greater prominence is more than justified by relative sales.


Amazon’s big reinvent aims at the enterprise

Amazon made some big announcements at its re:Invent conference last week.

CTO Dr Werner Vogels on stage at re:Invent

The two I find most interesting are in virtualisation. The company announced two new virtualisation services, in preview. AppStream is application virtualisation. You install a streaming client, available for Windows, iOS, Android and Kindle/FireOS (Amazon’s version of Android). The developer deploys a Windows app to Amazon’s cloud, and users stream it. There is a client API, but you can have the app run entirely in the cloud. There is also an Entitlement Service for authenticating users. Nothing new about the concept, but if Amazon does its usual fine job of engineering this is potentially attractive for businesses who want the benefit and continuity of Windows desktop applications but without being tied to Windows desktops or laptops.

You can go further with WorkSpaces, which is full desktop virtualisation. Users run Windows Server 2008 made to look like Windows 7. You get 1 virtual CPU, 3.75GiB RAM, 50GB storage (a GiB is fractionally larger than a GB) for $35 per user/month, or with Office includes, $50 per user/month.

WorkSpaces run on an instance of Amazon’s Virtual Private Cloud which means you can use it as an extension of an on-premise network and use Active Directory, Group Policy and so on. Amazon is messing with our minds here, since everyone else uses “private cloud” to mean a cloud that runs on premise, but Amazon’s VPC runs on Amazon’s public cloud.

There were other announcements too, like CloudTrail for logging AWS API calls.

What impresses me about Amazon’s cloud services is the pace of development and a continuing commitment to something like commodity pricing. It is this last point that some commentary I see tends to miss, when comparing Amazon to IBM, Microsoft and others. Keen pricing is part of Amazon’s business philosophy, and from what I can tell the company runs a leaner operation, in terms of the numbers of marketers and middle managers, than its competitors. It also leaves plenty of space for partners, since these are web services on which you can build what you want.

Most of us use Amazon without realising it, via other services which use the platform, Netflix being a well-known example.

Now Amazon is making a strong push into corporate computing and I can only see it continuing to grow.

What does Xamarin’s success say about open source versus proprietary? Miguel de Icaza says he has never been happier


Yesterday Xamarin, which offers tools for targeting iOS, Android and Mac with C#, announced a partnership with Microsoft, an announcement which I wrote up on The Register. It drew a few comments, several complaining about the cost:

So it cost more then Visual Studio Pro.

And that is for 1 target platform?


Not so useful for little indie developers at those prices.


From open source to $999 per developer per year. Monetising Mono seems to have worked, so perhaps PCL being open sourced won’t be such a bargain either.

If you check Xamarin’s pricing you will see that the tools are not cheap for casual users; of course, if you are selling thousands of apps or developing corporate apps at normal rates the tools soon pay for themselves.

Xamarin is doing well as far as I am aware; CEO Nat Friedman told me of rapid growth in the number of customers and I have seen for myself the high interest in the tools at events like Microsoft BUILD earlier this year in San Francisco.

This gives me pause for reflection. What does the success of Xamarin, and the relative lack of success of Mono (the open source C# compiler and .NET Framework on which Xamarin is based) say about how well the open source business model works in the real world?

I was reminded of a conversation I had with Miguel de Icaza, creator of Mono and co-founder of Xamarin, Friedman back in February of this year, when Xamarin 2.0 was launched. I asked de Icaza if the new company publishes the source code for all its products?

“No. Our company does proprietary tools for iOS and Android apps. The entire iOS and Android support is proprietary as well as our commercial Mac support. All those three pieces are proprietary while the IDE and the Mono runtime are open source. Whether the code is open source or not depends on whether it is part of core Mono or core MonoDevelop. Otherwise it tends to end up as proprietary.”

Friedman added: “Mono has a thriving open source community around it, and Xamarin has a thriving community of developers who are building commercial mobile apps. We have 12,000 customers, many of them have never heard of Mono. They came to us because they had a problem to solve, they were C# developers and they wanted to get an iOS or Android app built. We solved that problem and that was worth money to them. The reason we have a business is that Microsoft developers do pay for tools, unlike Web developers for example. It’s been a great market for us. It allows us to invest.”

I asked de Icaza if he gets any grief from the open source community for having proprietary code in his company.

“Actually no. We started doing the proprietary bit at Novell. In fact we’ve been doing proprietary for a long time, even before we were acquired by Novell, at Ximian. We didn’t get a lot of grief from people. I can tell you though that when I was working in the Linux world, they were very stressful days for me, because people constantly complain about a “secret conspiracy” and that thing just went out of control. There are some advocates in the Linux world that don’t like anything that has the label Microsoft on.

“Ever since we did Xamarin which meant we focused on Mac and Windows, all that stress is gone, I don’t think I have ever been happier. In the past I was enduring this constant barrage of senseless attacks, and now I never hear about this.

“One thing that happened in the Linux world is that I was very proud of the four or five big apps that were built with Mono. F-spot that we built, Banshee, and a couple of others. Now with Xamarin I can’t keep track of them any more because they are measured in the thousands. There are thousands of very large apps, over a millions lines of code, that people send us. It’s a very different world, it’s just so much larger than all the work we did in Linux days back then.”

Visual Studio goes online, kind-of

Microsoft held its official launch for Visual Studio 2013 today, at an event in New York, although the product itself has been available since mid-October. VP Soma Somasegar nevertheless made some new announcements, in particular the availability in preview of an online Visual Studio editor, codenamed Monaco. “Developers will now be able to edit their sites directly from the web, from any modern browser, on any device,” said Somasegar on his blog.

Monaco is not intended as a replacement for the desktop IDE. Instead, it parallels what Microsoft has done with Office, which is to provide a cut-down online editor for occasional use. Monaco currently targets only web applications running on Azure, Microsoft’s public cloud platform. The technology is not altogether new, since it is built on the same base as “Napa”, the online editor for Office 365 applications.


At the launch, Monaco was demonstrated by Erich Gamma, of Design Patterns and Eclipse fame, who says he uses it for real work. He assured us that it is built on web standards and compatible with iOS and Android tablets as well as desktop browsers.

Online editing with Monaco is only one part of what Microsoft now calls Visual Studio Online. The product also includes a hosted version of Team Foundation Server, offering source code control, collaboration tools, and an online build service. These features were already available as part of Team Foundation Service, which is now replaced by Visual Studio Online. If you are happy with the cut-down Visual Studio Express, or already have Visual Studio, then subscription is free for teams of up to five users, with additional users costing $10 per user/month for an introductory period, and rising to $20 per user/month.

Microsoft is also offering Visual Studio Online Professional, which bundling desktop Visual Studio Professional with these online services, for teams of up to 10 users, at $22.50 per user/month rising to $45.00 per user/month. This follows the same model which Adobe adopted for its Creative Cloud, where you get cloud services bundle with tools that run on the desktop.

Pay even more and you can get Visual Studio Online Advanced, which oddly does not include the Professional IDE, but supports unlimited users and has additional reporting and collaboration features, for $30 rising to $60 per user/month.

When does the introductory offer expire? It’s until further notice – 30 days’ notice will be provided before it ends. Confusing.

Somasegar also announced the preview of a new online service called Application Insights. This service analyses and monitors data from .NET or Java applications running on Windows Server or Windows Azure, and .NET applications on Windows Phone 8, reporting on availability, performance and usage.

Another new service is Elastic Load Test (not to be confused with Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud), which simulates multiple concurrent users for testing the performance and behaviour of an application under stress. This requires the expensive Visual Studio Ultimate with MSDN subscription, and offers 15,000 virtual user minutes per month, with additional virtual user minutes at $.001 each.

Finally, he announced a partnership with Xamarin to enable development for iOS and Android in C# and Visual Studio, extending the existing Portable Class Libraries so that non-visual code can be shared across different Windows platforms as well as the new mobile target platforms.

I spoke to Xamarin’s Nat Friedman about this and wrote it up on the Register here.

Microsoft’s strategy here is to persuade existing Windows developers, familiar with C#, Visual Studio, and both desktop and ASP.NET applications, to stick with Microsoft’s platform as they migrate towards cloud and mobile. In this context, the heart of Microsoft’s platform is Windows Azure and Office 365, which is why the company can tolerate iOS or Android clients.

The company will also hope that a proliferation of apps which integrate and extend SharePoint online will help drive subscriptions to Office 365.

The latest Visual Studio includes a new Cloud Business App project type, which is an app that sits on Windows Azure and integrates with SharePoint in Office 365. Coding in Visual Studio and deploying to Azure, both for Cloud Business apps and ordinary web applications, is now an easy process, reducing friction for developers deploying to Azure.

More information on Visual Studio Online is here.

Review: Tommy Super Deluxe box by the who

I still remember the first time I encountered the Who’s Tommy LP. It was one of the early ones with a high gloss finish; the artwork is spectacular, with a triple fold that opens out with the track listing on the left and the lyrics to Amazing Journey on the right. There is also a booklet insert with the full libretto (it is a Rock Opera after all) and pictures.


What then do we expect from the Super Deluxe edition 44 years later? Given that this sells for £82.99 on quite a lot. Here is what comes to mind – note this is NOT what is in the package, just my dreaming:

  • The original album in its original mix
  • The original album as remixed in 1996
  • The alternate version of Eyesight for the Blind, as on some UK editions of the LP
  • Other outtakes from the Tommy sessions
  • Tracks that presage Tommy such as Glow Girl from 1968, included on the Odds and Sods compilation. From Townshend’s notes on the song:
    • The reincarnation ploy comes at the end, where you hear ‘It’s a girl, Mrs. Walker, it’s a girl. When I came to write Tommy, I picked up that phrase and used it as the opening. That’s how Tommy became Tommy Walker, just because in this song which was worked on two years before, we had a little girl.
  • A live concert from the period.
  • Detailed notes on the recording sessions
  • The Tommy concept has had a long life. There is a Broadway version and a film. Would it be too much to expect the Original Cast soundtrack as well as the film here?
  • The original artwork in all its trifold glory

Unfortunately you do NOT get that here. Nothing like. Here is what you get:

  • A new remaster of the original mix of Tommy
  • A CD of Pete Townshend’s demos for the album, supplemented by two Who outtakes, Trying to Get Through and Young Man Blues (Studio version).
  • A “Live Bootleg album” for which we are not even told where the tracks were recorded, just “recorded live at various shows during the autumn of 1969”. It is said to be mostly from Ottawa.
  • A book including an essay by Richard Barnes, pictures from the original artwork and lyrics.
  • A Blu-Ray with a 5.1 DTS mix in 24/96 resolution and stereo PCM also in 24/96.

Now, there are certainly some good things here. In particular, the piece by Richard Barnes is excellent. I learned a lot about Tommy, and how the story ties in with Townshend’s admiration for the teaching of Meher Baba, and his interest in autism. There are also anecdotes like the story of how a fan was injured trying to get to Jim Morrison on stage at a Doors concert, which was apparently the inspiration for Sally Simpson.

It is also good to hear Townshend’s demos, though we have heard a lot of these over the years and there is nothing truly revelatory here; I do wonder if there are more interesting earlier demos in the vaults, as opposed to these which are close to what we hear performed by The Who in the finished album.

I enjoyed the studio version of Young Man Blues, apparently only previously released on a Track compilation LP The House that Track Built.

The Live Bootleg Album is a good listen too, though sound quality is not great and I would rather have a complete concert warts and all than one assembled from parts.

The high-resolution version on Blu-Ray seems to me somewhat superfluous especially given the age of the recording, though nice to have I suppose. There must be plenty of spare space on that Blu-Ray which makes the lack of extras like the original mix of the album even more frustrating.

Tommy in 5.1 surround is good to have though we already have one, on the 2004 SACD. I have not compared this one to the previous surround mix in detail.


What of the design of the package, essentially a hardback book in a slipcase, with cut-outs to hold the CDs and Blu-Ray in the back? It is decent quality, but I miss the tri-fold artwork and I do not feel this package does justice to the original.

I would have preferred a reproduction of the original album booklet insert as well as the tri-fold art in full size; as it is we only see it complete printed small on page 35 of the book.

As for the audio, why have the compilers omitted most of the band outtakes that were on the earlier Deluxe edition of Tommy? These included I Was, Cousin Kevin Model Child, Sally Simpson outtakes, Tommy’s Holiday Camp (Band version), and Dogs (Part2).

In summary then, while a nice enough package in itself, this falls short of what I would hope to see in a “super deluxe” Tommy edition and does not strike me as good value. A missed opportunity, sadly.

There is an argument that the earlier (and much cheaper) Deluxe edition is actually more interesting to the Who collector, with its more extensive outtakes as well as high quality stereo and 5.1 versions of the complete album.

That said, it does have Richard Barnes’ excellent long essay, which combined with the new live audio and some previously unheard Townshend demos means it is not a complete write-off.

Update: There are a few more details about the 1969 concert here, together with the offer of a free download:

We found an unreleased concert from Ottawa 1969 in our vaults, when all tapes from that tour were thought to have been destroyed. There was a complete performance of Tommy save for ‘I’m Free’, ‘Tommy’s Holiday Camp’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, which were probably lost during tape changeover at the show. On the Box Set these tracks were replaced by 3 tracks from a show at Swansea in 1976, as no further recordings from 1969 were thought to exist. Since the Box Set was completed, two of the missing tracks,’Tommy’s Holiday Camp’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’,  have turned up. Although we know they are from the 1969 tour we don’t know the specific show, but we are offering them to fans this week as a free download.

Click HERE to download.

My last server? HP ML310e G8 quick review

Do small businesses still need a server? In my case, I do still run a couple, mainly for trying out new releases of server products like Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012, Exchange and SharePoint. The ability to quickly run up VMs for testing software is of huge value; you can do this with just a desktop but running a dedicated hypervisor is convenient.

My servers run Hyper-V Server 2012 R2, the free version, which is essentially Server Core with just the Hyper-V role installed. I have licenses for full Windows server but have stuck with the free one partly because I like the idea of running a hypervisor that is stripped down as far as possible, and partly because dealing with Server Core has been educational; it forces you into the command line and PowerShell, which is no bad thing.

Over the years I have bought several of HP’s budget servers and have been impressed; they are inexpensive, especially if you look out for “top value” deals, and work reliably. In the past I’ve picked the ML110 range but this is now discontinued (though the G7 is still around if you need it); the main choice is either the small Proliant Gen8 MicroServer which packs in space for 4 SATA drives and up to 16GB RAM via 2 PC3 DDR3 DIMM slots and support for the dual-core Intel Celeron G1610T or Pentium G2020T; or the larger ML310 Gen8 series with space for 4 3.5" or 8 small format SATA drives and 4 PC3 DDR3 DIMM slots for up to 32GB RAM, with support for the Core i3 or Xeon E3 processors with up to 4 cores. Both use the Intel C204 chipset.

I picked the ML310e because a 4-core processor with 32GB RAM is gold for use with a hypervisor. There is not a huge difference in cost. While in a production environment it probably makes sense to use the official HP parts, I used non-HP RAM and paid around £600 plus VAT for a system with a Xeon  E3-1220v2 4-core CPU, 32GB RAM, and 500GB drive. I stuck in two budget 2Tb SATA drives to make up a decent server for less than £800 all-in; it will probably last three years or more.

There is now an HP ML310e Gen 8 v2 which might partly explain why the first version is on offer for a low price; the differences do not seem substantial except that version 2 has two USB 3.0 ports on the rear in place of four USB 2.0 ports and supports Xeon E3 v3.

Will I replace this server? The shift to the cloud means that I may not bother. I was not even sure about this one. You can run up VMs in the cloud easily, on Amazon ECC or Microsoft Azure, and for test and development that may be all you need. That said, I like the freedom to try things out without worrying about subscription costs. I have also learned a lot by setting up systems that would normally be run by larger businesses; it has given me better understanding of the problems IT administrators encounter.


So how is the server? It is just another box of course, but feels well made. There is an annoying lock on the front cover; you can’t remove the side panel unless this is unlocked, and you can’t remove the key unless it is locked, so the solution if you do not need this little bit of physical security is to leave the key in the lock. It does not seem worth much to me since a miscreant could easily steal the entire server and rip off the panel at leisure.

On the front you get 4 USB 2.0 ports, UID LED button, NIC activity LED, system health LED and power button.


The main purpose of the UID (Unit Identifier) button is to help identify your server from the rear if it is in a rack. You press the button on the front and an LED lights at the rear. Not that much use in a micro tower server.

Remove the front panel and you can see the drive cage:


Hard drives are in caddies which are easily pulled out for replacement. However note the “Non hot plug” on these units; you must turn the server off first.

You might think that you have to buy HP drives which come packaged in caddies. This is not so; if you remove one of the caddies you find it is not just a blank, but allows any standard 3.5" drive to be installed. The metal brackets in the image below are removed and you just stick the drive in their place and screw the side panels on.


Take the side panel off and you will see a tidy construction with the 350w power supply, 4 DIMM slots, 4 PCI Express slots (one x16, two x8, one x4), and a transparent plastic baffle that ensures correct air flow.


The baffle is easily removed.


What you see is pretty much as it is out of the box, but with RAM fitted, two additional drives, and a PCIX USB 3.0 card fitted since (annoyingly) the server comes with USB 2.0 only – fixed in the version 2 edition.

On the rear are four more USB 2.0 ports, two 1GB NIC ports, a blank where a dedicated ILO (Integrated Lights Out) port would be, video and serial connector.


Although there is no ILO port on my server, ILO is installed. The luggage label shows the DNS name you need to access it. If you can’t get at the label, you can look at your DHCP server and see what address has been allocated to ILOxxxxxxxxx and use that. Once you log in with a web browser you can change this to a fixed IP address; probably a good idea in case, in a crisis, the DHCP server is not working right.

ILO is one of the best things about HP servers. It is a little embedded system, isolated from whatever is installed on the server, which gets you access to status and troubleshooting information.


Its best feature is the remote console which gives you access to a virtual screen, keyboard and mouse so you can get into your OS from a remote session even when the usual remote access techniques are not working. There are now .NET and mobile options as well as Java.


Unfortunately there is a catch. Try to use this an a license will be demanded.


However, you can sign up for an evaluation that works for a few weeks. In other words, your first disaster is free; after that you have to pay. The license covers several servers and is not good value for an individual one.

Everything is fine on the hardware side, but what about the OS install? This is where things went a bit wrong. HP has a system called Intelligent Provisioning built in. You pop your OS install media in the DVD drive (or there are options for network install), run a wizard, and Intelligent Provisioning will update its firmware, set up RAID, and install your OS with the necessary drivers and HP management utilities included.

I don’t normally bother with all this but I thought I should give it a try. Unfortunately Server 2012 R2 is not supported, but I tried it for Server 2012 x64, hoping this would also work with Hyper-V Server, but no go; failed with unattend script error.

Next I set up RAID manually using the nice HP management utility in the BIOS and tried to install using the storage drivers saved to a USB pen drive. It seemed to work but was not stable; it would sometimes fail to boot, and sometimes you could log on and do a few things but Windows would crash with a Kernel_Security_Check_Failure.

Memory problems? Drive problems? It was not clear; but I decided to disable embedded RAID in the BIOS and use standard AHCI SATA. Install proceeded perfectly with no need for additional drivers, and the OS is 100% stable.

I did not want to give up RAID though, so wondered if I could use Storage Spaces on Hyper-V Server. Apparently you can. I joined the Hyper-V Server to my domain and then used Server Manager remotely to create a Storage Pool from my pair of 2TB drives, and then a mirrored virtual disk.

My OS drive is not on resilient storage but I am not too concerned about that. I can backup the OS (wbadmin works), and since it does nothing more than run Hyper-V, recovery should be straightforward if necessary.

After that I moved across some VMs using a combination of Move and Export with no real issues, other than finding Move too slow on my system when you have a large VHD to copy.

The server overall seems a good bargain; HP may have problems overall, but the department that turns out budget servers seems to do an excellent job. My only complaint so far is the failure of the storage drivers on Server 2012 R2, which HP will I hope fix with an update.