Surface Pro 3 – January Update Available – Wi-Fi Better?

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This week, another firmware update was released for the Surface Pro 3.  As I had reported previously, I’ve been plagued with Wi-Fi reconnection issues on my Surface Pro.  I’ve been able to live with it by understanding some of the issues and making adjustments but they have felt like a compromise so far.  The two adjustments I’ve are:

Hyper-V – I use Hyper-V quite a bit and one of the known issues is Hyper-V not playing nice with Connected Standby.

Home Wi-Fi Configuration – I’ve made some changes to my home network to try and work around some of the issues.  You can read about them in a separate post.

Today, I received the latest firmware update to my device and the Wi-Fi seems more stable so far.

Surface firmware updates are available as part of the Windows Update Service.  If you rely on this service, the update availability is staggered so not all devices will have updates available to them at the same time.  I just got the January 15th payload this morning.  January 17th.

In another post I will update you on a more enterprise friendly method to manage firmware and driver updates that relies on MSI files.

So what’s in the January 15th, 2015 firmware update for the Surface Pro 3?  Here’s a brief overview.

  1. Surface Pro UEFI update (v3.11.450.0) adds support for updated HD Graphics Family driver.
  2. HD Graphics Family driver update (v10.18.14.4029) enhances display stability and performance, improves user experience when using Miracast adapters. Improves compatibility with DisplayPort monitors and daisy chaining.
  3. Wireless Network Controller and Bluetooth driver update (v15.68.3073.151) addresses connectivity issues while Hyper-V is enabled. Adds an advanced feature to control the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz band preference.
  4. Surface Home Button driver update (v2.0.1179.0) ensures compatibility with the Surface Hub app.
  5. Microsoft Docking Station Audio Device driver update (v1.31.35.7) improves the user experience while using the Surface Pro 3 Docking Station so that sound is available when a speaker is not connected to the docking station.

For more detailed information on all firmware updates for the device, checkout the Surface Pro Firmware update history.

10 Cool things to do with your Surface

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I’ve had a few Microsoft Surface Devices over the last two years:

  • Surface RT
  • Surface Pro
  • Surface 2
  • Surface Pro 3 i7

We also have multiple iOS and Android devices in our household.

I’ve typically tried to use the device as much as possible but found it was at best a companion device and at worst less efficient than alternatives (Windows laptop or iOS tablet) for the specific use case.

I had high hopes for the Surface Pro 3. The screen size and keyboard dimensions were very close to my vintage Dell Latitude e6220 i7. I was truly hoping to be able to replace the Dell as my primary device. My first impressions were less than stellar. I had two major issues with my pre-ordered device:

  1. Wi-Fi would remember the last connected network and show it as connected even if I was in a different location and couldn’t possibly connect to it – and of course the connection did not work. I had to restart the wireless every time I changed location to connect to the new location.
  2. The fan would come on with minimal workloads and the sound was very noticeable and the tone was bothersome. I couldn’t bring this into a meeting to take notes as it would be disruptive.

Many early adopters had similar issues. I was disappointed to say the least. This is supposed to be a flagship device and my initial experience was very negative.

In September, Microsoft exchanged my device (Lot 1429) with a newer device (Lot 1431). The replacement did not suffer from these issues.

In the last month a lot has changed. My Surface has become my single most used device after my phone. My i7 laptop hasn’t been turned on for normal use since September. I did have Windows 10 Preview installed on it but I haven’t used it for anything other than tinkering. This weekend my son noticed that the iPad wasn’t charged as it hadn’t been used in weeks.

I really can use it just about anywhere. I can work in very tight spaces like an economy class airline seat and get work done. In fact I have written the all of my blog posts since Labour Day on it. Many of them have started on the go and been finished back in the dock with the full sized keyboard and some have been written entirely with the Surface keyboard. The keyboard is much better than previous versions and the infinitely adjustable kickstand makes it easier to find a comfortable viewing and working position. I have even found myself hooking it over my knees on occasion while watching TV.

So what am I doing with the Surface Pro 3 i7? In truth I’m doing many of the same things I did with previous incarnations of the surface, another tablet or my laptop. As such I’ve described the enabling technology so that you can get some of the same coolness even you don’t have a Surface. I’ve even provided a link where applicable so you can learn how to do it for yourself. Without any further ado, here is my top 10 list:

Cool Thing Enabling Technology
1 – Automatically Synchronize OneNote workbooks across devices. OneDrive
2 – Use Miracast or Intel WiDi to wirelessly watch media in my hotel room, make a presentation, or add a second screen when working. Surface 2 and Higher + Intel
3 – Picture Password – To unlock my device when a keyboard is not attached. Surface + Windows 8.x
4 – Run Virtual Machines in Hyper-V including touch enabled Virtual Machines like the Windows 10 Community Technology Preview. Surface Pro + Windows 8.x
5 – Use the stylus to start OneNote, take handwritten notes, and draw diagrams or to even sign documents. Surface
6 – Automatically create a meeting notes template from an outlook meeting request. OneNote + Outlook
7 – Tethering to my phone for internet sharing and enforcing metered connections to minimize the impact on my data plan. Windows 8.x
8 – Markup documents (including annotating and signing PDF files) using the stylus. Surface
9 – Use Alt+Tab & Win+Tab to switch between Applications (Modern UI and Desktop Apps). Windows 8.x
10 – Use the backlit keyboard in the dark. Surface Keyboard

What are some of the cool things you are doing with your devices? What would you like to be able to do that you can’t now?

Notes from the field: How to demo with Windows 8.1 and Hyper-V

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I often get asked to do presentations at conferences or user group meetings and although I drive a mean PowerPoint, I feel that showing the actual product and putting it through a few laps adds value and credibility to the production. I’m doing a user group presentation in Montreal next week and I was setting up for it with a colleague of mine. HE asked some interesting questions about why I was setting up my laptop a certain way and I realized that I take for granted that I have been cursed by the demo and presentation gods so many times that I have a few tricks up my sleeve to thwart them. Here are a few of the things I do to minimize the impact of unknown venues with unknown networks:

  1. Always have a backup of your presentation and and demo VMs.  An external drive and/or a cloud drive SkyDrive or Google Drive can be a real saviour when something unexpected happens.
  2. Always rehearse your demos in the environment you will be presenting in to see how it runs and looks in the venue. Make any changes or restructure the presentation to accommodate for any issues. You don’t want to be surprised on camera.
  3. Have a backup internet connection avaialbe. A portable hotspot or a mobile phone that has internet connection sharing (like my Nokia Lumia 920)
  4. Always have a local demo available, even if it’s just a screen recording like Camtasia (full disclosure: TechSmith gives Microsoft MVPs free Camtasia and SnagIt licenses – I also like Faststone Capture since it is inexpensive and also runs as a portable application from a USB key ). Relying on a remote demo is asking for trouble. If you can’t connect to your demo environment for some reason (VPN blocked, network stability, etc.). Also if something goes wrong in the remote location, it is very difficult to troubleshoot.
  5. If you have multiple systems as part of your demo (virtual or physical) consider using the Sysinternals tool  BGINFO or a custom wallpaper with the machine name and/or description to make the different systems readily apparent to the audience (and sometimes to you).
  6. Make sure your passwords are current and you know what they are.  Consider setting demo password properties to “never expire”.
  7. Set the task bars on your remote demo systems to be in a location other than your primary system so that you don’t get confused as to which task bar you are launching from.
  8. Explain to the audience the limitations of the demo environment (hardware, data sets, connections to complementary systems, etc.) so that they understand why your demo is designed in a particular way and that it may not be reflective of how a production implementation would work.

I’ve been using Windows 8 and 8.1 since both were in customer preview and I’ve really come to depend on Hyper-V for my demo environment. Before windows 8, I would either boot Server 2008 R2 (or server core) to have a hypervisor available (see my previous blog post about that environment. Before that I would use VMware Workstation or Virtual Box. But they weren’t ideal for every use case as they are type 2 hypervisors not type 1.

I’ve got a few tricks that I use in my demo environment to help build it out and make it present better:

  1. Don’t rely on the Hyper-V Virtual Machine Connection. Enable remote desktop services in your VMs and connect them to an internal network. This allows you to do two things that you cannot do with the Virtual Machine Connection:
    1. Adjust the screen resolution to meet the needs of the display devices at the venue
    2. Map local resources like USB drives and printers.
  2. A cool feature in Windows 8.x and Server 12.x is the ability mount an ISO directly in the OS. Unfortunately, you can’t mount an ISO that is connected through RDP device mapping. You will get the following error:

However, you can mount it in the host OS, it will appear as a DVD drive, and then you access it from the guest VM:

If the demo VM(s) need(s) an internet connection, I like to use ICS to share my wireless connection with my demo VMs. I like this better than the Hyper-V virtual switch bridge because the IP addresses won’t keep changing with the venue. This makes it easier to RDP to them. For step-by-step instruction on how to share a wireless connections try these posts:

  1. Using ICS

  1. Using the virtual switch

Hyper-V vs. vSphere…and the Winner Is Service Manager?

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I often get asked why I like Hyper-V or why I don’t like VMware. The answer, strangely, isn’t about technology. Anybody that knows me well, knows that I’m not a technology bigot. Meaning I don’t get fanatical about particular companies or pieces of technology. In my house we have six tablets. A Surface RT, a Surface Pro (soon to be replaced by a Pro 2), 3 Android tablets, and an iPad. They all get used on a regular basis. There is no favourite.  Just a preference for one device over the other based on the particular use case in question and the strengths of each device at addressing that use case. I’ve used VMware products for years and I like them. They have met many of the requirements I’ve had for a long time.

So how does this relate to Microsoft vs. VMware? Well, I see a lot of fanaticism over VMware. A large percentage IT Pros really love it and many are fanatical about it. They are quick to criticize alternatives (like Hyper-V) without having all of the facts. Another issue is that most people see the results of past consumption and mistake it for current market trends. Let me explain that with an example. Currently Android phones outsell iPhones however, most people see more iPhone sin use that Android phones because iPhones have been around longer have had past sales success. What is being seen is phones that were purchased over the last several years still in use.

Enough digressions. Back to Microsoft and VMware. Historically, VMware has had the edge over Microsoft in the hypervisor market. With Hyper-V 3, most experts would agree that the gap has narrowed enough that for most organizations, the differences are insignificant from a pure technical capabilities perspective. It’s like choosing between a Honda and a Toyota. Both vendors have offerings in every major segment. Most consumers would be equally well served by a Camry or an Accord but preferences still abound. In the virtualization world, there are many other factors to consider such as migration costs, retraining, new licensing, etc. VMware has had very strong technical offerings for a long time and the investments made by many organizations can’t easily be shifted. Of course, historically, there are many examples of a technically superior product being eclipsed (BetaMax vs. VHS, Amiga vs. PC, FLAC vs. MP3). It also isn’t about first or early movers in a market. Consider Blackberry losing 33% market share in 2012 while Android now has nearly 80% market share in the smartphone market. Of course, depending on when you read this the current market share may be very different.

So back to my previous statement “It isn’t about technology”. I’ve shown examples of a superior product losing out as well as examples of an early mover with a dominant market position being eclipsed by a relative newcomer. If not technology, what’s it about then?

Well, I’m an IT Pro. Any IT Pro worth his salt will tell you that the three key elements of a successful IT rollout of any system are People, Process, and Technology. Not necessarily in that order, but all three ingredients are required for success.

As I’ve mentioned previously, VMware has great technology and Microsoft is no slouch either. We can remove people from the equation since both Microsoft and VMware have access to the pretty much the same talent pool and really, the people that matter most aren’t the vendor’s staff but the enterprise customers’ datacenter staff. So a talented VMware administrator could easily be a talented Microsoft administrator. Using the same logic, you might conclude that the processes that are used in enterprise datacenters would also be a wash between VMware and Microsoft implementations and for the most part you’d be right. However I believe Microsoft has an edge. Here’s why:

Microsoft has a long history of supporting cloud/online services that process billions of transactions a year. Consider Hotmail/Outlook.com, XBOX Live, Office 365, Azure, as a few examples with revenue Microsoft has had to develop some fairly robust processes for managing their datacenters. This isn’t new for Microsoft. Consider the ITIL based Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF) currently at version 4.0 has been around since 2000. VMware doesn’t have an online services history to learn the hard lessons of datacenter management or the history of helping customers manage their datacenters from a process perspective. Microsoft has taken the battlefield tested processes they’ve used for over a decade and incorporated many of them into one of the newer and lesser known products in the System Center suite, Service Manager.

Service Manager helps organizations align business processes with technology delivery to create efficiencies in service delivery. The product is tightly integrated with the rest of the system Center suite (especially products like Operations Manager, and Configuration Manager) as well as Active Directory.  The rich CMDB provided by Service Manager helps to manage the inevitable VM sprawl that accompanies virtualization.  It is also  a great platform to bolt on a  SAM/ITAM solution like the one from Provance (Full disclosure:  Provance is headquartered a few kilometres from my homeand I know many of their staff professionally – We’ve worked on joint projects and I’ve had more than a few drinks with them over the years.).

Until VMware has a similar offering, organizations that want to enable IT Service Management (ITSM) best practices, will find it much easier with a Microsoft private cloud solution than with a VMware solution.

BTW – Market share numbers for last year shows an interesting trend in the hypervisor adoption rates:


Source – Wall street Journal / IDC

Are we in the midst of a Blackberry like decline for VMware?

Hyper-V vs. VMware: Which is cheaper?

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Hyper-V vs. VMware: Which is cheaper?.

A few key quotes from the article:

“So while VMware’s initial acquisition cost is much higher than Hyper-V’s, VMware allows for much denser VM configurations and permits RAM overcommit for higher memory utilization rates”

“…users interested in Hyper-V today tend to be small and medium-sized businesses and remote offices that already use Windows Server; Hyper-V is built into that familiar system and allows them to run hundreds of VMs at a lower cost than VMware…”

“large data centers that are serious about VM availability and density continue to rely on VMware, not the first version of Hyper-V”