Windows 8.1

How to Train your Surface

Posted on Updated on

A lot of people I speak to would like to use the inking features of Windows 8.1 and their surface – especially the Ink-to-Text feature of OneNote however they struggle to make the process efficient for them and get frustrated when things don’t work out as expected. One of the biggest frustrations is not having your handwriting properly recognized by OneNote.

I’ve spoken about the feature in Episode 4 of the Surface Smiths Podcast and in Episode 5, I speak about the Surface App that you can use to customize the pen sensitivity to better suit your writing style and in Episode 6 6, I speak about how to train your surface to better recognize your handwriting.

This blog post provides step by step instructions on how to personalize the handwriting recognition in Windows 8.1 and the MS Surface Pro. These instructions should also work on the Surface 3 however I haven’t tested them.


  1. You already know how to use OneNote and how to use the Ink-to-Text Feature. If you don’t, please refer to Surface Smiths Podcast – Episode 4 or the MS Surface FAQ
  2. You have a working Surface Pen that is synced to your device
  3. You have about an hour to go through all of the training. Don’t worry if you run out of time, you can save and complete it later if you need to.


  1. Open Control Panel
  2. Select Language
  3. Select Options beside the language that you will be writing in (easier if you only have one language installed)

  1. Select Personalize handwriting recognition (If you have more than one language installed, you may get prompted to Choose the language for handwriting recognition personalization)
  2. Select Teach the recognizer your handwriting style
  3. You will be prompted to train on both Sentences and Numbers, Symbols and Letters through a series of wizards. Get to work!

    The sentences training panels will look similar to this based on your language selection:

Notice that there are fifty screens to complete

The Numbers, Symbols and Letters training panels will look similar to this:

Notice that there are nine screen to complete

IF things don’t work out perfectly, you can fine tune the recognition for specific errors or restart the training from scratch.

Managing Windows 8.1 and the MS Surface in the Enterprise – Part 1: Who’s Minding the Store?

Posted on Updated on

Love it or hate it, but Windows 8.1 was intended to be both a desktop and “device” operating system. There have been many articles written about how well it succeeds or fails at one or both of those objectives. Regardless of how you feel about Windows 8.1, if you are tasked with managing it in you enterprise, you don’t need another rant / rave post. You need some guidance on how to manage some of the intricacies that Windows 8.1 and some device form factors like the Surface bring into play. That’s what this series of posts aims to do.

I’ve been selected to deliver a session next month as part of the Microsoft MVP Virtual Conference – You can register here. My session is focussed on the managing the MS Surface in the Enterprise and as part of my preparation I’ve been assembling lots of nuggets that will be scattered throughout the presentation. This blog post series is an attempt to aggregate some of the more significant pieces from the session that may have broader appeal.

As part of Microsoft’s attempt to create an OS that is appealing to tablet device users, Microsoft introduced the Windows Store. The Windows Store is Microsoft’s version of Google Play, Apples iTunes App Store, the Amazon Appstore for Android and many other sources for device based apps. The current incarnation of the Windows Store showcases Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) applications.

Like the other AppStores, the Windows store is designed for consumers to purchase applications to run on their devices. Unlike the other AppStores, the Windows Store model needs to coexist with legacy software delivery methods in use by enterprise IT departments such as SCCM.  While inconvenient, this is not a knock against the Windows Store.  Other platforms don’t have this issue because they don’t have any legacy applications or enterprise software delivery models.

What can we do Today?

For now there are really two methods for managing Modern Apps in an enterprise setting:

1. Sideload the application

  • Requires Certificate to sign the app since it will bypass the store validation
  • Requires .Appx Bundle from the application developer / vendor
  • Applications can be inserted into image with DISM
  • Applications can be distributed with System Center Configuration Manager

2. Deep Link the application

  • Requires Windows Store account for each user (does not need to be linked to domain account)
  • Associates application with user
  • Applications cannot be included in image
  • Still requires some user input (not truly silent)

Access to the Windows store can be controlled through group policy.

If you choose to permit users to access the store there is still the ability to restrict or allow specific applications with AppLocker.

Coming with Windows 10

Microsoft has announced that this will get easier with Windows 10. Organizations will be able to setup a private “boutique” within the Windows Store and curate which applications their users will be able to browse and install. Organizations will also be able to use a single store account to make volume purchases and download the installation files and distribute them in ways that make sense for their use cases (machines without internet access, reassigning applications, etc.).

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

Posted on Updated on


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.

GTEC 2014 – Windows 10 is Coming but what about Windows 8.1?

Posted on Updated on

I normally can’t blog about Microsoft futures because I am under multiple NDAs with Microsoft. This week is a little different. I attended GTEC in Ottawa this week. GTEC is Canada’s largest public sector technology show. I did something I don’t normally do – I attended Microsoft sessions. I normally avoid them because I know the presenters and I am familiar with the content through my MVP and Partner connections.

So why did I attend the sessions? So I could blog about topics that were discussed. You see, if it is in the public domain I am not breaching NDA, I am simply extending the presenters reach. I don’t always know what’s in the public domain so I am overly cautious about what I blog. I typically don’t blog about features until they are GA.

I am writing this post on my Surface Pro 3 i7 while watching Jeff Chin and David Boudreau present a session called Mobile Solutions for Government. One of the key takeaways was the device convergence coming in Windows 10. Many enterprises and the Government of Canada (GoC) in particular have just finished up their migrations to Windows 7 and moving to a new platform is not a high priority.

There is one initiative in the Canadian Federal Government that is rapidly adopting Windows 8.1 and that’s mobile workers using tablets.  The GoC has standardized on Windows devices for the tablet form factor.

So while we wait for Windows 10 and live with Windows 7 as our standard corporate desktop, what new functionality is available to enterprise clients (and the GoC in particular) by adopting Windows 8.1?

Here are some highlights from the presentation:

  1. Work Anywhere on Any Windows device – This is a combination of UE-V and the various remote solutions available through RDS and RemoteApp.
  2. Enterprise mode for IE – This is a compatibility mode that makes it easier to use websites designed for previous versions of IE. It is also available for Windows 8.1 and 7
  3. Native Miracast Wireless display – Microsoft has announced their own Miracast adapter will be available before Christmas. I currently use a device from ActiveTec.
  4. Wi-Fi direct Printing
  5. NFC tap to pair with enterprise printers
  6. PC as personal hotspot

In case any Microsoft lawyers are reading this, all of these features were publicly discussed in a session that was open to all attendees of GTEC. No NDA was required to attend.

Also this week at TechEd Europe in Barcelona, Microsoft announced that Office365 customers will be getting some basic MDM functionality at no additional cost. More on that later.

10 Cool things to do with your Surface

Posted on Updated on

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?

Office Bitness (64bit or 32bit / x64 or x86)

Posted on Updated on

I recently had to rebuild my Windows 8.1 laptop. In fact, this is the first real piece of work that I am doing on it while I reinstall apps in the background. As part of the process I had to re-install Microsoft Office. As long as I have been using a 64bit OS as my standard desktop (Windows 7 was the first OS that I only ran as x64)) as I have always used the 64bit version of Office. When downloading the ISO for Office 2013 SP1 from the MS Partner site, I noticed that Microsoft has posted the following message:

Important: Microsoft strongly recommends the use of 32-bit (x86) versions of Office 2013, Project 2013, and Visio 2013 applications as the default option for all platforms. Learn more about the deployment considerations for x64 and x86 at TechNet.

I consider myself somewhat of a technically savvy user (maybe a poor assumption?) and I have always assumed that all things being equal 64bit is better than 32bit. Just like 32bit is better than 16bit (and 16bit is better than 8bit etc.)

So Off I went to TechNet to find out why this strong recommendation from Microsoft. Considering how hard it has been to get users and enterprises to give up Windows XP, you’d think that they want everyone to upgrade to the latest generation of tools right?

Here is the key reason for the strong recommendation directly from TechNet:

32-bit Office is recommended for most users

We recommend the 32-bit version of Office, because it is more compatible with most other applications, especially third-party add-ins. This is why the 32-bit version of Office 2013 is installed by default, even on 64-bit Windows operating systems. On these systems, the 32-bit Office client is supported as a Windows-32-on-Windows-64 (WOW64) installation. WOW64 is the x86 emulator that enables 32-bit Windows-based applications to run seamlessly on 64-bit Windows systems. This lets users continue to use existing Microsoft ActiveX Controls and COM add-ins with 32-bit Office.

So what about my assumption that all things being equal x64 is better than x86? Well, I wasn’t wrong but it turns out that all things aren’t equal. Third party vendors don’t pay equal attention to 32bit office and 64bit office. There are other good reasons to consider Office x86 such as:

  1. The 64-bit version of Microsoft Office isn’t compatible with any other 32-bit version of Office programs. So you must first uninstall all 32-bit versions of Office programs before you install the 64-bit version of Office.
  2. Any add-ins you want to run for Office must also be 64-bit editions.
  3. Third-party ActiveX controls and add-ins. None of these work with the 64-bit version of Office.
  4. There is no 64-bit version of Visual Basic 6, so many of these objects need to be ported and rewritten.
  5. Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) won’t work unless you manually update the “Declare” statements.
  6. Compiled Access databases The .MDE and .ACCDE files, a common way for Access application developers to distribute solutions and protect their intellectually property, don’t work in the 64-bit version of Office. You must contact the application developer to recompile, retest, and redistribute the solution in the 64-bit version.

With all of the reasons not to use 64bit Office, why on earth would anyone chose to use it? It still makes sense for some users such as the following examples from TechNet:

  1. Excel expert users who work with complex Excel worksheets can benefit from using 64-bit Office 2013. This is because 64-bit Office doesn’t impose hard limits on file size. Instead, workbook size is limited only by available memory and system resources. On the other hand, 32-bit Office is limited to 2 gigabytes (GB) of virtual address space, shared by Excel, the workbook, and add-ins that run in the same process. (Worksheets smaller than 2 GB on disk might still contain enough data to occupy 2 GB or more of addressable memory.) You can learn more in Excel specifications and limits and Data Model specifications and limits.
  2. Users who use Project 2013 also benefit when they use Project files over 2 GB, especially when they are dealing with many subprojects to a large project.
  3. In-house Office solution developers should have access to the 64-bit Office 2013 for testing and updating these solutions.
  4. Office 2013 offers enhanced default security protections through Hardware Data Execution Prevention (DEP). (DEP) is a set of hardware and software technologies that perform additional checks on memory to help prevent malicious code from running on a system. For 64-bit installs, DEP will always be enforced for Office applications. On 32-bit installs, you can configure DEP by using Group Policy settings.

If you need to deploy both versions of Office with Configuration Manager, you can use the same application with different deployment types as I’ve explained in my previous post Managing 32 bit and 64 bit versions of applications using Global Conditions, Requirement Rules and Deployment Types.

BTW – I’m running 32bit Office now.




Windows 8.1 Update: First Impressions

Posted on Updated on

<Rant> As an MVP I’m under and NDA that prohibits me from blogging about Microsoft products before they are released to the general public. While most Microsoft products are available to MSDN, TechNet and Volume License customers several weeks before the official General Availability (GA) date. While I generally have some foreknowledge of what is coming down the pipe and in some cases I have had discussions with the product group about a feature and have been involved in beta testing, I’m not allowed to blog about it until GA. That’s why there are dozens of blog posts about Windows 8.1 Update 1 already published. For instance, the bits have been available on MSDN since April 2nd, 2014. The GA date is April 8th, 2014 (the same day that Windows XP rides off into the sunset). So anybody with an MSDN subscription can download it and blog about it for about a week before I can. Not to mention all of the other sources for the bits that have had it available for a few weeks longer.

I’ve used the scheduling feature of WordPress to schedule the publishing of this post to just after midnight on April 8th so that I don’t violate my NDA.

While I’m in rant mode, let me just say that I hate the term Modern UI. At what point does it stop being modern? Will the next UI be call Postmodern? </Rant>

Now that I’ve had my rant, and explained why there are many other blog posts in the wild that have already dissected this update, I’ll try to add some value to those who have already enumerated the features by giving you my perspective on some of the additions.

How to get the Update?

What do you need to do to get the update? Windows 8.1 Update 1 is free for licensed users of Windows 8.1 (as Windows 8.1 was few for licensed users of Windows 8.) It is actually a series of 6 updates that should be applied in a specific order.  One of the updates became available last month so you may already have it.  If you have automatic updates turned on, you should get it automatically. As an administrator, you probably want to test it and inform users of the impending changes before releasing it into your production environment.

These are a few of my favourite things

What do I like most in the update. The most immediately noticeable items for (those that I expect to increase my productivity and minimize frustration) are included below:

  1. Power to the People – Faster shutdown in Modern UI – No need to go to Charms, then Settings, then Power to shutdown, sleep, restart or hibernate. Of course mousers can Right Click the Start Button , select Shutdown or sign out to get the same options.
  2. Stop Searching for Search – The same goes for Search as for Power – It’s now in the top Right with the Power Icon and your username and avatar.

  1. Pin Modern UI Apps to the task bar.
  2. Show Running Modern UI Apps by hovering on the taskbar icon

Windows 7 Style Start Menu?

This update doesn’t provide a “vintage” Start Menu (Third party add-ons are available free and otherwise) however there are rumours – some of them fueled by MS Staff, like Terry Myerson at Build (Microsoft’s Developers Conference) last week. Since, as I previously explained, I cannot blog about these rumours, please check out one of the blogs below to get your fill of rumours.



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

Posted on Updated on

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