Happy Birthday Windows Server (the artist previously known as Windows NT) !

On July 27th 1993, Microsoft released Windows NT, the forerunner to the versions of Windows we use today, particularly the server versions.

If you're old enough, one thing you'd remember about this event is how signficant it was. At the time, if you wanted a server-based operating system on a PC, you didn't have that many choices. We were predominantly using variants of Unix, most commonly Xenix.

Importantly, most other server systems were largely text-based. With Windows NT, Microsoft brought the power of a graphical interface to mass market server operating systems.

But that wasn't all that Windows NT offered. The team that Dave Cutler led produced a processor-independent,  multi-user and multiprocessing operating system.

The NT moniker was a challenge over time. At release, people said it stood for New Technology.  We presumed that was to separate it from OS/2 that their partnership with IBM had offered. The project that become Windows NT was initially going to release OS/2 version 3.0.


Windows NT included a hardware abstraction layer (HAL) that allowed it to run on processors from different processor families. As well as the Intel x86 architecture that we all know today, it could run on DEC Alpha, and on MIPS processors. It was also later ported to other operating systems. Curiously, the project initially targeted the i860 (aka N10) processor but no commercial release for that processor ended up shipping. Even the DEC Alpha version wasn't quite ready at release.

Environment Subsystems

One interesting aspect of the operating system was that it supported multiple execution environments. The intent was to make the kernel separate from the APIs used for programming. At release, Windows NT supported not only the Windows APIs (Win16 and Win32), it supported OS/2 apps and POSIX apps. I'm sure the last option was there so that it couldn't be automatically rejected in tender processes for people like the US government, because POSIX-compliance had become part of many procurement rules.

Microsoft wasn't the only company to produce these subsystems. As an example, Softway Systems (who Microsoft later acquired) created a more complete Unix variant called OpenNT that was built on top of the POSIX layer.

I was involved in a project that was creating a more secure execution subsystem that would only execute code produced by a specific secure compiler, and signed by that compiler. Not everyone wanted a general purpose operating system that would run anything (including viruses) that you threw at it.

Happy Birthday Windows Server !

From the server direction, we currently have variants of Windows Server that have a fairly direct lineage to Windows NT. Given it's release was 30 years ago today, it's time to say Happy Birthday !

Opinion: Spinning Rust? Not so much

I've worked in this industry a long time now.

From 1981 to 1986, I worked as an engineer for Hewlett-Packard. Yep, I'm "have actually met both Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard" old. They'd retired when I met them and John Young was in charge, but they came to Palo Alto to a shareholders' meeting and I was there at the time.

Most of my work was on HP3000 commercial mini-computers. The level of engineering on those systems was unlike anything I'd ever seen either before or since. They were really quite superb.

And one thing that I worked on a lot, was hard drives. HP were constantly at the bleeding edge on really reliable drives for commercial systems.

So what's that got to do with spinning rust?

I keep hearing people talk about "spinning rust" when they're referring to spinning hard drives, often to separate them from SSDs. And it always sounds so very strange to me.

I worked on "spinning rust" and know full well what it was like. Originally they weren't hermetically sealed drives like today, so it was obvious to anyone working on them what was in them. Many were also removable so that made it even more obvious. But later after Winchester style drives became common, they all started to be sealed up, where users couldn't see  inside them.

Somewhere, I'm guessing around 1984 or 1985, the coating on the platters changed. The old oxide coatings (i.e. rust as most people know it) that were used gave way to magnetic coatings that resembled mirrors. And typically it was coated over a non-magnetic material, often aluminium(on older drives) or even ceramics. But most drives you'd come across today commonly use glass as the substrate. Toshiba pioneered that back in 1990.

So the disks in your spinning hard drives are super-shiny mirrors.

It'd make far more sense to refer to "spinning mirrors" than "spinning rust".


Course Review: Habit-Building Bootcamp

A while back, I reviewed a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. I mentioned at the time that I nearly didn't get past the first chapter as I thought it was going to be another pretty cheesy self-help book. But I ended up loving the book. James really made me think about habits in a way that I hadn't done so before.

And so I was interested when Luke and Phil from Mandarin Blueprint released a new online course called the Habit-Building Bootcamp.

I wasn't at all surprised that they acknowledge how many ideas they had from reading Atomic Habits. But they've taken it further in two ways:

  • They have extended the ideas in James' book
  • They have directly applied it to learning Mandarin.

This course is designed as a companion to their Mandarin Blueprint course, but what I like about it, is that it's a good general purpose course on habit building, even for those with no interest in learning Mandarin.

Phil also added two extra lessons on breaking bad habits. Doing that is often much harder than forming new habits in the first place.

If you are interested in changing your habits, you might well find this low-cost course useful.

Why is Greg holding a book about a duck?

One weekend many years ago, my youngest daughter Erin was looking for something to do. She was a very creative child so I suggested "why don't you write a book?"

She said she could write one, if she only had a title. I told her that you could write a book about almost any title. I randomly picked:

What the duck didn't see

(with the emphasis on didn't)

To get her started, I wrote some content, then asked her to continue. She did the same, and then I wrote some more. I turned out to be quite fascinating. I had no idea where she was taking the story and I'd be excited to read what she'd written. Along the way, my eldest daughter Kirsty wrote some content as well. My second daughter Andrea's name was used for the main person in the story.

When life intervened, we hadn't quite finished it, and quite a while elapsed. So last year, I thought it was time to complete it. And this (relatively short) book is the result. I also thought it would be great for the two of them to be "published authors".

It's the story of Andrea Blowhard who is a new detective in Lyttleburg, looking to make a great impression on her new boss. And a fascinating case fell right into her lap. You can find it here:

I hope you enjoy it. But more importantly, I wanted to share this as a concept that you might consider with your own children.


MVP Challenge: Data and AI plus some online exams

If you follow anyone that's part of Microsoft's MVP program, you might have heard there has been a global cloud skills challenge happening lately: #TheMVPChallenge.

There were three challenges that each of us could complete:

  • Azure Data & AI Challenge
  • Dynamics 365/Power Platform Challenge
  • Microsoft 365 Challenge

You can imagine which one I chose to complete. I did the Azure Data and AI challenge. Data and AI are a pretty common grouping.

While I would have liked to also do both the other challenges, Power Platform is obviously interesting to me, but I've looked at Dynamics over the years, and it's just not for me. The Microsoft 365 aspects aren't also my territory, but it might have been interesting to see what I could have learned if I'd done it, given most of us use those products every single day.

Data and AI Challenge

The name of this challenge was odd. There really weren't any data topics. It was all AI, and I don't mind that.

Some years back, I did the full Microsoft Professional Program for Data Science, and I also did the full Microsoft Professional Program for AI. Those offerings are now gone, and I have to say that I was quite sad when they disappeared. They really covered the topics in good detail. I also work with many of the Cognitive Services regularly, so this wasn't a new area for me.

I was really interested to see what Microsoft Learn now offered as a mechanism for free learning on these topics.

In the challenge, we needed to complete 42 modules. The depth really isn't there any more but for introductory-level material, what is provided is quite excellent. And did I mention that it's free?

Did I learn any new things while doing the challenge? Yes, a few. I think that any time you go back over an area, you pick up something that you've missed before. Or perhaps there's something you've forgotten because it didn't seem useful to you at the time, and now you realize that it is quite useful.

I'm already using some of the concepts that I picked up while doing the challenge, even though it was introductory level content.

MVP Community

I was really pleased to see how many of the local (and remote) MVP community took part. It's easy to start these types of challenges and to lose focus and stop.

In particular, I loved the way that our CPM Shiva Ford and other MVPs egged each other one to make sure we completed the challenge.


There was no requirement to do any exams related to this. I had a real interest, though, in knowing what was in all the "Fundamentals" exams. I wouldn't normally have taken them as they don't count towards certifications, so I decided to do a few exams during the month.

First I took the Azure Fundamentals exam AZ-900.

I thought the exam was OK, not too difficult and should be attainable for most people starting out with Azure. One thing I didn't like was that they spent so much time examining whether or not particular services were Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings. For many services, that's straightforward, but for services like storage, there are aspects of both. Regardless, that's not the sort of thing people should be all that focussed on. They should understand the difference, and that's enough.

Next I took the Azure Data Fundamentals exam DP-900. This had a little more substance to it. I thought it was a reasonable exam and covered many areas of data. The balance was a bit different to what I would have hoped for, but still OK. I did find questions, though, that were just simply wrong, where the author clearly might have read about a concept, but really didn't understand it. In hindsight, I should have taken the time to comment on the really problematic questions but I had a bunch of exams that day, and was already tired from fitting in the exams.

Next I took the Azure Administrator exam AZ-104. Now this exam was way more challenging than I expected. I wouldn't say that any of the concepts were all that difficult if you've worked with Azure for any length of time, but the way the questions were phrased made them more challenging than necessary. I was also surprised by the amount of focus on networking, when you consider all the tasks that an Azure administrator needs to handle.

I was glad to have taken AZ-104 though, as I had previously added the Designing and Implementing Microsoft DevOps Solutions exam AZ-400. I'd been meaning to take AZ-104 for ages, as that's what I still needed for the Microsoft Certified: DevOps Engineer Expert certification.


Now that I'm back into taking some exams again, I plan to do the other fundamentals exams (AI, and Power Platform) soon to see what's in those. Then I'll do the other data-related exams to complete those certifications.

Online Exams

I'll finish this post with a few comments about the online exam mechanism.

I didn't love it but it's workable.

I found the process pretty random. With my first exam, I tried to follow their instructions perfectly. When it got to my turn, a chat window opened but the text box where I could type wasn't enabled, so I couldn't respond to the monitor person. When I didn't respond, they told me they had to put me back in the queue again. Then that happened yet again. I was starting to think I wasn't going to be able to do the exam.

On the third time round the queue, I was able to type into the text box. They person then told me they couldn't see my video. But my video was displayed on the screen in their application. So clearly the application could see me. No idea why the monitor person couldn't. I started to explain that in the chat text box and then they just suddenly started the exam.

The other bizarre part is that they tell you to put your phone out of reach, and that if you leave the video area, you'll fail. So I put my phone in another room. And then a later screen tells you that if they need to contact you, they'll call you on your phone.

For the second exam, again I went round the queue two times. When the person came online in the chat, he told me I wasn't allowed to wear headphones. The bizarre thing is that I thought that would be best, and I did the first exam with them on. I took them off and he was happy.

Third exam started OK, but then I got pinged for turning my head. I have a tendency when sitting and pondering a question, to turn my head, and perhaps even lean back and look up. As soon as I did that, I had the monitor person warn me that if I did that again, I'd fail.

I'm glad there is a way to do these exams online, but I'd really like to see the experience improved. At least with these notes, I hope it will help you if you haven't been doing any exams this way.





How to kill off the Camtasia 2021 Launcher Pop Up

Camtasia is one of my favourite products. I use it regularly. I've been so excited to start to get to use Camtasia 2021 that was released just recently. It's a nice step up from an already great product.

But what I didn't like after upgrading, is that every time I started Camtasia, instead of the "normal" editing screen, I got a cutesy little popup that asked me what I wanted to do with the product today.

I'm not a fan of the popup; I'd rather the product just opened into a blank new project like it used to. The popup really just slows me down.

So I asked the TechSmith people on Twitter and they came to my rescue!

Here's the registry key that you need to modify to make this go away:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\TechSmith\Camtasia Studio\21.0\Camtasia Studio\21.0\ShowLauncherAtStartup

If that's a 1, then you get the launcher. If you change it to a zero, it's gone.

Hope that helps someone.

Opinion: What's wrong with Yes and No ?

IT people get accused all the time, of being out of touch with other people, and for using language that is overly complex.

So many times lately, I've come across dialog boxes like the one above.

It's clearly asking a Yes/No question. Why on Earth doesn't it give the user Yes and No as answer choices?

Why do we do this to users?

If you're building apps, please don't do this. If you ask a question that in normal language would lead to a Yes or No response, please give the users Yes and No as answer choices.

Opinion: Do your job advertisements still show a location?

I've been amazed as the pandemic has continued, how many companies that claim to understand remote work, still really don't get it. I've decided that a good test of that, is whether job advertisements still show a city or location for the work.

Now, not everyone can work remotely, and not everyone has anywhere suitable to work from remotely, but the majority of knowledge workers can do just that. That's who I'm talking about here.

Old School

David Solomon, the CEO of investment bank Goldman Sachs hit the news last week, when he described remote work as an aberration. He said he wants his people back in the office while noting that "a business like ours, which has an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture" can't work remotely. He added that "It's an aberration that we're going to correct as soon as possible".

Turns out though, that he's already now walking back much of what he said.

To agile innovative businesses that haven't been around all that many years, embracing remote work seems easy. For businesses like banks that have been around for more than a century, I'm sure they do see the change as a blip in their timelines. Turning these organizations around will be like trying to turn around the Ever Given within the Suez Canal.


Before the pandemic, I already saw many businesses that were hamstrung by their inability to utilize remote talent. I remember consulting at a development company in Melbourne that had nearly 500 developers. They were endlessly searching for new developers. But only if they could live in Melbourne and come to their offices.

What's the outcome of that?

Well over time, they'd lose people and couldn't replace them. They'd already exhausted the local market, and so they started lowering the standards of who they'd hire.

Yet if they'd embraced remote workers, they could have had such a pool of bright developers they could have used. Instead of focussing on endless job searches, they should have been focussing on enabling a remote workforce. Instead of buying more office space and equipment, they should have been buying better connectivity.

Again, there are exceptions, like requirements for particular citizenships in certain jobs, but they are the minority, and even then, they don't need to be located in a particular city.

Pandemic Time

So many businesses that argued they couldn't work remotely suddenly found they could when the pandemic hit.

Prior to the pandemic, I found it particularly ironic that companies like Microsoft and even newcomers like Slack, really didn't seem to get remote work, even though they were building the tools to enable it. Teams is improving rapidly now, but the early versions of it showed all the hallmarks of being designed by someone who lives in a corporate cubicle, always within a single domain and email address.

Both companies have now changed their thinking but I can only wonder what sort of tools we might have had by now, if they'd actually been using their own tooling to truly enable remote working.

In particular, I've been really pleased to see the number of Microsoft job advertisements that now don't have a location, and make it clear they want to find the right person no matter where they are. This is great to see.

Future Work Combinations

I've been closely watching the surveys within Australia on where knowledge-worker staff want to be able to work. Most of the results break down like this:

  • 20% want to be in the office all the time
  • 20% want to be remote all the time
  • 60% want flexibility to choose between the two as needs arise

And just as importantly, they want flexibility not only on where they work, they want flexibility on when they work. 9-5 Monday to Friday just isn't going to cut it any more.

Worse, the lack of timing flexibility affects far more women than men.

Attracting and Retaining Staff

Any company that thinks the world is going back the way it was, is going to have a serious difficulty attracting great staff, particularly if they're chasing world-class talent.

I can already imagine the companies that could lure away key staff from the Goldman Sachs of this world, by offering them a different way to work, that is employee-centric not just company-centric.

The best staff aren't likely to choose to spend mind-numbing hours commuting to/from cubicles in city centres, if there's an alternative.






Opinion: Does your organization have a memory problem?

There's a café in Melbourne that I've liked going to for a while. It's not far from where I live when I'm in Melbourne, and it has all the makings of a really nice cosy suburban café. But there's something missing.

When I sat there the other day, my meal came as ordered but it was just a shadow of what it normally looks like. I put that down perhaps to a different chef that day. It's not great that they haven't all agreed on what those meals are usually made like, but that could have been a one off thing.

Another couple sat down near me though, and one of them put a finger on what the issue is with the café. He said "this place has no memory". He wasn't talking about the food changing; he was talking about each time you come in, it's like you've never been there before. What I think is the basic problem in that café, is that the only people who interact with the customers are the wait staff; there are usually only one or two, and they seem to change these staff regularly.

The old Cheers TV show had that aspect right. The theme song talked about people wanting to go where everyone knows your name.

IT Companies

A large IT company that I deal with has a partner program. I remember talking to one of their staff who had called me about an upcoming event and how they were running it. I asked why on earth they'd changed one of the core concepts. She said to me "It's always been that way". I said "No, it definitely was different". She said "Ever since I've worked here, that's how it has been". I asked how long she'd worked there, and she told me "Six Months".

Customer Feedback

Another large IT company has a way for customers to provide feedback, and for other customers to comment on and discuss the feedback.

But every few years, they seem to manage to have a need to purge all the feedback, either as some ill-conceived way of "tidying up" the feedback, or by losing info during migrations between feedback systems.  Either way, the information and rich discussions they have lost are amazing. Wonderful insights that were provided by people who've now moved out of the industry are all gone.

Now add into that mix a constantly changing set of staff within the relevant teams in the company. Again, you've created a lack of organizational memory. And time and again, you see the same mistakes made by new staff that previous staff had made.

Does your organization have a memory problem?


Opinion: iPhone12 Pro is an interesting device but a lousy phone

I'd been using an iPhone6+ for quite a while, and it still worked fine. Lately though, I'd been running into things that needed a later version of iOS than what was supported on that phone. So I changed to an iPhone12 Pro.

So far, that's been a big mistake.

One thing I've seen over the years while working with technology, is that development teams often get enamoured with the new features. And they forget to make sure that core functionality works as expected. The core functions seem to get lost in the weeds.

The iPhone12 Pro is a fascinating device, and a wonder of technology. But it's a lousy phone.

The most basic functionality you'd require for anything that calls itself a "phone" is that it can make and receive phone calls. The iPhone12 Pro fails that simple test. So often now, I get an SMS from my carrier telling me that I missed a call and it went straight to voice mail. But the phone didn't ever ring in the first place.

I'm not alone. If you browse online for "iphone12 goes straight to voicemail", you'll find a large number of articles, some with many steps showing how people have tried to work around this issue. I've tried them all. In the end, I've concluded that it's just buggy. My previous iPhone worked fine in the same location, and on the same network. My wife's iPhone6S, sitting right beside me, works as expected.


While investigating various issues, I've also been reading about all the people with basic connectivity issues. For some reason, the iPhone12 just doesn't maintain the same level of connection to a tower.

But so many people complaining that once they've changed to one, their phone coverage has really suffered.

Intelligence gone mad

I keep finding issues with this device (I won't call it a phone for the reasons above), where something doesn't work as expected. And when I search online, I find others who also were puzzled, and it turns out there's some new "intelligent" feature that is enabled by default, and makes the device act strangely.

Here's a simple example: If I plug in the device to charge at say 10PM, I'd expect it to have fully charged within an hour or so. But if I pick it up at 4AM because I need to work early that day, it's not fully charged. Why? Because the phone decided that I normally take it off the charger at 7:30, and decided to go into a slow charging mode (no doubt well-intentioned), that will make it ready by 7:30AM.

This is intelligence gone mad. Great to have an option for that if I want to choose it, but making it a default that I need to find a way to turn off? Not so much.

Appropriate change methods

The Apple (wrong) way to introduce these breaking "features" is to just enable what they think you'll want, even though it will often end up confusing the user, who hasn't got a clue what's happened.

The right way to introduce it would be for the feature to be off, and for the device to tell the user "hey I noticed you normally take this off the charger at 7:30AM. If I slowed down the charging rate so it's ready by then, your battery life would be longer. Do you want me to enable that?"

Appalling recovery options

These devices now come with a large amount of memory. Yet Apple hasn't worked out that devices with a large amount of memory need better backup/restore options.

For example, when they can't explain problems, the support people often suggest reinstalling the device from a backup. Or if they change the device, you need to do the same. I tried their option for iCloud backup/restore once. It took quite a while to back it up, but when I tried to restore it on the new device, even on a fast connection, it took 3 days. That's simply not fit for purpose.

Worse, when it finally finished, it just calmly said "Some files were not restored". No hint, no idea which files.

How did this ever become acceptable?

And if you have a device with 256GB+ memory, and you need to change to a new device, what are your options? You can backup/restore to a PC, but once you're done, you have a mess that takes ages to sort out. Most of your data (e.g. music, books, etc.) won't be there. They assume you need to download it all again.

How is that reasonable when you have them all sitting in a device right beside you?

Heaven forbid if you have a bunch of things like authentication apps that all need to be set up again.


I can't tell you how much time I've wasted with the iPhone12 Pro, just trying to get it to perform with basic functionality. Wish it wasn't so.