Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In the Microsoft world

I am sitting in a ballroom of the Baton Rouge Marriott Hotel. Inside are nearly 300 IT professionals who are watching two large projection screens on left and right with a speaker on a platform in the center. Behind him is a three-foot tall by 15-foot wide projection that reads "Microsoft." The easy-going, tall speaker, Sean, is wearing an iris blue long-sleeved shirt emblazoned with a white Microsoft logo over the pocket that already bears his name tag. It is his job to address the group and explain in an informative and pleasant manner the functionality of Windows 2008 Server. He does this via a wireless microphone that extends from behind his right hear to the corner of his mouth. His banter accompanies the colorful slide presentations he has prepared on his laptop. Because it was only released two months ago, most of the group gathered inside the room has never had an opportunity to install, much less configure Windows 2008 Server. They are here to learn about the new operating system. In short one could consider Windows 2008 Server as pretty much Windows Vista Server just as Windows 2003 could have been viewed as Windows XP Server. Occasionally he will crack an IT joke, referencing some obscure code or something that only a few IT professionals will understand. Other times he does something unexpected or a message appears that asks whether his system is authentic and the room roils in laughter. Believe me, any kind of humor will make this presentation more tolerable. Two of the most interesting concepts so far have included Windows PowerShell, a return to a command line interface for Windows to permit better utilization of applications and more efficient operations (can you say Linux?) and Server Vitualization with Hyper-v, which will allow consolidation of different virtual machines on a network and allows for management through another Microsoft product called System Center Virtual Machine Manager. Of course, the latter products can only be installed on a 64-bit system, which could cause problems with drivers on an existing network, but it's all in the name of progress at Microsoft. The room is packed for a simple reason: everyone who attends gets free Microsoft software (Full versions of Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio and SQL Server are given out like candy to an eager pre-teen). That's well worth the three to four hours for sessions that can be about as dry as a bone. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," the expert drones on as he does a hands-on demonstration of virtual machine access. For me, his explaining how to use command line interface to many of the IT professionals in the audience is almost like experiencing deja vu. Microsoft began its dominance of the computing world when it launched DOS (disk operating system) back in the 1980s. It was a command line interface. They have now come full circle due to several reasons. The most primary is due to security concerns exacerbated by hackers who were able to take over Windows computers remotely while using the Windows GUI (graphical user interface) that Microsoft has trumpeted for ease of use since Windows 95. Security holes have been closed, but there are so many problems that have been exposed that Microsoft has had to rethink the concept of having devices employ a GUI. If it is truly easy to use for the end-user, it follows it must also be easy for the hacker to gain entry into the server or other computers on the network. So to keep unwanted computers off networks, they have employed a battery different options, all of which are intended to make computers more secure and to validate all computers on the network. "Remember, I didn't build this system," Sean says innocently as laughter is heard throughout the room. "But I do know the guys who did." Finally, after he goes over the time allotted by 30 minutes, the room doors burst open and the busy crowd rushes to get their free software. Part two is upcoming, dealing with providing solutions for clients. But I will venture a guess and it's not a long shot. It will be more of the same. The good news is that there is some learning that is going on. The bad news is that a lot of it is tedious. But, then again, who said networking computers was all that much fun anyway?

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