Scott Hanselman

Review: Trying Clear from Clearwire - Mobile Broadband Service

October 9, '09 Comments [27] Posted in Remote Work | Reviews
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imageAs a remote worker, I really need decent internet when I'm not in my home office. Sometimes I'll be at the local coffee shop, but more and more restaurants with Wi-Fi are kicking folks out who are leaching their bandwidth. I probably, in aggregate, waste an hour or two a month hunting for Wi-Fi.

Clear Wireless - The Good

One of the newest entries into the mobile wireless internet business in the US is ClearWire from clear.com. It's a WiMAX technology and it's got extremely limited coverage at this point. However, it covers where I am 90% of the time:

Clear Coverage Map

You can go an put your address in, of course. For the Portland/Metro area it's pretty good on paper:

image

Clear just started a new promotion where you get 1/2 your service for the first 6 months. That means about US$22.50 a month for unlimited mobile wireless.

ClearWire Clear Speed TestThey call it "4G WiMAX" and the package I got included:

  • 3-6mb/s download, 1mb/s upload. I got over 6 in my tests around Portland. It does drop off some inside buildings.
  • I paid $49 for a USB modem
  • They have a 2 year contract, but I reject contracts and instead opted for a month-to-month. I paid $35 for the privilege.

So, $100 out of pocket, but $22.50 a month for the next several months. If it's awesome, I'll pay $45 a month. If not, I'll cancel.

Rude Q&A

Some folks might immediately ask these questions. Here's my best answers.

Q. Why not just tether your phone?

A. AT&T's 3G network is not only crappy, but they are threatening to cap their most leachy users. That will no doubt affect me. Most 3G phones max out their bandwidth at about 3.6mb/s depending on radio. Others can do 7.2mb/s, but seriously,when have you EVER seen that kind of sustained throughput on your 3G phone?

Q. Is it faster than 3G?

A. So far it feels faster. I was totally able to hold a two way 640x480 audio/video conference with screensharing and with no lag. I just don't see that happening over a tethered phone connection.

Q. But really, the coverage is non-existent.

A. True, and it bothers me, but I realize that I really *am* in the NW 90% of the time and my hope is that this will open up more places for me to work around the region. I'm tired of hunting for a connection, and as this was a near daily irritation, for the price of $22.50 a month (for the first few months) I've removed that irritation. This seems a reasonable trade-off so far.

Q. What about caps?

A. So, I know that most 3G providers with "unlimited" bandwidth cap at 5gigs. I could barely sync my email with 5 gig. ;) I could use that in a few days of video calls, so I really need more like 30-40 gigs a month...so, I prefer the comfort of an "unlimited" package. It remains to be seen if Clear really means unlimited when they say it, but I certainly don't think they mean 5gigs a month.

Q. Their site seems amateurish.

A. Agreed. Something doesn't "smell" right about ClearWire, and it's likely the lack of good design on their website. Their previous one was WAY better. It's amazing how these kinds of things can really color your impressions of a company. As a company precense, they just don't seem "polished." Their Services Overview page is unnecessarily complex

The Bad

Clear There is no formal support for Windows 7 and their "highly trained support professionals" have no idea what they're talking about.

The installation drivers the Clear-branded Motorola USB WiMax Beweem model that the service came with totally didn't know what to do with Windows 7 x64. Additionally, the online August 2009 drivers for Vista failed to install. What I ended up doing was opening Device Manager in Windows and doing a manual "Update Drivers" and pointing it to the drivers folder on the October 2008 CD that the device came with. So, basically, old drivers and new software. They promised it'll work someday with Windows 7. Maybe it will, but until then, I'm MacGyver.

Conclusion

Too soon to tell. Is it a great idea? Sure. Wireless that works over miles? I'm all over it. However, they've got Comcast, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and everyone else to compete with. If AT&T really gets their tethering act together and starts really pushing it, that could be a problem for Clear. We will see. Until now, I'm going to give it a go.

Dear Reader, post your ClearWire experiences in the comments! I'll update this post as mine observations change.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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A new MSDN for a new Operating System and a new Development Environment

October 8, '09 Comments [84] Posted in ASP.NET | Learning .NET | Microsoft | MSDN | Programming | Win7 | Windows Client | WPF
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New VB Home PageThe team I work at Microsoft for is called Server and Tools Online, and one of the things we work on is the Microsoft Developer Network or "MSDN." If you go way, way up, our boss is Soma (Yes, this Soma), but down here in the trenches there's the folks that make content and systems to help you after you "File | New Project."

Our goals this year are to get back to basics and make sure that our online user experience meets these goals in as few clicks as possible.

PREVIEW: Check out the Live Preview of the new VB Dev Center. Other centers will follow.

INTERNATIONAL UPDATE: Our international team members are writing blog posts of their own:

A few months ago I snuck a few "comps" out of a meeting with the designers on MSDN. A few months before that we talked about the a upcoming "loband" option for MSDN and performance improvements to the MSDN library that are bringing page-load times for the MSDN library to the 1- and 2-second level.

There was a lot of great comments and feedback from you in the comments of both of those posts and I took it all straight to the teams.

There's a bunch of big stuff going on in the next few months. We've got a new Operating System (Windows 7 is launching on Oct 22, in case you've been living in a cave, or a small home office like me) coming, there's also Microsoft's PDC November 17-19, and you know how we like to announce fun stuff at PDC. :)

I've got a bunch of comps (these are not final) from a recent meeting I wanted to share with you about what's new at MSDN to support all this newness and fix some old problems.

New MSDN - Why?

To be clear, this is more than a "visual refresh." Sure, there's a new design and it's pretty, but this is more about UX (User Experience) than it is about swapping out icons. We've got 5 main goals as a team to enable you, Dear Reader:

  1. HELP ME - I've got a problem. What's the answer, quickly and accurately.
  2. CONNECT ME TO PEOPLE - There's other people like me, connect me to them, and to the product group.
  3. GET ME THE DOWNLOAD I NEED - Get out of my way, I just want a download. Bits, Scripts, Utils, Code, etc.
  4. CONNECT ME TO THE PRODUCT - What's new with Product X? I've got feedback and I want to be heard.
  5. KEEP ME SMART - I'm looking to sharpen the saw.

Our goals are to be transparent and authentic. I think you've seen that on this blog since day 0, and hopefully in the last two years after I joined Microsoft. The web continues to evolve and we want an MSDN that better reflects a focus on community, on fresh content, and on making things easier to find.

What's Coming

We'll be launching an entirely new MSDN very soon and I'll have all the details for you, Dear Reader, here on my blog. You'll be able to see a live pilot of the new design in the VB Dev Center this week. This will be part of an ongoing reinvention that will span the next year. We'll be listening to you and making sure you're getting what you need. For now it's at /vbpreview, and soon you'll see it the new layout at /vbasic and all of MSDN will change.

We're adding guidance for new developers on every Dev Center Home Page. There's also a renewed focus on consistency across the whole network. You'll find Related Content in the right margin throughout the network and primary content top center of every page.

BLOG_VISUALIZER

There's a number of new active controls with dynamic community content. More content than ever will be driven by feeds and tagged so the freshest and most relevant content is easy to find.

Learning

Another focus is learning, particularly around educational videos and screencasts. There's a pile of them, but historically it's been hard to find the ones that apply to you, and no way to add comments and questions. This release adds video sharing, comments and ratings. There's also plans for a new video scroller - this is an artist's rendering I found in a design PPT.

Videos

Community Activity

More areas of the home page will be active content driven by feeds and bring people with interesting content, comments, code and perspectives to the front. It'll be easy to find what's new and what's popular in Forums, Galleries, Video and Code.

Community Activity

Downloads

Another point of focus for this first upcoming release is downloads. I've been beating the downloads drum since I got here and this release changes puts Downloads right up front. The downloads are better organized and all consistent. The Top downloads and samples are more visible and updated more often, putting them often within two clicks.

Even More To Come

I hope you'll agree when you see the new site that it's got better discoverability, readability, consistency and most importantly, more relevant content. You'll see more fewer, more focused Dev Centers, more task-oriented content, and more community content.

This is all the start of a leaner meaner MSDN and it's just the first "wave." I'll post about some other cool changes that we've got coming down the pipe soon.

Be Heard

A lot of people are working hard to make MSDN fresher, more relevant, faster and easier to navigate. Everyone is actively monitoring the MSDN Feedback Forum so if you've got questions, concerns, feedback, ideas or compliments, that's the spot. You can also post here in the comments and I'll make sure the right people hear what you've got to say!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Review and Comparison: Microsoft LifeCam Cinema HD and VX-7000 with High Quality Video in Skype and Live Messenger

October 7, '09 Comments [37] Posted in Remote Work | Reviews | Tools
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LifeCam Cinema HD Press Photo I've owned just about every Microsoft LifeCam there Microsoft makes. My first was the LifeCam NX-6000 and I've been upgrading ever since.

I have been using a VX-7000 for the last year and it's a fine webcam. Best I've used, really, until now. I just picked up a LifeCam Cinema HD on Interwebs for ~US$60.

First, a quick disclaimer. While I work for Microsoft, I don't know anyone in this group and in this instance, I'm just a dude with a credit card and a camera. Any speculation here is mine and any mistakes are mine.

Ok, this is a really tiny camera. I think it was the barrel-shape of the glass lens mounted on the base but I pictured this thing as huge. It's not. It's petite. It feels nice as well. It feels well engineered, not cheap. It also has a nice little feat of engineering on the USB cable - a cable tie that actually works! Miracle of miracles.

LifeCam Cinema HD LifeCam Cinema HD USB Cable

Here it is mounted next to my existing LifeCam VX-7000 for size reference:

LifeCam VX-7000 and LifeCam Cinema HD side by side

The VX-7000 has a 2.0 Megapixel Sensor with a maximum video size of 640x480. I called my friend using Office Communicator and did a standard video call and had him take a screenshot. The cameras were mounted next to each other.

LifeCam VX-7000 Sample FrameLifeCam Cinema HD Sample Frame 

The older webcam is on the left and the newer Cinema HD is on the right. Default settings were used with both cameras. Both calls are effectively 640x480 calls as there's no built-in 1280x720p HD in Office Communicator (yet, I assume.) However, it's clear that the contrast of the Cinema HD is far superior and oddly, it's just clearer. People have said they feel like it's HD, even though it's not in this example. This camera is fantastic in low light.

It's a 16:9 camera, and it has a nice wide field of view. Notice you can see my closet in the picture at right.

The Video Comparison

Here's a HiDef Video of the LifeCam Cinema HD. You can visit the Vimeo site directly and download the WMV if you want to get the REALLY high def file.

Here's the older 640x480 LifeCam VX-7000 as a comparison.

The Bad

You really need a fast machine at the higher resolutions, like true 720p HD. This is to be expected, but if you're doing to record 1280x720p you're going to need a multi-core machine (basically a machine that's newer than 3 years old). That doesn't make the camera useless for regular video calls, but it is something to think about if you're getting this primarily for its HD abilities.

That said, it's still fantastic at 480p and my laptop handles it fine. I suspect that this camera will just get better as software comes out to really utilize its abilities.

Getting HIGH quality video

Force Skype HQ Video It's a webcam, so it works in any Webcam enabled applications, but as for the higher resolutions, it's a bit tricky.

There's no checkbox inside Skype or any formal "we support HQ or HD and here's how." The same is true, so far, for Windows Live Messenger. People need great cameras for quality images, great bandwidth to pump the frames and fast computers to compress the outgoing video. If any one of these things doesn't work out then everyone loses, so I suspect it's easier for now to punt and wait. However, I'm convinced that HD video chat is coming. I'll dig in and report back.

Skype has been very quiet about what they call HQ Video calls, basically 640x480. For a while there was a thing called the HQ Video Hack which consisted of opening up a config file and forcing it to 640x480. There's even an 3rd party application (with source) that says it'll modify the Skype config file and enable HQ Video for you.

That said, on my QUAD proc machine, I was able to use the 3rd party editor above and force Skype 4 to do 800x600 and 1280x720. Of course, it was clearer when I stopped moving, but still pretty good. Thanks to Jeff for taking the screenshots. Skype took up TWO of my FOUR cores and worked them to 100%. It was unquestionably the local "squishing" of the outgoing video. My machine is fast, but with things like real-time HD video compression you can't have a fast enough machine, unless someone starts using the video card to do it...;)

In tests between Jeff and I we found that while we GREATLY prefer the 16:9 widescreen experience, that the difference in real clarity between 4:3 800x600 and 16:9 1280x720 was minimal, but the lag between audio and video for the true HD resolutions was at least a half second. This was so irritating as to be intolerable.

We found through experimentation that a 16:9 resolution of 960x544 was ideal. It gave us a buttery smooth frame-rate with the benefits of the widescreen aspect ratio and wider field of view. This worked great with Skype.

Here's some imagery of our tests. Note, these were all screenshots taken on Jeff's remote machine with video sent from my machine.

This is 800x600 via Skype:

hanselman-800-600-standard-still-fullscreen

This is 1280x720 via Skype:

hanselman-1280-720-fullscreen

Here's the same calls with the advanced Technical Info turned on showing the resolutions of each call .

hanselman-800-600-standard hanselman-1280-720-standard

I tried also with Windows Live Messenger, and cool enough it didn't require any hacks or funny business to get 640x480. As soon as I switched into Full Screen while taking to Brad Wilson there was a "You are now watching High Quality Video" overlay in the corner and everything just "got clear." So, Live Messenger is setup for 640x480 out of the box already.

I haven't figured out how to hack 720p HD support into Live Messenger like I did into Skype. I can only assume they'll enable 1280x720 at some point in the future. This is speculation, but it'd be a pretty obvious thing to do.

Here's a 640x480 call in Full Screen mode in the current version of Windows Live Messenger. Apparently I chew on my tongue a lot.

screenshot2

The Conclusion

While the software vendors aren't officially ready for a true Hi-Def video call and it'll likely require Quad-Proc PCs on both sides, it's coming, and this is the camera to use. Until that day, I'll still be rocking DVD quality 480p video calls.

Honestly. A 1280x720p Hi-Def WebCam for US$60? Seriously. Really. You know what you're getting for Christmas from me. Until The Next Big Thing comes along, there ARE no other webcams.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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How to Collaborate with Remote Employees with Office Communicator 2007 R2

October 6, '09 Comments [13] Posted in Microsoft | Remote Work | Tools
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18737888 (1) Our business administrator emailed me just now:

Can you please send me instructions on how team members can share their desktop with you while they are presenting?  I may want to include this in my meeting requests for them.

This is our #1 challenge as remote employees - the 10 to 15 minutes of messing around with technology at the beginning of the meeting so we can really engage. I'm writing this post so I can point people to it when I setup meetings internally at Microsoft.

LiveMeeting is great, but sometimes it feels like a hassle. It's that tiny hassle that can keep you, as the local person, from setting it up, and it's the Remote Employee really suffers. However, if you've got Office Communicator, doing remote collaboration takes literally seconds to setup. Please, love your remote employees.

Here's a brief (Microsoft-centric) How-To that covers your options:

  • How to Share Your Desktop to People with Office Communicator 2007 R2
    • And include Video
  • How to Share Your Desktop to Remote People who don't have Office Communicator

How to Share Your Desktop to People with Office Communicator 2007 R2

There's a number of ways, so pick the right one for you. When you're just talking to less than 16 people or so (not an unreasonable number and fairly typical) just:

  • Double-click on one person's name in Office Communicator to start a chat.
  • image
  • Drag other people you want into that first chat window.
  • Click the Share button.
    image
    Note: If you have multiple monitors and you just want to share one, click the down arrow to the right and select the monitor you want to share.

And, to include Video...

imageIf you've got a webcam plugged in, you can click the video icon at any time to add video to the conversation. If you don't have a webcam, but you are in a room with a Microsoft Roundtable, just plugin the Roundtable before you start the chat. Then you'll be able to share video. The Roundtable will take care of showing the current speaker.


How to Share Your Desktop to Remote People who don't have Office Communicator

Sometimes you might want to share your desktop to up to 15 people where some don't have Office Communicator, either because they are external to the company or they're at home, etc. You can always use SharedView to share your desktop.

You install SharedView easily here and it won't mess up your machine. SharedView has an advantage over other sharing systems as it allows each attendee their own mouse pointer with their name over it. This makes it easy for folks to say "I mean this..." while simultaneously pointing.

As the presenter, after running SharedView you:

  • Click the large menu ball in the upper-left then "Start a Session." You'll want to log in with a Windows Live ID (Passport) .
    image
  • You can copy/paste the invitation instructions and email them to your attendees, OR even easier: Just tell your attendees your Windows Live ID and ask them to sign in, then "Join a Session" and enter the presenter/host's Live ID.
  • As the presenter, click "Share"...
    image 
    then scroll all the way to the bottom and select Share Entire Desktop then Press Start.
    image

The big gun is always Live Meeting, but it's really not necessary for most day to day meetings when the collaboration tools are built into Office Communicator.

Hope this helps.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Review: Mimo Monitors - iMo Pivot

October 6, '09 Comments [24] Posted in Reviews | Tools
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image NOTE: This review was written using the DisplayLink 5.2.20937 Drivers on Windows 7 x64 RTM. Be sure to scroll to the bottom in their forums, as that's where the new stuff is.

I switched to three monitors over two years ago and I can't go back. I replaced those CRTs with LCDs a year later when I rebuilt my home office and added a fourth monitor. I moved that fourth monitor over to my Mame Arcade Cabinet later and have been using a 24" and two 22"s ever since.

However, then Twitter happened and darnit, I need another monitor. Maybe, hm, a tiny monitor. I could watch videos, Hulu, run Zune and all sorts of things. But is it cheap? Does it work? Can you run a monitor over USB? Let's see. 

The Big Idea

IMG_0722

The idea is that the iMo Pivot is a 7" 700x480 portable monitor that uses USB as its buss. It works on XP, Vista and Windows 7, as well as Intel-based Mac OS X. It has drivers for all including 64-bit.

There's also a touch screen version, but I bought the $129.99 Pivot version without a touch screen. It can stand horizontally or vertically (hence, iMo Pivot) or it can be removed and stand up like a picture frame with a metal support.

I put mine underneath my 24" 16:9 monitor and while it's slightly dimmer (it has a 400:1 contrast ratio and 350 cd/m2) it's not a distracting difference against my bright Dell.

It's a real monitor and shows up as an extra one (number 3 below) in your Control Panel.

image

Twitter or Email Screen

imageYou could take Outlook and fold up the folders/calendars/toolbars and have a nice tidy place for your Email. Again, you've got 800x480 to work within.

Also, you can use this as your Twitter screen, putting your timeline either on the web or using TweetDeck or bDule.

Debug Windows

Sometimes you just need a place to put your Watch Window. ;) While Visual Studio 2008 doesn't have the explicit support for Multiple Monitors like Visual Studio 2010, you CAN take your toolboxes and toolbars and move them over to your second monitor.

Music Monitor

ZuneiMoAn interesting app that this is perfect for, although there were a few visual glitches is the Zune software. This little 800x480 monitor is a great place to park the Zune software and let it entertain you while you work, without using one of your larger monitors. Unfortunately, something about the Zune visualization being so "heavy" it causes the monitor to sometimes switch into a Video Optimized view. I only saw this with the Zune software and only once or twice, but the idea appears that you can set the iMo to favor framerate over clarity, so it'll switch seamlessly to 400x240 (basically big dots) when there's a LOT of fast pixels moving. Again, don't freak out, I don't think this is a big deal and I only saw it a few times. Also, you can CHOOSE to turn this on or off with their software driver.

Video Screen

It works great for Hulu (sorry folks outside the US) and YouTube videos. There is an "optimized for video" option, but I haven't had to use it. More on that option below.

I had no problem dragging an episode of Family Guy down onto the monitor, even using Hulu Desktop, and it worked seamlessly with minimal problem. It was smooth and watchable to the IMG_0723point where I was genuinely surprised it was all happening over USB.

I could totally see using this to watch DVDs or little things in the background while writing, well, blog posts like this.

Conclusion

Frankly, this is an amazing piece of hardware. It's $130 and it works exactly as advertised. I'm looking forward to taking it with me to conferences an using it as a countdown timer for my laptop while on stage! It'll be perfect as a second monitor in Hotel Rooms when I'm away from my "command center." This is a fantastic little monitor and I'm happy I bought it.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.