The new SkyDrive app–is it better than Dropbox?

I kind of missed the release yesterday of the new SkyDrive app from Microsoft. I’ve been using Dropbox for so long I haven’t really searching for alternatives, that allow me to sync files to and from the cloud between multiple computers.

So today I had a chance to install the new SkyDrive app on my laptop (using Windows 7), while simultaneously running Dropbox. Which one is better?

SkyDrive vs. Dropbox clients

The SkyDrive client is really barebones and has nothing extra built in. It synchronizes files and that’s it. It sits in system tray and thankfully doesn’t bother you unless something goes wrong.

The settings page is somewhat 1.0’ish, with only a setting to disconnect the current computer from your SkyDrive account, and make files available directly from my PC (as opposed to using the web site).


Compared to Dropbox, I’m missing a few crucial features. The ability to pause syncing would be nice, as I use this anytime I’m working remotely through a mobile broadband. 3G is fast but chokes easily.

The ability to restrict bandwidth usage would be nice also. Dropbox leads the way here:


Dropbox is also capable of showing storage usage:


While Skydrive is pretty clueless when it comes to storage:


It’s not that important but always nice to know if I’m almost hitting the quota or not. There’s a nice view up on the site but you’ll have to go there each time to check the status:



I’m paying $9,99/month for Dropbox. For this I get 50 GB of storage, which seems to be more than enough for my needs at the moment. Alternatively I can pay $99/year in advance, which comes to $8,25/month (or about 6,2 euro). The free alternative gives you 2 GB by default.

For SkyDrive I get 25 GB by default, which is more than Dropbox gives me. I can upgrade to 45 GB for $10/year, or 75 GB for $25/year or 125 GB for $50/year. So by paying roughly half of what I’m paying Dropbox, I can get 125 GB storage, which is twice the storage I get from Dropbox.


What about security then? Dropbox states the following on security:

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and AES-256 bit encryption

Since Dropbox uses Amazon S3 for storage, apparently Amazon’s own security policies apply here as well. It’s pretty comprehensive. In fact, searching with the keyword “security” from *, I get +10,000 hits with topics like security clarification, privacy and security.

For SkyDrive the security story doesn’t look as good. In fact, there’s not much to tell about security since apparently Microsoft believes talking about security might compromise security.

A quick search for “security” on * gives me exactly one hit:


Thanks, but not really what I was looking for.

Other findings

Both apps are unobtrusive once installed and configured, which is a good thing. Synchronization should be in autopilot and not require the user to check up on things. Dropbox.exe takes around 60 MB of memory when sitting idle. SkyDrive.exe takes around 20 MB when idle. It’s impossible to make any meaningful comparison between the processes, since SkyDrive might as well be offloading logic to Windows Explorer, while Dropbox might be doing the same work independently.

In Skydrive, I hate the forced Hotmail toolbar I’m given whenever I access the files through a browser. It reminds me too much of 1999, and hints at the fact that I should be using some email as well – which I don’t feel is of any use to me.


In comparison, Dropbox’s UI is nice and clean and doesn’t have the historical weight of Hotmail:


For some reason whenever I open the Dropbox site, I’m automatically authenticated and logged. SkyDrive requires me to log in manually each and every time. Fix this, please.

So, which one?

I’ve been happy with Dropbox. Now that SkyDrive is around, I’m tempted to switch because of the much lower pricing. I’m not happy with the lack of documentation around security and privacy on SkyDrive, so that’s kind of a big deal to me.

For a 1.0 beta-release, the SkyDrive app is pretty solid. Hopefully in the coming versions Microsoft continues to add more configuration options while keeping the pricing at a lower level. Until then, I’ll stick with Dropbox.

Reverse-engineering SharePoint–what about legal implications?

Every so often someone voices out their opinion on some technical aspect of SharePoint. They are often trying to customize or otherwise create something that is not strictly out-of-the-box-functionality, and hit a brick wall while trying to figure out why something works like it works in SharePoint. A developer’s answer on these woes is to use Red Gate’s Reflector (or ReSharper Decompiler) to figure out how SharePoint’s own internal libraries have been implemented.

I’m guilty of suggesting this in my trainings since you might not have an alternative. EIther you figure out how to bypass or change something, or you don’t and move on to different projects.

Someone else on Quora has been pondering the same thing. Zero answers as of today.

The process of reverse-engineering a commercial product, if even for just a tiny bit, is widely regarded as an approved way, that conforms to the fair use of the software license. I wanted to find out if investigating any of the DLL’s from SharePoint is in fact allowed, or even disallowed. Turns out it wasn’t that trivial to find out.

Licensing, EULA and PUR

The licensing of SharePoint is not trivial and one has plenty of options to choose from. Assuming we’d be using SharePoint Server 2010, what licensing agreements am I bound to? Recalling things from pre-2010, there’s EULA – the End User License Agreement.

There’s at least one blog entry on MSDN, that says

EULA is an old term and was used for SharePoint 2003.

In place of EULA we have PUR – or Product Use Rights. You can find all the available PURs at the Volume Licensing site. For SharePoint Server 2010 it’s this one:

There’s the Universal Licensing Terms, General License Terms, Exceptions and a downloadable copy of PUR.

Universal Licensing Terms is a no-nonsense text describing the typical concepts and rights the license grants you. Nothing is said about reverse-engineering, disassembling or decompiling SharePoint. So at least it’s not universally denied. There’s one important piece here though, and it’s this:

You must obtain Microsoft’s prior written approval to disclose to a third party the results of any benchmark test of the server software or additional software that comes with it.

I wasn’t aware that if I use something like Visual Studio 2010 Load Test tool to get baseline information of my SharePoint farm, that I’m not allowed to disclose these findings to third parties, such as vendors and hosting providers. Interesting fact but not necessarily something that might cause Microsoft legal to hunt you down, if you happen to post a blog entry on your findings.

For .NET Framework-based components, there’s additional reference information at – dated 2005, so I doubt it’s 100% relevant in 2012. It does however dictate what information must be revealed for any performance test results you might want to publish that are based on .NET.

Besides these, there’s nothing relevant on reverse-engineering in the Universal Licensing Terms.

General License Terms covers CALs, connector licenses and similar – nothing was found against or for reverse-engineering SharePoint bits.

Exceptions and Additional Terms sounds promising but it has nothing either.

PUR is also available, and it’s dated April 2012. It’s a huge document sitting at 144 pages. I didn’t find anything with keywords such as “disassemble”, “reverse”, “engineer”, “decompile” or variations on these. For SharePoint Server 2010 the PUR basically lists the necessary CALs, connectors and whatnot one should purchase in different scenarios. So nothing technical here.

What about Fair Use?

Wikipedia nicely describes Fair Use as

Fair use seems to be safe ground for reverse engineers, almost always using it as a defense. However, an EULA is a legally binding contract. If a user agrees to terms which are in conflict with fair use, the user has effectively waved their rights to fair use.

Let’s not forget about SharePoint Portal Server 2003’s EULA, which is still available for download. Buried in the EULA is the following

Reverse engineering, decompiling, or disas sembling the Software is prohibited, except and only to the extent that such activity is expressly permitted by applica ble law notwithstanding this limitation.

So that’s clear then. But this only applies to SPS 2003 (and WSS 2.0 I would guess), and not to SharePoint Server 2010 (and consequently, not SharePoint Foundation 2010).

I tried searching for a more relevant copy of the EULA, but it seems that PUR mentioned above is the only public version currently available.

There’s a combined MOSS 2007/SP 2010 guide to assessing SharePoint Server licensing available too. I couldn’t find the document via Microsoft’s Download Center, but it’s available through Google. Nothing new is revealed in the document, and the references listed in the end are the same sites I’ve linked to earlier.

So reverse-engineering is allowed then?

Since PUR specifically doesn’t disallow reverse-engineering, one might feel it’s allowed. I’m not a lawyer (and don’t intend to become one by reading these documents) so I can only offer my opinion.

For now I’ll continue with my practice of using any available reverse-engineer tools, if I feel it’s something that helps me to understand how something working within SharePoint. Problems arise if I decide to reuse any of that code to my own work, and distribute that as part of my deployments.

Until Microsoft further clarifies this, I feel it’s safe – and acceptable (under Fair Use) – to continue with this practice. There’s also much to be said about the licensing documentation, which is fairly challenging to find, and almost too hard to comprehend in certain scenarios. It should be less complex and easier to apply in the real world.

The 5 stages of SharePoint denial

Based on the Kübler-Ross –model, there are also 5 stages of SharePoint denial.

These are:

1. Hope: “It should work”; “I hope this deploys” and “The page is still loading but it should work”. Hope is usually a passing feeling, before stage 2.

2. Belief: “It worked yesterday”; “I’ve read about this on Technet and someone wrote a blog entry about this”; “Well, it’s a feature so why wouldn’t it work?”. Belief follows hope, when you still feel a diminishing hope, yet truly believe the thing you are trying to get to work, in fact should work when you put in enough hours. This stage usually lasts for days, sometimes even weeks.

3. Hollowness: “I don’t know what else I can do to fix it”; “Maybe I should reconfigure the whole farm once more”; “Is there anyone I could call about this?”. When all hope is lost, and most belief is gone, there’s only a hollow feeling left. Is there anything worth fighting for anymore?

4. Besserwisser: “I’ve done that but those other guys have no idea what they are doing”; “Who coded this?”; “And they spent how many days doing this?”. If you manage to survive to stage 4, you become a besserwisser. You seem to know how to do anything with SharePoint, and anything anybody else is doing, is a steaming pile of java. You’ve been there, so you surely know – and you’ve got the scars to prove it.

5. Alcoholism: “Why bother? Anybody have beer?”; “If it deploys, I’ll have a drink. Otherwise, I’ll have a drink”.

I’m now an MCSA–again?

Having just written about the latest changed to Microsoft’s certification program, I was immensely happy to receive this email yesterday morning:

Congratulations on earning your Windows Server® 2008 Core certification! We hope you enjoy the benefits of your certification and of membership in the Microsoft Certified Professional community.

Wait, what? I thought I was already a certified Windows Server 2008 guy, with both the necessary MCTS-based certifications and MCITP for Enterprise Administrator. I’ve kind of lost track on all the different Windows Server-certifications, there are simply so many available.

A quick peek at the MCP site reveals that nothing has changed with regards to actual certifications I’ve taken:


Clicking on my transcript, I see that I do indeed have the new MCSA, or Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate certification:


What about my previous MCSA from 2003? It’s still there in my transcript:


What this means is that I get to keep my existing MCSA from 2003, and I’ve also earned the new MCSA for 2012. In time, my old MCSA will still be visible but will eventually lose value while the new MCSA gains in popularity. This probably takes a few years for HR managers, recruiters and managers to realize that MCSA is new, and not 9 years old.

Windows Server “8” is officially named Windows Server 2012

I wrote a few days ago about the chances of Windows Server “8” naming possibilities, and I predicted (or guessed) it might be named 2012, since Microsoft wants to avoid using 13 because of triskaidekaphobia. Last night it was announced that the official name is indeed going to be Windows Server 2012:

In addition, Anderson provided a preview of how Microsoft’s private cloud will become even more powerful with Windows Server “8” and announced that the operating system will officially be named Windows Server 2012. The new “cloud-optimized OS” is due out later this year.


Windows 8 editions announced–a few thoughts

Today, Brandon LeBlanc announced the upcoming Windows 8 editions. It’s an interesting read for multiple reasons.

First, the official name of Windows 8 remains Windows 8. This was expected, since after Windows Vista, Microsoft started using a (bit) more logical naming conventions for their server and workstation products. Servers follow a year-based naming model while workstations follow an incremental number. Does this mean that the upcoming Windows 8 Server will be named Windows Server 2013? Perhaps, even if Microsoft tries to avoid the bad karma of the number 13.

ARM ProcessorSo the editions will be Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 RT. I’m not fully convinced that Windows 8 RT, which is intended for ARM-based devices such as slates and tabs, is a good moniker. It feels it was lifted from WinRT (or Windows Runtime), which is the new programming model for Metro-style apps on Windows 8. Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro also platforms for Metro-style apps, hence WinRT applies to those editions as well? If you do a search on ‘ARM’ and ‘RT’, you’ll get several hits for real-time. Not a big issue but certainly something to confuse non-enthusiasts.

The chart that differentiates key features between the editions, a few features caught my attention. Microsoft Office is listed as a feature for only Windows 8 RT. It’s a bit confusing but apparently it means that Microsoft Office (along with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote – no Outlook) is preinstalled on any device that ships with Windows 8 RT. You can still install Office 2010 or Office “15” for Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro.

Windows 8 RT also supports ISO/VHD mount. This is an interesting feature, considering that a powerful tablet/slate-device could then mount existing VHD-images, or even boot to a virtual machine.

Too bad that Bitlocker and Bitlocker to go are not available for Windows 8 or Windows 8 RT, just for the Pro edition. Is it because non-Pro-users do not need Bitlocker-based encryption, or that nobody uses it outside the corporate world?

What’s missing from the feature list is Windows To Go. It’s a feature that allows you to boot and run Windows from any USB-based mass storage devices, such as a USB stick. It’s a neat and highly useful feature, but probably still in 1.0-stage and was not listed separately in the announcement.

In retrospect it seems that Windows 8 Pro will be the default choice for anyone even remotely interested in configuring, administering or designing Windows 8-based workstations or networks. Windows 8 will be the off-the-shelf edition for market PC’s and people who don’t know any better. And Windows 8 RT is the natural choice for tablet devices that are ARM-based.

Windows 3.11Compared to Windows Vista’s 5 editions (Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate, Business, Enterprise) and Windows 7’s 6 editions (Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, Ultimate) the choice to trim editions down to 3, is a welcomed changed.

Now I can finally remember all three of them! (I miss Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, it was a simpler life then)

Top 3 tips for anyone using Microsoft Lync to attend online meetings

I’m using Microsoft’s Lync Online (from Office 365) daily. Hourly, even. I have all my colleagues as contacts as well as most of my customers, partner companies and people I know – if they’ve decided to use Lync and if they are happy to federate openly with other companies. Not everyone is doing this but most Finnish companies I work with, it’s not a problem.

Here are my top 3 tips for anyone using Lync to attend online meetings:

1. Use mute liberally

imageThere’s a mute-button for a reason. If you are not the one presenting or attending a heated argument over Lync, just stay on mute. It takes you a second to unmute, and nobody needs to hear you type emails, which you evidently will be doing if you are not talking.

2. If you invite others, tell them why

It’s so easy to invite others to your important meeting. Is it important to everyone else? Possibly but not necessarily. Take the courtesy to tell why you need others to spend 90 minutes in your online meeting. Some people might decide that the meeting is not for them – they don’t want to spend 1,5 hours doing something is not worth their time. And that’s fine.

For some reason, especially with Lync and Outlook, most people just send the invitation URL and nothing else. I often reply with a “What’s the agenda for this meeting, and the desired outcome?” to see if there’s a reason for me to attend.

3. Set up your stuff before the meeting

I might be a bit impatient here but it will grow in you when you witness – for the fifth time during the same week – someone wondering about a missing password or a missing slide deck they were supposed to present for an audience of 15 people. It’s impolite for others, but besides that it’s a huge waste of time.

Take the two minutes to set up your demo gear and other stuff before the meeting.

I think this is the equivalent of connecting your laptop to a projector before your talk. Make sure it works before your audience arrives!

A few productivity tips for working remotely

Day 20 -  KeyboardI used to be a huge fan of working remotely. I still am, but I used to be, too. My view on working has changed drastically in the past 3-4 years, when I’ve had to come up with ingenious ways to work while not being at home, or at my own office. In fact, I spend around 4 hours a week at my own office, and the remaining ~45 hours per week that I put in I work elsewhere.

I’ve listed a few quick productivity tips that I find invaluable and keep using on a daily basis:

Instead of meetings, arrange voice conferences. Whenever I get an invitation to attend a meeting, the smallest unit of time is typically 60 minutes. It’s never 15 minutes. I simply feel that most work should be done before the meetings, and meetings should be quick status checks.

I’m happy to see so many companies embrace online video conferencing – it’s usually Lync, Skype or WebEx and they all work wonderfully. The downside is that it might be challenging to find a private space to attend a voice-based meeting.

CappuccinoArrange to have breakfast and lunch meetings on the same day. For me it’s Friday. I have all my breakfast meetings, lunch meetings and similar arranged for one specific day of the week. This helps me to avoid breaking my week into multiple shorter periods of work divided by random meetings around the city. Friday is considered “do stuff that needs to be done but doesn’t necessarily yield direct revenue”. It took me a few years to embrace this ideology, and now I’m more effective because of this.

The obvious downside is that on certain Friday’s I do 4 lunch meetings in a row, so I aim to eat lightly.

UptimeFind ways to convert downtime to uptime. We all have downtime. For me, it’s travel time, and random timeslots here and there when I’m moving from one client site to another, or when a workshop ends 2 hours earlier than I’ve anticipated. The number one productivity tool for me to catch up on things, check emails, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and RSS is iPad. I use it constantly, if just for checking something trivial for 30 seconds. If I have more than 30 minutes I head to the nearest café to work with my laptop. If I have more than an hour, I either head home or one of our offices, whichever is nearest.

Charlie Gilkey's Productivity System

Avoid doing useless stuff that is interesting. There’s so much interesting stuff to do. Too bad most of the interesting stuff is pretty useless. It doesn’t grow my business and it doesn’t provide me with anything else than satisfy my curiosity or force me to act based on external stimulus.

A great example comes to mind, that I just recently encountered: My mobile phone informs me that there’s an update available. Having just reinstalled my laptop I don’t have Zune installed, or a micro usb-cable available. I could spend the next 15 minutes setting those up and patching the phone – or do something more worthwhile, and just leave the phone without the update. I’ll probably perform the update on a slow Saturday evening anyway.

Some vaguely familiar software vendor sent me an email asking to fill out their customer satisfaction survey. It will only take 25 minutes, they promised. Or, I could spend 25 minutes doing something productive and simply not answer the survey. It’s amazing how much time emails can command by simply asking you to do something.

You don’t have to do everything people ask you to do – you just have to do what’s essential.

Multitasking – yes, I prefer it to single tasking. I’m writing this article while conducting 2 instant messaging conversations, and listening to a webcast. I’ve tried moving back to single tasking and feel that my productivity drops by at least 50%, and so much is left undone. The challenge with multitasking is the fact that you need to be aware of what is important, so that you can quickly and effectively drop whatever you are doing when something more important arises. And have time at the end of the day to clean up the tasks that are not done.

bucket listMake a list. Make it short. I start each morning with a simple list. It’s a list of 3-5 most important things I have to get done before I head home. When I’m done with those 3-5 items, I stop working. If the list grows too long I know I’m not concentrating on proper things, but just cherry-picking what I feel like is nice to do. It’s a gruesome exercise to leave out something you so badly want to do in favor of something mundane that has to be done.

And I write the list by hand on real paper. OneNote just doesn’t give me the sense of urgency.

Stacked LogsCut it and stack it. In Finnish we have a saying, “Poikki ja pinoon”, which roughly translates to cut it, stack it and forget about it. I’m a huge advocate of doing things fast, being efficient and shipping when it’s “good enough”, rather than polishing it indefinitely. The key here is to have the mind’s eye to understand when something is good enough, and when something is still crappy.

Be productive & be happy!

Issues with Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a HP 8560w laptop

Just a quick post this time:

imageI’ve been running Windows 8 Consumer Preview on my main laptop, which is a HP 8560w laptop.It even says EliteBook on the back so definitely a good workhorse for most of my SharePoint needs.

Everything ran mostly smooth after removing Windows 7 and switching to Windows 8 Consumer Preview. I hate using virtualization on a desktop, but I wanted to try out Hyper-V 3.0 also.

After a few weeks my laptop started acting up. Random reboots, and system halts whenever I’d put it to sleep or hibernate. Not good, Windows – definitely not acceptable.

I wasn’t sure what caused the issues, since the error codes didn’t give a specific reason, just the typical IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL errors.

The reason could be one of the following:

Running Hyper-V 3.0 on a laptop – not a far-fetched thought. Considering there were some slight issues to get Hyper-V running when your regional settings are not US English, this was my first suspicion.

Any of the random hotfixes Microsoft pushes through Windows Update – There were plenty, and I wasn’t really sure which of them did what. Didn’t have time to investigate.

IIS + SharePoint + SQL Server 2012 – These are fairly well-behaving citizens on the operating system so I didn’t inspect these further.

3rd party hardware drivers – Mostly I used native Windows 7 64-bit drivers from HP’s support site. A few were Microsoft’s own (apparently experimental) drivers and a few from vendors.

Eventually the issue boiled down to NVidia’s drivers. There’s a nice write up on this at but the fix is not nice – effectively disabling most of your GPU abilities to do something doesn’t feel like a fix to me. A lot more insights at the forums here.

So for now, I’m back to Windows 7 on my laptop and hoping for Nvidia to come up with a proper release for their GPU driver. Alternatively I could go back to the Intel GPU drivers available here.

New Microsoft books coming out before the summer

I often realize how much I love reading. It doesn’t matter if I’m reading a PDF on my laptop, an e-book with Kindle on my iPad or a paper book before falling asleep in the evening – they are all good in my books.

Every now and then I scan through Amazon for upcoming books with hopes there’s something worth buying. There’s probably a lot of good books I haven’t read around SharePoint or Microsoft technologies in general, so I’m always in the mood for new purchases.

Here are my latest findings:


Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2012: Fresh content for the newly released SQL Server 2012. Best of all, this one is free of charge!

Available for Kindle also, get it here.



 Working with Microsoft FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint: Having just bought this I haven’t had a chance to read it any further than the introduction. It feels like a good overview for FAST in a condensed form.

Available for Kindle also, get it here.


Delivering Business Intelligence with SQL Server 2012: Very nice to see such detailed topics already available for SQL Server 2012. Only one review (5 stars) so I’m definitely putting this on my to-read list for the summer.

Available April 23, see details here.


SharePoint 2010 Creating and Implementing Real-World Projects: An interesting take to a somewhat familiar topic on SharePoint. The writers seem to have good background on technical and non-technical issues for SharePoint. The index is a bit lackluster with topics like “Design a team blog platform to review content”. I’ll give this a try, the Kindle version is only $20. Get it here.


Practical SharePoint 2010 Information Architecture: There’s a huge resource available for IA from Microsoft, so it’s always refreshing to see someone outside MS try to tackle this non-technical yet highly important aspect of any SharePoint deployment.

Available April 18, see details here. No mention of a Kindle version yet.


Metro Revealed: Building Windows 8 Apps with HTML5 and Javascript: Living on the edge with a topic like this! Definitely going to get this – there’s also a separate book if you prefer using C#.

Available April 29, see details here. No mention of a Kindle version yet.



Programming Microsoft’s Clouds: Azure and Office 365: This book promises to be a very detailed look at both Azure and Office 365 custom solutions. It’s “only” +500 pages, so hopefully it’s not going to be 300 pages explaining what Azure or Office 365, but rather +500 pages of solid content.

Available June 5, see details here. No mention of a Kindle version yet.


SharePoint 2010 Business Connectivity Services: I’m uncertain what’s new in this book compared to the de facto manual on BCS from Scot Hillier. It seems to be more for business analysts and super users rather than developers or IT Pro’s, since the sample table of contents includes a lot of references to SharePoint Designer, Office and “enhancing”. Probably not buying this, but it’s interesting to see BCS gain more ground – it’s actually pretty damn good.

Available June 22, see details here. No mention of a Kindle version yet.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll have to go back to my books!