Google’s privacy policy changes are no big deal

The internets are in a tizzy – Google recently announced major changes to their privacy policy that allows for the sharing of data between Google owned services. People are claiming this paves the way for the privacy apocalypse. Pretty soon it will start raining targeted ads, as humanity drowns in a giant lake of fire…

Don’t believe me? Here’s some headlines:

Google announces privacy changes across products; users can’t opt out

Google Privacy Policy Update Challenged by Lawmakers

Google privacy policy unleashes criticism from regulators

How to close your Google Account

Not to mention the fear inducing coverage by major media outlets – Fox News and NPR alike.


There are a couple problems with this hype.

  1. Google has gone to great lengths to be sure people are aware of the changes, and to make them understandable.

    Every couple months, Apple surreptitiously updates their terms of service and privacy policies – requires you to agree to the changes, and expect you to sift through pages of legalese to see what changed . Quite often these changes are indeed far reaching, like banning access to competing technologies so Apple can take a totally unneeded 30% cut, or Apple essentially owning your iBooks content. But where is the outrage? It’s Apple. Evil is in their nature.

    Instead Google does it right – I personally read about the changes from Google before hearing about it on the news. They have a notice on the search page, a popup in Gmail, in Youtube…
    Some examples:
    And the page itself is written for human consumption, not lawyers:

  2. If Google wasn’t sharing your data between services, they were the only ones.

    The other day, I was searching for some IT Helpdesk software. One of the products I looked at was HEAT. Ever since then, I have been seeing ads for Heat HelpDesk almost everywhere I go on the web. The other day I was looking for deals at Disney World, and wouldn’t you know it, I start seeing ads to that effect… everywhere I go. Yeah it’s creepy. What’s even creepier is that I don’t know who has this information or where they got it, and I sure don’t know anything about their privacy policy. Which leads to 3
  3. Google Dashboard lets you take control of the data stored about you

    Google dashboard is a single destination to review your information from all Google services. The Web History is a big one – perhaps the biggest. Surprise surprise, Google keeps a record of everything you search for while logged in, and sometimes even site visits. If you searched for something you would rather there be no record of (that rash on your leg, for example), you can delete individual entries, or you can clean it out altogether. You can also turn it off.

  4. Integration requires data sharing

    In order for Google to improve the integration between services – such as enabling unified messaging between Google Voice and Gmail – they must freely share data between the two services. Obviously a major motivation for such sharing would be targeting advertisements, but as I mentioned in #2 that has become the standard everywhere else.


Google has been doing things lately that I would argue border on evil (contrary to the “Don’t be evil” motto) – closing services that aren’t a huge success but that people still rely on, not releasing Android source code as promised, muscling out competing social networks in search results…

This policy change is not evil, it nothing to be “outraged” about, and they are doing it right. The sky is not falling; the world is not coming to an end.

Windows Live Writer

Windows Live Writer is an oft-overlooked component of the Windows Live Essentials application bundle (also including such gems as Live Photo Gallery, Live Movie Maker, and Live Mesh). If you have a blog (in my case running on WordPress), I highly recommend it for one really important reason: it makes adding images to posts 100% easier.

Think of it like a trimmed down version of Microsoft Word (more like Wordpad really) that can be used to compose blog posts. You can format text according to styles, add hyperlinks effortlessly, perform spell checking – but most importantly – paste images right into your post. Like this one:



You can the resize, crop, etc.

The contents of the Insert tab alone are worth your time:



I could be the only person left who primarily posted using the HTML editor, but if there are any other curmudgeons out there who have been skipping the visual aids because of all the extra steps… well give Windows Live Writer a try!

Trying out System Center 2012 RC… or not

I have evaluated several versions of System Center Essentials over the years, and after getting past the initial “ooh, shiny MMCs” reaction (the the terrible installation experience), I generally have found them to be lackluster.


System Center 2012 comes around and even makes the news: Microsoft is of course “all-in” to the cloud, so SC2012 is hyped to help create and manage your “Private Cloud”. Additionally, Microsoft has streamlined the licensing process so that instead of Several different products (Configuration Manager, Operations Manager, Data Protection Manager, Virtual Machine Manager, Service Manager) there is just one product (well… two, but they only differ in virtualization instance counts) including all the technologies, and the price is fairly reasonable. The product now contains the following components:

  1. App Controller – (new) “Cloud”-style application management (App-V, server configuration templates), application performance monitoring (J2EE & .NET – Visual Studio Integration)
  2. Configuration Manager – Software deployment, update management, configuration compliance / enforcement, administration
  3. Data Protection Manager – Backup (server, workstation, bare metal)
  4. Endpoint Protection – Anti-Malware, firewall configuration
  5. Operations Manager – Performance / availability monitoring
  6. Orchestrator – (formerly Opalis) Data Center workflow management (?)
  7. Service Manager – Helpdesk, trouble tickets, process compliance
  8. Virtual Machine Manager – Self explanatory

I realize I’m probably demonstrating my naïveté here, but there does seem to be some overlap – Configuration Manager, Orchestrator and Service Manager all list process / configuration automation in the feature list. Considering these used to be separate SKUs I understand why this might be, but it makes for a very unpolished appearing product. If I want to deploy an application to users machines, do I use the “App Controller”? Or Configuration Manager”? Or do I  “Orchestrate” it?

Sounds like the answer is “sure.”


Getting Started

The download for System Center 2012 is available here:;TEC_103_1_33

Out the gate, things are not looking good. Despite touting the new “System Center 2012 Unified Installer,” the download includes 8 files of various names and extensions, none of which are instructions.

Also of note: the creepy total size: 6.66 GB…


There should be some documentation hidden here: Microsoft Private Cloud Evaluation Resources

So I have my VM ready to go, but no idea how to proceed. Checking the Unified Installer user guide – which is really poorly written – I discover than you need a separate server for each component, except for Service Manager, which requires two. So I hope you have a powerful virtualization server… or a bunch of extra workstations lying around, because that is a whopping 8 servers to perform a complete install.

That’s right – System Center 2012 requires it’s own private cloud just to run. (Our data center only has about 8 servers to be managed!) That is 8 windows licenses. That might even be enough to cause a TechNet static activation key to stop working. One could virtualize, but the Standard license only allows you to manage two virtual machines… this thing isn’t even licensed to manage itself.




At this point, even after spending the time setting up VMs for it, I am tempted to scrap the whole thing. Too many servers, too many manual steps, poor documentation, and a high likelihood of fatal-non-resumable-installer-errors-after-hours-of-non-reversible-changes (see SCE 2010) all sums up to a poor allocation of resources.

I can do 90% of what System Center 2012 does with Group Policy (free with Windows Server), WSUS (free), Microsoft Security Essentials (Free) and Zabbix or Quest FogLight (free or free to a point).



Update – To Be Continued…

Three more virtual machines later, and I have all the necessary servers. I went through with the installation successfully and will post the steps soon.

Sysprep Windows Server 2008 R2 and use Windows Server Backup

Windows Server 2008 R2 comes with sysprep pre-installed – it is at c:\windows\system32\sysprep\sysprep.exe – best to run it from an elevated command line.

If you are looking to create a sysprepped image using the built in Windows Server Backup, you will be sorely disappointed – WSB does not run after running sysprep (if you choose the Exit option) – in fact very little will run.

The workaround is simple but non-intuitive (backup first; sysprep second):
1: Run the backup first.
2: Load the backup on a different machine (or virtual machine).
3: On first boot, ensure the network is disconnected!!
4. Run sysprep (be sure to select generalize) and have it reboot.
5. Repeat as needed.

Microsoft hacks away at TechNet membership benefits (again)

TechNet Professional (formerly TechNet Plus) subscriptions are one of the best ideas to come from Redmond – allow IT Pros to pay a subscription, and evaluate pretty much all Microsoft software without time limits and expirations. Why is this such a good idea? Because Microsoft gets a significant portion of its revenue from business licensing, and making evaluation as easy as possible can only encourage adoption of new versions.

Last year, Microsoft silently dropped the number of licenses per application from 10 down to 5, arguing that for evaluation, there was no need for so many licenses. Perhaps, perhaps not. I create new VMs to evaluate software fairly regularly, and having 10 keys makes it much less likely to encounter activation issues.

But ok, we only get 5 – so we adjust.

Well, for some reason Microsoft has decided that they want to scale things back further – as seen on the subscription home page,

Beginning on January 26, 2012, individual subscribers to TechNet Professional Subscriptions may access a maximum allocation of 3 product keys for Microsoft Office and Windows Client products in connection with their subscription. The allotted keys may only be used for software evaluation purposes. Once the maximum keys have been activated no more keys will be made available. Additional product keys may be acquired through the purchase of an additional subscription.

Unfortunately, I just saw this today, so I’m doing like any reasonable person would and requesting all 5 keys for any Office or Windows related products before they drop it down again – until I hit the daily key request limit…

First of all, making software evaluation more difficult is only going to hurt Microsoft. But then again, Windows 8 doesn’t appear to be geared toward business AT ALL, so maybe it is indicative of a shift in strategy.
(It is odd that Windows 8 preview still isn’t on TechNet, nor is the System Center 2012 RC…)

If only TechNet members had the time to protest…

How to embed an application manifest in a CodeDom generated assembly

When using CodeDom to generate executables (using CodeCompileUnit.CompileAssemblyFromDom for example), you can easily embed your custom application manifest using the CompilerParameters.CompilerOptions string, like so:

            CompilerParameters cp = new CompilerParameters();
            cp.GenerateExecutable = true;
            cp.GenerateInMemory = false;
            cp.TreatWarningsAsErrors = false;
            cp.OutputAssembly = "RandomFileName.exe";
            cp.CompilerOptions = "/optimize+ /debug- /win32manifest:RandomFileName.exe.manifest";

The relevant option being /win32manifest. Make sure you create the manifest before attempting to compile, obviously.

And use the CompileParameters in CompileAssemblyFromDom();

FYI – There are other ways to do this, but they would involve finding and running some command line utilities. This is by far the easiest, and most elegant way I could find.

DIRECTV2PC activation key usage limit error

I have been trying to install DIRECTV2PC for a week or so (off and on of course) and I get the error “Activation Failed” with a reason of “activation key usage limit reached”

For some reason, nobody had a solution – on or (or directv forums, or the internet as a whole).
I had already requested two keys, and I had only used them once – it seems ridiculous to me that I cannot use the key again if I, say, reinstall Windows (which I tend to a couple times a year)…

I found a workaround – use a different email address to request a new key. (Many email providers allow you to insert arbitrary periods in your email address…)

DIRECTV2PC is made by cyberlink for Directv. Nobody seems to know why it requires a product key – probably some accounting thing. Rumor has it that it may be going away soon anyway.

Good luck!