Microsoft Surface. Hit and Miss.

Microsoft entered the tablet hardware business with the launch of the Surface line starting with the RT back in October. The timing on it for me was pretty good because my office was getting ready for a technology refresh, and I got to test it. Now, months later, what I call the new shiny syndrome has worn off.

When you look at what works and what doesn’t in the world of technology you come to realize a few things. First, so much is subjective. Second, people tend to dislike change. Third, change is inevitable. With this in mind, looking at the past 9 months with the Surface RT I have found a lot to like about it. There are pitfalls with it also, but it really is a solid tablet.

The Windows 8 interface is perfect for the RT. I find live tiles to be a great idea that matches and surpasses the widgets I have on my Android Tablet. iOS of course does not have anything like widgets or live tiles to compare to. The problem with the live tiles is the way they update, or at times don’t update. I find news stories to be on the older side half the time. I don’t get decent updates often enough for my liking. These problems though I have found to be true of widgets also.  There also is no intuitive way of stopping the live feed on the tiles.

Metro style apps are easy enough to get use to. Gestures for bringing up menus and doing things inside these apps are very consistent, which makes the learning curve a lot simpler than iOS or Android. The issue with Metro Style though is that same thing. If you are use to the way an app works on the other OSes, odds are you will have trouble finding the same features easily. Also the swipe down partially to bring up menus can be a bit trying at times, although not as difficult to master as the swipe completely down to close apps. If you don’t start from the right spot and go at the right speed, closing apps does not work, and I still find myself taking 3 or 4 swipes to close apps.

The biggest plus is the Office apps that come with the Surface RT, and with Outlook being added to that with the 8.1 Windows release, this just becomes better.

The biggest issues for me though come in the touch screen itself. I find it inaccurate. For instance, if I am on Facebook and want to share something on a friends timeline, I find myself going through the steps 4 or 5 times because I think I am tapping on share to friends timeline and it reads it as share to group. I find myself hitting links multiple times before it registers the tap also.

The soft keyboard which I have is decent, but also has its issues. I have found it losing responsiveness when typing, or registering the wrong key. In fact there is no rhyme or reason for this as the keyboard winds up either overly sensitive, or not registering my pressing at random. The Tablet itself will type normal for a moment, then buffer oddly and take 30 second or more to show the next stuff typed, which makes corrections rather difficult and causes delays in getting work done.

The weight and feel of the Surface are my final complaint about it. It shouldn’t feel as heavy as it does. Also the way it is shaped can leave hard marks in ones hand and cause pain if held for extended periods.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the tablet itself, and it gets used way more than my iPad. My ASUS Android tablet is still my primary tablet overall, but the Surface makes a nice backup. People seem to be worried about the amount of apps for the Windows RT environment, but honestly, I find most things I use a tablet for have an app, and most of them are available across the board. A decent free IRC app is all I have not been able to find so far. With the recent price cuts, I would recommend this to most people, although I am sure there are better devices out there from other manufacturers with Windows RT on it.

The catch 22

As I’ve been studying for the 70-410 Microsoft exam, I’ve come to the realization that I’m not ready, and I might not ever be.

Technology is a wondrous thing. It can take care of mundane, repetitive tasks, but only if you set it up and use it properly. It can also take over your world and control you, not quite Matrix style, but its getting there. Those of us that work in the IT field, be they developers, Network Admins, Penetration Testers, or any other number of fields, we do our best to keep up with the constant change of technology, not just for our own sake, but for societies. Someone has to know how to tame the technological beast. Certifications are a way of showing we understand the technologies out there, and have some degree of mastery over them.

Recently, there has been a challenge put forth called 90 Days to MCSA, through Microsoft learning. the goal is to get your MCSA be it in SQL, Server 2010, or Azure, in a 90 day period. I love learning (why else get into the IT field), and I love a good challenge, so I have embarked on the Server 2012 track. Over the last 10 days I have been studying for the Installation and Configuration exam (70-410) with a book from Microsoft press geared toward it. I also have a lab set up at my house for testing and doing the exercises. this should be simple you would think. Study the book, do the exercises, pass the exam. Theoretically, that is how it is supposed to go.

The problem with theories, is just that. They are theories, and real world can be indifferent to them. As I have almost finished the book (all 1600 pages of it) and done the exercises, I honestly do not feel much more ready to take the exam than I did before I started. Some of that could be because of the time frame from start to finish, which I will supplement with some other resources available to me. Some of it is that I don’t have access to any practice exams to gauge how I do on the various parts, and where my weaknesses are. Another portion is due to the face that while Server 2012 is new, and so are the exams, the books to study for it were released back in October, which means they were written while the software was still in Beta, and I have found issues with some of the exercises due to that fact (I won’t get into how many typos were in the book itself). This also leads me to a lack of confidence in taking the exam. When the official material is problematic, one has to wonder what they are actually in for.

The final issue I run into is that I like to know that I can pass the exam itself before I take it. I know others out there are like this also. We don’t want to go into that testing room and come out with a fail, especially with how much the exams cost. So we tend to push it off, time and time again, until there is new technology and new exams to take. In the mean time we get really good with the technology, but have no way of showing that little piece of paper to our employers, even though in the end it shouldn’t matter.

The question is though, when do you jump into the exam itself?

And the fun begins

The nice thing about training in a test environment is you can blow things up and not have to worry about it. Its more fun when the training exercise you are doing blows up in your face and you have to go from just learning mode to troubleshooting mode just to complete the exercise.

I do love learning, and I do love a challenge. I decided to take the 90 Days to MCSA challenge on figuring it would be good motivation for me to upgrade my Microsoft Certifications. I also figured that going with books from Microsoft Press, that recently came out, I would be even better off, since they would have the proper information. With all of this in mind I started off going through chapter 1 and doing the migration exercise at the end of the chapter. Piece of cake, everything went exactly as it said it would in the book. Each step worked beautifully. Coming off this success I went into chapter 2 ready for what it had to throw at me.

After reading through everything I started the first exercise which consists of  installing Server 2012 Core and then Converting to the GUI. The Core install had no issue, no problems. I get to the steps to do the conversion, and the problems started. Following step by step I went to the powershell and typed:

Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra –Restart –Source c:\mountdir\windows\winsxs

To convert to a minimal GUI system, and wound up stalling out at 68% and then failing with the following information:

Install-WindowsFeature : The request to add or remove features on the specified server failed.

Installation of one or more roles, role services, or features failed.

The source files could not be downloaded.

Use the “source” option to specify the location of the files that are required to restore the feature. For more information on specifying a source location,

see Error: 0x800f0906

At line:1 char:1

+ Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra,Server-Gui-Shell -Source:wim:z:\ins …

+ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    + CategoryInfo          : InvalidOperation: (@{Vhd=; Credent…Name=localhost}:PSObject) [Install-WindowsFeature], Exception

    + FullyQualifiedErrorId : DISMAPI_Error__Cbs_Download_Failure,Microsoft.Windows.ServerManager.Commands.AddWindowsFeatureCommand


Success Restart Needed Exit Code      Feature Result

——- ————– ———      ————–

False   No             Failed         {}


Being the IT guy that I am, I start Googling, and find not a lot of information, or at least solutions for this problem. I figure, OK it is something with the mount directory, so lets just try and get what we need from the online source. This time I get a Could not Download from source error on the fail, again at 68%. Now we are at a point that doesn’t make sense. I can understand that after some updates, there might be an issue doing the switch from the DVD (and yes I even used the DVD itself as the source directly with the same problems), but not able to do it from the online repositories, like ti should, this has me baffled. I decide to try and delete the mountdir directory I had created in case it was looking at that at all, and of course, a bunch of files cannot be deleted due to access issues. Yeah, I know that at this point I should just reinstall server core from the start and try again, but I now have a huge challenge on my hand, and can’t let it go so easily, even though it does push back my studying schedule.

I then decide to run another round of updates on the system to see if that is why the online repositories are not able to update the system as they should be able to. I also go against what the book says, and do all updates and not just the recommended ones. Well, that of course fails also, which brings me to the point of making the decision to wipe and start from scratch or continue finding an answer to the problem. I decide to try one more thing and from a recommended link in a post on the Microsoft forums I type in:

Dism /online /enable-feature /featurename:ServerCore-FullServer /featurename:Server-Gui-Shell /featurename:Server-Gui-Mgmt

This comes back with an error 0x800f0906 which says the source file cannot be downloaded. A quick Google search for that error comes up with it relating to the .NET framework 3.5.1. I figure, enough is enough for now and decide to reload Server Core from scratch and try to do the switching without doing any updates from Microsoft. That’s the lucky thing about it being a single test machine that I have nothing to worry about on. Start again from the beginning. I am sure Microsoft never intended for this process to take over 3 hours to get running properly, but again, that is the joy of new technology, you never know what can happen.

While starting form scratch, I did a bit more research to find that this is a known problem. After the reload, and before setting any server information or doing any updates, I was able to go through the steps for switching to the Minimal Gui without the error. The big question I have is why would Microsoft make it so difficult to do the switching the first time between Core and Gui when it is one of the great new features they have touted?