Our monthly commentary and collected links for July 2013.

Save TechNet!

Hopefully by now, you’ve already learned that Microsoft is planning to kill the standard and professional TechNet subscriptions. If you haven’t got a TechNet subscription, let me explain it to you: it’s the tool that millions of us use to gain access to Microsoft software in our testing environments without needing to take out a second (or third) mortgage. For a few hundred dollars per year, we gain unlimited use software that we can poke at, pry, twist, and beat into submission so that we can get a thorough understanding of the software in a safe setting. Then we can unleash our findings upon our hapless users. We can share it with you. We can write publications and include screenshots and just basically provide a lot of free advertisement for Microsoft software. Even if you don’t use TechNet subscriptions, this is a problem for everyone.

I don’t really know what the thought process is behind this. Microsoft’s not providing much of a reason (you can read it for yourself). I don’t think this was truly a well-thought idea and it’s certainly not being handled honestly. Typically, when a vital, popular program is ended, there is some warning. The total time between the notice going up and the end of the program is only about two months, meaning that a lot of IT pros with their noses to the grindstone aren’t going to find out about this until their subscriptions begin to expire across the following ten months. Two TechNet Flashes have been published since then, and I didn’t notice that either of them even mentioned the end of the program. This is simply underhanded. It reminds me of the destruction of Earth “notice” published by the Vogons in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The common drumbeat reason seems to be “piracy”. Apparently, some people are buying TechNet subscriptions and then selling the license keys. Some others, no doubt, are using their TechNet licenses in production. I’m not sure that I can swallow “piracy” as an excuse, since Microsoft is at least getting some money out of the deal and as I understand it, their biggest piracy losses are to professional crackers in foreign countries that strip the protections off the software and sell it in the street as “legitimate”. I’m in support of manufacturers doing due diligence against software theft, but at some point, the big software makers need to understand that people who won’t pay for their software are never going to pay for their software. At some place in the battle, they need to just be content that their products are still considered worth the effort to steal them. By “worth it”, I mean that you can actually get money if you report software piracy. Punishing your legitimate customers just to crack down on “lost” sales that you probably never would have had anyway doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Microsoft’s proposals are: use the evaluation center, use the virtual labs, or use MSDN. Response:

  • Evaluation Center: A customer, client, friend, blog reader, etc. calls me and wants me to look at the way Windows 7 Enterprise behaves as a virtual machine. Hmm, the evaluation center doesn’t have a trial of Windows 7 Enterprise anymore. It’s still within its support matrix, but I can’t test it. What do I have to do? I have to find some way of buying a copy of Windows 8 that allows for downgrade rights. That’s not coming from a retail box. Maybe someone can propose to me how much that test is going to cost me without a TechNet subscription (hint: lots). What about XP, Windows Server 2003, etc? What about an operating system that Microsoft doesn’t support anymore but we’re forced to use out here in the real world for one reason or another? Tough. You’re completely out of luck.
  • Virtual Labs: I’m not going to lie. The virtual labs are impressive. But, they’re impressive the way that Wikipedia used to be impressive. They’ll introduce you to a technology, let you kick the tires a bit, but all you see is what someone thinks you need to see and you’re going to have to do a lot on your own if you really want more than superficial knowledge.
  • MSDN: Are you kidding me? Do you know what an MSDN subscription costs? I always assumed that the price difference was first that MSDN comes with a copy of Visual Studio and second that developers should spend a fair bit of time testing their code against different operating systems and products. That Windows 7 Enterprise question? I’ll field maybe four of those a year. I use my Windows Server 2003 test system maybe once every couple of months. Like most IT professionals, I spend most of my time in the land of production systems. Developers probably do not. Budding and small-budget developers still get access to Visual Studio Express. What do IT professionals, especially the novices, get?

Something that Microsoft needs to consider is that in these days, big companies don’t often train their top tier professionals. For instance, I’m in a fairly large organization now, and we do not train up our systems administrators. They are typically hired in from outside. A great many professionals are able to gain the knowledge they need by using an affordable TechNet subscription. Knowledge like we have does not come from books, it does not come from the occasional sprinklings of knowledge that descend from on high in the form of blog posts and newsletters and books. It comes from mixing all these things in a stew whose real meat is primarily hands-on experience. Just as pirates aren’t going to magically start paying money for software just because Microsoft kills TechNet, the up-and-coming tech geniuses aren’t going to just stop using computers and wait for some benevolent employer to train them just because they lose access to reasonably priced things like TechNet. What they’ll do is start learning technologies that they do have easy access to. For a while, the corporate world will bear it. But eventually, they’ll get tired of having nothing but paper MCSE candidates who lack any extracurricular experience and they’ll start working with what they can find: people who used things like Linux because Microsoft left them little choice. In the long run, there’s almost no way this decision works out well for Microsoft.

I’ve seen a lot of articles about this, some good, some bad, some ugly. Some people think it’s a good idea. Your opinion is your own. If you agree that the end of the TechNet subscription is a bad thing, please add your name to the petition. You can read more about the larger movement at SaveTechNet.com.


Want to get a jumpstart on learning Linux? Ironically, Microsoft is here to help! Learn about the advances for Linux guests in Hyper-V Server 2012 R2.

Were you burned by KB2855336? Don’t know what that means? Read this excellent opinion piece by Aidan Finn about the state of Microsoft patch testing. In addition to excellent observations, it has links to more details about the specific issues. While I agree with him about the state of patch testing, I’m starting to think that whatever is going on extends well beyond just patching. As I get up-to-speed on SCVMM 2012, I am far less than impressed. I just hope the Hyper-V team remains immune to whatever it is that seems to be going around there. As one (of many) examples, SCVMM is the only product I know of where a “Service Pack” is more akin to a rip-and-replace operation, and sometimes the “Update Roll-ups” are as well.

To wrap up on a positive note, the PowerShell Deep Dives book (with contributions from Jeffery Hicks, also a blogger on this site) is available for purchase. If you’re not at least starting to dig into PowerShell, you’re going to find yourself behind.