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Paul Schnackenburg interviewed Jeff Alexander, Microsoft IT Pro Evangelist at TechEd in Australia, they spoke about laptop choices, Windows 8, the
Metro interface, touch devices, Hyper-V versus WMware, the merging of the IT Pro and Developer roles and the success of TechEd Australia 2012.
PS: Hi Jeff, so I was reading on your blog when you talked about what you were going to pack for going to TechEd this year. You were talking about your Lenovo W510.
JA: W510, yes.
PS: Yes. With 32Gb of RAM and, presumably, no overheating problems.
JA: I’ve have had a lot of good luck with the Lenovo. I’ve had a T61... a couple of T61Ps, the W510 and the 520 are our standard high performance laptop that we give to people who demonstrate and stuff. And Lenovo doesn’t support more than 16GB of RAM, but it has four memory slots and I bought 32Gb of RAM for, like, $300, and it just worked.
PS: Oh, okay. So you just did your own job.
JA: I did it myself. It just works. I tested it out and the BIOS reports it. I haven’t had any BIOS updates or anything.
PS: Alright. Yes. Well, I’ll have a look at that. I might go Lenovo this time, I think.
JA: It’s good for Hyper-V, W530 is the new one with the later processor. That’s the new one you want to look at, but this has been good. The Samsung Windows 8 tablet here is a little bit thinner than that, and I got the case over at Harris Technology and it’s a Samsung proper case.
PS: Well, that’s not bad.
JA: It’s got a Core i5 processor, 4Gb of RAM and a 128Gb SSD. The thing it doesn’t have is a TPM, but they do make one with a TPM.
PS: Oh really?
JA: Yes they do, and that’s the only thing. I can’t do the DA, Direct Access, because we have a TPM requirement for DA in Microsoft.
PS: Well, that makes sense.
JA: But other than that it’s fine. It’s good. I use it a lot more than I thought I would. I’m surprised at how much I use it.
PS: Typing on an on-screen keyboard, honestly, isn’t very productive.
JA: No it’s not...
PS: If you’re answering an email, and you’re writing two sentences, it’s okay.
JA: Of course. Yes. No, I don’t use it to type. When I have my real, proper laptop that’s the thing you definitely want to use.
PS: Yes. So it’s not a work machine. I’m looking forward to the Microsoft Surface tablet though.
JA: Yes. So are we.
PS: That’s typical Microsoft. You’ve got the fantastic Surface product, which was the big wall-mounted screen or table-mounted multi touch screen, and then you go... no, Surface is a good name, we’re just going to pinch it; put it over on something else.
JA: I know. Interesting, hey? Have you been down on the showcase and had a look at those PixelSense (a wall mounted 82” touchscreen)?
PS: Yes I have. I have. I would want one of those too, but they have a price tag Do you know how many delegates you’ve got this year?
JA: I got a report yesterday, and I got an extra report to say that there are 2,803 delegates on site yesterday.
PS: 2,803. I thought this place topped out at 2,600.
JA: We had more than 2,700 registrations. I think it may go up to 3,000, I’m not sure, but we had 2,800 on site yesterday.
PS: So you’d call that sold out?
JA: Oh yes, very much so. Absolutely.
PS: That’s cool. Do you know the ratio of IT professionals to developers?
JA: Look, well, it’s around about 75 or 70 to 30 or thereabouts. This event had two focus points this year: Private Cloud and developing Windows 8. Mainly because we had so much going on with Windows Server, System Centre, Management Track and Windows 8; developing apps for Windows 8. I don’t know if you’ve heard about the app fest?
PS: Yes I did.
JA: So they’re going to talk a little bit about what happened in that in the closing keynote today. So, you know, that was a great 24 hour chance for people to get their hands dirty with developing apps for Windows 8. Because it’s a launching this year with Windows Server, it’s been a lot of IT pros this year.
PS: Okay. Have other years been a different ratio, you'd say?
JA: It stays around that 70, 30 mark. Generally we look at it when we do the analysis on the numbers. We started planning in April. So I was in, we call them TechEd action tracker meetings, and we have a weekly TechEd Tuesdays. So Tuesdays is TechEd meetings, and so in the analytics that we’ve seen it’s generally around about 70, 30; something like that, but sometimes people classify themselves a certain way, but they might do a bit of the other.
PS: Speaking of that actually, as a sideline, what do you think of this new concept being talked about; the DevOps professional role where you’re both a bit of a developer and both a bit of operational and you can’t, sort of, stick yourselves in one of the camps for that?
JA: I don’t think you can. I think you're right. I don’t think you actually can now because, I was just talking to James Bannan about his session, and he was looking at all the new SP1 stuff for Server as a Config Manager. He said you really can’t classify yourself as a Config Manager person anymore because you’re have to be in the Cloud; you have to be more of a Cloud architect, and when you get into Azure you start to get into some of the dev stuff, right? And when you get into PowerShell you start to get into the dev.
Like, when I was doing a script for my session, I’m doing code but IntelliSense helps me as an IT pro to be able to actually do scripts a lot more easily because it intelligently senses what I need to actually type in next. So I think the forward thinking IT professional has to look at having a broader set skill set across both operations and dev. I don't think we can limit ourselves anymore. I think there's going to be quite a crossover or hybrid. I guess we could call it DevOps.
PS: That's the term I've seen bandied around a bit, Jeffrey Snover talks about the DevOp personality or role, or whatever you want to call it.
JA: There's always the banter between myself and Andrew Coates and that the IT pros just clicks, next, next, next and finish, and that's why I always try to get Powershell into my demos; to say, look, I'm doing scripts too, so there you go.
PS: So this is definitely a launch year for Microsoft. Almost every product is getting a new version and either has come out with a new version or is coming out in a new version in the case of Lync and SharePoint and Exchange, etc. Is this Microsoft finding it's mojo again, or is this, a last desperate ditch...?
JA: I think it's our stars are aligning, and we're at a point in time where never in our history have we updated this many products at once. If you look across the kernel, particularly, for Windows, and when we finally get out the next version of Windows Phone you're going to have the same kernel as Windows 8. That opens up a whole bunch of possibilities with devices and how we can actually develop for that platform and then lining up the code bases. Like when Windows 7 came out and Windows Server 2008 R2 came out, we lined up the code bases, so I think, when you look at it, all that work we did from Vista onwards, I believe, was preparing for this moment.
We had to do some of those hard yards and it's been long-term planning about but now, all of a sudden, the products are starting to line up with touch and all that. I don't know if you've had a chance to play with Office 2013, but they’re very much touch-enabled applications even though they're full desktop applications. Windows 8 being a touch-first operating system is a big change. I don't know how to describe it because I've never seen us release so much at once since Windows 95, probably, and it's really good to see that everything seems to be lining up at the right time, and mojo is a good word. We're on the front foot a bit, and there are some areas, particularly with Hyper-V, when we built Hyper-V into the operating system; a very good example, we got slammed a lot for when we released 2008, but we had to start somewhere, and we believed right from the beginning that we should have a hypervisor built into the operating system.
We didn't have everything in 2008, but then we had the 2008 R2 release and Service Pack 1 added dynamic memory, and you see all the stuff we're doing now in the operating system. These things take time and now they're just starting to line up. I mean, like you said to me the other night, how the heck did we get so much into Server 2012? I'm not sure how we did that but I think our development processes have matured over the years. If you look at how we develop our operating systems, that's matured. All developers went through the SDL, the Software Development Lifecycle, for writing secure code, and that started in the Vista days, and making sure that it was refined through when we developed Windows 7, 2008 R2, all that stuff, we made sure that that process has matured, and I think we’ve gotten better at it. Over time, we've just got a lot better at it.
PS: Okay. So there are some markets, though, where a lot of the analyst industry talks about Microsoft having trouble. Windows Phone is a great example where you've had the Windows Phone out there for a year and a half to two years now, and it really hasn't had a huge market success compared to Google Android and the iPhone.
PS: On the other side of the fence we have Cloud services where Amazon has made a good name for themselves. They've had Infrastructure as a Service as an offering since day one. You guys just put it into Azure, so there seems to be a few areas where Microsoft is playing catch-up.
JA: Yes. And it's not the first time in our history that that's been the case. When you look across the breadth of stuff that we're doing we're obviously not going to be a leader in every single area that we're in, but I think when they re-imagined Windows Phone they went back to the drawing board as you know, from Windows Mobile 6.5. And then Windows Phone 7 came out which was a complete redesign of the UI. They changed the way that we actually did this because before, with Windows Mobile, it was very easy for developers to be able to actually develop and get a device. I think you had to pay $20 to get OEM license to create a device, so we had to improve the quality of the devices coming out, and that’s what we see now with Windows Phone 7 devices, the partnership with Nokia.
It's all these steps we've been taking along those lines to make sure that we line all that up and then Phone 8 is going to be an evolution of that as well. And then I think we're on the front foot with server virtualisation against VMware now because we've leapfrogged them in a lot of ways. I think with Azure, I think it's just more an education thing. People just don't know it. And it's funny when I go and talk to IT professionals a lot of their knowledge is on N-2, or the previous version, on our products, and their opinions are based on those.
So it's our job and our ecosystem partners to really go out and educate and IT camps is a great way to do it and I've had people come, when they've done the virtualisation camp they say they didn't even know Hyper-V could do that. You know, so we've got to get out and tell our story and be better at telling our story. I remember I did a pitch on Cloud, you know, Microsoft Private Cloud Strategy at the IT camps and people were saying, I didn't even know all the stuff that was going on. I’ve had partners come up that said, look; I can now have a balanced conversation between Hyper-V and VMware whereas before they were just: I drink Coke; I don't drink Pepsi so they can have that balanced conversation now. If we don't tell the story, we can't expect people to go out and find it.
JA: You know, so I think I still see a lot of people that their knowledge is still based on 2008, or there's a lot of XP out there still, and so it's getting people onto the new stuff, and then they start to realise all the innovation that's happened. I'm not sure what the percentage is now, but there's still a lot of enterprises in Australia that are still on XP, so that’s our user's first impression is the operating system they're currently using.
PS: And XP is a long, long time ago.
JA: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I think sometimes our previous operating systems are our biggest competitors because that's their impression when they don't know about the new. So we've got to get out and tell that new story, and I can only go and talk to so many people, and so we've got to leverage partners; we've got to leverage other community guys to do it. And we are doing that. We're seeing a Hyper-V user group going to start up in Sydney soon, so that's really good.
PS: Okay. We've got one in Brisbane.
JA: You've got one in Brisbane. So Aaron Whittaker, the same guy, that's doing it.
PS: Yes, Brisbane beat you to it.
JA: Yes. He's starting that in Sydney pretty soon, so that will be good to get that happening and, you know, we just got to tell our story more, in my opinion. I just think we've got a good story to tell and the way you articulate that story to a particular audience, like a technical audience, you've got to be careful not to come across like you're just marketing. It just has to be told in the right way. Like you said, it's hard not to sound like you're marketing Windows Server 2012, but there truly is so much new in there that it's hard not to be that excited about it.
PS: And what about Windows 8? You know, the new interface is certainly giving a lot of people a jolt, I suppose, when they try to get to use it. Basically, since Windows 95, to Windows 7, the delta between the versions has been, for an end user, pretty minimal. People have been able to pick it up.
JA: Yes, correct. And since Windows 95 this is the first time we've made this big a change, it's a 20 year change to the operating system, And it's funny I've done a few Windows 8 presentations and of course the interface always comes up and blah, blah, blah. And I start them off with a history lesson. I go back to 1984. What operating system is this, and talk about what was our input that we used to use? For 1984 it was keyboards. So much so that analysts and journalists were saying that the mouse would never take off in the enterprise. There were quotes; people said that the mouse would never take off in the enterprise. We get to Windows 3, and the mouse was, generally, was a very big part of how we used that interface. And then people freaked when Windows 95 came out because they were like, what do I do now? You know we do usability studies with consumers all around the world, and we had to have that flying arrow for Windows 95 when it first came out, to say: Click here to begin – pointing at the Start button. Remember that, when it first came out?
JA: And then we got rid of it in Service Pack 2 I think. It wasn't in there after people got used to it, so it's interesting that we had to do that then, and we're saying the same thing now. We haven't changed the major way that we look at the operating system. On your tablet, is that a Release Candidate of Windows 8 or is it the RTM version?
PS: It’s Windows 8 Enterprise RTM.
JA: Did you notice when it first comes up and it tells you how to use the interface and all that sort of stuff?
JA: There's going to be a lot more of that, kind of, stuff coming out to help people with the interface. I think that with any major change that we make like this there's going to be a training aspect that companies are going to have to be involved in. I always say, people that I talk to who say they don't like the interface, I say, how long did you play with it for? And they go, oh, you know, a couple of hours. It's not long enough. I always say to them, take a device, or whatever, for two weeks and then tell me how you feel.
PS: Then we'll talk about it.
JA: And most of the time that I've talked to them again, they really quite like it after that especially on a touch device. We're at crossroads with devices that have touch. And this is not Microsoft's opinion, it's my opinion, that I envision... well, you won't be able to buy a laptop without a touch screen in the future, so I think it's just going to be a given. People are going to go, well, I want a touch screen. I'm going to want to touch these devices because you look now when you out into the wide world, you know, you go to the airport there's touch screens all over the place. I went to my club with my wife, we're members of a bowling and tennis club and I went in there to do a booking and it's all touch screen devices inside the clubhouse. I think we're moving towards that, but right now, using devices that weren't designed for Windows 8, and so when you're on a device that's not designed for 8, it's not quite the full experience. You know, so I've had people complaining when they've tried Windows 8 in a VM and I'm like, that's not the best experience, you know.
PS: Well, fair enough. We'll see how all that goes. Yesterday when I was down in the showcase there was a laptop there and I was just pressing on the screen and nothing was happening, and I realised it was not a touch laptop.
JA: So you are already starting to do that; looking for a touch laptop screen.
PS: Yes, well I did because it was Windows 8.
JA: Of course.
PS The only time I’ve ever used Windows 8 is on my Asus EP 121 tablet here. And, of course, this is touch, so I was touching the laptop down in the showcase.
JA: I think we're at a crossroads. I think manufacturers are starting to come out with devices, and certainly I think they will have the option of not having touch in the near term, but I think, as we move forward, I think people are going just assume it's touch.
PS: So, if you look at the tablet market, obviously, Microsoft is certainly coming, late to the market, right?
JA: Of course.
PS: With the iPad being very popular, Android, etc and now Amazon doing their Kindle.
JA: The Kindle. I saw the new Kindle Fire HD.
PS: And they have price points that are very much mass market unlike Apple and their iPad.
JA: Yes. That's a premium device, definitely.
PS: Yes. So, where do you see Microsoft over the next few years? Is it Windows 8? Windows RT? Is that going to be a success?
JA: I certainly hope so. I don't know at this stage because we're still a month or a month and a bit away from launch. I think we're going to see a lot in the next month and a half, two months, to see what manufacturers come out with after October 26th, so it looks promising. I think we're on the right track now with what we've done. I haven't seen any prices yet, but I certainly think we need to get these devices to be more affordable in the mass market. Like, the other day I went into OfficeWorks (a chain of office stationery and electronics shops), and I was amazed at how many laptops were under $1,000 and they were decent laptops. It was amazing. They're probably not the fastest laptop, but if you just needed a laptop for your child, they're getting to be so much cheaper now. And these have to in that price range. And Surface is a very interesting scenario. I'm very keen to see what happens with that and other RT devices that are coming. I think we're on the front foot there as well even though we're behind. Do you know what I mean?
JA: I think we're making the right moves in the right direction.
PS: Yes. I must say, personally, after having wrestled with the Consumer Preview version of Windows 8, and taking time to get used to it, I must say Microsoft can never win in people's opinion if you make it look like the old version, you will please some people and everybody else will say, oh there's no innovation, right?
JA: Of course.
PS: You do a radical change like you did with Windows 8 and everybody's like, oh it's crap. We can get used to it; it's so different, right? So I don't think you can actually win.
JA: Well Steven Sinofsky had a really good quote. I heard him say the other day somewhere on a blog, he said: building Windows 8 is like ordering pizza for a billion people. There's always going to be someone who doesn't like what you ordered, right?
PS: I like the fact that you've done something different. I like the fact that you've done something that is bold.
JA: I do too.
PS: I called it a bold step. I was talking to a colleague the other day, and he'd loaded it up, and he called me after he’d installed the RTM version. He hadn't played with the preview, so he'd loaded the RTM version, he called me up and said, this is crap. He said, Microsoft has really failed, it's crap. And I said, well, get used to it, and he called me six hours later and he said, no, you're right. It's a bold step. There are things that are different, but I'm getting used to it, and I think it's going to be okay.
JA: I think the thing that's going to really show it off is when the apps start to come out, and when we start to light up a lot of those apps, we have a partnership with Barnes & Noble and all that. Once we start to get the ecosystem going, and from what I've been hearing from the developer side is, developing for Windows 8 and the store and all that, is a really good experience, and that's now open, generally, to everybody. I think once we start to see partnerships with apps, like we have the SBS on-demand app. I don't know if you've got that on your device. That is awesome. You get to watch all the SBS TV shows on-demand stuff on your Windows 8 device.
Some of the apps that I have here on my Windows 8 tablet are just awesome in what they can actually do. I use this a lot for Twitter because it's just such a nice interface to be able to re-Tweet stuff. I've got the OneNote MX edition which is really good. I've got the podcasting application because I listen to a lot of podcasts. I watch GeekBeat TV, it's quite fun, and Sky News in the UK. TED has an application now. TED Talks or TED HD. As we start to see more and more apps coming out that are really good and some of new games that have been coming out have been really, really awesome.
The great litmus test for Windows 8 is to give it to a child and watch them pick it up like that. They just get it. I told my daughter, when she was using that, I said, look, you swipe over to get the charms over here, and when you're in an app you just swipe over and go back to wherever you've been. She's been drawing on it; she likes to write on it. So she likes to draw and all that sort of stuff, so they're a good test to see how we're going to be going in the future. And you teach students and I bet they would pick it up and probably be more open minded to it as a younger person.
PS: Yes. When my Asus was running the release preview I did take this into TAFE. I showed it to my certificate IV students. I let everyone have a play and quite a few of them obviously have experience with iPads and they said, no, this is better. When I showed them the app switching; you're just swiping from the side to go between different apps, they loved that.
JA: I know. Yes, and once you know that stuff, you only need to be shown it once, and once you know it, you're good to go. And the cool thing that I found the other day, that's really neat, is as you move between different devices, say if you had a different device, you just swipe down from the top in the Store, and go to, Your Apps, and all the apps that you've ever installed come up, and you just choose them all at once and, bang, they all go in. You know, those kind of things, the little things, are really good.
PS: That's a huge thing actually because you can't do that on an iPad. You swap an iPad, you've got to go back and reinstall every app.
JA: And who can remember? I talk to people a lot about iPhone versus iPad, they make good hardware, there's no doubt about it, but I use this term of stickiness of an application. How sticky are the however many hundreds, millions of apps that are in their store? How many do you have on your device that you really use on a day-to-day basis? So what we need to do is make sure that we've got quality apps that are going to keep people in those apps. When we form these partnerships with local developers as well, it's to make good apps that you use. I've got Smart Glass on here, and I've used that at home. I watch a video or whatever that I might be watching. I'm watching a TechEd session. That's pretty sad, isn't it? But, you know, I can watch a movie, and then if I get half way through it, I can Smart Glass it up to my Xbox, and those kind of innovations are really cool.
PS: Yes. I like that, I have to say.
JA: We're thinking about the whole scenario. What people are going to be doing and it's coming together which is a good thing. I'll be interested to see what happens with Xbox video, and the new music service that's coming out as well. So it's very interesting times right now. Very, very interesting times.
PS: It's always interesting times working in IT. I think we... you know, it's a Chinese curse; may you live in interesting times, but when you work in IT we always live in interesting times, which is cool.
JA: Yes we do. Yes we do.
PS: So, back to TechEd, you were the content owner for TechEd again this year.
PS: We're almost at the end of the conference now. How do you feel when you talk to people? Do you feel it is a success?
JA: Very good actually. I was just in the speaker room and I was having a look at overall track scores and it's very, very tight between all the tracks. Do you know what track is leading right now from an evaluation perspective? Can you guess?
PS: It'd be Windows Server?
JA: Exchange and Lync. Very, very surprising, isn't it?
JA: They're topping the tracks right now.
JA: Database and server are right behind, so it's great. You know, but what I like about that is that we've got such a good story across the whole platform and so what I have felt this year is very good community. The AU TechHeads thing that was going on, and everybody was having fun at the party last night, and I think some guy popped his knee at the soccer thing.
PS: Oh, okay. Wow.
JA: Yes. That's why we get them to sign the waiver.
PS: I was just going to say; it's good they're signing a piece of paper.
JA: I think the location works for this event. We've had it here at the Gold Coast for the last two years. Three years, sorry. And I think it's a great location, and I think what the location does, it builds the community because everybody's here and they're present. There's a couple of things we tried that were different this year, we had to re-jig the rooms, so that we didn't have as much of the 170 capacity rooms as we did last year because we had quite a lot of overflow last year. And so we've gotten away from that but what it did it cut down the number of tracks we could have and the number of sessions we could have, and to get around that, what we did is we had a 6:30 time slot which was the first time we've ever done that at a TechEd and they stayed, and they attended. You were at the 6:30 session with us and people were there, and they were engaged, and they were asking questions.
It had a nice feel. That session had kind of a user group feel about it. You know, people were having a bit of fun, you know, relaxing, and we got food for them; gave them pies, and they were all, like, yeah! I put it out on Twitter and everybody liked it, you know, so those are the couple of things we changed in that regard. This is the first year we've had more of a focus on two topics: Private Cloud and Apps. And look, it's been a fantastic year. The hands-on labs we've had great success with this year. We haven't had, any issues with them this year, so we've had good experience there. Good feel out on the showcase floor, I thought, this year. Not as crowded and a bit easier to move around. This year was the first time we actually put the major speaker lab room out on the showcase floor.
We've got a very small speaker room where they can come in, and they do a few things, but generally they have to be down and visible to the delegates afterwards, so we consciously made that decision to make sure that they got in front of delegates after their session. So we did a few things that were different that way, and the party was good. Having it here, I think, is good because people can just come and go as they want, close to their hotel rather than going off on busses and all that kind of stuff. We've done that the last couple of years. We've got a great venue; we've just tarted it up a bit and it looks good. How have you felt this year?
PS: I've been pleased. And I had some good connections with people.
PS: I’ve had some good conversations. I was speaking to an IT Manager for a 200-person company and obviously the VMware versus Hyper-V discussion came up and he said, I'm a VMware guy; we've been using VMware for a long time, and they've been resting on their laurels and they've stopped innovating. Microsoft is now innovating. Microsoft is now ahead, and they need to be very careful. I thought that was a good quote. I thought that was a good bit of feedback.
JA: Yes, and I think when you go back to what you asked me before about Microsoft and our mojo, I think we're in the betting again. You know, when you think about it, I've been with the company 25 years, and we were always innovating. I remember every year I used to go, man, that is so cool that we've done that and then we didn't do that for a while, or maybe we did but now it's like we're really innovating. You know, the stuff that we're doing is truly unique to our platform, and that is really cool, those are classic statements that we are innovating again. I'm really glad this year of the US speaker teams that we got out here. We had a good contingent.
PS: Yes. That's made a big difference.
JA: We had a good contingent having Jeff Woolsey out, and Ben Armstrong, and guys from the product team. We had 22 corporate speakers this year, mostly from the product teams. A lot of guys from the Office teams came out this year, so we've been really pleased with that. It's been really good, and I think that's a good word; we're innovating again, you know, which is great. I was talking to guys downstairs on the showcase floor, and they said, well, look, I've got an iPhone, but they're crap for work. You know, that was his quote. He said, the Windows Phone with Exchange on the back end - you’re done. You're connected to Exchange, everything is built in. It just works. As those start to filter in, people will start to say, hey, we are innovating. I think you got to not just rest on your laurels as an IT person and just go, we use VMware, or we use this or that. You've really got to start to look at our stuff and really compare it and see where we are and we are ahead in a lot of areas now. He's right. We are ahead and particularly in that virtualization space which is the space I play in so it’s good.
PS: Well done.
JA: Well, thanks. I'm not on the product team, so I just get it and tell the story afterwards. Years ago people used to have this conspiracy theory about Microsoft around Windows 95, and I used to say to people, well, all I ever see is people that just work hard to see: can we make people's lives better? Can we help them do their day-to-day work, their day-to-day life through technology? And that's all that people try to do. You know, can we make Office better? And the hard work that goes in to make this stuff is amazing. What we do and the disclosure we’ve had for instance through the Building Windows 8 blog. I'm sure you read that. It's amazing what we tell people. How we go about through that whole process. We're very unique that way.
PS: Thanks again, Jeff.