The 28th of Diduary: Did you know how “libraries” work in Windows 7?

Today is the twenty-eighth (and last!) day of Diduary. You can see links to all of the published articles in the series here.

If you’ve played with Windows 7, you’ve certainly noticed this new anomaly in your Windows Explorer interface, called “Libraries.” The basic reason for them is that you, a Windows user, store your data all over the place. You might have a centralized server, or some external drives, in addition to several specific locations on your local hard drive (think “My Documents” AND your desktop, for example.)

What Libraries allow you to do is to create a customized interface for you to see all of those places at one time. Here’s a screenshot of my current configuration (keep in mind this is simpler than normal, only because I just rebuilt my machine 3 days ago.) (click to enlarge)

As you can see, with my Videos library, I have three different locations that I store videos on my machine. The first two are the defaults, and the third one is my Home Server. (You can read more about Home Servers on Diduary 24th.) What’s nice about this view is that I can see ALL of my videos in one place, and I can also SEARCH for them in one place, without searching my entire hard drive.

As a big plus, this also comes in handy for developing with Visual Studio. I generally have a folder on my machine called “Projects.” I store ALL of my projects in this folder, so I can easily find all of them. But depending on which tool I use to create that project, it can be stored in several different places. Expression Blend has its own location. Visual Studio 2008 has its own location. VS 2010 has yet another location. If I decided to leave them all at their default locations, I could create a new library called “Projects” that showed those three (or more) different locations.

So for those of you running Windows 7, give libraries a try. You’ve probably just been ignoring them, but I think it’s one of the more innovative and useful features of this great new operating system.

With those last few sentences, this concludes my Diduary series. It’s been a fun, exhausting trip through many of my favorite tools and programs. I hope you learned something from it, and that you tell your friends where you read it.

I look forward to blogging about some new topics in the coming months, including a great development conference I’m helping put together, as well as the sequel to the Toughest Developer Puzzle Ever. If you missed it, the original is still up and running.

The 27th of Diduary: Did you know you can get 7 free songs every week?

Today is the twenty-seventh day of Diduary. You can see links to all of the published articles in the series here.

This is a relatively short one, but a cool offer from Windows 7, nonetheless.

Windows 7 has partnered with Reverb Nation to offer you 7 free songs a week. They’re calling it “Playlist 7,” and each week you can vote on the songs and artists that should be featured.

There are generally lesser-known artists, but if you’re looking for some cool new music from someone that’s not completely overplayed on the radio (and get their music for free, mind you), check out Playlist 7 this weekend.

I’ve been surprised how good the music actually is.

The 26th of Diduary: Did you know that your business can get free software too?

Today is the twenty-sixth day of Diduary. You can see links to all of the published articles in the series here.

Yesterday, I talked about how, if you are a student, you could get access to Microsoft’s development tools for free. Today, I’m here to talk to you about how even if you’re not in school, you might be eligible for free development tools.

The first way you can qualify is simple, through a program called BizSpark:

In order to qualify for BizSpark, you have to be a privately-held business that is “actively engaged in development of a software-based product or service that will form a core piece of its current or intended business.” Lots of words, but basically, you need to be a company writing software as a core part of your business.

Secondarily, you also have to have less than $1 million in revenue, and have been around less than 3 years. What this means is that if you’ve been meaning to start a software company, NOW’s the time to do it. Microsoft’s entire development stack, for free, just for doing what you love? Sounds perfect. The entire list of “what you get” is listed here, on the BizSpark website. The only catch to this (and the following) program are that it only runs for three years. After those three years, your eligibility expires, and you must pay $100 for the program. If you are a software business, and after using all of Microsoft’s tools for three years, you haven’t made $100, you’re doing something wrong.🙂

If, for some reason, you don’t qualify for BizSpark, there’s an alternative that might be more up your alley: WebsiteSpark.

This program is different in that it caters to web development shops. Again, for those of you that have been itching to get out on your own and start a freelancing web development business, now is the time. The onlt requirements are that your primary business is web development and design, and that your company (including owner and all employees) is less than 10 people.

In addition to the software, however, Microsoft will also work to help promote your business through the WebsiteSpark marketplace, offer you free training on their software and tools, and support you as your business grows.

So there you go…if you didn’t have enough reasons to start your small development company, you’ve got two more now. Check out BizSpark and WebsiteSpark to find out how to get started!

The 25th of Diduary: Did you know going to school gets you free software?

Today is the twenty-fifth day of Diduary. You can see links to all of the published articles in the series here.

This program has been around for a little over a year, and I’m still surprised how few people are really taking advantage of it. Dreamspark is a program from Microsoft that allows students to get access to all of our development tools for free. Yes, free. All you need is proof that you are a student.

For college students, this is easy. You just need to register with your *.edu email address. For high school students, you’ll likely need to talk to your school administrator about getting your school on “the list.”

Once you’ve registered, however, you’ll have access to a ton of development tools at NO COST. Here’s a short list:

The 24th of Diduary: Did you know what you can do with a Home Server?

Today is the twenty-fourth day of Diduary. You can see links to all of the published articles in the series here.

What do you mean you don’t know what a Home Server is? About two years ago, Microsoft annouced a new consumer-focused server operating system called Windows Home Server.

Ultimately, it’s a layer on top of Windows Server 2003. But it takes all of the “techie” stuff out of the equation. Instead, you get a nice interface for managing a centralized repository of your data at home. In addition, it provides a dead-simple backup mechanism for your home machines. Let’s look at a few of the features:

Easy backups

Never have I had less fear about screwing up my machine than I do now. My machine automatically backs itself up to my Home Server each night (I keep the last 3 days’ worth), and it’s DEAD SIMPLE to restore it. In the screen below, you can see that I actually have the last 12 backup files stored:

Easy online file sharing

Also built into the Home Server is your own personal file sharing website. It is locked down with your server credentials, but you can add user accounts for your friends and family, so that they can look through the pictures of your most recent trip, or, in my case, of their grandkids. The site is easy to navigate, and requires no setup on your part. You store your files on the server, it takes care of getting that data on the website. Here’s a screenshot:

Xbox 360 integration

One of the coolest features I’ve found a love for is how it integrates with my Xbox 360. Even though my Xbox 360 is only connected to my home network via wireless, it still is aware of all of the machines on my network, including my Home Server. Since I keep all of my pictures, movies, and music on my server, I’m able to view those items, over the air, on my Xbox. This is absolutely killer when we’re sitting downstairs and someone asks us about a recent trip we took. We don’t have to huddle around a laptop, we can simply turn on the TV and look at them! It’s just awesome.

Grow your server capacity organically

One of the other amazing features of this little server is its ability to add drives. I specifically have the HP Mediasmart EX470, which was offered when Home Server first came out (I think they’ve since created new ones). It had a 500 GB hard drive, which was enough to get me started. But the server itself came with three more drive bays, and 4 USB ports. Since then, I have added two old hard drives via USB (~500GB each), and 3 1.5TB drives in the server bays. Summed up, that’s 6 TB of storage space in my house.

The coolest part was that I didn’t even need to shut the server down to add them. I simply added them “hot,” and it recognized, formatted, and added them to the total capacity. Just amazing.

Now, I’m not storing 6 TB of data on this server. I’m not really even over 2 TB yet. But since the server allows me to replicate my files across multiple drives, I have the peace of mind to know that if one of the drives goes bad, I didn’t really lose anything. Just a brilliant design, and incredibly consumer friendly.

The 23rd of Diduary: Did you know that you can use SuperPreview to compare browser renderings?

Today is the twenty-third day of Diduary. You can see links to all of the published articles in the series here.

On Diduary 7th, I told you about how you can run Internet Explorer 6 in Windows 7. However, if you don’t specifically need to USE IE6, but rather just need to make sure that your website renders appropriately, I’ve got a different solution for you: SuperPreview.

If you haven’t seen SuperPreview before, it’s part of Microsoft’s Expression Studio, but it’s also a free download.

The interface incorporates IE6, IE7, IE8, and your local Firefox install as well. Here’s an initial screenshot (click to enlarge):

Once you’ve loaded SuperPreview, you can specify a website in the address bar at the top. You can also choose which browser you want to render that website on the left and right sides. In my next screenshot, you’ll see a rendering of in both IE8 (left) and IE6 (right). If you look at the enlarged image, you’ll also notice that I highlighted part of the text in the right column (the blue rectangle). It highlights that area in both panes, so that you can easily see where your alignment is off. Check it out:

If that’s not good enough for you, you can also overlay the two renderings over each other. Here’s a screenshot of that view (click to enlarge):

SuperPreview will let you look at your page from many different perspectives, and will even work with local sites you are developing, or if you really want to cry, it will allow you to compare your site to the original image that your designer created.

Check this one out. It’s become invaluable in how I manage looking at my site in several different browsers at once.

The 22nd of Diduary: Did you know what a Zune can really do?

Today is the twenty-second day of Diduary. You can see links to all of the published articles in the series here.

I know I’ve talked about the Zune before (and why it’s superior to the iPod), but I don’t think many people know about what the Zune (and its platform) is really capable of.

Zune Pass

If you haven’t already heard about Zune Pass, you’re really missing out. For a $15/month subscription, you can download all of the music you want. On top of that, you also get 10 permanent downloads per month.

Smart DJ

If you’ve ever used services like Pandora or, you probably realized how great having music recommendations played for you really is. Smart DJ takes this a step further. You pick a song, album, or artist from your libray, and Smart DJ will create a playlist of similar music from your collection. (If you have a Zune Pass, it will also recommend and play music that’s NOT in your library.)

Zune software

Unless you’re a fan of Excel, the Zune software offers the most visually appealing media library experience available. Even if you’re toting an iPod, try the Zune software to manage your music and video library. Just use iTunes to sync it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. (click to enlarge)


On Diduary 13th, I wrote about writing apps for the Zune HD. There’s a few apps available in the Zune marketplace. While it’s not the most robust marketplace for apps, there are a few cool ones, especially Audio Surf. It creates a game that challenges you on a virtual rollercoaster, custom created to match the song you picked. Each twist and turn matches the drum beats and melodies of a song you select from your music library. There’s also the expected apps: weather, Twitter, Facebook, calculator, and a few other cool games as well.

These are just a few of my favorite reasons to be a Zune user. It’s amazing hardware paired with some remarkable software. I’m looking forward to the future of Windows Phone 7 Series to find out more about the direction these services will continue to head.