Free pro Microsoft tools for students

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Wow. Microsoft has just launched “DreamSpark” – a programme that lets higher education students download pro Microsoft development tools – not the cut-down Express versions of Visual Studio, but the full Professional editions. UK Microsoft student champ Ed Dunhill sums it up the best on his blog here.

You get access to:

  • Visual Studio 2008 Pro
  • The whole Expression suite
  • SQL Server 2005 Developer edition
  • Windows Server 2003 Standard (and hopefully soon 2008)
  • The best bit is a whole years XNA Creators Club subscription FREE! This costs £65 normally with no real free alternative to get games running on the Xbox.

This is evidently a battle against pirated versions of the above products and this is the perfect way to do it. To enroll in the programme, your University needs to provide a Single Sign On authentication system to verify you or you need a ISIC card or NUS Extra card. Unfortunately, Oxford Brookes doesnt have a SSO Auth system (and I doubt they ever will – Oxford Uni does though) so I have had to order an NUS Extra card for a tenner to get in. Your status as a higher education student needs to be verified once a year, so students leaving Uni soon should sign up quick. Other than the XNA Creators Club subscription, I don’t think the products have time limits.

Expect Adobe to follow suit soon with their products if they want to get students hooked – although the academic discounts on Adobe CS3 stuff are great (only £400 for the Master Suite, down from £2500…) students will still pirate. Give students free access to professional tools and they’ll get hooked on them and buy them when they are earning a living.

iPhone improvements for the UK and Japan

El Reg is reporting that O2 has been told by Apple not to release sales figures until Apple say so.

UK carrier O2 has confirmed that Apple has placed it under a gagging order to prevent it from publicly revealing how many iPhone handsets it’s sold to date.

The company’s head of media relations, Simon Lloyd, told Register Hardware that it’s a stipulation within the company’s sales agreement with Apple that O2 can’t release any such details until the Mac maker says so.

Lloyd would only say that O2’s UK iPhone sales in the two weeks up to Christmas period were “in line” with its expectations.

This is because the iPhone is completely bombing in the UK. Being in a University environment (where students always like tech gadgets), the only iPhone I have seen in the wild is an unlocked hacked-to-bits US model. The iPod Touch is undoubtedly a sound investment at just shy of £200 if you want a taste of “next gen” touchscreen interfaces and you are far better off buying an iPod Touch for the fancy new iPod bits and getting a free phone on a cheaper contract. You would have to be a complete mug (or rich fashionista) to buy an iPhone at £269 and be locked into an 18-month contract with O2 at £35 a month.

If the iPhone actually did half the things standard UK mobiles have done for years, it would maybe be an acceptable high-end phone model, but its not. The US mobile industry is a couple of years behind ours (people import our Nokia N95s for instance) so the iPhone looks like a fantastic bit of kit in the US.

The funniest thing is that the iPhone will be on DoCoMo in Japan soon – and it will need a complete feature overhaul to be even classed as a ケイタイ (keitai, mobile phone) out there, let alone here. To work in the Japanese market, Apple need to add:

  • 3G support. GSM/EDGE/GPRS do not exist there.
  • MMS support for their mobile email with emoticons (絵文字, emoji). Without emoticons, users will get gibberish when recieving mails from “proper” mobile phones in Japan.
  • Java application downloads for iAppli
  • Flash Lite for the on-demand games that are springing up on the Japanese mobile internet
  • QR barcodes. Apple should be pioneering these in the rest of the world already with their clout, but aren’t. The possibility is enormous here – in a music magazine, a QR code could be next to a new album review: the user scans it and can buy it from iTunes immediately over the air, no text input required. This happens in Japan already for all sorts of mobile content – Apple could be making this popular everywhere.

The Japanese text input is already programmed and is damn good on the iPod Touch, so that doesn’t need doing. Stuff like IC chips aren’t required, so its only those five points that I cannot see Apple surviving without. Windows Mobile phones released in Japan on Softbank now get an application for MMS with emoticons because the original models were seen as pretty basic without it.

Sort it out Apple!

Taskbar invisible over Remote Desktop

I frequently use Remote Desktop (RDP/Terminal Services) to access my machines running Vista SP1 RTM. 90% of the time, after connecting, I get this annoying problem with the Start bar:

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Only the Start button itself is visible.

  • This happens on all my Vista machines, both SP0 and SP1
  • This happens no matter what version of Remote Desktop I am using, the XP version or the “new” Vista one
  • It only appears to happen when the computer was originally using the Aero DWM composition engine and originally in a different resolution to what I am asking the Remote Desktop session to render
  • It happens wether or not the taskbar is at the top or bottom of the screen

So far the only way to get the taskbar back I have found is to click the lonely Start button, click Windows Security, choose Start Task Manager, kill the explorer.exe process and start it again in the Task Manager from File > Run.

Subsequent Remote Desktop connections are then fine, but logging back into the machine from the console then back into Remote Desktop makes it disappear again. A bit frustrating, to say the least.