According to additional coverage of the release at InternetNews, RHEL 5.3 includes the following Vista-oriented updates and fixes:
This could be good news for Vista administrators who must also work with Red Hat servers as part of their network infrastructure. And it’s also a refreshing change to see a company touting its support for Vista, when so much other coverage seems to focus on low adoption rates, plans to skip over Vista entirely for Windows 7, and other, similar “doom and gloom” topics.]]>
It’s also interesting to read current reports that Vista had a hand in recently lowered financial results/expectations for Microsoft, and thus also how Vista played a role in Microsoft’s recently announced layoffs for 5,000 of its employees. It should be interesting to see if the layoffs turn around and lead to further stretching on this already-stretched out schedule.
Hopefully, Microsoft won’t let these delays stretch out too far. Enterprise buyers already waiting for Windows 7 and planning to jump straight from XP to the newest desktop will surely take heart from any further schedule lapses, making Vista’s problematic status only more so.]]>
It turns out, you can also follow my instructions on building a bootable WinPE UFD, and then use the imagex utility from the Windows Automated Installation Kit to capture the recovery environment Windows Image (.wim) file from your installation media. All you have to do then is swap the boot.wim file that my process creates in your ISO\sources directory with the boot.wim file that you export from your install media, and presto! you’ve got a WinRE console that boots in under two minutes, instead of having to wait three to five minutes for the same functionality to become available from the Vista installation DVDs.
Because I’m always messing with various Vista installs, I have to resort to the recovery environment at least once a week where I work. I’m guessing that busy system admins with any number of Vista machines to care for can beat that frequency with ease. In such cases, a bootable UFD with the WinRE console ready to hand can help save lots of wait time, and enable more “work time” on affected Vista systems.
Another, perhaps more esoteric use, might be on netbook PCs where disk space can be at a premium. I’m learning how to extend the WinPE environment to run other programs, including Windows Explorer (and some claim, even IE) from within the WinPE context. Because most simple Windows GUI apps (think items in the Accessories folder, as good examples of what this means) will already run in WinPE, it’s not hard to conceive that a somewhat extended WinPE environment could be workable for netbook users seeking to slim runtime system size to 0.5GB or smaller (by itself, the WinPE I describe how to build in my previous blog is about 367 MB in size; WinRE is less than 250 MB, but lacks network drivers and access).
As time goes by, I’m sure I’ll figure out some other cool uses for WinPE as well. If you know of any, please share them with me in the meantime!]]>
Some interesting observations when building Vista SP2 systems, or doing an upgrade:
Recent rumors (see the update to TechARP ED#106) indicate that the SP2 release has slipped by one month, as MS hunts down some substantial bugs. Apparently that now means RTM in April or later, with release to Web about six weeks thereafter. Stay tuned! I’ll keep you posted as things develop.]]>
Here’s how the course lays out
Microsoft told me it would take about two hours to work my way through the class, and they were right. By and large, most of the material was well-presented and made a reasonable amount of sense. I found myself visiting TechNet a few times throughout the class when the level of detail didn’t quite go low enough to help me understand what was going on (more information about BCDedit, and a demo on running various boot-time utilities would have worked better for me than their simulated labs, wherein the interface didn’t work properly, or perhaps just not as it said it should).
This is definitely a class for those interested in learning more about Windows Vista’s inner workings. Was it worth $40. Maybe: I knew enough of this material already that I found myself wanting more, but then I have already worked with all/most of the facilities covered in the modules for the class. Somebody just digging into Vista would undoubtedly find it useful and informative, particularly if their prior experience had all been with XP and previous Windows versions (the Vista boot environment includes some significant additions to and changes from previous versions).
All in all it was a pretty interesting experience.]]>
Just for grins, I decided to dig up and learn the details involved in using this tool. The name of the executable file is mrt.exe, which is actually the recommended string to launch the tool as well (simply type mrt.exe into the Vista search box, and it’s off and to the races).
Once you fire off this program, it presents a window on the desktop that looks like this:
As it’s running, mrt.exe can consume some resources, however. Check out these screen caps from my Sidebar CPU usage widget and Task Manager’s process window, captured about the same time as the preceding screenshot:
The good thing about mrt.exe is that if admins need to help users cope with possible malware infestations on the road, it’s nearly always safe to assume that this tool will be available on the machine, ready to use to help track down and possibly clean up what ails it. That said, mrt.exe can be the only tool in the clean-up arsenal, where special purpose diagnostic tools such as HijackThis or various rootkit detectors must often play a role, and where special purpose one shot clean up tools from various antimalware vendors must also occasionally be called into play.
But as tools go, this one ain’t bad, and it’s never too far from any Vista machine, either. If there’s one downside to mrt.exe, it’s speed: on a test scan on my production Vista PC (Ultimate, with about 90 GB of files spread across 3 hard disks) the program took over 3 hours to perform a complete, in-depth scan of my system. Savvy admins will have tired road warriors fire this off before an extended break, or before bedtime, to help their charges avoid excessive losses of computing cycles on their traveling machines.]]>
Of those three, the first is the scariest because it allows forged SMB packets to compromise a machine at the System level on any Windows PC running the Server service (except for Vista and Server 2008). That said, this is a “theoretically possible” exploit, rather than a known or demonstrated one. Number 2 is similar to number 1 except that it could affect Vista and Server 2008, but not in their default configurations. It’s more likely, in fact, that 1 and 2 will produce the same effects as number 3, and result in a denial of service for SMB hosts (again except for default Vista and Server 2008 configurations) than actually resulting in remote code execution. But whether you’re ducking a system takeover or just a DoS, this patch is definitely worth applying to your Vista systems anyway.
Other items from this Patch Tuesday include:
These are entirely routine, and while worth grabbing, don’t really cry out for much attention or coverage. I also found a Realtek RTL8168B/8111B GbE Interface update in my queue, for several of my Vista machines including both notebooks and desktops, so I suspect others will see and welcome this driver update as well (installed without a glitch on all affected machines).]]>
But during my troubles with the WHS connector, I downloaded and read Microsoft’s Troubleshooting WHS Connector Installation document and also grabbed its Windows Home Server Toolkit at the same time (note: this link points to the 32-bit version; a separate download is available for the 64-bit version). The only error this collection of tools and information couldn’t address was a claim of a version mismatch between my client machine and the WHS box itself; because the client actually copies that software from the server, I was mystified as to how this could be the case.
As it turns out, my client is running AVG AntiVirus 8.0 Free edition, and there’s something about this software that prevents the WHS connector from running properly on that machine and talking to the WHS box itself. I could remote desktop to the WHS server from the client, but the connector would hang as soon as it got past the login screen where I provided the administrative password that normally gives me access to the WHS console. As it turns out, something about AVG blocks IP name resolution for the server, because once the HP guy helped me pinpoint the package as the source of trouble–I disabled it, and presto! the console login completed without a hitch–a little further research showed me that adding a line into the hosts file to equate the server name with its IP address would fix the problem. And sure enough, with AVG re-enabled and the host patch in place, everything is now working as it should be.
I hope you’re asking yourself by now: what the heck does this have to do with the WinPE Boot UFD in the title of this blog? As it turns out, the help instructions for cleaning up the mismatch error that the connector troubleshooter was reporting for my notebook PC includes these instructions “On your home computer, delete the %ProgramFiles%\Windows Home Server folder if it exists. Well, it existed all right, but when I tried to delete the directory or its contents, even when using “run as Administrator,” those files stubbornly resisted deletion.
WinPE Boot UFD to the test, and ultimately, to the rescue! First, I had to change the boot device order on my notebook to hit “USB Storage Device” first. With that handled, the laptop opened a standard black-and-white progress bar at the bottom of the display, and indicated “Windows is loading files. . .”. After a wait of about a minue, a standard “copyright Microsoft” light green progress bar flashed up for about 15 seconds, followed by a command window labeled Administrator: X:\Windows\system32\cmd.exe. To delete my resistant files I typed the following commands:
c: :: change to C:\ drive cd "C:\Program Files\Windows Home Server\" :: change to WHS directory del *.* :: delete all files cd .. :: move up one directory level del "Windows Home Server" :: delete WHS directory exit :: Close WinPE (reboots system)
Everything worked like a charm and when I went back to check to the drive with Vista rebooted, sure enough those files and the directory were gone. I’ve blogged earlier about using the Linux-based TRK environment to solve this same kind of problem; it looks like this is the right Windows tool to address the same difficulty without having to venture beyond the Windows umbrella.
I’ll be working with the WinPE Boot UFD every chance I get, and keep reporting back here. If you know of any other good uses, or have an interesting and related story to tell, post a comment and I’ll put in the hopper for future coverage and inclusion, too.]]>
I paid about$14 for the first class, which I also completed today, and about $40 each for the other two classes, plus tax for a total outlay of just over $100. My goals are manifold here: to understand and report on how the materials are put together, how well they work, and what they cover; to get a sense of what MS thinks is important about Vista and its capabilities, and ultimately to vote thumbs up or thumbs down on the various courses as to whether I think they’re worth the money or not.
Based on my exposure to the Working with Windows Vista class, which is definitely something I would recommend to my Dad (or your grandfather) if he were to get his first Vista machine, it’s about as gentle an introduction to Vista as you’re likely to find. Though I was personally bored speechless by the content (which I can map all the way back to Windows 3.0 in large part), that gave me lots of opportunities to pay attention to the user interface, the quality of the materials, the polish of the learning experience, and so forth.
I must confess I also learned several interesting and substantial things, all related to Vista’s built-in speech recognition capabilities. Simply put, it rocks! I also learned that USB audio devices can only talk to one application at a time, and the reason that my Logitech A-00008 headset wouldn’t work with MS Speed Recognition at first, even though it worked fine with Skype, was because Skype was still holding onto that hardware resource with both hands. I had to exit Skype before I could use the headset microphone to “talk” to Speech Recognition. That little detail worked out, I enjoyed the adventure into speech recognition on my own desktop. As a professional writer, though, I can indeed type faster than I can talk, and sometimes, even faster than I can think!
The class consisted of a mix of on-screen text materials with reasonably interesting layout and pacing, several animated demos of Windows technology at work (validating Vista, all kinds of animated how-to interface and operation guides, working with Windows Update, and more), lots of monkey-see, monkey-do labs with step-by-step instructions (as I already observed the Speech Recognition bit is a blast), plus interesting visual puzzles and questions to self-test at the end of each module.
Was this class worth $14? To your grandad, or my Dad, very much so. To me? If it hadn’t been for the Speech Recognition part, definitely not. To somebody who’s used other versions of Windows before, but not Vista? Maybe, maybe not, depending on how much they really understand Windows’ inner workings. MS says the class targets information workers, but I think that really means data entry folks and those who use computers to do something else for a living, not those who work with and on computers full-time.
Even so, I am convinced that there’s some real value in these MS eLearning classes, and will be digging into progressively more demanding subject matter each Monday for the next 6 weeks or so, to tell you about my experiences and the content. Please stay tuned to learn more about this. If you want to go looking for yourself, visit Microsoft Learning and check out their course catalog. Many courses for under $40, all for under $200, with lots of good cert prep content along the way.]]>
Here are some facts, or at least recent events:
Here are some rumors that have surfaced during the past few days as well:
Where will it all lead? To Windows 7, of course. The questions are: When? Who gets it for free? How much will it cost? Will Microsoft back away from the 7 Vista SKUs it currently offers?
I can’t wait to see what will happen next. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I’ve got to keep my Vista desktops running. CYA!]]>