Windows Enterprise Desktop


December 8, 2014  9:41 AM

Win10TP to RTM Upgrade: A “Matter of Intent”

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10, windows installer, Windows Upgrades

Those who’ve been through Windows previews in the past have learned to approach their test setups with a certain amount of caution, if not downright trepidation. That’s because MS has traditionally blocked the simple upgrade path from technical previews/betas to final releases, as denoted by the version that gets released to OEMs for installation and delivery after the GA date, and to MSDN and other online release repositories for licensed customers around 30 days prior to general availability. Though there are usually registry hacks promoted to permit upgrades to occur unofficially, the lack of an official path means that tech support can’t help with problems that occasionally occur when trying to upgrade outside the official upgrade source OSes.

In what looks to be an interesting and positive departure from this tradition (which applied to Windows 7 and 8 versions, and even Vista) WinBeta reported a Twitter exchange on this subject between Gabe Aul, an active and outward facing member of the Operating Systems Group at Microsoft (and something of a recent Windows 10 spokesperson for the company). Brevity being a key characteristic of Twitter, I can easily reproduce that exchange right here to report that an upgrade path may be supported when Windows 10 moves to RTM later in 2015:

win10tpupgrade

MS intends to provide an upgrade path from the Technical Previews to the RTM version: will that actually happen? Hope so!

Aul is pretty careful with his language, but it’s clear that this is something MS will try to include amidst the many other new features and changes that Windows 10 will bring to the embattled desktop OS side of “Windows world” next year. It should be interesting to see if this comes to pass, and convenient for those who’d like to keep their test installations up and running after the preview phase ends, and the latest and greatest Windows desktop OS becomes officially available.

December 5, 2014  11:05 AM

Win10: If KB3020114 Won’t Install, Try This

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10

Earlier this week, MS released a Windows 10 Update named KB3020114 “Explorer.exe continuously crashes after you upgrade…” Although many Technical Preview users reported difficulties with installation, in the absence of an error message from Windows Update, I assumed my Win10TP machine had digested and added the update without difficulties. I assumed wrong: when I checked that machine this morning after reading Woody Leonhard’s excellent InfoWorld article entitled “Fix arrives for KB 3020114 bug — thanks to a user” and I saw that WU was still proffering the same update to me as if nothing had happened when I attempted the install earlier this week, I realized I too had fallen victim to this issue.

win10-updhist

After 5 failed install attempts, the workaround finally results in success.

As described in Woody’s article, and in a story by Paul Thurrott, the workaround needed to get the update to install requires first uninstalling KB items 3019269, 3018943, 3016725, and 3016656 (to do that, choose Programs and Features in Control Panel, then View Installed Updates, then select and uninstall the items listed one-by-one until all are gone: there’s no need to reboot after any of those update items go away, even though the uninstaller prompts you to do so). Next, you’ll return to Windows Update where instead of being proffered the previous four items again, you’ll be proffered three of them plus 3020114 but not 3016656. Install all of them, and you should be all caught up with Windows Update, including KB3020114.

What happened to KB3016656? Nobody who knows anything is saying doodly-squat. But at least, the workaround sets Windows 10 back on the straight and narrow. Sigh.


December 3, 2014  10:23 AM

CCleaner Gets Faster, Cleaner v5 Incarnation

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows utility

Now that I’ve discovered an easy way to reliably get to and download the crapware-free “Slim” version of CCleaner, I’ve returned to using it on my PCs. Just recently, Piriform released a new major version of this tried-and-true Windows Utility (the current version is labeled v5.00.5050). It features a slightly different look, with flatter and crisper icons and a cleaner layout, as shown here:

ccleaner5

Sure CCleaner v5 looks a little less cluttered, but what really makes it worth downloading is the speed increase.

The most noticeable thing about this latest release also helps to explain why I’m recommending it to fellow Windows utility connoisseurs and tool fanciers — namely, it’s gotten a definite and palpable speed boost. Because CCleaner cruises the file system to look for elements that could (or should) be deleted by way of clean-up, the speed of the tool is important to its users. My informal evaluation of the v4-vs-v5 versions is that the latest CCleaner incarnation is at least 30% faster than its immediate predecessor. In particular, it seems to buzz through the temporary Internet folders that Windows creates for Web browser downloads significantly more quickly than it used to. This makes the latest version entirely worthy of downloading and using, either to update already-installed versions, or to drop another nice new addition into your Windows toolbox.

About the CCleaner “Slim” Version
Late last August (8/27/14), I posted a blog right here entitled “Goodbye CCleaner, Hello Wise Disk Cleaner?” that explains that the standard version of CCleaner includes some additional third-party software, among which is a well-known advertising module called OpenCandy (see also Malwaretips.com “How to remove PUP.Optional.OpenCandy“). Users who wish to avoid bringing such tag-along software to their Windows machines can download the “Slim” version of the CCleaner program instead, providing they know how to do so. Here’s a recipe for grabbing that version:

1. Visit the Piriform CCleaner update page, then scroll to the bottom of that page.
2. Click the “No thanks” button at the bottom right of the page, to get to the Download page.
3. Scroll to the bottom of that page, and click the Builds link.
4. Click the Download button in the CCleaner – Slim box as shown here:

ccleaner-slim-dl

What’s the delta that the 3rd-party software adds? About 1.07 MB of “stuff!”

Assuming that the difference between the standard installer version and the slim version is the third-party software included in the former and missing from the latter, there’s about 1.07 MB of material involved in that delta. I, for one, am perfectly happy to work through this process each time I must upload a new CCleaner version, because while I appreciate its capabilities I have no interest in the tagalong software that might otherwise make its way onto my desktop.


December 1, 2014  10:08 AM

Win 8.1 Usage Crosses WinXP on StatCounter

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows XP

Here’s an interesting graph to ponder, more than 7 months after Windows XP reached “end of life” status on April 8, 2014: StatCounter’s GlobalStats chart for Top Desktop, Tablet and Console OSs shows that Windows 8.1 instances detected online have finally exceeded those for Windows XP as of the end of November, 2014.

stc-oses-nov14

The count for Windows 8.1 crosses over that for XP as of 11/30/2014
[click above to see full-size image; Source: StatCounter].

The numbers behind the top 3 lines on the graph — for Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and XP, respectively — are also pretty illuminating. Windows 7 rules the roost with a whopping 50.3%, followed by Windows 8.1 at 10.95% and XP at 10.69%. Given that XP is now more than half a year older than its end-of-life date, does that mean it now qualifies as a “zombie OS?” Just for grins, let me also mention that the original Windows 8 release clocks in at 4.9%, With OS X at 8.11%, iOS at 6.61%, Vista at 2.7%, Android at 2.68%, and Linux at 1.41% (to add all items that register above 1% in the StatCounter data behind the graph).

I’m encouraged by this inflection point for several reasons:

  • It provides some indication that users are indeed starting to move up from XP to other Windows OSes.
  • It shows that Windows 8.* is finally starting to get some traction.
  • I also believe it shows hope for Windows 10 which has done quite a bit to address the various causes of upset that Windows 8 introduced, and Windows 8.1 has mitigated in part.

It should thus be very interesting to observe how the Windows 10 release fares next year, and what kind of slope its uptake curve exhibits. My best guess is that it will be more like that for Windows XP and 7 rather than that for Vista and 8, given not just the “every other release” effect that seemingly pertains to Windows but also the extreme effort that MS is putting into the next release to try and save its bacon.


November 28, 2014  12:49 PM

MS Music Deals: Region/Location Matters

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Location Based Services, Windows 8

Hey! It’s the holiday weekend so I’m departing from my usual more serious look at Windows platforms, tools, and technologies to dig into a vexing issue that momentarily impeded my pursuit of more usual Thanksgiving weekend activities last night — namely, shopping! For those of you who don’t already know, the MS “Music Deals” app (a Windows Store item available only to those running Windows 8 or higher) has been out since October, and has been offering major “album deals” every Tuesday since it went online. You can read about this app, and an additional add-on deal just for the Thanksgiving weekend in Brandon LeBlanc’s 11/25 post to Blogging Windows entitled “Massive Music Deals promotion just in time for the holidays.” This offer encompasses music compilations from some pretty amazing artists (including John Lennon, George Harrison, the Rolling Stones, James Brown, Elton John, the Eagles, the Grateful Dead, Radiohead, Nirvana, and more — over 50 in all) that the company calls “boxed sets” and is selling for the jaw-dropping price of $1.99 each until midnight on Sunday, November 30.

This sounded like a good deal to me, so I tried to take advantage of it. But although I looked for “Music Deals” in the Store app, I couldn’t find it. Shortly afterward, my son came to me to ask to purchase an item through the Microsoft Store, and that unrelated request led me to figure out what was wrong and ultimately, to fix the problem. The credit card I use for payment at the Store expired last month, and I’ve been updating my card info with all of my various creditors since then slowly but surely as auto-payments or payment data fail because of that outdated info. But when I went into the Store account to try to change my CC info, it wouldn’t accept my mailing address and told me my 5 and 9 digit ZIPs were “not valid postal codes.” That’s when I took a closer look at my account and saw that my country of location was identified as the UK not the USA. A quick online chat with the MS Store support team produced an immediate answer: I had to resort to the Location tab in the Region widget in Control Panel and change the Home Location setting from “UK” to “United States.” I’m not sure how this item got changed or set-up in the first place, but it is clearly an anomaly introduced in the wake of my system rebuild of two weeks ago that I hadn’t yet had cause to bang my head against.

reg-loc

Back in the USA: turns out location is important to Store offers of all kinds.

Turns out the “Music Deals” app is only available to folks in the USA right now, probably for reasons related to resale agreements and/or copyright deals or restrictions. Once I got my location straight, I was able to find and install the app immediately thereafter (it isn’t available in the UK, as my initial experience attests). After that I snarfed up so-called “box sets” (an amusing label, since these all digital downloads require no boxes of any kind) from Johnny Cash, John Coltrane, John Lennon, and others not named “John,” exercising my holiday yen to shop until I dropped right at my very own keyboard. Happy holidays, everybody!


November 26, 2014  10:10 AM

ISOs Available for Win10 Build 9879

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Clean install, Windows 10

As of Monday, MS has made ISOs available for the latest Windows 10 build, 9879 — and apparently, the final complete build for 2014. Grab it from this Windows Insider Program Web page entitled “Download Windows Technical Preview November Update.” A variety of versions is available, including 32 and 64 bit builds for English (US and UK), Simplified Chinese, and Portugese (Brazil). Download servers are reasonably snappy, too: I was able to glom onto the x64 English (US) version in just over 4 minutes, averaging download speeds of 20-50 MBps.

dlwin10

MS even provides helpful instructions for turning the ISO into a bootable installer on a UFD.

If you’ve been holding off on testing Windows 10 Technical Preview because of the hassle involved in downloading and updating through the series of TP builds released so far, you can use this ISO for a clean install to bare metal (or to overwrite an existing install with this one). It’s definitely worth playing with and getting to know. Even though 9879 is somewhat less stable that earlier builds have shown themselves to be, Windows 10 is also showing itself to be an interesting and appealing Windows version, far more so than Windows 8 ever did.


November 24, 2014  10:29 AM

Major Windows Server Hump Ahead: WS2003 EOL on 7/15/2015

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows Server 2003, Windows Server migration

In researching a story for SearchWindowsServer late last week, I came face-to-face with some horrifying numbers. The first is a set of statistics from various sources that indicate more than 10 million servers are still running Windows Server 2003 in production mode in companies and organizations around the world (see, for example, these discussions in Redmond Magazine and in Greg O’Connor’s AppZero blog). The second is the looming date for end of life for that same software on July 15, 2015, where EOL is defined as the “day after Microsoft terminates extended support” for that OS version. You can look this up for yourself at the Microsoft Product Lifecycle Search page, where keying in “Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard x64 Edition” produces the following results (remember: the Extended Support End Date precedes EOL by one day):

ws03sex64-eol

I deliberately focused in on the most popular WS03 version to produce a tiny table.
Searching on “Windows Server 2003 R2″ instead will cover the whole product family.

Turns out there’s lots of work to do to prepare for a server migration — some of the most important aspects of which I’ll document in my upcoming SearchWindowsServer article for Techtarget (I’ll provide a link to that story right here as soon as it goes live) — so I’m simply stunned to realize that somewhere around 10 million servers in need of migration are still up and running some version of Windows Server 2003 right now.

If this applies to you or your organizations, it’s past time to get going on migration planning. Even with the end-of-year holidays almost upon us, somebody needs to get to work immediately on planning for this effort. The biggest stumbling block is likely to be application compatibility, according to those companies, organizations and enterprises who’ve already been through the exercise. With seven months left to go before the EOL date hits, that doesn’t leave much time to analyze compatibility issues and implement changes, workarounds, or replacements for the applications that so often provide the rationale for using servers in the first place.

If there’s a silver lining to this story, the necessity for change comes with two powerful potential improvements. First, it makes sense to rationalize and consolidate physical Windows Server 2003 server installations in some kind of virtualized form (which means some kind of hypervisor based virtual server environment, or some kind of virtual container for same). Second, it may also make sense to move those virtualized (and consolidated) servers that survive the migration process into the cloud. This will involve considerable work, certain expense, and solving numerous interesting and perhaps even challenging technical problems. But with the end of Windows Server 2003 now clearly in view, hopefully migration will also provide the opportunity to improve and strengthen IT operations along the way.


November 21, 2014  10:15 AM

Intel’s Driver Update Utility Gets a Makeover

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Intel Chipset Drivers, Windows 7, Windows 8

When I rebuilt my production PC at the beginning of November, I came face-to-face with a new incarnation of Intel’s Driver Update Utility aka DUU. Now out in version 2.0, the tool no longer depends on ActiveX running inside a Web browser (based on software from a company charmingly named “Husdawg”) to do its thing. Now there’s a full fledged Windows executable to handle the tasks involved in checking Intel drivers on a target PC. And given the scope of devices that Intel provides for most modern PCs nowadays — namely, processors, chipsets, USB controllers, display and audio controllers, and a whole lot more — there’s a lot for this utility to do when it’s run on a typical host.

intel-duu2-01

Sure, the DUU still scans for and grabs drivers, but it now runs standalone and offers all kinds of other info, too.

In addition to scanning your PC and checking the drivers it finds installed, comparing those to the ones it knows about on the Intel site and that are judged to be compatible with your hardware, and providing links to new drivers available for download — a process the program calls “Auto detect and recommend drivers” — the new DUU also offers:

  • Links to “the latest intel driver news and updates:” a page in the Intel download center with links to a user survey input form for the newly-rebuilt tool, plus links to versions 1 and 2 of this tool.
  • Tracking of your downloads and installs using the tool, along with your download history, and a variety of program settings you can control, including the ability to target some other directory to receive file downloads, besides the default Downloads directory associated with the current logged-in account.
  • Easy access to the Intel download center to search for drivers manually.
  • Access to online help files, primarily through a series of FAQs on the Intel website.

Admins in charge of maintaining standard system images who have to keep drivers up-to-date will find this tool both useful and informative. But because Intel categorically refuses to recommend their latest driver versions until they’ve been tested and vetted with specific hardware configurations (including yours, perhaps?) this utility is not the be-all or end-all for obtaining and applying Intel driver updates.

In fact, it’s also good to note that the French website Station Drivers tracks the latest Intel drivers carefully and closely (and those of many other vendors besides) and is thus a great alternate source for the most current drivers available for Windows PCs, both WHQL and experimental or beta. Where they get this stuff and how they come up with it is a mystery, but it’s been a treasure trove for the latest drivers for me for years, and should also be on your favorites or bookmarks for those times when you know  a new driver fixes some problem you’ve got, but you just can’t find the darned thing. Station Drivers may not always have what you’re seeking, but many times, it will!


November 20, 2014  10:11 AM

Educational gotcha from Windows 10 Technical Preview

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
DISM, Windows 10

As I work with a new Windows version, I have a strong tendency to go haring off after internals info to better understand how things work. Recently, I’ve had great fun digging into the volume shadow copy files and behavior under Win10TP. Somewhat less fun have been my attempts to figure out why the “Deployment Image Servicing and Management” tool, aka DISM, reports that both Windows 10 Technical Preview plain-vanilla and enterprise versions suffer from repairable corruption in their component stores, but neither are fixable using the command’s various /RestoreHealth options. The following screenshot tells the story in a single capture, which I’ll explain further below:

dism-win10tp-fail

The symptoms look simple, but the fix provides impossible to perform.

Here’s what’s involved in the two commands shown, and what else I tried in my attempts to remedy the apparent defect reported:

1. The first DISM command simply inspects the running Windows image (that’s why /online is included), and checks its overall health and well-being.

2. The second DISM command attempts to repair any outstanding issues it finds in the component store (which resides in %windir%\winsxs, that often impenetrable repository for large and mysterious Windows OS component files).

3. To perform its repairs, DISM must have access to a known good working Windows image file (usually in the .wim format) so as to grab replacements for any damaged or corrupted items it might find. Alas, all my /RestoreHealth attempts produce the same error message, which indicates that the program can’t find the image file it needs to make repairs.

4. DISM supports a /LimitAccess option that prevents the utility from turning to Windows Update to find a working image (this is useful in environments where the Internet is not available, where access is purposely restricted, or when problems present and difficulties in accessing WU must be ruled out, as may be the case here). Turning this option on (or leaving it off, as by default) made no different.

5. DISM supports a /Source option that enables the command to target a specific set of source files. I downloaded the only Win10 TP ISO for build 9879 that’s currently available — namely, for the Enterprise version, through the MS TechNet Evaluation Center — mounted the ISO as a drive on my test system, and pointed the /Source option at the \Sources directory in that collection of files. No joy there, either, alas.

In short, nothing I tried let me fix the problem that /ScanHealth was reporting, despite access to all of what should have been the right stuff for either version of the Technical Preview, Build 9879. I am reluctantly forced to conclude that something in this Build is sufficiently wonky to prevent the utility from working as it should, and can only look forward to finding it fixed in some future build. I’ve reported the issue to MS via the “Windows Feedback” app, in hopes that their superior investigative talents and image analysis tools will help them to figure out how to link up the right sources to the repair utility to put the fix in. As is so often the case in a preview situation, it is interesting to see and learn from how such things unfold.


November 17, 2014  10:07 AM

Vssadmin keeps an eye on “hidden” system snapshots

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Microsoft Windows Vista, Volume Shadow Copy Service, Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows 8.1

In working on this blog over the years, I’ve written repeatedly about a great open source file management project named WinDirStat. Short for Windows Directory statistics, this SourceForge project provides a nice compact tool for investigating and visualizing Windows volume layouts and contents. In working with Windows 10, however, I’ve noticed that Windows’ Volume Shadow Copies have more or less disappeared from view in that utility. In versions of Windows starting with Vista, WinDirStat has previously shown these files as Unknown when listing the contents of a boot/system drive, and has proved itself to be decent at keeping tabs on how much of a disk’s storage space is being consumed for the snapshots of disk volumes that the Volume Shadow Copy Service (which I’ll abbreviate as VSCS in future mentions, for brevity’s sake) is maintaining for Windows.

But as newer versions of Windows have appeared, the amount of disk space allocated for the VSCS has dropped, most likely in response to the increasing tendency for systems to incorporate faster but usually smaller SSDs for their boot/system drives. Whereas Vista allocated 15% of a disk’s overall storage for VSCS to use, Windows 7 took 5%,  and Windows 8 2%. Thus, I was a little surprised to see the default Windows 10 VSCS allocation increase to 4% (though this could easily reflect increasing size for most newer SSDs, which are now typically 256 GB or larger). I was also surprised to see that the Unknown file bucket in WinDirStat no longer appears in Win10 displays in the %Homedrive% listing.

wds-win10

Shades of D Rumsfeld: In Windows 10 the Unknown bucket is no longer known to WinDirStat.

Given that WinDirStat could no longer give me the goods on VSC storage consumption, I turned to the Windows vssadmin command inside an administrative command prompt window. Readers unfamiliar or out of practice with this command will find the Vssadmin Command Reference useful in putting its many capabilities to work. I made use of the list shadows and list shadowstorage subcommands to determine that VSC was still active and working on my boot/system drive, and that volume shadow copies were indeed still consuming disk space as this screen shot illustrates:

vssadmin-win10

Note: 2.16GB of a 10 GB allocation is already in use for the two snapshots on my Build 9879 C: drive.


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