Windows Enterprise Desktop


April 7, 2014  10:20 AM

Windows XP “Retires” Tomorrow — or Does It?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

A couple of interesting stories in the news of late have challenged the conventional understanding that Windows XP will finally, finally shuffle off the stage on April 8, just as the latest Windows 8.1 Update is pushed out via Windows Update. Recent reports indicate that some governments are taking the option to pay Microsoft to keep supporting their massive Windows XP installations for some time to come. Amidst lots of other online stories, Leon Spencer at ZDNet (“Dutch government pays millions to extend Microsoft XP support”) tells us that the Dutch government has struck a deal with MS to obtain support for somewhere between 34 and 40 thousand PCs running XP on the desks of Dutch civil servants. This comes on the heels of a deal announced last week between MS and the UK government for over $9 million to extend XP support for its numerous XP, Office 2003 and Exchange 2003 installations through April 2015.

XP-Logo

Windows XP is stubbornly clinging to life, especially within government and large institutional settings.

Industry observers have speculated that other governments — including the US Government, which probably still has tens to hundreds of thousands of PCs still running XP within numerous agencies, arms of (and contractors for) the military, and so forth — may have to cut similar deals with Microsoft to obtain extended support for installations they have been unable to upgrade in advance of tomorrow’s cutoff date. In fact, it looks increasingly like XP will continue to limp along for some time after its official termination date has come and gone. In this report on the situation, Ars Technica’s Sean Gallagher states that the current deals on record “…may be just a drop in the bucket in comparison to what the US government may have to pay for the hundreds of thousands of systems still running XP and other end-of-life software.”

To me, it looks something like the long-lived XP operating system may be morphing into “the OS that wouldn’t die.” It should be interesting to keep tabs on other life extension deals for XP that will undoubtedly be popping up in the weeks and months ahead.

[Note added 4/14/2014: Check out this WinBeta.org story entitled “US Internal Revenue Service to pay Microsoft ‘millions’ for an extra year of security patches:” the IRS will pay MS $11.6 million out of its enforcement budget to keep its 60,000 or so XP PCs under the custom support umbrella through the end of 2014.]

April 4, 2014  11:41 AM

Installing MSDN’s Windows 8.1 Update 1

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

When you download the update from MSDN, the first odd thing you’ll notice is that what shows up as a result is a ZIP file. Upon expansion, this is what the 64-bit version unpacks into:

win81upd-files

Update 1 turns out to include 6 standalone installer update files (.msu)

The ReadMe.txt file is actually important because it lists the prescribed order of installation for the files in this collection. Based on the last 3 digits of each KB item involved that order is as follows:

1. 422: on both of my test machines (a desktop with an i7-4770K and a tablet with an i7-U4600) this item shows up as already installed
2. 355: this is the biggest item by far, at nearly 700 MB in size. It took 14 minutes to install on the desktop and 32 minutes on the tablet, including the time to get to a login screen after the restart required post-installation (all of the remaining items also require individual restarts, and are timed to get to a login screen as well).
3. 046: this took about 3 minutes on each machine to complete.
4. 592: this took about 1 minute on the desktop and 1:10 on the tablet.
5. 439: this took less than 1 minute on the desktop and 1:20 on the tablet.
6. 621: this took less than 1 minute on the desktop and 1:25 on the tablet.

Total time required varied from about 20 minutes on the desktop to 39 minutes on the tablet. It was kind of a pain to have to reboot 5 times along the way, but that’s what you must do when using the standalone update installer instead of waiting for Windows Update to batch those items together on your behalf. I’m guessing this will cut at least 6 minutes off the overall install time for users who wait to grab these materials from Windows Update next week.

One more thing: you’ll want to run the “Clean up system files” option in Disk Cleaner after installing these updates on a Windows 8.1 PC. This will recover about 700 MB of storage space on your boot drive (which may be meaningful for those using smaller SSDs to fulfill this role, as many systems do nowadays). The composition in the space recovered shakes down to about 690 MB of Windows Update Cleanup files on the 64-bit systems I updated plus a few other odds’n’ends (numbers will be lower for those running x86 versions of Windows 8.1 instead). Cleanup takes a while, too: about 35 minutes on the desktop, and 60 minutes on the tablet, by my rough measurements.


April 2, 2014  9:21 AM

Win8.1 Spring Update on MSDN

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

[Update: 1:40 PM CST after Nadella’s Keynote at BUILD ends]
The Windows 8.1 Update downloads are now available via MSDN. Here’s a screenshot of what’s up there, straight from the lastest “New Subscriber Downloads” list:

win81update-on-msdn

There are 6 new Windows 8.1 Update 1 items available for download, as shown here.

Only four of these items (numbered 2 through 6 on the following list) are Windows 8.1 only one each 32 and 64 bit, one each with and without Internet Explorer (the European N version lacks the IE browser usually bundled with US release versions). There is also a bundled update with 8.1, Server 2012 R2, and Embedded 8.1 Industry Update in 64-bit only. I’ll be playing primarily with the 8.1 x64 version myself, and reporting on it soon.

[Original Early AM Post]
The MS Build Conference gets underway today, and rumors are already starting to circulate that the Spring Update for Windows 8.1 will be appearing soon, perhaps even today as well. I just jumped up to MSDN and see nothing on the download pages there just yet, nor can I find any valid download links to grab the latest release, either. Sites as varied as bgr.com and kpopstarz.com are reporting that the bits will become available today, well ahead of the originally projected April 8 drop date.

win81-logo

If Win8.1 had a logo, this is what it might look like. Even though it doesn’t, it may be gaining a “Spring Update” today.

Here’s a quote from BGR on timing and availability:

Developers who have MSDN subscriptions will receive Windows 8.1 Update 1 on April 2nd, once the company unveils the new features in Update 1. Everyone else will receive the update beginning April 8th.

I’ll keep checking MSDN every couple of hours or so, if not more often, and will report back if and when the bits show up today. It’s still only 6:19 AM in Redmond, so it could be a while. If the timing is anything like that for Patch Tuesday, the usual drop time is 11 AM PST (-08:00 UCT), which means we still have four-plus hours to wait before it becomes available. Stay Tuned!


March 31, 2014  11:47 AM

Curious About the Win8.1 Spring Update? Take a “Guided Tour!”

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

With the Microsoft Build conference teed up for next week, and the Spring Update to Windows 8.1 timed to more or less coincide with that event, I’d have to guess at least some readers are curious as to what this upcoming update holds in store for them. I missed my opportunities to grab all the update files for the upcoming release (there were two of them at various points in March), but PC World didn’t. Their author Brad Chacos has put together an informative slide show captured from a Windows 8.1 test system with the most recent versions of the upcoming update files that he could lay hands on. It’s entitled “Deep inside Windows 8.1’s spring update: New changes in pictures” and I strongly urge curious readers to pay it a visit, and flip through the 15 screens it contains (of which 13 actually present substantive content take direct from the new update itself).

sl7-pcw81sprupd

The image on slide 7 in the PC World slideshow shows a snippet of the author’s own test Windows 8.1 Spring Update (Metro) Start Screen.”

The titles for the slides in the show provide a nice capsule summary of what’s inside Windows 8.1 Spring Update:

1. Is the third update the charm?
2. Boot to desktop by default
3. Metro apps on the desktop taskbar
4. Taskbar everywhere
5. Mouse-friendly title bar menus for Metro apps
6. Right-click context menus on Metro Start screen
7. Power, Search buttons on the Start screen
8. New apps installed notification
9. Show more apps on Apps view screen option
10. IE interface tweaks
11. Media files default to Windows Photo Viewer and Media Player
12. Hello, OneDrive!
13. Disk space menu in PC Settings
14. Reduced system requirements
15. Anticipation BUILDs

I’ll be watching MSDN this week to see if the Spring Update doesn’t appear a little early there, as it sometimes does. Count on hearing from me as soon as a legit version pops up anywhere! Ready or not, it’s coming soon…


March 28, 2014  3:47 PM

Will Microsoft gain more Office 365 users with Office for iPad?

Diana Hwang Diana Hwang Profile: Diana Hwang

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella hammered home this week the message of reaching out to IT professionals, end users and developers with its Office for iPad and Enterprise Mobility Suite.

First, Microsoft revealed Office for iPad and its Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) to the IT community, including a free version of the iPad Office apps and full versions to Office 365 subscribers.

Second, the company sent out an online promotion to customers offering a free year of Office 365 for the first 50 people who go to selected Microsoft retail stores. The hook is to be more productive by putting the iPad to work and getting Office on more devices.

Next week Microsoft will  host its Build Developer Conference in San Francisco to discuss its Windows development.

And then the message circles back to IT pros with the North America TechEd 2014 conference in May.

This three-pronged constituent approach could be Microsoft returning to its roots and ensuring its core enterprise IT customers are given top billing. For Nadella to highlight IT pros with the EMS package alongside the long-awaited Office for iPad, he’s capitalizing on both constituents to push his mobile and cloud first message.

Office for iPad

The industry has awaited Microsoft to launch an Office for iPad productivity suite. For years, Microsoft suffered through harsh criticisms for its lack of an offering and lost revenue on the industry’s most popular tablet. But now Microsoft can draw in new users and businesses not yet subscribed to Office 365 by baiting them with the Office for iPad apps.

iPad users waiting to snag their free 1-year license of Office 365 Home Premium

iPad users waiting to snag their free one-year license of Office 365 Home Premium

I went to my local Microsoft store expecting a long line of people out the door waiting for their one-year license for Office when the store opened. The line wasn’t long at all but the end users had some pretty good reasons for wanting to try Office 365

And here is where Microsoft’s strategy works. Not only do you get the business end user who wants to try Office 365 and Office for iPad but you also get IT professionals who are looking to try out the cloud-based service for their business for free. If these end users get hooked on Office 365, through the Office for iPad apps or just by using the cloud-based service, they may go back to their IT department and push to have their organization license the service.

Buddy Newman, an IT manager for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), a state agency of 70-80 people based in Boston, wanted to compare Office 365  with his company’s current Citrix virtualized environment.

Newman was unsure whether Office 365 would be cost effective, as previously, other cloud services Newman explored did not provide a cost benefit for MAPC.

But Newman is willing to explore Office 365 for his business, especially since the promotion is free for a year.

Other waiting end users were curious about accessing files across multiple devices.

The ability to synchronize files across multiple platforms was key for Greg Imbrie, a doctor at Tufts Medical Center, a hospital based in Boston.  In addition, since Imbrie already is a Microsoft Office user, he wanted to see if the functionality of his iPad could be improved with the new Office for iPad apps.

Microsoft would not reveal how many stores in the U.S. were selected for the promotion. As of January 2014, Microsoft has 83 retail stores worldwide.

Even if Microsoft only offered the promotion to 30 stores, it would cost about $150,000. That’s small change for Microsoft to continue seeding a market to IT professionals and business end users in the hopes of snagging new Office 365 subscribers. And what better way to do it than through an iOS tablet? It’s the new Microsoft.


March 24, 2014  11:13 AM

Windows 8.1 Administrivia: Accessing .mobi files with Kindle

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I saw with some interest this morning that Paul Thurrott is nearing completion of his Windows 8.1 Field Guide, a real e-book bargain at a mere $2 (though the actual amount you pay is up to you, and could be more or less, as you might choose: I used PayPal to fork over the $2 default price myself). After buying the book, however, I found myself faced with a bit of a conundrum: I downloaded the .mobi version of the book, expecting to be able to launch it in Kindle with a simple double-click after depositing it in the directory of my choice. If only it had been that easy…

mobi-on-win81

The book is (almost) done, but how to read it on Kindle in Windows 8.1?

First try: Windows 8 Kindle Reader

Because I’m running Windows 8.1 I assumed that having installed the Kindle reader for Windows 8 I’d be able to access the book immediately through the app. But after trying the double-click on the file, I got the “choose an App” dialog box from the OS rather than an immediate launch of the program. After I found myself unable to successfully penetrate the mysteries of the .../Program Files/WindowsApps folder, to target the Kindle app directly (I need to spend some time fooling around with this to see if there’s a way to do this when an item like the Kindle app fails to show up on the list of available apps that Windows presents by default), I realized this wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d thought. Some poking around online quickly convinced me that there’s no easy way to do this with the Windows 8 version of the Kindle reader, so following suggestions from other trailblazers who walked this path ahead of me I “downgraded” to the Windows 7 version of the Kindle reader instead.

Second try: Windows

At last, I found myself with a version where I could access the built-in controls, upon which I learned that the easiest way to access any Kindle document is to copy it into the .../Documents/My Kindle Content folder. Once I accomplished this feat (which required me to do some additional online spelunking to identify the default repository for “local content” in Kindle parlance), I was finally able to access the book inside the Kindle reader.

While it’s absurdly easy to synch with the Amazon cloud to access books purchased from that company, sliding reading material into the reader acquired from other sources — such as Mr. Thurrott’s interesting-looking book — takes a little more ingenuity. When it comes to making things work in Windows, I’ve learned there’s nearly always some way to accomplish one’s reasonable goals, but it’s not always as obvious or straightforward as one might hope or wish. And so it goes…


March 21, 2014  11:25 AM

Image Resizer: Free, Handy Windows Explorer Shell Extension

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

img-resizerFor those not already familiar with the terminology, the software tool “Image Resizer for Windows” is what’s called an Explorer Shell Extension (aka ShellEx). When you install it on a Windows PC, it adds to Explorer’s capabilities. Thus, if you can puzzle your way into the screen capture to the left (which I resized using the very tool I’m writing about at the moment), you’ll see that an entry in the right-click Explorer menu called “Resize pictures” has been added to call put this utility to work. Selecting that menu entry produces the Image Resizer window that appears beneath the menu snippet, and shows that you can pick any of a number of default resizings (small, medium, large, or mobile). You can also create you own custom resizings as well (as I typically do for my blog posts, which are limited to 500 pixels in width, maximum).

For anybody who must work with images or screen captures on a regular basis, Image Resizer for Windows is a great add-in for their software toolbox. It’s a CodePlex project so it’s Open Source, free, and safe for general and widespread use. There’s even a server version that’s based on ASP.NET available through imageresizing.net. And for those whose memories go back far enough, yes indeed, this is a faithful replacement for the old Windows XP PowerToy also named Image Resizer. It’s pretty popular, too: according to the CodePlex home page for the tool, it’s been downloaded over 1.4 million times.

Additional Note:
Working with Shell Extensions can sometimes get interesting on Windows PCs. Because I’m advocating adding one in this blog post, I also feel compelled to mention Nir Sofer’s outstanding tool for viewing and managing Windows Shell Extensions in this connection. It’s called ShellExView (currently at version 1.86) and it, too, is a nice, compact, and free tool for Windows PCs. I’ve used it many times to identify and root out shell extensions I no longer use, or didn’t want, and you may be able to do likewise as well. Worth downloading.


March 19, 2014  11:07 AM

MVA Releases Video Series “Windows 8.1 Deployment Jump Start”

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Through the Microsoft Virtual Academy, the company has released the complete set of videos from its recent Windows 8.1 Deployment Jump Start, free to anybody who wants to look them over. Here’s a screencap of the items on offer (check the link to dig more deeply into any of them, and/or to access the video content):

win81deploy

All the major tasks involved in creating, setting up, managing, and deploying Windows 8.1 images to desktops is covered in this free online course.

There are four separate modules, each of which includes a video and a support PPT deck, along with a 10-minute self-assessment test worth up to 5 points upon completion. First you begin with an overview that walks through the various tools that MS makes available to support Windows deployment, including ADK 8.1, WDS, and MDT. Second, you explore the process of engineering a Windows 8.1 image, to create a reference image using automated and repeatable processes. Next, actual deployment is explored and explained, with special emphasis on driver management and application deployment. The final module melds the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) with System Center 2012’s Configuration Management facilities to deploy Windows 8.1, including managing drivers.

All in all it’s a nice introduction to the tools and techniques that MS recommends for Windows 8.1 Deployment. For those wishing to learn more about what’s involved and to get a general idea of how it’s done, this is a perfect way to spend a half-day learning the necessaries. Those who really want to dig in and learn this stuff from end to end will find it makes a nice point of departure, but one that must then be augmented by lots of hands-on interaction and experimentation with the tools and platforms covered in the course.


March 18, 2014  9:42 AM

Is Surface 2 LTE the right fit for the enterprise?

Diana Hwang Diana Hwang Profile: Diana Hwang

Microsoft’s Surface 2 with 4G LTE capabilities became available this week but there are downsides that may prevent IT professionals from deploying it to their end users.

Anything with Windows 8.1 — whether the full blown PC or RT version –represents an uphill battle for the majority of enterprise deployments. Businesses continue to struggle to migrate off of Windows XP, or have recently spent gobs of money migrating to Windows 7.

Deploying the Windows 8.1 operating system is still a faraway prospect except for pockets of companies testing the latest OS or deploying the Surface, Surface 2, or Surface Pro 2 for specific mobile needs.

The new Surface 2 with AT&T’s 4G LTE capabilities enters an environment with workers already using Apple iPads as a secondary unit to their workhorse PC or even as a primary device for some users.

It’s hard for IT to even think about supporting a Windows 8.1 RT tablet, given that it doesn’t easily support Active Directory , unlike the Surface Pro 2. It’s a no brainer for many enterprise IT administrators to simply not place a Surface 2 on the approved list when they can’t easily manage the device.

The specs for the Surface 2 LTE unit add up to a decent system.  It includes an NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor, 10.6-inch display with full HD that renders 1080p videos, 3.5 MP front camera and 5 MP back camera, battery life of about 10 hours, Microsoft Office Home and Student RT version, Outlook 2013, unlimited Skype-WiFi for one year, 200GB free storage on OneDrive for two years, and full USB 3.0 slot. It also includes the Surface product line’s signature kickstand – a feature that makes Surface exceptionally useable on many surfaces (pardon the pun).

The product lists for $679 for a 64 GB version, $130 more than the $549 64GB WiFi only Surface 2. The 4G model of the Surface 2 is cheaper than a comparable WiFi plus cellular 64GB iPad Air which lists for $829, while a WiFi only 64GB iPad Air is $699.

The Surface 2 (with and without 4G) can serve as replacement for an iPad if your company is a Microsoft shop and you absolutely need a version of Microsoft Office for workers. That is, if you don’t care about the small number of available Windows RT apps compared with the enormous number of apps for iOS devices. Of course, this could change if Microsoft releases its Office for iPad app.

But with Surface 2, IT administrators have to deal with the unknown factor of Windows 8.1 RT compared with the more prevalent iOS or Android platforms.  And, they’ll be wondering if they should bet their mobile efforts based on an RT operating system that may or may not be around a few years from now.


March 17, 2014  10:36 AM

Metro Firefox: When They Built It, You Didn’t Come!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

mozilla-nometroLast Friday, Firefox VP Johnathan Nightingale posted a very interesting blog post entitled “Update on Metro.” The first paragraph of this post basically announced the company’s decision to “take the Windows Metro version of Firefox off the trains” and goes on to opine that “shipping a 1.0 version, given the broader context we see for the Metro platform, would be a mistake.” As it turns out, the decision is based on uptake of the Metro platform in the wild, where Nightingale reported flatly that “On any given day we have…millions of people testing pre-release versions of Firefox desktop, but we’ve never seen more than 1000 active daily users in the Metro environment.”

To some extent, the size of this limited beta test community helped sway Firefox’s decision to back away from Metro Firefox because of the potential impact of incomplete and less-than-thorough testing. But my reading of the situation also demands consideration of the company’s determination that Metro just isn’t going to pick up the kind of momentum or critical mass to justify an ongoing investment in the environment in the years ahead. As Nightingale puts it “This opens up the risk that Metro might take off tomorrow and we’d have to scramble to catch back up, but that’s a better risk for us to take than the real costs of investment in a platform our users have shown little signs of adopting” (emphasis mine).

Instead, Firefox plans to “…focus our efforts in places where we can reach more people.” I’m wondering if this decision, and the factors that drove it, don’t also spell out some important lessons and observations for the whole Modern UI side of the Windows world at present. With everything that MS is doing to restore ease of use and navigation to mouse-and-keyboard based Windows users, the company itself appears to be recognizing that not everybody is interested in Modern UI.  Consider also that mouse-and-keyboard setups serve the majority of the Windows user population by no less than a 90% margin — MS itself reported on 2/23/14 that only 40 percent of Windows 8 machines are touch-enabled, and Windows 8 versions currently represent no more than 10% of all Windows installations active on the Internet — and I see a situation where more companies that Firefox must surely be pondering the soundness of investing further in a narrow-niche UI that nevertheless requires a major effort to buy into and develop for. I repeat my initial reaction: “Very interesting!”


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