Windows Enterprise Desktop


July 1, 2013  11:37 AM

Smart Search Provides Big Boost to Win8.1

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

With the update/install process behind me now on a couple of laptops (2/3s of my Windows 8 test machine bench), I’m starting to find my way into the latest OS release from Microsoft. What’s struck me most forcibly — and favorably — so far is its new so-called “Smart Search” capability. It used to be that running Windows 8.0, search results — from typing some string onto the Start screen, for example — would provide results segregated by category: by Apps, Settings, and Files. You could carry your search into Bing simply by clicking Bing next and view those results separately.

All this changes very much for the better in Windows 8.1: Smart Search still provides links to local stuff on your PC, but it integrates them into a single search results display that also includes search info online as well. This not only makes it faster to find stuff, it also speeds ( or perhaps “blurs” is a better choice of words here) the transition from local to Internet in finding useful information. This is one of those kinds of things that doesn’t sound like much, but that really helps with work and leisure pursuits.

Let me explain, first from the work perspective: say I wanted to run the useful desktop utility known as the Driver Store Explorer (rapr.exe, a CodePlex project that jumps into your Windows Driver store and tells you what it finds there, and even lets you delete unwanted or superfluous drivers from the store). By searching on the filename, rapr.exe, the search results will provide a link right to the program if it’s on my PC. If it’s not, it will take me to the home page for the product documentation, where I can click the “download” link there to grab what I want with a single click. Incredibly convenient.

Another explanation, this time from the leisure angle: say I wanted to watch a video of “Young Indiana Jones.” If I search on that term, and there’s a video on my PC that matches the search term already, it will take me straight to it. If not, I will be able to access any of a number of download links on YouTube from whence I can grab whichever of the 23 episodes that are available online that I might care to watch. Way cool!

But wait, there’s more: in addition to searching your PC and the Internet for hits, Smart Search on Windows 8.1 will also search SkyDrive and your Video and Music apps as well. I agree with PCWorld’s Brad Chacos (see his excellent story “The top 5 reasons to upgrade to Windows 8.1” for some other eye-openers about the new MS desktop preview /beta OS) that “If Microsoft had added only Smart Search to Windows 8.1, it would’ve been enough to convince me to install the update.” I predict that if you give it a try, you won’t want to go back to the old Windows 8.0 Search capability at all. If you need more convincing, check out Paul Thurrott’s recent post “Hands-On with Windows 8.1: Smart Search.”

June 28, 2013  10:53 AM

Methods for Installing Windows 8.1 Preview

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

OK, so I’ve gotten far enough into the Windows 8.1 Preview that I’ve learned about two different ways to get hold of the software and run it on a test (or other) PC. On the one hand, you can find an online source (such as MSDN or the Windows 8.1 Preview page), grab the ISO, use a tool like the Windows 7 USB DVD Download tool or Rufus to create a UFD-based installer, and go from there, or on a machine already running Windows 8, you can visit the Preview Page, click “Get it now” and elect to run that installation to Windows 8.1 straight from there.

win8.1-preview

Yes, there’s already a public download page for the Windows 8.1 Preview, so even those who lack an MSDN subscription can grab-it-and-go!

The update option also comes with a couple of caveats, as anyone wise to the ways of Preview and other Windows beta releases knows already:

  1. Windows 8.1 Preview is indeed a beta, so you don’t want to install it on a production machine
  2. It’s often the case when betas are superseded by commercial (OEM or general availability/GA) releases that you may have to reinstall the OS, and wipe out everything on the partition where the preview resided (there are often, but not always, workarounds for this so you can’t count on being able to preserve anything from such an installation).
  3. Before you install any beta OS on any machine that has a running OS already installed, make an image backup of the prior/current installation. That way, if anything goes wonky, you can always get back to a running installation by booting from a repair, recovery, or install UFD, then restoring that image.

Of course, those same caveats also apply to anyone who elects to take the ISO route instead, though this will give you more opportunities to think and plan ahead of the installation (and let you install to a VM, an alternate partition, or other techniques to prevent over-writing an existing OS installation if that’s your preference, as it probably will be for many curious IT pros and enthusiasts interested in trying out 8.1 without necessarily tying up an entire machine to do so.) Later this weekend, I’ll try out a VM install and report on that experience for Monday’s blog. Stay tuned!


June 26, 2013  10:41 AM

Windows 8.1 Preview Countdown Underway

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

11:30 Preview is available!!!

msdn-1130

Here it is! Keep reading for more information…

The x64 download is 3,580 MB, the x86 is 2,660 MB (DVD format, which involves extra files). Starting my downloads now, more to follow soon. The x64 download is reporting an increasing download wait that’s gone up from 18 to 30 minutes as I watch. The servers are no doubt being banged very hard. I’ll grab the x86 version after the x64 version finishes downloading.

12:12 PM The x64 download actually took 47 minutes to complete, now getting the x86 download underway. Starts out at 11 minutes, quickly jumps to 20 minutes. Actual download time: 24 minutes. Not too bad, all things considered. That’s it for today’s post!

11:00AM CDT Nothing changed yet… (prior changes posted at 10, 10:30…)

09:35AM CDT MSDN Downloads looks like this right now, indicating that while Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 downloads are available right now, Windows 8.1 has yet to appear. I’ll keep updating this page throughout the day, so readers will know when they can start banging away at Akamai’s servers to grab their very own copy:

msdn-0935

Nothing new under the Windows heading just yet, but it’s only 7:35 AM on the West Coast right now. I expect something to appear about 11 AM CDT/9 AM PDT. Stay tuned!


June 24, 2013  11:06 AM

Windows 8.1 Preview Due Out Wednesday

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

The Microsoft Build conference for software developers kicks off at the Moscone Center in San Francisco this Wednesday and by no coincidence whatsoever that’s the same day MS will fire off a preview beta version of its upcoming Windows 8.1 release. The smart money says the general availability release for 8.1 will fall  in late October, and more or less puts Windows 8.1 on the same overall schedule that applied to Windows upon its release in 2012: (early to mid) August for the OEM release, and (probably late) October for GA. But aside from the customary Hackathon that starts the day before the conference kicks off, MS is so far keeping pretty mum about what’s on the agenda there.

biuld2013

No conference program is available, but execs from these products/platforms have already put themselves on the Build 2013 agenda.

Mary Jo Foley, of ZDnet, has already speculated about conference coverage and content, and puts the Windows 8.1 launch and a public preview for Windows Server 2012 R2 at the top of the list for key elements and announcements at the upcoming conference. In fact, Foley says that “this year’s Build will focus primarily around the next version of Windows, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Windows Azure …”

I, for one, will be all over the latest release on a test machine, as soon as the download becomes available. But MS is playing the content and coverage cards for this year’s conference extraordinarily close to its chest. I guess we’re just going to have to see what unfolds as the conferenced gets underway to see what’s in store for the MS community, on both the buyers’ and the developers’ fronts.


June 22, 2013  3:52 PM

Soluto Brings Remote Monitoring to iPhone, iPad

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ve seen me write repeatedly about Israeli software company Soluto and their Soluto PC management and tracking software. These days, it’s hard to find another solution that beats Soluto for managing a small to middling sized number of PCs, that also gathers interesting data from its managed PC population. The group contacted me in advance of their announcement last Tuesday, June 18, of their brand-new software for managing iOS devices including both the iPad and the iPhone, but I was traveling on business that week and unable to deal with anything except the 12-14 hour days I was working for my clients at the time. Visiting the Soluto site just now, I see they also offer support for MacOS PCs as well, but I have to imagine that’s been around for some time now, or it too would be front and center in their latest announcement.

I’ve been home since mid-week, but am just now finding the time to look into what Soluto has to offer, and it seems pretty interesting. It starts with visiting the Soluto site, and then sending an e-mail or an SMS to the targeted iOS device. That email or text message includes a link to an app, which then comes up in the Installer (inside Settings, interestingly enough) which apparently places an app on the iOS device. Once installed, the app then makes its detail information available through the usual Soluto console available through a log-in at www.soluto.com. Here’s part of what it has to say about my iPhone, for example:

soluto-iphone

The Web-based Soluto console makes short work of reporting on iOS devices, with clear, easy-to-follow information and analysis.

The Soluto dashboard also lists all the apps installed on the device, which gave me kind of a rude shock as to how many games my 9-year-old has installed on that device (I counted 30 under the “Games” heading, and another 17 items under the “Entertainment” heading, of which only 1 was of my choosing. Seeing this display, I could wish that Soluto would set up remote deletion for such apps, but it’s really no big deal to write down the names of some things that can go, and then go do it the old-fashioned way on the device itself.

It’s a pretty nice tool, and a great way to extend what you can see and manage — if not directly, then indirectly — through a single Web-based console. Definitely worth checking out!


June 21, 2013  8:47 AM

Hmmm…Gartner Gets Behind Windows 8.1 For Business Use

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

The analysts have never been terribly kind to Windows 8, with the majority of firms maintaining what can only be described as a “safe distance” from Microsoft’s latest desktop offering launched in October 2012. But a new Gartner blog post from in-house analysts Michael A. Silver and Stephen Kleynhans includes a telling snippet that indicates the wind may soon be blowing from a new quarter: “Based on information currently available, we believe Windows 8.1 features could quiet most of its detractors” (it’s entitled “Windows 8.1 Could Become What Windows 8 Should Have Been” and it’s dated 6/19/2013).

As early as May 29, noted Windows guru Paul Thurrott posted screencaps of Windows 8.1 depicting the triumphant return of the Start button to Windows 8.1 (see “In Blue: Start Experience Changes” for the original graphic, and other interesting 8.1 screenshots).

win8.1-startbutton

A more familiar look and feel to Windows 8.1, eerily similar to Start8.

Other interesting points from the Gartner piece include:

  1. Windows 8.1 is worth considering for “broader deployment,” especially for those who had been inclined to view Windows 8.0 as a “touch-only” operating system
  2. Businesses can seriously contemplate purchasing new PCs with 8.1 pre-installed as a legitimate way “to adopt a new OS via PC refresh” (a not uncommon tactic in the business world nowadays)
  3. Those who are already planning Windows 8.0 deployments have nothing to lose, and much to gain, by switching over plans and pilots to Windows 8.1 instead of Windows 8.0 (even to the point of switching to the beta upcoming later this month as soon as it becomes available, and deploying the production version of 8.1 when it become available later this year, probably in late October or early November)

News Analysis from the actual report from Silver and Kleynhans is available online (see “Windows 8.1 Could Become What Windows 8.0 Should Have Been” for more detail that the previously-cited Gartner news release). This lengthier piece provides additional details about Windows 8.1 benefits for business users, including references to improved search, tighter integration with SkyDrive, more flexible snap-to-screen layouts for apps and application windows, complete Control Panel coverage in the Modern UI, and minor changes to the Windows 8 desktop “which would ensure high levels of compatibility with legacy Win32 desktop applications.”

All well and good, and perhaps even interesting to business readers. But is it enough to spur consideration or even deployment of Windows 8.1, when many businesses have only recently migrated to Windows 7? Only time will tell!


June 19, 2013  9:11 AM

USB 3.0 Makes a Big Difference

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

When I bought two Lenovo notebooks last year — a T520 and an X220 Tablet — one of my regrets was that I had to buy immediately and couldn’t wait for the USB 3.0 versions of those models to become available. Last week I learned that my regrets were well-founded. Thanks to the Mushkin Ventura Pro 64 GB USB stick I picked up in May, and an el cheapo ($28) StarTech PCI Express USB 3.0 adapter I grabbed from Newegg in early June, I was finally able to try out the speed difference between built-in USB 2.0 ports and a budget add-in USB 3.0 device.

mushkinusb30pciexpress

UFD on left, USB 3.0 adapter on the right.

Using USB 2.0, the Mushkin UFD (USB Flash Disk) runs at ~30 MB/sec: not bad for a USB 2.0 flash device. I observed a 6-fold boost on the X220 Tablet using PCI express for USB 3.0. Where I’d been seeing rates of around 30.1 – 30.3 MB/sec for USB 2.0, it jumped to180 MB/sec using USB 3.0.

I routinely take my sizable Outlook Archive.pst file with me when I go on the road. This morning it’s about 9.19 GB in size on my D: drive. It used to take 8-9 minutes to copy that file from the hard drive to the UFD; now it takes just over a minute for the file transfer to complete. This may not sound like much of a difference to some readers, but for me this is huge, simply because I usually wait until the morning I travel to grab my PST files to take with me on the road, along with my traveling laptop for that trip.

Even more impressive are the speed gains when it comes to backing up my machines. A RecImg image snapshot for my Windows 8 machines usually takes half an hour or so to complete, and a full backup might run 10 minutes longer. Using the USB 3.0 interface, those times go down to under 7 minutes and under 9 minutes, respectively. Since I often have to wait for a backup to complete to use a machine for something else, these time savings are pretty worthwhile — to me, at least. Whether or not you can justify a $55 flash drive and a $28 interface card to your boss, if you’re in this pretty typical situation, is up to you to find out. But if you can swing it, I believe you’ll find the time savings that result to be worthwhile as well.


June 8, 2013  11:19 PM

Mysteries of Remote Desktop Connection in Windows

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I have half-a-dozen different notebook PCs in my office, and three desktops total, all of which I like to manage remotely from my primary production desktop, because it’s got two great big honkin’ 27″ monitors hooked up to it. I can devote one whole screen to a remote desktop and still get plenty done on the production machine on the other screen. I often test or research software, capture screen shots, and take crazy chances on my various test machines inside a remote desktop connection window as a kind of “Polack Productivity Booster.”

But interestingly — and sometimes frustratingly — not all applications work properly when run remotely. For example the Lenovo Solution Center and the ThinkVantage System Update applications I regularly run on my X220 Tablet and T520 notebook PCs won’t run at all in a remote session, though they run just fine if I operate them on either machine directly and locally. This behavior is vexing, but tolerable, because it’s painfully obvious to me that these applications simply don’t work remotely.

recimg-mgr

Here’s a dandy little utility that just happens to fail nearly at completion when run through a remote desktop connection.

But then, there are applications that appear to run, or start to run, in a remote session in Windows only to fail part-way through their job completion process. Case in point: the Windows 8 record image (recimg) command-line utility and its Modern UI “skin” RecImg Manager (a free and handy program from Slimware Utilities). This incredibly handy utility makes a Windows image (.wim) file from your current Windows 8 system configuration, including all updated drivers, the OS itself, and any and all applications you’ve installed into the Program Files and Program Files (x86) directories. It works with the “Refresh your PC” repair utility in Windows 8 to create a current custom Windows image that you can use to fix all kinds of system issues that sometimes pop up, even on the best-behaved of Windows 8 systems (especially when you jack them around as much as I do mine).

There’s just one small problem with RecImg Manager and it drove me nuts before I finally figured it out: it just doesn’t work if you run it from a remote session. About 97% of the way through writing the image file, the program loses the link between the remote Windows 8 system and the local remote desktop connection host system. It hangs, and the image copy fails. I spent the better part of half a day trying to get it work in a remote session before it finally dawned on me that I should try running it locally instead. Not only did it complete without a hitch, it also finished up a great deal faster (probably because the source machine didn’t have to waste any cycles driving remote screen updates to the RDP-connected “other PC”). Since this happened, I’ve confirmed it’s not just an eccentricity on one of my 5 Windows 8 machines but affects all of them equally: RecImg Manager works fine locally, but hangs when run through a remote desktop connection.

Live and learn, I guess. Just another of the many “Windows surprises” that keeps me constantly bemused, and gainfully employed.


June 7, 2013  2:13 PM

Why hundreds of techies stood in line for hours to buy a Surface Pro

Diana Hwang Diana Hwang Profile: Diana Hwang
Long lines to buy Surface devices

Long lines to buy Surface devices

I did it. I agonized and waffled about it for days but finally caved in. I just had to experience why anyone on earth would stand in line for the Surface RT and Surface Pro fire sale. They’re first generation products and my rule of thumb has always been: Don’t buy a first generation device!

But I couldn’t pass up Microsoft’s deal for Tech Ed attendees this week: $99 for a 64 GB Surface RT device (normally $699) and $399 for a 128 GB Surface Pro (normally $999). I spent $542.21 including tax instead of $1700 (before tax). At that price, Microsoft only allowed attendees to buy one of each – no more, no less.

As we say in Boston — it’s a BAH-gain.

I had to badger and plead with my senior executive editor Ed Scannell to stand in line with me. Ed probably thought I was crazy because he’s been covering the tech industry forever and knows better.

Once the conference started, dedicated attendees stood in line, some waiting for as long as three hours to get their device(s). Although that’s just a blink of an eye compared to Apple fanatics who camp out at the Apple store for new versions of the iPhone and iPad, this wait was substantial for a Microsoft device. However, Tech Ed attendees don’t represent the general population.

Just before I had to leave from Tech Ed and catch a plane to return home on Wednesday, the wait was down to an hour. Not too bad.

While we waited, Ed figured out that theoretically if all 10,000 attendees at the show bought an RT and Surface Pro, it would bring Microsoft nearly $1 million in revenue for RT and $4 million for Surface Pro. That’s $5 million in additional revenue for Surface units. Not a bad boost for Surface sales for Microsoft’s fourth fiscal quarter.

Of course not every attendee bought the devices: some only the RT, some only the Pro, some both and some none. But even if Microsoft conservatively added another $2.5 million to its coffers and upped their shipment numbers this quarter, every little bit helps.

Time in line flew by because of the entertainment, and I’m not referring to the flying beach balls. Steven “Wheelin’ and Dealin’” Borg, co-founder and strategist of Northwest Cadence, a small 16 person company in Bellevue, Wash. provided his own fun for those around him.

Mr. Wheelin’ and Dealin’ asked the folks in line to see if they were going to buy their allotted one Surface Pro. If not, he was going to pay them $500 cash to get one and give it to him. Yes, $500.

Steve ended up with three takers, although one guy backed out. Mr. Wheelin’ and Dealin’ did such a good job of getting others excited about the Surface Pro this guy changed his mind and decided to keep the unit. (Maybe Steve should work for Microsoft’s Surface team).

Sure, some simply bought the devices to resell for a quick profit on eBay. But many folks were either buying the RT as a consumer unit for their family, or they were buying the Surface Pro for their company to see if they could actually use it for business purposes. Some buyers said they would use the device for testing to see if it would fit in their environment and then perhaps roll the device out to others in their organization.

You may ask: did I sell mine? Nope. I had to buy a unit for my nephew and didn’t want to suffer the wrath of my brother and nephew if I sold it off.

The big question is, will I replace my trusty Apple iPad 2 with my new lovely red Logitech ultrathin keyboard? Not yet. My iPad serves me well and lets me file my work on the road. I just wish Microsoft would get Office for iOS into Apple’s App Store. You know they have it; they’re just not letting it out. If they did, Microsoft would lose their major competitive edge for Surface, something they can’t afford at this point.

Surface RT has the Office suite and, with the forthcoming Windows 8.1, Outlook will be available for Windows RT. We’ll have to wait and see whether putting Outlook on Windows RT makes any difference in the enterprise.

So all’s well that ends well: my kids get to play with yet another digital device (though I’ll have to argue with them to turn it off because it’s time for bed) and my nephew will be happy when he gets his Surface Pro.

And it only took us 55 minutes to get through the line.

Senior executive editor Ed Scannell (who is probably cursing me for making him spend $100 bucks for an RT) contributed to this post.


June 6, 2013  9:42 PM

Rufus Beats Windows 7 USB Download Tool, Hands Down

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

These days ultrabooks and tablets make DVDs passé for Windows installs. UFDs (USB Flash Drives, that is) are the way to go. I’d discovered the free Microsoft Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool at the Microsoft store about the same time that Windows 7 went commercial, but had also run into occasional issues with the tool (on some machines, the image wouldn’t install correctly and although all the files would download and unpack OK, I would still wind up with a non-bootable UFD). Just recently, I came across a reference to a free tool named Rufus that creates bootable UFDs in a variety of formats. It’s small, fast, and seems pretty much trouble-free: I got it to build a bootable Windows 8 Pro x64 UFD in just under 8 minutes (on my production PC, the MS tool takes about 15 minutes to do the same job).

rufus-snap

The tool completely rebuilds the UFD from the ground up, so you don’t need to worry about MBR or formatting issues getting in the way.

Rufus is also very good about reporting on what it’s doing while it’s building you a bootable UFD. It started out by telling me it was rebuilding the MBR for a UEFI set-up, then reformatting, and then took the rest of the time to tell me what it was doing as it was building the Windows 8 Pro x64 boot environment on my behalf. This beats the pants off the Microsoft tool, which basically just goes away and tells you little or nothing about what it’s doing at any given moment. I like it enough to have put it in the Dropbox folder I use to make sure that key utilities are always at my immediate disposal whenever I’m graced with an Internet connection. Good stuff!


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