In reading a recent (11/6/2012) posting from Paul Thurrott entitled “Taking Surface to Work” I stumbled across an incredibly interesting and tantalizing set of suggestions about what an upcoming planned revision to Microsoft’s Intune cloud-based PC and device management service could mean for enterprises interesting in centralized management and security for PCs and a variety of mobile devices, including Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Phone devices. Let me begin with an extended quote from his blog post:
Surface comes with the same desktop-based Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) you know and love from Windows 7 and Windows 8, and it works the same way, allowing you to access remote PCs and servers through RDP. (There’s a Metro version too, if you’re all in on the new stuff.) It’s also compatible with RemoteApp, meaning that you can stream individual apps from servers to the Windows RT desktop, just as you do with normal Windows versions. So that’s all good.
For now, Surface can be managed only using Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). That is, it can’t connect to a domain and be managed with Group Policy. EAS is actually pretty good: You can configure PIN and password policies, do remote wipe, and so on. But if you’re familiar with the granularity of Group Policy, you know you can do a lot more to lock down true Windows clients. And although Windows RT (and thus Surface) can’t partake in that, change is coming.
Soon, Microsoft will ship a revision to its Windows Intune cloud-based PC and device management service. And although the firm hasn’t talked too much about this update, it will include Microsoft’s implementation of the Open Management Interface (OMI), which, put simply, offers more granular management capabilities than does EAS. This will make Surface (and all RT devices) far more manageable than other mobile devices based on Android or iOS. (Yes, Windows Phone 8 will use this management infrastructure, too.) [Italic emphasis mine]
I can’t say much about OMI yet, but I’ll note that it makes a ton of sense to use a cloud-based service to manage devices that are never going to be connecting to your on-premises infrastructure anyway. It makes so much sense that my understanding is that this capability will never, in fact, be added to System Center. Instead, I believe that System Center licensees will get — free or inexpensively — the right to use Intune for this purpose, too.
What this means is that MS understands full well that enterprises simply won’t use RT unless it can be managed rationally–which is to say centrally, using standard existing tools and platforms, with a rich and varied enough set of controls to ensure proper security, data and loss protection, and ways to mitigate potential loss or theft of IP and confidential information. The new revision to Intune is supposed to deliver just that, and should make Surface much easier for enterprises to set up, deploy, manage, and control — all of which should also make Surface much easier for such organizations to adopt and accommodate.
This is the first strong evidence I’ve seen that Microsoft is taking the long view in making Windows 8 an attractive option for enterprise class organizations and their users. They know that most of these kinds of adopters will wait a year or two before adopting the platform anyway. It looks like MS is doing due diligence to make sure that when enterprises are ready to start entertaining the idea of migrating to Windows 8, they will find it attractive. Thus, the mobile device options that Windows 8 offers will not only be appealing to their user communities, but also fit nicely into a vision of device and security management that, according to ITIL and other business process methodologies, represents the “right way” to deploy and manage technology within a modern organization. Veeeeeeeeeeeery interesting!
OK, so now I’ve been through it, too. On my brand-new Dell XPS-13, I’ve exercised the $14.99 upgrade to Windows 8 (followed by a $40 Upgrade to Windows 8 Pro) to catch the machine’s OS up Microsoft’s latest and greatest offering. I followed up the Dell “Windows 8 Upgrade Offer,” charged it to my credit card, then downloaded the upgrade. Along the way, I encountered two very interesting Windows 8 Store app-style screens:
Unlike the pre-release version, Windows 8 offers more upgrade options than with previous versions (which ostensibly required clean re-installs to move from one version to the next, but which could be “tricked” into upgrading). I especially like the option of creating a bootable UFD (USB Flash Drive) because it can be re-used more than once after it’s created (though you must use a different key for each install, and the $15 upgrade process — including collecting the all-important install key — MUST be run on the intended target machine). The $40 upgrade is a little more forgiving: you can pay for up to 5 keys on a single machine, then use them with the UFD for other machines where you want to go through the upgrade motions.
FWIW, I elected to forgo the “upgrade right away” option on my XPS-13 because I had some Intel driver issues to fix that required uninstalling Wi-Fi, along with a few other odds and ends, before I could apply the upgrade. Since Wi-Fi is the only networking option built into the XPS-13 — as an ultrabook, it lacks an RJ-45 port for wired Ethernet — I elected to burn a USB drive with a bootable OS image, and then install later, after I cleaned up my drivers and installed and used my wired StarTech USB 3.0 GbE interface for networking instead. All of this worked reasonably well, and the whole process took just under an hour to complete. But I did also have to spend some time cleaning up drivers before I could lurch ahead into the outright OS install process.
Another word of warning: make sure you have ready access to your Windows 8 key, because when you run the Installer, it asks for the key BEFORE it runs the compatibility check. Because of this ordering — which made me a little nostalgic for the days of standalone compatibility checkers — I had to print my key from the XPS-13 running Windows 7 before booting into the install UFD, to re-run the compatibility check to create my “to do” list of things to clean up before running the installer again. In fact, the compatibility check comes about 5 steps into the installation process, which makes it tedious to have to repeat it more than once, so be prepared to print or otherwise capture your own to-do list the first time you run the Updater, and you may save some extra time that way. But the Installer does give you the option of uninstalling offending items directly, as shown in the screen cap, and picks up where it left off after a reboot so all goes pretty well along the way. I chose that option for the XPS-13 and it worked spiffily, but added 10-12 minutes to the overall install time. My advice is to do a clean reinstall, unless you have compelling reasons to keep elements of your current Windows 7 installation around.
Once the install completed, I ran DriverUpdate to see what needed to be found and re-installed to make the machine’s drivers current. Curiously, it was mostly Intel stuff that needed to be brought back up to snuff. Took about 2 hours to get everything as squared away as I could (DriverAgent says the system needs a new version of WiDi, but I can’t get the recommended program to find any WiDi adapters; looks like I have to take it into the living room with my new Samsung SmartTV).
Here’s what I get from the Windows Experience survey in Windows 8 on this machine:
Between my MSDN license (which gets me 5 licenses each for Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, plus one Windows 8 Enterprise license) and the 5 licenses I can buy through the $40 upgrade program, plus the one el-cheapo I qualify for on my Dell XPS-13, I think I’m taken care of as far as Windows 8 licenses go. But life will be harder for those pirates who seek to exploit low-cost TechNet and MSDN licenses, and I hope the low prices on legit upgrades will spur users to purchase them on the open market rather than on the grey-to-black market, instead. As upgrades go, this one didn’t kill me and isn’t terribly different from the Vista-to-7 or XP-to-7 experience.
TIFKAM is, of course, my slightly-tongue-in-cheek acronym for “The Interface Formerly Known As Metro.” After some hoopla and waffling in the wake of Microsoft’s decision to kill the “Metro” name for its tile-oriented user interface, the Windows 8 UI has gone through a whole slew of names since then. To the best of my ability, that series of names runs something like this:
2. Modern UI-style
3. Windows 8-style
4. Windows 8 style UI
5. Windows 8 Store
6. Windows Store
A recent CNet story report that the new official nomenclature is “…simply Windows Store apps.” As numerous observers have noted, this is not exactly a thrilling or even terribly descriptive brand name. And according to Mary Jo Foley of ZDnet, Microsoft is following suit to change what had formerly been known as “the Metro design language and style” to “the Microsoft Design Language” instead.
OK, so now we know what to call it, according to MS official nomenclature. But I read a lot of Windows 8 coverage, and many experts — including Ed Bott, Paul Thurrott, and Fred Langa — continue to use the word “Metro” to describe the Windows 8 interface, even though they all routinely acknowledge that this term is no longer officially blessed. I’m curious to see if Microsoft can actually move the world along to adopt its own terminology or if the original term will continue to stick, where non-MSofties use “Metro” as their preferred name, and simply acknowledge (once, at the beginning of any discussion) what the current name of the moment might happen to be, and stick to the original moniker.
What’s in a name for the Windows UI? Beats me, but this flopping about and constant change is both irritating and interesting at the same time!
Today, I’m doing a recap and shout-out to Tony Bradley’s excellent PCWorld blog entitled “10 Essential Ingredients of a Killer Windows 8 Business PC.”
Instead of the Sony Vaio with which he kicks off his blog, I show a publicity still of the new Lenovo Yoga 13″ convertible laptop/tablet, which is garnering accolades as one of the best combo platforms for Windows 8, with strong chops both as a tablet and as a conventional laptop. Bradley cites an interesting iYogi survey in his blog that “…38 percent of the respondents currently using iPads for business are exploring Windows 8 tablet options…” and “…one-third of small businesses are considering switching to Windows 8…” Both of these numbers are somewhat higher than I would expect (I’d love to know how they selected the population of 175 small business customers they interviewed).
The ten characteristics that Bradley enumerates in his blog are as follows:
1. Touch support: if not an outright touch screen (not terribly practical for conventional desktop or laptop PCs), then a multi-touch touchpad is essential for Win 8.
2. Horsepower: Win 8 works well on existing Win 7 PCs and laptops, and doesn’t make strenuous budget demands for new PCs, either.
3. Storage: 500 GB or more of local storage, plus access to SkyDrive, means that Win 8 users don’t have major storage woes.
4. Battery: The focus on mobility for Win 8 means it’s an excellent power miser, and makes the idea of “a day’s work on a single charge” more realistic (if still a bit too optimistic) than ever before.
5. Portability: Nothing beats a tablet for light weight and small form factor, though the size and weight of the platform is best determined by the kind of workload users must manage.
6. Connections: Choose your ports wisely and well, and recognize that tablets come with precious few of them. Pick USB 3.0 whenever possible to exploit its higher throughput.
7. Networking: If you need mobile networking, look for devices with 3G or 4G WWAN support. Consider waiting for 802.11 ac wireless, if high network bandwidth is important to you.
8. Durability: Be sure your tablet or notebook can take a beating to improve the rates of survival for business travel or you might be sorry. Another great argument for SSD storage comes from its ability to withstand shocks and trauma without damage to data and programs.
9. Security: Win 8 offers improved support for UEFI, TPM, biometric scanners, and more to up the overall security for this new OS.
10.Flexibility:Win8 lets users combine tablet and laptop functionality to give buyers (and users) more options on how to work while on the move. Overall, this is a good thing for business users.
Overall, I’m in agreement with Bradley’s analysis, and believe that Win8 will enjoy some business uptake and success. But I think it’s going to take time, and it will be something of a difficult slog for MS to convince business users to give up on Windows 7 in the wake of recent migrations and the whole Vista debacle.
I’m sending off my 2010 MacBook Air to Virginia, so my high-school age niece can use it regularly for schoolwork (I never really found as much call for it was I thought I would, once I finished tech editing Chris Minnick’s WebKit For Dummies late last year). That left me with a USB drive that I’d been using for Time Machine backups that I wanted to repurpose for backing up my Lenovo Windows 7 and 8 notebook PCs (an X220 Tablet running Windows 8 Pro, and a T520 notebook running Windows 7 Professional). But when I tried to reformat the drive to make the switch to Windows, I learned two interesting things:
1. Mac OS X lays down a 200 MB EFI partition at the head of its disks, even USB-attached drives.
2. The built-in Windows Disk Management tool
diskmgmt.msc won’t delete or format over EFI partitions.
Obviously, I needed a different tool for this job, and I found it in Paragon Software’s Hard Disk Manager 12 Suite. Using this toolset, I was immediately able to grab and delete the offending EFI partition, after which I reformatted the entire drive (nominal 750 GB, 698 GB reported in Windows Explorer) without any further difficulty. I’ve already backed up both Lenovo machines, and sucked up nearly 80 GB of space on this drive, a Samsung SpinPoint HD753LJ hard disk.
This little adventure reminded me that where there’s a will there’s a way to get things done in Windows, but also that exercising such will must sometimes involve tools outside what Microsoft uses to stock its basic OS toolbox. For dealing with disk issues of all kinds — including OS migration, partition management and resizing, and repair — I’ve found the Paragon Software tools to be straightforward to use, entirely reliable, and reasonably affordable. Be sure to check them out at the Paragon Software site online; free trials (some with functionality limited to virtual mode operation only) are available for most of its products. Good stuff!
I realized that I was guilty of GUI thinking in jumping out of the Windows corral to tackle this problem, so these contortions are at least partly of my own making. Of course, I could have turned to the command line instead, where the
diskpart utility could have done away with the offending EFI partition pretty quickly (along with the rest of that drive’s existing disk structure). All I had to do was use the
diskpart command, then issue the following sequence of instructions:
DISKPART> list disk
DISKPART> select disk y
In this command sequence, y stands for the drive number for the target drive, so the target drive need not even be mounted as a Windows file system volume to perform this task (a good thing, since any Mac OS drive won’t mount by default in Windows). The concluding
exit command is required to exit the
diskpart utility, after which you can close the command window.
When I jumped up onto the Lenovo site this morning, I saw that their Support page how features this snazzy new graphical element at its mid-upper right side:
You can tell this is really new stuff, because I found myself on this re-direct page immediately after clicking that graphic:
What I saw next started to spell things out in a more understandable way:
But alas, digging into the details, I observed that the Lenovo Support pages were getting hammered, probably by others who were seeking the same information I was. Alas, I also learned only that while both my Lenovo systems — a T520 notebook and an X220 Tablet — could be indeed be upgraded to Windows 8, neither had been purchased recently enough to qualify for the lowball $15 upgrade (the cutoff dates for eligible purchase start on June 2, 2012 and extend through January 31, 2013). That said, Lenovo has been busy getting its system owners ready for upgrade, as shown in this screen cap:
Visiting the Dell site (I just received an XPS 13 ultrabook from them two months ago, within the “free upgrade” timeframe for Win8) I was immediately directed to the www.windowsupgradeoffer.com page where I went through the drill for that PC. To my astonishment and delight, the deal went through without a hitch, and I found myself in possession of a completed registration for that upgrade offer. The e-mail came through about five minutes later, and I learned you must access the link to the upgrade on the system you wish to upgrade. I fired off the process, which instructed me to download and run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant. But alas, the compatibility details let me know I needed to uninstall my wireless connection before attempting to install Windows 8 (which poses an interesting problem unless an offline install is possible on the XPS 13 because it lacks a wired Ethernet port; fortunately, I do have a USB 3.0 GbE Ethernet interface, so I may be able to weasel around this issue using alternate connectivity). I also learned that my trackpad lacks a Windows 8 driver (but I got started on Windows 8 on this machine a few weeks ago and the install program worked with the trackpad, so I’m not overly concerned about this). Looks like I’ll have to set aside some time next week to go through the upgrade process then (I want to make a complete backup, and an image backup before making the OS switch anyway, just to be safe).
We’re off to the Windows 8 races, it seems. And we’re bound to encounter some gotchas along the way if my experience this morning is any indication — and I’m pretty sure it is! Bon voyage to all of us…
Sandro Villinger and I have crossed paths many times in the past few years, originally thanks to writing for the same website: Tom’s Hardware (originally a German-based PC enthusiast site, now a flagship for French-owned global media company BestofMedia.com). Sandro has a unique facility to lift the covers on Windows to expose all kinds of important and interesting stuff, yet present it in a friendly and approachable way. He’s done it again with a recent article for the HP-sponsored InputCreatesOutput site entitled “How to Fix Slow USB Connections and Devices.”
In that story he plows through common causes for perceived slow USB connection ranging from believing the hype (just because USB 3.0 has a theoretical maximum throughput of 5 Gbps doesn’t mean you’ll ever see anything close to that kind of throughput on a real, live USB 3.0 link, no matter how fast the devices on either end of the connection might be), to recognizing and fixing cable problems, to benchmarking connections, Windows write-caching, impact of power management regimes, and more. It’s a a fascinating read not only because it brings a bunch of useful topics and tips together under a single umbrella, but also because it presents the necessary information simply and directly enough that most of us will be able to put his suggestions to work.
It’s enough to make me wish that Sandro’s books on Windows XP and Vista had been translated into English from their original German. It also makes me regret dropping out of a Windows 8 book project earlier this year, because I’d lined Sandro up as a co-author for that project. All I can hope is that he gets the chance to reach an English-speaking audience with his impressive yet accessible trove of Windows skills and knowledge, whether or not I get to come along for that ride!
Keeping up with new drivers is always tricky. In general Lenovo does a great job of making drivers available to its customers, but it’s not always easy to tell exactly what’s new (take for example, the Lenovo Windows 8 Beta Drivers page, where you can see no driver dates until you dive down into any of the device/software categories on that page) or to get notifications as and when new drivers of interest appear. At least, that’s what I thought until I stumbled upon Lenovo Support’s RSS Feed this weekend.
Of course, not all feed items apply to all Lenovo makes and models. But it’s great to be able to subscribe to the feed, then jump quickly online to potential items of interest to see if they apply to one’s particular machines as need or interest might dictate. Shoot, I’ve already used this feed to find and install drivers for non-Lenovo machines (including my Windows 8 desktop) with great success as well. I wish more vendors would adopt this kind of proactive information sharing approach, as it makes keeping up with new stuff ever so much easier and better consolidated. In particular, it’s already been helpful to alert me to new Intel driver releases that are otherwise tricky to learn about or find through the Intel website itself. Other folks who, like me, are especially interested in drivers and system tweaking and tuning should find this RSS feed informative too, even if they don’t own a single Lenovo computer.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed an increasing number of signs that Windows 8 really is gearing up for full-scale commercial launch. For one thing, last week Lenovo posted a Windows 8 version of its System Update Facility, which has now been happily downloading updates to my X220 Tablet ever since. So far, Lenovo has pushed new drivers for the X220 Tablet’s Ricoh Media Card Reader and a new Audio driver its way. I’ve also noticed the frequency of new beta drivers for Lenovo stuff is slowing down, as more final stuff starts getting into regular update channels. It truly is starting to look as if Windows 8 stuff will be going into normal update and delivery status in time for next week’s GA.
The same thing is true for my desktop Windows 8 system, too. Just yesterday, Windows Update pushed the latest nVidia driver onto that machine (GeForce R304 Driver, version 306.97, release date 10/10/2012). Ditto for an update to the IntelliType software for that machine’s Comfort Curve 2000 keyboard from Microsoft. Because driver compatibility with Windows 7 has been very good, there may be a few more items that show up via update for Windows 8 machines, but my gut feel is we’re not going to experience a huge upheaval once the GA date comes and goes.
That’s not to say that things are completely easy-breezy just yet. Many of the Lenovo ThinkVantage elements aren’t yet “officially available” for Windows 8, including the “home base” element — namely, the Lenovo ThinkVantage Toolbox — along with ThinkVantage Rescue and Recovery (backup and repair utilities), Drive Space Manager, the Lenovo Hardware Scanner, and so forth. In fact, the Lenovo Support pages are running impossibly slowly as I write this blog, which leads me to wonder if they’re not madly posting Windows 8 related updates right now… I’m seeing strange URLs there that include strings like “LegacyDocID=MIGR-61431″ which make me wonder if they’re not perhaps in the process of updating their entire document management system, and migrating from an old platform to a new one. Stands to reason that they would do this before Windows 8 goes GA, and a whole new world of support opportunities opens up before them! That might also explain why I can’t seem to get the new Windows 8 Active Protection System element to download to my tablet PC, either.
On October 9, Microsoft pushed an update to Windows Flash for Windows 8, but Secunia PSI still reports that 11.x versions of Flash Player (both 32- and 64-bit now, in fact) still need updating:
Curious as to why this might be, I right-clicked an entry to get at more details, then selected “Show details” to see a list of installed versions. Much to my surprise, I’ve uncovered at least part of the problem. As with other Windows-pushed updates, the relevant code lives inside the …\Windows\WinSxS folder, where each flash version gets its own folder to live in. Again in keeping with MS update methods new versions are added but old ones never get deleted (you need a “force delete” tool such as Empty Loop’s Unlocker 1.9.1, because Windows itself allows only the Trusted Installer to add or remove entries in this folder).
So even though a new version of Flash is indeed present on my machine — see the entry dated 10/9/2012 in the following graphic — PSI is reacting to the ongoing presence of older versions in the WinSxS directory to flag the presence of an older version as a potential security problem. I’m not convinced this is a valid detection, and suspect that Secunia will have to change how PSI detects and reports on elements in the WinSxS repository for Windows 8. It should be interesting to see what steps the company takes to update its software when the GA date arrives, and it begins to formally offer support for this new operating system.
It’s interesting to discover that sometimes more than one organization has to change its tools and methods to accommodate new software — in this case, the Windows 8 operating system.