Windows Enterprise Desktop


November 18, 2011  2:56 PM

Extending worthwhile PC use beyond the in-house lifecycle

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

When PCs reach their end-of-life point within many organizations, the question then arises about what to do with them to achieve their responsible disposal or redisposition. In developing a lifecycle course for HP a few years back, based on HP’s in-house lifecycle expert Bruce Michelson’s excellent book,  Closed Loop: Lifecycle Planning (A Complete Guide to Managing Your PC Fleet) (Addison-Wesley, 2007, ISBN-13: 9780321477149, List Price: $44.99), I had cause to ponder the many and various ways of dealing with obsolete or end-of-lifecycle computing gear.

Of course, vendors such as HP, Dell, IBM, and others do offer “take-back” programs to permit companies and organizations to dispose of used computing gear safely. But after its useful life in business is over, older PCs can still enjoy a useful second life in other worlds. I’m not necessarily in favor of outright disposal of such units, no matter how environmentally correct such disposal might be.

To this day, one of my favorite recommended methods for safe disposal of computing gear that adds jobs and income to communities where such equipment is received is through Goodwill Industries International. With a strong presence in North America, and an increasing presence in  South America and Asia, Goodwill offers environmentally sound e-waste disposal around the world these days. But they scavenge donated equipment first and foremost for salvage and refurbishing, to gain extra life, money, and work for their employees out of handling these materials. Over the past 10 years, I’ve probably donated over $20,000 in in-kind gifts of computers, monitors, keyboards, networking cards and components, plus miscellaneous computer parts and components galore to Goodwill.

The Helios Project Logo and Slogan

The Helios Project Logo and Slogan

Recently, I heard about a group based in Austin, TX, called The Helios Project. It’s run by Ken Starks, who works out of donated space in Taylor, Texas (about a 40-minute drive away from Austin). This group collects older computers and related parts for refurbishing or what you might call “reconstruction” so they can give working PCs to disadvantaged youths who might otherwise not have access to personal computing power. It’s a great cause and one well worth supporting, and they’re going to be getting my used gear going forward, primarily because they not only see to its safe and productive re-use, but also because the group voluntarily wipes gifted hard disks to DoD erasure standards to protect donors from potential illicit data mining and reuse. Ken and his directors (see “The Helios Project Directors” for some capsule summaries of the movers and shakers there) are also passionately committed to Linux and other Open Source software, and equip all of their outbound PCs with legally licensed operating systems and software that the new owners can maintain without having to incur re-licensing or annual maintenance fees.

I’d encourage you to look for similar kinds of organizations in your communities as potential recipients for used or end-of-lifecycle computing gear. These outfits will work with you to protect your data and information assets, but can also give that gear added life outside the business world. It’s nice to make a difference, and do something good for the community, in addition to practicing safe and secure disposition of no-longer-needed computers and equipment. Please, look around your neighborhood, and see if you can find an outreach organization to support. If not, you can still always turn to Goodwill, and generate some jobs and income in your community through your gifts in kind.

With the holidays approaching, The Helios Project is humping like mad to get a raft of new computers ready to show up under Christmas trees all around Central Texas. I’m driving out to Taylor myself next week to give them a barely used “One Laptop Per Child” machine I purchased from Negroponte’s organization a few years back, plus an Asus netbook PC, along with a collection of surplus memory, disk drives, and other spare parts they can use to bring computers back alive for re-use. Those interested in making financial donations to this organization should send checks c/o Ken Starks, 308A High Estates Drive, Round Rock, TX, 78664. But those checks should be made out to “Software in the Public Interest” (SIPI) with a memo notation that reads “Helios Project” (SIPI is a legitimate 501(c) organization that handles the donations for The Helios Project, and save them the expense of registering with the state to process donations and write IRS-accepted receipts for donations to a nonprofit charity).

November 16, 2011  3:31 PM

A quiet, out-of-band MS Security Update: More Fraudulent Certificates

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Remember the recent hoopla this summer about fraudulent master-level (intermediate authority) digital certificates showing up in the wild? Well, Microsoft quietly released another out-of-band security update last Friday (11/11/2011) under the heading of KB2641690, with an accompanying Security Advisory. Apparently, Microsoft has also revoked its trust in the Digicert Malaysia Certificate Authority (doing business as DigiCert Sdn. Bhd.) for violation of the Microsoft Root Program requirements (see this Softpedia report for more information: “Microsoft Revokes Trust in Digitcert Malaysia Certificate Authority“).

MS Security Advisory for Digital Certificates

MS Security Advisory for Digital Certificates

The Softpedia story nicely explains why Microsoft took this action, and issued an emergency security update to match:

“Microsoft was notified by Entrust, Inc, a certificate authority in the Microsoft Root program, that a Malaysian subordinate CA, DigiCert Sdn. Bhd issued 22 certificates with weak 512 bit keys,” revealed Jerry Bryant, Group manager, Response Communications, Trustworthy Computing.

“Additionally, this subordinate CA has issued certificates without the appropriate usage extensions or revocation information.”

Microsoft stressed that unlike the DigiNotar scenario from a few months back, this time around attackers did not get the chance to exploit the weak and deficient secure sockets layer certificates issued by Digicert Malaysia. 

This is best understood as a pre-emptive measure designed to forestall possible security compromises or potential attack vectors BEFORE they occur. Nevertheless, it also dictates that this security update be fast-tracked into production for the selfsame reasons. Another one for your hurry-up schedule!


November 14, 2011  3:07 PM

When Windows Turns Second-Class Citizen

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In August, I agreed to help out a good friend–namely Chris Minnick of Minnick Web Services–by tech editing his forthcoming book WebKit For Dummies. Little did I know what profound effects this decision would have on my personal and professional life!

Webkit is a way-cool open source technology that calls itself a Web browswer engine, but is really much, much more. It’s also the same engine that runs under the hood in Mac OS X underneath Safari, Dashboard, Mail, and lots of other applications that enable access to Internet services(especially those based on the HTTP/HTTPS protocols).

In editing the book, I quickly realized I would have to acquire a Macintosh PC because that’s what Chris used to generate most of the screen shots for the software referenced in the book. This was followed by the need for an iPhone, which represented the mobile platform that Webkit so frequently targets–namely iOS 5. In turn, this led to an iPad so I could see what was up with that “insanely great” tablet, and then an iPod Touch, so my 7-year-old son would give me my iPhone 4S back.

Along the way, I realized several things I’d known in theory but not in practice. First and foremost, it’s both interesting and frustrating to wander into a world where Windows machines are tolerated and encouraged, but where they play a distinctly second-class role. Second and perhaps more stimulating is all the learning I’ve been forced to do to understand how the Maciverse (or is that Appleverse) works, and how I can do what comes quickly and easily to me in the Windows environment on the other side of this street.

Some of this stuff comes naturally or simply, but some of it is a real struggle. There haven’t been too many cases of “you can’t get there from here” so far, but I have found plenty of reasons to take the long way around in figuring out how to move music, video, and other stuff from PC to Apple platforms. I’ve also learned of the nearly irresisitible allure of iTunes for the younger generation, which is whacking off hunks of our monthly nut in little but insatiable $0.99 or $1.29 bites.

It’s really great to get into something that’s so well engineering and so attractive looking. I’ve yet to encounter any obvious bugs, either, and so far have had to recover from only one mysterious hardware glitch across all four of my Apple platforms (after shutting down my MacBook Air at a client site last Friday, I couldn’t get my screen to illuminate with proper brightness after a restart at home; a second restart fixed the problem instantly, however).

So here I go again, climbing a massive learning curve. I must say this one is proving to be quite a bit of fun. Now, if only I had more time to really learn EVERYTHING in depth, so that I could ascend to power user status in record time. But that’s not the way the game works, so  I’ll just have to keep ploughing away until I can develop some perspective and useful experience. The funny thing is, my first computer — purchased way back in 1984 at the UT Austin Apple Store — was a 512K Fat Mac, and I was a total Mac bigot until 1994 when I switched over entirely to Windows. Now, I’m trying to straddle that gap again, and realizing how much I’ve forgotten but even more how very much things have changed. That’s life!


November 11, 2011  2:00 PM

Interesting Post on Windows 8 “Power-Smarts”

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

As is most of the rest of the Windows-aware world, I’ve been following the various posts on the Building Windows 8 blog with great interest and regular attention. In fact, checking in on this blog has become part of my regular “keeping up with Windows” routine, and routinely serves as fodder for this blog.

A particularly interesting post popped up this past Tuesday (11/8/2011) entitled “Building a power-smart general-purpose Windows” from Pat Stemen, a Principal Program Manager on Microsoft’s Windows 8 OS Kernel development team. It not only details the design objectives for power consumption (less power, more efficiency, longer battery life) that inform Windows 8′s ongoing design, it also describes the kinds of testing and measurement Microsoft performs to keep those objectives on-target.

In that vein, I found Stemen’s recitation of how each Windows 8 build’s power consumption profile is measured particularly interesting, as was his explanation of what happens when occasional software changes introduce spikes in that consumption (ultimately such changes get tracked down and fixed to keep power consumption under control). It also sheds some interesting light on the powercfg.exe utility, and its energy parameter, already available in Windows 7 (as well as Windows 8).

The little-known powercfg.exe command is profiled in this blog

The little-known powercfg.exe command is profiled in this blog

This utility produces the output file identified near the end of the command’s on-screen output as captured above, and has lots of interesting things to say about how power is being managed (or not). The resulting HTML page includes a plethora of information about which drivers and power settings defeat or turn off power management functions (sleep, hibernation, suspension, and so forth). I also discovered some very interesting timer settings emerging from some surprising programs (TechSmith’s SnagIt and Google Talk, of all things), as well as  pretty detailed list of which runtime processes were making “…significant processor utilization” to quote from those report headings.

This is an interesting blog post and is well worth reading. If you’ve never played with powercfg.exe before, either, it’s probably worth a try, too. Please launch cmd.exe using the right-click “run as administrator” option, though: otherwise, the program will refuse to run.


November 7, 2011  4:05 PM

Unsung “Best Mobile Technology Buy:” iPod Touch

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

OK, so I finally broke down a couple of weeks ago, and jumped onto the smartphone bandwagon. On October 26, my Verizon iPhone 4S showed up at the door, two days earlier than the promised delivery date. No sooner had this techno-toy registered on my household than my 7-year-old son Gregory expropriated it for his own uses–which in his case means playing games.

Not necessarily wanting to surrender this communication tool to the savage mercies of the younger generation, I started casting about for some kind of techno-toy for him to use so that I could regain full-time custody of my cellphone cum computing platform. That’s when I discovered that the latest iPod Touch models (or recent versions that can handle the iOS 5 upgrade) can do everything the iPhone does except for making and taking phone calls, or using 3G WLAN wireless to operate untethered away from Wi-Fi networks.

Not only much cheaper, but thinner and sleeker, too.

Not only much cheaper, but thinner and sleeker, too.

With a little judicious shopping around, I was able to pick up a used iPod Touch 32 GB model with iOS 5 installed for about two hundred bucks. Not only did this allow me to put a handheld device into Gregory’s hands that did what he wanted it to do, it let me regain control over my 64 GB iPhone 4S, for which the invoice from Verizon says the list price is a whopping $849! Even though I am paying for breakage and replacement insurance on the device ($8.18 a month seems a small price to pay for such a small and costly handheld), I am much more comfortable having put something less valuable into a young boy’s hands. I came to this decision when the first thing he did was to grab the iPhone from me upon his arrival home from school the day it appeared at our front door, and the next thing he did after that was drop it on the tile floor in the kitchen–luckily for all of us, onto a small kitchen rug next to the island between the range and the sink.

But as I’ve been involved in acquiring, setting up, and occasionally using his iPod Touch to surf the Web and run various apps, I’ve been impressed by its ability to do everything the iPhone does except to handle phone stuff. And I’m told that as long as the device stays in Wi-Fi range, the Skype app makes it possible to use it for VoIP calls, too. For $200 (or even the $300 list price of the device I purchased used) this is some astounding and valuable capability for a fairly small price, with no monthly fees or jailbreak consequences to ponder.

It’s a real eye-opener for Gregory, too. He’s already announced he no longer needs his Nintendo DSI, and greatly prefers the resolution and behavior of the iPod Touch. And for about the same amount of money, the iPod Touch offers a much smoother network integration than the DSI (this iPod works happily with standard WPA security on 802.11g and 802.11n at 2.4 GHz, while the DSI works only with WEP, and is nowhere near as snappy doing Internet stuff of any kind). And he hasn’t even begun to tap into the iPod’s stellar music playback and management functions, nor its video storage and playback capability, either.

Simply amazing.


November 4, 2011  4:10 PM

Check Out Nitro PDF Pro 7 for an Affordable, Simpler Acrobat Alternative

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’ve long been a fan of Nitro’s excellent PDF products, which are invariably faster, cheaper, and more secure than Adobe’s PDF offerings. On Wednesday, they announced their latest Nitro PDF software (mine is version 7.0.1.2) which provides some way-cool new enterprise oriented features to complement its core PDF creation and management capabilities, which are designed to let users “…create, edit, secure, sign, and share PDF files … intuitively…” in the words of that self-same announcement.

I spoke to Nick Chandler (Nitro PR & Community Manager) and Chris Dahl (Nitro CTO) on Tuesday from Australia in advance of the release, having also been granted a sneak preview of the software in advance of its official release the following day. What intrigued me about this latest version of Nitro PDF Professional, which offers all of the most important features of Acrobat at no more than 50 percent of the price ($120 list for Nitro Pro versus $242 for the deepest discount I can find on a Standard and complete version of Adobe Acrobat X), are the enterprise deployment features that have been added to the product.

Nitro PDF Professional’s enterprise deployment capability includes support for its distribution and management through SharePoint, Documentum, and Autonomy Worksite, all widely used content management and control systems. While it’s always been possible to build and distribute Nitro PDF Pro through standard package creation and distribution toolsets (like Microsoft’s SMS or Systems Center Configuration Manager), this adds considerable clout and reach to methods for deploying Nitro Pro. In particular, given the many hosted Web and services solutions that now ride on SharePoint, it brings heavy-duty distribution technology and controls to smaller organizations and companies in the SMB space. That’s why Nitro PDF 7 works for companies as large as Continental Tire (with 130,000 employees worldwide), as well as Boeing and Toyota, but also makes a great fit for small-to-medium-sized businesses as well.

Other cool new features of Nitro PDF Pro 7 include the adoption of a ribbon style UI, with the ability to create custom stamps, and an optimized rendering engine (imported from the most recent release of the company’s flagship Nitro PDF Reader) that speeds both content parsing and its visual delivery on-screen. The program even includes a Protect tab, with built-in security and redaction features to control document access or block out sensitive info for public distribution.

Check out the ribbon, stamps, and stickies!

Check out the ribbon, stamps, and stickies!

Future efforts on the Nitro products will exploit emerging APIs for Windows 8, just as current versions exploit important APIs for Vista and Windows 7, such as Explorer’s Preview handler and thumbnail integration. Chris Dahl put their future plans this way: “Each iteration of the software is an incremental improvement over previous versions that leverages general Windows UI guidelines. While we keep out interface consistent, we always try to enhance functionality or improve user interface behavior, as we did with the adoption of the Ribbon metaphor in this latest Nitro PDF Pro version.”

For my money, NItro PDF Pro is definitely worth checking out, especially if you don’t need the more sophisticated PDF bells and whistles that make Adobe Acrobat a more expensive proposition.

[Note: Nitro PDF Professional volume licensing starts at 11 or more licenses, and Nitro staff are quick to observe that volume licenses obtain "significant" discounts vis-a-vis their published list price. One of their goals is to counter the tendency to provide a small number of staffers with copies of Acrobat, who then must handle "PDF stuff" for everybody else by making PDF tools affordable enough to distribute far and wide inside modern, productive organizations. A 20% discount to $100 is currently available to early buyers of this program as well.]


November 2, 2011  8:54 PM

Windows 7 vis-a-vis Windows XP

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

On October 19, I wrote a post here entitled “Win 7, XP Reach Crossover Point.” In reading over Ed Bott’s recent blog on the same subject entitled “Windows 7 continues to roll as XP fades away” this morning, I was reminded of Mark Twain’s immortal epigram on the persuasive power of numbers:

“Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Bott’s post essentially makes the point that the StatCounter numbers used in the report that drove my earlier blog post don’t necessarily reflect the actual truth on the ground. He likes the reports from a different Web analytics firm instead, namely those from Net Market Share. They show that the crossover point isn’t quite yet at hand, but that it should hit sometime early in 2012 instead. It’s an interesting counterpoint to my own blog post, and it shows how fragile the conclusions we might base on any particular set of statistics can be.

In the end, the actual date doesn’t really matter. XP really is starting to shuffle off the scene, and Windows 7 remains in ascendancy, probably to be eclipsed only by Windows 8–assuming the marketplace takes it up with any enthusiasm–in another 2 to 3 years. But as with all things speculative or that forecast an uncertain future, only time will tell!


October 28, 2011  2:51 PM

Check Out DriverStore Explorer

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

As you may have noticed, I’ve been writing a lot about Windows 7 footprint reduction techniques lately. That’s because I’ve just finished moving my three production notebook PCs from conventional hard disks (with actual moving parts) to solid state disks. Because SSDs offer less space for more money (but also much faster speeds and improved battery life) it’s important to prune Windows 7 as much as you can when moving from a bigger drive to a smaller one. Through a major coincidence, for all three of those notebooks, this move involved downsizing from a 500 GB 2.5″ conventional HD to a 120 GB 2.5″ SSD.

I document information about this effort in a series of blogs documented in a summary blog dated 9/22/2011 entitled “Noodling on Windows 7 Footprint Reduction for SSD Migration” right here. I’ve become so enamored of one of the tools involved, I want to introduce and illustrate it here, for the possible edification of and incorporation into the toolboxes of my readers. It’s a CodePlex tool (Microsoft’s free, open source code repository) named DriverStore Explorer (aka RAPR.exe). The program comes in  a simple ZIP file, and only needs to be extracted into the folder of your choosing to be ready to run. That said, you might right-click this program, then select the “Run as Adminsitrator…” option from the resulting pop-up menu so it can do its thing properly at runtime.

Once you fire up the program, you must click the enumerate button so it will chunk its way through the

C:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository

directory where Windows keeps all — and I mean ALL — of the drivers that get installed into a Windows operating system image over time. For an illustration of what this can mean, here’s a screen cap from the program taken from my wife’s hitherto untouched mini-ITX PC (a two-year-old installation upon which I’ve kept all drivers current since bringing it up in late 2009).

Look at the drivers named oem23 through 29

Look at the drivers named oem23 through 29

As you can see from the screen capture, because of frequent updates to its built-in Intel Pro/1000 MT network adapters, there are seven (7!) different versions of the same network adapter driver present on this machine. My usual practice with drivers is to keep the current version, plus one version back: in case any bugs or gotchas should pop up for the current one, I can still use Device Manager to roll back to the previously used version. At 165 MB a pop, five unnecessary copies occupy 830 MB of disk space.

All in all, I was able to remove 23 duplicate or obsolete drivers from that machine using DriverStore Explorer, for a net disk savings of 1.2 GB overall. Not bad, for 15 minutes’ time! Good idea to run this any time you’re massaging an image for repeated use or virtualization.


October 26, 2011  3:04 PM

Footprint Reduction Methods Produce Snag-free SSD Migration (Part 2 of 2)

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

On September 26, I wrote a blog here entitled “Testing Footprint Reduction Methods for SSD Migration: Before (Part 1 of 2).” Today I’m pleased to post the conclusion to this mini-saga, now that I’ve completed the switchover from 500 GB conventional HDs in three of my production laptops to a trio of OCZ Agility 3 120 GB SSDs. The machines in question are my trusty old Dell D620 (T7200 Core Duo, 4 GB RAM), my HP dv6t (i7 720 QM, 8 GB RAM), and my brand-new Dell/Alienware M11X (i7 2617M, 8 GB RAM), all of which are now reveling in zippy performance and much quicker start-up and shutdown intervals than under the old HD regime.

Good things come in small packages

Good things come in small packages

Here’s what my footprint reduction techniques did for the holdings on those three PCs’ hard disks:

Table 1: Notebook System Disk Holdings (Before & After)
Laptop Before Clean-up After Clean-up
HP dv6t 72.9 GB 52.8 GB
Dell M11X 48.2 GB 33.1 GB
Dell D620 35.4 GB 27.7 GB

Looks like my techniques can and did produce space savings from 22-27%. The upshot of all of this miscellaneous clean-up and effort is a trio of PCs, all of which have at lest 45 GB of available space on their solid state drives (the Dell has over 80 GB free!). I’d have to say that if you’re heading in this direction or getting user machines ready for this kind of switchover, you should be able to put these techniques to good use, and achieve similar savings and results. For more info on my performance results before and after, see my recent blog at www.edtittel.com entitled “A Tale of Three Notebook SSD Upgrades.”

And don’t forget: you can purchase 2.5″ drive enclosures for the old hard disks for under $10 a pop (I spent $9 each on some Rosewill units, Newegg’s house brand). These USB-powered mini-enclosures are extremely portable, and will provide users with a backup/external drive to take with them on the roard. Sure, they’ll eat more battery power, but (a) they probably won’t need it plugged in all the time, and (b) the battery life with a combination of the old hard disk and the new SSD won’t be too much worse than the original battery life with the old hard disk and no SSD. In my book, that makes it a slam-dunk proposition.


October 25, 2011  1:37 PM

Windows 7 Mismatch with Windows 8 Not Too Gnarly

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

There’s an interesting story from last Thursday morning (10/20/2011) on the IT ProPortal site entitled “How to Use Windows 7 Everydays Apps in Windows 8?” Therein, author Alex Serban demonstrates the truth of Microsoft’s claims that ordinary Windows 7 apps run seemingly unchanged within the desktop side of the Windows 8 interface. Using this facility does require access what Serban calls “the old classic interface” (which Microsoft sometimes refers to as “the desktop interface”) and lauching the application from there. And although there is no start menu available, so you must cycle through Metro UI to launch or run multiple applications, old-style or new, old-style applications still work the same as they ever did.

Frankly I found rumors or speculation that current Windows 7 apps wouldn’t work in Windows 8 either hysterical or blatant attempts to incite controversy. Given the huge catalog of applications for the current reigning Windows OS, why would Microsoft want to alienate all of its application developers in one go? That just doesn’t make sense. This is especially important to the business/corporate market, which is always slower to adopt new desktop operating systems than are individual users, and which always look at new releases with a skeptical, if not outrightly jaundiced viewpoint, ready to pounce on incompatibility issues to fuel their natural tendencies to delay platform migrations as long as possible.

That’s why I’m glad to learn that my own experiences running existing apps in Windows 8′s current developer preview are being repeated elsewhere as other professionals dig into the new OS and learn what they can about its pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, and so forth. It continues to be an interesting ride, and it’s pretty clear that MS still has lots of work to do to smooth out some rough edges in the next 11 months or so before the latest Windows version is ready for prime time.


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