OK, so I ‘ve been messing around pretty seriously with Windows 8 lately. And in so doing, I’ve also been messing about and learning about my Lenovo X220 Tablet and T520 notebook PCs. One of the things I’ve learned is that you CAN’T use the Windows System Repair Disk (for either Windows 7 or Windows 8, as it turns out) to rebuild a Lenovo notebook or tablet PC from the ground up. It’s because there are some hidden linkages between the primary, bootable partition on the system drive, and a couple of other partitions there as well (a 25.39 GB NTFS Recovery and a 1.17 GB SYSTEM_DRV partition, as shown in the Disk Management screen cap from that machine).
Silly me! And I thought I could jump back and forth between Windows 7 and 8 on my X220 Tablet without taking extraordinary steps. I ended up having to fork over $49 to Lenovo (actually IBM) Tech Support to purchase a set of “factory restore” DVDs to return my tablet to pristine condition. In the future, the right way to proceed when installing unsupported OSes is to remove the unit’s disk drive, clone it (I use the Acronis Clone Disk tool from the Tools and Utilities included in its 2012 True Image Home suite), then mess with the copy while leaving the original alone. I suppose I should have known this in advance, but that’s the way the mop flops sometimes.
Before I could do things the right way, however, I had to undo the damage I’d done to the original install and revert back from Windows 8 to Windows 7 on my hard disk (I’ll be switching to a modestly-priced OCZ Agility 3 SSD for future work, which should speed up my crashes and system destruction/restoration cycles). That meant using an external USB drive because the compact form factor of the X220T leaves no room for an internal optical drive. And therein hangs the “…always something…” part of this blog.
I started out using my handy-dandy InfoSAFE 5.25″ eSATA & USB 2.0 Optical Drive enclosure from StarTech.com, into which I had mounted a LiteON DVD burner. But alas, the drive (or the USB controller in the StarTech unit) proved unable to read the Operating System Recovery Disc for Windows 7 Professional SP 1 that Lenovo had sent me. In fact, it tried so hard to read that optical disk that it wore a visible (and palpable) groove right into the media (as shown in the following photo, which shows the groove on a cropped section of the disk’s optical surface).
Good thing I bought two of those restore sets — I decided to go ahead and buy a factory restore set for my T520 while I was about obtaining my toolkit items — because even though one of my Windows 7 restore disks got trashed, the other was identical (only the other two DVDs contain specific drivers and stuff for the different notebook and tablet PC models) and still quite usable. So I headed down to Fry’s and plunked down $50 for an Asus portable USB-attached DVD burner, plugged it in, fired it up, and got through the rebuild process a couple of hours later.
But it reminded me that when you’re fixing balky or wounded PCs, there’s always the opportunity for Murphy to pay a visit (or two … or even three) during the repair process. That’s why I’m glad to live in the Austin area, not more than half an hour away from Fry’s where I can pick up pretty much anything I might need for PC repair any time between 8am and 10pm Monday-Friday, with one hour less on Saturdays (they open at 9) and 3 hours less on Sundays (they open at 9 and close at 8). It sure saved my hindquarters this time around, and helped me get up and running in a reasonable amount of time. It’s also the first time I’ve ever had an optical drive “eat my homework,” but golly if that isn’t just what happened!
In the latest Building Windows 8 blog post entitled “Web browsing in Windows 8 Customer Preview with IE10” Rob Maceri the group program manager for IE in Windows 8 explains how Microsoft has redesigned browser behavior in the upcoming release of the MS browser. It’s pretty interesting stuff, and it makes major strides toward establishing a visual and touch oriented interface for browsing.
Since I purchased my iPhone last October (2011) I’ve really come to appreciate the ability to touch address, phone number, and other information on a Web page and have it “do the right thing” with such data — namely, dial the phone, show a map with directions, and so forth and so on. A lot of what Maceri describes in this blog post explains the underpinnings for such operations and activities, so that data on a Web page becomes actionable without requiring cutting and pasting into other applications (he describes it as “…a more immersive and less manual browsing experience.”
Use of navigation tiles in IE10 is also prety cool, where frequently accessed and pinned Websites remain readily available through a single touch or click, without accessing favorites or other navigation tools more explicitly. Here’s a screen cap to illustrate those tiles:
Active tabs (already open sites) appear as page thumbnails with text subtitles beneath them to help identify what’s what. Toolbars and other controls appear only when they’re needed rather than all the time. The overall result is a more graphical and interactive Web experience. So far, it’s one of the brightest spots about Windows 8 and the only “app” that really makes effective use of tiles, as far as I can tell. Will it be enough to drive uptake of this new OS? I’m not convinced of that yet, but I do like what IE 10 brings to the Windows 8 party.
For those who don’t already know, PowerShell is a scripting language that has been around since 2006 (the year before Windows Vista was introduced). Thus, when PowerShell 1.0 was released on November 14 of that year, it originally targeted Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. The same day that Vista was released (on January 30, 2007), an installation package for PowerShell was published to the Microsoft Download center. But it wasn’t until Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 came along that PowerShell was integrated right into the Windows release itself. It will stay that way for Windows 8 and the next Windows Server release as well.
Be that as it may, PowerShell is a powerful and worthwhile productivity tool for Windows administrators and power users alike. It combines the power of a typical shell (those familiar with Linux or Unix recognize the korn shell, the C shell, the Bourne shell, and many other shell scripting languages) with the kinds of looping structures and variables that are more common in fully-realized programming languages. Those who dig into PowerShell will almost always find it rewarding and a productivity booster. It’s now out in Version 3.0 as a preview release — due out formally with Windows 8 and the upcoming Windows Server release — whereas PowerShell 2.0 RTM is part of the October, 2009, Windows Management Framework release. Check out this Windows Powershell blog “Download Windows Powershell” for links.
Those seeking a free guided tour deep into PowerShell should sign up for Ed Wilson’s MSDN series entitled “Windows PowerShell for the Busy Admin.” Session 1 takes place today (3/12/2012) with Sessions 2-5 scheduled for the rest of this week (March 13-16). Don’t have time to attend the live sessions? Don’t worry: MSDN will also make recordings available so you can watch after the fact (though you won’t be able to participate in Q&A). Find good scripting resource links on the registration page, too. Be sure to check it out!
I really, really like Ed Bott’s work, and his ongoing take on Windows 8 (he’s doing a book on the upcoming platform, just like I am). I was struck by his great sense of style and perspective as I read his latest ZDnet piece this morning, entitled “The Metro hater’s guide to customizing Windows 8 Consumer Preview.” It’s a screenshot gallery that explains how to re-make the Metro interface to fit the workflow and typical activities of a Windows 8 user who (like so many of us) is probably more likely to run a bunch of boring old non-Metro applications to tackle workaday tasks, rather than reveling in the touchy-feely Metro interface and its still-limited (to nonexistent) collection of productivity apps.
But there are lots of things I find fascinating about his step-by-step instructions to alter the Windows 8 Start screen to fit a different (and probably more typical) usage profile. Let me name a few of them:
- It takes at least 11 steps to remake the Start screen into something that fits Ed’s hypothetical (but eminently reasonable and practical) remodeling plan
- It shows how incredibly flexible and customizable the new interface really is (and what brings delight to inveterate tinkerers like Ed and myself among others can also strike fear and loathing into less-intrepid Windows users who want to system to work well and simply without a lot of customizing)
- Creating graphical shortcuts for Windows 8 is way cool and easy, but ditto my previous remark about what’s good for some being not so good for others.
- Learning keyboard shortcuts and filenames for commonly used programs and utilities will be a major productivity booster for those willing to spend the time and make the effort to do this.
My guess is that software developers out there will look at Ed’s recommendations and activities very carefully, and will probably tinker with already great customization packages for earlier Windows versions (think Rainmeter or Fences, among many others) to let less-sophisticated users achieve the same results with one or two steps rather than many. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised even to see Microsoft pay close attention and possibly to offer multiple “start” options for Windows 8, among which something more like what Ed envisions could be included. One thing’s for sure: with access to the Search function to show you which apps you use in Windows 8 easy to obtain, there’s no reason why software can’t use that data to tune or tweak your desktop for you, rather than forcing you to do it step by painstaking step for yourself.
Thanks, Ed. Once again you score!
As an undergraduate, I took Alan Sonnenfeld’s fabulous class wherein we read Ulysses, The Magic Mountain, and the Marcel Proust book whose French title is in my blog title, usually translated as “Remembrance of Things Past” (or perhaps more appropriately “In Search of Lost Time”). I was reminded of the alternate translation for this title as I have struggled with Learning Windows 8 over the past week, and again as I read Paul Thurrott’s “…Call For Common Sense” blog this morning.
Perhaps the reason why so many people, including myself occasionally, are qvetching about Windows 8 right now is because so much of what they know about previous Windows versions’ behavior and capabilities is coloring their perception and appreciation for what the new OS represents, and especially how this new OS really works. My favorite point in Thurrott’s blog is “The desktop is not the OS. It’s an app.” Yeah, sure, it’s a pain to learn to work without a Start button and menu but there are plenty of other good ways to get around Metro and the Desktop without it, too.
I think the real issue is that while Windows 8 doesn’t necessarily obviate what most people know about Windows, it does short-circuit their quick instinctual behaviors to get around inside the Windows 8 runtime environment. But hey, it’s about learning something new, which means it’s important to let go of those old, ingrained instincts and start developing new ones. It’s like exercise or learning a new skill: difficult at first, and perhaps occasionally even a little painful, but with practice and repetition new neural pathways and automatic behaviors will form. Give it time, and we’ll all start seeing Windows 8 as natural rather than “a crime against nature” or a deliberate violation of what we know and understand about Windows 7 and XP.
I’ve been working with Windows operating systems since version 3.0 or thereabouts, starting in mid-1990. As I do the math, I’m stunned to realize that means it’s been almost 22 years since first climbing onto the Windows bandwagon. And now that I’ve spent five full days working with and using the customer preview, I can say that I’ve never hit the learning curve wall so hard with any other prior version of Windows before — not even Vista or Windows 7, both of which upped the ante considerably over Windows XP. Even the switch from Windows 3.x to Windows NT — itself a pretty major change-up — doesn’t come close to matching what I’m seeing, learning, and experiencing right now.
Let me provide an example. As I’m groping around on the desktop I’m encountering new looks and capabilities for standard built-in Windows tools, some of which are both very good and quite welcome. Thus, for example, the Task Manager now includes a start-up tab that provides direct access to Windows startup items (it’s no longer necessary to fire up msconfig.exe or some other 3rd-party tool such as Autoruns, CCleaner, or Revo Uninstaller to use their many and varied tools to manage what starts up with Windows and what doesn’t). Now, you can simply right-click (or press and hold, in the touch idiom, to match that capability) on an item in the new Task Manager Startup tab to enable or disable individual items.
This is a very nice little improvement that comes with Windows 8, but I had to do some “interesting learning” to make a screen cap of this item. I had to poke around in Windows\System32 to learn that the new name for the built-in Snipping Tool in Windows 8 is now “SnippingTool.exe” instead of “Snipping Tool.exe” as it was in Windows 7. Then, I got lost in a blind alley of errors trying to pin the Snipping Tool to the Taskbar (this provokes an error message when you attempt to launch the tool from there that reads:
The procedure entry point SfmDxBindSwapChain could not be located in the dynamic link library C:\Windows.old\Windows\System32\dwmapi.dll.
This tells me that Windows 8 is looking for stuff from my prior Windows 7 install (the Windows.old directory tree gets created when you do an upgrade install on modern Windows versions, including from Windows 7 to Windows 8). But when I use the “Windows key – R” combination to open the Run command window and type “snippingtool.exe” there, the tool runs just fine. Go figure!
As I’m learning bits and pieces about the system, I find myself having to figure out how to get to specific tools and applications in the absence of a Start menu. So far, the best method for doing this has proved to be using the Start Menu on Windows 7 to nagivate to the program I wish to launch, then using the name of its .exe file in the Run command window. But as I learn more, I’m hoping I’ll figure out a better way.
One thing’s for sure: the search and pattern matching capabilities in the Run window come nowhere close to those for the Windows 7 Search box in the Startup menu. Who’d have thunk that I would miss this tool so much as I grope further and further to find my way into a proper approach into Windows 8? In the meantime, shortcut key combinations and Windows OS file spelunking help me to get the job done!
OK, so yesterday was the day that I put together a brand-spanking new Windows 8 desktop system for my upcoming book Windows 8 in Depth (due out from Pearson in late October, 2012, or whenever Windows 8 goes into general availability release). Here’s a partial “bill of capabilities” that I made sure were present, so I could exercise ALL of Windows 8’s new and improved capabilities:
- Intel i7 2700K Quad Core CPU with SLAT (second level address translation) support necessary for use of Hyper-V with the OS itself
- Asus P8Z68-V Pro/Gen 3 motherboard with UEFI (unified extensible firmware interface)
- 3M Multi-Touch Display M1866PW (18.5″) with 20-finger multi-touch HD display, thanks to a loan from the maker
Asus P8Z68-V Pro mobo
I cannibalized an older test system with a Q9400 Yorkfield CPU and an older LGA 775 motherboard, replacing motherboard, CPU, graphics card, and memory to put the system together. It took me less than an hour to install all the new parts, and the system turned over the first time I powered it up.
To all appearances, I was on a quick trip to Windows 7 installation, to be followed by a quick migration to the Windows 8 consumer preview. But I found myself badly stuck trying to install Windows 7 from a DVD or a bootable UFD (USB Flash Drive). In fact, I got nowhere for a couple of hours at which point I called my friend and motherboard expert Tom Soderstrom (a regular contributor to and editorial staffer at Tom’s Hardware) to ask for some guidance.
Turns out he’s worked with that very same motherboard extensively, and observed that it’s very finicky about memory. I had recycled 4 2GB SuperTalent memory modules (DDR3-1600) into that machine not even thinking that memory timings might be an issue. After yanking two of the modules (Tom told me the motherboard behaves better when only two of its four memory slots are populated) and reducing the slightly overclocked memory timings to their so-called XMP (eXtreme Memory Profile) values, the Windows 7 installer actually started working a little, whereas before the installer would hang just after loading the Windows Pre-installation Environment (PE) stuff signaled by “Windows is loading files…” at the very start of the install process.
All of this, but nothing more!
Once I realized the memory was biting me, I grabbed a couple of 4GB G-Skill memory modules from a different test machine (DDR3-1333 instead of DDR3-1600 and thus, not so aggressively overclocked) and swapped them for the SuperTalent modules. Instant success! This just goes to show you that automatic overclocking isn’t always a good thing (apparently when the UEFI started up, it saw the high-speed RAM and assumed it should run it at its top-rated speed, and that’s what caused my system instabilities). The slower memory wasn’t subject to that same level of speed, and everything worked like a charm. Even with the slower RAM installed Windows 7 experience reports 7.8 for both processor and memory, and 7.9 for everything else (graphics from the nVidia GTX 560 Ti is 7.9 for both business and gaming, and the SSD I’m using for the boot drive also garners the same rating).
So now I’ve got Windows 7 installed, all the drivers fully updated and I’ll be installing Windows 8 and the 3M touch screen next week (I need a mini-HDMI to regular HDMI cable to make the connection from the PC to that display device). In the meantime, I’ve been trying to play with UEFI to understand more of how it works, but so far Asus hasn’t been too supportive in letting me access the UEFI shell or various UEFI tools that are now readily available — check out the Website EFI Zone for access to various EFI shells and tools. I’m going to have to learn how to create an EFI-accessible UFD and/or DVD to get to the UEFI command line, but so far I’m still figuring out how to make that happen.
On my Lenovo X220T tablet, however, I now have Windows 8 installed, and am futzing around getting touch to work properly. I’m guessing the download servers for the customer preview must be really slammed, because it took me over four hours to download the files after I’d started up the relatively small (500K) bootstrap loader to fire off the initial installation process. Windows 8 is a huge change from all the Windows stuff I already know, and it looks like it’s going to be an interesting experience to learn and document all of the new functionality for our book. Stay tuned: three’s going to be LOTS more to report over the next four months on this front.
The Building Windows 8 blog just posted an item entitled “Running the Customer Preview: system recommendations” a few minutes ago, but I’ll be darned if I can find a download link for that software just yet. I’ll post that link as soon as it becomes available, though. And just now, it pops up “Welcome to Windows 8 — The Customer Preview.” The direct link is http://preview.windows.com. Go get ’em!
Windows 8’s basic system requirements are as follows:
- 1 GHz or faster processor
- 1 GB RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
- 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
- DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
If you ask me this is a kind of “wimpy platform” for testing and fooling around with Windows 8: it’s really more of a “bare minimum requirements statement.” In fact, the real action with Windows comes on systems that include all of the following items:
- UEFI (Universal Extensible Firmware Interface) to take advantage of Secured boot
- a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) to make better use of BitLocker
- a 64-bit CPU with second-level address translation (SLAT) to make use of Hyper-V in the OS. (Hyper-V also consumes at least 2GB of RAM so be sure to load your system up with extra memory!)
- some games and graphics stuff requires support for DirectX 10 or higher, so a higher-end graphics module will be nice
- Touch access works with conventional touch displays, but those that support 5 or more simultaneous touch points will provide an optimal Windows 8 experience (the OS itself requires only 2 right now)
- and of course clean installs will require all the right drivers to make devices show up and work properly (be prepared for some digging around)
And remember: there is no rollback or upgrade from a preview Windows 8 installation, so back up what you’ve got before you install the customer preview, and be prepared to lose that installation when the “real thing” comes along later this year (though third party companies like LapLink may offer tools that migrate stuff from the preview to production versions, as they did with Windows 7).
Enjoy! I’ll be building my fully-loaded desktop PC this afternoon, and installing this software on that machine, plus on my just-purchased Lenovo X220T and T520 tablet and notebook PCs. Stay tuned for more news on those experiences. And I’ll be trying out the loaner 3M 21.5″ 20-point touchscreen on the desktop, too. Should be exciting!
My eyes literally bugged out when I read this item from Ed Bott’s Report last week (February 20): “Microsoft quietly extends consumer support for Windows 7, Vista.” Here’s a snapshot for Windows 7 from MS’s “Support Lifecycle” Web page that shows what’s up (I include just a snippet: for each screencap, all dates are the same):
A similar pattern, but with earlier expirations, also applies to Windows Vista:
Under Microsoft’s original guidelines mainstream support for Vista is set to end in two months, and this hasn’t changed. What has changed is that consumer as well as business versions now qualify for extended support, too. That means everybody gets to keep using Vista (if they want to, that is) until April 2017. Same thing goes for Windows 7, upon which the sun won’t finally set until January, 2020. It used to be that extended support was for business customers with support contracts only, but that is no longer the case!
I can only speculate that Microsoft is signaling that it’s OK to stay with Vista or Windows 7 for the near term, and that there will be no massive shakedown or pulling the rug out from under the feet of business or consumer users to push them into Windows 8. Interestingly, Windows 8 purchases will also confer downgrade rights to Vista and Windows 7, but NOT Windows XP. Could it be the real target of this change? You bet!
I saw, then read, the recent Building Windows 8 blog post entitled “Connecting your apps, files, PCs and devices to the cloud with SkyDrive and Windows 8” last Monday. I’ve been chewing this mass of information over since then, and was very glad to re-interpret that information through the lens of Paul Thurrott’s recent SuperSite article “Windows 8 + SkyDrive.” Thurrot puts it like this: “This already-useful service is about to become indispensable.”
SkyDrive essentially provides the glue that ties multiple Windows 8 devices that share common apps and data together, including desktop, notebook and tablet PCs, as well as smartphones and ARM-based devices. SkyDrive will appear in a Metro-style app in Windows 8, to make it available via touch-only devices, where it functions as just another storage device in the runtime background. It will also be integrated into the Windows 8 desktop (and also through native Windows 7 and Vista interfaces as well, presumably through some kind of Windows update or Service Pack some time after Windows 8 goes into GA release around October 2012; ditto on the “just another storage device” remark in the previous sentence). And finally, Windows 8 will include a so-called “Remote Fetch” feature, which lets SkyDrive poke around inside any Windows 8 PCs that share the same SkyDrive credentials to “…access, browse, and stream your files from anywhere simply by fetching them from SkyDrive.com.” Yes, that’s right: your own private cloud. And for extra security, MS will use your mobile phone to send you a second authentication factor that you’ll use to grab this information along with standard account credentials. Amazing!
Incidentally, Thurrott’s colleague Rafael Rivera also learned that MS is consolidating all of its remote log-in accounts — including Windows Live ID, Xbox LIVE, Zune, and Zune Pass (and probably even HotMail) — into a single credential called “Microsoft Your Account.” This certainly adds some impetus and urgency for digging into SkyDrive, which will be accessed using the same account credentials as well!