November 7, 2013 2:37 AM
Posted by: Diana Hwang
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer believes the cloud is going to change the way IT professionals work – like it or not.
Ballmer addressed IT professionals this week in a fireside chat session in the U.K. during Microsoft’s three-day Tech Days Online event.
“New skills will add more value to businesses and the world economy rather than putting together OS stacks,” said Ballmer. With application deployment in the data center and the ability for IT pros to tailor their jobs and solve enterprise problems, he thinks IT professionals can add more value to a company as technology helps transform the way businesses work.
But when you talk to the IT pros, they may be a little bit more skeptical about Ballmer’s view on how the cloud will change their job description.
The data is just being stored virtually in the cloud, said Mike Drips, an IT consultant based in Houston. “How will it make people think more strategically?” he wondered.
Ballmer believes the cloud can impact jobs like software development, too. He wants those developers to think 10 years into the future and write applications that run on top of Microsoft’s Azure.
Perhaps Ballmer shouldn’t think about how the cloud will evolve IT’s role but rather how IT can be a leading proponent toward putting into place the ability for changing a worker’s life style with mobile technology. It’s not just about taking a notebook and accessing a file to work from at home. It’s about being able to do work anytime, anywhere on any device. It’s about how to incorporate mobile technology into an enterprise and the cloud just becomes an enabler.
In this respect, IT can now play a strategic role in studying the way end users work and how their work behavior has changed over time. Ballmer even said as much during the chat, noting that IT can focus more on a solving an enterprise’s workflow and application needs to provide more value to the company.
As Ballmer makes his rounds on his way out as the retiring CEO, he offered three lessons for IT pros– ideas matter, passion matters, and remain tenacious.
“You need to remake yourself and this is what people need to do,” he said.
It’s sound advice for someone who will need to find his next role after running a $78 billion company.
November 6, 2013 5:02 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
In getting several (5) systems up and running on Windows 8 and 8.1 recently, I’ve had the chance to learn a great deal more recently about the way that UEFI systems work and behave, particularly when it comes to moving SATA drives around, and when seeking to switch a system over from a conventional spinning hard disk to a faster purely digital SSD equivalent. This learning has been surprising, occasionally painful, and quite illuminating.
I got my first clue that something was up when I used Acronis True Image Home 2014′s “Clone Drive” utility to create a bit-for-bit copy of a WD Scorpio Blue 750 GB conventional disk onto a Samsung 840 EVO SSD this weekend. As I ran the program, it informed me that I would not be able to use the resulting drive image to boot a system. “Hmmmm,” I said to myself upon seeing this, “I wonder what’s up with this? I hope I can find a way to work around it.”
My search for enlightenment led me to the following pithy and dense paragraph of information on Paragon Software’s “Migrate OS to SSD 3.0” web page (I reproduce it verbatim here, because it makes numerous points I need to unpack and explain a little further, fractured English notwithstanding):
Introduced back in 2005 by Intel to lift restrictions of the old MBR (Master Boot Record) and PC BIOS (Basic Input/Output System), uEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) is now a recommended platform for new 64-bit Windows 8 computers. And the reason is easy to catch – besides other unique features impossible for the traditional tandem of BIOS+MBR, only a uEFI-based platform enables to accommodate Windows OS on a partition larger than 2.2TB. Despite all uEFI advantages however, it has one quite naughty issue: A pretty standard operation with a bootable device for instance involving its connection to another SATA port results in unbootable Windows. You’ll get the same result if trying to boot from a cloned system hard disk. All these problems originate from the way uEFI+GPT bundle is organized. Microsoft provides how-to guides to tackle this type of problems, but they demand a great deal of experience from the user, involving the use of the cmd, diskpart and bcdedit tools. [Emphasis mine; content Paragon Software's.]
Here’s what I’ve learned that this really means, thanks to some initially puzzling trial and error, and subsequent more deliberate experimentation
1. You can’t move the boot drive from one SATA connector to any other connector on the motherboard on a UEFI-based install. Once it’s plugged into a port, it has to stay there forever, workarounds and shenanigans nothwithstanding. I learned this the hard way when I took my wife’s new mini-ITX machine apart a couple of times to play with an mSATA drive in that machine. As I plugged the HD and DVD SATA connectors back into the motherboard, the only thing that produced a bootable configuration was when placing those two plugs into the very same receptacles they’d occupied when I performed the initial OS install.
2. You can’t boot from a cloned system disk (this applies equally to targeted hard disks or SSDs). Apparently, some kind of unique ID is created when the initial install occurs, with a pointer to a unique and specific drive/deviced ID. That information does not work if any hardware (such as the system/boot drive) or connections (home SATA port) change for any reason.
3. All these problems originate from the way the UEFI + GPT bundle is organized. I’m still in process of digesting and understanding this, to the point where I’m talking to a senior support specialist and a development engineer from Paragon tomorrow morning so they can explain this to me further. I though I understood the basics of the GUID partition table (GPT) an dhow partitions are handled in this kind of environment, but in looking over the kind of problems that people have reported in integrating MBR disks into a UEFI environment (superuser.com) or when upgrading to Windows 8 (EDNnetwork), I quickly realized the situation is more complicated than it used to be in the BIOS/MBR 32- or 64-bit era of computing, now largely supplanted by UEFI/GPT 64-bit computing. See the EDNnetwork article for some highly informative diagrams that explain where the problems come from, and why they can be vexing to fix. Paragon offers a “Boot Correction Wizard” to deal with these issues, which is why I’ll be talking to them further about this tomorrow.
All I can say is that certain issues in working with UEFI and GPT are now somewhat clearer to me, and I think I understand what went south on my various migration shenanigans this weekend. I’ll follow up later with more information, and no doubt clearer explanations, after I have a chance to review this with the folks from Paragon.
November 4, 2013 12:55 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
I learned an interesting if somewhat painful and time-consuming lesson this weekend — namely, the Windows 8.x “Refresh your PC” mechanism will not permit you to restore a backup from Win8.x one install on a computer to another Win8.x install on the same computer. I have to believe that’s because each time you install (or re-install) Windows, it gets a unique Security Identifier (SID) that tags the OS installation. I had hoped otherwise, because I had to reinstall Windows 8.1 on a miniITX PC when switching it from a conventional WD Scorpio Blue drive to a faster Samsung 840 EVO SSD drive this weekend. I started by cloning the WD drive onto the Samsung SSD, but the machine refused to boot no matter what shenanigans I tried in the motherboard’s BIOS, nor would a UEFI boot UFD repair the SSD’s apparently invalid boot-up disk layout.
The default refresh rolls you back to factory or clean install defaults, but a custom refresh lets you return to a last known good working OS state — in most cases, anyway…
“Aha!” I thought, “I’ll do a base-level Win8 install, then use last night’s RecImg data to overwrite the new install with my complete and up-to-date refresh data instead.” At first, I was encouraged to see the refresh operation proceed to 100% completion and then reboot my PC. But as soon as the reboot turned control over to Windows 8, it informed me that the refresh was invalid, after which it rolled back all of the changes automatically. “Rats!” I observed, and then went about the process of rebuilding the PC on the new SSD from scratch, which took me about four hours all told (I’m 90% of the way back to where I started, with a handful of drivers still to troubleshoot, and a somewhat greater number of tried-and-true utilities to install, including WinDirStat, CCleaner, Norton Internet Security, CPU-Z, SIW, Chrome, FileZilla, and Revo Uninstaller).
If anyone can shed more light on how I could’ve better managed the HD to SSD transition, I’d be happy to learn from that information. I’m thinking perhaps I should’ve used my copy of Paragon’s Migrate OS to SSD (doh!) when the initial drive clone operation through Acronis True Image Home 2014 failed to produce a bootable SSD. That I can still (and probably should) try. [Note added 11/5/2013: my current version of Migrate OS to SSD returns an "Unknown windows version" error message when I try to run it. I can't make the program provide version information and it's not included in the Properties for its .exe file either, which shows a 7/18/2012 creation date, well before the GA release of Windows 8. I also see on the Paragon website that a new 3.0 version is out, and it's labeled "Windows 8 Compatible," so I've requested them to send me a review copy. I'll report back later, as soon as I've obtained the program and completed my testing.]
Other ideas or approaches to making the move on Win8 would be greatly appreciated: I’ve never encountered these kinds of issues on prior Windows versions, going back to Vista (the first version of Windows I ran on an SSD). Heretofore, drive cloning has worked just fine to produce a bootable drive when moving from HD to SSD. But that does not appear to be the case on Win8, so I’m guessing it uses a different drive layout for HD and SSD drives.
Other than the extra time it took to restore the affected system to proper operation, it’s not really that big of a deal. But it is important to recognize that you can’t use “Refresh your PC” except when all aspects of the source and target Windows installation (specifically, the OS SID) remain the same. That is one important aspect in which it differs from a more standard backup/restore scenario. This may actually be one case (different source and target OS SIDs) where restoring a conventional file-by-file backup works, but an image backup does not.
November 1, 2013 4:33 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Numerous outlets are reporting about Windows 8.1 usage figures online, generally based on NetMarketShare numbers (see “Windows 8.1 Market Share on Desktop” for an illustration). Baldly stated, Windows 8.1 “market share” (which really reflects its percentage of the overall clients that bang the Web on servers to which NetMarketShare.com pays attention) has jumped from 0.87 percent in September to 1.72 percent in October. This 0.85 percent jump represents a near-doubling of the number of 8.1 clients in active use (98%, actually) on the Internet. In the grand scheme of things these percentages are small potatoes indeed, but they also present a steeper growth curve than that for Windows 8, which didn’t hit the same level until two months after its GA (general availability) release.
The graph from NetMarketShare shows a nicely steep growth curve for Windows 8.1 out of the gate.
Does this mean that Windows 8.1 is bound for success and other forms of glory? It’s still too early to tell. But what with Windows XP nearing it’s “drop dead date” in April, 2014, and a huge mass of PCs in need of some kind of upgrade, it looks like perhaps more of those machines may wind up running Windows 8.1 rather than Windows 7 SP1 as conventional wisdom might otherwise dictate.
An interesting analysis from Alex Wilhelm at TechCrunch entitled “Windows 8.1 Doubles Its Market Share in October to 1.72%, Handily Beating Winodws 8′s Initial Rollout,” also provides further analysis of the distribution of Windows 8.1 licenses. Through means not disclosed in the story, Mr. Wilhelm attributes half of that market gain to sales of Windows 8.1 OSes (mostly OEM licenses on new computers, I would presume) and the other half to upgrades from machines with Windows 8 already installed. He also observes that Windows 8′s market share hit its high of 8.02 percent for September 2013 and says “it won’t ever reach a higher level than that,” though that number does exceed the 7.73 percent of all PCs that run one kind of Apple OS X version or another.
October 28, 2013 5:19 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
The much-awaited and anticipated Surface Docking Station from Microsoft gets a once-over in a recent piece from Paul Thurrot. The piece is entitled “Surface Docking Station: First Impressions and Photos,” and it’s chock-a-block with interesting observations and details. His subtitle really speaks to the meat, tenor, and tone of the story: “A high-quality accessory that turns your Surface Pro or Pro 2 into a desktop workstation.”
A rear shot of the docking station shows all its various ports and connectors.
[Image Credit: Windows Supersite]
Surprisingly, the Docking Station is already shipping in limited quantities, even though MS materials have led many to believe — including both Mr. Thurrott and myself — that the device wouldn’t be available at all until January 2014. According to this story “…it will occasionally pop-up as available at Microsoft Store locations as well as online.”
More details on what’s coming in this device:
1. A single mini DisplayPort jack limits direct monitor connections to 1 (though USB will work to add more)
2. Only a single USB 3.0 port and 2 USB 2.0 ports are provided
3. Users can keep on using the typing cover with the dock if they like
4. Price is $200 ($199.99 actually)
5. Unit features neat-o, keen-0 locking sick tabs that extend to permit the unit to be docked (or when the unit needs to be removed) but which otherwise lock the unit into the dock with all connectors firmly seated
6. The dock is dark plastic that matches the VaporMg finish on the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 units.
7. The Ethernet port, quite surprisingly, is 10/100 not 10/100/1000 (GbE)
User reaction is mixed, where some take issue with the lack of GbE and others with support for “only” a single external monitor. Others are lining up to buy the docking station, looking for a way to use the Surface Pro (or Surface Pro 2) as a genuine “travel-and-desktop” PC.
October 28, 2013 11:19 AM
Posted by: Diana Hwang
Microsoft is like a Weeble. The company wobbles time after time but it doesn’t fall down.
This ability for Microsoft to bounce back up after wobbling on shaky ground this past fiscal year came to a head this week as the company began shipping the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, and reported its commercial business was up by 10% during the first fiscal quarter of 2014.
Microsoft also declared its devices and consumer hardware division enjoyed an uptick in overall Surface revenue of $401 million while the Windows OEM Pro licensing revenue was up 6%. The 32GB Surface RT was the primary contributor to the division’s revenue, with demand stemming from the retail and education sectors. Microsoft in August offered steep price cuts of Surface RT.
Indeed, Microsoft this quarter made steady strides in the commercial business, with Office revenue up 11% and its server products up 12%. The company’s commercial cloud business – including Office 365 and Windows Azure — also grew by a whopping 103% when compared year over year – with more customer adoption for Office 365 seats and Azure customers, but Microsoft did not disclose a more granular level of details regarding the reason for such growth. Revenue for commercial licensing came in at nearly $9.6 billion, up from $8.9 billion the previous year.
Overall, Microsoft posted revenue of $18.6 billion, up 7% compared with $16 billion from the first fiscal quarter of 2013. Microsoft’s revenue included the deferral of $113 million of Windows 8.1 pre-sales to OEMs and retailers. Microsoft also posted a net income of $5.2 billion, compared with $4.4 billion for the same time last year.
The first fiscal year’s quarterly earnings represent a bright spot for Microsoft. The company has suffered from major events that impacted the company over the last year:
- Microsoft transitioned to a devices and services company during a major reorganization of the business and CEO Steve Ballmer announced his retirement shortly afterwards
- The company revealed a $900 million inventory loss for Surface RT
- CEO Ballmer’s acknowledgement he missed the mobile device opportunity
- Poor enterprise reception to Windows 8 and no enterprise story until Windows 8.1
- The debacle over not providing Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro RTM to its developer and IT pro communities at the outset.
In addition, just as Microsoft let out Windows RT 8.1 update last week during its official commercial availability, there was a snafu involving the configuration file reboot and Microsoft had to pull the update off the Windows store for a few days, tarnishing the commercial roll out of Windows 8.1 and Surface tablets.
And the list goes on. But Microsoft has enough cash to keep it afloat as it transitions into a “new” company, hires a CEO, encourages enterprises to adopt Windows 8.1 and integrates the Nokia acquisition into its company pending approval. The company also steadily enjoys some positive highlights with the growing adoption of Office 365, Azure and positive reception to Windows Server 2012 R2.
I don’t believe Microsoft’s wobbles will end this coming year. It remains to be seen how the company entices the enterprise to embrace Windows 8.1 when companies are just migrating to Windows 7, or whether they’ll gain market share in the growing tablet space when iPads and Android-based products already enjoy commanding leads in the market.
But at least the company started the fiscal year on a good note with an uptick in Surface revenue which they said stemmed from its education and retail sales. During its September quarter, Microsoft had drastically cut the price of the Surface to $349 and had a special education offering that enabled K-12 schools and colleges to purchase the device for $199. Microsoft also dropped the price of the Surface Pro to $799 and this week, and cut the price of Surface Pro to $699.
Can Microsoft take some lessons learned this past year and apply it for the future? Of course.
For example, in recent meetings with Microsoft’s commercial Windows enterprise team, they said the decision to provide the Windows Enterprise 8.1 RTM about a week after Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro RTM was made available to developers and the IT community early was all about timing. (And those releases only came out after developers and IT pros were up in arms when they did not get the Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Pro RTM bits along with the PC OEMs.) If the new Microsoft really wants the enterprise, developer and IT community to support them, they have to court them in ways that work best for these communities.
Regardless, Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.
October 23, 2013 10:37 AM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
When I installed the Soluto startup and runtime monitoring and reporting tools on my production machine a while back, soon afterward I discovered that the Windows Reliability Monitor had quit working. I was never fully able to resolve why this happened, and went a couple of rounds with Soluto tech support on this topic, before reluctantly realizing that I could either have Reliability Monitor on that machine or Soluto, but not both. After upgrading that machine to Windows 8 and then last week to Windows 8.1, I uninstalled Soluto just to see if I would get Reliability Monitor back. No dice! Or rather, no data: Reliability Monitor would run, but it wouldn’t show me any data.
After deleting the old log files for Reliability Monitor, then waiting a few days, the data display resumed working.
As the preceding screen capture shows, I’ve gotten Reliability Monitor back to monitoring reliability data and while I can’t say I’m happy with what’s on display — which shows some of the niggling stability problems I’ve encountered since upgrading to 8.1 (the bumpy part) preceding by a rock-steady “no trouble” display beforehand running Windows 8 — I am glad to have regained access to this source of system monitoring and information. I found the secret to restoring ReliMon (as I call the facility to myself) in an interchange on answers.microsoft.com entitled “What to do if reliability monitor in action center does not show any activity?”
The trick is to navigate to C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\RAC and to delete that folder’s contents. If you want to restore your prior data after this clean-up maneuver, you should first make a copy of the PublishedData and StateData sub-folders therein to a safe place somewhere else (I copied mine to another drive). Reboot your PC after you delete the RAC folder contents. If you want to restore the prior data, copy (and replace) the contents of the PublishedData and StateData folders from your safe copy elsewhere to put things back the way they were.
In reading the responses of those afflicted with this situation — namely, one where Reliability Monitor reports no reliability data — I see that this fix doesn’t work for everyone in every situation. But it worked for me on my machine, once I’d upgraded to 8.1 and uninstalled Soluto. If you find yourself in a similar boat, or your users come to you with such a complaint, this solution may very well also work for you. As with so many other Windows fixes, there’s no way to know for sure until you try!
October 21, 2013 11:35 AM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
I’ve upgraded three machines to the Windows 8.1 GA release now, including my primary production machine (I reported on an in-place upgrade on this machine from Windows 7 SP1 to Windows 8 on October 4 in a post entitled “True Win7 to Win8 Upgrade Goes Suprisingly Well“). I can now observe that I’m experiencing many more noticeable behavioral changes in Windows 8.1 since I completed that upgrade on Friday of last week. Most noticeable — and sometimes vexing — has been the tightened up security inside Internet Explorer 11 in the wake of this latest software update.
So far, I’ve noticed the following changes:
2. Requirements to add https:// URLs to the Trusted Sites list (these had been included automatically, in earlier releases, even if the “require server verification” option was unchecked on the Trusted sites display — no longer true!)
3. Much tighter controls on log-in pages, or other pages requiring authentication of any kind
For me, the symptoms of this trouble popped up in working with LinkedIn, a site I visit multiple times daily, and to which I post blog and article notifications as the fruits of my labor become available to the general public. I found myself unable to login to LinkedIn at all, until I added both the plain-vanilla http://www.linked.com home page and the secure https://www.linkedin.com/uas/login?goback=&trk=hb_signin login page to my Trusted sites list in IE. I’d never, ever been required to do this before, not even in the RTM version of Windows 8.1. On the plus side, IE now balks at loading advertisements in LinkedIn and lets me block such items:
I now get to refuse ad updates when beneath the LinkedIn umbrella.
Some other interesting gotchas have cropped up, including:
1. An inability to access my contact information from iCloud in MS Outlook 2013 (this worked fine until I applied the 8.1 upgrade to my 8.0 production machine; now I have to open iCloud on the web to access contact data). So I went back to a recent backup of my PST file and have re-imported my Contacts from there. I’m guessing the iCloud/Outlook synch operation is broken, too.
2. I did have to re-install two drivers after the Windows 8.1 upgrade had completed (the ICH10 Family SMBus Controller – 3A30 item, previously updated last week using the 18.104.22.1686 version of the Intel chipset drivers, and the RealTek HD audio drivers, which may actually have been a legit update). I’ve noticed only a few such items in the wake of upgrading to 8.1, but they do seem to occur on a onesie-twosie basis (somewhat puzzling, since I’d updated these items under 8.0 previously).
3. My printer drivers (Samsung ML-2850 and Dell 2255cn) had to be reinstalled on networked machines in all cases, and on the machine to which the Dell has a USB connection as well.
Although the upgrade has gone smoothly on every machine to which I’ve applied it, there have still been a few mostly minor hiccups in its wake. Nothing I can’t live with, or fix, so far though.
October 18, 2013 10:30 AM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Having deliberately installed the Windows 8.1 RTM version on my primary Windows 8 test machine recently, I was naturally eager to jump all over the promised “Update Rollup” yesterday when it appeared through Windows Update. Its application took all of 5 minutes, including both download and installation. When I saw an entry in the list of pending updates there named “Update for Windows 8.1 for x64-based systems (KB2883200)” I hied me off to the cited knowledge base article where I immediately espied the following banner that resolved all uncertainty:
The size of the download is 230.1 MB, somewhat bigger than the “around 200 MB” mentioned in earlier disclosures from Microsoft regarding the roll-up, but by no means gargantuan (the full-blown 8.1 Pro x64 VL version, dated 10/17/2013, weighs in at 3,674 MB or ~3.59 GB). Since installing the roll-up yesterday, my test system has been rock-solid stable and shows little or no signs of major changes or updates. Here’s what Winver says after the roll-up is installed, showing that the OS designation remains at Windows 8 (no big 8.1 logo, as some — including me — might have expected):
Expectations to the contrary, the OS designation for 8.1 still remains “Windows 8.”
The only visual tell-tale about the new OS version I can find easily appears in Control Panel, where the following entry appears in the “Small icons” view:
In turn, that applet provides a Windows Store link where one can purchase the Windows 8.1 Media Center Pack for $9.99, which is not a bad price to bring DVD and other media playback into the Windows 8 environment, which otherwise lacks such capability. As I dig into the final, final version of 8.1, I’ll report on other findings as they come up. But it looks like there’s really nothing too earth-shattering here (and no, I haven’t found or even heard about any promo codes to bring upgrade or add-on prices down, either).