Last Thursday, well-known computer training company Train Signal released a DVD-based training package for Microsoft Exam 70-681 “TS: Windows 7 and Office 2010, Deploying.” Why am I telling you about a training package for an exam that Microsoft released over three months ago? For several reasons:
- Because, to my knowledge, it’s the first entirely video-based, self-paced set of training materials on this subject, which lets IT professionals prep for and learn about this subject entirely on their own schedules and at their own whims
- Because it covers all the major toolsets and deployment environments (WinPE 3.0, WSIM, MDT, MDOP, WDS, SCCM, and more) that Microsoft offers to automate Windows 7 deployment, and includes tools and simulators to let students practice what they’re learning, as they’re learning it, thanks to online access to practice labs, as well as video-based learning materials.
- Because the course is currently available for online purchase at almost half-off at $397 instead of $799 (classroom based instructor led versions of this course routinely cost over $3,000).
For those who’ve been wanting or needing to learn more about Windows 7 deployment, including planning, image construction, roll-out techniques, and related MS tools, but who haven’t had time (or the inclination) to head to a training center, this could be just the ticket. I’ve been following the cert market for years and years, and Train Signal consistently gets high marks for its training materials and the knowledge and capabilities of its instructors. This one is worth checking out, and the course materials come with a 90-day money-back guarantee if you don’t like what you get when you plunk down your hard-earned (or employer’s) cash.
I just learned something new today: long-vaunted Malaysian Windows rumor/technology site ARS Technica has an equally serious rival in the Russian Federation. It’s named WZOR and it’s apparently a fountain of reasonably reliable rumors about many things Microsoft, including upcoming release dates for major software platforms and components. I tried to access the site at www.wzor.net, but even with the help of my Russian-speaking wife Dina I was unable to master the trick to get past the password-protected login, so I’m having to rely on second hand reports (including this one from Paul Palianth at GeekSmack.net and this one from Indian site TechTree.com).
Both stories translate and run with some interesting details from the original WZOR source (and largely agree, which indicates to me that at least their interpretations of the rumors largely overlap):
- SP2 for Windows 7/Server 2008 R2 is expected to hit sometime in mid-2012
- M3 development for Windows 8 is expected to kick off in March 2011
- After M3 gets underway, MS will start on the first Windows 8 beta, and is expected to release two public beta milestone builds on its way to completion
- Following public beta 2, the release candidate (RC) will be developed and released
- Approximately 90 days after RC release, Windows 8 will be released to manufacturing (RTM)
- After RTM, the next step is general availability (GA), which WZOR claims is scheduled for 1/7/2013
Does this really mean anything? While WZOR has a good track record for releasing solid information, MS has often changed its plans and schedules en route to major OS releases. Consider this a snapshot of current thinking and a good indicator of approximately when Windows 8 will ship, and you won’t be too far off the mark. But I don’t think you should drop into your nearest betting shop and plunk down your life savings on January 7. The touts will be more than happy to take your money, and your chances of realizing the payout are pretty darn slim. In fact, it’s probably a better bet to “invest” in lottery tickets instead!
Paul Thurrott’s January 14, 2011, article “Sneak Peek: A Quick Look at Windows 7 Service Pack 1” confirms what Microsoft has been telling us all along — namely, no big or dramatic changes, additions, or upgrades to Windows 7 will be included in SP1, though that is most definitely NOT also true for Windows Server 2008 R2 (Thurrott uses the phrase “major functional changes” to describe what’s coming for the server side in SP1).
Here’s the short list of “minor changes” to Windows 7 he found in a bootlegged version of a near-complete version of the upcoming service pack:
- Updates to Remote Desktop Services: required to accommmodate server-side changes known as RemoteFX for Windows Server 2008 R2.
- Improved third-party federation services support: improvements to the MS Federation Gateway Service (which lets users employ Live ID credentials and authentication on third-party sites) to support the industry-standard WS-Federation passive requestor profile (should make Federation Services easier and more reliable to use).
- Better HDMI Audio: Bug-fix for the small number of users who experienced disruption in HDMI audio following a system reboot.
- XPS document tweaks: Bug-fix for issue in documents that include both portrait and landscape pages that did not format print output correctly.
- Hot-fix/bug-fix rollup: All Service Packs routinely incorporate all previously released and new hot fixes plus bug fixes to establish a new, consolidated baseline for OS runtime code. Windows 7 SP1 does this, too.
Thurrott also reports that SP1 installation took over 40 minutes on a quad core Core 2 Duo PC, and that the Windows 7 build ID changes from 7600 to 7601 once the process completes successfully. Though there’s been no hint of install issues with SP1 for Windows 7 from any sources I’ve followed so far, remember to make a complete image backup of your system before installing SP1, and be sure to have an alternate boot/restore tool at hand. That way, if something does go kerflooey, you can use the boot/restore tool to restore your image and come away not too much worse for the wear. It can be difficult to roll back from a service pack install, and if the install fails at any time prior to completion and clean-up your system may not be bootable or working. You’ve been warned!
When I logged onto my primary desktop this morning, I noticed a new out-of-band (OOB) update from Microsoft had hit the update center. Normally, such updates are reserved for security fixes sufficiently hot to mean that waiting for the next patch Tuesday (February 8, 2011 in this case) is not a good idea. But today’s OOB is something different: an update for the Windows Update code that’s designed to do something with how updates get handled in the future.
Here’s how the governing Knowledge Base article for this particular update describes what’s going on this time around (interestingly, this same KB article number has been reused many times in the past, and is apparently invoked any time updates affect how Windows Update or the Microsoft Installer software themselves behave):
Updates to the Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 installation software are included in this update. The installation software is the component that handles the installation and the removal of software updates, language packs, optional Windows features, and service packs. This update is necessary to successfully install and to remove any service packs to all versions of Windows 7 and on Windows Server 2008 R2.
The italicized emphasis in the preceding quote is mine, and ties back to my Friday blog Rumors of Windows 7, Server 2008 R2 SP1 Point to Imminent Release. If you’re looking for proof positive straight from the only unimpeachable source in this matter — namely, Microsoft itself — look no further: here it is in indisputable form.
Now, the only real question remains: how soon will MS release SP1 for Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 (which share a common code base, after all)? The timing on this preparatory update argues that they won’t wait for the February Patch Tuesday for SP1 either, but we’ll just have to wait and see. Stay tuned!
I always love seeing images like this one (attributed to Alex Kibkalo in this blog from Matthew Jones entitled “Rumour: Windows 7 Service Pack 1 to be released to OEMs tomorrow“) when rumors of upcoming software releases start to swirl in cyberspace:
Face it: Microsoft has been talking about the first service pack for Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 R2 since early last summer, and the service pack has been working its way through beta test since July of 2010. Though Microsoft has been characteristically coy about when the final release would start making its way to OEMs, partners, and the general public, it’s not too incredible or suprising that leaks are pointing to something pretty soon (you don’t get to see a “About” window sans beta disclaimers unless things are pretty darn close). Given that OEMs may receive SP1 any day now, look for it to hit MSDN some time in February, with general availability through Windows Update in March or April.
That said, Microsoft has promised all along that SP1 won’t introduce major changes or very much significant new functionality into Windows 7 (though the story is somewhat different for Windows Server 2008 R2). Apparently, the main addition for Windows 7 users will be an improved remote access protocol that’s supposed to offer better performance, and a richer graphics and media environment when running remote access sessions. Other than that, SP1 represents mostly bug fixes and, of course, a roll-up of all the many updates and fixes that have preceded its release through Windows Update since Windows 7 went final in July (to OEMS) and reached the general public in October, 2009.
In my continuing efforts to turn a balky and failing 2000/2001 vintage Dell C610 notebook into a slow but still viable Windows XP machine for my sister, I’ve been learning some interesting things about Dell hardware and drivers (see my previous blog “Hooray: USB-to-IDE/SATA Converter is a Cheap, Effective Hardware Item” for other misadventures with this machine). It turns out this laptop came out just when Windows was shifting from 2000 to XP, and right about the time that Wi-Fi interfaces changed their status from “nice but pricey add-on” to “standard equipage” on such machines.
Because this box contains a Broadcom BCM94309MP 802.11 b/g interface, when Windows XP failed to recognize the card and supply a driver, I found myself at a bit of an impasse in getting the device working on the C610. The device itself is readily accessible through the bottom hatch, secured only by three small Philips-head screws, but it contains no Dell label nor a Dell-specific part number.
Why am I telling you this? Because the Dell drivers themselves are available only through their Dell designations, which for these Broadcom devices take the form of “Dell TrueMobile 1xxx” where valid model numbers span a range from 1150 to 1450, and perhaps beyond (I didn’t look further than what was needed to install a working driver on this machine). But finding that driver took a bit of luck, some perseverance, and calls to a neighborhood PC technician at my local Mr. Notebook outlet, and to a pool-playing buddy of mine who’s a former third-level notebook support technician for Dell.
As it turns out, DriverAgent correctly identified the model number for the Broadcom Device as a Dell TrueMobile 1400 but it supplied me with what it claimed was a valid driver that produced an installer error on the machine (“incompatible hardware” was its gist) when I tried to get it up and running. After going through another half-dozen drivers on a trial-and-error basis and getting nowhere, I resorted to my network to get some insight on what to do next. Chris (my Mr. Notebook) contact admitted that those drivers can be hard to identify and volunteered to fix it for me when I bring him the unit to have its top deck hinges replaced. Jason (my Dell tech support wizard) told me the unit was either a TrueMobile 1300 or 1400, since the Broadcom part number indicated 802.11 b/g support.
I couldn’t find a working driver through DriverAgent, but when I searched Dell support for a TrueMobile 1300 driver and installed it (the 1400 driver doesn’t work but the unit now identifies itself as a 1400 unit — go figure!) the device finally came up and started working properly. Some forms of PC knowledge can only be acquired the hard way, it seems, so this is one experience I’m glad to have behind me instead of still ahead. Just goes to show that not everything that seems obvious, or that in fact should be obvious, is not necessarily obvious at all. But trial and error, and a little expert advice, finally steered me into the right software. Whew, what a relief!
Last spring, my sister announced to me that she’d purchased her son a Dell Latitude C610 notebook on eBay for around $200. “Did I do the right thing?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I said, “let’s see how it works out.” The box ran for about four months, after which it got horribly infested with malware and stopped booting. So she shipped it to me for repairs. I upgraded the memory from 384 MB of RAM to 1 GB, replaced the 30 GB HD with a 160 GB Seagate model, installed a new battery and PSU, then installed Windows XP SP3 (I don’t think this Pentium 3 model is up to Windows 7), then sent it back to her (I didn’t worry about the malware, because I removed and junked the affected drive).
But then, about four more months later, the unit stopped booting. It took a bit of sleuthing around, but I eventually determined that the hard disk was having problems. But I was stymied for some time by the PATA drive itself, and it was only after cobbling together a couple of adapters (one from the Dell internal interface pinouts to standard PATA, the next from PATA to USB) that I was easily able to hook the drive up to another system, troubleshoot its issues (a corrupted MBR), repair the damage, and put the system back together. For a few months, in fact, I got nowhere at all.
Then, I discovered an adapter that’s widely available for under $10 from many sources (*@#!!) that helped me ferret out my issues. And in fact, because it works with both SATA and PATA (IDE) interfaces, it seems tailor-made for troubleshooting notebook drives — at least, as long as you’ve got another computer into which you can plug the offending unit, after you’ve removed it from its customary housing. This item is called a “USB 2.0 to IDE/SATA Converter cable” and purchase info pops up readily in your favorite search engine if you submit that string for lookup.
USB 2.0 to SATA/IDE converter cable elements
The unit even includes a small plug-in PSU to supply power to the external drive, as well as the various cables necessary to get from the driver to the adapter itself. A terrific bargain for under $10, I must say!
Although it’s not as fast or effective as the SATA drive caddies I routinely use for messing around with 3.5″ drives of that type, it does the job and can handle both SATA and PATA/IDE interfaces with ease. As you go poking around inside notebook PCs — especially older ones with IDE drives — you’ll find that this little gem pays for itself the first time you use it. A vital part of any well-equipped PC toolkit, I don’t know why I didn’t learn about this device sooner, nor why I haven’t owned one for years instead of months.
Reports are popping up all over the Web that Windows 7 broke the 20 percent market share barrier last month, according to figures released by Internet tracking firm NetApplications over the New Year’s weekend. The company pegs Windows 7 online usage for December 2010 at 20.9% of all desktops counted. This is up 1.2 points from the preceding month, and represents a usage share level that Windows Vista never, ever reached.
Vista’s current usage level has dropped to 12.1%, which is on par with its usage rate in July 2008 (eight months after its initial business release, and six months after the GA release in January of that year). At the same time, Windows overall usage rate is down to a “mere” 90.3%, which is down almost two percent for 2010, according to this ComputerWorld story (1/3/2011). From November to December, Windows XP’s losses exactly matched Windows 7’s gains, as it declined by 1.2 percent to 56.7% for December 2010.
What does all this mean? The migration momentum from XP to Windows 7 (or Vista to Windows 7 for those intrepid enough to have moved to Vista in the first place) is clearly picking up. I expect 2011 to be a big year for enterprise Windows 7 adoptions and migrations. Net Applications predicts that Windows 7 will peak in October 2012 at a rate of 44.7%, though that time is still more than 18 months out. It will be interesting to see if the current numbers that permit them to guesstimate such future trends are borne out by real events. Only time will tell!
Especially when updating Adobe Flash Player components (for example, Flash10k.ocx) at Secunia’s behest after updating that software for security reasons, I have to jump through some hoops to delete the offending file. Until recently, this meant shutting down Secunia altogether (it uses Flash, too, and thus locks the very file it seeks to have removed) so that I could delete that file, then restarting it to restore my system to normal operation.
This also pops up occasionally in other situations, either because a file is locked by the OS, in use by an application, or otherwise declared off-limits for deletion. I’ve even resorted to booting my system into Linux, then running an NTFS file system driver, to hunt down and remove the most stubbornly insistent of Windows files. No more!
I stumbled across a great, free utility called Unlocker this weekend (here’s a link to the FileHippo download, but you can grab this puppy from any or all of the major shareware sites including CNET, SoftPedia, and so forth, as well). I found myself facing the need to delete some orphaned Windows Update files left behind by Vista or XP on my Asus EeePC 1000HE notebook this weekend, and found reference to this utility in forum posts that explained how to root out and remove these items. Here’s a screencap of the soon-to-be-deleted items from the Recycle Bin after Unlocker worked its magic:
Unlocker moved the 2e242ef69985… directory and all of its contents into the Recycle Bin
The software installs quickly and easily (warning: Unlocker Assistant works fine with XP, but with neither Vista nor Windows 7), and you can invoke the program through the Start button menu hierarchy (Start Unlocker) or right-click on an object inside Windows Explorer to take advantage of the program’s shell extension. After that, you can choose to delete any object you want inside the Windows file system. Obviously this means you’ll need to proceed with caution because the tool will cheerfully and compliantly trash key Windows files as well as other items perhaps more worthy of deletion. A great tool, even so!
French developer Cedrick Collomb did a nice job with this tool. But it will inform you that a more recent version is available when you first run it, even though activating the supplied link for same triggers a 403 (Access forbidden) HTTP error. I’ve e-mailed him to see if this can be fixed, but in the meantime you’ll need to stand pat with version 1.9.0 which, as I’ve already mentioned, is widely available on major shareware and download sites. Enjoy!
I’ve got an Asus EeePC 1000HE netbook, and this weekend I went through a machine refresh for the Windows 7 Professional installation on that machine (I could run Windows 7 Starter on this box, and very well might if I had to pay retail for my Windows OSes, but I like the ability to use RDP to remote in from my primary desktop when I’m working at home). I finally got around to reading the Asus Windows 7 “Self-Upgrade” guide and learned that I should update my BIOS and some drivers to get the best performance from this unit. Along the way, I also learned some interesting lessons, and made some equally interesting observations.
Asus offers a ROM-driven EZ Flash utility on its notebook and netbook PCS — and for all I know, for its motherboards, too…goes off to look, and yes it applies to some, but not all Asus motherboards as well — that lets you simply copy a BIOS update to the root of a UFD and use it at boot time to flash the BIOS. Interestingly, this utility only works with UFDs formatted in the FAT16 format. I tried a FAT32 formatted UFD, and while the utility found the file and said it was reading it, it hung without changing anything until I switched the formatting over to FAT16 (described simply as FAT in the Microsoft Format tool)
How the Win7 Format Utility Reports FAT16: It Appears as Plain “FAT” format
And, of course, to format a UFD to FAT/FAT16, it must be 4 GB or smaller in size (Windows won’t let you format a larger UFD to FAT16 because 4GB is its absolute file/volume size limit). Once I figured this out, everything went pretty smoothly with the BIOS update, and when installed it did shave about 22 seconds off my previous boot time, as reported in Soluto for that machine.
I also learned that while some 1000HE models support AHCI for speedier SATA access, my machine isn’t one of those (and that dampens my enthusiasm for installing an SSD in that box because it will limit its performance as well). I went through a few interesting contortions to get all the right drivers installed too, particularly the x86 PC ACPI driver that the 1000HE needs to enable use of its various control and function buttons. The “key” to that problem was to find and install a Windows 7 “EeeInstantKey” utility which not only provided programmatic access to key management functions, but the necessary Windows 7 driver as well (it doesn’t show up in Device Manager so it’s not directly accessible for update through more conventional techniques).
For a while, during the period when all the new drivers and software changes were taking root, my boot time zoomed from around 2:35-2:45 to a whopping 8 minutes. But after all the installs and refreshes took hold, the boot time dropped to 2:08-2:15. I’m not sure the results justify the efforts that went into obtaining them, but I did get to learn quite a bit along the way.