Apexwm is an active but anonymous IT professional who posts all over UK forums, and who also blogs prolifically for ZDNet in the UK. He recently posted a fascinating item entitled “Windows 7 driver signing conundrum” wherein he recounts a vexacious “chicken-and-egg” problem. The issue has to do with trying to slipstream a driver for a particular device into a Windows 7 image — in this case, an integrated wireless network adapter from RALink Technology — when the manufacturer only makes an Installshield program available to install the driver, but which must be installed manually after Windows itself is installed.
In attempting to automate the install, the author used a test machine to get the list of necessary files from Driver Details in Device Manager, and also grabbed the related oem*.inf file from the C:\Windows\inf folder to complete the collection of items to attempt an automated and unattended install. Imagine his frustration when this effort produces the following error message:
Windows cannot verify the digital signatures for the drivers required by this device. Error Code 52.
The drivers are in fact signed, and the problem is apparently well-documented all over the Internet for drivers of all kinds. But alas, no easy fix is available, without turning to 3rd party software products to remedy this known Windows defect. I’m sure apexwm isn’t the only Windows admin who would voice his sentiments on this approach “No thanks. I’m not about to start installing a bunch of unknown 3rd party products to try and help with a Windows problem.”
If I were in those shoes, however, I would try to take advantage of Windows’ ability to run post-install scripts after the initial installation process completes (which is how additional common applications such as Office, 7-Zip, FileZilla, and so forth, often occur at the tail end of automated installation processes). It seems to me that if the driver uses an InstallShield .exe file, there should be some way to script or automate its installation as a post-install task.
I do get apexwm’s complaint that Linux/Unix does a much better job of integrating drivers into its kernel directly, and that compilation into the kernel is an option for those few odd drivers that aren’t already included under this umbrella. But I’m a member of the “where there’s a will, there’s also a way” club of Windows-heads and suggest that he needn’t have given up in defeat.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone through some systematic exercises to reduce the disk space consumed on my Windows 7 system/boot drives, especially on notebook/laptop systems where disk space is always precious and sometimes scarce, but also on a couple of my desktops where I’m running SSDs for the speed they bring to start-up, shut-down, application lauches, and context switching maneuvers. Here are some pointers to recent blogs I’ve written on various related topics on my personal Website at edtittel.som in the Windows 7 Tips and Tricks section:
- More Noodling on System Drive Space-Saving: Move those VHDs! (Moved Windows XP VHD to a subsidiary grive. Space saved: 6.8 GB)
- Nvidia: Why Do I Need 3D by Default? (Uninstalled Nvidia PhysX, 3D, and Nvidia Update drivers for a savings of nearly 35 MB of RAM, and disk space savings of nearly 1 GB.)
- Interesting tips and tweaks for PST File cleanup & optimization (Used the ScanPST.exe repair tool and compacted PST files to save around 2 GB of system disk space.)
All told I was able to reduce system disk size by at least 5 GB on each system where I tried to use two or more of these techniques. In one case, the savings was over 10 GB where I was able to reduce drivers, compact PSTs, and move the Windows XP VHD to my F: drive. I like it! Got any similar tips to share? Please do, and I’ll write them up if I can put them to work, too.
Here’s a concluding recommendation: try out the free WinDirStat graphical file system display utility. It will show you which files on your drives are the biggest, and point you at the fattest (if not most vulnerable) targets for cleanup. That’s what got me started down the cleanup road I document in the various aforecited blogs.
I’m working on a book about Windows 7 right now for the Microsoft Technology Association (MTA) program, specifically for Exam 98-349 “Windows Operating System Fundamentals.” And in fact, I’m knee deep in Chapter 4 of that book which takes Windows file management and Windows Explorer as a core topic. That’s why I read Ed Bott’s blog for today “Demystifying Windows Explorer: What ‘Invert Selection’ is good for” with great interest and appreciation.
Headline for Ed Bott’s 9/2/2011 blog
Apparently the appearance of this function in the Building Windows 8 blog earlier this week caused a tempest in a teapot with some readers, who went off on the continued existence of the function in the Windows Explorer of the future (not to mention the Windows 7 present as well). Pet peeves aside, it turns out that “Invert Selection” is a very nice little function, once you understand what it does. Basically, you can pick a list of things you want to keep unchanged in a folder (especially if it’s shorter than the list of things you want to move, delete, or modify), then use “Invert Selection” to de-select those items and select everything else instead.
For example, let’s say you’ve got a folder full of photos that you grabbed from your digital camera. After reviewing 75 snaps, you decide you only want to keep 5. So you pick them, then do ‘Invert Selection,’ then right click any of those entries, and pick “Delete” from the pop-up menu. Presto! All 70 unwanted photos are gone, gone, gone. Easy as pie!
In Windows 7 run Explorer (type
explorer.exe into the Start menu search bar, or click your favorite icon: I usually use the Folder icon that’s pinned to the Task bar at the bottom left of the screen to launch Explorer myself). Then click the Alt key to show the ordinarily hidden “File Edit View Tools Help” menu bar. The Invert Selection item appears at the bottom of the pull-down menu for the Edit entry in this menu bar. And it works like a champ, too.
Yesterday, MS honcho Steven Sinofsky posted an entry to the Building Windows 8 blog entitled “Accessing data in ISO and VHD files.” It explains how, in Sinofsky’s own words “Windows 8 enables easy access to the contents of two important storage formats: ISO and VHD files.”
ISO is, of course, an archive file format that represents a disk image of an optical disk or other storage medium, and usually takes .iso as its file extension. Microsoft uses ISO images to package up downloads of its various OSes and other products but until Windows 8, you’ve had to grab some kind of 3rd party ISO handling program to unpack them in a readable on-disk format. I use Alex Feinman’s excellent ISO Recorder v3.1, which functions as a Windows Explorer shell extension, but there are lots of great tools to do this job on earlier Windows versions.
VHD is a Microsoft virtual hard disk format (originally created by Connectix, since acquired by MS, for the Microsoft Virtual PC–and later Virtual Server and Hyper-V–products). It represents an image of what might appear on a physical hard disk drive, including disk partitions, a file system, files, folders, and so forth. A VHD represents the storage space for a virtual machine in the form of a single portmanteau file that takes the extension .vhd. Microsoft makes the VHD Image Format Specification freely available to third parties under its Open Specification Promise, which “provides broad use of Microsoft patented technology necessary to implement a list of covered specifications…[whose] goal…is to provide our customers and partners with additional options for implementing interoperable solutions.”
What does this all mean? It means you’ll be able to mount and read ISOs and VHDs from inside Windows Explorer in Windows 8, without having to install additional software. Unfortunately, it looks like the planned ISO implementation will be read-only, though. If you want to create ISOs, you’ll still have to install additional software on Windows 8. The same restrictions do not apply to VHDs, though: of them, Sinofsky says “you can…work with the virtual hard disk just like any other file storage in your system, whether you are modifying, adding, or removing files.”
Sounds good! When can we start playing with this new technology?
In my ceaseless trolling for good Enterprise Windows 7 news and info, I regularly scan the Microsoft and TechNet blogs. This morning, I decided to read the whole list of bloggers on TechNet and somewhat belatedly came across a listing called “The Deployment Guys.” I’m really glad I did because I came across quite a few gems there.
Aside from containing one of my all-time favorite “sniglets” — namely, automagically — this site offers up some incredibly useful information particularly when it comes to mastering the ins and outs of the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010, including the following items among many others:
- Supporting different build types using a single deployment share
- Dynamic Computer Naming in ZTI Deployments
- Allowing Better Interaction to App-V Virtual Applications
- Finding Updates for Image Engineering
- New Optimized Desktop Resources
I could go on further, but this should be enough to show you that there’s a raft of great stuff here, along with lots of good tips and tricks about how to make the most of Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 deployment tools and technologies available from MS. If you’re at all like me, you’ll add this to your favorites, and you’ll start picking up on their Twitter or RSS feeds.
OK, so it may be too much of a stretch to compare rooting out a stubborn Registry key to Lady Macbeth’s lamentations, but it’s my blog and I can steal a line from Shakespeare with the best of them. In this case, I’m inspired by Scott Hanselman’s Computer Zen blog post entitled “How to REALLY hurt yourself with PSEXEC – Deleting the Undeletable Registry Key and More.” In a nutshell. this post explains how he got stuck with some Registry keys related to no less than SEVEN virtual network interfaces inside a VM and found himself unable to remove the registry keys responsible for their continued existence — and maddening consumption of system resources — despite running regedit.exe from an administrator account.
This whole story hinges on the wonderful Sysinternals utility called PsExec, which lets administrative users launch programs with arbitrary user rights. Hanselman couldn’t get regedit to delete the registry keys for the bogus virtual network adapters he wanted to remove from his system. Even in an account belonging to the Administrators group he was getting “Access Denied” errors when he tried to remove those registry keys.
PsExec let him load the regedit program and run it interactively at a System level of permissions (where anything is possible, and where “severe tire damage” far too likely for those who don’t proceed carefully, and don’t know in great detail what they are doing). The command syntax looks like this:
psexec -s -i regedit.exe
In this context, it’s also worth repeating Hanselman’s warnings about taking this approach to overpowering built-in Windows restrictions on deleting key registry keys, files, and other objects:
If there was one tool that really “takes the safety off the gun,” it’s PsExec. You can hurt yourself and your system with PsExec in ways where you’ll not realize until it’s too late. There aren’t enough words with big enough fonts and scary enough evocative stock photography to fully express how dangerous this tool is.
Wow! Nothing gets me as excited as the ability to do myself infinite harm, so I dove right into my Sysinternals tool directory and fired up a couple of programs using this very approach to see what I could get away with. Indeed, regedit performed as described and I was able to go in and delete anything I wanted to (which I immediately restored so as not to do any damage). The same trick also works for launching cmd.exe, and then you can use the command line to delete any Windows file you might want to get rid of without restrictions (the remorse could come later if you really shot yourself in the foot).
I think this is a great technique for Windows systems admins to add to their bag of tricks, but it really is one of those approaches that should be treated with extreme care and caution. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing and restrict your actions to repairing mistakes that Windows and other software can inflict on your system, you might be in for a world of hurt with this technique. My advice is to use it only for extremely limited purposes, and only when other tools or techniques just won’t or can’t fix your problems.
I’ve long admired and followed the work of Windows expert Ed Bott, who writes a regular blog for ZDNet (now a CNET property). His recent posting entitled “Stay safe online: 5 secrets every PC (and Mac) owner should know” is a short, sweet and extremely informative primer on what information security experts often like to call “safe computing practices” or “Internet Security Awareness.”
Ed Bott’s Safe Computing Blog
As you work with and around Windows 7 systems, you will occasionally need access to a bootable Windows 7 image from which to conduct system repairs. If you don’t have a set of 32- and 64-bit boot disks handy, nor original optical Windows 7 media, you can always go back to ISO images for Windows 7 to construct bootable images. These days, I like to use the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool, available from the Microsoft Store online (and lots of other locations), to build bootable USB flash drives from which to launch Windows 7 reinstalls or repair operations.
But with this tool in hand, where to go to get the ISO images for Windows 7 to build the bootable UFD? If you have an MSDN membership you can download from there, or if you’ve bought Windows 7 online from Microsoft, you’ve downloaded and stored a Windows 7 ISO image somewhere locally already. If neither of these options is available to you, check out this MyDigitalLife how-to guide from November 2009 “Windows 7 ISO x86 and x64 Official Direct Download Links (Ultimate, Professional, and Home Premium).” (A word of warning: only the Digital River download links posted there currently work. The Amazon links are all DOA. )
OTOH, here’s a set of links for the Windows 7 SP1 ISOs from Windows 7 Hacker “Download Retail Windows 7 ISO from Official Website,” dated August 8, 2011 (and again, only the Digital River links appear to be working).
When you have the ISO file downloaded, you can use the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool to construct a bootable UFD or DVD for Windows repair or reinstall purposes. Enjoy!
I just stumbled upon a ComputerWorld story by Brian Nadel entitled “Inspector Gadgets: 13 Windows 7 gadgets for monitoring your PC” that’s chock full of interesting items that systems administrators and power users will enjoy checking out (and possibly using on their desktops). I myself am a big fan of basic system monitoring gadgets on my Win7 machines, and regularly run the following on those PCs (listed in their typical order of appearance):
- All CPU Meter (V 3.7) from Addgadget.com
- The built-in Clock gadget that ships by default with Windows 7
- Network Meter (V 6.5) also from Addgadget.com
- Windows Vista Shutdown Control (GadgetsForVista.net)
Nadel’s story offers a larger and quite interesting array of gadgets, about half of which are depicted here:
Nadel’s Gadget Gallery from ComputerWorld story
I’m pleased to report that a couple of my gadgets made the cut, but even more pleased to discover some additional useful elements in Nadel’s list. Please take a look at his article to get information on the following Windows 7 Gadgets:
- System Control A1
- Core Temp Gadget
- Top Process Monitor
- Network Meter
- DC Wireless Network Monitor
- O&O DiskStat
- Drive Meter
- GPU Monitor
- Windows Firewall Profile
- 9-Skin Battery Meter
- Intel Core Series monitor
Be sure to check them out: there’s some good stuff in here!
A recently published Gartner study (cited in stories at computing.co.uk and FierceCIO TechWatch) apparently predicts numerous interesting Windows 7 developments and phenomena. First and foremost, Gartner predicts that somewhere around 42 percent of all PCs world-wide will run Windows 7 by the end of 2011, giving it first-place ranking and finally ahead of Windows XP on the desktop. Second, and perhaps more interesting is a quotation from Gartner Research Director Annette Jump that reads “Many enterprises have been planning their deployment of Windows 7 for the last 12 to 18 months, and are now moving rapidly to Windows 7.”
Headline from Gartner Press Release on Win7 Report
Reasons cited for the forecasted jump include increasing IT budgets in 2011 and 2011, along with a substantial number of Windows 7 migrations initiated in the final quarter of last year (2010). While this may seem like happy news for Microsoft, long term-predictions are less rosy for Windows. According to the already-cited TechWatch article “…it is interesting to note Gartner’s opinion that Windows 7 is likely to be the last operating system from Microsoft deployed in such numbers. Gartner attributes this prediction to the rise of ‘OS-agnostic’ applications for enterprises, meaning software not tied to a particular platform.” That story goes on to say that her research indicates that such applications are likely to comprise half of all apps in use by 2012.
I do think this means that Windows 7 has finally reached or is nearing the tipping point for enterprise adoption, but I’m not so sure that Gartner is right about a decline in Windows use in the enterprise. All that hardware (desktops and notebooks, especially) has to run some kind of OS, and there’s really no viable alternative that has all of the imaging, installation, deployment, configuration, and management tools by which enterprise IT departments live and die out there right now. I believe that Windows will remain unchallenged as the enterprise client OS until such time as a fully-fledged alternative makes itself available. Right now, this is just a mythical beast and until that critter becomes real, Windows stays in the catbird seat.