Finally! The latest Employment Situation Summary from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released this morning shows some welcome and long-overdue signs of improvement in hiring numbers. But although nonfarm employment numbers jumped by 192,000 for February, the unemployment rate stands basically unchanged at 8.9 percent (employment gains from hiring were offset by unemployed persons once again looking for work, thereby boosting the overall employment pool). The big job gains occurred in the following sectors: manufacturing, construction, professional and business services (good news for IT contractors and consultants perhaps, if not for the entire information sector at large — more on this in the next paragraph), health care, and transportation and warehousing. Of course, we need to see monthly numbers jump by 100,000 or more above this level to really make a dent in unemployment, but good news is still good news in this troubled part of the economy.
On NPR this morning, I heard a story that was much more encouraging for beleagured IT workers. Zoe Chace filed an item entitled “Want A Job? You Ought to Be a Tech Geek” In it, she recounts how upcoming and recent IT graduates with programming expertise are finding themselves in the unusual and welcome position of having to decide among multiple offers — sometimes as many as ten or more per job candidate — when it comes to choosing an employer. A strong demand for mobile app developers (there’s a surprise, eh?) is fueling this hiring frenzy, but it’s a strong showing for what has been a grim job market for recent graduates since the economy hit the skids in 2008.
Now, if only that frenzy could extend as far as rank-and-file IT jobs, the doldrums might finally be behind us. My best guess, however, is that we’re at least 12-18 months away from the kind of rising tide that is likely to float all hiring rates higher, especially for cost-center/infrastructure functions like IT. Hang in there, IT troops: looks like the first faint glimmers of improvement are finally heading our way!
Here’s a tantalizing snippet referenced in the latest Microsoft Security Bulletin Advance Notification for March 2011. It’s from KB article 894199 entitled “Description of Software Update Services and Windows Server Update Services changes in content for 2011.”
Given that an update was pushed out of band in mid-February to pave the way for changes to Windows Update prior to the release of Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 SP1, and that I believe Windows Update repairs are needed after SP1 is applied, I can only speculate that this update will probably address whatever issues the Windows Update Troubleshooter found following SP1 install on all of my machines. (See my blog on post-SP1 repairs needed for more info on what I observed.) Alas, the KB referenced in the preceding screen cap is not yet live on the MS Web site (KB2505438).
And of course, Patch Tuesday being what it is — a way for Microsoft to batch up its security updates, and for IT admins everywhere to plan to deal with them on a regular schedule — there’s also some other action in the offing for Tuesday, March 8 as well. There will be three security updates released that day as well, all of which will address remote code execution vulnerabilities. Two of these are rated Important, and one Criticial. One from each of those categories will address Microsoft Windows vulnerabilities the third (important-rated) item addresses vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office. But compared to the dozen or more security updates released in February, this makes March a light month by comparison.
Now, there’s only one thing left I’d like to know: Why did the 34 optional updates for language packs that I’d already hidden show up again in my update list this morning? Go figure…
In the latest addition to his Microsoft Report (“How long will Microsoft support XP, Vista, and Windows 7?“) Ed Bott sums up all the forthcoming retirement dates for mainstream and extended support for all the various current Windows versions in use today: XP, Vista, and Windows 7. This is a handy-dandy tool that many IT pros will want to clip and save, as I did to create my own blog for today:
Obviously, the date that looms largest for many organizations — especially on what I like to jokingly call “the trailing edge” of technology — is the April 8, 2014 date when Windows XP SP3 support goes away forever. Despite the many predictions that Microsoft will yet again extend this date (as they’ve done twice already) I don’t think that it’s going to be stretched out any further. Otherwise, MS ends up supporting 4 OSes for some time, adding Windows 8 (or whatever final product name the “next Windows OS” takes with it to market) to the current three-OS line-up of XP, Vista, and Windows 7. Not gonna happen…
To my great interest and surprise, this morning MS announced it would be making its cloud-based Windows InTune desktop licensing, remote access, and management tools available for $11 (without Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack, or MDOP) or $12 (with MDOP) a month, starting March 23, 2011. I’d been reading about the offering with interest since the first beta went out in early 2010. Paul Thurrott describes the environment as “…a comprehensive, hosted solution for managing PCs in environments of all sizes…and provides a web-based interface for managing individual PCs, software updates, malware protection, software installations and licenses, (non-AD-based) policies, and more.”
To me what’s striking is that small businesses or households should find these economics very compelling, with $11 or 12 a month for the OS, plus $6 a month for Office 365, that means less than $20 a month for most of the stuff that makes desktops usable and workable. Even with double that amount for other monthly license fees, that means organizations with up to 20 PCs will be better served by this model than even the bottom-of-the-line MSDN or Microsoft Partner subscription. Though they won’t get as much test machine software out of this kind of deal, what they do get is pay-as-you go costs for their PCs, and completely legal (instead of quasi-legal) status for machines used for both production and test purposes.
The default offering includes Windows 7 Enterprise edition, though buyers can choose any version of Windows 7 they might like instead. I can’t see if this means both 32- and 64-bit versions of an OS would be available, but I’d have to guess that would be the case, just to make sure older notebooks and netbooks could run a 32-bit version, while newer or more capable machines run 64-bit.
It should be very interesting to see how this offering gets taken up in the marketplace after March 23 when it goes fully commercial. Given the ability to do remote support and administration for machines not on my LAN, it’s pretty appealing to me as the “family guru” for my sister’s family’s PCs (all 4 of them), my Dad’s PC (a D630 Latitutde notebook), and my own machines (6 to 8 of them, depending on what’s out of commission or on loan at any given time). Even with a total of 13 machines at $40 a month that’s not too bad, as long as I can “charge back” to my other family members. I have to guess lots of other SOHO “outfits” will feel the same way. It’s even more of a slam dunk for businesses not large enough to have Active Directory, but large enough to have 25-100 desktops or more.
In seeking grist for the blog mill this morning, I noticed Ed Bott’s latest ZDNet blog post “Microsoft notes Windows Update ‘inconsistencies,’ provides fix.” He reports therein that he’s monitoring the post SP1 situation in various online forums and indicates that while the SP1 release is apparently proceeding without any major hitches, a few minor ones have popped up along the way.
I was lucky enough to recover from a display driver problem in the middle of the SP1 update process on my HP HDX9203 “Dragon” yesterday, only to have Windows Update inform me that the install process had failed. I tried again, and it worked on the second try. I’ve had other Service Pack installs go south on older Windows versions (particularly Vista) where the outcome was much less pretty: a complete re-install was the only way I could recover from a mid-stream failure with Vista SP1 on a test machine. As far as I’m concerned this particular outcome was much more positive and far less traumatic!
That said, I also noticed that Ed repoorted that when he ran the Windows Update Troubleshooter (Control Panel, Troubleshooting, System and Security, Windows Update) that it came back and told him it had found and fixed some minor problems with Windows Update. “Hmmm.” I wondered to myself “Is that just his machine, or all Windows machines?” Here’s what pops up as a result of that repair, BTW:
While I can’t say for sure that *all* PCs to which Windows 7 SP1 is applied will need such repair, all 6 of my currently available PCs (I have one out on loan, and one temporarily out of service waiting for a motherboard replacement) found something to fix with Windows Update this morning when I ran the utility on those machines. I finished installing Windows 7 SP1 on those machines yesterday, and today the repairs all took root.
To me, this suggests that Windows 7 machines against which SP1 has been applied should also be subjected to the Windows Update Troubleshooter treatment — at least, those machines that use Windows Update to keep themselves current on Microsoft’s latest security patches and other updates. Think of it as a “just in case” maneuver and you may be able to avoid trouble later that you surely won’t want to shoot if and when it might occur!
I’ve written about the HP MediaSmart Server (MSS) repeatedly over the past three years: several times for Tom’s Guide and Tom’s Hardware, and several times in this very blog. I was really bummed upon learning in December that Microsoft was planning to eliminate Drive Extender technology from the upcoming Windows Home Server 2011 software, but have just run across a recent article by Paul Thurrott that gives me some comfort I’ll be able to keep using that technology for some time to come. You can check out the original, lengthy February 20 story entited “I’m Betting On Windows Home Server 2011” if you like, but I’ll summarize the key points here:
- Microsoft is keeping the centralized backup feature in WHS and extending the server backup process so it will also backup the individual machine backups (this lets users like me configure the box to duplicate backups on another drive, so if one goes bad, another remains available). Better yet, MS is extending the WHS 2011 server to enable remote Internet backups as well, so you can keep another copy in the cloud. This removes most of my objections to MS dropping Drive Extender (and Mr. Thurrott’s as well, curiously enough! ;-).
- The next version of WHS 2011 will be completely DLNA compatible (the Digital Living Network Alliance is an industry consortium of software and hardware vendors with an emphasis on home/digital media networking, sharing, and device integration). This means WHS itself will handle and share media better, instead of requiring sometimes wonky…er I mean Twonky…media extender add-ins.
- A Silverlight version of remote access will replace the current terminal services implementation, and users will be able to instruct their WHS 2011 box to stream media to them across the Internet (another frequent impetus for add-ins or additional equipment acquisitions no longer needed).
- Windows Phone 7 support will be delivered via an add-in, which should be great for those who buy into Windows Phone 7. It is supposed to deliver media streaming, phone-to-server photo upload support, and alert monitoring on the phone. Too bad I’m still planning to buy the 4G iPhone from Verizon as and when it becomes available…but maybe there’ll be an app for that, too.
- WHS 2011 will support Macs running OS X, so they too can be backed up on the server, run LaunchPad on connected Macs, and do the remote access thing from a Mac, too.
I now completely understand why HP decided to get out of the MSS business (it announced it was vacating this market last year, too, and at the time that announcement took me by surprise). With all the new built-in functionality, HPs value-add was pretty much gone, gone, gone. I’ll still have fun converting my latest MSS box to run the new version when it becomes available, though, and it’s nice to know there’ s some life in the Windows Home Server software still! And because MS is calling it WHS 2011, I’m pretty sure that means we’ll see a final commercial release before the end of this year. As far as I’m concerned: the sooner, the better! If you want to get started sooner than that, the RC beta is available for download from Microsoft Connect.
I’m working on a book on phishing and online financial fraud right now. It’s called Cyberheist: The Biggest Financial Threat Facing American Businesses Since the Meltdown of 2008. (You can read snippets about drive-by downloads and the historical roots of phishing at the sponsor’s Web site, KnowBe4.com). In researching material for the book I came across an interesting browser add-in from a banking security services company named Trusteer. This software is named Rapport, and it adds a great deal to Web browser security to block and fend off potential phishing attacks, and to improve online security for banking and other finanical transactions online.
According to the Trusteer site banner, Rapport has already been downloaded over 18 million times. The company also states that its primary means for distributing Rapport is via banks that license the software, and then extend it to their customers to help secure their online banking activities. According to their company overview, their customer list includes some names to reckon with, such as ING DIRECT, The Royal Bank of Scotland, CIBC, and “other leading online banks, brokerages, and internet companies.” Further investigation reveals that executive staff all come bearing lengthy, impressive, and impeccable information and financial security credentials, and presumably have an excellent understanding of information security tools, techniques, and requirements.
“That’s the stuff!” I thought to myself as I read over all this material. “I’m going to download this puppy and try it out for myself.” (Even though many users do get Rapport from a bank or brokerage, Trusteer also makes it available as a free download to anyone who’s interested.) What happened to me next is a straightforward but probably unintended consequence of locking down my IE to prevent phishing attacks from proceeding or succeeding.
As soon as I got the software installed, I went to shoot a screen capture of the tool at work. I turned first to the handy-dandy Windows Snipping Tool (part of Vista and Windows 7, it lets you grab whole screens or rectangular regions on-screen of your choosing). As soon as I opened the capture utility, both of my screens went completely gray–not just the browser window I had open, but the entire desktop. “Oops!” thought I to myself “Snipping Tool is not allowed; let’s try Corel Photo Shop Pro.” Same result. “OK, then, what about SnagIt?” No dice. Solid gray desktop every time, until I Alt-Tabbed into the capture utility and turned it off.
For somebody like me who writes about browser and security technology at work, it’s not acceptable to turn off my ability to capture screens in the name of security. I understand this happens because the software makers don’t want users to be able to make graphical grabs of sensitive data that they can’t actually capture in other ways.
This tells me two important things:
1. It reminds me of the old security dictum that if you make a system too secure, or too hard to use in the process of securing it, nobody will use the system (or more probably, nobody will use the software that has such a chilling effect.) I’m not using that software on my production desktop because it gets in the way of getting my work done.
2. It also reminds me that security experts recommend dedicating a system solely for the purpose of doing online financial stuff, so it can be hardened and present only a minimal attack surface. I’m not sure that’s necessary in my particular case, though it surely makes sense for companies with huge balances on deposit and in various accounts. What I’m going to do next to work further with this software myself strikes what I hope will be a happy interim between “don’t use it” and “live with its limitations.” I’m going to set up a VM and install Rapport inside that VM. And from now on, I’ll do all my e-banking and online financial stuff inside that VM and live with Rapport’s limitations within that runtime context.
It may not exactly be “the best of both worlds,” but it should be a workable compromise. As I have the chance to test Rapport’s other lockdowns and limitations more thoroughly, I’ll report on them back here.
Anybody who’s ever spent any time on MSDN will immediately recognize the look and feel, if not the actual content for the preceding screencap. It’s from MSDN, and it shows that the official posting date for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 SP1 downloads as 2/16/2011 — even though this stuff didn’t actually show up until early today (2/17/2011) on the site.
There’s an .ISO image download for SP1 itself that will build a DVD for both x86 and x64 versions, but you can now also download slipstreamed versions of Windows 7 with SP1 included for all the major versions as well. Looks like we’re still on for SP1 to hit Windows Update next Tuesday on 2/22/2011. Stay tuned: I’m downloading the .ISO right now, and will install it on a couple of test machines as soon as the download completes (it’s 1.91 GB) and I get a DVD burned for it. Download traffic is pretty heavy, so I suspect my bits are in a traffic jam, along with everybody else’s!
[PostScript 6:22 PM 2/17/2011] I’ve gotten SP1 installed on my primary test machine (i7-940, 12 GB RAM, SSD system drive, 460 GTX graphics). It took just over 12 minutes to install and reboot to a running desktop. Everything seems to work just fine, except for a graphics driver hiccup while re-running the Windows Experience Index to see if anything had changed (it hadn’t). So far, so good…
Happy Valentines Day from Microsoft? Maybe yes, maybe no… You can’t run this still-beta version of IE 9 unless you’ve installed SP1 on Windows 7, and SP1 for Windows 7 isn’t available just yet. There is a download link available but if you try to install the IE 9 RC on Windows 7 without SP1 installed, you’ll get an error message instead of a new browser.
But here’s an interesting and perhaps cheering rumor to ponder that flies in the face of previous news about SP1: in his CMS Wire story “Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate Hits the Streets” today, Geoff Spick reports that “…When IE9 starts shipping with new copies of Windows 7 Service Pack, its usage will certainly spike, but until then, it will be interesting to watch how it does in the market where the user picks the browser.” If this means that it’s going to be included in SP1, we should find out next week. If this means it won’t be bundled in until SP2 comes out, it could be a while.
This does make me want to dig into the contents of SP1 rather sooner than later after it hits MSDN on February 22, just to see if IE 9 is in or out. If Microsoft’s own reporting up to a month ago or so is to believed, it won’t be part of that package. It will still be fun to check, though…but I don’t think Microsoft would go so far as to put a RC (release candidate) version of their latest browser into SP1, now that I stop to think about it. Perhaps it would have been clearer had Mr. Spick said “…with the next Windows 7 Service Pack to follow after SP1 (SP1 is already in the hands of OEMs, and is expected to hit MSDN and TechNet on February 22)…”?
Yesterday afternoon, I came back from running an errand in the afternoon only to find a BSOD waiting for me on my production Windows 7 machine. After I got it restarted, I realized something major had gone wrong. Not only had the OS “lost” all of the security updates and patches it’s had applied to it, the update process wouldn’t complete successfully, either. Downloads went fine, install completed without a hitch, but when I cycled the machine through the restart process to do the final clean-up, I saw a new WU error message “Unable to configure Windows. Reverting to previous version.”
“This is bad!” I thought. I was right, but it took me six hours to figure out how right I was, and to take the steps necessary to restore my latest image backup (taken Sunday night, February 7). Along the way I learned numerous interesting but extremely frustrating things about the Image backup facility built into Windows 7. Here’s an abbreviated list:
- Windows 7 scans only internally mounted hard disks when looking for the folder named WindowsImageBackup. I am in the habit of backing up to an eSATA-attached hard disk, so I had to copy that directory from my K: drive to my only internal data drive F:. 181GB, which took 45 minutes.
- Whatever drives go into a Windows 7 image saveset must be restored for the backup to complete. Although the interface includes an “Exclude drives” option, the backup cannot be restored if any member drives from the saveset get excluded.
- Also, no drive in the saveset can be the source for the image to be restored, because this means it would at some point have to restore itself from itself (which is the file system equivalent of the chicken and egg problem, conveniently solved by being disallowed).
- My only internal hard drive other than the system drive (also disallowed, but because it’s an 80 GB Intel SSD and thus too small to play host to a 181 GB image file anyway) is the F: and I stupidly configured it to be part of the saveset, so I couldn’t run the image restore as things stood.
Obviously, I needed to copy the WindowsImageBackup folder one more time (another 45 minutes shot) to a different drive that was neither C: (the Intel system drive) nor F: (my other internal data drive, and a part of the image saveset). Enter Drive D: already attached to my PC through a PCI-e x1 two-port eSATA card. “OK” I figured, “the reason the Windows 7 Repair Environment won’t see D: is because it doesn’t recognize eSATA drives while conducting repairs. (The Repair Environment is a special version of the pre-installation environment, or PE, that is included on install DVDs and appears on bootable UFDs created to house the various Win7 ISO files.)
My first thought was to simply disconnect the F: drive and use its power and data cables to hook up to D: and let the restore get underway. That’s when I learned that even if you exclude a drive from the restore instructions for an image backup, Windows 7 won’t allow it to proceed with a missing drive. If you image two drives, you must then restore the same two drives (or drives that are equal in size or bigger). With F: disconnected to hook up D: that meant no dice.
Next, I grabbed a motherboard cable set that plugs into a motherboard SATA port and a Molex 4-pin power connector, and essentially routes that connection outside the case. Alas, Windows 7 RE still couldn’t see that drive. I had thought that because I was using a third-party Silicon Image Sil3132 two-port eSATA adapter, that this might explain why Win7 RE overlooked scanning attached devices during repair maneuvers. But even when I hooked the D: drive up through the adapter card shown in the photo below, Win7 RE still blithely ignored its presence.
Nothing short of opening the case, plugging a new SATA cable from drive to motherboard, and plugging in a power output from the PSU sufficed to get Windows 7 to recognize the drive.
Finally with both C: and F: up and running, and available for an image restore, and another internal drive also avaialble from which the image file could be read to perform that restore, I was ready to rock and roll. Time required to go through all of the shenigans and scenarios involved was right about six hours. I don’t know how long the restore took to complete, because I fired it off at a little after 10:00 PM last night and went to bed shortly thereafter. When I got up this morning, the machine was back up and running in an apparently normal and healthy state. I copied my saved PST files from yet another external drive to the proper folder in my User file hierarchy, and thereby regained all my e-mail messages through yesterday’s debacle.
Now, I get to go and repeat my last two days’ work because that’s the only stuff that I lost irretrievably when this machine decided to go south on me. Here are the morals I extract from this episode:
1. When you build or buy a Windows 7 machine, if you want to use image backup, insert or acquire an extra internal drive, so you can use it to image all of your other drives if you choose to do so.
2. When you construct an image file saveset, include only those drives you want to be able to back up from any image in that set. As of today, I’m relying on conventional file-by-file backup for all of my drives, except for the system drive (where the image stuff matters most, because of the boot-up, operating system, and volume shadow copy stuff).
3. I’m reworking my backup schedule to go nightly for all important working directories, but will still keep making an image backup once a week (mine goes off at 0-dark-thirty on Sunday night when I am never, ever working late). Hopefully, I can avoid future data/work losses that way.