Windows Enterprise Desktop


January 20, 2010  8:34 PM

First a hiatus, then a cutback

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Hello there! This is not a normal blog for me, nor will I count it as such. It’s a news update from yours truly to let you know that I’m flying off to Belgium on Satuday, January 23, and that I won’t be back until February 6, just in time for my son Gregory’s sixth birthday. I’m also out of town for the week of February 8 through12, testifying as an expert witness in a courtroom in Tyler, Texas. In the meantime, I’ll be taking time off from this blog. You may see an occasional post or two from me during this interval, but that will happen only if I find some time on my hands, or an unusually important topic about which to blog. So much for the hiatus part, which will last three weeks, starting today and lasting until February 15.

Upon my return to a more normal working schedule on February 15, I’ll be posting at half of my usual frequency (once or twice a week, instead of three times a week) until the end of May. I’m both saddened and delighted to report that this is because I’ve gotten so busy with work that I’m having to cut back a bit on my blogging activities.

Do please stay tuned, and keep your comments and questions coming. Nothing makes me happier than to be able to respond to a reader request or suggestion when it comes to choosing topics for future blogs.

Best wishes,

–Ed–

January 15, 2010  5:52 PM

Windows Time Synch Problem Solver: Atomic Clock Sync

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’m sitting here at Gate 78 in the Pittsburgh airport. It’s 4:40 AM, and I’m waiting for 5:15 to roll around so I can board a flight to Atlanta, and thence on home to Austin. In about 5.5 hours I should be climbing into my car, to drive another 35 miles to Round Rock and home. Especially while traveling, keeping track of time is important, particularly when trying to make connections, keep appointments, and catch planes.

That’s why I experienced some frustration in my hotel room last night when I ran the Windows Internet Time time synch in the Date and Time item in control panel. At first one, then another, and finally, all of the time servers iisted in the Internet Time Settings window came up with the uninformative error message “An error occurred while Windows was synchronizing with time.windows.com” (or whatever other servers I tried at NIST, bldroc.gov, and so forth).

Usually the time synch messages are a little more informative than that, and will add tidbits of information like “Unable to resolve peer” or “timeserver took too long to respond.” Thus, I found myself doubly stumped: I wasn’t able to communicate with any time servers, and I had no additional error info to help me figure out why. Fortunately, I did have a working Internet connection, and with a little digging I came across a utility called Atomic Clock Sync V3.0.

The default Atomic Clock screen shows all current time settings

The default Atomic Clock screen shows all current time settings

Not only was it able to synch with its own parent time server, but it also offered a handy-dandy repair service for my apparently failed local time service. Open this tab in the program and you encounter the steps depicted in this screenshot:

 

This pane marches you through a standard Windows service repair.

This pane marches you through a standard Windows service repair.

Anybody familiar with Windows services will recognize that these steps represent what’s required to halt a hung or failed service, unregister it from the services manager, and then reverse that process by re-registering it and finally starting it up again. Proof that it worked occured when I completed the final step and indeed found myself once again able to synchronize with whatever time server I chose in the Date and Time widget’s Internet Time Settings window.

This handy widget has now taken up residence in my toolbox. If you ever find yourself facing a Windows machine that can’t complete a time sync, you’ll want to add it to your toolbox, too.


January 13, 2010  10:57 PM

Handy Windows IP Configuration Utility: Win IP Config

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I teach online courses for HP and other vendors, and really enjoy that work. I often learn as much or more from the students as I feel like they’re learning from me. Case in point: in one of my Windows classes, a student asked me if there was any graphical utility like the old winipcfg utility that came with Win95, Win98, Win ME (and another student claimed even Windows 2000, but I didn’t remember this being available). So I went off to check and sure enough there’s a program called Wntipcfg.exe that was available for Windows 2000 and that even worked on XP that supported the same graphical abilities to manage IP protocol stuff, DHCP leases, and so forth, that Winipcfg.exe did for the older Win9x versions. The trouble is, this old tool won’t work (I tried, no go) with Vista or Windows 7, which have experienced enough TCP/IP internals changes in their makeup to make that program fail.

I went poking around to see what I could find by way of replacement, and unearthed this little gem: it’s called Win IP Config, and it’s freeware created by independent programmer Peter Kostov. Here’s a screenshot that shows what it can tell you about your network adapters (this one shows the info for my current hotel room Wi-Fi connection, including a Class A private IP address with a Class C subnet mask! It also accurately indicates that my Bluetooth and GbE interfaces are currently not in use):

All kinds of useful adapter info in a single screen

All kinds of useful adapter info in a single screen

You can also use it for netstat info, to create and manage secondary IP address assignments, handle DHCP leases, and manage static IP routes. My only beef is that in an increasingly IPv6 world, this tool remains IPv4 only. But maybe Peter will stumble across this blog, and starting plugging away at what must surely be a nice enhancement to an already excellent tool. Here’s hoping!


January 11, 2010  11:59 PM

Upgrading from 32- to 64-bit Windows (7, mostly)

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’ve been an online instructor for HP at their online Learning Center for over five years. There, the company offers free, short courses on a whole range of computing topics, including numerous items focused on Windows 7 (the following snippet is cut from the all courses listing there).

Note the various Windows 7 courses available here

Note the various Windows 7 courses available here

Of the items listed, I’m currently teaching the Windows 7 tune-up and migrating from XP to Win7 courses, with a very active bunch on the former, and a reasonably active bunch on the latter.

As you might imagine, the topic of 64-bit computing is one that comes up frequently in both venues. In answering student questions and concerns, and in researching the state of the current marketplace, I’m observing that except for lower end notebook, netbook, and desktop PCs (all-in-ones and under-$500 offerings) it appears to me that the bulk of commercial products come with 64-bit Windows 7 pre-installed. Any machine that can accommodate 4 or more GB of RAM is far more likely to ship with 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional by default these days, and vendors like Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and others are all touting their support for 64-bit Windows 7 operating systems.

When it comes to upgrading an existing 32-bit installation (Vista or XP, usually) to 64-bit Windows 7, a few important observations are in order. First, most experts recommend (and I concur, based on installing dozens of 32- and 64-bit Windows 7 systems) that you plan to perform a clean install of 64-bit Windows 7 versions, and to re-install Windows applications on the new platform. Even though products like Laplink’s PC Mover can take preferences, settings and even some applications from 32-bit XP or Vista to 64-bit Windows, and Windows Easy Transfer can do likewise with setting and preferences, you’re often better off starting from a clean slate (and registry) when making such a move.

Certainly, you’ll want to boot from a Win7 64-bit ISO and run Upgrade Advisor from a 64-bit perspective to see how target hardware fares in that analysis, too: 32-bit drivers remain more forgiving than 64-bit ones (all of the latter *MUST* be signed to work with Win7 64-bit editions) but that can also lead to trouble and/or ongoing instability issues.

I’ve learned to look for rock-solid hardware configurations with workable drivers for all components. For 64-bit Windows 7, this often appears to produce more stable and reliable systems. After fighting with Vista for over two years, that comes as a real relief! My HP students and the various forums I haunt to keep up with the current state of the art, all also appear to validate this perspective. Perhaps 64-bit Win7 can also work for you?


January 8, 2010  7:21 PM

GUIDs, Shortcuts, and “GodMode” in Windows 7 and Vista

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Last week, I read with great interest about a well-worn Windows trick. If you couple a folder name with a specific globally unique identifier, usually called a GUID, and save it in a directory, presto! you’ve created an Explorer-centric way to jump straight into specific named Windows facilities. Ina Fried started this with a 1/4 blog entitled “Understanding Windows 7′s ‘GodMode’” followed quickly by “Windows 7 has lots of ‘GodModes’.” This morning, my favorite Windows wizard, Ed Bott, polished off this topic du jour with his own offering entitled “The Ultimate ‘Gode Mode’ list: 39 secret Windows 7 shortcuts.”

The technique for building such a shortcut is simple. Take a descriptive name, such as System (which equates to the System applet in Control Panel as it happens), then append a period, followed by a hyphenated hexadecimal string surrounded in curly brackets (which happens to be {BB06C0E4-D293-4F75-8A90-CB05B6477EEE} for the aforemented system applet. Use the whole thing

System.{BB06C0E4-D293-4F75-8A90-CB05B6477EEE}

as a folder name in Explorer, and you’ve got your shortcut.

Over the past week 39 such shortcuts have surfaced for Windows 7 only (14) and for Windows 7 and Vista (25 more). I spent a half-an-hour this morning creating a directory called GUID-Central where I defined all of these items so you can see how impressive they look in the aggregate.

Complete list of GUID shortcuts

Complete list of GUID shortcuts

Items that begin with W7 work only with Windows 7; items that begin with WV work with both Windows 7 and Windows Vista. But because pretty pictures go only so far, I also created a text file that contains all these strings so you can cut’n’paste between your favorite text editor and explorer to re-create any or all of these folders for yourself.

I’ve pasted that material below inside a preformatted text block on my Viztaview blog (GUID Shortcuts), so you can follow that link, then cut’n’paste as you will. I’d recommend dropping it into a text editor, then creating a folder on your Vista or Windows 7 machine, then using the text strings with the Rename command on New folders you create therein. Enjoy!


January 6, 2010  7:52 PM

Build a Quick’n’Dirty WinRE UFD for Windows 7

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

A quick and judicious combination of the right tools can make it easy to add to your Windows 7 (or Vista) toolkit. The Windows 7 Recovery Environment (aka WinRE) is included on the operating system install media — it’s what comes up when you elect to “Repair your computer” early on in the Windows 7 (or Vista) install dialogs — and it’s what the Backup and Restore utility writes to optical media when you select the “Create a system repair disc” option inside that tool. Why carry around a CD or DVD when you don’t need to?

Create a bootable UFD, then copy the files that Windows 7 writes to the optical disc, and you can boot from that UFD and run the repair console from there instead. It’s a nice way to speed up the repair process, too, because accessing information from a flash memory device (your UFD) is usually much faster than accessing an optical disk (either CD or DVD).

To start this process along, grab the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool v2.18 (it’s available in many places on the Web, but I include a link to PCWorld here). You need to use the “Run as administrator” right-click option to run this tool in Win7 (or Vista), after you’ve installed this, so don’t forget. Use the tool to format a UFD of your liking: the faster, the better, but it will only accommodate 148 MB of files and information, so it doesn’t have to be very big. Once you’ve used this tool to format your drive, you can make it bootable simply by copying the Win7 (or Vista) repair disk files onto the device.

That’s your next step: type Backup into the Start menu search box, then enter the Backup and Restore utility. Click the left-hand column option that reads “Create a system repair disc” after inserting a blank writable CD or DVD into your optical drive. Once that disk is burned, use Explorer to copy all of its files to your freshly-formatted UFD (I simply opened two such windows then clicked and dragged from the optical disk window to the empty UFD window to make this happen).

If you tweak your PC’s BIOS to let you boot from that UFD, you’ll be able to launch the recovery environment from that UFD the next time your system starts up. The whole process takes less than 15 minutes to complete and adds a useful tool to your repair kit collection. Give it a try!

Note to Vista users: you’ll have to download and install a tool to create recovery disks for your PC. Check out the recovery disk instructions at either NeoSmart or I Started Something for details and step-by-step instructions (or use any good 3rd-party backup tool like Acronis TrueImage Home, Norton Ghost, and so forth).


January 4, 2010  8:09 PM

Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade: Fast & Easy

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

The Anytime Upgrade program was introduced with Windows Vista, but it was slow (key purchase, validation, and download routinely took over half an hour, and installation likewise took 20-30 minutes or so). That’s why I approached the Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade with some trepidation. What I learned not only dispelled my fears, but also convinced me that MS got things right this time around.

Here’s what I observed while using Windows Anytime Upgrade:

  • Any valid key for the target OS upgrade will work (I tried retail and MSDN keys, and they both worked fine).
  • No big downloads are required to get the Anytime Upgrade rolling (I didn’t see much evidence of online activity on systems I upgraded, beyond the key validation stage; I’m guessing that the install image that Microsoft burns to DVD or encodes in an ISO includes the upgrade code as well as the base OS image itself).
  • None of these upgrades took any longer than 12 minutes to complete, and going from Home Premium to Professional on my wife’s mini-ITX system with a T2300 Core Duo (1.66 GHz, 2 MB L2 Cache, 667 MHz FSB) took just a little over 9 minutes to finish. Curiously going from Starter to Home Premium took about 2 minutes longer…
  • Indeed, there’s a memory limitation of 2 GB on Windows Starter (the official literature still says 1 GB) because I was able to recognize more memory on her system as soon as Home Premium came up and started running (it now recognizes 3318 MB of the 4096 MB of RAM installed, instead of saying “4096 installed, 2048 MB usable” as it did under Starter edition).

Here’s how Anytime Upgrade pricing and options for Vista and Windows 7 compare

  • Windows 7 Starter to Home Premium: $80 (no comparable Vista upgrade)
  • Home Premium to Ultimate: Vista $ 159, Win7 $140
  • Windows 7 Home Premium to Professional: $90 (no comparable Vista upgrade)
  • Business/Professional to Ultimate : Vista $139, Win7 $130
  • Vista Home Basic to Home Premium: $78 (no comparable Win7 upgrade)
  • Vista Home Basic to Ultimate: $199 (no comparable Win7 upgrade)

All in all, I think Microsoft has improved considerably on Anytime Upgrade for Windows 7, as has been the case for so many other aspects of that OS as compared to Windows Vista. Where apples-to-apples comparisons are possible, it’s a bit cheaper (looks like $10-19 cheaper, in fact). There’s also no question that it’s easier to obtain and install, and faster, too.


December 30, 2009  3:40 PM

Interesting Win7 ROI tool

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Earlier this week, Nick Eaton posted an interesting blurb to the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Entitled “Windows 7 ROI tool estimates cost savings,” it pointed me to a free Microsoft-sponsored financial tool at Alinean.com, a well-known builder of (SaaS-based) ROI tools of all kinds. It’s called the Microsoft Windows 7 ROI Tool Lite and here’s how it works:

  • You provide a company name, a “matching industry” niche, primary geographic location to situate your company on the planet and in the business context. I indicated a publishing/media company in Texas (USA).
  • You indicate the total number of PC users, and what portion of them run desktops and laptops. I indicated 50 with 30 desktops and 20 laptops.
  • You provide the number of main sites and branch offices in your operation. I indicated one main site and two branches.
  • You describe the mix of OSes currently in use (Windows 7, Vista, XP, 2000 or earlier, and other), and identify a target Windows 7 version to which you’ll move (the default is Windows 7 Professional, which is a pretty likely choice except in operations that go whole-hog for Windows 7 Enterprise). I indicated 10% Windows 7, 50% Windows Vista, and 40% XP, but many businesses will be 80-plus percent on XP, and correspondingly lower on those newer OSes.
  • You select an upgrade strategy from a short list of possible selections that include an immdiate in-place OS upgrade, immediate PC replacement, compressed PC refresh, or upgrade OS with normal PC refresh cycle. I chose the compressed PC refresh, which means that older PCs will be replaced with newer ones along with an OEM OS upgrade in the process, and newer machines get an acclerated in-place upgrade.

Here’s part of what the tool produced by way of response to this input.

The output from the tool compares benefits, costs, and TCO.

The output from the tool compares benefits, costs, and TCO. Click to view whole image

A word of warning: though the tool is interesting and the results appear compelling, it’s worth considering that Alinean created this tool at Microsoft’s behest, and that it undoubtedly fails to completely mirror real situations on the ground (it is a “Lite” tool, after all) and is probably driven by some friendly assumptions to make Win7 look as good as possible. That said, it’s still fun to play with, and provides some interesting data that may be worth pondering as you work on making a business case for upgrade and/or migration.


December 28, 2009  7:01 PM

Upgrade to Win7 Using a “Standard Image”

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Organizations seeking to upgrade up to 200 desktops to Windows 7 will want to check out this Small and Midsize Business Corner article on TechNet “Upgrading to Windows 7 with a Standard Image: Overview.” Better yet, the various related documents linked-to at the head of this page are also worth perusing. They include:

Lots of good stuff in this TechNet silo

Lots of good stuff in this TechNet silo

Other ingredients necessary for this process include Windows 7 volume license media (necessary for installing multiple licenses from a single image), the Windows 7 Automated Installation Kit (WAIK), a USB flash drive upon which to store the standard image, and a reference computer upon which the standard image will be built and from which it can be customized.

Definitely worth a look-see, even for those curious about deployments on a bigger scale.


December 25, 2009  3:31 PM

Merry Christmas Everyone

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

This isn’t a real blog post. Rather, it’s a quickie digital Christmas card from me and my family to you and yours. Let me briefly extend the best wishes of the season to one and all, with hopes that everybody has their wishes fulfilled, and at least one pleasant surprise to digest. This goes double for the small people, who tend to take Christmas far more seriously and much more to heart than we big folks do.

Gregory gets his Wii, while I start picking up the wreckage

Gregory gets his Wii, while I start picking up the wreckage

And of course, I hope everybody gets his or her fair share of treats and sweets today, with access to friends, family, and all the good cheer you can stand. Thanks also to everyone for helping make this blog a success, and for your many excellent comments and insights. Once again: best of this festive season to one and all.

— Ed and Gregory (pictured above), plus Dina (who makes it all happen and keeps it worthwhile) Tittel


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