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.
OK, so now we’ve got some dates for the upcoming release of SP1 for the combined Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 code base:
- OEMs have already had it for a week or more
- MSDN and TechNet will get it next Wednesday on February 16
- RTW (Release to the Web) will occur on Tuesday, February 22
WinRumors is the lead source for these dates, as far as I can tell, though other sources are popping up all over the place to repeat this information (I got mine from Mary Jo Foley’s blog for today, 2/9/2011 “At last it’s time for SP1…“).
No word yet on when the Service Pack will get integrated into Windows Update (MS ususally waits 90 days before adding a new SP to its usual download scans and lineup). I’d expect that to occur some time in April, or perhaps early May. We’ll see…but it’s time for admins everywhere to get ready, and plan to start testing soon!
I’m a long time fan of Ed Bott’s work with Windows 7, and frequently draw from his blog for mine. Recently, he’s put together a three-part series on Windows 7 and SSDs that includes some very useful information and pulls together lots of tips and facts. IT professionals tasked with switching Windows 7 machines from conventional to SSD system drives will find all of these stories useful, but none more helpful than the third one in this triune collection:
- Part 1: Windows 7 and SSDs: Just how fast are they?
- Part 2: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks
- Part 3: Windows 7 and SSDs: Cutting your system drive down to size
I’ve done this same task on a few systems myself, and have occasionally fallen prey to some myths about SSD setup that Ed omits entirely (most notably, the admonition to turn off volume shadow copy and thus also, restore points on the system drive, and to move the paging file to a different drive). His advice is clear and cogent, and includes no more tweaking and tuning than is absolutely necessary.
I would add a few tips to his excellent advice based on my own experience:
- Make sure your target system supports AHCI before you purchase and install an SSD. Unless the disk controller lets you use this technology, you can’t take advantage of best-case SSD performance anyway (TRIM, that is). I have an old and still very serviceable Dell D620 Latitude notebook, but it has no AHCI, so I’m not going to give it an SSD, either, though it runs Windows quite nicely. The latest Intel storage driver is also a definite must, where applicable, so locate and download the latest Intel RST (Rapid Storage Technology) driver: at this time, January 2011 10.1.0.1008 is the latest version.
- Check out elpam.soft’s SSD Tweaker (or their $12.99 Pro version, if you plan on doing multiple conversions, or really want to dig deep into related Windows tweaks). It brings everything together you’ll need to convert a Windows 7 system from IDE emulation to AHCI (except for SSD firmware stuff, of course).
- It’s easier and cleaner to reinstall Windows 7 on a Windows 7 machine you want to convert from conventional IDE (or emulated IDE) drives to AHCI drives. Though you can tweak your way to a working system, it ends up being faster in many cases to reinstall. YMMV of course, depending on how many applications get installed after the OS goes on, and how much other customization may be involved.
Adding an SSD to the Windows 7 mix definitely improves the overall computing experience, and is worth it for those willing to pay the higher costs for a fast but smaller system drive. They’re particularly good for notebooks where they also improve battery life (no moving parts) and reduce weight (by a little, anyway).
Take a look at this snippet from the Microsoft Security Bulletin Advance Notification for February 2011, folks! We’ve got a dozen security updates headed our way next week:
Here’s how this “dirty dozen” breaks down, according to various categories of undoubted interest to Windows 7 (and other relevant version) administrators:
- Of the 12, 3 are rated Critical, and the rest Important.
- Of the 12, 9 require a restart, and the other three are labeled “May require restart.” Plan on restarting all updated Windows machines.
- The severity ratings break down this way: 5 qualify as Remote Code Execution (including all 3 critical items); an equal number are rated as Elevation of Privilege, and there is one each Denial of Service and Information Disclosure.
- Affected OSes include Windows XP (which gets a rare update, even though it’s out of conventional support), Windows Vista, and Windows 7, plus Windows Server 2003, 2008, and 2008 R2.
Apparently there’s “something for everyone” in this upcoming round of updates. For more information on such details as are presently available (the whole story won’t be made public until MS releases the updates at 11 AM EST on Tuesday, 2/8/2011) see Jabulani Leffall’s excellent story for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine “Microsoft Preparing Hefty 12-Item Security Patch on Tuesday.”
I’m always on the lookout for good, free tools for Windows 7, especially workable and usable security stuff. KeePass Password Safe qualifies on all those fronts. It’s completely free, and it’s even Open Source (OSI) Certified. It establishes and maintains a secuirty database that is locked with a master key or a key file. Thus, users need remember only one password, or select the proper keyfile, to unlock that database and access any or all of the account/password pairs that make up its contents.
The program is tiny (a 1.9 MB download), and installs in less than a minute on most machines. There is some setup time and effort involved, because you must then manually add an entry for each account/password pair you wish the program to store on your behalf. What you wind up with as a result looks something like this:
As you can see the program breaks accounts down into categories, so you can find your password data quickly and easily (one thing I don’t like about the Norton Identity Safe, which serves the same function, is that it offers a single list of all accounts and passwords only by alphabetical order: over time it gets tedious to find and manage data in that kind of set-up). The most important thing about a good KeePass setup is to choose a strong master password: I used the “Perfect Passwords” generator at Steve Gibson Research to generate some random character strings, then cut a 12-character segment out of one string that was easy for me to remember, to create a sufficiently strong one for my purposes.
If you need a good, free password manager I urge you to check out KeePass. It’s nothing fancy, but it does the job! I use it on my test machines and all of my VM images (where I routinely run free security software to keep costs to a minimum, as these things tend to come and go with amazing frequency in my office).
While it’s not anywhere near on par with MacDonald’s just yet, Microsoft can now claim “more than 300 million copies of Windows 7 sold” since its general availability (GA) date on October 22, 2009. That was nearly sixteen months ago, so that puts the monthly run-rate at 18.75 million copies per month. This squares nicely with the 240 million figure that Microsoft released last October, on the first anniversary of that release date (at 20 million copies a month, it’s actually slightly over the average, but that’s what you’d expect on the tail end of a series like this one).
This tidbit appeared in Microsoft’s Q2 FY11 Earnings Report, released yesterday, in the form of the following bulleted list item:
Microsoft announced it has now sold over 300 million Windows 7 licenses, and Windows 7 is now running on over 20% of Internet-connected PCs.
Mary Jo Foley also quotes some interesting analyst report items in a recent blog on these numbers. This includes the following items:
- Forrester Research reported last November that 10% of business PCs in Europe and North America were running Windows 7.
- At the same moment, 31% of new PCs purchased for business use came with Windows 7 pre-installed.
- Forrester also predicts that by the end of 2011, that number will exceed 80% for all new business PCs sold.
Most analysts expect 2011 to be a big year for business Windows 7 adoptions, including lots of major enterprises and government organizations, with a vastly increased presence in SMB organizations as well. Does that mean the run rate will soon exceed 20 million units monthly? Probably — but we can do the math later, when MS issues its next quarterly report in about three more months.
I’ve written about the Zinstall product before: as long ago as August 16, 2010 (Zinstall XP7 Offers Remarkable XP to Windows 7 Migration Capabilities) and again about two weeks after that (zPOD offers interesting extension to Zinstall capabilities). After a conversation yesterday with Mike Stelmach, Executive Director at Zinstall, I learned that the product is finding an interesting niche with organizations in the small to medium sized business (SMB) world, particularly because of its abilities to enable organizations to upgrade to Windows 7, yet still run legacy apps as icons directly from the Windows 7 desktop.
In particular, the following capabilities have proved particularlly attractive, and have fostered what Stelmach called “significant uptake in the SMB marketplace:”
- The ability to run IE6 (with attendant access to browser specific code and information on servers on an organization’s intranet)
- The ability to run custom applications inside a virtual XP runtime environment on the Windows 7 desktop, or to keep legacy databases and related front ends going in the same way
- The ability to keep existing (and sometimes substantial) investments in XP-based Microsoft Mail data and applications running intact on the Windows 7 desktop
When I asked Stelmach to explain why he thought this was generating substantial buzz and interest among SMB players, he likened using Zinstall with a Windows XP virtual environment to “having one’s cake and eating it too.” He went on to opine that “…SMBs don’t often have the resources or the time to undergo wholesale application and infrastructure migrations like real enterprises do.” Zinstall gives SMB’s a way to protect their legacy software and database investments, even as they find themselves forced to purchase new PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed. “It’s faster, cheaper, and easier for them to bring their XP-dependent tools and information forward onto the Windows 7 desktop using Zinstall, than it is for them to go through extended porting and migration exercises,” he concludes.
By way of further illustration, Stelmach also furnished me with a testimonial from the Web Communications Director at a large federal agency in the Canadian government:
A few months ago I decided to upgrade a seven-year-old XP install to a new Win 7 box after my hard drive started failing. But I really, really wanted to preserve both my data and the many apps I’d installed and customized over the years — on my new box if at all possible. I looked into various VM options, but none of them met my needs. I wanted to simply transfer my entire 200 gig XP install to some sort of partition on the new machine. And quickly, before my hard drive quit entirely.
I eventually came across Zinstall XP7 through Google. It promised “single click transfer” of my old install to the new one. Frankly, I doubted this was possible. I’ve been working with Windows PCs since Windows was a beta product, and I just couldn’t see how it could be done. But given Zinstall offered a money-back guarantee I thought, why not?
Long story short: the product worked exactly as advertised. I installed Zinstall, cabled the old and new machines together, and pressed ‘Go.’ A few hours later I had an exact, fully functioning copy of my XP install on my new Win 7 box. I could run all my old apps and copy data back and forth between the old and new systems. Mighty impressive. I can’t recommend Zinstall XP7 highly enough. It did exactly what it said it would, and did it without a hitch. I think Microsoft should include Zinstall XP7 with every copy of Win 7 they sell; it would make for a lot of happy Windows upgraders.
Of course, this “OS within another OS” strategy does have a hard-and-fast end date, however, in that MS still claims it will withdraw all forms of extended support for XP in 2014. Whether or not this date holds may depend on how well, and how quickly, the kinds of companies who find Zinstall so attractive get on the ball and actually move their applications and data forward into implementations more directly compatible with Windows 7 (and 8)!
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!