In the past few years I’ve written about numerous utilities from Nirsoft, Nir Sofer’s superlative source for what he aptly describes as “small and useful freeware utilities.” Although it’s been out since April, I just came across mention of his BlueScreenView utility in the November issue of PC World (that issue isn’t accessible online just yet, but here’s an earlier, more detailed review by the same author entitled “BlueScreenView Relays BSOD Autopsy Results“).
I’ve worked with numerous crash dump tools for years, including the Microsoft Windows Debugging Tools, and have yet to find a better tool for quick, straightforward crash dump analysis than this one . (When it comes to detailed, down-and-dirty crash dump analysis, nobody knows this topic better than Windows maven Mark Russinovich: see Chapter 15 of his recent book, Windows Internals 5 for the best overview and discussion of this topic I know of anywhere.)
BlueScreenView doesn’t tell you anything the other tools don’t also tell you but it works quickly and presents the information in a readily-accessible and intelligible form (and lists all the crashes for which it can find dumps on your system). Take a look at this most recent output from my primary desktop system, which I loaded and ran a couple of weeks ago. As soon as I saw the events for August 19 through September 28, I immediately knew I had to go out and find a better ACPI driver for this PC. Since I did that on or about October 15, I’ve had no further ACPI problems with this machine (though as you can see I sat down this morning to learn that usbhub.sys had fomented a crash on this box. Sigh).
If you would like a fast understandable crash dump analysis tool, grab yourself a copy of BlueScreenView right away. You won’t be sorry you did. It comes in the form of a 52 KB zip file. To run the program simply unzip the contents into a readily accessible directory (you can even put a shortcut on your desktop, or pin the BlueScreenView.exe file to the Start Menu or the Taskbar as you may choose). It works like a peach with Windows 7 and Vista, and I suppose it’s just a matter of time before I’ll try it out with XP as well. Enjoy!
This weekend I got an email from my old buddy Mike Drips, who informed me he’d found a nice little tool for building a bootable, installable UFD for Windows 7 at the Microsoft Store. Alas, I had to call him this morning to get the full title of the tool — namely, the Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool — because no amount of searching around with purely descriptive titles on that site helped me turn it up. But turn it up I did with title in hand, at the aforementioned link.
Given this free download and a valid Windows ISO image file, you can create a bootable UFD (that’s a USB Flash Drive, for those not in the know about this MS acronym) or burn a DVD from which to install Windows. Although the tool specifically identifies itself as for Windows 7, I was able to confirm by experiment that it also works with Windows Vista ISO image files as well ad Windows 7 files of the same variety. Reset your PC’s (or notebook’s) BIOS so it will boot from a UFD and presto! you can boot from the UFD to run the Windows installer.
Here’s a gallery of screenshots from installing (first four images) and using (next seven images) this tool that will give you a pretty good idea of what it is and how it works. Definitely worth grabbing, for those installs you plan to do “by hand!”
So much for installing the software. The next series show how it’s used to create a bootable UFD (warning: copy everything on that drive before you turn a UFD over to this program, because one of its first actions is to format the drive).
All you need to do to use this tool is to access setup.exe after inserting the UFD into a Windows machine (only works when installing a 32-bit OS from a 32-bit OS, or 64-bit OS from a 64-bit OS) or after booting from the UFD itself. Check it out! I think you’ll like it…
As far as I can recall, Windows XP was the first Windows version to support 64-bit operation (in fact, according to the 64-bit software timeline in the Wikipedia article “64-bit” the first such version was released on April 30, 2005 quite a bit later than the 32-bit XP release date in August, 2001). I haven’t messed with 64-bit versions of XP much, but came to appreciate them with Vista (where both 32- and 64-bit versions released simultaneously).
My appreciation is only improving with Windows 7. That’s because while the requirement that all drivers be signed might seem restrictive it is actually proving to result in more stable and reliable 64-bit systems for me as compared to the same systems running in 32-bit mode on the very same hardware. This observation has been dawning for me slowly as I migrate more of my production and test systems to Windows 7, and observe the differences in reliability and stability between the two OSes.
Here are three cases in point, to help illustrate my contention:
- My primary test machine is built around an Asus P5K motherboard with an older QX6800 quad core processor, 8-12 GB of DDR2-800 RAM (I vary the amount of memory according to current usage patterns), an NVidia GeForce 9600GT, and three Samsung 1 TB SpinPoint drives. I’ve got Windows 7 Professional 64-bit running as the host OS, and also run 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows XP, Vista, and Win7 as guest OSes as well. This machine has had exactly 1 (!) runtime error since I updated the machine to that OS on August 8, 2009. Remarkable!
- One of my test notebooks is an MSI PR200 with a T7300 Mobile Core 2 Duo, 4 GB DDR2-667 RAM, Intel GMA X3100 graphics, and so forth (details appear in this Tom’s Hardware Review from 2007). I’ve run both 32- and 64-bit Win7 versions on this platform and while the 64-bit version maxes out at about one minor hiccup weekly, the 32-bit version easily triples or quadruples that experience.
- My primary production machine has always and exclusively been 32-bit since I first built it in 2006 for Vista. Readers of this blog and my ViztaView blog know that I’ve been plagued with bizarre and interesting hardware issues on this machine for years, and seemingly conquer them as they appear only to have them replaced by other, equally bizarre and mysterious issues. Guess what? I’ve now switched to 64-bit Windows 7 Professional on this machine, and it’s quieted down considerably (from a dozen or more error items in Reliability Monitor weekly to one, or at most two).
Yes, I know, this is far from a sufficiently large enough sample to be statistically significant. But for me it’s significant in another, even more important way: I now spend less time troubleshooting systems, and more time working. The boss (my wife, that is) likes this, and so do my creditors and my bank balance. And thus, maybe — just maybe — the 32- to 64-bit switch may also be worth considering for those of who you’ve yearned for a more stable and reliable Windows desktop environment, especially on machines subjected to constant tinkering and upgrades (as mine, and I have to believe also, some of yours are as well).
I was expecting more stuff to hit the MS Download center in the wake of the Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 R2 release last Thursday (10/22/2009) and boy, was I right. Check out the “new items” page for a complete listing. I’m only going to toss out some highlights that reflect my own recent download activity, and/or topics I believe will be of interest to enterprise Windows desktop administrators. Here goes:
- Security Compliance Management Toolkit: provides a pretty complete (MS calls it an “end-to-end solution”) package for those who need to plan, deploy, and monitor security baselines for Windows machines and 2007 office applications, including support for Win7, BitLocker Drive Encryption, and IE 8.
- Debug Diagnostic Tool v1.1 plus related “How-to“: a tool designed to help troubleshoot system hangs, slow performance, memory leaks and fragmentation, or crashes in 32-bit (Win32) user-mode processes — applications and system utilities, in other words. Could be quite useful.
- Virtualization Overview, Methods, and Models: covers various approaches to planning virtualization within an organization, including Windows Server 2003 and 2008, plus Windows XP, Vista, and 7.
There are also over a hundred updates dated 10/26 and 10/27 for all kinds of platforms and servers in the new downloads section as well. If you also manage updates, you’re probably already aware of these. If not, you may want to take a look just to see what’s available.
In switching my test and production PCs over from Vista (or creating dual boot Vista/Win7 or XP-SP3/Win7 setups), I’ve observed that while Windows 7 does a very good job of identifying most hardware and then loading the proper driver, I’ve also recently observed that its accuracy is less than perfect. This can lead to interesting problems and apparent stability issues, so it’s a possible culprit worth pondering when otherwise rock-solid Win7 installations start showing signs of driver-related instability.
Case in point: My Dell All-in-One (AIO) 968 inkjet printer. As I documented in a ViztaView blog a little over a year ago, that OS also misidentified this printer as a Dell AIO 968 XPS printer. XPS is the Microsoft XML Paper specification created as a platform independent document exchange format, and essentially forces the printer driver to convert all other print input forms into XPS prior to allowing the printer to output any files deposited into the AIO 968’s print queue. As it turns out, Win7 also falls prey to the same misidentification, which produces a slew of “Print Filter Pipeline Host” errors when the whatever-format-to-XPS conversion runs into trouble (which it does all the time, if my experience with this particular device misidentification is any guide). Thus, if you look at this Reliability Monitor display for 10/23/2009, you’ll see 6 instances of the “Print Filter Pipeline Host” “stopped working” errors on that day, as I printed a bunch of stuff (coloring pages for my son, actually).
When Dell released a new Windows 7 driver for this printer on October 5, I happily installed it and kept my nose to the grindstone without really checking my work. Had I done so, I would have noticed that the device had been incorrectly identified as a “Dell 968 AIO XPS Printer” rather than a “Dell 968 AIO Printer.” Because the former always invokes XPS conversion as part of the print process, and that process throws lots of errors — particularly when printing Web pages — I suddenly found myself back in the swamp with those “Print Filter Pipeline Host” errors once again.
It wasn’t until I went into Devices and Printers, right-clicked the Dell 968 entry and forced it to be identified as the right printer that I got things working. Simply uninstalling the driver and letting Win7 re-detect the hardware did no good whatsoever, because the OS misidentified this device as a “Dell 968 AIO XPS Printer” all over again, instead of the plain-vanilla version of the device. A quick manual override fixed this, and now things are working fine. (Hint: click the Set as default pop-up menu entry, and both printers will appear, so you can select which one to set as the default. That does the trick!)
All I need to do in future is to remember to make this manual change, if I ever need to re-detect that hardware in Windows 7 again. Just another little Windows eccentricity to add to my list of things to keep track of!
Gosh! There’s so much hype and hoopla surrounding yesterday’s Windows 7 launch that I’m almost disinclined to add to the clutter myself. But hey: a guy’s gotta blog, so there’s plenty of interesting new stuff going on around this “big event” to provide grist for the mill. So far my favorite fluff coverage item is a snapshot of Linux father Linux Torvalds squatting in front of a big Windows 7 display in a Japanese high-tech outlet giving the thumbs-up sign (he’s in Tokyo to attend the Japan Linux Symposium, apparently).
But enough fluff, already. There were no less than 21 items released to the Microsoft Download Center yesterday, and at least three of them relate to Windows 7 and may therefore bear download and inspection. Here goes:
- A revised Windows licensing fact sheet, that adds Win7 coverage to Windows 2000, Windows 95, Windows Vista, and Windows XP.
- The Windows 7 Training Kit for Developers, which includes presentations, hands-on labs, and demos designed to help developers get up to speed on building Win7 compatible applications (I’m not sure, but I think this is a final release of a beta that’s been out for months).
- The Windows 7 Product Guide: a PDF (62 MB) or XPS (30.5 MB) version of the color, glossy MS Windows 7 intro, with a detailed tour of the new OS’s capabilities, interface, and design features (140 pp)
A few other potential items of interest amidst the plethora of recent downloads include:
- Installation Instructions and Release Notes for Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode: pretty much self-explanatory, but the Download Windows XP Mode page now offers access to the final version, instead of the release candidate. Those already running Windows XP Mode are advised to uninstall the RC or beta version and download and install this version instead (be sure to back up your VHDs and ancillary files first, and you can run them inside the new version without a hitch).
- A new version of the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer 2.1.1 is available, modified to also work with Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.
Lots of new stuff to look at, and some of it actually interesting and/or informative, too. Enjoy!
In anticipation of the upcoming GA (general availability) day for Windows 7 tomorrow (October 22, 2009) I’ve been checking in on the Microsoft Download Center regularly to see what’s popped up there since my last visit. Though I checked on Monday, it was probably too early in the day to see then what I saw this morning upon my visit there — namely, the final (non-beta) release of the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor aka W7UA. It’s gone up a bit in size since the last release in mid-September, so obviously there have been some changes under the hood since then as well. Nothing loathe, I downloaded and install the software on my Windows 7 Ultimate production PC.
As far as I can tell the only change to the initial screen is that the word beta no longer appears anywhere thereupon.
After firing off the program, it shows the same “checking compatibility screen that earlier versions did.
- Upon startup, Win7UA checks hardware and software compatibility
After running the program, however, lots of changes are evident, as shown in this final results screen.
Earlier versions didn’t report that I was already running Windows 7, nor perforce address possible upgrades from lower- to higher-tier versions of that OS. Even better, I’m seeing much more helpful and useful information about upgrades to software with potential compatibility problems, including download links to grab such materials, when available. That’s really neat.
Even if you’ve already got a copy of the W7UA beta, it’s worth grabbing the final, production version. It will serve you better than the old one did!
OK, so here it comes. Windows 7 General Availability will occur in just three more days, on Thursday, October 22. I’m starting to see advertisements from HP, Dell, and others that indicate that machines with Windows pre-installed are available for order (a sample e-mail subject line for a message from HP dated yesterday, 10/18/2009, reads “Windows 7 is here”; lots of similar verbiage is popping up from other PC players as well).
What does this mean for the average corporate/enterprise PC buyer or installer? Not much, actually. In most cases, contracts for such purchases will have to amended, and that will probably happen only after some pilot units have been purchased off-contract and put through their paces in a test lab, and perhaps even run through a limited pilot program for certain groups of key users (sales, field reps, high-level help desk or tech support staff, and so forth).
What will be happening in the next few weeks, however, is the follow-on release of production versions of lots of tools and utilities. The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor should be released in production form, probably on 10/22 along with the OS. I’d also expect lots of follow-on products (such as Internet security suites, anti-virus, anti-spyware, and so forth) that might still be in beta or limited release to likewise go into final, production releases as well. For example, I found an update to the PerfectDisk 10 disk defragmenter utility waiting for me as I logged in this morning, and right there in the release notes I see the notation “Analyze statistics does not list pagefile on system drive on Windows 7″ (Build 124 fixes this). Software companies all over the application landscape are no doubt also gearing up for GA this coming Thursday in similar fashion as well.
If your company hasn’t yet made the decision to upgrade to Windows 7, rest assured that topic will be gaining some urgency with the forthcoming release. Although it will be a lot of work to get ready for a new OS, take some heart from my experiences and those of many other Windows heavies over the last year: Windows 7 is more robust, more stable, and better equipped with drivers than Vista was when it was first released (and many argue that it’s still better than Vista in its current state — a view that I happen to share myself).
Anybody who’s been reading these blogs for any length of time knows that I am enamored of the Reliability Monitor in Windows Vista and 7. Back in early September I wrote a blog entitled “Why doesn’t Windows 7 post a reliability index any more?” At the time I was (and remain) a bit miffed because MS has to store a stability index value to graph out the basic reliability history, yet it chooses not to explicitly display that value when it draws out the graph for your information and edification. Here’s a somewhat squeezed down display from my system this morning, so I can point out a few bits and pieces.
Notice the absence of numerical values for the stability index anywhere on the display, and the categories for errors (red X), warnings (yellow exclamation point), and information (white “i” on a blue background) that the utility reports day by day. Note also the links at the bottom of the window.
As it happens, I jumped into a great blog by the inimitable Ed Bott at ZDNet this morning entitled “Windows 7 in the real world: 10 PCs under the microscope.” It’s a fascinating recitation of his experieces with 10 different PCs running Windows 7 over the past year or so. Throughout he cites specific stability index values from those machines, and I found myself asking “Where is he getting this data?”
That’s when I returned to the tool, and clicked the link at the lower left of its window (in case you can’t make out what it says, the link reads “Save reliability history…” I clicked the link, and saved the resulting data as an XML file, which I then opened in Internet Explorer. Bingo! As the following snippet illustrates, this is where you can find the actual numerical stability index value for any given day, captured at hourly intervals.
If you really want this data, you can go get it for yourself. But my question is: given that MS has to read this data to draw the graph in the first place, why can’t they add the few necessary lines of code to report the value in readable numeric form. They did it for the Vista version, but not for the Win7 version. I’m confused… and I hope they decide to fix this in an update or Service Pack some time soon.
That said, Bott also makes some great points about the value and meaning of the stability index in the aforementioned blog, on page 2. I’ll quote it verbatim:
And yet… My experience with this machine has been overwhelmingly positive. It runs nearly everything I throw at it and has no annoying bad habits. It doesn’t crash. It sleeps and wakes up reliably. The Reliability Monitor algorithm deducted huge amounts from the stability index (a total of more than 6 points) for two incidents that consumed 2-3 minutes each. In once case, an IE8 tab crashed four times in the space of a minute or two because of a problem with Adobe Flash in a single tab. Solution: Close that page. Two days later, I updated the excellent MediaMonkey music organizer/player to the most recent release, which proceeded to crash when I tried to run it. A quick trip to the support forums turned up the cause (an incompatibility with an iTunes 9 component) and the temporary fix (renaming a DLL). Although each event was annoying for a few minutes, neither one had even the slightest impact on performance after it had passed.
Lesson learned? If you’re happy with the way your system works, don’t obsess over a perfect 10.
On my production machine, I’ve had similar problems with several bits and pieces that have cost my stability index dearly. Until Dell came up with a bona fide Windows 7 driver for my AOL 968 combo device (print/scan/fax) I might see anywhere from three to ten “Printer Filter Pipeline Host stopped working” errors a day. Likewise, PC Doctor (the new beta version that supposedly works well with Win7) includes PC Tools Security Service item that crashed 7 times on 10/7/09, leading to the precipitous drop you’ll see in my stability index earlier in this blog. I’m happy to report that a switch to NIS 2010 took care of that problem, and that everything’s quiet with the AIO 968 since I upgraded the driver on 10/14. And now, I guess, I’m going to learn to live with a less-than-perfect stability index as long as my problems aren’t too serious or vexing.
Those inclined to see numerological conspiracy every time the number 13 pops up will want to take a deep breath before pondering Microsoft’s release of 13 security bulletins for this Patch Tuesday, which just happened to fall on 10/13/2009. As for myself, I’m always reminded of the superstitions surrounding Friday the 13th, and the famous line from Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip — namely, “Friday the 13th done come on a Tuesday” (at least, in this case). Superstition to the side, there’s a lot of important stuff in this set of security bulletins.
You can find several interesting overviews from Microsoft and others on this latest batch of security updates online:
- Microsoft Security Bulletin Summary for October 2009
- Shavlik Security Center Blog: “October Patch Tuesday Overview“
- iTWire “October Patch Tuesday is biggest ever“
Here’s the 10,000 foot view/breathless summary: 13 bulletins, 8 critical (remote code execution) and 5 important, 23 vulnerabilities, and the first-ever security bulletins that involve Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. There’s a long-awaited fix to SMB issues (MS09-050), a fix to GDI+ (MS09-062), and a cumulative update for IE (MS09-054). You’ll also find a couple of bulletins that address issues related to the Windows Media Runtime and Windows Media Player (MS09-051 and MS09-052, respectively). Active Template Library security issues surface again, with lots of ActiveX killbits stuff in MS09-055, and for ATL Active-X controls in MS Office in MS09-060. Other items address .NET and Silverlight (MS09-061), the Windows Indexing Service (MS09-057), the Windows Kernel (MS09-058, but requires hands-on system access to exploit), CryptoAPI (MS09-056), and the LSASS (MS09-059). Finally there are fixes for the IIS FTP service in MS09-053.
OK, admins: get ready to roll up your sleeves and start pushing patches. There’s some important stuff here, so you’re going to have to figure out what affects your environment, do some testing, and start deploying!