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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Upgrading to Windows 7 for Small and Midsize Businesses
- Building a Standard Image of Windows 7: Step-by-Step Guide
- Manual Installation of Windows 7: Overview
- Automated Installation of Windows 7: Overview
- Automated Installation to Upgrade to Windows 7: Step-by-Step Guide
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.
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.
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
Anybody who’s followed this blog for any length of time knows that I’ve fought my battles with both Vista and Windows 7, in terms of making my production PC stable and reliable. Today, I’m very happy to report that my production machine has finally achieved and held a 10.0 Stability Index for at least three days at a time, and that the latest hiccup in my reliability and problem history is my own fault: I neglected to hook up my USB keyboard after swapping in some new system components recently, and was forced to shut Windows down as a result (on 12/10/2009 as shown in the following screenshot):
Here’s what I had to do to get myself into this situation of relative calm and proper operation:
- Troubleshoot the Dell AIO 968 printer’s default behavior to install itself as an XPS print device rather than as a native print device (this forces all print documents to be reformatted into an XML format, which the printer can output, but which also caused the Print Filter Pipeline Service, aka printfilterpiplineservice.exe, to crash regularly and repeatedly).
- Switch from Spyware Doctor with Antivirus to Norton Internet Security 2010 (to quell repeated daily crashes of the pctsSvc.exe notification tray program for the former program, after trying unsuccessfully to get the nice folks at PC Tools to help me solve the problem over a period of 30 days).
- Clean up my MS Office 2007 installation (which involved replacing an older PPT Viewer application with a newer version at Secunia PSI’s recommendation, then applying nearly a dozen Windows Update files that appeared in response to this change). This solved some repeated issues with Word and Outlook that had been entirely mysterious up to that point.
- Avoid installing toy or test progams on my production PC. As somebody who writes about software and utilities a lot, I’ve had to learn to resist the temptation to install them on a production PC, and to install them on a test machine instead — preferably within a VM so that they can’t mess up my test machine’s runtime environment, either.
- Groom the drivers on the production PC to make sure they’re all current, correct, and working well with Windows 7. For that purpose, I’ve used Phoenix Technologies’ DriverAgent Web site and my own ever-increasing understanding of how to fiddle with Windows device drivers. It usually takes me a month or so following a new OS install or system build to get everything working to my complete satisfaction.
To see what I was dealing with, here’s the Windows 7 Reliability Monitor’s graph from the day I installed Windows 7 RTM on my production PC (8/9/09) to today (12/22/09) where you can see my many and literal “ups and downs” in getting this system working properly:
I thought I had things licked the week of August 30, but found out the next week that I needed to alter the default configuration from installing the Dell AIO 968 printer drivers, then had to canoodle my way through the other issues mentioned in the preceding list until mid November. Everything else since then has been self-inflicted, and is part of my normal pattern of Windows system behavior: keep things running, make the occasional mistake or a change that alters stability for the worse, diagnose it, fix it, and keep on keeping on.
[Note: For the benefit of the sharp-eyed and incurably curious, the glitch that appears on 12/9/09 in the first screencap in this blog resulted from cancelling a hung Windows Explorer operation when I attempted to perform a search while the indexer was active. Rather than wait for the indexer conclude its operation and then complete the search I used Task Manager to shut the running instance down. This cost me a trivial 0.02 stability index points, but still shows up as an application failure glitch even though it makes no visible impact on the stability graph.]
I subscribe to lots of Microsoft email newsletters, including the Technet Flash. This morning I found the latest issue in my inbox when I logged onto my machine. And although this newsletter doesn’t always deliver an overflowing cornucopia of goodies, it usually contains at least one or two items worth digging into more deeply. This morning, however, I found an embarassment of riches that I imagine lots of readers will find worth chasing down:
- Windows 7 Tip of the Day: daily nuggets of information on how to make better use of the Windows 7 environment and its capabilities. There are numerous interesting items available here, with more to come on a daily basis.
- MS Office 2010 Deployment tools: links to an Office Environment Assessment Tool that can scan your current Office capabilities, and provide advice on how to prepare for Office 2010 migration. Also an Office 2010 Compability Inspector that can measure existing Office apps up against the 2010 object model to point out potential conflicts.
- Links to a virtual lab for Deploying Windows 7 Using the Win7 WAIK to help IT professionals better understand and learn how to use its OS deployment capabilities.
- Pointers to some useful Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) resources, including the MDOP Zone where you can learn more about all kinds of MDOP capabilitis, and a recitation of the Top 7 Pain Points that MDOP Can Address.
And if you want to get similar info in your inbox from time to time, please login to the MS Web site, and sign up for you own regular delivery!
Yesterday, I delivered the eulogy at my Mom’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery where she was interred with full military honors, including a funeral service, a procession to the gravesite with horse-drawn caisson and marching band, and a deeply moving interment ceremony with the flag folding and expressions of gratitude for my Mom’s service to her country from a representative from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The ceremony itself was impressive enough, but the level of appreciation conveyed by the nearly 50 uniformed military personnel involved was even more impressive. As I spoke with the Monseignor who delivered the funeral service and the gravesite ceremony for Mom, he told me “We have 32 funeral services to perform today. I’m sorry, but we can give you only four minutes to help us all remember your Mom.” And indeed as we moved through the cemetery I saw at least three or perhaps four other services underway and I assume the honor guards from the various service branches stay busy all day, every day. I can’t express my appreciation for the honor paid to my Mom any more than I already have.
Here’s how I used my four minutes:
Hello. My name is Ed Tittel, and I’m here to talk about my Mom. Let me start by thanking all the friends and family here for this ceremony.
Why are we here today? Let’s try two important things: to remember, and to celebrate. We’re going to hang onto all that we have left of Cecilia Katherine Kociolek Tittel by remembering what we can of her life, and we’re going to celebrate because she made the world a better place by her passage through it.
As her son, I see this woman as a very special person—my Mom—but as a student of humanity I also see that she filled many roles throughout her life. First child, then parent, then finally grandparent. Also, daughter, sister, wife, and friend. Professionally, she was a student, then a student nurse, a registered nursing professional, a military nurse, a school nurse, and finally, a private duty nurse.
Here are the things I remember best and most fondly about my Mom, Cecilia K. Tittel:
- A tremendous zest for life, with a strong appetite for new place, people, and experiences. She always loved to travel, and visited as much of the world as she possibly could.
- A fabulous cook and entertainer with a great ability to put people at ease and to fill them up with choice food and drink. Most of what I learned about food and hospitality came from her.
- A person with a great sense of humor and a love of the absurd, who delighted not just in jokes and wordplay, but also in clowning around and horseplay as well. I remember some of the crazy head gear and socks she would don for Christmas, and all I can do is laugh.
- The years we spent as a family in Germany, mostly in Heidelberg, still bring back sweet memories of travel year around to interesting places, never-ending activities, and spending time with friends and family. In many ways, I think that period represents her “good old days” as well.
How can you say goodbye to someone who’s been a part of your life since the day you were born? In my case, I say it reverently, and sadly, and with some relief that the pain and confusion that Mom suffered during her final years is finally over. I’m sorry she’s gone, but I will always be glad that I knew her and that she exercised so much influence on my life and outlook. I imagine each one of you here can say something similar. I hope you’ll join me in wishing her well and in saying “So long, it’s been good to know ya.”
That’s it for today’s blog, as I continue to remember Mom and celebrate her life with my family in northern Virginia.
For the past 5 years, Microsoft has made a policy of releasing non-emergency patches and security fixes on the first Tuesday of the month. The idea is to limit the frequency and standardize the interval at which organizations — especially, larger ones that must pick up, test, and decide whether or not to deploy these things within their in-house infrastructures — must deal with changes and additions to Microsoft operating systems, platforms, and applications. It’s a good idea, and a useful way to help manage the ceaseless flow of patches, fixes, and changes to an always-shifting software landscape.
TechRepublic blogger Justin James makes an interesting observation in his “It’s Microsoft Patch Tuesday: December 2009” blog, however. He observes quite correctly that Microsoft has started to release some of its security patches labeled as “nonsecurity patches” which flies in the face of group policy or Windows Server Update Server (WSUS) settings to push critical security updates quickly onto corporate networks, while moving other updates thorugh a more measured test and deploy cycle. Any time labeling is incorrect, automation based on such labeling can fall prey to various errors or failures in deployment as well.
Also, James observes that there has been an increasing tendency for MS to release more patches and updates on the fourth Tuesday of each month, as well as the first Tuesday. A quick look back at the updates that MS has released shows that some update activity has occurred in four out of the past five months on that day of the month — something I hadn’t noticed until James shared that observation.
He admonishes Microsoft to return to their standard practice, and to limit its updates to Patch Tuesday except for critical security updates with potentially damaging or dangerous consequences. I concur. What do you think? Post a comment here, and let me know…
On November 2, 2009, I blogged about the Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool, then available from the MS Store. In the meantime, a bit of a fracas has erupted around this tool because Microsoft violated the GNU General Public License when it included GPL code in the product but then released that tool under a non-GPL (closed source) license. This is a big legal no-no, so as soon as this came to Microsoft’s attention, they apologized, recast the license to meet GPL requirements, and moved the download over to their CodePlex Open Source site, where the revised version is now once again available for free download.
In the meantime, I confirmed you cannot use the tool to build a Windows XP install DVD. By experiment, I was able to demonstrate to myself that this tool works only with Vista and Windows 7 ISO files. I also discovered an informative blog at Rafael Rivera’s fascinating Website “Rafael’s Within Windows” (worth some exploration over the holidays for those interested in Windows internals and some extra time on their hands). FWIW, Rafael also explains why the tool doesn’t work with some ISO images (including the aforementioned XP ISO) — namely, it checks for certain image elements called Anchor Volume Descriptor Pointers (aka AVDPs) at both the head and tail of the ISO file. The tool checks for an AVDP in both places, and when it doesn’t find both where it expects them to be, it emits the following error screen:
The reason why I already love Rafael, is that he not only points out the problem which may be simply described as a failure to put the tail-end AVDP in the right location in those ISO files the tool won’t handle, he also provides a tool to patch the ISO image so it will work with the Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool. And, he’s submitted a patch to the CodePlex project for the tool so that this oversight will be fixed in the next upcoming release (whenever that may be: I can’t find any info on this).
So, if you’re going to use this tool, and want to extend its functionality to other ISOs besides Win7 and Vista, grab Rafael’s tool to fix those ISO images so the tool will work properly with those files. Enjoy!