Windows Enterprise Desktop

March 26, 2010  4:01 PM

Dell Kace Study Suggests Enterprise Win7 Climate Is Improving

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I saw a fascinating study reported recently in Channel Insider. It’s called “More Users Plan Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade Before SP1 Release,” and it’s dated 3/19/2010. The source is Dell Kace (Kace is a recent Dell acquisition and offers interesting appliance-based packages for Windows update, migration, maintenance, and management that I personally would love a chance to play with), and the results show a huge change in attitudes and plans vis-a-vis a similar study conducted almost a year ago (April 2009, before Windows 7 was in wide circulation).

Here are some salient factoids from this study, as reported in the Channel Insider article:

  1. 87 percent of IT professionals surveyed plan to deploy Windows 7
  2. Nearly half (46%) of polled respondents (population size: 900) plan a move to Windows 7 before SP1 becomes available. Channel Insider says that’s going to happen this summer, but I’ve seen discussions that put it in the July-October time frame, and there’s been no official MS date released just yet.
  3. Those considering a move to some OS other than Windows is down from 50 percent last April, to 32 percent in February 2010.
  4. 86 percent report concerns about software compatibility with Windows 7 when migrating to the new OS.
  5. Those expressing concerns about Windows 7 performance is also down, from 47 percent last April, to 25 percent in February 2010.

The Dell Kace folks who conducted these studies are convinced this means that Microsoft is starting to repair the damage to its reputation, and the drop in confidence in Windows, that resulted from the debacle known as Windows Vista. It’s also viewed as good news for the reseller channel, because of the improving climate and increasing number of businesses planning and budgeting for Windows 7 migrations. Yippee!

March 23, 2010  9:25 PM

More details on Windows 7 SP1 start to emerge

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Some time later this year (2010), we can expect to see Microsoft release the first service pack (SP1) for Windows 7. As with Vista service packs and Windows Server 2008, these will be tied to service packs for Windows Server 2008 R2. In his recent blog “Talking About Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 and Windows Server R2” Microsoft team lead Brandon LeBlanc finally let some details out about what’s coming our way when the next service pack hits the streets:

  1. “For Windows 7, SP1 includes only minor updates, among which are previous updates that are already delivered through Windows Update.”
  2. “SP1 for Windows 7 will, however, deliver an updated Remote Desktop client that takes advantage of RemoteFX introduced in the server-side with SP1 for Windows Server 2008 R2.”

No official release timeline is available as yet, but the rumor mill sez it will probably hit in late October or early November, 2010. I, for one, will be very interested to learn more about the enhanced RDP client capabilities that will come when Windows 7 clients work with Windows Server 2008 R2 hosts with SP1 also installed. Maybe Microsoft is trying to coat-tail a new server release on a seemingly successful desktop release for once? I don’t see any betas for this SP release up on MSDN just yet, but please count on me to keep you posted when more tangible signs of what lies ahead appear there (or elsewhere).

March 16, 2010  4:48 PM

Interesting Story on Enterprise Win7 Adoption/Migration

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Last week, Robert L. Mitchell of InfoWorld put out a great story entitled “IT gives Windows 7 the green light.” The story recounts the results of a survey of Windows 7 adoption plans that contains some fascinating statistics and also discusses the reasons why some enterprises have already jumped on Windows 7 in a big way, or are preparing to do so sooner rather than later in some cases.

What’s driving upgrades and migration? Here’s a brief summary of the answers to that question:

1. An aging Windows XP platform: 93 percent of enterprise respondents are still running Windows XP, an even higher number than I’m used to seeing in these kinds of reports. In fact, 18 percent are still running Windows 2000, 98, or 95 on their desktops.

2. Better support for enterprise features: Windows 7 is earning points for tighter integration with Windows Server, Windows XP Mode, and support for the System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM).

3. Apparent lack of driver/hardware issues: Vista suffered horribly from issues with a new driver model, and it’s taken until the last 12 months to get all that stuff shaken out. Windows can leverage on all that progress immediately, and is proving uncommonly stable from the hardware perspective. Enterprises like this.

4. Service Pack 1 plans show an interesting split among those waiting for SP1 versus those not factoring it into their plans. Enough enterprises believe that the testing-deploy-migrate cycle will be long enough to carry them into the SP1 timeframe anyway that combining those who won’t wait (34 percent) with those who believe SP1 will be available by the time they deploy (26 percent) constitutes a clear enterprise majority. Add another 17 percent for those who don’t factor SP releases into their planning, and you’ve got the bulk of the audience covered anyway.

5. New Enterprise-oriented features like DirectAccess, BranchCache, and BitLocker enhancements (especially BitLocker to Go) are garnering lots of interest, and plenty of IT personnel are kicking those tires to see how well they work for their prospective users.

6. More flexible runtime environment for Windows 7 reduces the total number of images to build and maintain (Pella Windows expects to reduce its number of unique images from 25 for XP to 5 for Win7, for example).

For more information on the survey and a summary of its fascinating results and factoids, be sure to check out the two articles cited at the beginning of this blog. Lots of good stuff in there!

March 9, 2010  7:37 PM

Rumors of Windows 7 SP1 Start Flying

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Anybody who’s been reading my blog, or following the trail of rumors and mayhem on MIcrosoft OSes, for any length of time is already familiar with the Malaysian Website They’ve struck paydirt again with a recent article entitled “Microsoft Windows 7 Service Pack 1 Roadmap.” Although they observe that Microsoft originally planned SP1 for Windows 7 on a 22 month schedule, they also claim that their inside sources at MS tell them that “…the issue of a few serious bugs that would adversely affect performance…made them push the SP1 deadline forward.”

OK, “Forward when?” is the obvious next question. Again, according to TechArp, nobody really knows the answer to that question, not even Microsoft. But they go on to relate that a “…mid-2010 release is not possible” and continue by saying “The earliest Microsoft can realistically release Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 is in the the last quarter of 2010” (emphasis theirs, not mine). So far, dates from September through the end of the year are being discussed, but there’s no more hard information to be had.

Given that the final RTM version of Windows 7 went to OEMs in July, then hit the MSDN pages in August of 2009, and had an official late-October release date that same year, I’d be really, really surprised if SP1 makes its public debut before the one-year anniversary of the Windows 7 release date. But, as is usual with these kinds of things, only time will truly tell. That said, it seems pretty likely that those companies and organizations waiting for SP1 to make the call on Windows 7 adoption or migration may not have to wait as long as anybody thought to start moving down that path.

March 5, 2010  8:48 PM

Interesting Issue with Acronis True Image Home 2010

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Until the last couple of weeks, my production Windows 7 system has been a model of reliability and stability, with my first-ever two week period with staight 10.0s in Reliability Monitor on that machine. Then, all of a sudden, my system started blue-screening occasionally when I would insert a UFD into one of the case-front USB ports.

A little investigation with BlueScreenView showed me that the culprint was a driver named tdrpm251.sys, which turns out to be part of the “try and decide” backup/restore capability within Acronis True Image Home versions, including both 2009 and 2010. Ironically, even though I elected not to use this capability when installing the program, the software installed this driver anyway. And because it can treat UFDs as potential backup or restore targets or sources, respectively, the driver shims itself into the runtime environment whenever a removable storage media device is plugged into the system.

According to what I found on the Acronis Website, an issue with SnapAPI.dll is what’s behind the problem. Although I saw lots of postings from unhappy users on the site in the period from late summer 2009 through early January 2010, the company has released new versions of the products that fix the problem so that BSODs no longer occur.

That’s all well and good, but if I don’t intend to use a service I don’t see why its supporting drivers, dlls, and so forth, should be loaded into my runtime environment. So, even though I grabbed and installed the latest version of the True Image Home software anyway, I also found and implemented a set of registry hacks to remove tdrpm251.sys from my Windows 7 runtime environment. The procedure for doing this is to search on the string “tdrpm251.sys” in the registry (using the F3 key works well for this purpose), and then to remove ImagePath, UpperFilters, and LowerFilters values that reference this item from the corresponding keys. Simply setting those items to no value (for ImagePath) or removing the tdrpm251.sys references from UpperFilters and LowerFilters value settings did the trick quite nicely.

No more BSODs when I insert a UFD into my system, and no more “Try and Decide” drivers and related gunk in my runtime environment when I don’t really want to run them anyway. Kind of makes you wonder why software and OS vendors don’t always match user selections or preferences to the way their software installs and runs, don’t it?

March 3, 2010  3:59 PM

Why are Win7 rollouts gathering steam?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In a recent report from ninemsn (for APC, Australia’s self-proclaimed “#1 online publisher”), Windows 7 is enjoying significantly better market uptake than Vista ever did. Their recent story “Windows 7 hits 4% penetration in PC market” got me to thinking about the relative fortunes of Vista versus Win7 and why the situation for the latter is ever so much better than the former.

Based on my own experience, and recent research into this subject matter for a Webcast I did with Barb Darrow for, there are lots of good reasons why this should be the case. Here’s a list of some of the best or most compelling of those items:

1. Windows XP (and its hardware) are getting long in the tooth.
    With XP itself over 8 years old, and even XP SP3 coming up on its second birthday this month, it’s past time to move up from XP to something newer, more capable, and a longer ongoing product life still ahead of it. With Vista never really adopted in a big way in corporate environments, that mantle now falls to Win7. The remaining items in the list help explain why it need not be a bitter pill to swallow.

2. Windows 7 imposes relatively modest hardware requirements
    Windows 7 will run even on netbook PCs with only 1 GB of RAM and modest low-end processors in the 1-2 GHz range. It’s happier with 2 GB (and although older netbooks don’t ship with 2 GB SO-DIMMs they can easily be upgraded to that level with minimal effort and downtime for under $40). In short, Windows 7 will run on most hardware that’s no more than three years old, which means that enterprises can upgrade notebook and desktop PCs in the middle of their lifecycles, without having to replace all hardware at once.

3. Windows 7 64-bit implementations work like champs
    On its third generation of 64-bit desktops now, Microsoft has finally gotten drivers, performance, and applications support working at an acceptable level. In fact, my personal experience (widely echoed all over the Web) is that x64 Win7 is more stable and better-behaved than x86 (32-bit) Win7. For anybody interested in using VMs, or running big memory-hungry apps (think PhotoShop or engineering/scientific tools), support for 4 or more GB of RAM is not just great, it’s also very workable.

4. Great support for legacy apps in Win7 Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise
    Yes, you do have to ante up for higher-level versions to obtain license to use Windows XP Mode in Win7. But it’s easy to deploy and easy on users: icons for familiar, but older apps integrate onto the desktop or into Explorer with ease, and double-clicking to launch brings the whole runtime environment into play with little muss or fuss.

5. No major driver issues lurking in the bushes
    One bane for Vista was its introduction of a new driver model for hardware that basically rendered the vast majority of XP drivers irrelevant. While Win7 introduces some new and minor changes to its driver model (primarily to support its user-friendly and capable “Devices and Printers” control panel item), it works with Vista drivers without a hitch or a glitch, and if anything, handles hardware and drivers better than XP, not to mention completely reversing the terrors that early Vista adopters often had to endure.

6. Built-in support for Solid State Disks (SSD)
    Unlike earlier versions of Windows (including Vista), Windows 7 “understands” how to behave when installed on an SSD and knows how to configure and tune itself to make best use of these speedy but expensive storage devices. Though the portion of the market that will buy into this technology soon is probably under 5% of the business market, those who need them and can justify the cost on business grounds will apreciate what Windows 7 can do with SSDs.

I could go on, but you get the idea. For more discussion on this emerging phenomenon please read the APC story cited in my lead paragraph above, or give my podcast with Barbara Darrow a listen.

February 25, 2010  11:33 PM

Uniblue Hits Paydirt Again with Revised ProcessScanner

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Back in July 2008 I blogged on about the Uniblue Process Scanner. In answering some questions about process lookup for one of the Windows 7 classes I teach online for HP, I discovered that Uniblue has completely reworked this still-excellent product.

Instead of plugging right into task manager as the previous version did, the latest version of Process Scanner spelunks your system, then opens a Web page to show you all the processes it finds running. The resulting (cropped) output looks like this:

The Process Scanner processes list echoes what you get from task manager, but...

The Process Scanner processes list echoes what you get from task manager, but...

Unlike Task Manager, however, you can click on any line in this display, and jump straight into Uniblue’s excellent Process Library to learn what they know about the entry in question. This provides information about the processes’s author, memory usage, security state, file version and even its MD5 hash value. The whole thing makes it easy to separate questionable and unknown stuff from know good working stuff, which is what spelunking processes is usually all about.

The previous version of this tool embedded itself into Task Manager. This offered the plus of simply clicking on an icon to the left of the process name to retrieve this data, offset by the minus of loading and running the lookup tool whether you use it or not. This way, although you must explicitly run the Process Scanner, and work from the Web page it generates, at least it creates no constant system ovehead when it’s not in use as the old version did. Definitely worth grabbing and using.

February 21, 2010  9:53 PM

Next Gen Windows Dev Exams Going Beta

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

For those interested in the next generation of Windows development tools and platforms, related beta exams will be available from March 31 to April 20, 2010, as explained in this posting from the MS Beta Exams Blog. Here’s a list of what’s coming up during that time window:

  • 70-511 TS: Windows Applications Development with Microsoft .NET Framework 4
  • 70-513 TS: Windows Communication Foundation Development with Microsoft .NET Framework 4
  • 70-515 TS: Web Applications Development with Microsoft .NET Framework 4
  • 70-516 TS: Accessing Data with Microsoft .NET Framework 4
  • 70-519 Pro: Designing and Developing Web Applications using Microsoft .NET Framework 4

In addition, the following beta exam will also become available a little bit later (probably in April, or perhaps April-May):

  • 70-518 Pro: Designing and Devevloping Windows Applications using MIcrosoft .NET Framework 4.0.

Poster Gerry O’Brien is a Technical Product Planner for Developer Certifications at Microsoft, and he promises to post again to the Beta Exam blog when the final dates are determined, and a special no-cost promotional code is available for beta exam sign up at Prometric. With March just over a week away as I write this blog myself, I’m guessing we’ll be hearing further on this subject in the next 10 days to two weeks. Stay tuned!

Remember: while the number of seats for beta exams is limited, those who sign up quickly take them for free. And those who pass those exams get the same credit as if they had waited and paid for the final public versions. If you’re already working on the new platform, and with the Visual Studio 2010 environment, this could be a great opportunity to upgrade or add to your certifications at little or no cost.

February 21, 2010  9:38 PM

Making SSDs Work on Windows 7

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

By now, everybody’s aware of the speed and power consumption or battery life benefits that solid state drives (SSDs) can confer on desktop and notebook PCs, respectively — at least, for those prepared to cover their high costs of acquisition. Knowing that some IT professionals will no doubt be asked to retrofit such hardware into certain “high-value” users’ desktop or notebook machines, I’d like to share some potential pitfalls that might crop up for those potentially hapless staff members. Here, “high-value” often translates into “high visibility” for the results of such efforts and “high expectations” regarding their results.

I’ve just gone through the process of getting SSDs to work on several Windows 7 machines, and I can now attest that there’s a LOT more involved in getting an SSD working properly than simply imaging the old drive, copying that image to an SSD, and replacing the old drive with the new (SSD) one. And while Windows 7 is rightly touted as an “SSD-friendly” or “SSD-aware” operating system, that friendliness or awareness isn’t as likely to be helpful in cases where the OS is moved from an existing conventional hard disk to an SSD after the OS is installed. That said, if you can reinstall Windows 7 on a system with a new SSD in place, some of these observations won’t apply — enough of them, in fact, that you may want to consider this as an additional impetus to upgrade your users from 32- to 64-bit OS versions as an “excuse” to justify the reinstall (and make your life easier).

There are three major areas where you’ll have to proceed with some caution, and will probably have to experiment with the SSDs and systems you’re working with to understand what’s what:

1. Firmware Updates
    Most SSDs packaged or sold before November/December 2009 (and I have to believe this still represents a substantial portion of the stock on resellers or distributors shelves, even at this very moment) include older firmware. Download CrystalDiskInfo (see this page at Crystal Dew World) so you can determine which version of firmware is installed on whatever SSDs you have on hand. For the kind of performance most users expect from SSDs, firmware that supports TRIM (a technique for managing SSD content that’s been written, then deleted, for improved re-use and disk writing performance) is absolutely essential. Be prepared to invest $35 on an eSATA drive caddy so you can easily update the firmware on these drives from a bench PC before installing them in their target machines. Investigate the SSD maker’s firmware update tools (Intel and Samsung make such hardware and software, and Intel also offers a pretty nifty SSD Toolbox as well) and learn how to use them.

2. Windows 7 Tweaking
    There’s a lot of stuff that has to be turned off or tweaked on Windows 7 to make sure your users can make the most of the fairly high investment in switching to an SSD. Be sure to check out and use Ahsley Maple’s excellent SourceForge project called SSD Tweaker to help you understand all the many settings you must check (and often monkey with) to make sure Windows 7 and your user’s SSD will get along properly (and quickly enough).

3. BIOS Issues
    You may have to reset the desktop or notebook PC’s BIOS to interact with SATA drives on those systems as AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) devices rather than having them emulate IDE (which is how many SATA drives work on the systems into which they’re installed). Sometimes, you can simply force Windows 7 to load the msahci.sys driver through a registry hack, reset the BIOS, restart Windows and let it repair itself (using the capable and reasonably quick Startup Repair options built into Windows 7 itself). Sometimes, more forceful shenanigans become necessary, and may even require re-installing the OS as a last and mostly unwelcome resort. See if your users can live with IDE emulation first, if you find yourself facing the decision to reinstall the OS to achieve the right host controller capabilities on user hardware platforms.

Though SSDs are indeed fast, and do offer performance and power benefits, they can be irksome and tricky to get working properly. But with a little online research, and some preparation for the problems you may encounter, you can get through the tasks involved without losing too much time or sleep. Just don’t think of it as a simple remove-and-replace operation, and you’re already well on the way to accomplishing this task.

February 17, 2010  4:26 PM

Stock up on IP tools for Windows

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
The teaser from my recent ITExpertVoice article

The teaser from my recent ITExpertVoice article

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing a recent article I wrote for my colleague and co-worker’s Website “IT Expert Voice.” It’s entitled IP Toolkits: 6 Great Items for Your Networking Toolbox, and it covers a variety of free and commercial IP tools and tool sets that most Windows administrators are likely to find both useful and interesting. You can see some screencaps and read a summary on the review itself. Here, I’ll just give you a list of attractions with brief blurbs to explain what they can do for you.

  • NetScanTools: I cover the collection of DNS, Whois, and Ping-related stuff readily available in that company’s free NetScanTools Basic Edition.
  • SysInternals: Here you find pointers to Mark Russinovich’s excellent TCPView tool and his stalware command-line Whois implementation.
  • Peter Kostas makes a snazzy revived and revised version of the old winipcfg.exe tool called Win IP Config: it provides a single GUI interface for stuff you normally do at the command line, or across a raft of Control Panel items in Vista or Win7.
  • Solarwinds offers an expensive but amazing software bundle called the IT Pro Pack, which includes its well-known Engineer’s Toolset and LANSurveyor packages. You’ll find a plethora of dashboards, monitoring tools, management widgets, and reporting capabilities in this fully-stocked set of IP tools.

Head on over to ITExpertVoice and see what this Dell-sponsored enterprise oriented site has to offer, and read my article. I’ve also included links to all the tools mentioned therein above, for those who must simply cut to the chase. Enjoy!

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