Given that the IT sector is lagging the overall rebound in employment across all industries, both inside and outside the US, I’m always glad to see the occasional ray of sunshine where IT is concerned. That’s why I read this April 17 story from the UK edition of Network World with greater than usual interest: “Windows 7 fuels demand for desktop support.” I don’t want to make a mountain out of a mole hill, but this phenomenon dovetails pretty nicely — and predictably — with another Windows 7 phenomenon: an ongoing business technology and desktop refresh stimulated by the combination of an aging XP hardware base and enough improvement in economic conditions to get businesses thinking about investing in their desktop and notebook fleets.
Along with capital expenditures for new equipment comes a brand-new OS on those machines, plus opportunities to migrate or upgrade systems less than three years old (if purchased for potential Vista use, a desktop or notebook will run at least a little better using the same hardware for Windows 7, if not more so). All this adds up to a growing appetite for Windows 7 deployment in businesses of all sizes, and thus also, an appetite for Windows 7 qualified help desk, support desk, and technical IT staff.
That probably adds credence to Chris Pirie’s claim (see my IT Jump Start interview with Chris Pirie of MS Learning from last Friday) that Windows 7 training and certification is also fueling a considerable jump in Microsoft Learning’s activity and revenue levels. It’s also possible that the study Pirie cites in that blog, which reports that Windows 7 is going to add considerably to IT budgets and activity levels as well, is not too far off the mark. I can only hope this ray of sunshine portends a break in the otherwise cloudy IT employment outlook — hopefully, sooner rather than later.
One of my favorite quotes from the 19th century master sleuth himself goes like this: “It is an old axiom of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” (The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, pg. 315). Would that I had recalled his words earlier when working my way through a recent troubleshooting adventure (read all about it in my latest ViztaView blog entitled “Test System Woes Finally Solved, But Not Without a Final Fillup of Loathing and Despair“).
To compress this epic troubleshooting adventure into as few words as possible, when trying to figure out why Windows 7 Professional x64 wouldn’t install on a particular test machine, my reluctance to consider the CPU as the possible culprit caused me to waste ungodly amounts of time trying to fix (and even replace) other stuff that wasn’t broken or misbehaving. It turns out my engineering sample of the Intel QX9650 processor (which samples, by the way, are neither supported nor warranted to be defect-free by Intel: they give ’em way for reviews and analyses and you gets what you pays for them) simply won’t complete the “Expanding files…” phase of the Windows 7 install process, which follows immediately after “Copying files…” right at the very beginning of the install process.
I’m actually writing a story about this for ITExpertVoice.com, as a combination advanced troubleshooting tutorial plus a meditation on the nature and essence of systematic troubleshooting. So naturally, my editor at the site asked me to get a comment from Intel to make sure this leading silicon foundry didn’t get blindsided by my report. First and only official response I got was “Intel modern processors work on both 32 and 64-bit versions of Windows 7.” I’d have to agree with this statement and furthermore I believe that my particular borked QX9650 is an anomaly and not in any way representative of Intel’s architectures, products, and capabilities.
In off the record discussions after that, however, things got really interesting. Basically, the Intel rep refused to believe that I was reporting a genuine phenomenon and that my troubleshooting methods must be flawed or incomplete for this to occur at all. Nevertheless, I can repeat this anomalous behavior at will, and the only single factor that either causes this behavior to occur, or that makes it vanish, is the presence (problem occurs) or absence (problem disappears) of this particular QX9650 CPU. If everything else either stays the same or is different, and the only element that controls whether or not the problem manifests is the CPU, logic and reason (thanks, Sherlock!) tell us that no matter how much we may not *WANT* to believe the cause, it is indeed the truth.
It’s stuff like this that makes my working life so much fun, and such a treat to keep whaling away at. Sometimes I feel like the luckiest guy in the world, but only after I recover from feeling occasionally accursed that things don’t always work the way they should!
Some time in the next week, you’ll see a new story from me showing up on SearchITChannel.com. It’s currently got a working title of “Why Windows 7 Adoptions Are So Much Faster and Stronger than Vista’s” and digs into the many reasons why more and more businesses are making or enacting plans to adopt Windows 7 on their users’ desktops.
Here, I just want to give a capsule summary of that story (I’ll provide a link to same as soon as it’s posted) so you can get a sense of what’s driving business adoptions of Microsoft’s latest flagship desktop OS:
1. Timing and Choices: XP is old, Vista’s no good, and it’s time to move to something new. Windows 7 is it!
2. The Refresh Cycle Made Me Do It: Given recent economic difficulties companies have put off desktop refreshes as long as possible. Given improving conditions and aging equipment, many new PCs will be deployed with Windows 7 installed when the next refresh hits.
3. The time is NOW (or soon): A smattering of businesses are already done with their Windows 7 migrations (6%) or will be finished soon (8%). 23% plan to upgrade in 6-12 months, and another 44% plan to upgrade in the next 12-36 months.
4. We don’t need no stinkin’ SP1: A surprising number of companies aren’t letting SP1 influence their upgrade and migration plans, despite conventional corporate wisdom that it’s smart to wait for SP1 before moving to a new Windows OS.
5. Back to Basics: Lots of companies are being swayed by reports of Windows 7’s faster boot-up and shut-down speeds, more modest resource requirements, faster performance, better stability, and improved device support to make a move sooner rather than later.
You’ll find all the details in the story itself, and pointers to related surveys and reports on this situation. But it’s nice to see that the Vista debacle is finally showing up in the rear-view mirror, rather than as an everyday pothole IT departments must find a way to navigate around.
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:
- 87 percent of IT professionals surveyed plan to deploy Windows 7
- 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.
- Those considering a move to some OS other than Windows is down from 50 percent last April, to 32 percent in February 2010.
- 86 percent report concerns about software compatibility with Windows 7 when migrating to the new OS.
- 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!
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:
- “For Windows 7, SP1 includes only minor updates, among which are previous updates that are already delivered through Windows Update.”
- “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).
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!
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 TechArp.com. 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.
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?
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 SearchITChannel.com, 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.
Back in July 2008 I blogged on viztaview.com 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:
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.