Windows Enterprise Desktop

October 27, 2009  3:20 PM

Win7 Auto-detect Doesn’t Always Load the Right Drivers

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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).

Look at all the print filter pipeline errors!

Look at all the print filter pipeline errors!

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!

October 23, 2009  3:58 PM

More Windows 7 Downloads

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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:

Lots of new stuff to look at, and some of it actually interesting and/or informative, too. Enjoy!

October 21, 2009  3:21 PM

Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Final Version Released

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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.

No more beta on the startup screen

After firing off the program, it shows the same “checking compatibility screen that earlier versions did.

Upon startup, the app goes out and checks hardware and software compatibilityUpon startup, Win7UA checks hardware and software compatibility

After running the program, however, lots of changes are evident, as shown in this final results screen.

W7UA now recognizes that Win7 is installed, and pinpoints possible software compatibility issues

W7UA now recognizes that Win7 is installed, and pinpoints possible software compatibility issues

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!

October 19, 2009  3:03 PM

Other Win7 Shoe Drops on Thursday

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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).

October 16, 2009  5:31 PM

Let’s trade one Reliability Monitor mystery for another, OK?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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.

Today, the stability index is less than great, but better than awful

Today, the stability index is less than great, but better than awful

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.

The graph data is right there in readable form

The graph data is right there in readable form

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.

October 14, 2009  2:37 PM

Patch Tuesday: 13 Bulletins on 10/13 Zounds!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

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:

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!

October 12, 2009  8:27 PM

Check out the MED-V 1.0 User Guide!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V 1.0) is software that uses Microsoft Virtual PC to provide an enterprise toolset for desktop virtualization. It lets admins create, deliver, and amange Virtual PC images on Windows desktop PCs, and is a key component of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) that’s routinely delivered to Microsoft Software Assurance customers. The final version of this guide went live on October 8, 2009, and you can now download this Operations Guide from the Microsoft Download Center.

The file in question is a 855 KB Word .doc file named MED-V1.0.Guide.doc, and is 83 pages long. It provide an overview to MED-V including a high-level architecture description, and an overview of virtual images based on MS Virtual PC. You also get information on installing the MED-V server, configuring the server itself and stocking it with images, installing and working with the MED-V client software, and working in the client/server MED-V environment. There’s also deployment information, tips on how to add and manage published applications, create and manage workspace images, manage MED-V settings, and more.

If you’re curious about how this environment works and what it can do, you can skim this document in under an hour and come away with an excellent understanding of what’s required, what’s involved, and how to work with this tool. For those interested in MS base virtualization, or already considering MDOP it’s a no brainer. For the curious, it could also be a rewarding read.

October 9, 2009  3:25 PM

As the GA date for Win7 nears, momentum grows, but…

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’ve been trolling the various blogs, the download site, and the news lately to keep up as the final pieces fall into place for the long-anticipated general availability date for Windows 7 on Thursday, October 22 (just a little under two weeks away as I write this blog). I’m seeing evidence of some real progress being made, but I also find myself wondering how close MS will go to the wire on providing some final last-minute materials.

Take the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor as an example. MS updated that tool on September 17, but they haven’t released the final production version yet. I’m wondering how much change there’ll be from the current beta to that version, if any at all. I’m also wondering how long they’re going to wait to make this transition. I’d made a bet with myself that this would occur two weeks prior to GA (yesterday, in other words) but alas I’ve lost that bet as this morning’s check turns up no new versions in the MS Download Center.

The Windows 7 Logo Program finally became publicly visible at the end of September — see Mark Relph’s blog on that subject dated 9/30/2006 — and starts out with pretty good critical mass with over 6000 products that can bear this logo:

Windows 7 Compatible Hardware Logo

Windows 7 Compatible Hardware & Software Logo

But there’s still precious little information publicly available about exactly which hardware items bear this logo, nor can I find anything about logo’d items at just yet. I guess this will be another piece that falls into place sometime between today and October 22.

The final, final release of Windows XP Mode won’t occur until that day, as Brandon Leblanc posted on 10/1/09 to inform readers about when it would appear for general access in the Microsoft Download Center. Perhaps this is a harbinger of what’s ahead: dead calm for the next little while, then everything hits the ‘net on 10/22. No wonder Microsoft uses Akamai to help it with downloads — despite their many data centers and formidable infrastructure, there’s no way one company can handle the millions of downloads that will begin on October 22.

Stay tuned. You can be sure more is coming, if only on (or not until) “GA Day!”

October 5, 2009  1:57 PM

Table of Features Exclusive to Win 7 Pro and Ultimate

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

All the way back on June 29, Ed Bott at ZDNet compiled a table of features that appear only in Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate (and by extension, also in Enterprise as well). Since early August, a lot of us have been installing the RTM version like mad and have learned more about which of those features that really matter. Here’s my own short list of same, that enterprise admins may want to consider, especially when pondering which OS to order, install, or allow on traveling notebooks — especially for those “gray area” machines that might be described as “purchased by the end user primarily for personal use, but upon which they may occasionally do real work, including e-mail and possible remote access.”

Pay attention: it’s the remote access that turns out to make many of the most important differences.
Of the 14 features only available on either (or all) of these higher-end Windows 7 versions, my experience has been that the following items are most likely to make a real difference, either to the users who work on such machines, or the IT professionals who must occasionally (or regularly) do likewise:

  • Encrypting file system: matters for those organization or users too cheap to spring for an add-on encryption product (also addresses the final BitLocker item at the end of this list as well, in most cases). Some kind of encryption is absolutely essential on any machine upon which sensitive, confidential, or potentially “compliance-busting” data (HIPAA, SoX, PCI, and so forth) will reside.
  • Windows XP mode: matters when users will want to run legacy applications that won’t work on Windows 7, but do work on Windows XP. Of obvious relevance when organizations use legacy apps that users may want to run on their machines for work purposes.
  • Backup to network: Doesn’t sound like a big convenience, but beats the pants off having to provide and/or manage plug-in external USB drives when big storage or backup servers are readily available.
  • Offline files: new improvements to this capability which manages synchronization between local and network copies of files, especially those that support policies about which ones sync and which ones don’t, may be appealing or convenient for IT professionals (but probably not to end users).
  • Join Windows Domain: Absolutely, positively essential for most corporate or organizational networks. If users want to get any work done on the business network, they must first log in. If they can’t interact with AD, no dice.
  • Remote Desktop Host: A huge convenience for IT professionals who might need to poke around on, or manage end-user machines remotely. Unless your help desk/IT staff have some kind of analogous third-party toolset (GoToMyPC, Remote Control Pro, numerous versions of VNC, and so on–see this list at Wikipedia for more candidates) this could be pretty important.
  • AppLocker: requires Group Policy support (and hence by extension, AD/Windows Domain support). In the unlikely (but conceivable) event that you want to control which apps an end-user can run on a personal, quasi-business machine, this is an invaluable tool. I don’t see this happening on most end-user machines, however, because of the intrusiveness factor. But if security or official policy mandates such control before machines are allowed on internal networks, it might still happen anyway. In that case, this can indeed be a useful feature.
  • BitLocker drive encryption: Basic, built-in “whole drive” encryption. Same observation as for EFS earlier: if the company (or user) is too cheap to spring for commercial 3rd-party add-ons, this could prove a must-have. Otherwise, not.

In my own personal experience of late, RDC (that is Remote Desktop Host) and Windows XP Mode have proved to be the biggest inducements for me to install and run Windows 7 Professional on production or test machines. RDC because it lets me jump over the network to do stuff on such machines; and Windows XP Mode not just because of its legacy app and dll support, but also because it provides a quick, easy way to let PC’s run custom-built virtual machines configured just the way I want ’em. And BTW, backup to network is really, really handy if your network includes any kind of Windows server with sufficient storage space for backups.

October 2, 2009  6:05 PM

Bott on Upgrading XP to Win7

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

One of the big bugaboos of Windows 7 is its inability to directly upgrade systems from XP to Windows 7. Considering that 80% of business users who run Windows are still running Windows XP (source: Gartner Small Business Outlook for 2009) this is bound to irk IT professionals and end-users alike. In his 9/29 blog for ZDNet entitled “Can you upgrade an old XP PC to Windows 7? Should you?”, Ed Bott tackles this problem head-on. As usual, he unearths a few gems along the way.

He took a 2005 Sony VAIO VGN-TX651P as his subject machine (1.2 GHz Pentium M, 1 GB RAM, 60 GB HD, Intel 915 graphics chipset) and tried several approaches to performing the upgrade, all of which began with a clean (custom) install because the installer supports no direct upgrade path from XP to Windows 7. Here’s a quick summary of the two approaches he took:

  • Use Windows Easy Transfer to grab preferences, settings, and user files and store them on an external drive, then perform a clean install, restore the Easy Transfer files and settings, then reinstall applications.
  • Use Laplink PCMover to migrate everything from XP that still runs under Windows 7. It’s similar to Easy Transfer in that you must install PCMover, run an Upgrade Assistant on XP, perform a clean install of Windows 7 on that machine, restart, then run PCMover’s Upgrade Assistant on Windows 7. It’s actually smart enough to go into the Windows.old directory, grag program and data files, and add necessary registry edits for each program it migrates.

Bott also notes that it’s possible to do a direct upgrade from XP to Vista, and from Vista to Windows 7, but he chose to use a cheap-o version of Windows 7 Home Premium for his final resting point, and the Sony box came with XP Professional installed, so a two-step process wouldn’t work anyway (you can’t get from Professional to Home Premium, because it’s not a valid upgrade path).

During the various processes, which took 4 hours or more to complete, he observed that Windows 7 did a good to great job of recognizing hardware and installing drivers (this squares nicely with my own recent Windows 7 install experience on a handful of netbooks, plus half a dozen each notebooks and desktop PCs). We have both run into issues with proper recognition of memory card readers, and have both taken advantage of our ability to find drivers on vendor Websites to remedy such defects. We’ve also both observed the value and power of cleaning up the old environment (deleting old files, reducing the size of volume shadow stores, cleaning out old restore points, uninstalled unused or unwanted applications, and so forth) before installing the new OS. Fanatic that I am, I also usually run a industrial grade defrag (I use PerfectDisk and recommend it highly) on the old OS image before starting the clean install on that hard disk. And for extra protection, I usually also make an image backup of the old version just in case something goes wrong during the install process. Windows 7 install hasn’t bitten me yet, but who’s to say it can’t happen?

Bott also reports that Laplink was able to migrate most applications, but ran into some issues with Windows Live programs (which needed to be reinstalled) and hit a snag with an Adobe activation code for InDesign3 (I was able to migrate Adobe Premiere without any issues, but I came from Vista, not XP during that particular transition). He also rightly dings PCmover for installing the Ask toolbar and changing the home page and default search provider, where the former is disguised as a EULA and the latter is done by default. Given prior warning, most users will choose to avoid such things, and Laplink falls short in providing same, according to what he reports. Shame on them!

Other than some minor gotchas, and the aforementioned sneakware attack, Laplink does make it much easier to migrate from XP to Windows 7 and also shaves at least an hour off the total time required. The company plans to charge $30 for a Windows 7 only version of PCmover and, according to Bott, will offer that program for a mere $15 between October 1 and October 22 (the latter is the Windows 7 GA date) directly from their Website. It is indeed a heck of a deal, and will cheerfully permit users to migrate from XP or Vista versions to Windows 7 versions that Microsoft doesn’t itself permit or support.

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