Windows Enterprise Desktop


January 12, 2009  10:12 PM

The MS eLearning Adventure Begins

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Today, I signed up and paid for 3 Microsoft eLearning courses

  • Course 3392: Working with Windows Vista
  • Course 5352: Fundamentals of the Windows Vista Startup Process
  • Course 5353: Fundamentals of Windows Vista File Systems

I paid about$14 for the first class, which I also completed today, and about $40 each for the other two classes, plus tax for a total outlay of just over $100. My goals are manifold here: to understand and report on how the materials are put together, how well they work, and what they cover; to get a sense of what MS thinks is important about Vista and its capabilities, and ultimately to vote thumbs up or thumbs down on the various courses as to whether I think they’re worth the money or not.

Based on my exposure to the Working with Windows Vista class, which is definitely something I would recommend to my Dad (or your grandfather) if he were to get his first Vista machine, it’s about as gentle an introduction to Vista as you’re likely to find. Though I was personally bored speechless by the content (which I can map all the way back to Windows 3.0 in large part), that gave me lots of opportunities to pay attention to the user interface, the quality of the materials, the polish of the learning experience, and so forth.

I must confess I also learned several interesting and substantial things, all related to Vista’s built-in speech recognition capabilities. Simply put, it rocks! I also learned that USB audio devices can only talk to one application at a time, and the reason that my Logitech A-00008 headset wouldn’t work with MS Speed Recognition at first, even though it worked fine with Skype, was because Skype was still holding onto that hardware resource with both hands. I had to exit Skype before I could use the headset microphone to “talk” to Speech Recognition. That little detail worked out, I enjoyed the adventure into speech recognition on my own desktop. As a professional writer, though, I can indeed type faster than I can talk, and sometimes, even faster than I can think!

The class consisted of a mix of on-screen text materials with reasonably interesting layout and pacing, several animated demos of Windows technology at work (validating Vista, all kinds of animated how-to interface and operation guides, working with Windows Update, and more), lots of monkey-see, monkey-do labs with step-by-step instructions (as I already observed the Speech Recognition bit is a blast), plus interesting visual puzzles and questions to self-test at the end of each module.

Was this class worth $14? To your grandad, or my Dad, very much so. To me? If it hadn’t been for the Speech Recognition part, definitely not. To somebody who’s used other versions of Windows before, but not Vista? Maybe, maybe not, depending on how much they really understand Windows’ inner workings. MS says the class targets information workers, but I think that really means data entry folks and those who use computers to do something else for a living, not those who work with and on computers full-time.

Even so, I am convinced that there’s some real value in these MS eLearning classes, and will be digging into progressively more demanding subject matter each Monday for the next 6 weeks or so, to tell you about my experiences and the content. Please stay tuned to learn more about this. If you want to go looking for yourself, visit Microsoft Learning and check out their course catalog. Many courses for under $40, all for under $200, with lots of good cert prep content along the way.

January 9, 2009  11:37 PM

Lucky 7, or 7 Deadly Sins

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride are the seven deadly sins. How many of these will Windows 7 cause, or is it likely to be more of a “Lucky 7″ phenomenon. It’s still way too early to tell, but gosh the news and rumors about Windows 7 are flying thick and fast this week.

Here are some facts, or at least recent events:

  • Microsoft’s servers crumbled under the onslaught today as users flocked to download a free trial version of the Windows 7 operating system. Feeling lucky: try the Windows 7 Beta link. It says “coming soon” as I try it right now.
  • Recent reviews of the current Windows beta stress performance, compactness, and vast improvements over Vista. Adrian Kingsley-Hughes “Windows 7 beta 1 review” is one of the best and most thorough I’ve seen so far, and may even help to explain why so many people want to download a beta OS.
  • Ballmer’s Windows 7/Vista keynote at CES (tip: scroll past the CES CEO’s frantic cheerleading at the beginning, and maybe even skip the multi-screen warm-up before Ballmer walks on stage)
  • Microsoft and its OEMs have announced an “upgrade to Windows 7 for free” program for those who buy a Vista-equipped PC on or after July 1, 2009.
  • The Windows 7 Beta does not support upgrades for systems running Windows XP; only systems running Vista can do an upgrade install. All other Windows versions must do a “clean install”–ouch! Will this affect enterprises planning the “XP to 7 jump?” Methinks not.

Here are some rumors that have surfaced during the past few days as well:

  • Windows 7 is further along than MS will admit right now. Although the official release date is still “early in 2010″ the latest word is that if it doesn’t RTM (release to manufacturing) some time in Q3, it will do so very early in Q2.
  • Some believe that the “upgrade to 7 free” programs already announced presage RTM and release in Q3.
  • Microsoft is pushing its hopes for Windows Live technology onto the shoulders of Windows 7. See “Windows Live being targeted for Windows 7?” and “Windows LIve memo (part 2)” for some juicy and evocative details. Ballmer’s CES video actually shows itself heavily aligned to these intimations.

Where will it all lead? To Windows 7, of course. The questions are: When? Who gets it for free? How much will it cost? Will Microsoft back away from the 7 Vista SKUs it currently offers?

I can’t wait to see what will happen next. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I’ve got to keep my Vista desktops running. CYA!


January 7, 2009  5:45 PM

Create a bootable WinPE UFD

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Everybody knows what a UFO is, but let me remind readers that Microsoft interprets UFD as “USB Flash Drive.” Thus, what I’m about to describe is best understood as how to create a bootable Flash drive that includes the Windows Vista SP1 Pre-boot Environment (aka Window PE or even WinPE). Interestingly, if you simply troll TechNet or the Microsoft Download Center, you’ll be directed to Windows Automated Installation Kit version 1.0. But if you’re working from post-SP1 Vista (as most readers of this blog probably are), you really want Version 2.1, which is designed to support that environment. You’ll find that on the download page entitled “Automation Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008” instead.

You’ll download an ISO image of the latest WAIK, which you must then burn to a DVD (it’s 1.2 GB in size and won’t fit on a CD). I used Alex Feinman’s excellent Windows Explorer add-in named ISO Recorder v3 for this (and for all my iso files) but you can use any Vista-compatible DVD burning program you like to do this job. AFter that run the file named startcd.exe on the DVD to launch WAIK. This produces the following screen:

Run the WAIK 2.1 DVD, and here's what you'll see

WAIK 2.1 welcome

Click the option that reads Windows AIK Setup to install WAIK on your current computer (it must be running Vista SP1, in case this isn’t completely obvious). By default this installs WAIK in the C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\ directory. Click your way through the installation screens to make the various WAIK tools available on your PC (on my desktop, this took about three minutes, YMMV).

Next, click Start, All Programs, Windows AIK, then finally Windows PE Tools Command Prompt. Inside the command window, type

Copype.cmd x86 C:\winpe_x86:

where x86 indicates a 32-bit environment and x64 a 64-bit environment, and C:\winpe_x86 is where the various WinPE binaries and directories will be created. After that you can copy tools and utilities from the WAIK Tools directory for your architecture (x86 for 32-bit PCs, and so forth) into the ISO subdirectory beneath C:\Winpe_x86. I usually grab Imagex.exe and the Package Manager, using these commands:


copy "c:\program files\Windows AIK\Tools\x86\imagex.exe
" c:\winpe_x86\iso\
xcopy
"c:\program files\Windows AIK\Tools\x86\Servicing" c:\winpe_x86\iso\Servicing /s

Of course, you’ll have to change the architecture designation for a 64-bit install to x64, and you’ll need to tell the CLI that the xcopy command points to a directory specification, but otherwise things should work for you, if you simply cut and paste these commands into the command window you’ll have open when you create the C:\WinPE_86 environment on your machine.

Next, you must scrub your UFD clean, mark its single partition as active, and format it for FAT32. The following sequence of commands will do the trick (replace n with the actual disk number for your UFD, use the list disk command inside diskpart to get this information:


diskpart
select disk n
clean
create partition primary size=
select partition 1
active
format fs=fat32
assign
exit

After that you need only copy the ISO subdirectory from your C: drive to the drive letter for your UFD to make your bootable image thereupon. The following xcopy command will work (just be sure to correct the drive letter at the end of that command string):

xcopy c:\winpe_x86\iso\*.* /s /e /f i:\

As you work with this boot image, you’ll probably find other tools you want to add to your toolbox. You must copy them into the ISO subdirectory on your C: drive (along with any other supporting files they might need), then reformat the UFD, and repeat the preceding xcopy command to make them available when you boot from that drive.


January 4, 2009  10:56 PM

Is Vista Really the Pathway to Windows 7?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In light of my most recent blog “Who’s Using Vista?” I decided to drop in on Microsoft’s Enterprise Vista Web pages to see what they had to say on the whole “Vista now, or Windows 7 later?” discussion. Imagine my consternation and outright stupefaction when I discovered that Microsoft’s own “Windows Vista Enterprise Operating System Features” page now also sports a Windows 7 tab!

“Holy smokes,” I said to myself, “Maybe those knucklehead conspiracy theorists are right, and even Microsoft thinks Vista is in its death spiral, on its way down the drain.” Even after checking out all of their information and discussion, I’m sure some will come away from it convinced that making a direct jump from Windows XP to Windows 7 on the desktop is precisely the right thing for them to do.

I did take some comfort from this language in the first paragraph of the text on the Windows 7 tab view of the afore-cited page: “Deploying Windows Vista today is an important step on the path to get ready for Windows 7″ (emphasis Microsoft’s). And of course, Microsoft is ready with white papers and information galore to help IT professionals work on management to convince them that an investment, or at least, some investment in Windows Vista will pay off both before and after Windows 7 hits the streets.

Microsoft also drops this interesting tidbit of information about Windows 7 release dates in the very next sentence on that same page: “With availability targeted 3 years after the release of Windows Vista, customers with Software Assurance will have access to Windows 7 as soon as it’s available.” Let’s review some dates here: Windows XP made its debut in October, 2001, and Windows Vista went RTM in November 2006, and commercial on January, 30, 2007. Three years from that last date is January, 2010, and that’s apparently when Microsoft wants us to expect Windows 7 to be ready (I still keep hearing and reading about rumors that it might be done late in Q3 or some time in Q4 this year, though).

For IT operations that haven’t yet adopted Windows Vista, a time window of even twelve more months with Windows XP will be no great shakes. I think Microsoft is fighting a very tough battle to try to move its user base to Vista in the near term, when the horizon for Windows 7 is not so very far off. Given the current state of the economy, and the time, effort and expense involved in migrating systems and users from XP to Vista, I’m guessing that the 85-90% of enterprises that haven’t yet adopted Vista will be happy to wait another year to think about jumping a generation and going straight from XP to Windows 7 instead.

Even then, I think they’ll wait another year past initial release, to see how well intrepid pioneers aka “early adopters” fare with Windows 7 before making any major moves. This lets me predict an unusually heavy interest in Windows 7 betas and release candidates, and much greater enterprise interest and participation in those programs.

As for myself, I’ve already switched to Vista as the primary OS where I work. Although I sometimes long for the stability and reliability that XP cheerfully delivered in the six years I used it full-time from 2001 to 2007, I’ve learned to live with Vista and make it work for me. I can only hope it really does give a leg up into Windows 7, when that OS finally becomes a commercial reality.


December 26, 2008  3:19 PM

Who’s Using Vista?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I keep reading all these stories about how nobody at the enterprise level is using Vista–or really, rather, that only a very small minority of enterprises have taken the plunge. Depending on how far back you want to go, I keep hearing numbers for enterprise Vista adoption in even percentages as high as ten percent, thus in the range from 2%, Feb ’08, to 10%, December, 2008, with plenty of inbetween values reported as well.

On the other hand, Microsoft reports sales of over 300 million Vista licenses as of December, 2008, along with adoptions at “major enterprises like Continental Airlines, the United States Air Force, Virgin Megastores, Charter, Avanade, Eastman Chemical, and PPG…” They also report from other sources that nearly half of all businesses of all sizes, including enterprises, are using or evaluating Windows Vista right now.

So what does this all mean? Alas, that depends on who you ask. I keep seeing stories about Windows 7, which may make an appearance some time next year or early in 2010, stressing the “wait and see” angle on Vista enterprise deployment and use. In some of the same information outlets, I also see reporting about a growing groundswell of Vista adoption across the entire IT landscape as home, home office, and business users find themselves more or less forced into at least trying Vista simply because it comes pre-loaded on so many notebook, laptop, and desktop PCs nowadays.

My own personal take on the situation is that enough people are using Vista to make it worthwhile for me to use it, too, and to learn as much about its inner workings, capabilities, and foibles as I can. Even if the whole world, or the whole enterprise spectrum, hasn’t yet jumped onto the Vista bandwagon, and might never do so if Windows 7 shows up soon enough, there are still enough interested parties–sometimes wary or weary, sometimes enthusiastic, but always concerned about how to make things work as well as possible–to make it worthwhile for me to keep digging into this sometimes frustrating, sometimes mysterious, but always fascinating OS.

I have to guess that many other IT professionals feel the same way, and are wondering why so many keep finding evidence that Vista has (a) failed or (b) never succeeded in any way in the first place. As far as I’m concerned it’s all just part of the ins and outs of working with a multi-million line code base with more functionality than I can learn completely in a lifetime!

Happy Holidays to one and all!

–Ed–

PS: Having met my monthly blogging quota (12) with the posting of this item, I’m going on hiatus until after New Year’s. Thus, let me take this opportunity to wish my readers the happiest of holiday seasons, and a safe and prosperous 2009.


December 24, 2008  4:26 PM

Windows PE and the PE Walkthroughs

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

The Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) 2.0 delivers a basic, no-frills operating system with limited services and no GUI capabilities that’s built upon the Windows Vista kernel. You can use it to prep a PC for Vista installation, to copy disk images from a network file server to a target machine, and to fire off Windows Vista setup and installation. To learn more about Windows PE, check out the Technet article “What is Windows PE?

With a little foreknowledge about Windows PE at your disposal, you can’t help but find these Windows PE Walkthroughs (step-by-step instructions on building and using various Windows PE environments) on TechNet of terrific interest:

By the time you work your way through this material, you’ll be well-prepared to deal with most of the chores related to creating and manipulating the Windows Image (.wim) files that Vista uses for installation and setup. Definitely worth getting to know, and spending some time with. I’m pitching a book on this subject right now myself, with a Web site to go along with it, in fact. WinPE is also great for Vista troubleshooting, low-level system maintenance and repair, and more as well.


December 22, 2008  5:47 PM

More about Windows Installer CleanUp

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

On October 15, I wrote a blog called “Toward a more positive Vista uninstall experience,” in which I mentioned Revo Uninstaller and Microsoft’s Windows Installer CleanUp utility.

Recently, I came across an article by Lance Whitney on TechNet entitled “Utility Spotlight: Windows Installer CleanUp Utility” that might be worth a visit for those interested in that tool. Also, my colleague and occasional co-author Toby Digby–who works with me on the informative and eclectic Vizta View website–recently contacted me to share hispositive experiences in working with the for-a-fee Total Uninstall 5 product.

What this $40 program (that’s for up to 4 computers, a single computer license costs $30) does that Revo Uninstaller does not do is to detect and remove invalid or partial/failed installs and remove them on your behalf. In fact, as long as the program is installed and monitoriing your system when this occurs, it can reverse complete or partial installs with ease. It can also survey your system and detect already-installed applications, and assist with their removal as well. It uses a TripWire-like before and after snapshotting mechanism to document what apps do when they install themselves (the graphical tree this program creates to illustrate those changes is almost worth the price of admission all by itself), including all new or changed Registry items and filesystem entries.

Total Uninstall 5 post-install Change Tree Diagram

If you’re in the market for Vista uninstall utilities, you might want to add Total Install 5 to your short list of items worth checking out, in other words. You won’t be sorry you did.


December 17, 2008  9:11 PM

Essential out-of-cycle IE security update now available

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

When Secunia calls a Windows security update “extremely critical” you know a serious vulnerability is being patched. The Windows security community has been abuzz since last week when a number of remote code execution vulnerabilities originally thought limited only to IE 7 turned out to affect other IE versions, and to involve general XML vulnerabilities as well. For more information on the update see “Microsoft Security Advisory (961051) Vulnerability in Internet Explorer Could Allow Remote Code Execution” and “Microsoft Security Bulletin MS08-078 – Critical.”

Security Bulletin MS08-078 specifically mentions IE 5, 6, and 7, as well as Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista on the desktop front, plus Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008, in both 32- and 64-bit versions (where applicable). This update is also associated with Pointer Reference Memory Corruption Vulnerability – CVE-2008-4844 from the Common Vulnerability and Exploits database.

The nature of the vulnerability is called “Remote Code Execution” which essentially means that an attacker can take over a system and run any code he or she wishes to at a very high level of privilege. Please visit Windows Update and download this security fix for testing and evaluation as soon as possible. Zero-day exploits have already been reported, and it is regarded as an active and hostile threat.


December 17, 2008  4:15 PM

Dig Into Vista Install Capabilities To Fit Target Hardware

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

By itself, Vista does a pretty good job of fitting itself to the platforms on which it’s installed. But savvy administrators can do a lot more to construct custom Vista install images with a bit of time and effort, and the right tools and approaches. To get a good sense of what kinds of capabilities you can put to work, for example, read this interview from 2006 (!) Microsoft Australia’s John Pritchard. Entitled “Inside Vista’s new image-based install” it’s as good an overview of what the Windows Imaging (.WIM) file capability that drives Vista installs can do for customized images as well as standard ones. It also discusses how to integrate executable (.exe, .msi, and so forth) driver installers as part of the Vista install process to further customize Vista images for specific hardware configurations. Interested admins will also find Paul Thurrot’s “Windows Vista Review/Part 3: Installing Windows Vista” illuminating as well.

For this kind of task, however, the Windows Automated Installation Kit page on Technet provides pointers to the primary resources admins will need to explore these possibilities further. That’s where you’ll find pointers to the WAIK User’s Guide, a discussion of Windows Preinstallation Phases, the Deployment Tools Technical Reference, and the Unattended Windows Setup Reference, all of which play important roles in this activity.

In my next blogs, I’ll be digging into this task further, with some examples and illustrations, and exploring this document set in more detail. Stay tuned!

–Ed–


December 14, 2008  9:37 PM

Digging into Crash Dumps? Try Dumpchk first

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

There’s no question that the Windows Debugger (windbg.exe) is a nonpareil tool when it comes to troubleshooting source code or digging into Vista crashdumps. But with the program’s requirement for current debug symbols, complex syntax (the downside of amazing functionality is detailed and demanding syntax), and vast power comes a certain amount of effort required to get things set up and working properly. If all you want is a quick peek at certain key fields in a full-blown crash dump (C:\Windows\Memory.dmp by default) or a minidump file (C:\Windows\Minidump\Minimmddyy-0x, where mmddyy maps into 120808 for December 8, 2008, and the x represents which minidump acquired that day you’re after, so that my December 8, 2008 mindump file is named Mini120808-01.dmp) the lightweight dumpchk.exe utility may be more to your liking.

Given the following filename example, here’s a pared-down snapshot of the command line input for dumpchk and its response:

c:\Temp>dumpchk c:\Windows\Minidump\Mini120808-01.dmp -e
Loading dump file c:\Windows\Minidump\Mini120808-01.dmp
----- 32 bit Kernel Mini Dump Analysis

DUMP_HEADER32:
MajorVersion        0000000f
MinorVersion        00001771
KdSecondaryVersion  00000000
DirectoryTableBase  dc05e3e0
PfnDataBase         8236b850
PsLoadedModuleList  8234bc70
PsActiveProcessHead 82341990
MachineImageType    0000014c
NumberProcessors    00000004
BugCheckCode        00000101
BugCheckParameter1  00000031
BugCheckParameter2  00000000
BugCheckParameter3  803d1120
BugCheckParameter4  00000001

The key information appears in the BugCheckCode entry (this maps to the Windows Stop error code that shows up on a bluescreen), and the four parameters that follow. A quick Google search on the Stop Error code presented as a Hexadecimal number of the form 0×00000101 is usually all it takes to find guidance on causes and potential fixes for such errors. In this case, I had to accept a light slap on the wrist for excessive over-clocking on my QX9650 processor and turn the clock rate back down in my PC’s BIOS (a reduction from 3.5 to 3.2 GHz did the trick nicely).

Sure Windbg.exe will do the same tricks, and a whole lot more, but why not use the quick’n’dirty dumpchk.exe if it will do the trick. If you download the Windows XP SP 2 Support Tools (Windows validation is required) you can grab and use dumpchk.exe on Windows Vista without difficulty.


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