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.
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.
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.
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!
If you’re in the market for an MSDN Subscription, as I was recently–I missed my “renewal date” while I was overseas for the last week of January and the first week of February, and found myself in a “grace period” upon my return as a consequence–don’t overlook the third-party channel. For years, I’d been buying my subscriptions direct from Microsoft, but when I ran into trouble renewing my subscription online this morning at the MS Partner site, I decided to go shopping and see what kinds of deals I could find on the outside, as it were.
Boy, am I glad I did: I found a 3-year subscription deal at Software International (www.software-intl.com) that cost less than two years’ worth of full-price MSDN but delivered three years worth of service at that price. And because the company’s in Colorado, and I’m in Texas, no sales tax on the purchase, either (an additional savings of around $100 as compared to direct purchase from Microsoft). I ended up paying $1,086 for three years for an annual rate of $362 per year. Compare that to a straight annual renewal at Microsoft for $699 plus tax (total $756) for the OS-only MSDN license and $1,099 plus tax (total $1,190) for the same package I just purchased — namely, the Visual Studio Professional with MSDN Professional license — and you’ll quickly get a sense for the kinds of savings available on the open market.
Like the old song goes “You better shop around.” There are deals out there, and they go all the way into Open License and other software arrangements with Microsoft, where the same kinds of discounts are available, even at the enterprise level. Let your purchasing folks know that there are some awesome deals to be found in the reseller channel, right now.
For the past two weeks, I’ve wandered wide away from my usual orbits. I’ve been in one the Benelux countries (hint: it’s the one with the best beer) assisting in the preparations needed to help bring IT operations back in-house from a third-party provider based here. The company itself is solidly global with major data centers in Belgium, Singapore, and New Jersey.
Aside from a contrarian (and to me, very welcome) switch from outsourcing to a kind of insourcing, the trip was absolutely fascinating for me because of the purpose of the meetings we held. The primary focus was to understand how the vendor is handling things now, particularly with regard to its tools, processes, and procedures. Though –as is invariably the case when a change of hands and control occurs – the company plans to make some changes when it accepts the handoff from the vendor, it knows it needs to understand how things work right now, to keep them working when they have to take over and keep doing what the vendor is doing for them right now, and what they must do themselves starting on the cutover date and thereafter.
Of course, the two organizations will work in parallel for a while (a period called “shadowing”) where the vendor will take the lead up to the transition point, as the company mounts and operates parallel operations in the background. After transition, the tables turn, and the company takes the lead role, but the vendor keeps on operating in parallel to make sure they can resume control if the company’s operations fail or run into difficulties.
What’s been both fascinating and educational to observe , and even to participate in, has been the back-and-forth between vendor and company as the handoff comes ever closer to the cutover date. The kinds of questions that come up have primarily to do with soliciting enough detail to ensure smooth operation as the current controlling entity (the vendor) passes control over to the future one (the company). Natually, both sides are concerned that the transition go smoothly, and be successful, but both sides have slightly different aims: the vendor wants to accomplish the handover without having to do too much extra work, while the company wants everything and anything they can lay hands or eyes onto to shed as much light on day-to-day problems, issues, procedures, and resource requirements as they possibly can.
Given a situation that could have been tense and fraught with animosity, relations were professional and mostly unemotional. Sometimes, they were downright cordial. To the company’s surprise and delight they discovered that the vendor’s well-described and documented procedures were not only numerous and well named and identified, but also chock-full of useful details and helpful information. As the person tasked with making up any gaps in those materials, and in customizing them to fit the company environment as closely as possible, I heaved a sigh of relief as I recognized that my own workload had dropped from outright Herculean to merely difficult and challenging.
I look forward to encountering and subduing those challenges in the weeks and months ahead, and in reporting here on how things go. For the moment, suffice it to say that surprisingly stable Windows runtime environments, including some vast Citrix server farms, have helped to make the transition process not only conceivable and technically feasible, but also seem fairly doable to those responsible for making it happen—including me!