Although Microsoft released Windows Vista SP2 to manufacturing (RTM) on April 29, and to MSDN and TechNet subscribers in early May, it’s still not available for download elsewhere. As of this morning, neither the Microsoft Download Center nor Windows Update shows hide nor hair for SP2 anywhere. On its Microsoft Update Product Team Blog for May 20 we finally got some news about what’s going on in a posting entitled “Get ready for Vista and Win2k8 SP2.”
According to the MU Team, Vista (and Windows Server 2008, which share a common code base) SP2 “…will be available in the coming weeks on the Download Center (DLC), and also through Windows Update and WSUS.” But according to Nick Clark, by way of Mary Jo Foley, automatic updates for Vista SP2 won’t start getting pushed until June 30, 2009.
Why such a long delay before automatic push? Enterprise users should know this answer better than anybody else. Rolling out any service pack, including SP2, takes prior testing and may involve possible remediation or even a postpone/no-go decision, which in turn takes time. This approach also leaves the door open for some organizations to use the Microsoft Service Pack Blocking Tool to prevent the SP2 update from being applied prematurely.
As for me, I started testing various SP2 versions (including a slipstreamed install for both x86 and x64 versions) a couple of months ago. I liked what I found and saw enough to switch my production units over to SP2 in the last week (thanks to my MSDN subscription), and believe that many others will want to switch over to SP2 as time and opportunity permit. In fact…knock on wood as I write this…I haven’t had a single stability problem with my production machines since the day after installing that service pack (I did, however, have problem during the reboot phase of the install on one of those machines and got tagged in Reliability Monitor for an unexpected shutdown when I had to hit the reset button to get the SP2 install to continue through the reboot phase successfully). Other than that, it’s been surprisingly smooth sailing on the sometimes choppy Vista waters ever since! Look at the “monotonically increasing trend line” in Reliability Monitor since 5/14 (the day after my install on the problem machine).
One of the great joys of writing a blog is that the author gets to choose the topic, no matter how odd, weird, or unusual it might be. Though its relevance to enterprise Vista is, I freely and cheerfully admit, tangential at best I simply had to chime in about the new Klingon anti-virus package from Sophos. I stumbled across this in today’s PCmag.com Security Watch blog from veteran malware researcher and expert Neil Rubenking, did a double-take, checked the article, and ROFL or maybe even LMAO.
As it turns out this is really just the Sophos Threat Detection Test with interface screens dubbed into Klingon. I have four things to say about this software product (provide yourself with appropriate derisory sound effects for each one, please):
1. Some companies obviously look farther for new markets to exploit than others.
2. The product is a clear testament to the ability to separate UI from underlying functionality.
3. Some software engineers obviously have too much time on their hands.
4. Did April first come late this year?
Even so, it’s a real hoot. Check it out. Perfect for those security-conscious Trekkies on your gift list, too.
The beta version of the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor is ready for download. You can check it for yourself if you like, but here’s a guided tour through a (slam-dunk) installation and scan. I picked a system already loaded for bear to try this tool on, knowing it would pass the scan, just to show the outline of the program’s installation and use. Here goes.
1. After downloading the program, run Windows7UpgradeAdvisor.msi
2. Click Next, then click the checkbox to accept the EULA
3. Supply an installation target folder, or stick with the default (that’s what I did).
4. Wait while the program installs itself on your system.
7. As the program runs, you’ll get a circulating progress bar. Whereas the Vista version took about 4 minutes to complete on this computer, the Windows 7 version finished in just under 3.
8. When the program finishes you’ll see a summary screen pop up. This one simply indicates I won’t get everything from Windows 7 that I got from Windows Ultimate (thank goodness! ;-).
9. More details on the hardware checks indicate I have a fast enough CPU, sufficient RAM and disk space, and my graphics card can handle Aero.
In future blogs, I’m going to try other systems with the tool, including a modest notebook, a netbook, and an older single-core machine, and I’ll report on those results. This tour should give you a pretty good idea about where to get the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor beta, and how to use it yourself.
Now that I’ve been living with Vista SP2 for three whole days, I’m getting some experience with the new environment on some production machines. I did encounter a situation where SP2 froze at 48% through its Phase 1 (of 3) changes prior to the restart between Phase 2 (before restart) and Phase 3 (post restart), but a reset on the machine caused it to start over with Phase 1, after which the entire remaining process completed successfully. Having made a complete backup before starting, and wondering if the admonition not to power off the PC while in process was as dire as stated, I was both surprised and pleased that the SP application proceeded and succeeded on a second try without having to restore the backup and start over. Is it possible MS has improved its SP application tools?
At any rate, with the SP now in place I’m watching my systems closely for stability and reliability. I’ve also dug into the System and Application logs in Event Viewer to see if some of my chronic and persistent errors have been addressed by the new service pack. Without conducting a complete exhaustive analysis, my observation is that some have been addressed, while some have not.
Here are some details. Prior to the SP2 application, I had a decent-sized laundry list of recurring errors for which I could find no fix, but which also didn’t seem to adversely affect system stability and usability. Here’s a summary table for these items:
|Critical||DriverFrameworks-UserMode||10110||A UFD has a flaky driver|
|Warning||Servicing||4374||KB955430 not applicable to my system|
|Warning||Time Service||36||No synchronization occurred in last 24 hrs|
|Warning||Tcpip||4226||Limit of concurrent TCP connect attempts reached|
|Error||HttpEvent||15016||Unable to initialize Kerberos for server side authentication|
Of these items, I see some have disappeared, and others have morphed slightly (and more informatively) into altered forms. The time service error remains unchanged (but it always works when I synch manually, so I’m not worried about it). The UFD error code persists, but also gets a new companion code 10111 that explicitly identifies the offending device by name. Because it always works when I plug it in, my workaround here is just to remove the device whenever I finish using it. 4374 (update not applicable) has gone away completely, and 15016 (Kerberos not initializing) shows up only once (it used to appear daily) . 4226 (TCP connect attempts) hasn’t showed up, either, but this usually occurs when I’m using FTP and I haven’t done so since applying SP2. That means I give SP2 a 20-40% improvement score on those “pre-existing conditions.”
As you might expect, however, I also see some new recurring items in the Event Viewer that I didn’t see before applying SP2. I summarize these in the next table:
|Error||Service Control Manager||7000||Windows search service failed to start in timely fashion|
|Error||DistributedCOM||10005||Error 1053 when attempting to start WSearch|
|Error||BitLocker-Driver||24620||Volume information on N cannot be read|
The DCOM error is one I’ve seen before and relates to Windows Search attempts to index items that are no longer present (hence an empty search target in the error message detail), and ties of course into error 7000 as well. Likewise, Volume N relates to the UFD with the driver problems. All of these are items I can live with (and if I can figure out my search target issue for Windows Search) maybe even do away with.
My final analysis on SP2 for chronic errors: “So far, so good!”
I’m helping to revise a book on Windows 7 right now. By well-known Windows mavens Brian Knittel and Bob Cowart, it’s to be called Windows 7 in Depth (Pearson, 2009, ISBN: 0789741997). In the course of writing the chapter on hard disks, formats, basic and dynamic volumes and so forth, I was forcibly reminded that there are many different formats that work on USB Flash Drives, aka UFDs. And as is usual for good questions of all kinds the answer to the inevitable question: “Which format should I use on my UF?” start with the famous qualification phrase: “That depends…”
I’ll list the formats that work on UFDs in Windows Vista and Windows 7, and explain why you might use each one in the ensuing explanation (for more great information on this topic see GUIDE: FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, or exFAT on USB Flash Drives? in the forums at the excellent NoteBookReview.com Website):
- FAT16 (aka simply “FAT;” there used to be a FAT12 format once upon a time, too, but it’s not supported in Vista or Windows 7 although I think these systems can probably still read it) offers the best overall cross-platform support for non-Windows or old Windows OSes, and also delivers the best total performance overall. That said, it’s limited to 2 GB volume size (up to 4GB on some OSes, if a 16 KB cluster size is used), with a maximum file size equal to maximum volume size minus file/directory overhead (usually no more than a few hundred bytes). FAT16 works best for UFDs of 2 GB and smaller.
- FAT32 also offers good cross-platform support, especially on non-Windows OSes (it won’t work on older DOS versions or Windows versions prior to Win95 SR2), and is not subject to the 2/4 GB size limit (it tops out at 32 GB, more than big enough for all but the largest UFDs on today’s market). It offers only moderate to slower overall performance, however, and supports a maximum file size of 4 GB. FAT32 works pretty well on all but the largest (< 32 GB) UFDs.
- NTFS supports relatively low cross-platform support, and doesn’t work on non-NT based Windows versions, and not at all on DOS (though the NTFSDOS utility from SysInternals can mitigate this to some extent but only for reading the contents of NTFS volumes). It’s very fast for single files, but doesn’t do as well as FAT16 or FAT32 for write activities involving multiple files. It does support ACL based access controls and works with all kinds of encryption technologies, and is far more secure than FAT (Windows 7 supports a Portable BitLocker implementation that lets you encrypt UFD contents for save storage and transport). You must use the Optimize for Quick Removal option on an NTFS formatted UFD, or risk losing data unless you use the “Safely Remove Hardware” applet to dismount it from your PC. NTFS or exFAT are required for UFDs larger than 32 GB, and work well for those who want to use large UFDs for backups.
- exFAT, introduced with Vista SP1, is basically FAT64. This supports file and volume sizes of 264-1 (16 exabytes), and volumes to match, and raises the ceiling on maximum file entries per directory as well. Vista can’t use exFAT for ReadyBoost, but Windows 7 can. exFAT currently works only in Vista, Windows Server 2008, and Windows 7, and also suffers from slow write speed on multiple files. NTFS or exFAT are required for UFDs larger than 32 GB, and work well for those who want to use large UFDs for backups.
To format a UFD with any of these file systems, insert it into a Vista or Windows 7 PC, right click the drive icon in Windows Explorer, then select the format entry in the resulting pop-up window, to see a display something like this one (it shows the exFAT format selected in Windows Vista).
In my frenzy to test and evaluate Vista SP2 for stability I built myself a test system around the slipstreamed version of Vista x64 SP2 RC available from MSDN for download to subscribers. And while my results were overall positive–FWIW, SP2 seems to add significantly to Vista stability and uptime–it appears that I’m now faced with a painful dilemma about when to scrub the machine and rebuild with the just-released production version.
So, off I go to find the expiration date for the RC. It turns out that whenever one exists, it appears in the “About Windows” information for any Windows release. I scratch my head a bit to figure out how to do this, then run winver at the command line: it does the trick nicely.
Upon seeing the details, I heave a sigh of relief for numerous reasons. First, there’s no compelling reason to act soon, with just under 11 months to go before this OS turns into a pumpkin. Second, there’s every hope that the commercial release of Windows 7 will be out before that date (and I may even be able to perform an in-place upgrade to x64 Windows 7 Professional from this version if the stars smile on me). Third, this being a test machine after all, circumstances (read: new work) may compel me to rebuild this machine for any number of reasons well before the expiration date arrives.
All this said, however, there is a moral to this story: When MS says you shouldn’t install an RC version on production gear, they’re not kidding around. You do have to be willing to bite the bullet sometime after installing one of these versions, and replace the install with something else (that is, a so-called “clean install” that wipes out all the work involved in setting up the machine with the RC and its accoutrement) in its stead. I’m glad that my primary work on this machine consists of building various VMs to use for testing inside Virtual PC 2007. Presumably I need only copy those constituent files to a backup drive, rebuild the underlying system, then replace them in the “My Virtual Machines” folder to keep on using them no matter which version or kind of host OS is running to support them. More on this later, I’m sure…
Way back in February I blogged here about Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization, aka MED-V. In the past few weeks, Microsoft has announced that it will offer a free download to buyers of Windows 7 in the Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise versions called Windows 7 XP Mode. Essentially what this provides is a copy of Virtual PC with a Windows XP SP3 license and install image, so that users can easily build and add an XP-based virtual machine to their toolset, primarily as a platform for legacy applications that won’t work with Vista or Windows 7.
I now understand that XP Mode is a kind of do-it-yourself or roll-your-own version of what MED-V provides as an adminstrator-handled and centrally managed capability for businesses at all scales (though it started with an enterprise target specifically in mind), Microsoft Product Manager Ron Oelgiesser told me yesterday that “even businesses with 100 or 200 users who want to run virtualization” can benefit from MED-V technology. Simply put, it’s designed to allow trained IT professionals (administrators) to design, build, and maintain standard VM images, and to make delivering those images to end users as simple as opening a utility and picking a virtual machine by some readily intelligible name for use (for example “accounts payable” or “call center”). Behind the scenes, the admins are responsible for putting those VM’s together, and updating them as new drivers, updates, and other changes come down the road. Users simply load them and use them as needed, which represents a technique for making good use of virtualization that’s just about as easy as it gets.
From the admin side, things aren’t too shabby either. Microsoft provides a QuickStart guide that shows them how to put VMs together, and test them to make sure they work as desired, then make them available for general access and use with the MED-V client components on end-user desktops. MED-V comes as part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack that is only available to customers who sign up for Microsoft Customer Assurance. Best of all, according to Oelgiesser, the incremental cost of adding a MED-V component to an existing Assurance subscription is “less than $10 per seat per year.” Considering that this includes an XP SP3 license on which to run legacy apps, as well as a nifty set of tools for packaging, distributing, and managing VMs, this is a fantastic value.
Thus, even though MS will be giving away the XP Mode components with higher-end Windows 7 licenses, I predict that MED-V will also enjoy considerable adoption and use, even from SMBs. Oelgiesser confirms that MS feels bullish on MED-V as well, and indicates that some adoption for Vista has already begun among existing Assurance program participants. Should be interesting to see how this all turns out, once Windows 7 goes commercial.
With Vista SP2 now available via MSDN and other restricted download venues (not to mention BitTorrent servers which already offer acess to all 36 languages that MS plans to support in its first public release of SP2), it’s time to start thinking about migrating to this latest version in your environments–or not, as the case may be. That means it’s high time to go off and grab your own copy for use in the test lab, to see if what it fixes meets or exceeds what it breaks. Notebook users, in particular, will benefit from this release if platform vendors haven’t already pushed Bluetooth and Wi-Fi updates to those machines through their own update/maintenance programs.
In any case, SP2 should become publicly available on demand through Windows Update, possibly before the end of May, and perhaps by the middle of that month. In my own testing with the beta, I found updated machines were significantly more stable than SP1 machines, particularly in environments where users are prone to installing and/or uninstalling programs on a regular basis.
Certainly, you’ll want to test SP2 for yourself in your production evironments to see what’s what. You should also put GPOs in place to block SP2 installation from end-users until such testing is complete, and send out e-mail to educate users on the risks attached to SP updates, because many of them will want to jump on this release for their home or family PCs. Be sure to tell them to back up their PCs completely before applying the SP, to avoid in-process errors that might leave a machine unbootable, or unable to roll back from SP2 to previous levels. You’ll also want to warn them about the potential for application conflicts or errors, particularly for any legacy software that may belong to your production environment.
Except for the potential for breaking some software, though, the prognosis for Vista SP2 seems pretty positive overall. Be sure to check it out for yourself at the earliest opportunity!
Yesterday, April 30, Microsoft announced the availability of Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) and also the final version of Windows Vista SP2 for download at MSDN and other restricted access Microsoft developer and beta test sites. The world took notice, and started hammering Microsoft’s servers mercilessly and ceaselessly.
How can I say this? Because I’ve been working with the Microsoft File Transfer Manager for some time now to download ISOs for various OSes, all kinds of tools (WAIK, debuggers, devtools, and more), service packs, and other stuff for some time now. On most days, it’s not unusual for me to experience download speeds of 1.5 – 2.0 MBps (12-16 Mbps), and my normal speeds are usually in excess of 800 KBps (6.4 Mbps) at any and all times.
But that’s not true since the news about these items hit the net yesterday. I’ve been lucky to get a maximum of 350 KBps (2.8 Mbps) on downloads and values keep dipping below 150 – 200 Kbps (1.2-1.6 Mbps) on a pretty regular basis. This translates into the kinds of download times reported in the following table.
|Win 7 RC x86||2.357 GB||4:37|
|Win 7 RC x64||3.046 GB||5:19|
|Vista x86 SP2 final||1.345 GB||2:07|
What does this mean to those with access to MSDN or other restricted download pages on MS Web sites? If you can wait for the initial rush to die down, you’ll probably be a much happier camper. As for me, I couldn’t wait because I have to write about all of this stuff right away, starting today. Fortunately, I was able to queue this stuff up overnight before crashing last night (by which time I’d already downloaded the complete x64 Win7 RC anyway) and find the complete downloads waiting for me on disk when I got up this morning. For the time being, however, MSDN (and other restricted) downloads can only be described as “slow going!”
BitTorrent is turning into an unofficial prerelease mechanism for Microsoft software these days. It’s cartainly become a nonpareil source for Windows 7 builds that’s right in synch with Microsoft’s own internal releases. Yesterday Vista SP2 was already available online in Torrent form hours before Microsoft’s own 6:49 PM Tuesday announcement “Windows Vista SP2 RTM” appeared in The Windows Blog. This release also includes a common installer and code base for both Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. For details on the changes that come with SP2, check out the associated “Notable Changes” document on TechNet (also dated 4/28/09).
I’ve been working with the 64-bit Vista RC version of SP2 for nearly three weeks and so far, it’s been remarkably stable. If my own experience is any guide, Vista admins can look forward not just to some nice boosts to functionality (Feature Pack for Wireless, improved Wi-Fi performance after sleep mode resumption, improved RSS feeds sidebar, and built-in support for burning Blu-ray media) but also to some increased stability as well. Enterprise versions will also benefit from improved power management for both servers and desktops, as well as better backward compatibility for Terminal Server License keys.
It’s not yet clear whether Microsoft will indeed get the downloads posted before April 30 comes and goes, as they had originally promised. If not, given that the bits are already available and in circulation on BitTorrent, I’d have to guess that they won’t show up much later than early next week in any case. Based on recent precedent, this means that SP2 should become available on demand from Windows Update some time in late May or early June, and will become a mandatory download later this year. A tool to block the SP2 download should also become available very soon, if not at the same time as the SP2 download, then some time soon thereafter.