Windows Enterprise Desktop


July 13, 2009  2:58 PM

Patch Tuesday Back to Normal for July ’09

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

According to the most recent Security Bulletin Advance Notification for July, things are a little less hectic this month (6 bulletins, 3 for Windows, 3 for other products) than they were last month (11 bulletins total). What we see this time around is a bit less threatening and potentially dangerous overall, which is not to say that you can simply skip this month’s go-round: all three of the Windows bulletins earn Critical ratings for remote code execution and should therefore be handled immediately. Two affect most Windows operating systems, and the third affects all DirectX versions from 7.0 to 9.0c for most Windows operating systems.

The other three bulletins are rated important. One affects MS Virtual PC versions 2004 and 2007, plus Virtual Server 2005 R2. Another affects ISA 2006 versions, and the third affects Microsoft Publisher from the Office 2007 Suite. The first two involve elevation of privilege, while the third involves remote code execution.

Other items for the upcoming patch release include a new version of the MS Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool, and other items may appear in the official release bulletin when it’s published on Tuesday, July 14.

July 10, 2009  4:34 PM

Windows Internals (Inside Windows) Gets Welcome Update

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Late last week, a small but heavy box showed up at my door. I’d long since forgotten bugging Mark Russinovich last December for a review copy of the latest edition of his Windows internals book: Windows Internals: Including Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista, 5th edition, co-authored with David A. Solomon and Alex Ionescu, but there it was in my hot little hand. In my odd free moments since then, I’ve been plowing through this 1,260 page book to see what’s new and interesting — though I obviously haven’t had time to read it in its entirety. Keep that caveat in mind as I extoll this book’s many treasures.
Cover shot from Amazon Books

Cover shot from Amazon Books

Here’s another caveat: the primary audience for this book is Windows system developers. They’re the people who will get the most out of its contents, and my lack of in-depth Windows system programming experience probably explains why my eyes glaze over and my mind goes on vacation as I look at certain sections in the book.

That said, there’s a tremendous wealth of information on Windows in here (and from what I can tell, it applies nearly 100% to Windows 7 as well as Windows Vista, thanks to relatively little changes in the kernel and other system facilities between these two most recent desktop Windows versions).  In particular, these are the topics that I found most interesting and illuminating as I flipped through the book for a first quick pass over its contents (I’ll report again from time to time as I dig more deeply into its contents):

  • Chapter 2 System Architecture: learned a thing or two about device drivers, and how to find them, in this chapter.
  • Chapter 3 System Mechanisms: the best coverage of the MS Hyper-V Hypervisor I’ve ever seen anywhere.
  • Chapter 4 Management Mechanisms: as in previous versions, this chapter provides some of the best information about how the Windows registry is structured, and how it works, that I’ve ever seen. Worth the price of admission all by itself.
  • Chapter 5 Processess, Threads, and Jobs: Here’s a tour-de-force illustration of Mark Russinovich’s knowledge of Windows internals, and how nicely the SysInternals tools work to reveal their inner workings.
  • Chapter 6 Security: Provides a killer walkthrough of how Windows performs access checks and uses security identifiers (SIDs) for accounts, groups, and logons. Lots of good detail here on security minutae.
  • Chapter 7 I/O System: includes great sections on Windows Plug and Play (PnP) operation and facilities, and ditto for ACPI/Power Manager.
  • Chapter 8 Storage Management: Best discussions of both BitLocker Drive Encyrption and Volume Shadow Copy Servive (VSS) I’ve seen anywhere.
  • Chapter 9 Memory Management: Another embarrassment of riches, and also worth the price of the book all by itself, especially the sections on physical memmory limits, working sets, and SuperFetch/ReadyBoost/ReadyDrive.
  • Chapter 11 File Systems is worthwhile because it pulls info on all the Windows file systems together in one place and because it provides lots of great information on NTFS in particular.
  • Chapter 12 Networking: lots of good information on the Windows IP stack, NetBIOS, MUP, NLA, LLTD, NAT, and more. I need to spend more time with this chapter to savor it more fully.
  • Chapter 13 Startup and Shutdown: Great excursions into BIOS boot processes, BCD and Bootmgr, EFI boot stuff, plus more on ReadyBoot/ReadyBoost interaction. The great, great section on troubleshooting boot an startup problems is another gem.
  • Chapter 14 Crash Dump Analysis: the second on “The Blue Screen” includes a list of the top 30 stop codes for Windows Vista, and included all my old familiars, for sure. The in-depth discussion of crash dump analysis includes basic and advanced sections, and is also sure to reward further study.

Anybody who works with Windows regularly and needs to understand its inner working will find their investment in this book amply repaid. It is worth every bit of the $38 to $70 you’ll pay for it by shopping online. My only beef about this book is that it’s a monster, at over 1,200 pages and 4.4 pounds, it’s a bit too heavy to read in your lap or hold in your hands for very long. You’ll want to plant this puppy on a table to flip through its many useful bits of information.

Here’s a full citation: Mark Russinovich, David A. Solomon, and Alex Ionescu: Windows Internals: Including Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista, Fifth Edition, Microsoft Press, 6/17/2009, ISBN-13: 978-0735625303.


July 8, 2009  4:32 PM

Blog Gets New Name

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In case you didn’t notice, I’ve retitled this blog with TechTarget’s blessing. Whereas it used to be called the Vista Enterprise Desktop blog, what with the looming release of Windows 7 and continuing interest in Windox XP on enterprise desktops, I thought it made sense to broaden the scope to include Windows and bring in all those various versions. I was taking that license anyway, so now it’s “official.”

Interestingly, the scope for this blog may need to go beyond Windows. I heard a news story on NPR this morning entitled “Google Operating System to Challenge Microsoft,” wherein the long-standing rumor that Google was planning to release an operating system for netbook use finally became news. Apparently, the work is based on the Chrome Web browser, and is going to be called the Google Chrome OS according to the announcement posted last evening on the Google Blog. Here’s a brief snippet from same that lays things out:

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

This should be pretty interesting. And now that I own a couple of netbooks — a Dell Mini 9 and an Asus Eee PC 1000HE — I can hardly wait to try this out when it becomes more broadly available.


July 6, 2009  5:14 PM

The Ultimate Win7 Upgrade Deal? Apparently not…

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Just when the Vista to Windows 7 migration path appears relatively smooth and clear, up pops another bump in that road to make life interesting. This time, there’s been one very emotional and highly negative reaction to Microsoft’s recent pre-release promotional pricing extravaganza for Windows 7 Upgrades ($49.99 for Windows 7 Home Premium, and $99.99 for Windows 7 Professional through July 11). There’s apparently no such deal for Vista Ultimate in the works, despite Microsoft’s having charged a premium price for that product, in part based on promises for extras that were supposed to include “cutting-edge programs, innovative services, and unique publications” not available to owners of other Windows Vista versions. In actual practice, that turned out to be the fun but not terribly valuable Microsoft Hold ‘Em game (developed for MS by Mobicore), the MS Tinker game and related themes and backgrounds, and some interesting but not terribly valuable animated themes and backgrounds. No publications and no services at all, with applications and stuff that was arguably far from anyone’s idea of the cutting edge.

This has caused a firestorm of furor among Windows Vista Ultimate owners, many of whom have opined that MS should give them a free upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate by way of apology for failures to deliver on the aforementioned promises of valuable extras and add-ons. I can understand this sentiment, but have to observe that while charity may now be Bill Gates only and primary avocation, charity has never been a priority for the company he founded. Frankly, I don’t see this happening, though it would be nice if MS did relent, and offer a half-price ($160?) upgrade from Windows Vista Ultimate to Windows 7 Ultimate on more or less the same terms as what they offered for Home Premium and Business/Professional versions.

To enterprise users and admins, however, this whole phenomenon is just a sideshow. For them the real unanswered questions are “How much will volume licensing for Windows 7 cost? What kinds of cost differentials apply to Windows 7 Business versus Windows 7 Enterprise?” These are the burning queries that must be answered to help them figure out when it makes sense to switch over to Windows 7, and how much that move is going to cost.


July 3, 2009  4:03 PM

More about the Windows 7 Family Pack

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

As I reported in my blog from yesterday various Windows watchers are starting to zero in on language in the Windows 7 Home Premium EULA that indicates the planned release of a Windows 7 “Family Pack” to cover multiple machines with a single license. Kristan Kenney’s Digital Life blog for July 2, 2009 is entitled “Windows 7 Home Premium to include family pack licensing?” actually quotes the EULA to provide evidence that this is more than mere rumor. With appropriate thanks and attribution, I reproduce that information here:

2. INSTALLATION AND USE RIGHTS.
a. One Copy per Computer. Except as allowed in Section 2 (b) below, you may install one copy of the software on one computer. That computer is the “licensed computer.”

b. Family Pack. If you are a “Qualified Family Pack User”, you may install one copy of the software marked as “Family Pack” on three computers in your household for use by people who reside there. Those computers are the “licensed computers” and are subject to these license terms. If you do not know whether you are a Qualified Family Pack User, visit go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?Linkid=141399 or contact the Microsoft affiliate serving your country.

c. Licensed Computer. You may use the software on up to two processors on the licensed computer at one time. Unless otherwise provided in these license terms, you may not use the software on any other computer.

d. Number of Users. Unless otherwise provided in these license terms, only one user may use the software at a time.

e. Alternative Versions. The software may include more than one version, such as 32-bit and 64-bit. You may install and use only one version at one time.

Kenney also indicates the same findings that Ed Bott reported in his blog on this subject–namely that neither Windows 7 Professional nor Windows 7 Ultimate EULAs include the same “family pack” language. I guess that means that this has a better than average chance of becoming a reality. And of course it raises the very interesting question: how much will it cost? Stay tuned, and you’ll find out!


July 2, 2009  4:17 PM

Better, Faster, Cheaper–Say What?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

It’s a truism in engineering that no matter what customers request, when it comes to revising existing products given goals to make things better, faster, and cheaper, it’s necessary to pick at most two of those characteristics to guide future development work. Thus, if you want a product or system to be better and faster, you must accept that it will also be more expensive. Likewise, if you want it to be better and cheaper, you must accept that it will be slower. And finally, if you want it to be faster and cheaper, quality has to give to make this possible. Or at least, that’s how the conventional wisdom is supposed to go…

Well, it looks like Microsoft is going for the hat trick with Windows 7. In my work with the Windows 7 betas and the Release Candidate, I’m satisfied that published reports that Windows 7 is faster and less resource hungry than Windows Vista are true. So that’s faster taken care of. I’m also convinced that Windows 7 is more robust, reliable, and easier to troubleshoot and repair that Windows Vista ever was, also based on my own experience. That’s why I also go along with the notion that Windows 7 is better than Windows Vista, according to a whole slew of metrics from code size, to stability, to reliability, to overall functionality, and more.

According to a June 26 story by Sharon Pian Chan in the Seattle Times entitled “Windows 7 to be cheaper than Vista,” it looks like there’s a reasonable basis to believe it’s going to cost less than Vista, too. I’ve already reported on the special pricing available for Windows 7 Home Premium ($49.99) and Windows 7 Professional ($99.99) available for pre-order now through July 11 (a week from Saturday as I write this on 7/2/09) at select e-tailers, retailers, and the MS Online Store. The Seattle Times reports that retail prices for boxed versions of Windows 7 are also at least 10% cheaper than applicable Windows Vista counterparts. My own inspection, based on the June 25 Windows 7 Team Blog is that only Windows 7 Home Premium prices have decreased (by $10) vis-a-vis comparable Visa products.

Even so, I do think we have to give MS some credit here, even if an across-the-board price cut appears to be questionable. Why do I say this? Two reasons: worst case, MS held the line on prices, and you could argue that a 2.5 year time span with no increase reflects no cost adjustment for interim increases in inflation (modest),  and costs of doing business (also modest). Then, too, there’s always the notion that street prices are less than official vendor (MSRP) prices. These numbers set the ceiling for what people will pay; smart shoppers will usually save at least 10-20% off these published prices buying from price leader online vendors. Enterprises and OEMs will also pay less, when the time comes to negotiate volume contracts for thousands of licenses, or even greater quantities.

[Afternoon update 7/2/2009: Ed Bott just published a ZDNet blog entitled “Microsoft to Offer Family Pack for Windows 7 Home Premium” that does indicate some new and possibly substantial discounts are coming into play for Windows 7. This could be very cool (I just wish it worked the same as for the Vista Family Discount that he also describes in that blog).]


June 26, 2009  2:20 PM

Microsoft Security Essentials Beta Comes and Goes

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In a recent blog I indicated that MS planned to make its Microsoft Security Essentials product available as a free beta soon. Well, it went into beta on 6/24 but the number of downloads was limited to 75,000. Within 24 hours of the opening gate, that ceiling was reached and the gate was closed. If you weren’t lucky enough to grab it during that narrow window, console yourself with this screencap of the Beta home page:

The MSE Beta Is Full, No More Downloads Available

The MSE Beta Is Full, No More Downloads Available

In case you can’t read the fine print in the reduced-size screenshot, let me reproduce it here “Thank you for your interest in joining the Microsoft Security Essentials Beta. We are not accepting additional participants at this time. Please check back at a later date for possible additional availability.”

Since I can’t check it out for myself having also missed the window of opporutunity, I’ll cadge from an interesting blog on ChannelWeb from Stephanie Hoffman entitled Microsoft Security Essentials Reaches Max Downloads. She reports on independent Web testing from AV-Test.org that indicates MSE fared well against a week-old collection of malware from their current WildList, and also did well against false positives. These are all good signs, so I’m hopeful MSE will emerge as a viable low-cost security software alternative in the future when it becomes more broadly available.

Sigh. Another chance missed…


June 26, 2009  1:52 PM

Take a Look at the Windows 7 Packaging

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

With all the details on Windows purchase, upgrades, and pricing now established, it should come as no great surprise that Microsoft has also finished up its retail packaging for the boxed versions of the new OS. For a sneak peek, you can check out the “...New Windows 7 Packaging” entry on the Microsoft Windows 7 Blog.

To me, it looks like MS retained a similar box shape as compared to the Vista design, with a rounded upper right corner, though it looks like the Windows7 box may be a bit bigger than the hard plastic Vista version. The best change, however, is that they abandoned the clumsy hinged interior chamber (you had to pull on a tab at the upper left corner of the Vista package to expose the contents of a “box within a box” where the CDs and documentation was inserted with the product key label affixed to the back of the interior chamber). The Windows 7 retail box is a simple translucent plastic clamshell that opens and closes like a book.

Microsoft also indicates that they made the plastic case lighter and completely recylable. I’m sure that’s as much a consequence of switcher to a simpler box design that is not only easier to open and close but also requires substantially less raw materials to fabricate. Gone, too, is the 42-page Quick Start Guide included with Vista retail versions. All you find is a very short Getting Started Guide, a DVD, and the case itself. The product key label is on the inside front cover of the box, which makes it easy to find and see.

In retrospect and by comparison I see many of the seeds of Vista’s problems in the box itself: a snazzy but overly complex and not terribly user friendly design presaged much of what I’ve learned to expect from Vista since then, software-wise. Let’s hope that by this logic the simple spare design of the Windows 7 box also speaks to the design and behavior of the OS itself. In my last three months of intensive testing and writing for the upcoming Pearson book Windows 7 in Depth, I have to say that this appears to be the case! But of course, only time will tell…


June 26, 2009  1:23 PM

Windows 7 Free Upgrade and Pricing Details Emerge

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

OK, so here are the long-awaited particulars on three areas related to Windows 7 pricing and upgrades, where references to “Today” mean 6/26/2009:

Terms of the “buy Vista now, upgrade to Windows 7 later” deal. Starting today, those who purchase a PC equipped with any of these Vista versions: Home Premium, Business, or Ultimate from a participating retailer or computer manufacturer will get a free or low-cost upgrade to the equivalent Windows 7 version some time after October 22, 2009, the general availability (GA) date for Windows 7. This program continues through January 31, 2010. Details will be made available from the seller about how to collect (and how much to pay, if anything), and provided as part of the post-purchase paperwork.

Pre-order Windows 7 at a substantial discount. Starting today, upgrades to Windows 7 Home Premium will be available for pre-order for $49, and to Windows 7 Professional for $99 at a list of retailers that includes: Office Depot, Amazon.com, Best Buy, the Microsoft Store, TigerDirect.com, Newegg.com, and Fry’s. This offer is only good until July 11, so those wishing to cash in on this half-price deal should act fast. You’ll also want to check the upgrade matrix for Windows 7 to figure out which one to buy (hint: Vista Home Premium upgrades to Windows 7 Home Premium, Vista Business upgrades to Windows 7 Professional; XP Home upgrades to Windows 7 Home Premium, XP Professional to Windows 7 Professional; for XP versions a clean install is required–you can’t perform an upgrade install to get from XP to Windows 7, though you can use various migration tools to move preferences and settings).

Pricing for boxed copies of Windows 7 has been set. When these items go up for sale starting on October 22, 2009, upgrades will cost $119 for Home Premium, $199 for Professional, and $219 for Ultimate (this is $10 cheaper for Home Premium, and the same price for Professional vs. Business, and Ultimate on the Microsoft Store site). I’m hoping this means third parties will offer more substantial discounts (for example, you can buy a Vista Home Premium upgrade from Directron right now for $60). Full retail versions will go for: $199 for Home Premium, $299 for Professional, and $319 for Ultimate (this is $40 cheaper for Home Premium than for its Vista counterpart, though Professional/Business and Ultimate pricing remains on par with Vista).

For those thinking about upgrading personal machines to Windows 7, the current pre-order pricing is hard to beat. Though you’ll still have to wait to lay hands on the package until after 10/22/2009 (and how much longer after that is anybody’s guess), with savings of 50-60% in the balance it’s still worth doing, if you ask me. I’d hoped to see Microsoft knock more off its prices this time around, but all in all it could have been worse!

If you’re more of a “visual learner” than a text-oriented type of person, you’ll find a video recap on all of this material in the 6/25/2009 Windows 7 blog entitled “Announcing the Windows 7 Upgrade Option Program & Windows 7 Pricing – Bring on GA!


June 22, 2009  4:08 PM

Check out the (Beta) Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

The Windows 7 Upgrade advisor is still in beta — as is the Windows 7 OS itself — but it’s recently acquired a pretty permanent-looking URL: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/upgrade-advisor.aspx. System admins who may be thinking about upgrading current XP or Vista platforms to Windows 7 will definitely want to download and check out this interesting tool. FWIW, I plan to upgrade my production machine as soon as I can lay hands on the RTM version of Windows 7 (hopefully, not too long after its reported mid-July release date to OEMs for testing and slipstreaming into their factory install programs), if only to see if Windows 7 can’t arrest and repair some of my current problems with networking, the snipping tool, and the sidebar on that machine.

Once you download and install the program, you’ll launch it from the Start menu. Thir produces a startup screen.

The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Startup screen

The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Startup screen

Click the “Start Check” button to perform the upgrade review of the machine upon which the software is running.

On my speedy quad core machine, the program took about 3 mins to complete

On my speedy quad core machine, the program took about 3 mins to complete

Wait several minutes while the hardware check is underway.

When it’s complete, a report appears as shown. It will tell you what kind of upgrade you can perform (if any), indicate any components on your current OS that may not be available in Windows 7 (for my Vista Ultimate install that includes Windows Mail, now supplanted by Windows Live Essentials Mail, parental controls that are no longer supported in Windows 7, and Ultimate Extras which are likewise gone, gone gone).

When the hardware scan completes, you'll get a report that defines your upgrade action plan

When the check completes, a report defines your upgrade action plan

If you’re curious, you  can also click on the System Requirements link to see how well your system meets Windows 7 minimum install requirements.

Rates your system against minimum 32- and 64-bit Win7 requirements

Rates your system against minimum 32- and 64-bit Win7 requirements

If you’re even halfway thinking about upgrading any machines to Windows 7, you definitely want to install and get to know the beta version of this tool. At 6.3 MB, it’s a pretty speedy download.


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