Windows Enterprise Desktop

August 17, 2009  6:58 PM

Bungled BIOS Upgrade Leads to New Test Install

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Last Thursday, I suffered a BIOS flash problem on my primary test machine that resulted in a completely dead motherboard: no post, no action at startup except for lights and fan up, followed by an immediate shutdown. A little research showed that my Asus P5K is one of a very few modern motherboards that can be reduced to inert circuitry by a BIOS flash error. A quick $20 to a chip supplier on ebay got a new chip on its way to me in the mail, but I had to have another machine to mess about upon as soon as possible.

I decided to resuscitate my previously moribund Windows Vista Media Center PC, which includes a Gigabyte X38-DQ6 mobo, a QX98650 quad core CPU, a GeForce 8800 GT, 4 GB DDR2-800 RAM, and about 1 TB of putative disk storage. In short: a state-of-the-art PC in 2007 when it was put together, and a decent system even by today’s standards.

To re-start my upgrade install experiment on a machine sitting idle since last December (at least, as far as its disk drives were concerned; we used this machine for other testing in the meantime, but on different HDs), I first had to do the following:

  1. Reactivate my anti-virus and anti-spyware packages, and bring them up to date
  2. Apply over 40 items from Windows Update to the 32-bit resident version of Windows Vista Ultimate
  3. Make the drivers current and up-to-date (DriverAgent now reports only one out of date driver, and that’s for a disconnected device which worries me not at all)
  4. Install my full complement of applications, just to see what would have to go and what could stay as Windows 7 works through the upgrade process
  5. Make an image backup of the system, so I would have a place to go back to in case the upgrade should fail for any reason

Altogether, this process took a long day to complete (though I kept working on other stuff on my production machine all along, so it didn’t keep me from taking care of my more usual business).

Over the weekend, I got started on the upgrade process, kicking things off with the still-beta version of the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor (I can’t find a newer version of this available just yet, so I guess MS doesn’t feel itself on the hook to deliver same until the official GA date for Windows 7 rolls around on 10/22/09). When I ran the program via a remote desktop connection it fired off without a hitch, but proceeded to grind away for 25 minutes, before I gave up and tried again at the machine’s local controls. This time, it finished in a mere 3:25 before tendering its compatibility analysis.

Based on my earlier failed venture I expected to see some programs in need of removal, and wasn’t sure if all the hardware on this system would pass muster. After it identified my JMicron JMB26X RAID controller driver as a potential sticking point, I visited the vendor’s FTP site and downloaded then updated the driver to the latest WHQL drivers instead. After that I re-ran the Upgrade Advisor to produce the following screens (which still didn’t do away with the JMicron JMB36X warnings, even though my production system is running Windows 7 quite happily with the drivers, and what I have on the test machine is much newer).

Here’s the base level report that the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor (beta) produced:

Almost everything comes out of the Win7UA clean

Almost everything comes out of the Win7UA clean

Here’s a shot of the devices page from the UA, with the warning about the JMB36X controller featured prominently at its head.

It’s a real relief when everything — or as in this case, nearly everything — comes up with a clean bill of health, hardware-wise. Given that my other machine includes the same RAID controller and is working famously with Windows 7 on an older version right now, I’m not too concerned anyway.

Here’s a shot of the requirements page from the UA, which shows that my test machine exceeds the various minimum/recommended requirements:

No problems with the requirements on this rig

No problems with the requirements on this rig

I’m reading reasonably reliable reports that this motherboard works with all four DIMM slots occupied (my earlier P35 models couldn’t handle all four slots filled) so I’m also going to install 64-bit and try 12 (2×4 plus 2×2 GB) and 16 (4×4 GB) RAM in this rig as well. But let’s save that for another day.

There’s also a minor warning about the version of Visual Studio I have installed on this machine, but I’ll cross that bridge when I next turn to those tools on that machine (count on me to report back if anything untoward presents during that process). Frankly, I’m not too worried about it. My only beef with the driver warning from the UA is that it gave me no idea which version I should use instead, and I gave up after trying the three most recent versions on the vendor’s FTP page and still not getting it right.

At this point, I’m ready to run the upgrade install. I’ll report on my experiences in performing that upgrade in my next blog, the day after tomorrow (August 19).

August 14, 2009  12:15 PM

Windows 7 Integrates Repair Console

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Starting with Windows XP, but especially in Windows Vista, I learned to appreciate the Windows Repair Console. This utility made itself available through the Windows install media, and could be elected after booting from the CD or DVD for one of those OSes through striking the R key to initiate a repair install (XP) or by choosing the System Recovery Options during the install process (Vista). These tools saved my hindquarters more than once after unfortunate boot option selections or registry edits led my PC astray, and even enabled me to load restore points or grab image backups to replace a completely busted installation with a working setup.

While I was working with the Windows 7 beta I must have been too chicken to deliberately bust my installations at the time, but since the RTM has become available–I started downloading last Thursday, and installing last Friday, and am still in the thick of updating production and test desktops, as well as notebooks and netbooks galore–I’ve already managed to mung at least two machines while playing and messing about with those systems.

To my surprise and delight, the Windows 7 on-disk image includes the Windows Preinstallation Environment (aka WinPE) and the system recovery options. When the system can read enough of the system disk to grab those files after encountering trouble, it will load this environment automatically and run it for you to help you repair your installation. Although it’s also still included on the install media (and will come in very handy when the system disk gets too badly trashed to find and/or run those files) its automatic invocation from the hard disk has proved to be both handy and helpful. Though I can lay hands on at least four flavors of Windows 7 install DVDs at the moment (so far I’ve burned them for both 32- and 64-bit versions of Professional and Ultimate), it’s even more convenient for the OS to notice that it isn’t starting up correctly or that key system files have been damaged, corrupted, or gone missing, and to invoke WinPE and the system recovery console on your behalf.

So far, I’ve used it to replace some damaged OS files and to recreate my MBR and Windows boot environment with great success. The WinPE environment starts up in less than 30 seconds on those machines where it’s been brought into play, and has been able to fix such problems as I’ve stumbled into so far in my continuing Windows 7 adventures. To me, it’s just one more thing to like about the Windows 7 environment.

August 12, 2009  7:25 PM

First Windows 7 Snag Rears Its Head, But Not Too Ugly

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Having upgraded my primary production machine to Windows 7 over the weekend (see my recent ViztaView blog for those details) I’m now really settling in with the new OS and learning to live with it on a daily basis. Though I do have 6 months of uniformly positive experience with various Windows 7 beta releases from Build 7000 to 7100 (the release candidate, or RC), only now am I truly living and breathing this OS on the machines that matter most to my day-to-day working success: my primary desktop and notebook machines (one for work in the office, the other for work on the road) and my Big Kahuna test machine (where I now use VMs to play host to any and all of the myriads of software that I regularly investigate, test, and review).

Over the past few days, my primary production desktop has manifested a black screen for about a second on my primary monitor (a Dell 2707 WFP running at 1920 x 1200 resolution) perhaps three or four times a day. Yesterday, finally, this persisted long enough to generate a Windows error message through the Windows 7 Action Center:

At some point, my brief graphics outages triggered a Windows 7 error message.

At some point, my brief graphics outages triggered a Windows 7 error message.

With this information in hand I moseyed on over to the Nvidia Drivers and Downloads pages and discovered that indeed a new driver version was available for my GeForce GTX 275 graphics card. I’ve downloaded and installed it, and can report that it specifically mentions Windows 7 among its list of supported OSes (which is more than the previous did) and that I’ve had no further problems of this kind since that installation. But of course, the day is still young…and here is the complete list of issues that Windows 7 has detected on my machine so far today:

Outlook goes south, and a .sys file has ACL issues.

Also on my hit parade: Outlook goes south, and a .sys file has ACL issues.

Now, the real sleuthing work begins and I really start to get to know Windows 7. Most of my learning is problem driven at first, and it looks like I will have plenty of food for learning and thought as I begin to dig into the day-to-day rhythm of working with this new OS.

August 10, 2009  4:21 PM

TechNet on Windows 7 Upgrade and Migration

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I stumbled across an interesting TechNet Step-by-Step piece this morning as I started researching the Vista to Windows 7 migration subject. I just upgraded two machines over the weekend, in the wake of the RTM release to MSDN at noon CDT on Thursday. Once the downloads were completed (that took until just past midnight Friday night, in my case to get 32- and 64-bit copies of Windows Professional and Ultimate), I started cranking away at installs for my 64-bit test machine (which also got an upgrade to 12 GB RAM at the same time) and for my 32-bit production PC as well.

The formal title of the TechNet piece is “Step-by Step: Windows 7 Upgrade and Migration.” Here’s a screen shot snippet that shows the lead-in and library entry info:

If you dig into this story, you’ll find useful instructions for the following topics covered:

  • Upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7
  • Migrate files and settings to a new computer
  • Upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7

To those scenarios, I’d also recommend that organizations with some budget also look into the Laplink one-time upgrade/migration licenses. These retail for $65 each on a one-off basis, and can probably be purchased in bulk at some kind of discount (hopefully substantial), and permit applications to be migrated along with files and settings from most older Windows OSes (especially Vista and XP) to Windows 7. This can make the job of migrating machines must easier for admins who may need to do this pronto for some existing installs.

Let me also observe that my experiences in installing Windows 7 so far have been uniformly positive and mostly-problem free. If you want the gory details check out this morning’s ViztaView blog “No Joy on In-place Upgrade; Clean Install Succeeds,” wherein I provide a blow-by-blow recitation of my recent experience in moving my problem-plagued production PC from Vista to Windows 7, with 98% positive results and a solution for all my software problems along the way.

August 7, 2009  2:32 PM

Still Downloading Win7…Believe it or not!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

At this very moment, I’m about 80 percent done with my first of four planned downloads for Windows 7 from MSDN. Alas, my Vista box did go to sleep last night despite the ongoing download, so it didn’t resume until this morning to finish up. Now I know to turn off sleep mode on this machine until the rest of those downloads complete, and because the 32-bit version of Ultimate is last on my list (wouldn’t you know it) I probably won’t get that version until later today or perhaps even tomorrow. It’s the one I need to try out the upgrade on my balky and temperamental production desktop machine. Why didn’t I put it first on the list?  Oh yeah: because it’s lower down on the MSDN download page. Sometimes I wonder…

Here’s a snapshot of my current progress:

Still dragging on toward completion

Still dragging on toward completion

There is some good news on the download front this morning, however: my transfer rate is bouncing between 250 KBps and as high as 450 KBps. That sure beats the sub-100 KBps rates that prevailed yesterday, and means I might actually finish all three remaining downloads in far less time than the first one took to complete. At least, I certainly hope that’s the case! As I post this blog, I’ve already jumped to 87 percent complete on the first item, so there may indeed be cause for optimism.

[Update at 9:53 AM, 8/7/09: first download completed and now being validated. Let’s hope it passes!]

[Update at 3:39 PM, 8/7/09: fourth download underway, transfer rates down below 30 KBps for a total transfer time of 26-30 hours: looks like the 32-bit versions are getting hammered, with the 64-bit versions coming more than 10 times faster. Does that indicate the current ratio of 32-to-64 bit installations (about 11 to 1)? I sure think so…]

[Update at 11:07 PM: broke the Akamai connection to reboot after updating to Logitech SetPoint 4.80 drivers just released on 8/5. Bingo! A new connection is running consistently at 400+ KBps. Maybe I’ll get this downloaded before I crash tonight after all…]

August 6, 2009  4:17 PM

Win7 RTM bits are up and available–if slowly

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Today is August 6, 2009, the day that Microsoft is supposed to post the Windows 7 RTM versions to MSDN and TechNet. I’ve been logged into MSDN Subscriber Downloads since early this morning and refreshing the page feverishly every 15 minutes or so since then, but so far, the most recent updates on that page are the Windows 7 RC (release candidate) postings last made on May 21st.

Still no new listings on the MSDN Windows 7 Downloads page...

Still no new listings on the MSDN Windows 7 Downloads page...

I’m going to keep this up all day, and will update this blog with the news as soon as the page changes, or other news emerges about the Windows 7 RTM. Stay tuned: it’s like waiting for Santa Claus…

OK, it’s 1:00 PM Central Time and I just got back from lunch and here we are: the RTM files are now available, if somewhat slowly. I’m currently downloading the 64-bit version of Win 7 Professional at a whopping 55-155 Kbps or so from an Akamai site (MS obviously laid on some extra download resources for the download rush that is currently underway) and have 3 more items in the queue (Win 7 x86 Professional, and x86 and x64 versions of Win 7 Ultimate). Here’s what the top of the download list looks like now:

Windows 7 RTM listings make their MSDN debut

Windows 7 RTM listings make their MSDN debut

Things are going painfully slow at the moment: it looks like it’s going to take over 12 hours just to download the first of these four files. Here’s what the MS File Transfer Manager has to say about my current scheduled MSDN downloads:

The download data is kind of grim

The download data is kind of grim

Because I must grab this stuff, I have no choice but to wait for it to come through. If you don’t absolutely have to get this RIGHT NOW, I’d advise waiting for the traffic to die down. Early next week looks like a good time to jump into the swamp to me. I wish I could wait!

August 3, 2009  1:38 PM

Ed Bott Surveys the Windows 7 RTM, Likes What He Sees

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

One of my personal favorite sources for detailed, useful Windows 7 information is and remains Ed Bott’s Microsoft Report at Last Wednesday (7/29/2009) he posted a gem entitled “Windows 7 first look: More than just ‘Vista, fixed’.” He’s been working with the final RTM through a special arrangement with MS since mid-July and thus has more time than anybody else I know of outside the company in harness with the soon-to-be-released final version, which hits TechNet and MSDN this Thursday, August 6.

Apparently he hasn’t slept much in the interim because he’s worked with all the major versions, and has done upgrades, clean installs, and worked with the Easy Transfer utility, in both 32- and 64-bit implementations. Having just finished 9 chapters of a book on Windows 7 myself (look for Windows 7 in Depth to hit bookstores next month/September 2009) I’ve got a pretty darn good idea of the amount of work involved in doing all this stuff, and it’s not insigificant by any means!

Visual thinkers will want to jump right to Ed’s image gallery of key Windows 7 features and hidden gems, the rest of you can stick with me for a verbal recap. You’ll see the new splashscreen with official Windows 7 wallpaper, taskbar thumbnails and Aero Peek, Jump Lists, Libraries and search stuff, a revised Resource Monitor layout, integrated QuickTime support, direct access to Devices and Printers plus Device staging, direct connect for external audio devices, improved system restore and advanced recovery methods, and Windows Easy Transfer details. FWIW, I agree that every single one of these items adds significant value to features and functions available in either Windows XP or Vista.

Bott also waxes eloquent on other subjects near and dear to my own recent and extended Windows 7 experience: improved responsiveness, perceptibly faster performance (especially compared to Vista), smaller resource footprint, and excellent driver coverage. He doesn’t dig into Windows 7’s improved resilience and robustness and much as I might have liked, nor does he mention much about its improved abilities to detect, manage, and recover from driver or software instabilities and issues. But this is just the first in a series of such articles he has planned, so I’d recommend keeping your eyes peeled for others in this sequence, as well as reading this particular item.

For myself, I’ve just weathered another round of crashes and failures on my production Vista Ultimate PC. I’m going to try installing Windows 7 Ultimate on that machine as soon as I can grab the MSDN download later this week, in hopes that Windows 7 proves more capable at handling my system, which incorporates a first-generation DDR3/LGA775 motherboard that apparently makes Vista crazy. If Windows 7 can’t cope with that configuration, I’ll know for sure that it’s time to replace that motherboard. I already have a couple of second generation boards picked out and ready to order, should that prove necessary. Wish me luck, and I’ll do the same for you!

July 28, 2009  3:04 PM

Migrating to Vista…or Windows 7?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’m a long-time fan of Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley’s blog on ZDnet entitled “All about Microsoft.” It’s usually informative, sometimes entertaining, and often thought-provoking, as with her recent July 23 (2009) blog The Scarlet V: What’s a Vista business user to do? The blog itself raises some interesting points, but it’s the Talkback discussion — where users share their comments, views, and rants — that really makes this particular posting so interesting.

Foley reminds us of Microsoft’s changing stance on enterprise migration to Vista, as follows (the points recounted are hers, the paraphrasing mine):

  • Until recently, MS told enterprises to keep migrating to Vista if said migration was underway; otherwise enterprises should skip Vista and go straight to Windows 7
  • In May (2009) MS pretty much clammed up about Vista and hasn’t said much new about migrating, pro, con, or indifferent

This led MJF to Mike Angiulo, General Manager for Microsoft’s Planning and PC Ecosystem team (man, wouldn’t you love a title like that? 😉 to whom she posed the question about whether or not MS is abandoning its Vista users. Short version of his response: 1. No we’re not. 2. Lots of good stuff for Windows 7 will also work for Vista. FWIW, Dell is also taking a similar line, and the USAF is continuing its Vista deployment, with 90,000 desktops and notebooks already deployed, but is also moving as quickly as possible to get on the Windows 7 bandwagon.

The talkback section includes 150 postings as I write this and they make for fascinating reading. The attitudes span everything from “Vista sucks” and “Microsoft is the spawn of the devil” to “Vista is rock solid, and poses no problems for my organization” with many conceivable intermediate points of view also represented. The fragmented state of the Vista user base is clearly represented, and among those actually interested in using MS operating systems, I see a trend for most enterprise users to favor a move to Windows 7 as soon as it makes sense to do so. Some enterprise users say they won’t move until SP1 comes out, while others say they’ll wait for SP2. Microsoft already knows the road to widespread adoption is long and full of potholes. Let’s just hope that Windows 7 helps to improve road conditions rather than making them worse, as was an all-too-common perception for Vista until SP1 came along.

But only time will tell. Stay tuned!

July 24, 2009  2:34 PM

Soon, the real Windows 7 fun begins!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

OK, so now OEMs may have the Windows 7 RTM and MSDN and TechNet will have it on August 6 (in exactly two weeks, as I write this blog). In the very near future, the breathless hype and excitement of a new release will be replaced by the hard work of learning how to install, package, and deploy that new OS in a workplace setting. Of course, my first big question is “Will the MS servers be ready and able to handle the download traffic as everybody with a TechNet or MSDN subscription tries to grab licenses and keys on 8/6?” I can’t also help but speculate that there will be a kind of “birthwatch” in effect, as would-be downloaders keep checking in on the download areas on both sites to see if the files and keys are ready for access or not. As I recall, when the final version of Vista SP2 hit MSDN, it didn’t actually become available until mid-afternoon the day it was made available. It will be interested to see how the initial proferring plays out, and how heaviliy loaded the MS servers will be.

Longer term, though, I suspect there’ll also be lots of interest in and traffic toward the various Microsoft deployment tools that can accommodate Windows 7. Interested enterprise desktop professionals will surely want to check out (and keep an eye on) the Microsoft Solution Accelerators Web page, where they will find links to the following items of special interest:

  • Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010: This is still in Beta (Beta 2, actually) and it looks like access may be limited, so keep an eye on this item because it will surely change to production status around the Windows 7 GA date (10/22/2009).
  • Microsoft Operations Framework 4.0: Developing guidelines and documents on Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 deployment efforts. Access to this beta is still wide-open and may be worthwhile for enterprise admins.
  • Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit: Includes tools and guidance to assess IT infrastructures and plan for introduction of Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2, among numerous other items of potential interest. This beta is still wide-open, too.

Here are some other items of related and potential interest as well, already widely available:

  • You can already download the MED-V V1 Planning, Deployment, and Operations Guide, and the toolkit itself should also be available by the GA date (but only to MS Assurance customers). Still some interesting into in here, however.
  • The TechNet Library includes an interesting offering  entitled “What’s New in Deployment Tools” that includes coverage of the new Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) and in Windows Deployment Services.
  • The MS Download Center offers a document entitled “Windows 7 Desktop Deployment Overview.”
  • You’ll also want to dig into the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (requires a subscription through the Microsoft Volume Licensing program), if that’s relevant to your enterprise.
  • The TechNet Deployment Tools Technical Reference is a great place to go looking for information on all the various tools and capabilities that MS provides to help admins automate Windows deployment efforts.

There’s plenty more where all those things came from, but this will be more than enough to get you started, and to help you zero in on the items most likely to do your enterprise some good during upcoming deployment planning and implementation efforts. Enjoy!

July 23, 2009  3:31 AM

Download Windows 7 from MSDN on August 6

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

According to long-time Windows maven Mary-Jo Foley, Windows 7 RTM will be downloadable from MSDN on August 6. For all the various access points and related dates, see her “Who will get the Windows bits and when?” blog for 7/21/2009, or go straight to the source and see Brandon LeBlanc’s Windows 7 Team Blog “When will you get Windows 7 RTM?” instead. RTM has actually occurred now: as of 4:40 pm EDT today, Windows 7 was released to manufacturing. OEMs should get it in the next day or two, and both TechNet and MSDN subscribers can begin Windows 7 downloads on Thursday, August 6.

I for one am entirely jazzed about this immanent prospect. My primary production machine is currently running Vista SP2 and it’s giving me fits: Event Viewer isn’t working, Vista says I’m not connected to a network even though I’m on the Internet at this very second, can see all of my LAN resources, and make TCP/IP stand up and bark just like usual. The litany goes on, but if you really want to read about all of my recent troubles check out my ViztaView blog “Current List of Unsolved Vista Mysteries.”

Suffice it to say that I’m on the brink of having to blow away my system drive and rebuild Windows anyway, just in the names of sanity and stability. For some perverse and perhaps ineluctable reason, I want the new OS on my production machine to be Windows 7. Looks like Microsoft has ensured that I will get my wish in just a little over two weeks. I’m not exactly holding my breath in the meantime–and I do make nightly backups–but I’m hoping like heck my desktop doesn’t blow up between now and then. This does help keep things interesting, and definitely makes me pay attention to what I’m doing, and how I’m using my machine.

Have a good reason to be wishing and hoping for Windows 7 yourself? Post a comment here and let me know about it, too.

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