I’m a subscriber to PC World and always make time to flip through the magazine when it hits my mailbox. It was with some interest I looked over Preston Gralla’s recent piece on Soluto, a (beta) program that performs a thorough Windows boot analysis and recommends various ways to shorten up that sometimes long and over-extended process. In theory, this software installs itself to load just after the OS kernel kicks off, and then watches and tracks everything that happens thereafter to report on what it’s seen when the system completes the boot process.
And now, serveral important notes and observations:
1. Soluto is still in beta.
2. If you visit the community pages at Soluto.com, you’ll find plenty of problem reports (some mild, some downright horror stories) with people having boot issues and other problems after installing the software. Some BSODs, some “black screen of death” issues, lots of boot issues, and general problems with Windows 7 x64 versions.
3. I joined the BSOD club when I tried it on one of my 32-bit Windows 7 test machines, but fortunately, the system did boot in Safe Mode and I was able to successfully uninstall the software and return to normal operation after that. I did, however, have issues with a successful uninstall on x64 versions.
It’s a very interesting piece of software and promises to ultimately provide useful information for inveterate system tweakers and/or IT professionals charged with building standard boot images for Windows. If it were working properly and generally right now, I’d stick it in my toolbox without a second thought. As it currently stands, it’s a work in the early stages of commercialization and it may not even be fit for fooling around with on test machines. It’s certainly nowhere near ready for any kind of serious production use.
But gosh, I do hope the developers work out the kinks and turn it into production quality software. If so, it could indeed be a useful Windows system analysis and performance optimization tool. The interesting thing about Soluto is that it touts itself as “anti-frustration software” — but alas, as far as I’m concerned, this slogan only seemed to draw attention to the very problems it caused for me! And while I’m qvetching, the program seemed to take forever to install and uninstall, especially on the x64 Win7 systems (on which it’s currently not working, and for which I couldn’t get uninstall to complete successfully, either — though either a restore point or an image restore does put everything back the way it was before Soluto came along). Sigh.
There’s a new posting from Microsoft Technical Fellow Brian Harry, who’s also working as the Product Unit Manager for Team Foundation Server out as of yesterday (9/9/2010). It’s entitled “Sept 2010 TFS Power Tools Release Available.” By themselves, using these power tools require a TFS 2010 client, so if you’re using an earlier client (2005 or 2008) you will also need to have the Power Tools for those versions installed as well.
What’s inside the latest tools collection?
- An Admin Console Backup/Restore Wizard which permits admins to set up and run configured backup plans for their TFS servers, along with lots of interesting information about when, why, and how you’d want to do this.
- Various Team Explorer Enhancements including items such as View With (enables developers to open workflows from the SourceControl explorer in an XML designer rather than the TFS designer), Clone Build Definition (set up a new branch to use as a point of departure to create a slightly-to-moderately-different sibling branch, instead of creating everything from scratch), Copy Work Item Shortcut (send a link to one or multiple work items to colleagues or collaborators through a right click menu item of the same name, to obtain and package up work item URLs).
- TFPT branches command, which operates in the tfpt command line environment, to enable users to view and manipulate code branches at the command line (and, by extension, in scripts or programmatically)
Plus, Harry also reports that lots of bugs in the previous Power Tools release have been fixed, with particular emphasis on the Best Practices Analyzer. Be sure to check it out!
I subscribe to numerous different Microsoft newsletters, to the tune of perhaps 15-20 per month (or more frequent mail-outs as the case sometimes is). Last Friday, a fascinating e-mail from Microsoft Connect showed up in my inbox. Entitled “P2V Migration for Software Assurance Beta Now Available!” it explains how this beta tool version combines the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit and SysInternals Disk2VHD utility to
convert a user’s existing Windows XP or newer client environment to a virtual hard disk then automates the delivery of an updated and personalized Windows 7 operating system containing a virtual machine with the user’s previous Windows environment, applications and Web browser. The user’s previous virtual desktop retains its existing management components, domain membership and policies. The process also publishes applications and the browser for the user to access them seamlessly within Windows 7’s Start menu.”
Being already familiar with Windows 7 premium versions’ Windows XP Mode, and having recently reviewed the Zinstall and zPOD products from Zinstall, I already knew that it is possible to capture an XP system image and turn it into a virtual hard disk (VHD). Now, customers who pay for Microsoft Software Assurance (an annual upgrade/maintenance/added-value tech support offering from MS) can take advantage of this technology to convert existing XP installations into VMs that they can deploy to their former users in the wake of a Windows 7 upgrade or migration.
Don’t have (or want to pay for) Microsoft Assurance? The two Zinstall products mentioned in the previous paragraph go for $89 at single-copy retail pricing. If you’ve got 10 or more desktops to put through an XP-to-Windows 7 migration, you might want to compare the pricing of MS Software Assurance against volume licenses for these other products. And as recent, in-depth experience showed me in detail, the Zinstall tech support folks are second to none!
When Windows 7 shipped last year, Microsoft offering a so-called “Family Pack” deal on Windows 7 Home Premium for about 30 days after the GA (General Availability) date on October 22, 2009. For $150 less one penny, buyers could purchase a license that covered up to three PCs for that Windows 7 version. With single-license copies of Windows 7 Home Premium going for a rock-bottom $82 (TheNerds.Net) right now, a license for three copies at $150 cuts that price by $32 per license (assuming you’ll use all three of them, which you’d have to, to spend that kind of money).
Windows pundit and gadfly Harry McCracken makes an excellent point in his Technologizer coverage of the “Return of the Family Pack Deal” on 10/3/2010 — namely, that Microsoft is being chintzy and non-customer-friendly in offering this deal on an unpredictable and occasional basis. Lots of families have multiple PCs, and lots of them would take advantage of this kind of deal all the time if only it were constantly available.
Love it or hate it, please take note that the Family Pack is coming back on October 3, 2010, and will remain available “while supplies last.” Microsoft gets to decide how long that is, so if you are interested, you’ll want to take up the offer quickly once the start date arrives. You’ve been warned!
Oracle has gotten around to merging its Sun certifications in with the other Oracle programs and credentials, and has renamed those credentials to reflect their new parentage (or ownership, if you prefer). Here’s a smattering of Java Certification stuff, courtesy of Anne Martinez over at GoCertify.com, to give you a sense of how this should work and look going forward:
This applies to all of Sun’s credentials, including others for Java not shown, as well as those for Solaris, MySQL, and OpenOffice as well. For a gander at a complete list of “before” and “after” names check out the article entitled “New Names for Sun Certifications Under Oracle” at GoCertify.com. Thanks, Anne!
Take a look at my recent Reliability Monitor output on my primary production machine. Last year, this thing kept giving me fits until I finally got all the hardware squared away. But what you see here is entirely typical of my experience with this X38-DQ6/QX9650/4GB DDR3-1600 machine for the past six months and more.
The only gotchas I’m currently experiencing occur once a week or so (or twice in quick succession over two-plus weeks, as the previous graph shows). The offending application is Internet Explorer 8, but it only blows up when I meet the following criteria:
- I have multiple tabs open in a single window and/or multiple windows open as well
- I am running Flash in one or more of those windows
- I leave the browser open for some indeterminate amount of time (more than half a hour, less than a day)
- I try to close one or more browser tabs and/or windows
When I do this, the results are annoying rather than catastrophic: IE goes away for a while with a (Not Responding) status in the title bar, but eventually comes back. Somewhere along the way one or more of the tabs or Windows where Flash is running crash, and the runtime shuts them down without affecting my desktop or stability in any other way.
Nevertheless, I have to take a hickey in Reliability Monitor each and every time this happens. Each time it occurs, it costs my reliability index between 1.3 and 1.5 points (when this happened on my machine on 8/20/2010, for example, my index dropped from 9.99 to 8.40; then when it happened again on 8/21/2010, it dropped from 8.56 to 7.22). If I turn Flash off, this problem doesn’t occur. But when I turn Flash off, there’s invariably stuff I can’t see or interact with online to which I need access to do my job. So I have to turn Flash on, and take the occasional hickey when it shows up. I just wish there was a way I could charge Adobe for the loss of reliability on my system that their software is apparently causing.
Anybody got any good suggestions for dealing with this stuff? Yeah, sure, I can work (or maybe I should say “limp”) around it, but that ends up not doing me that much good, either. Is this what they call a “necessary evil?”
In typical fashion, Windows wizard Paul Thurrott once again strikes gold in a recent story from his SuperSite for Windows. Entitled “Use Wireless Hosted Networking to Share an Internet Connection Wirelessly” he explains how to set up and use Internet Connection Sharing in Windows 7 to create a virtual Wi-Fi network on an Internet-connected PC that can be shared with other devices fairly easily. The story explains the steps involved in sharing a Wi-Fi connection through the Network and Sharing center, followed by a sequence of wireless network shell (netsh wlan ...) commands to set up and start a wireless hosted network on the PC with the primary connection.
Even better, he goes on to describe a free utility called Connectify that automates this entire process with its own custom GUI (the command line is all well and good but it’s always easier and less prone to error with a GUI based utility), There is a catch, though, and Connectify can help with that too: this technique does not work with all Wi-Fi interfaces and, in fact, is more likely to work with newer than with older ones (for example my new HP dv6 with its Intel 6200 Centrino interface works fine, but my older Dell D620 with its Intel 3945 ABG does not). Be sure to check out Connectify’s list of compatible/incompatible devices before starting down this road with any particular notebook. It can (and will) save you the effort of trying when the concluded process won’t produce the desired results — namely, a shareable wireless network.
Check out the story, though: it’s definitely worth a read. Road warriors who want to share a Wi-Fi connection with a smartphone or other devices will find it pretty helpful, unless they’ve already purchased a compact, portable Wi-Fi gateway, or their notebook doesn’t sport a compatible Wi-Fi interface.
On August 16, I blogged about a Windows 7 virtual machine technology called ZInstall that lets its users turn an existing Windows XP installation into a virtual machine that runs quite nicely after a target machine gets a clean install of the new OS (remember, you can’t use the “upgrade” option to go directly from Windows XP to Windows 7 using tools from Microsoft). This time out, I’d like to discuss another technology from the makers of Zinstall: it’s called zPOD and it extends Zinstall’s capabilities by permitting users to set up portable virtual machines on removable USB or eSATA drives (the bigger and faster, the better, for capacity and performance reasons, respectively).
I also went to the Zinstall folks with an out-of-the-way request to take the VM created for my small, underpowered Asus Eee 1000HE netbook PC, and let me install it on one of my quad core test machines, so I could see how it might behave in a more salubrious runtime environment. It turns out zPOD was the key to building such a portable VM, and that some pretty serious runtime environment and SID hacking was required to set up a version of the VM from the original Windows.old file on the Asus so it could run from a standalone hard disk environment.
It took a senior tech support staffer by the name of John B., who put the proprietary Zinstall python based installation and management environment through a pretty extreme workout, about two hours to grant my request to build me a standalone version of my old Asus machine running XP so that it would run on another computer. The install work took place on my primary test machine: a PC with an Asus LGA 776 P53 Pro motherboard, an Intel Q9450 processor, and 8 GB of DDR3-1333 RAM. It showed me that the XP VM would indeed work fine on another computer running zPOD, provided that all the SID related login matters were patched along the way.
The XP VM image now resides on a 160 GB Seagate portable 2.5″ drive that’s attached to my wife’s mini-ITX PC with 4 GB of DDR2-800 RAM and a T2350 mobile processor in an MSI industrial motherboard with built-in Intel G35 graphics. That’s not a huge step up from the original Atom N270 with 2 GB of DDR-667 RAM on which the image originally ran, but two real cores, double the memory, and a faster hard disk make the environment tolerably fast and capable. All that’s necessary to use this environment, once installed, is to run a progam named
to launch the runtime environment. On my quad-core system, launch took about 30 seconds; on the T2350 system, it takes nearly a minute, and the zPOD environment consumes just over 2 GB of RAM on the host machine, of which it makes 1,350 MB available (along with a single processor core) to the virtual machine running Windows XP. It’s not going to set any speed records, but it runs reasonably well–appreciably faster, in fact, than the original host environment ran on the Atom N270 processor in its original home without any virtual machine activity in play at all.
zPOD is another $90 product from Zinstall (and volume purchase discounts are available to organizations that might desire them). It’s a great way to retain access to still-working Windows XP environments, and the applications they can deliver, even after migrating to Windows 7. And you can even run the old XP environments virtually on machines other than their original hosts, given the right help from the vendor!
Shameless self-promotion note: Please check out my latest story for Dell’s ITExpertVoice site, which posted publicly last Friday. It’s entitled: “Why Buy Real KVMs, When Virtual KVMs Will Do?” (and lest you think I advocate wholesale abandonment of physical KVMs, this story not only explains how remote access technologies can supplement and to a certain extent supplant KVMs, but also when real, physical KVMs are still necessary to obtain access to key servers and other devices).
According to a story published on SoftPedia on August 16, 2010, Windows 7 has doubled down on Vista, and now owns 17.39% of the desktop operating system marketshare. At the same time, Vista’s share has fallen to 10.78%. By my reckoning that means that the ratio between Windows 7 and Vista is more like 100 copies of the former for every 62 copies of the latter (in round numbers, the actual ratio is 100:61.98) which isn’t as close to 2-to-1 as the headline might lead one to expect.
Nevertheless, it’s another pretty major confirmation of the doomed status of Windows Vista, and yet another affirmation that Windows 7 continues to come on strong, strong, strong. This is not only confirmed by MIcrosoft’s market tracking in-house (which indicated that Windows 7 surpassed Vista in June, 2010) but also by independent company Internet Metrics which reported that Windows 7 is the second most-heavily-used desktop OS as of July, 2010.
Now, if the numbers for enterprise adoptions come in the way Microsoft says (and probably also fervently hopes) they will, indeed there should be over 300 million copies of Windows 7 in circulation by the end of 2010. Zounds!
In a recent ZDNet blog entitled “It’s official: Windows 7 is a hit, and XP is finally in decline” Windowsmeister extraordinaire Ed Bott shares some interesting insights, and one very slick chart, as he explains the analysis that led him to the title for his piece.
The “visitors” in the title for the chart indicates that Bott analyzed the OS that visitors to the ZDnet Website were running, and that these visits provided the data upon which the charts are based. What I find interesting here is that Vista and XP are both in decline over the entire period of record, and that Vista stays consistently below XP by 15 to 20 percent or so. Talk about visual proof that Vista never lived up to its hype: there it is, burnt orange (XP) and maroon red (Vista).
The other interesting item is that the lines for XP and Windows 7 reached the crossover point between April and August of 2010. While this doesn’t reflect the facts as we know them in enterprise organizations, where 70-75 percent of all machines still run XP, it does indicate that for a broader cross-section of the Internet roughly as many people are running Windows 7 as are running XP, if not slightly more. And as time goes by that balance will continue to shift. Should be interesting to watch!
Thanks for another great and useful piece of reporting, Ed. It certainly gives us all lots of interesting points to chew on. Makes me think that by now having (finally) upgraded all of my PCs to Windows 7 (all 10 of ’em), I may not be as far out on the lunatic fringe as I thought!