OK. I did it. Today I visited the Career Assist page at Microsoft Learning, signed up for the Second shot offer therein, and got my promotion code to buy a collection online class for $35 (it added up to $37.89 actually, after I paid local sales taxes). I now have 90 days to complete Collection 5347: Installing and configuring Windows Vista which should entitle me to go after a Vista Technical Specialist credential by taking Exam 70-620 Configuring Microsoft Windows Vista Client.
At this point, I’ve completed several online courses from Microsoft Learning —specifically:
- Course 3392: Working with Windows Vista
- Course 5352: Fundamentals of the Windows Vista Startup Process
- Course 5354: Fundamentals of Windows Vista File Systems
I think that entitles me to make some observations about these offerings:
- I wish they offered a printable manual of some kind to summarize and re-present course materials. Right now, the only way to refresh concepts is to repeat the courses or to take copious notes and/or shoot lots of screenshots while inside the e-learning GUI. I’m not completely happy about either of these alternatives, but may have to learn to use both of them often and well.
- The material is generally interesting, well broken up into small digestible modules, and fairly useful. I do wish they inlcuded a built-in connection with TechNet, user manuals, and so forth, along with links to more details, so that these tools could provide more guided learning, in more technical depth as one completes individual course modules. Of course, this is pretty easy to do on your own on a multi-display set-up like mine, simply by opening another browser window to dig into stuff on one screen while working through the prepared e-learning materials on the other screen.
- Access to flash cards, or easy repeat access to review questions from these materials, would really help with exam prep and refresh stuff. Right now, there’s no easy drill and practice capability included, and I believe that both drills and practice are essential to passing cert exams and putting that knowledge to work on the job. The labs, when available, are pretty good, though.
I’ll find out if these observations stick as I dig into the aforementioned collection and will also report on same. I’m going to be looking for tips and tricks to put stuff together to prep for 70-620, using this material as my primary preparation source (I can always take up the SecondShot offer if I don’t pass the exam on the first try, and dig into other prep materials at that time).
In a survey conducted in February, 2009 by ChangeWave Research, over four times as many respondents professed themselves to be “very satisfied” or better with the Windows 7 beta as compared to respondents to a similar survey from ChangeWave conducted in February 2007, weeks after that product’s official public release. Here’s a snapshot of those results (reproduced by permission of ChangeWave):
According to the same survey, the reasons for the difference in opinion include improvements in performance and resource consumption, ease of installation, plus improved functionality and usability. Thus, it should come as no suprise that Windows 7 is also emerging as something of a Vista killer, in the sense that more corporate Windows users are abandoning their plans to migrate to Vista in favor of waiting for Windows 7 to become available. More than half of survey respondents (53%) indicated they would skip Vista, while only 15% indicated they would proceed with planned Vista rollouts in any case. Likewise 14% of respondents also indicated their organizations would defer Windows PC and server purchases to wait for Windows 7 to become publicly available.
It will be interesting to see if these numbers hold up when ordinary users get their hands on Windows 7 after the beta period ends, and the commercial version becomes available. Based on my own experience with that beta, though, I suspect that even garden-variety Windows users will find a lot to like about this latest version, particularly those looking for something a bit more attractive and user-friendly for netbook/notebook use. To me this also adds more urgency to the big question about Windows 7 — namely, whether it will retain its current Q1 2010 release date, or if market forces and momentum can push that date forward into Q4 2009. I have to guess that Microsoft and the PC makers will find some merit in going public sooner rather than later simply because of its potential impact on and benefit to holiday PC sales.
Of the many and varied sources of Windows information I read regularly, the coverage at OSNews.com is always interesting, often insightful, and even funny or mordant on occasion. That’s why I read Thom Holwerda’s recent story “Your Windows 7 Predictions: True or False?” with keen interest and close attention. It’s definitely worth at least a quick read, if not something more focused and leisurely. I found it great, not just because of what is presents, and which elements turn out to be true or right versus those that turn out to be false or wrong, but also because of what it says about the whole Vista experience, and the outsized importance that Microsoft operating systems enjoy in so many of our personal and professional computing lives.
The really intestesting parts of this story appear as much in the comments as in the main body. There are some fascinating reminiscences and ruminations on how Windows 95/98 yesterday (1995-1998) compares to the Vista-Win7 sequence (2007-2010) today. There are also some interesting observations on where the real boosts and benefits between Vista and Windows 7 lie: homegroups and libraries, faster boot-up and wake from sleep/hibernate, streamlined install, jump list/dock metaphor, and more.
To me, the really interesting aspect for all of this is that while familiarity and expoure do breed discontent to some extent, the hope and promise excited from any not yet fully known or explored newer version always appear to favor the new at the expense of the old. On the other hand, what’s going on with XP-Vista-Win7 is you’ve got an entrenched cadre of IT professionals and managers (especially in enterprises and large organizations) who don’t care as much about the (Vista and Win7) as they do about not fixing what’s not broken (XP), who must be tricked, coerced, or enticed to break with the old and start embracing the new.
Windows 7 has a lot of expectations to meet and a lot of broken promises for Vista to fulfill. I’m very interested to see how it will all play out, especially in the more serious or business-like sectors of the IT marketplace.
Patch Tuesday items hit yesterday between 1:00 and 1:30 PM Central Daylight Time on servers that I could see. The MS09-April Bulletin Summary from Microsoft covers all the details, but here’s what I hope is a good overview and synopsis of what you’ll find therein. Interestingly, none of this stuff is reflected in updates pushed (or rather, not pushed) for the Windows 7 beta now underway. I’m guessing that MS doesn’t patch betas the same way it does production code, and is probably seeking to avoid additional release cycles.
Here’s a table for the 8 security bulletins published for the patches/fixes/updates pushed yesterday, in bulletin order. The ID/Link column provides the standard MS security bulletin IDs, which range from MS09-009 through MS09-016 for this month; Critical updates are bolded, Important ones in italics, Moderate in plain text. The Title column repeats the Microsoft bulletin title verbatim with the related KB article number in parentheses trailing, while Vulnerabilities data take the form n/m where n is the number of public vulnerabilities addressed, and m the number of private ones addressed, by a bulletin. SW Affected lists the OSes and applications affected; where Windows is bolded, Vista is included.
|MS09-009||Vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office Excel Could Cause Remote Code Execution (968557)||1/1||Office 2000-2007|
|MS09-010||Vulnerabilities in WordPad and Office Text Converters Could Allow Remote Code Execution (960477)||2/2||Windows, Office 2000-2007|
|MS09-011||Vulnerability in Microsoft DirectShow Could Allow Remote Code Execution (961373)||0/1||Windows|
|MS09-012||Vulnerabilities in Windows Could Allow Elevation of Privilege (959454)||4/0||Windows|
|MS09-013||Vulnerabilities in Windows HTTP Services Could Allow Remote Code Execution (960803)||1/2||Windows|
|MS09-014||Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer (963027)||4/2||IE6 and IE7, including Vista|
|MS09-015||Blended Threat Vulnerability in SearchPath Could Allow Elevation of Privilege (959426)||1/0||Windows|
|MS09-016||Vulnerabilities in Microsoft ISA Server and Forefront Threat Management Gateway (Medium Business Edition) Could Cause Denial of Service (961759)||1/1||ISA & ForeFront Security|
Only the items with Vista explicitly mentioned or with Windows in bold will be of interest to those who manage only Vista desktops. As usual, I include everything because few people on the job are actually in that position and must usually also manage updates for other MS platforms and applications as well. Time to get patchin!
An interesting report from ComputerWorld surfaced this morning — namely, a request from Microsoft for Windows 7 beta testers to restore Vista on their test machines before upgrading to the upcoming release candidate (RC) version of that software. This is a reworked version of a story that originally appeared in the print edition of the magazine on April 7, but I can only link to the Web version here. The original material comes from the Engineering Windows 7 blog, in a posting entitled “Delivering a quality upgrade experience” (I had real trouble getting this post to open, and was only able to access it via IE after numerous tries, never on Firefox).
Basically, the post asks beta users to roll their machines back to Vista before installing the next RC so that MS can benefit from a larger user base in evaluating the upgrade install from Vista to Win7, believing that this will represent the bulk of the user base’s own experience when the time comes for all of us to work with the final, commercial release of Windows 7. MS cites “telemetry” that they received during the install process to back up this claim, noting also that “most of you did clean installations onto new partitions” (that’s exactly what I did on every single one of my test machines, in fact).
Here’s what they say about the next release, quoted in full:
We’ve also learned that many of you (millions) are running Windows 7 Beta full time. You’re anxious for a refresh. You’ve installed all your applications. You’ve configured and customized the system. You would love to get the RC and quickly upgrade to it from Beta. The RC, however, is about getting breadth coverage to validate the product in real-world scenarios. As a result, we want to encourage you to revert to a Vista image and upgrade or to do a clean install, rather than upgrade the existing Beta. We know that means reinstalling, recustomizing, reconfiguring, and so on. That is a real pain. The reality is that upgrading from one pre-release build to another is not a scenario we want to focus on because it is not something real-world customers will experience. During development we introduce changes in the product (under the hood) that aren’t always compatible with what we call “build-to-build” upgrade. The supported upgrade scenario is from Windows Vista to Windows 7. Before you go jump to the comment section, we want to say we are going to provide a mechanism for you to use if you absolutely require this upgrade. As an extended member of the development team and a participant in the Beta program that has helped us so much, we want to ask that you experience real-world setup and provide us real-world telemetry.
In other words, they want even those users who’ve set up and tweaked their machines to full production status to start over again with the next release. Then, as a sop to those people who simply don’t want to wipe their Win7 partitions clean and start over, they provide a step-by step method to bypass the pre-RC build check that disables an upgrade install on such machines. Here’s a summary of the steps involved (consult the original blog for more details).
- Download the ISO and burn it to a DVD
- Copy the entire image to some storage location from which you’ll run the upgrade install (such as a UFD)
- Browse to source directory
- Open the file named
cversion.iniin a text editor (such as Notepad)
- Modify the Minclient build number to a value less than the down-level (current) build
- Save tfe file with its changes
- Run setup from this modified copy and version check is bypassed
Of course, MS wants the data on the “default scenario” (clean partition, or an upgrade to Vista) so that’s why they put hurdles in the way. Kudos to them for providing a workaround, and knocks for making it necessary. Interestingly, with nearly 60% of the Windows installed base running XP anyway, I find it fascinating that the focus here is on Vista. I’ll be very interested to see what kinds of tools emerge to address the real default scenario when that time comes!
Next Tuesday, April 14, is Patch Tuesday for this month. As usual, Microsoft e-mailed its Advance Notification yesterday to let us all know what’s coming (there’s also a Web version as well). Here’s what to expect, Windows Vista-wise from the 8 bulletins (5 of which are critical) to be released that day:
- Windows (which often involves Vista): 3 Critical, 1 important, 1 moderate. All 3 Critical bulletins pose potential remote code execution vulnerabilities, while the Important one involves an elevation of privilege for attackers. The Moderate item involves a potential elevant of privilege as well.
- Internet Explorer and Excel: Two more critical bulletins, both of the remote code execution variety.
- Internet Security & Acceleration Server (ISA): One important bulletin that could involve Denial of Service for Microsoft Forefront Edge Security software.
- 6 of the 8 items require a system restart, while the other two may require a restart, depending on local conditions on patched PCs.
- Of the 5 Windows bulletins, 3 of them involve Vista (Windows 2, 4, and 5); the IE patch also affects IE7 on Vista as well.
Looks like we’ve got some patching in our future. Stay tuned for details next Wednesday, April 15.
One question that I get frequently about Vista, especially from power users, tackles the size of its paging file. Remember, the paging file (which resides in a file named pagefile.sys on Vista machines, often on the system drive, sometimes on one or more other physical drives present on a Vista PC) provides extra “scratch space” for the operating system to use, especially when moving applications in and out of physical memory. The combination of the page file and physical memory creates an aggregate work space so that Vista can manage multiple applications, services, and so forth simultaneously, without having to keep all of them in memory all of the time.
When Vista creates a paging file, it normally creates one that’s twice the size of physical memory, sometimes more than that (actual values depend on free space available on the target drive(s) at the time the page file is situated). Microsoft recommends no less than the amount of physical memory plus 300 MB for the minimum value, and sets the maximum at three times the amount of RAM installed in a PC. Conventional wisdom is that the defaults are fine, particularly on drives that have sufficient free space to allocate three times RAM to the paging file as an ultimate high-water mark.
Most of the power user questions add some interesting wrinkles to this discussion. Thus, for example, consider that 32-bit Windows can address only 4 GB of RAM period. A common form for this query is something like: “Why is a paging file necessary when the amount of RAM matches what Windows can handle anyway?” The answer is interesting and a bit counterintuitive:
- on 32-bit systems video memory, BIOS memory space, DMA, IRQ, and other system memory maps and hardware addressing usually consume memory from the top down. That’s why on 32-bit systems with 4 GB installed, Task Manager usually reports only 3xxx MB of RAM (3317 on my Dell D620 notebook and 3581 on my Intel desktop, for example) rather than 4096.
- some Windows applications require access to a paging file so they can operate properly, and will crash if you try to run them with the paging file disabled.
- Windows itself prefers to have access to a paging file, if only to help it manage the process of loading and unloading applications scheduled for execution (on the way in) or for termination or swap-out (on the way out).
- You can’t capture memory dumps from stop or blue screen errors without a paging file (even minidumps require a 64 KB paging file, and the Vista minimum size is 16 MB in any case).
This discussion kicks up a notch when power users run 64-bit Vista with more than 4 GB of RAM, but the issues remain more or less the same. In general, it’s not worth messing with the defaults unless there’s some compelling reason to do so (limited space on a notebook SSD, for one example, or demonstrable performance slow-downs attributable to paging, for another).
When downsizing a paging file, here are some points to ponder:
- experimentation shows that at least 512 MB of paging file is the absolute minimum that delivers reasonably stable operation, with values of 1 – 2 GB sometimes offering even better stability.
- if you want to capture a complete memory dump, the paging file must be at least as large as the amount of physical memory installed on the machine (this file usually appears in a filed named MEMORY.DMP in the %SystemRoot% directory, which is C:\Windows on most Vista machines).
- be sure to check all the applications you’ll want to run on that machine, and keep an eye out for insufficient virtual memory messages. These will appear until you re-size the paging file to a point where all applications find sufficient virtual memory available for their use.
This kind of testing, requires a lot of patience, time, and effort which is why only power users (and mildly obsessive ones at that) are usually willing to go through this exercise. For most users, especially those uninterested in tweaking and tuning their Vista notebook or desktop PCs, the system-defined defaults should work just fine.
On April 2, ComputerWorld reported that the Texas Senate included a rider in its 2009-2010 state budget that blocks state agencies from upgrading to Windows Vista without first obtaining written consent from that body. State Senator Juan Hinojosa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, explained he included the rider “because of the many reports of problems with Vista.” He went on to say that in addition “…the XP operating system is working very well” and that his body is “…not in any way, shape, or form trying to pick on Microsoft.”
Interestingly, the rider requires Texas state agencies to otain written approval from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) before acquiring any Vista licenses, even for PC’s that include pre-installed copies of this much-maligned OS. Alas, it’s too late for many existing installations. The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) reports that over 40 state arms has spent more than $6M on Vista purchases and upgrades, though the DIR itself uses Windows XP and Mac OS X. Given Microsoft’s overall clout, and the fact that it employs over 1,500 people in the state, with sales and development offices in most major Texas cities (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and others), it will be interesting to see if this injunction can withstand the budget reconciliation with the house version, and pressure from Microsoft and business interests allied with that company.
But those whose thoughts about Vista might have occasionally included the phrase “…there oughta be a law…” can now claim some legislative satisfaction, no matter how fleeting or transitory this ruling may turn out to be. Personally, I find it fascinating that the legislative machinery includes room for this kind of activity along with everything else that’s involved in keeping government going!
Thanks to a recent email from the Microsoft Learning PR rep, the ever-helpful Andrea Platt Dayal, I now know about the Microsoft Springboard Series, which she describes as a source of “…additional information for IT pros on Windows 7.” True though this statement may be, it fails to do justice to what you’ll find there. After digging into and through some of its offerings descriptive phrases like “treasure trove” or “fabulous collection” somehow spring to mind.
Let me list some of the items I found there by way of explanation:
- Long-time Windows internals guru and MS Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich offers a Channel9 preview of the long-awaited revision to his Inside Windows book with a show called “Mark Russinovich Goes Inside Windows 7.” If you follow the link to his “Pushing the Limits of Windows: Paged and Nonpaged Pool” you’ll find an interesting discussion of Windows memory pools and the first really cogent and concise of the dreaded IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL stop error code I’ve seen.
- A nice series of Windows 7 Feature walkthroughs is also available. Topics covered include Windows PowerShell 2.0 (a major upgrade from the 1.0 and 1.1 versions available to Vista), the User State Migration tool and Windows 7 AIK, BranchCache, DirectAccess, UAC, the new Windows Troubleshooting Platform, AppLocker, Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM), and a whole lot more of great potential interest to enterprise admins.
- Interesting spots of coverage in the Windows Client blog, including blogs related to Engineering Windows 7 and this very Springboard Series.
- Links to news and highlights items (with an RSS feed to match), as well a link to the Windows 7 Beta forums. Makes it easy to keep up with recent developments, and the forums provide ample insight into what users love and hate about the current beta.
Do yourself a favor: if Win7 interests you, even only as a matter of curiosity, check these links out!
I jsut read a marvelous story from the Sydney Morning Herald entitled “Windows 7 looking good, especially after Vista woes.” It includes a brief but telling remark about Windows Vista to which I can’t help but ascribe epigram status — namely, “Windows Vista is widely reviled, and sometimes seems so bad that it resembles malware (malicious software).” While I can’t agree with this statement, I can’t dispute its accuracy or relevancy, either. As you read through the story, and I encourage you to do at your earliest opportunity, you’ll find plenty of other interesting and diverting bits of techno-trivia.
What I’ve had ongoing trouble with right up to the present is with Vista’s complexity and lack of incisive controls. On certain hardware configurations, I’ve repeatedly found myself in situations where Vista would keep limping along, but an increasing number of applications would fade into the “Not Responding” state. At the same time, I found myself unable to bail out of the OS using either CTRL-ALT-ESC to get into Task Manager, or CTRL-ALT-DEL to call up the login/logout/control screen. Rebooting to re-establish system stability is kind of a cop-out anyway, but I’ll be darned if either the System or Application logs in Event Viewer can provide me with any data about what caused my system to hang, and required me to peform yet another “disruptive shutdown” to regain control over my machine.
In working with Windows 7, I’ve been able to get the two “attention sequences” (CTRL-ALT-DEL and CTRL-ALT-ESC) to work as they should even when the system got extremely flaky owing to installation of an obviously incompatible driver. I have to ask: why won’t Vista work the same way? I’m not ready to put this OS in the same class as malware, and I do believe I’ve reached an “uneasy rapprochement” with Vista, to the point where I can get along with it on a day-to-day basis and keep my own and my users’ machines up and running most of the time. But I keep wondering why it gets flaky from time to time, and how I might be better able to maintain stable, long-term operation (for more discussion see my March 12 Blog at ViztaView.com).
If anybody has any wisdom to dispense here, or any war stories or hard-earned experience to share, please chime in. Surely it’s better for us to suffer together, than to do so alone! Just because you think Windows Vista is out to get you, doesn’t mean you’re paranoid.