After months of wondering and speculation on this subject, Microsoft has finally published a web page entitled “Activation in Windows 10.” It explains how activation works, and is particularly informative on the subject of what it calls “Digital Entitlement” — a term used to describe the situations where upgrading or reinstalling Windows 10 on an eligible or already upgraded PC does NOT require users to enter a product key.
As has been speculated for some time now, successful activation of an upgrade to Win10 is what makes a subsequent clean install both possible and legal.
Digital entitlement applies in the following circumstances, according to the afore-cited web page:
- Free upgrade from an eligible device running a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1
- Online purchase of Windows 10 from the Windows Store successfully activated
- Online purchase of a Windows 10 upgrade from the Windows Store successfully activated
- Windows Insider upgraded to latest Windows 10 Insider Preview build on an eligible device running an activated previous version of Windows and Windows 10 preview
On the other hand, a product key is required in the following situations:
- Purchase a physical copy of Windows 10 from some authorized retailer (key is furnished on a label in the physical packaging)
- Purchase a digital copy of Windows 10 from some authorized retailer (key is furnished in post-purchase confirmation e-mail)
- Volume licensing agreement or MSDN subscription (keys come from program-related Web portal)
- Purchase a new device running Windows 10 (OS comes pre-installed on device, and key is provided in device packaging of included on a separate card or on a Certified of Authenticity label attached to the device)
Those with digital entitlements can skip key entry during subsequent upgrade or clean installations because that information will be provided when the device synchs up with Microsoft after the install is complete. Now, at long last, we finally *know* what is going on with Windows 10 keys. Hooray!
It looks like the documentary engines at TechNet are finally winding up to full speed where Windows 10 is concerned. Thanks to this recent article at the SuperSite for Windows this morning, I can share a whole treasure trove of technical materials online with my readers, including coverage of general Windows 10 topics, new features and functions in the latest MS desktop OS, beaucoups FAQs, upgrade and deployment converage (including the recently revamped Microsoft Deployment Toolkit aka MDT), System Center Configuration Manager scenarios, device management and security issue coverage, plus pointers into the Microsoft Windows 10 IT Professional forums online. Here’s a screencap that puts the hundreds of pages of available information into perspective from the Windows 10 TechNet home page:
Most of the early side of the lifecycle is already documented for Win10, with lots more on the way soon.
[Click image for full-size view]
Most of the radio buttons under the orange lifecycle timeline lead to loads of content elsewhere in TechNet. New features covered include Device Guard (a way to lock down OS installs by protecting them inside a Hyper-V “envelope”, and limiting the ability to install or run unauthorized executables), mobile device management (MDM) info, Enterprise data protection capabilities coming for Windows 10 Enterprise, enhanced MS Passport capabilities, advanced provisioning techniques for virtual and physical desktops running Windows 10, and a whole lot more.
For those IT pros interested in Windows 10, this is a nicely curated and organized collection of TechNet info. For those who are planning pilot projects or tasked with digging into the latest MS desktop OS, however, this stuff is pure gold. Check it out!
In working with the latest Win10 Insider Preview, I’ve been forcibly struck by how clean and compact it is. Whereas earlier Windows 10 installations (that is, C:\Windows and its many constituents) have averaged around 17-18 GB in size, this latest build weighs in at only 13.6 GB or thereabouts according to WinDirStat. I also see no excess drivers on either of my test machines, either: the Dell Venue Pro 11 shows only 17 drivers in DriverStore Explorer, with 32 on the i7 desktop. This shows some evidence of hard work on Microsoft’s part to pare down the OS essentials to the barest possible minimum. I think that means when Threshold 2 appears in November, as is rumored to be the case, we will finally see something like a more typical Windows commercial release being made available to users.
The latest build of Windows 10 has the smallest disk footprint yet, and shows evidence of being pared to the bone.
Now that I’ve been working with this build for almost a week, it’s starting to feel a bit more familiar. And while I don’t see that much evidence of UI changes and/or new functionality, I have had some issues with 8GadgetPack, if most obviously on the Dell Venue 11 Pro. There, the program Sidebar.exe program consumes 75-90 percent of CPU and basically renders the machine unusable. On the more powerful i7 desktop, the same program consumes a steady 25% of CPU, which doesn’t impose an obvious drag on the machine, but which doesn’t please me nevertheless (on Build 10240, for example, the program works fine and steadily shows up as 0 or 1% in Task Manager). Looks like the only possible reaction here has to be “Another one bites the dust!” I’ve gone ahead and uninstalled this old favorite from my test machines, but hope that its developer Helmut Buhler, to whom I’ve written about this problem, can figure out a way to make it feasible to resuscitate this valuable utility (I use mine primarily for access to Network Meter and CPU Usage, two incredibly informative real-time monitors for CPU usage and network activity, both useful indicators of system health and activity).
But since MS deprecated Gadgets back in the late Windows 7/early Windows 8 days (over 3 years ago), I can’t be too surprised that whatever scaffolding made the sidebar keep going has been compromised or denigrated. That doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed, though…
I’ve been working with Windows 10 releases since last Fall (about a year now) and have probably installed more than a dozen different preview releases during that interval. Nearly all of them have gone flawlessly, and in particular their handling of device drivers at nearly 100% accuracy and completeness has taken a real start turn along that path. That’s why I was both surprised and taken aback over the weekend, as I’ve had to work through multiple attempts to get the latest Fast Ring build (10547) up and running on my two test machines (a Dell Venue Pro 11 7130 tablet, and a home-built desktop PC with an MSI Z87-G45 mobo, i7 4770K CPU, and so forth).
Here’s what the OS ID info looks like after the new build is up and running.
Each of my installs failed in different ways. The desktop install ran all the way to completion but immediately afterward, I was unable to run Windows Update and equally unable to restore it to proper operation, so I had no recourse but to roll back to the prior build (10532) to keep the machine running and up-to-date. On my second try at the installation on the desktop, everything turned out OK and the machine appears to be running normally.
Alas, however, the VP11 tablet consistently fails at 32% through the “Upgrading Windows process,” at 5% into “Installing features and drivers.” This occurs at a point I’ve seen before that appears to be associated with the driver for the Synaptics touchpad built into the VP11 keyboard dock, where the process hung at exactly the same point. Looks like I’m going to have to grab the ISO for this build and try a clean install instead. (Sergey Tkachenko has posted a set of clean, malware free files on WinAero.com, and the Window 10 Forums include a nice tutorial on how to built your own ISOs from the .ESD files you can download direct from MS.) I’ll follow up with more information after I do the clean install thing later today.
[NOTE added 9/21/15 ~2PM Central, -06:00 UCT:
As I suspected, using Tkachenko’s already-prepared ISO for Build 10547 and the Rufus media builder tool to perform a clean install of the latest Insider Preview version worked like a charm. Alas, however, I had to alter the disk layout to get it to work inside the Win10 installer (the OS partition and the following partitions had to be removed before it would allow me to install). I’m not sure what the fallout will be for the factory pre-installed diagnostics and utilities on the VP11’s SSD, but I’ll be finding out. First, though, I have to reinstall all of my applications and utilities — a task that I expect will take me most of the evening after dinner. If I hit any further snags, I’ll follow up after that process is complete. I also have some driver issues to resolve, including:
1. The built-in Dell/Atheros 802.11 wireless network adapter is MIA
2. I have two entries in “Other devices” in Device Manager: one for Generic SDIO device, another for the SM Bus Controller. This latter item relates to the Synaptics touchpad, and the former relates to the SD card controller, as I know from prior experience with other Win10 versions.
DriverAgent and/or DriverUpdate has usually been able to address my driver issues, so I’ll tackle those next. More to follow, as and when it might be needed.
Over the past 10 days, I’ve been chasing down a strange problem with one of my network printers: the excellent Dell 2155cn has been a real workhorse for me for the past three years remained visible after my Win10 upgrade frenzy in late August, it actually disappeared entirely from the network. This morning, chasing down the latest drivers via the 2155 cn’s service tag ID, I finally figured out why: the old Windows 7-era 2155cn drivers are not offered for Windows 10 (though they worked fine in Windows 8 and 8.1), and it’s now necessary to switch to Dell’s Open Print driver (OPD) and management (OPM) software instead.
Dell has switched from device specific drivers to a general, open print driver architecture.
My only real clue to breaking through this problem came from Printers and Devices, where the old 2155cn device was still showing and still interacted with the printer when I used a USB connection to that device. But when I looked at the status line for the 2155cn it read “Device driver not available,” which told me everything I needed to know about why none of my networked PCs could find that printer any more. And presto! as soon as I installed the new Open Print Driver from Dell, the device reappeared on the network and became accessible. What had fooled me into a false sense of security was the continued residence of a (non-working) device in Printers and Devices which lulled me into thinking all was working OK. As the old saying goes: “Appearances can be deceiving.” For despite the appearance of that device therein in its familiar (and formerly working) guise, there was no working driver there anymore to actually DO something.
Windows in general, and Windows 10 in particular, continues to be an ongoing, educational, and sometimes vexing experience. Stay thirsty, my friends!
OK, I’ll admit it: I don’t know if Windows Update, DriverUpdate, DriverAgent, or something else is involved, but I’m seeing the number of outdated and/or unneeded (duplicated) drivers mount up in my various Windows 10 installations. I just cleaned up half-a-dozen of my machines using the excellent Windows DriverStore Explorer, aka RAPR.exe, and found no machine with less than 7 unneeded or extraneous drivers. My Surface Pro 3, for some unfathomable reason, picked up more than 100 bogus drivers (nearly all of them from Intel for things like system devices, IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers, USB controllers, and so forth: I started out with over 90 Intel drivers in the store, and wound up with a total of 7 after clean-up).
That tells me it’s time for network/system admins to check client systems to see what kind of driver detritus they may have picked up, and perhaps to schedule some pruning or clean-up in the near term.
Before cleanup: 141 drivers; After cleanup: 37 drivers! (Surface Pro 3)
I’ve also been reading stories about Windows 10 stability issues in the past day or two (one about “Windows 10 glitches…” from James Kendrick, and another on “…Instability” from Mary Jo Foley, both of ZDNet). This is both amusing and vexing, in that as of last Friday’s (9/12) cumulative update, I’ve actually experienced a significant uptick in system stability (Reliability Monitor had been reporting anywhere from 1-3 application crash events daily per machine prior to this update, and lately, I’m down to less than 1 such mishap per machine for the entire 4 days that have now elapsed since the update was released). I can’t tell if that means I’m ahead of the curve, or playing in a different ballpark!
All in all, though, I’ve been able to function just fine using Windows 10 for both production and test machines without difficulty or major causes for concern. My wife and son have also made the switch to Windows 10 without voicing any (or many) issues or complaints — though the Edge browser definitely took the Boss by surprise, and was quickly replaced with IE on her rig. I guess it all depends on where the users are coming from, and the quality of tech support available to them! 😉
Something very interesting has happened to my Windows 10 production desktop since the last Cumulative Update was installed on that machine last week (I’m talking about KB3081455, dated 9/8/15). Prior to that update, I was getting corruption errors from both the sfc /scannow and the DISM ... /restorehealth commands on my production Win10 desktop machine. Following that update, no problems whatsoever, as this output from the second command illustrates:
Before the latest CU, I couldn’t find a source that would fix my reported corruption programs; afterwards, no problems reported!
I’m not able to tell whence this unexpected good news/result originates, because MS isn’t divulging details about its cumulative updates anymore (or right now — I suspect this will have to change, once enterprise adoptions start going up). What I can say, however, is that system stability on this formerly mildly flaky system has jumped appreciably since that update was applied. I’d love to know more about what MS did to make this happen, but that wish to know does not dampen my surprise and delight at the results of applying that update.
The question then becomes: “If you don’t know why things get better, does that reduce the resulting goodness?” For the answer is yes, because I like to understand what makes Windows tick and work (or work better or worse, as the case may sometimes be).
This morning, I read Adrian Kingsley-Hughes’ ZDnet story entitled “Windows 10 installer could be on your PC whether you want it or not” with some amusement. Then I asked myself the question “I wonder if it’s already on my Windows 8.1 test machine.” And sure enough, there it sits in the (hidden) $Windows.~BT directory, weighing in at a fairly hefty 4.77 GB:
MS has already downloaded the Win10 files to my 8.1 test partition, though so far I’ve declined to upgrade.
Kingsley expresses a certain amount of shock and outrage that MS would presume to clutter up its users’ disk drives with this much stuff without obtaining permission, and makes the point that for users subject to bandwidth caps or limits this could involve some unwelcome resource consumption. I can kind of see this one both ways, believing that users should be allowed to choose what they do and don’t download, but also understanding that MS wants to get those files out the door and onto the wire at off hours when bandwidth is more rather than less available to its (or its service providers’) servers (such as Akamai, a frequent host for large MS downloads). But my understanding is that MS makes this presumption only for users who’ve indicated an interest in a Windows 10 upgrade by signing up for “Get Windows 10,” so I don’t think it’s necessarily an unwarranted assumption on Microsoft’s part to believe that such users might want to upgrade at some point in time. Even so, I think he’s right to assert that MS should still ask for user permission before downloading almost 5GB of files onto somebody’s boot/sys disk.
This all raises the very interesting question of how many such downloads (like mine) are still sitting there, ready to be used but not yet put to work. Methinks it might be even bigger than the rumored 80-100 million installations of Windows 10 already running.
For years and years, I’ve subscribed to the notion that a clean Windows install — as opposed to an upgrade — can be a desirable thing. In cruising the Web, I see that my belief is still shared by the vast majority of Windows experts and mavens. However, a response to my most recent blog from Windows wizard and security wonk Russ Cooper now has me questioning or rather, researching and rethinking, this notion. Here’s the substance of the interchange between Russ and myself:
1. I post a promo to the blog post that reads: “Finally figures out how you can perform a clean install on a Windows 10 upgrade without supplying a key.”
2. Russ responds by saying that the old paradigms from previous versions of Windows don’t apply to this one, thereby implying that a clean install is no longer necessary.
3. I respond to Russ by asserting conventional wisdom that “the occasional clean install is an effective technique for de-gunking … Windows installations” while giving a nod to Jeff Duntemann (and co-author Joli Ballew) for their excellent books on this topic (run this Amazon search for more info). I show him this recent Reliability History graph for my production PC, upgraded in early September, by way of motivation:
All of the red Xs indicate somewhat serious errors, most originating from IE or hardware errors. This system is none too stable.
In addition, I have been unable to come up with a set of Windows 10 sources that will allow me to run the DISM ... /restorehealth command on this installation to a successful completion, which tells me that I do have lingering corruption issues with this particular install. Though reinstalling the raft of apps on this machine (PSI tells me I have 85 such elements on my PC, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got at least one or two dozen more installed that it doesn’t track) will take me the better part of a full day, I am still of the opinion that it will be worth the effort to restore my desktop to more normal and stable operation.
All of this said, Russ’s assertion has me questioning this conventional wisdom that a clean install is in fact an effective way to restore sanity and stability to an increasingly wonky Windows installation. That’s why I’d like to throw this topic open to the readership, and ask you collectively for your thoughts and experiences in the pros and cons of clean Windows 10 installations versus upgrades. I’m also reaching out to other Windows wizards I know to get their thinking on this topic and will follow up with more information as it becomes available.
It’s a great subject, though, and one worth digging into. If you’ve got something to say on this subject, or experiences to share, please do post a comment here, or reach out to me via e-mail through my contact page at EdTittel.com. Thanks!
[Note added 9/10/2015:]
In this morning’s edition of the Windows Secrets newsletter Fred Langa provides a definitive explanation of what’s going on with license data in Windows 10 upgrades. Here’s a quote from his piece entitled “How to clean-install a Windows 10 upgrade”:
First, you must— at least temporarily — upgrade your current Win7/8 system to Win10, the standard way. During this initial upgrade, Microsoft’s activation servers create and store a unique and permanent machine ID that’s based on your old Windows key plus the system’s hardware.
During the upgrade, Microsoft will also automatically issue you a new, generic Win10 product key. But it works only after your PC has been successfully upgraded to Win10 and activated. (This is how Microsoft intends to prevent piracy of the free Win10 upgrade.)
After your system has successfully completed an initial upgrade to Win10 and it has been registered with Microsoft’s activation servers, you then can wipe out the Win10 upgrade setup and perform a thorough, from-scratch, clean install.
At the end of that process, your PC will again check in with Microsoft. But because your system was previously whitelisted on the MS activation servers, your new clean-install setup will pass muster — recognized as 100 percent legitimate.
And FWIW, Fred remains a staunch member of the “clean install restores stable, reliable Windows operation club,” as do many other experts whose opinions I’ve researched since writing this blog post (including Ed Bott, Brink at TenForums.com, and lots of other folks).
I’d been wondering for some time how one could perform a clean install on an upgraded Windows 10 machine without providing a key. Thanks to the nice folks at the Windows Ten Forums, I found a pointer to this Windows 10 Web page entitled “Installing Windows 10 using the media creation tool,” which helps to shed some light on this apparent mystery. Given a copy of the Windows 10 ISO — readily available using the Media Creation tool available from the Download Windows 10 page — simply mount that ISO or use it to create an installable USB flash drive or DVD, then run setup.exe from the root directory of that installation environment (for an upgrade install). To perform a clean Windows 10 installation to replace an upgrade install, you must boot from the upgrade media itself (which works without requiring the key to be manually entered, for reasons I am still chasing down — common sense argues that either Win10 install reads the key from the install being upgraded, or “phones home” to an MS server to obtain that information automatically, and I’ve seen both of those possibilities hazarded by other veteran Windows-watchers like myself).
MS handles a clean (re)install of Windows 10 as a kind of upgrade and retains the upgrade key.
The secret is briefly mentioned at the very tail end of the afore-linked “Installing windows…” page, where the text explaining installation media includes this comment:
Both of these options allow you to upgrade the PC if it’s already running Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, or Windows 10.
The two options mentioned are the ISO mount or install from UFD or DVD already mentioned, where a clean install from such an environment is apparently able to extract the key information from the running Windows 10 installation it is about to replace before overwriting (or adding to) the boot/sys volume on the PC that’s acting as the installation target. I’ve tried this now with an install onto an existing Windows partition, as well as an install that begins by repartitioning the boot/sys drive (and volumes) before actually copying files, and can confirm that both methods work.
Among other things, this means you can select a target disk for your new clean install to replace an existing Windows 10 install on a drive different from the one that housed the initial upgrade installation. This can be very handy when replacing the boot/sys drive, or when switching from an older, slower boot/sys drive to a newer, faster one. I’ve also been able to confirm that capability on my Lenovo laptops, both of which made the switch from an older, slower OCZ Agility3 boot/sys drive to a newer, faster Plextor mSATA boot\sys drive as part of the Windows 10 adoption process.
And for those who may be concerned about the old, tried-and-true method of capturing the Windows 10 key, and then reusing it during installation: that still works, too, as I confirmed early in my massive upgrade-to-10 sequence in late August and early September here at Chez Tittel. But it’s nice to know you aren’t forced to capture the key if you don’t want to (I always grab mine as a matter of course, however, being paranoid enough to realize that just because Windows 10 isn’t out to get me doesn’t mean I might not have to recover from a catastrophic crash some time in the future).
Cheers, and Happy Labor Day!