Windows Enterprise Desktop


September 12, 2016  1:15 PM

TaskSchedulerView IDs Cmd.exe Popups

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Batch files, task scheduler, Windows 10

For the past few months, I’ve been bedeviled with a strange phenomenon. Every now and then, several times a day, a command line window (cmd.exe) pops up on my desktop, runs a batch file, then disappears. The whole thing usually takes less than a second to complete, so I’ve only been able to catch the file in action once. Now that I know that TaskSchedulerView IDs cmd.exe popups, this is what that windows looks like:

fubsend

The one time I caught this window, I didn’t copy nor read carefully enough to determine the source.

It’s been driving me nuts, because I wasn’t sure how to identify the batch file that had to be responsible. Then, this weekend, in helping out users at TenForums.com, I got lucky. I learned that Nir Sofer’s TaskSchedulerView utility allows its users to search the strings used to define actions in scheduled tasks. Actions like running programs (the source of the original user’s problems) or batch files (like the popups on my PC). In fact, there’s a Find command built into the tool. It searches the text data it compiles from all of your scheduled tasks. (Note: these can number anywhere from hundreds to thousands on any Windows PC.) As it turns out, that’s exactly how TaskSchedulerView IDs cmd.exe popups.

tsv-find3

The detail info for the ACC task identified the culprit: FUB_send.bat!

Using Find So That TaskSchedulerView IDs Cmd.exe Popups

Once I realized a batch file must be responsible for the popups, I used the tool to search for *.bat. The only item it found in my entire library of scheduled tasks was named FUB_Send.bat. As soon as I edited that file to keep it from closing upon completion, I ran it. I recognized it immediately as the elusive popup I’d been chasing. Upon reading its output and realizing it wasn’t working, I simply renamed the file with a .tab (bat is short for batch, so I turned it backwards). If I ever need it, I can rename the file easily and restore it to working order in a jiffy. But right now it can’t run, so it won’t be popping up any more.

Turns out it’s a part of the self-updating capability of my current device driver update program, SlimWare Utilities’ DriverUpdate. I confirmed my diagnosis when a search of their user forums turned up a handful of other posters with the same symptoms. The title of the thread was the clincher “Strange command prompt box opens.” Because I’m perfectly capable of running my own updates, I had no problem killing this problem by rendering the batch file invalid.

September 7, 2016  10:43 AM

Boot Win10 From USB Media

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10, Windows Boot Disk

With UEFI replacing BIOS on most modern PCs, and SSDs for boot drives, many rigs use fast boot settings to launch into action as quickly as possible. Some machines boot fast enough to make detecting and responding to Function key input problematic. Microsoft recognizes this, and has added new capabilities to Windows 10 to instruct the PC to use an alternate boot source as part of system restart. It’s not without some “interesting wrinkles” however. I discovered some of them in learning how to boot Win10 from USB media on my various tablets, notebooks, and desktop PCs recently.

Advanced Startup Lets You Boot Win10 From USB Media

There’s a new Advanced Startup directive that appears in the Windows 10 Recovery menu. You can access this option in at least two ways:

  • Click Settings, Update & Security, Recovery, then click “Restart Now”  under Advanced Startup
  • Type “Advanced Startup” into Cortana (search box), click Change Advanced Startup options, then click “Restart Now”

If you can get to your UEFI/BIOS during bootup easily, you can also use an alternate boot selection outside the OS to target an alternate boot source, including bootable USB media. My ThinkPad laptops make this easy using the blue “ThinkVantage” button. On fast boot desktops, this is usually not an option unless one disables fast boot beforehand. But this technique works on all of my Windows 10 PCs across a wide variety of machine types: all-in-ones, mini-itx PCs, convention desktops, laptops/notebooks, and hybrid devices (a Surface Pro 3 and a Dell Venue Pro 11 7139).

adv-start

Restart now means what it says, so be sure to save all work before clicking the button!

Potential Gotcha 1 When You Boot Win10 From USB Media

I did run into a couple of gotchas when using this facility on my various PCs. When you click the “Restart now” button, it performs an immediate reboot. After bootup, it produces a “Choose an option” screen that includes “Use a device” among its selections. That’s the one you want to pick. So far, so good…

chopt

Next up, comes a list of devices from which you can choose. This is where things get interesting, because device names aren’t always crystal clear. On my desktop PC, the device name obligingly reports the make and model of my USB Flash drive. That makes it easy to select as my boot source, as shown (Mushkin).

usbopt1

But on my Lenovo X220 Tablet, my options include only a bunch of generic names such as USB CD, USB FDD, ATAPI CDO, and ATA HDD1, among others. I used the ThinkVantage key to invoke F12 boot selections to see how my boot UFD appeared there to learn that I wanted the one labeled USB CD (go figure). That was my first gotcha. It may require rebooting once to see what the default options, then again with the UFD plugged in to see what’s new in the mix. Ultimately, that’s what I did on the X220T to use the Windows Advanced Startup Options facility.

Potential Gotcha 2

Another gotcha also manifested when I first started using this tool. As is my typical practice, I remoted from my production desktop to a test machine to get to work. But when I did, no Advanced Startup Options appeared on the Settings/Update&Security/Recovery page. Turns out it’s not accessible via RDP. Don’t bother trying…

Gotchas aside, the facility is a good one. It’s worth using when you need an alternate boot source for a PC for troubleshooting, repair or installation. Add this one to your bag of admin tricks, please!


September 6, 2016  11:58 AM

Discovering WMIC (WMI command-line)

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Rooting around for a good way to view current drive letter associations at the command line this weekend, I stumbled across command line access to the Windows Management Interface, aka WMI. Known as WMIC (the WMI command-line utility) it delivers access to and control over all kinds of Windows settings and information. Right now I’m still just discovering WMIC , and learning about what it can do and how to use it. Even so, I already know it’s well worth digging into. That goes double for those who write command-line or PowerShell scripts, or Windows OS utility programs.

discovering wmic via diskinfo

Here’s a nice example that shows drive letters and their associated volume names at the command line.

Discovering WMIC via Drive Info at the Command Line

Working on test machines this weekend, I found myself facing another round of post Win10 install cleanups with holdouts in Windows.old. Having already blogged about this and knowing the drill, I booted into a Windows 10 UFD to root them out. That was when I found myself jumping to Google to refresh my memory on viewing current drive associations. In turn, this led me to WMIC through a Windows Club story entitled “List Drives Using Command Prompt & PowerShell in Windows 10.”

I like my example better than theirs because it shows volume name as well as drive letter. Together, that data lets me identify exactly which drive is which on my systems. This information didn’t come as easily as I might have wished, however. Even though there’s a ton of WMIC documentation available, there’s very little overview or “best use” discussion of this awesome utility. The best of what is around comes from Microsoft, as you might expect. I’ll recommend the “WMI Command Line Tools” section of the WMI Reference as a good place to start. The “Useful WMIC Queries” post to the Ask the Performance Team blog (2/17/2012) is also pretty helpful.

As for myself, I’m going to keep digging in and learning for some time yet. Count on further WMIC blog posts from me as I figure things out. Stay tuned: good stuff ahead!


September 6, 2016  9:00 AM

VDI storage horizons broadening

Margaret Jones Margaret Jones Profile: Margaret Jones

Storage is a critical part of a successful VDI deployment; most IT administrators already know this.

There are many different reasons VDI can fail, but one of the most persistent — pun intended — is unhappy users.

VDI can make users unhappy if it’s buggy, laggy or slow, and the right storage for VDI deployments can help remedy all those things. Because virtual desktops read and write equally, admins must think about storage for VDI differently than they do read-heavy server virtualization. Virtual desktop workloads are also dynamic, and they change throughout the day from the initial boot storm at 9 a.m. to the mass log off at 5 p.m. The reads and writes are randomized, so the storage that admins pick to support VDI has to be able to handle those requests.

That being said, there’s a new breed of storage on the market that could provide even better storage for virtual desktop infrastructures. Companies can go the old-school route of buying storage hardware, or they can buy hardware that has software preinstalled to optimize how the storage works. Unlike deduplication, data is optimized before it’s written to primary storage, which is more efficient and takes up less storage space. As arrays with expensive flash become the norm for VDI environments, admins value the ability to use less space with these software-defined hardware products.

There are also vendors who offer software-only storage optimization. These products use existing storage better, either by accelerating storage that’s already there, or creating a virtual storage area network from disk that’s already there. In either case, the result is faster storage that can handle the heavy, ever-changing workloads of VDI.

Learn about these software-only vendors, as well as whether software-based optimization is better than hardware in our three-part guide, Software-Centric Storage Selections for VDI.


September 3, 2016  11:53 AM

Windows Marketshare Jul-Aug 2016

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Around the beginning of each month I look at what’s happening with Windows marketshare. Courtesy of TenForums poster Lehnerus2000, I show activity for July and August with a pair of vertical bar graphs abstracted from NetMarketShare.com. Trends for Windows marketshare Jul-Aug 2016 don’t hold many surprises, except perhaps for two marginal items. That is, Windows 7 marketshare actually edged up slightly over this period (from 47.01% to 47.25%). So did Windows 8.1 at  an even more marginal 0.12%. But those gains are probably within the margin of sampling error. Thus, it’s probably no indicator that Windows 7 and/or 8.1 are gaining desktops.

Market Share OS (2016-09-03) 2 Month Bar Chart

Windows 7 holds on, 10 keeps climbing, and the others all decline or stay put.
[Click image to see full-size details.]

Windows 10 shows growth of around two percent (1.86% to be more precise), while Windows XP dips about one point (0.98%). Other losers include the Mac OS X and Other headings, which together gave up about 1.2%.

What Does Windows Marketshare Jul-Aug 2016 Augur?

The most interesting thing is that August growth of two percent comes after the free upgrade period has come to a close. Consider Microsoft’s contention that 300 million PCs were running in May, 2016. Consider also its current “By the Numbers” assertion that it’s running on 350 million device right now. That indicates that 720 million computers are running Windows 7. Given a two percent swing per month going forward, that puts Windows 10 on 622 million devices in December 2018. Alas, that’s well short of Microsoft’s goal of 1B. That leads to one sure and unavoidable conclusion: either Windows 10 adoptions need to pick up the pace or MS ain’t gonna hit that goal.

My best guess is that with the US armed services getting serious about migration later this year and over most of next year, other large enterprises and organizations will follow in 2017 and 2018. Thus, it’s possible that MS might indeed make this goal. But it will depend almost entirely on business uptake. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted.


August 31, 2016  12:05 PM

One Month On, Win10 AU Doesn’t Auto-Apply

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10, windows installer

While working on one of my test systems this morning, I realized one Win10 image hadn’t run since late July. Because the Anniversary Update (AU) went public on August 2, it was still on Build 1511. But when I ran Windows Update, it applied a raft of updates for Build 1511 without offering the AU. Even remembering that Microsoft promised to stagger access, I was shocked that Win10 AU doesn’t auto-apply 29 days after release.

Fortunately, I had a bootable UFD with the 1607 installer. I simply plugged in that drive, then ran setup.exe from File Explorer. This launched the Win10 AU installer, and got things underway. It was even smart enough to suspend my dual-boot configuration. Thus, installation completed without requiring me to catch the various reboots as they occurred. In general the process went smoothly, and completed in about 40 minutes.

Ask Yourself: Why Win10 AU Doesn’t Auto-Apply Itself?

After going through a belated AU update, I’m curious how MS offers AU to Current Branch PCs still running Build 1511. Surely, I can’t be the only user who’s got a physical or VM-based install not yet updated to 1607? I’m guessing that MS established rules for offering the update to smooth out traffic immediately after the release. I’m guessing further that they haven’t yet changed those rules. I wonder: how long before they add the Anniversary Update directly to the update stream? I guess only time will tell!

Should you find yourself in this situation, you can access the Media Creation Tool to build an installer. Or, you can grab the Windows 10 AU ISO and build your own media instead. (I usually take the latter path, because Rufus gives me more and better options for building a Windows installer UFD.) Either way, you’ll be able to short-circuit Microsoft’s “delay before AU offer” mechanisms apparently still in place. If you can’t beat Windows Update, you can work around it instead!

[Note: persistent apps and drivers do stick around in Windows.old after the anniversary update. Read my blog post “Anniversary Update Post-Install Cleanup” for instructions on removing them. Long story short: a bootable repair or recovery disk will help that process along.]


August 29, 2016  10:12 AM

US DoD Win10 Rollout Deadlines Slip

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Last February, DoD Deputy Secretary Bob Work issued a directive for Windows 10 migration in 12 months. Essentially, unless a waiver is granted, all DoD Windows clients should run Windows 10 by February 2017. Alas, it now looks like a US DoD Win10 rollout deadlines slip is inevitable. I reported here in May that the Marine Corps had hit a snag owing to issues with old hardware. In an August 23 ExecutiveGov story, the Air Force says it “plans to start its two-year migration to Windows 10 later this year.” It also states “all Microsoft users in the Air Force Network will have Windows 10 as the standard operating system by January 31, 2018.”

What Makes US DoD Win10 Rollout Deadlines Slip?

With over 3M Windows clients across all branches of the military, the original deadline was always iffy. But now, it’s likely at least two service branches will miss the deadline. Things are ramping up too slowly. And with so many systems involved, the ratio between upgraded/migrated and new purchases is interesting. (The story says that “users are authorized to transition existing devices or buy new tablets and laptops through the AFWay information technology purchasing platform.”)

Can the other two as-yet-unreported branches make the original date? It’s possible that the Army and Navy could also slip. If so, that says the initial date was too aggressive or optimistic. Once the process is fully underway, it will be easier to tell if early 2018 is doable. A lot depends on the age and hardware configurations of systems to be upgraded. Perhaps even more depends on how many systems are replaced. Because new systems presumably come with Win10 pre-installed, that trades money against further slippage. As the work unfolds, the whole process remains fascinating to watch.


August 26, 2016  11:06 AM

(New) RAPR v0.8 on GitHub

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I first discovered DriverStore Explorer aka RAPR.exe in 2011, when I posted an item entitled “Check Out DriverStore Explorer” to this blog. In the past few days, I’ve learned that this free open source project has moved from CodePlex to GitHub. Also, a new version is now available for download. That’s right, you can find RAPR v0.8 on GitHub if you’d care to try out the latest version. It’s pretty current with a July 19, 2016, date.

The New Look of RAPR v0.8

The GUI for the latest RAPR version is extensively reworked, as the following side-by-side screencap shows. The new version is to the left, with the old version to the right. Instead of showing the Driver Class as a column value, the new GUI uses that data to organize drivers into groups. Indeed, it breaks up the display of driver entries with entries for class names. This was my favorite way to organize things in the older version (v0.5) also. The new version drops the Driver Signer data column and the name of the DriverStore .inf file. (In the Windows DriverStore folder, this takes the form oem<n> or oem<nn>.inf, eg. oem1.inf or oem11.inf.) Now, the program displays the real .inf name of the actual driver itself (eg. apcups.inf or iaahcic.inf).

RAPR v0.8 left, v0.5 right

The new RAPR v0.8 version appears to the left, the old v0.5 version to the right.
[Click image to see full-size version]

Maybe it’s just a case of future shock, but after using the old v0.5 version for so long, the new v0.8 version is a little jarring. For one thing you can’t reorganize the display by column name in the new version as you could in the old. For another, the visual breakup of the entries by Driver Class, and the elimination of the grid lines, changes the feel of the tool appreciably. But it still does what it always did: identifying and aiding removal of obsolete or duplicate Windows drivers. I guess I’ll get used to it, and keep on plugging along. You might also consider doing likewise.


August 24, 2016  10:46 AM

Admin Toolbox: SG TCP Optimizer

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

SpeedGuide.net is a broadband networking resource online that offers numerous free software tools and utilities. Their SG TCP Optimizer program asks you to input your download speed, then tweaks a raft of TCP settings for your network interfaces in response. The result is usually a slight to moderate speed improvement, with a smoother, faster ramp-up to high levels of interface performance.

Grabbing and Using SG TCP Optimizer

You can download this utility from the SG TCP Optimizer home page. You must right-click the program file, TCPOptimizer.exe then select “Run as administrator” so it can make changes with appropriate privileges. If you choose, you can manage hundreds of TCP settings one at a time, with the benefit of massive documentation. There is also a collection of tweaking articles, an Optimizer FAQ, and a range of user forums available for technical info and aid. But the easiest way to use the program is simply to select the “Optimal” radio button at the lower right of the program window. SG TCP Optimizer does an excellent job of picking the right tweaks for you quickly and automatically.

SG TCP Optimizer main program window

Making good use of SG TCP Optimizer is as simple as clicking the Optimal radio button.

I tried it out on half-a-dozen systems, and found the utility generally delivered a slight performance improvement for my GbE wired network interfaces (in the range of 1-2%). These already benefit from the putative 300 Mbps service I get from Time Warner (which actually tests out at around 350 Mpbs using the TW Speed Test). It did somewhat better with my 802.11n and 802.11ac wireless interfaces (5-15%) because they operate in a range from 50-100 Mbps and are subject to more jitter and variability.

For those who may be concerned about firing off an optimizer willy-nilly, it’s probably worth observing that the Apply Changes window in the program includes checkboxes to backup settings and to create a change log. (To restore a backup click File, Restore backed up settings in the program. Use the log file to peruse a record of all individual settings changes, and the OS response to each one.)

Other SpeedGuide.Net Tools

The site offers a range of other free tools, including a TCP/IP Analyzer, a security scanner, a speed test, an IP address locator, a collection of common IP tools (such as ping, traceroute, whois, and so forth), and more. I’m going to have to check these out, too, and see how they work. There may be some resulting follow-up, if the other tools are as good as SG TCP Optimizer seems to be.


August 22, 2016  1:37 PM

Possible Fix for Win10 AU Webcam Fail

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Owing to a technology change in the Anniversary Update to Windows 10, webcams on many PCs have since failed to work properly. To be more specific, various kinds of webcam software including programs from Logitech, Skype (and Skype for Business), and others, won’t show outgoing video. Worse, these programs hang up within a minute or two after startup for no reported reason. My family ran into this very thing last weekend when we tried a video chat via Skype with family members in Germany. Winhelponline offers several news links for those interested in more background. (Thurrot.com, Fooling Around, Graves on SOHO Technology). This news attributes a change in video encodings supported as causing the Win10 AU webcam fail.

MS promises to fix these issues with an update as soon as it can. My best guess is that this will likely appear in the September cumulative update. In the meantime, Windows maven and Windows 10 Field Guide author Rafael Rivera offers a pair of registry hacks to work around this problem. Each hack requires accessing a single registry key and adding a new DWORD name, value pair to its attributes.

The complete registry key strings in question are

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node\Microsoft\Windows Media Foundation\Platform
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows Media Foundation\Platform

The same value needs to be created in each key. The first one is for 32-bit applications, the second is for their 64-bit counterparts. It’s named EnableFrameServerMode, and its DWORD value should be set to 0 (zero).

What’s Causing Win10 AU Webcam Fail?

The cause of this issue comes from Microsoft’s apparent decision to drop support for MJPEG and H264 video encoding standards for YUY2. Thus, following application of the AU, applications that do not yet support YUY2 quit working. This tweak restores support for those other formats, and should hopefully return such programs to normal operation. It’s a relatively benign registry change so there’s no reason not to try it and see.

Beware the Usual Registry Edit Warning!!

Editing the registry improperly can render any Windows system inoperable. That’s why it’s a great idea to precede these propose registry hacks with creating a new restore point. If the registry edits go south, apply that restore point and you’ll be back in business.

But Wait! There’s More: Free Win10 eBook…

As of this morning, NeoWin.net is giving away a free ebook version of The Windows 10 Bible, by Rob Tidrow, Jim Boyce, and Jeffrey R. Shapiro. This 888 page guide to Windows 10 is available as a free download from Wiley through Neowin.net for anyone and everyone willing to cough up registration information in exchange for access. Find the details at “Grab this ‘Windows 10 Bible’ eBook valued at $32.99 — for free.”


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