Windows Enterprise Desktop


October 10, 2016  1:06 PM

RegEdit Gets Address Bar

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
RegEdit, Windows 10, Windows Registry

Normally, I don’t write much on Insider Preview releases for Windows 10 here. But the latest build, 14942, includes a small but significant and noteworthy change. It appears as a single line of data in the Registry Editor, aka regedit.exe. In that single line RegEdit gets address bar capabilities. There, it displays a string for whatever key is selected.

RegEdit gets address bar

The address bar reads “Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Cursors”

Why RegEdit Gets Address Bar Matters

Since time immemorial, extracting key strings from the Registry required multiple steps. They are: high-lighting a key, right-clicking an entry of interest, and selecting Copy Key Name from a pop-up menu. In stark contrast, the new approach is simpler. Simply highlight the current value in the address bar, and click Ctrl-C. Once in the paste buffer, paste that string as needed. Little, well-thought-out conveniences like this improve Windows 10 usability. Because they must often use registry keys in scripts and such, this change is especially helpful for admins and power users,

Ordinary users can’t do this until the next major Windows 10 build comes along. Right now, that upcoming release is code-named Redstone 2. Best guesses suggest it will probably debut in Spring 2017 (see this Windows Central story). This next Win10 milestone should focus on “productivity improvements for the desktop” along with “much-needed features and enhancements” for Windows 10 Mobile, from that same source.

My primary source for this information comes from Rafael Rivera at Thurrott.com. His 10/7/2016 story “Windows 10 Registry Editor Gets Very Welcome Address Bar” inspired this blog post. Thanks a bunch, Rafael! He uses phrases like “awesome” and “super-excited” in describing this addition. I’m not sure it’s worth that much exuberance, but it is a nice change.

October 7, 2016  11:28 AM

Windows Updates: CAB vs MSU Files

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Automatic Updates, Windows 10, Windows Updates

This morning, TenForums reported that Microsoft released a new Cumulative Update KB3197356 for Windows 10. But though some users have reported obtaining this through Windows Update, users who’ve successfully installed the previous update — KB3194496 — probably won’t get this latest roll-up. Those who want it anyway must visit the Microsoft Update Catalog so they can download and install it manually themselves. While this particular update is a Windows Standalone Installer (MSU) file, other updates can appear as Cabinet (CAB) files, particularly device drivers. That got me wondering about differences between the two formats. So, I researched CAB vs MSU files and report on what I learned.

CAB vs MSU Files

The update elements for KB3197356 are .MSU files, other downloads are .CAB files. What gives?
[Click image for full-size view]

Understanding CAB vs MSU Files

MSU files are associated with the Windows Standalone Update Installer, of type Microsoft Update Standalone Package. Thus, this program is called when any filename ending in .msu is executed. Device drivers, on the other hand, don’t always need a special installer. Instead, you might access their contents using the “Update Driver Software…” right-click option in Device Manager. Also, CAB files are archives that support a variety of compression formats. They work with various Windows installation engines. These include the Setup API, device installers, or advpack.dll.  Whatis.com says: “CAB files typically contain drivers, system files and other Windows components.”

Here’s the core of the difference, in a nutshell. MSU files are more or less self-installing, thanks to the Standalone Update Installer program included with Windows OSes. But double-clicking a CAB file gets you nowhere automatically. You must either invoke the right installation engine, or otherwise access its contents. Much of the time, a program like 7zip does the trick nicely. But those who remain perplexed will find the Windows 10 CAB Installer (download links: x86/32-bit, x64/64-bit) helpful in using CAB contents (source: TenForums).


October 5, 2016  10:12 AM

Repeat Cumulative Updates Need Cleanup

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10, Windows Update Management

Microsoft pushed out 3 cumulative updates that hit my PCs in September. They appeared on 9/1, 9/13, and 9/26. After the third one came through at month’s end, I found myself thinking: “I wonder if repeat cumulative updates need cleanup.” Dashing into the Disk Cleanup utility (cleanmgr.exe), my presumption appeared warranted. Here’s what I found:

Repeat Cumulative Updates Need Cleanup

The highlighted item shows 1.64 GB of Windows Updates for cleaning up.

Why Do Repeat Cumulative Updates Need Cleanup?

Each time a Windows client gets something from Windows Update, it receives files in the %windir%\SoftwareDistribution\Download folder. Electing the option shown in the screenshot cleans out that folder, thereby freeing up disk space. It’s also worth noting that, once removed, such updates can no longer be uninstalled. That is, if you click “Uninstall updates” in the Update History window, you won’t see them among the list of items available for removal.

Then too, cumulative updates are a bit different from regular updates. In fact, they “roll up” all updates provided since some checkpoint in time. The three updates that hit my PC in September are best described in Knowledge Base (KB) articles:

KB3194496 (9/29/2016): 402 MB (x86) or 753 MB (x64)
KB3189866 (9/13/2016): 255 MB (x86) or 431 MB (x64)
KB3176938 (9/1/2016): 205 MB (x86) or 331 MB (x64) [Actual release date: 8/31/2016]

Adding those items together for x64 Windows 10 machines, you get 1,515 MB, or 1.48 GB. The Update clean-up number shown in the screenshot is 0.16 GB bigger. Thus, it’s obviously counting other updates from that period as well. But update cleanup removes them all. With usable restore points or image backups prior at hand, one can always roll back their effects. That’s why I don’t worry about cleaning up, either. Given the current cadence of cumulative updates from MS, this is a likely monthly drill for admins.


October 3, 2016  11:03 AM

Setting Windows10’s Lockscreen Image

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Personalization, Windows 10

When Windows 10 finishes booting up, it displays what’s called a “lockscreen” image. When you click on that image, or strike any key on your keyboard, you’re prompted for login credentials. By default Microsoft displays lockscreen images from a pool it maintains. It also asks users to like or dislike its choices, so it can improve upon them. But what happens if you want to use the lockscreen for status or app information? Or if a user emphatically dislikes some lockscreen image or images? No problem. Setting Windows10’s lockscreen image is easy, if you know how.

Personalization Handles Setting Windows10’s Lockscreen Image

You can pick a slideshow or a static image to replace the rotating collection of default MS choices through the Settings app. Click Personalization, then Lock Screen, then Background to produce this array of choices:

Setting Windows10's Lockscreen Image

Here’s what those choices are about:

  • Windows spotlight: this is the rotating collection of default images, some of which are truly stellar. You can download the excellent $0.99 Spotbright application from the Windows Store. It lets you grab and view these images independently. Otherwise, they are something of a pain to find and view on your own.
  • Picture: a single image of your choosing, obtained via a file system browse after choosing this option.
  • Slideshow: a rotating collection of images, which you also specify by browsing your filesystem, and then choosing a photo album (a collection of images) among which the lockscreen on display will rotate

On Choosing Window10’s Lockscreen Image Setting

Why might you choose one of the three options shown above over the others? It just so happens that only the Picture option also lets you choose an app which shows status info. The default is the Calendar app, which if synched with your personal appointments and so forth shows you what’s happening today. This also allows Cortana access without logging in. That means you can use Cortana directly from the lockscreen.

I learned all this — and more — recently when my wife asked me to keep some images she found unpleasant from showing up on her Windows 10 lockscreen. This subject is covered in more detail in Lance Whitney’s excellent PC Magazine story entitled “How to Use and Tweak your Windows 10 Lock Screen.”


September 28, 2016  11:10 AM

Win10 Hits 400M Users as Adoptions Slow

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

On Monday, September 26, during the first day of its Ignite conference, Microsoft officials disclosed that Windows 10 now runs on 400 million active devices. Thanks to Mary Jo Foley sharing this news, I can speculate on the current run rate versus the historical average. Here goes: 300 million adoptions on May 5 gives a 100 million increase over 20 weeks. That’s an increase of 5 million per week. Doesn’t sound half-bad, eh? But when Win10 hits 400M users how does that indicate a slackening adoption pace?

What Win10 Hits 400M Users Really Means

If we look at the run rate up through July 29, the official release date for the Anniversary Update, we get an interim number of 350 million active devices at that time. That means that the period from May 5 through July 29, and the period from July 30 through September 26 each saw approximately 50M Windows 10 adoptions. That’s 12 weeks for the first period and roughly 9 for the second period. This indicates recent history has improved somewhat, in fact. It’s a 33% improvement because of the shorter time period for the second 50 million increment.

But the slowdown effect becomes clearly visible if we stretch our time horizon back to July 29, 2015, which adds 52 weeks to the overall time window. Adding the 9 weeks from July 29, 2016 to September 26, 2016, that puts the whole span up to 61 weeks. Divide 400 million by 61 and you get 6.55 million per week. Recent adoptions reckon at 4.16 million for May 5 through July 29, and 5.55 million for July 30 through September 26. That’s an average of 5 million for that entire period. Thus, it’s readily apparent that the trend is downward, though not at a horrific pace.

What does a 5M monthly run rate mean for Microsoft’s 1B active users objective? Starting from October it means 10 more years (120 months) before that milestone is reached. That’s 2026! Methinks MS will have to find ways to speed things up a bit. As long as it doesn’t involve another nefarious push like their “Get Windows 10 ” (GWX) initiative, I wish them luck.


September 26, 2016  6:30 PM

MS Upgrade Analytics for Win10

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Predictive Analytics, Windows 10

Today at its Ignite Conference, MS issued a flurry of announcements and info. Less than a month after the release of Windows 10 Anniversary Update, it’s no surprise that Windows 10 items dominated. In fact, I’ve just finished listening to several sessions online (available on the conference home page). IMO, the richest vein came in Rob Lefferts’ talk entitled “Windows 10 — The time is now.” Lefferts introduced a raft of topics I’ll be mining for a while, starting with MS Upgrade Analytics for Win10.

Upgrade Analytics for Win10

This is the top-level dashboard for MS Upgrade Analytics.
[Click image to view full-size]

What Is Upgrade Analytics for Win10?

Upgrade Analytics seeks to help organizations gather data to evaluate their application and driver situation. Typically, IT pros validate business-critical applications before upgrading PCs that run them, to make sure deployment won’t downgrade productivity. Most organizations use hundreds to thousands of applications, which makes testing all of them in advance costly and time-consuming. Upgrade analytics helps IT admins speed Win10 upgrades with reports on:

  • Current application and driver inventory, with usage data
  • Information about known driver and application issues, with mitigation advice (where available)
  • Tracking which drivers and applications are ready for Windows 10
  • Per-computer readiness assessments to target PCs for Windows 10 deployment

An Upgrade Analytics public preview is already available. It requires an Microsoft Operations Management Suite (OMS) workspace. But Upgrade Analytics incurs no extra charges for those using a Standard or Premium tier workspace. The 7/22/2016 announcement blog post includes all the details. At today’s Ignite, Microsoft added support for Site Discovery and Ready for Windows data to Upgrade Analytics. The former provides an inventory of web sites that Windows 7 and 8.1 devices visit, while the Ready for Windows website lists software applications broadly adopted on Windows 10. Upgrade Analytics helps IT pros identify potential risks involved in Windows 10 deployment, and provides advice on how to bypass potential problems. This one should be fun to try out, and play with.

Here’s a list of additional resources and reading material on Upgrade Analytics:


September 23, 2016  11:57 AM

BSOD — Insider Preview to the Rescue!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Beta Testing, Troubleshooting, Windows 10

It’s one thing to read about Windows 10 problems. It’s another thing entirely to live them through oneself. I follow the action at TenForums.com closely because it’s a timely and reliable source for Windows insight and intelligence. That’s why I knew what I was seeing after installing the latest Enterprise Insider Preview (Build 14393) on my test desktop PC. It was the dreaded “Black screen of death:” a black screen with a mouse cursor. The cursor moves, but the OS is otherwise unresponsive. A catastrophic graphics driver fail that somehow occurs after initial OS installation appears responsible. In solving this particular BSOD — Insider Preview pages at the MS website were a life-saver.

Fixing the BSOD — Insider Preview Had the ISOs

I tried fixing the installation using the usual methods. I had already killed Windows.old and other traces of the previous installation, so a rollback was ruled out. I also tried an image backup, and that didn’t work either. That meant a clean install of the new OS, which in turn meant I needed an ISO file. Upon searching the ‘net, the only source I found was a Russian website (WZOR, a terrific source of Windows rumors and leaks).  But it would take 50 minutes for an ESD download. Then, I’d have to convert that ESD into an ISO, and build a bootable installer UFD. Too much time and work!

Then it hit me: why not check the Insider Preview site? This is an unimpeachable “official” source, and offers fast downloads. And in fact, the Download Windows 10 Insider Preview ISO — Advanced Options page had the goods. Here’s a screen cap:

BSOD -- Insider Preview

ISOs for the latest (and next-latest) Insider Preview builds available here, in many flavors.

Sometimes, the obvious source is also the best source. Thank goodness Microsoft consistently makes current Insider ISOs available on its Insider website. It restored my test PC! Others in the same boat will find this download link useful as well. If you run Insider Previews, add this to your favorites. It may come in handy someday. Sooner or later, reported bugs may stop at your door, too!


September 21, 2016  10:13 AM

Windows Update Troubleshooter (Win10)

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Troubleshooting, Windows 10, Windows Update Management

In the wake of recent Windows updates, lots of users have reported issues with Windows Update. This reminded me that there’s a built-in troubleshooter in Windows 10. Other recent versions of Windows — 7, 8, and 8.1, that is — required a Fix-It download from Microsoft instead. By contrast, Windows 10 users and admins have it easier: they need only type “trouble” into Cortana, then select the “Troubleshooting” Control Panel widget. From there, they can select “Fix problems with Windows Update” under the System and Security setting. This launches the Windows Update Troubleshooter.

Windows Update Troubleshooter

The Windows Update (WU) troubleshooter tackles most common update issues automatically.

What Does the Windows Update Troubleshooter Do?

As it runs, the Windows Update Troubleshooter performs three sets of actions:
1. It shuts down Windows Update Services and the associated Background Intelligent Transfer Services (BITS)
2. It renames the download target folder for updates from %windir%\SoftwareDistribution to …\SoftwareDistribution.old, and creates a new, empty \SoftwareDistribution folder. This clears the download cache to let WU start over afresh. This also means you’ll lose your current Update History, too. The troubleshooter also checks and, if necessary, repairs or instantiates (missing) registry keys for Windows Update.
3. It turns WU and BITS services back on.

Note also the “Advanced” button in the preceding screenshot. It’s important to click it, so you can run the troubleshooter with elevated privileges. That is, you must click the “Run as administrator” link, after checking the box next to “Apply repairs automatically.”

Windows Update Troubleshooter

After clicking “Advanced,” click “Try troubleshooting as administrator” to safely mess with system files.

What if the Windows Update Troubleshooter Doesn’t fix WU?

If you run the troubleshooter, and WU still isn’t working, you can perform the same steps the troubleshooter automates from a Safe Boot into Windows. This is admirably described in an article at HowToGeek.com in step-by-step fashion, so I won’t repeat that information. Find it at “How to Fix Windows Update When It Gets Stuck,” in the final section entitled “Fix Windows Update by Deleting Its Cache Manually.” The story is dated 3/28/16, but still applies to the latest Windows 10 versions (the Anniversary Update, Build 1607, as I write this post).


September 19, 2016  10:06 AM

Toggle Remote Connections Restores RDP

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I found myself embroiled in a discussion on TenForums.com recently, wherein I dug into 802.11n sufficiently to confirm my recollection that newer implementations are dual band. That is, they can communicate wirelessly at either 2.4 or 5 GHz, depending on configuration. After this discussion, I checked my Lenovo X220 Tablet, which sits next to my desk. It was running on the 2.4 GHz band, so I switched it over to 5 GHz instead. Promptly thereafter, I also couldn’t reconnect using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). The Incoming Connections troubleshooter on the laptop failed, too, so I found myself puzzling over a solution. Then, I remembered that toggle remote connections restores RDP access at least some of the time. I tried it, and it worked!

Toggle Remote Connections Restores RDP

To toggle you must turn off remote access, then turn it back on again.

I’ve encountered this situation working with Remote Desktop before. It happens when switching from one wireless network to another (as I experienced this morning). It doesn’t happen when switching from wireless to wired, or back again (as I just confirmed on my test PC). It appears to stem from connection settings inside the RDP configuration, which can maintain only one wireless connection to a PC at a time. For some reason, changing wireless networks kills the connection. It gets reset when you turn remote connections off (don’t allow) then turn them back on again (allow). Apparently, this rebuilds connection settings for the current wireless network.

Benefits of Toggle Remote Connections Restores RDP Access

I could easily switch from 2.4 to 5 GHz because my laptops are in the same office as my WAP. Thus, I don’t ordinarily have to worry about distance affecting bandwidth between them. For me, the benefit of the switch shows clearly in this screen cap from the Time Warner speed test:

Toggle Remote Connections Restores RDP

For a wireless connection, this is a pretty snappy download speed (upload is throttled to a putative 20 Mbps).

It’s not as fast as a wired connection. That tops out at 350-ish Mbps on my LAN, on Time Warner’s 300up/20down plan. But it ain’t bad, either. I’m glad I made the switch, and remembered how to restore RDP to working order, too!


September 16, 2016  3:43 PM

If WU Fails Try Update Catalog Download

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10, Windows Update Management, Windows Updates

WU is, of course, short for Windows Update. I was reminded recently that when the Windows Update service fails to update a PC, there is another way to grab and install the necessary files. It’s called the Microsoft Update Catalog, and you can almost always find what you need there. Case in point: the most recent Cumulative Update KB3189866 installed on nearly all of my PCs recently. But I ran into a problem with one of them. My son’s Dell AIO 2780 would get part-way through the download then fail and hang WU completely. After three tries with the same results, I realized it was time to try a manual download and install instead. That is, if WU fails try update catalog download instead. Here’s what I go when I searched the catalog using the KB article number from that problem item:

Try Update Catalog Download

Three different versions of KB3189866 available for download.
[Click on image to see full-size version.]

How-to: Try Update Catalog Download

To use this method, visit the Microsoft Update Catalog page, and enter the Knowledge Base article ID for the problem update. In case, I searched on “KB3189866” as shown in the preceding screen cap. Next, I grabbed the first of the three items showing, because all my Windows 10 installs are 64-bit. You’d need the middle one for a Windows Server 2016 install, and the bottom one for a 32-bit Windows 10 install.

The download process couldn’t be simpler. First, click the “Add” button to the right of your chosen item. Second, click “view basket” at the upper right of the window. This produces an “Updates in your basket” window that includes a “Download” button. Click that button, then designate a delivery folder, and the download process proceeds.

Try Update Catalog Download

The download button fires off file transfer to your PC.

The download page helpfully shows a progress bar while the download is underway, and reports “Done” when it’s finished. Once the download is complete, you’ll close the catalog page. Next, navigate to the target directory you’ve chosen. For this item, you’ll find a folder named:

Cumulative Update for Windows 10 Version 1607 for x64-based Systems (KB3189866)

It contains a single file named:

AMD64-all-windows10.0-kb3189866-x64_2c3e91a8162269579c8bf26a502c620d41efef0d.msu

Double-click the file, and an update installer fires off to complete the update process on your behalf. Done!


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