In the song Hey You, Pink Floyd raises a question that all network admins have surely uttered. That question goes: “Is there anybody out there?” While its nuances aren’t as dark for networks as in the song, this question is one that occasionally demands an answer. To that end, some kind of network scanning tool helps. I just found a good, free tool from Northwest Performance Software, well-known vendors of NetScanTools Pro. They’ve got a free subset of those selfsame tools called NetScanTools Basic Edition (Zip file download). It includes a handy Ping Sweep tool named Ping Scanner that does a nice job on LANs. Here’s a screencap:
The “remove non-responding IPs” button is what makes this tool great.
What Makes This Handy PING Sweep Tool Special?
As the preceding screen capture’s caption intimates, the tool includes a button (lower left corner) of particular interest. It’s labeled “Remove Non-Responding IPs.” What it does is to drop listings for all inactive addresses in the range that gets scanned from the resulting output. That means the only listings shown are for IP addresses actually active on the network when the scan occurred.
The two question mark items fall at 192.168.0.1 and 192.168.0.9. Savvy readers already know that the first address is also the first usable address in that Class C Private Address subnet. It represents the router/gateway device that provides Internet access, DHCP, access controls, and more for the LAN. 192.168.0.9 is my son’s Xbox which doesn’t identify itself with a hostname. But it’s really the absence of all the empty addresses that makes the tool valuable. One sees only what’s out there, and nothing else, with no empty slots to skip over.
I like this very much, and so will you. Other tools in this program provide information about DNS, ping and traceroute, whois, and more. Grab yourself a copy today, and try it out.
MS has included a built-in update troubleshooter for Windows 10 for some time now. But there’s a new WU troubleshooter to try, if that tool fails or falters. It’s available through an MS Support page entitled “Fix Windows Update errors.” There, you can download a file named latestwu.diagcab to a target PC. This software is device independent, so you could easily carry it on a USB flash drive for field use. I tried it on a handful of Windows 10 PCs and it worked just fine on all of them. Here’s what it looks like:
The name of the download, appropriately enough, is latestwu.diagcab
What’s Up with the New WU Troubleshooter?
I wish I could say definitively. Those already familiar with the built-in tool will immediately recognize that the new, downloadable version looks exactly like the older, built-in version. The release date for the new one appears on MS Web pages dated 12/15/2016. It’s identified as revision 37, with an ondisk file size of 161 KB. Thus, admins should run the new version manually rather than using the Control Panel Troubleshooting widget.
I’m guessing this situation is temporary. It should show up in some future Windows 10 update as a Control Panel/Troubleshooting item. However, this may not happen until the next major version of Windows 10 comes along in April 2017 though. Therefore, you might want keep this in your admin toolkit until then!
About mid December, Windows Insider boss Dona Sarkar nixed release of further Insider Preview builds in 2016. Even so, build 14997 leaked via BetaArchive on 12/24. It’s apparently chock-full of changes, including an amusing shift in the color palette. When Windows 10 crashes in 14997, instead of showing a blue screen, the background is now green. Thus, the acronym is no longer BSOD for “blue screen of death” but rather, GSOD for “green screen of death.” BSOD meet GSOD!
Neowin reports speculations that the color change makes it easier to distinguish Insider Preview crashes from production Win10 versions.
When BSOD Meets GSOD, What Happens Next?
Apparently, the color difference is supposed to help MS support staff quickly determine whether problems come from Insider or production OS versions. Though there’s no official word on this from MS yet, most insiders believe that the change is purely cosmetic. After living with BSODs since the 1990s, it’s amusing and intriguing to see such changes come along. Who knows what other changes 14997 — or the next real Insider Preview build — will bring? We’ll have to wait until after New Year’s to find out.
Rank-and-file users probably won’t notice anything different. Hopefully, it’s because they will see no “screens of death” of any kind. But if they do see any, they’ll remain true-blue for the foreseeable future. Happy New Year!
In keeping with my lighter topics for the holiday break, I’m looking around for new desktop themes. Because I use two 27″ monitors on my production PC, I need big images that span both displays. As it turns out, this means I need panoramic desktop themes for Windows 10. Good thing there are plenty around, including a big batch from Microsoft. Their themes pages include an entry labeled Panoramic (dual monitor). Generally, MS offers fabulous images for its various desktop themes, and the panoramas are particularly fetching. In fact, the panoramic page includes 17 tasty offerings:
I’ve been using the Forest Panoramas on my desktop for almost a year now, and will use something else instead with the New Year. At the moment, the New Zealand (NZ) panoramas top my list of candidates. We’ll see what strikes next weekend when the calendar flips over!
I had to shrink this from its 3840×1080 resolution to get it to fit here, but it’s still a nice image.
Non-Microsoft Panoramic Desktop Themes
There’s more out there than Microsoft when it comes to desktop themes. There’s an item at hongkiat.com called 70 Beautiful Dual Monitors Desktop Wallpapers that’s worth checking out. Appstorm has a similar collection of 60 items, with different images. But the king of them all is dmb, or dual monitor backgrounds, where you’ll find hundreds (if not thousands) of such images. You can also easily create your own dual monitor desktop theme. Simply put all your chosen dual monitor/panoramic images in the same folder. Then, pick the Slideshow option in the Background pull-down in the Personalize menu in Settings. Given a big collection of such images, you can craft a theme of your own!
For folks who’ve been at the Windows game for a while, it’s surprising what can cause nostalgia amidst that crew. In my case moving from Windows 7 to 8 and beyond meant leaving the old games folder behind. It also meant giving up some favorite time-wasters that included FreeCell, Hearts, Solitaire, and so forth. But thanks to my friend and colleague Sergey Tkachenko and his WinAero.com website, that need not be the case. You, too, can grab this free Win7 games download for yourself. In fact, here’s a screen capture from my very own Win10 menus (themselves courtesy of Start10):
I didn’t elect to install them all, but you can if you want to. This list shows my personal faves.
Where to Get the Free Win7 Games Download?
Consider this a holiday gift of information, if not also of the fun and diversion you can get from installing and playing these old warhorses. Download them from WinAero.com, then unpack the ZIP file into a folder of your choosing. After that, run the exe file and you’ll be able to pick which items you wish to install (the default, as shown, is to pick ’em all):
By default, installer picks everything, but you can uncheck your unfaves.
Give yourself a small treat for the holidays this year. If you don’t already have these games installed on your Win10 PC(s), that’s quick and easy to fix. Enjoy!
Neither business nor home users should run PCs without malware or endpoint protection in place. But what one package misses another might still find, so a periodic secondary scan is also wise. That’s why savvy Windows admins usually install or access secondary malware scanners at regular intervals on client PCs. Just as there is a myriad of products that offer real-time protection against malware of all kinds, so are a large number of secondary scanners. Here is my personal list of go-to tools in this category:
Bitdefender RescueCD (create or use a bootable malware repair utility)
Crystal Security (cloud-based security scanner comes in installer and portable forms)
dBug 2.0 (kills all non-essential Windows processes so malware scanners/repair tools can run)
Dr.Web CureIt! (rootkit removal)
Farbar Recovery Scan Tool (FRST, examines Windows runtime environment to seek out malware, works from PE bootable USB)
Kaspersky TDSSKiller (rootkit removal tool)
Malwarebytes AdwCleaner (adware/PUP removal), Antimalware (MBAM scanning-only tool), Antiexploit (beta)
Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT, also released monthly through Windows Update)
Panda Cloud Cleaner (cloud-based security scanner)
Trend Micro Housecall (general security scanner)
Trend Micro Rescue Disk (bootable disk from which to run malware scans and repairs)
A periodic secondary scan for malware helps promote peace of mind.
Using Secondary Malware Scanners Properly
A secondary scanner offers information, not protection. Though it may also include malware removal amidst its capabilities, a scanner does not offer real-time antimalware protection. Thus admins should use these tools simply to make sure that primary real-time protection isn’t missing anything. Scheduling a periodic task at weekly or monthly interval to run a general-purpose scanner will suffice. Tools in this category on the preceding list include Crystal Security, MSRT, Cloud Cleaner and Housecall. Other, more specialized tools are best held in reserve, and trotted out when a specific type or cause for infection mandates their use. A bootable rescue tool (Bitdefender Rescue CD, FRST properly installed, or Trend Micro Rescue Disk) comes in handy when a system won’t boot, or when booting poses a risk to disk contents.
Keep this thought in mind as you walk the antimalware recovery trail: it may be faster and easier to restore a backup instead. On my systems I can restore a backup in 3 to 9 minutes (I use Macrium Reflect), and it might take another 5 minutes to recover recent files from File History and incremental backups. If you spend more than an hour trying to recover a PC from a virus or other malware issue, you should be thinking about switching to backup recovery instead.
More Resources for Secondary Malware Scanners
There are hundreds of alternate tools for malware scanning, recovery, and repair. You’ll find tons of additional resources on this topic at MajorGeeks or Gizmo’s Freeware. At MajorGeeks, check out these pages: Malware removal & repair, ransomware removal, and rootkit removal. At Gizmo’s freeware, the Security Scanners page will help you find your way into this topic area, and identify active, capable user forums where professionals can obtain useful advice and instructions on dealing with specific infections and problems.
Swapping out disk drives happens on Windows systems for various reasons. Driving factors can include improved performance (HD → SSD), added capacity (smaller → larger disk), or drive replacement (damaged or failing disk → healthy disk). Whatever that reason might be, a typical operation involved in switching disks is called “drive cloning.” This activity involves making a more-or-less complete and exact copy on one disk from another. Here’s a primer or some “Win10 Drive cloning 101” coverage to shed light on that process.
Win10 Drive Cloning 101: The Easy Case of Data Drives
There’s little danger or difficulty involved in cloning a data drive for Windows 10 (or other modern Windows versions). This describes a drive whose role involves only storing information for OS access and use. It’s not involved in booting or running the OS, which require special considerations. One need only use a backup or cloning utility to clone a source drive on a target of one’s choosing. I’ve had good luck with a range of such programs. These include free versions of Macrium Reflect and AOMEI Backupper, and paid versions of Acronis True Image and Paragon Backup and Recovery. In fact, MajorGeeks has a whole page of “drive cloning and imaging utilities” from which one can choose.
Win10 Drive Cloning 101: The Harder Case of Boot/System Drives
Things get more interesting when the source (and target) drives boot a PC, and supply its OS. Old-fashioned BIOS PCs work fine with simple drive cloning. But newer (and more common/modern) PCs boot using the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (or UEFI). This environment records a globally unique identifier (GUID) for each boot drive in nonvolatile memory, and checks that ID during the boot process. If the value discovered doesn’t match the value recorded, the system won’t boot. Thus one must manage UEFI boot data as part of the drive cloning process.
Numerous tools and methods make this task possible. One approach means using a specialized tool like Paragon’s Migrate OS to SSD. (This web page also includes a nice explanation of the nitty-gritty details). Another approach is to clone the drive, and then to undertake boot repairs. First, disconnect all drives except the boot drive. Second, boot the system from a recovery or repair flash drive. Third, boot into the Advanced options for OS repair, and run the Startup Repair options. This should rewrite the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) to reflect the GUID for the newly-provided boot disk. If that fails, consult this Microsoft Developer Note “Adding Boot Entries” to use BCDedit at the command line for manual repairs instead. (The “BCEDit /set” reference is also helpful when working with this utility at the command line.)
There’s another raft of considerations involved in switching from legacy BIOS to UEFI when swapping a boot/system drive. See the TechNet article “Converting Windows BIOS Installation to UEFI” for a broad introduction (the article focuses on Windows 7 and 8 versions, but also applies to Windows 10 except that partition 1 should be 450 MB, and partition 2 — the EFI partition — 100 MB in size; see also UEFI/GPT-based hard drive partitions for layout data).
If you’ve followed this blog lately, you know I’m a big fan of TenForums.com. This Windows 10 self-help site is a huge source of news, information, and tools referrals. I hit paydirt yesterday when I found a mention that German website Win-Raid offers updated USB 3.0/3.1 Win10 drivers. Actually, Win-Raid offers quite a bit more than that. Its forums also include AHCI/RAID, NVMe, Intel Chipsets, and more. The site’s curator, Fernando (aka Dieter), has done a tremendous job in organizing this stuff. He’s broken out the individual .cat, .inf, .dll and other files that go into collections so users can manually update drivers in DevMgr. Thus, users can pinpoint individual drivers and update them easily.
Taking Advantage: Win-Raid Offers Updated USB 3.0/3.1 Win10 Drivers
Interested admins and power users must follow forum instructions carefully. For USB 3.0/3.1 this starts with downloading the necessary files from the General: Storage Drivers forum. For the Intel USB 3.0 controllers on several of my systems, that meant first registering Win-Raid’s certificate with my local certificate authorities. The download includes a .cmd file that automates the job if launched from an admin command prompt (or PowerShell environment). Next, comes a manual update for the generic Intel USB 3.0 eXtensible Host Controller. After that, likewise for the USB 3.0 Root hub. And for those with a USB 3.0 Switch device, there’s a similar update (none of my systems includes such a beast, however). Here’s a “before and after” screencap from a system with a Z87 (Intel 8 Series) chipset:
DevMgr USB device info: before Win-Raid install left; after right.
[Click image for full-size view]
Installing the Win-Raid drivers replaces the 1.0 (Microsoft) USB 3.0 eXtensible Host Controller with a newer version. The latter shows a file date of 8/18/2016 on the Driver tab/Properties window, instead of a 2013 date. Ditto for the root hub. Better than new, however, is those drivers’ stability and performance. Both offer improvements over the default items. Sure you must jump through some hoops during the install process, but the results are worthwhile. Check it out!
Last week’s cumulative Win10 update KB3201845 apparently delivers unwanted side-effects. For some users, that update clobbered the Connected Devices Platform Service (CDPSVC). In turn, this kept DHCP from working. No DHCP, no IP address; no IP address, no Internet access. Thus, MS hurried out another cumulative update on Patch Tuesday, 12/13: KB3206632. But as with other recent updates, some encountered problems getting the whole download, or installing the update completely. For those unwilling to try WUMT as a WU alternative, it seems that a DiagTrack stop fixes Win10 update ills for KB3206632.
The DiagTrack service is kept Running by default, but may be stopped and restarted under admin user-level control.
[Click Image for full-size view]
Why Is It That a DiagTrack Stop Fixes Win10 Update Ills?
The DiagTrack service in Windows 10 already has something of a black eye. At least, it scares members of the tinfoil hat brigade and those concerned about unwelcome surveillance. The Task Manager Description for DiagTrack explains much: “Connected User Experiences and Telemetry.” Ed Bott helps debunk this paranoia in his ZDNet story “Windows 10 telemetry secrets: Where, when and why MS collects your data.” In that piece, Ed explains cogently that
Microsoft uses telemetry data from Windows 10 to identify security and reliability issues, to analyze and fix software problems, to help improve the quality of Windows and related services, and to make design decisions for future releases.
He also explain how to tweak telemetry settings. That’s how users can reduce, if not eliminate, opportunities for MS to glom onto and extract personal or sensitive data from Windows PCs. This should calm the fears of those worried about Microsoft spying on them.
But what does DiagTrack have to do with downloading and installing updates? I don’t know, and haven’t yet found any information that sheds light on how or why it might interfere with WU. Be that as it may, users have reported that stopping the DiagTrack service can help. Do so before firing off Windows Update enables the downloads to occur, and installation to complete. (Remember to restart the service when the update process is done.) As an added bonus, in fact, it also appears to speed updates significantly. That’s why I can’t wait to try it myself when the next cumulative update appears. Alas, by the time I’d learned this, the latest Cumulative Update had already made its way onto my Win10 PCs.
I follow the online traffic on various heavily-trafficked Windows 10 forums. As I keep up, I’m amazed how many users suffer after scheduled or unscheduled system changes. Every capable admin knows that restoring a system back before trouble strikes is a sure cure. But alas, not everybody apparently does this. Here’s my take on steps involved in recovering from unexpected change. These may simply cause a Windows PC to misbehave, or they may render it inoperable.
Pre-preparing for Windows problems is like keeping your pencils sharp, and ready for action.
That’s why those steps also call for tools. The watchword is that, indeed, proper protection counters failed Win10 changes.
Tools for Protection Counters Failed Win10 Changes
Several items keep PCs prepared for trouble and recovery. They include the following:
A bootable USB recovery flash drive (see this TenForums Tutorial: Recovery Drive – Create in Windows 10)
Scheduled System Restores capture snapshots no less often than daily (see these TenForums Tutorials: System Restore Point – Create in Windows 10 and also Restore Point – Automatically Create on Schedule in Windows 10)
Regular system backups capture incremental changes daily, plus an image backup no less than weekly (see this TenForums Tutorial: Macrium Reflect – Backup & Restore; Enterprise-class users will work with their own backup environments)
Using Protection Against Failed Win10 Changes
When trouble strikes after an update, upgrade, or application install, the applicable remedy and its related toolset varies. A lot depends on whether or not the PC is bootable. If it is, the first repair effort should be to apply a restore point. These don’t always work, but when they do, they work reasonably quickly. Returning to the point time captured in a restore point seldom takes more than 10-15 minutes, often less. Admins won’t waste much time trying this quick and relatively easy fix first.
But when a restore point doesn’t work , or misbehavior continues, it’s time for more serious action. That’s the point when restoring a backup makes sense. If a mechanism such as File History provides ready access to files, documents, images and so forth, restore the most recent image backup. Next, recover/recopy missing items through File History. If File History (or some similar mechanism) isn’t available, apply all interim incremental backups (or the most recent differential) to the image just backed up.
Finally, when a system won’t boot, the Recovery Drive provides an alternate boot environment. Here, too, one can try Restore Points first, and go to backups second. But many seasoned vets skips the restore points and go straight to the image backup (and File History or intervening incrementals) and bypass the chance that the restore point might not work. This makes for a short and hopefully sweet return to normal operating conditions.