Anybody who’s been around Windows for a while will recognize the icon for Micosoft Fix It items. AFAIK, it’s the company’s equivalent to Mr. Goodwrench. It shows a faceless person wearing overalls holding a great big open-ended socket wrench. But alas in Windows 10 Fix-Its MIA is the best way to describe their status. So I did a little poking around and found something very interesting.
Though Mr. Fix-It may lack facial features, he often brings relief to Windows users.
Why are Windows 10 Fix-Its MIA?
It seems that Microsoft is not going to support fix-it tools for Windows 10. As the company says in a support note entitled “Use a fix-it tool with Windows 10”
Fix-it tools aren’t around anymore in Windows 10. Instead, use a troubleshooter to help solve problems with your PC.
Here’s what I’m guessing this means, reading between the lines. Given the rapid update cadence for Windows 10, MS doesn’t believe it needs to build separate troubleshooting tools any more. Instead (I imagine) the company will either tweak existing troubleshooters or add new ones to the OS, possibly as part of its monthly Cumulative Updates. If not then, such things should come for sure as part of its twice-yearly “feature updates.” This new terminology reflects those less-frequent updates — like the recent “Anniversary Update” — that are significant enough to invoke the Windows installer for a full-blown OS upgrade.
On the other hand, it will be interesting to watch future updates and fixes from MS. Could this policy of “no more Fix-it tools” be changed? Maybe, maybe not. Only if a problem whose fix requires an automated tool AND no troubleshooter pops up in response could I see the return of Mr. Fix-It to the scene. Microsoft says “ain’t gonna happen.” We’ll see!
The Windows 10 Anniversary Update introduces a new clean install option of potential interest to those purchasing a new PC. It provides the ability to create a Windows 10 fresh start. Find it by clicking Settings –> Update & Security –> Recovery. This produces the following display:
The “Start Fresh” option replaces the current Windows install with a clean install from a freshly downloaded image.
Who Needs a Windows 10 Fresh Start?
This option is only of interest to those who don’t mind losing any installed applications, settings or preference changes, or other alterations performed post-install. That’s why it’s best for OEM PCs. OEM PCs are likely to include numerous additional software elements, often called “bloatware” or “crapware.” The “fresh start” option blows away the current Windows 10 install and replaces it with a clean Windows-only image. For some, this is better than a factory reset, because a factory reset restores those unwanted additional software elements as well as the OS.
A Windows 10 fresh start runs users through the Windows Media Creation tool. First they build a bootable UFD. Next, that device drives a clean install of Windows 10. Thus, a pristine Windows 10 install replaces the current installation. A Windows.old directory is available afterward, so that admins or power users can dig in to recover any necessary file. But any installed applications that users want must be reinstalled. And that, of course, is why this option is best applied to new OEM PCs immediately following their purchase.
There’s an interesting and unexpected change in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update (Version 1607). In earlier Windows OSes (8 and 8.1) users had 30 days to decide if they liked the new OS. If they didn’t, they could roll back to the previous release. This is where restoring Windows.old comes into play. But with Version 1607, Microsoft cut the Win10 OS rollback window to 10 days. Here’s a screencap from one of my Insider Preview machines that got this update awhile back:
Oops! Just when you need a rollback, the old OS image is gone…
If you ask me, this is somewhat sneaky of Microsoft. According to Sergey Tkachenko at Winaero.com, MS says the change comes from observation of Win10 telemetry. Sergey reports “…they saw that most users would either rollback Windows 10 on their machines within the first couple of days or there were those who stayed with the new OS indefinitely. Which means Microsoft claims there were hardly any users who rolled back after more than 10 days.” OK, I get where they’re coming from. But for those who know about the old default, it’s underhanded to cut it without trumpeting that change.
News on the Win10 OS Rollback Is Covert
I can’t find any official word on this from Microsoft. In tracing the story, I found a piece at neowin.net that quotes Richard Hay at winsupersite.com. But there’s nothing about this in Microsoft changelogs or other information about the Anniversary Update. I’m sure this is unintentional, but I want to spread the word to make doubly darn sure nobody gets caught short. Consider yourself warned!
Yesterday, on August 2, MS unleashed the Anniversary Update to Windows 10 Current Branch users. Because Windows Update is staggering update availability, various other means to grab an ISO also appeared. These include: MSDN (subscription required), and the Media Creation tool. Clicking “Learn More” on the Settings –> Update & Security –> Update Status page also helps. It points to a Windows 10 Upgrade advisor and can also fire off the upgrade process. However, Tech Bench, is currently not available. Having upgraded 5 machines from build 1511 to 1607 yesterday, I can report that some anniversary update post-install cleanup is required. Finally, here’s an interesting screen cap of a self-congratulatory notification from MS received yesterday (twice, in fact):
MS sent users this birthday greeting for Win10’s “bonne anniversaire.”
What Kinds of Anniversary Update Post-Install Cleanup?
First off, there’s the usual post-install stuff: modern Windows takes the previous install and moves it into the Windows.old folder, but also keeps the installer file around as well. These usually clean up nicely using Disk Cleanup (aka cleanmgr.exe), or with CCleaner. It’s also a good idea to use a file like DriverStore Explorer (aka rapr.exe) to check on Windows drivers, because some installs deposit duplicate drivers in profusion. For example, my son’s Dell XPS One 2720 had 81 copies of the Realtek HD Audio driver in the store, of which only 1 was needed.
For this upgrade, Windows.old did not disappear after those usual clean up maneuvers. I found some persistent files related to audio, display, and various Windows 10 apps on all 5 of my upgraded systems. That said, each system had a slightly different collection of persistent stuff, all in a size range around 4 MB. The easiest way to get rid of them turned out to be booting the systems from a bootable UFD. I used Command Prompt in the Computer Repair – Troubleshooting option to root them out. This required using the delete (del) command on actual files, and the remove directory (rmdir) command on directories. This took about 20 minutes per PC to handle, including booting into UEFI, selecting an alternate boot source, and command line activity.
Issues Unrelated to Anniversary Update Post-Install Cleanup
A few other snags came up in applying the Anniversary Update on the 5 target PCs. Three of them went without a single hitch, but I encountered issues on two machines. I built my UFD using Rufus with an image from MSDN. It worked flawlessly on my Lenovo X220 Tablet, but hung at 99% on processing updates on my Lenovo T420. I purchased both machines at the same time so they have the same CPU, equal RAM, and identical Plextor 256 GB mSATA SSDs. After forcibly shutting down and rebooting the T420, it moved into the next install phase and completed successfully. It was disconcerting that the progress on that next phase stayed at 0% complete until it finished and rebooted. But it jumped into the “Hi! We’re setting things up…” phase and finished as it should have.
I tried out the Upgrade Advisor method through Windows Update for my wife’s mini-ITX PC, but it only reached 94% complete after 2-plus hours. I canceled that upgrade, and used the UFD method instead. It completed in about 40 minutes, again without a hitch.
I also had to reinstall my Windows 7 Games for Windows 10 on my production PC after the upgrade completed. For some reason, this upgrade broke the earlier version of that software. I’m also noticing some file indexing and lookup issues, but initial problems with looking up contact info in the Outlook address book have already gone away. I expect this will subside once general indexing completes.
Windows 10’s anniversary update brings an interesting if obscure change to the OS. Right now, long NFS filenames max out at 260 characters. The change busts through that limit and may eliminate it altogether. This limit includes the path specification and the filename itself, so 260 characters isn’t terribly generous. Consider these filenames, for example:
Where did I get them? Scrolling through the WinSxS folder for system files, I picked the biggest ones I could find. (Just for the record, the longest is 98 characters.) If I looked harder, I’m sure I could find longer. Adding a long path into the mix, it’s easy to see how the 260 character limit becomes a constraint.
Here’s the Enable NTFS long paths pane from the Local Group Policy Editor in Windows 10 1607 Build 14393.5
But a new Local Group Policy Editor setting for NTFS long paths lifts this ceiling. Simply click the radio button labeled “Enabled” as shown. For more details see TenForums.com principal and Windows 10 MVP Shawn Brink’s great tutorial. It’s entitled “How to Enable or Disable NTFS Long Paths in Windows 10.”
When the Ceiling on Long NTFS Filenames Is Raised…
I’m surprised that the default setting remains “Not Configured,” though. That’s because Windows itself uses the longest filenames I could find. But perhaps that’s a change for a future Windows update? In the meantime, Win32 applications must also change to accommodate such filenames. Ultimately, this kills a long-standing Windows certification question about filename length limitations.
Those who run more than one operating system on a computer must learn to deal with multi-boot scenarios. Things are already interesting when multiple OSes come from a single maker (such as multiple Windows versions). They become even more so when Windows, Linux and perhaps even hackintosh join the mix. I believe in using good tools to save time and energy whenever possible. That’s why I skip the built-in bcdedit command and use a NeoSmart Technologies tool instead. My post today, in fact, is in praise of EasyBCD 2.3 (the current commercial version).
Meet the BCD in EasyBCD 2.3
For those not already in the know, BCD stands for Boot Configuration Data. BCD files create a specialized data store to describe boot applications and related settings. Objects and elements in the BCD data store do for modern Windows versions what boot.ini did for older ones. But working with bcdedit can be tedious and time-consuming, because I don’t use it regularly. Thus, I need to keep re-reading the documentation and relearning proper syntax and usage.
A simple and straightforward GUI in EasyBCD delivers all of bcdedit‘s capabilities, and then some. In my situation I changed boot order so that the default selection is the Insider Preview Windows 10. As it turns out, I upgraded the other image on that system from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 Version 1511 recently. Shortly thereafter, the runtime promoted 1511 to default status entirely on its own. Because that’s not what I wanted, I switched things around:
Before I ran the program “Windows 10” was on top and default; now “Windows 10 TP” occupies that place and role.
The adjective in the EasyBCD 2.3 product name is both apt and well-deserved. The program makes editing and manageing the boot menu easy, with easy access to the UEFI command shell at boot-up. In fact, it works like a charm. Install it on a USB Flash Drive for portable use and you can run it on any Windows machine. It may seem a bit pricey at $30 or so, but once you start using it you’ll never regret the outlay. If you spend some time investigating the program, you’ll also learn to like its tools. These include BCD Backup and Repair, the ability to reset a BCD configuration or recreate boot files, and change the boot drive altogether. Lots of good stuff here!
In theory, anniversaries are a wonderful opportunity for couples to show each other how much they care about one another. In reality they can easily end in disaster if one side of the relationship forgets the special day or lets their partner down.
Well, if Microsoft were dating its Windows 10 Pro customers, it would be neck deep in some anniversary-based relationship hot water right now because the Windows 10 anniversary update does not include Application Virtualization (App-V) or User Environment Virtualization (UE-V) in Windows 10 Pro.
Organizations that went with Windows 10 Pro’s free upgrade (instead of paying for Windows 10 Enterprise) and rely on Microsoft App-V to deliver remote apps to their users or UE-V to allow users to seamlessly transition from device to device and maintain their app settings, are out of luck.
It is a particularly shady move by Microsoft because companies that upgraded to Windows 10 Pro really can’t go back to Windows 7 or 8.1 now. And, if they still want access to App-V and UE-V, they have to migrate to Windows 10 Enterprise. That means paying for the new OS and taking the time to move once again. Their other option is to integrate a brand new application virtualization product such as VMware ThinApp, but that change is a hassle too.
As frustrating as this trickery is for Windows 10 Pro shops, the anniversary update’s security improvements could help Microsoft patch things up with them. The update includes Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection. This free antimalware service uses analytics tools to send data on previous attacks back to Microsoft. The company then applies that information to its security updates and patches to make the OS more secure.
In addition, the Windows Information Protection tool allows users to mark any content they create as personal or business related. If it is business related, the content is placed into an encrypted container. IT can take the choice out of users’ hands by designating content created on particular devices as corporate.
It’s not a perfect anniversary present and for many the aggravations of the update probably outweigh the benefits, but most companies probably won’t break up with Microsoft over it just yet.
Next week, MS will release the Windows 10 Anniversary Update on Tuesday, August 2. The company has already announced it will be staggering that release for users in the Current Branch. These are the folks who get the latest release via Windows Update. Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet cleverly refers to this it as “Release to Mainstream.” This new decoding for the RTM acronym works well for the world of continuous updates that Windows 10 now inhabits. I myself like to think of the staggered update mechanism as introducing a “slow-flow Anniversary Update.”
Slow-Flow means that not all users will get the Anniversary Update offer from WU at the same time: some will get it sooner, others later.
[Source: Windows Insider Program 6/29/2016 blog post]
Why Is a Slow-flow Anniversary Update in the Cards?
It’s a little early to say how big the Anniversary Update will be, so I turned to a list of ISOs for a recent Insider Preview at WZOR.com. These particular ISOs come from the 14393.0 code base released two weeks ago. Those .esd files vary from a low of 1.93 GB to a high of 3.07 GB. 14393.3 appeared late last week, but should be close to the same size. Many Windows watchers, including me, think that 14393 represents the foundation for the upcoming Anniversary Update.
The reason for the slow-flow release is to keep update requests immediately following the release from swamping the Internet and download servers. Instead, Microsoft staggers its update offer across the current installed base. This helps them to manage huge flows from millions of users downloading multi-gigabyte updates all at once. Alas, it also means that some people will wait weeks before they receive an update offer that they can then exercise.
Working Around a Slow-flow Anniversary Update
For those too impatient to wait for an update offer to come their way, there are workarounds. For one, you can grab ISO files from MSDN (if you’re a member). For another, they’ll be posted to Tech Bench (as soon as MS decides to put them there). It took two week before my test machines got a previous slow-flow Windows 10 update to upgrade from 1507 to 1511. I was able to grab ISOs from MSDN within a day of the initial release of 1511. They hit TechBench about a week later.
Business buy-in remains a key but elusive factor in the success or failure of Windows 10. If end-users migrate, but businesses stick stubbornly to Windows 7, it could retard Windows 10’s eventual desktop dominance. That’s what makes the report from Spiceworks entitled “Windows 10 Adoption: Sprinting out the Gate” an interesting read. It shows business uptake at the lower end of the size spectrum as surprisingly vigorous and likely to stay that way. Spiceworks is uniquely equipped to tell the Windows 10 SMB story, for reasons I will now explain.
71% of Spiceworks respondents come from companies under 250 employees in size; 91% from companies under 1,000.
Why and How Spiceworks “Gets” the Windows 10 SMB Story
Essentially, SMB represents Spiceworks core audience. The preceding pie chart shows that, of the 900 IT professionals surveyed, most (71%) work in companies with less than 250 employees. In Europe, SMB means companies with 500 employees or less; in the US, it’s those with 1,000 or less. By either metric, Spiceworks sits heavily in the middle of that range. Thus, respondents work in a sector with a huge number of desktops and devices in use today, likely to continue in the future.
In a nutshell, the study reports that nearly 40% of respondents have adopted Windows 10 already. The actual percentage is 38%. Last year, a similar survey projected this number at 40%. Among those companies, 85% report themselves at least “generally satisfied” with Windows 10. Windows 7 is the only other version in use to get a higher satisfaction rating. That group also reports the top implementation issue turned out to be “compatibility issues with hardware or software.” Another key concern was “time required for the upgrade process.” 30% report experiencing bugs in early Windows 10 releases, which registered number 4 out of the top 9 issues.
Spiceworks’ Take on the Windows 10 SMB Story Timeline
Looking at companies that haven’t yet taken the Windows 10 plunge, one-third plan to adopt in the next 2 years. Of the other two thirds, another 16 percent plan to adopt at some point, and 42 percent have no plans to adopt. This suggests that nearly 30 percent of businesses surveyed (half of the 60 percent that have not yet adopted) are not considering Windows 10 at all. Thus, this identifies a clear target for MS to promote more widespread business use of Windows 10.
Overall, the Spiceworks study is well worth a read. Grab a copy and check it out for yourself today. That goes double if SMB is your home sector and your company isn’t already on the Windows 10 bandwagon.
As of this morning, only nine days remain for the free MS upgrade offer to convert Windows 7 or 8.1 devices into Windows 10. I’d been holding out on a Windows 8.1 installation on one of my test machines until yesterday. But I decided to go ahead and exercise the offer, to preserve the value of its 8.1 license. The process took some time but went quite well — better than I expected, as I’ll explain. Let me walk you through the process for my 11th hour Win8.1 upgrade.
Prepping for an 11th hour Win8.1 Upgrade
I wanted to preserve a Windows 8.1 runtime environment should I ever need to stand it up again. Thus I first updated and cleaned-up the installation to get things underway. This meant applying all updates, updating drivers, and running Secunia PSI to make all applications current. Next, I ran CCleaner to clean up the boot/system drive. Then I captured two kinds of backups. First, I used the Sysinternals Disk2VHD utility to create a VM version of my 8.1 environment. Second, I captured a system image backup using the backup utility from File History in Control Panel. The former will let me run 8.1 as a virtual machine. The latter will let me perform a bare-metal restore to bring the old OS back up on my test machine.
Performing the 11th hour Win 8.1 Upgrade
Click Upgrade Now to download and run the Windows 10 Upgrade advisor, which checks your machine for compatibility, then launches the upgrade installer.
Because I had also installed the GWX Control Panel on that Windows 8.1 install, I couldn’t use Windows Update to fire off the upgrade process. I could have uninstalled that program, and taken that route. Instead, I chose to visit the Get Windows 10 page and use the Windows 10 Upgrade Advisor. It’s downloaded to your PC when you click the “Upgrade now” button. You can also use the Windows 10 Media Creation tool available on that same page. It will download an ISO image of the Win10 install, and build a bootable DVD or UFD from which to perform a clean install, if you like.
The installation process started with a review of the test machine’s hardware and software. I’d already upgraded that same image to the Windows 10 Technical Preview (now known as the Insider Preview) months earlier. That’s why I knew it would breeze through that process. Then the actual installation got underway. The whole thing took less than half an hour to complete. I’m now running Windows 10 Version 1511 (OS Build 10586.494) on the same drive where 8.1 ran yesterday.
A Nice Surprise from my 11th Hour Win8.1 Upgrade
I was a little concerned about this upgrade. That’s because it’s on a dual-boot machine that’s also running the current Technical Preview on another SSD. I actually took the time out to build a Recovery Drive on an external USB-attached hard disk. I figured I could use it for boot repair, just in case the install process munged the dual boot set up. When the installer booted directly into the new image during its reboot phases, I wondered if a boot rebuild would be needed. But as soon as the new OS upgrade install completed, the OS selection option reappeared during initial boot. The previous Windows 8.1 entry was changed to Windows 10. I’d already used EasyBCD to re-label other boot image as “Windows 10 TP” so I could tell them apart. This was a pleasant and welcome surprise indeed.
Furthermore, Windows 10 installation seems to have improved over the initial versions of 1511. I can remember having to find and re-install the Killer NIC driver on that machine, because Windows 10 didn’t recognize that device. I also had to clean up other driver issues. Most notably, this included duplicate installs (perhaps based on install failures during the upgrade process) of the same drivers on that machine. This time, Windows 10 got all the drivers right on the first try. This improves on my experience in performing hundreds of Windows 10 installations over the past couple of years.
Pushing My Luck to Its Limit
As it turns out, I could have waited longer to perform this last-minute upgrade. It worked like a charm and took only a short while to complete. Nevertheless, I’m glad to have it behind me now, along with a new production install of the Windows 10 OS on that test machine. I’m also glad my 11th hour Win8.1 upgrade to Win10 was an unqualified success!