USB Flash Drives — aka UFDs — represent one Windows install medium of choice nowadays, particularly on newer PCs with USB 3 ports when matched up with USB 3 rated flash drives. These speedy little storage devices can deliver a complete Windows 7 install in under 20 minutes, and I’ve been able to install various versions of Windows 8 even faster than that on occasion.
In fact, I’ve started to maintain bootable UFDs with install images for various Windows operating systems to make installation or VM creation as fast and easy as possible. I now have 32- and 64-bit bootable UFD images for Windows 7, Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 all squirreled away on one of my big 3.5″ SATA drives ready for use on relatively short notice. I used to use the Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool to create such bootable UFDs using Windows OS .iso files, but have lately switched to the even better Rufus utility instead.
But with 8 images in all, and only 4 small-capacity USB 3.0 UFDs, I needed some way to rotate images to and from those UFDs on an as-needed basis. (FYI, I’ve got 2 Mushkin 8 GB, and 2 Corsair 16 GB UFDs for this purpose, because it’s a waste of space to dedicate anything bigger to such use, given that a complete install image for these OSes runs somewhere between 3 and 5 GB, before you start adding drivers or slip-streaming applications into that mix. My production Win8.1 image is about 9.57 GB as you’ll see in the following examples.)
Pick the UFD you want to back up or restore, then specify a source or destination, and you’re in business.
I discovered that Acronis True Image would make image backups from UFDs a couple of years ago and at first, took this approach to backing up and restoring UFD bootable images for Windows install work. Just recently, however, I discovered Alex Beug’s excellent USB Image Tool (Version 1.64 is the most recent implementation of this nice little “donationware” program). It’s extremely easy to use and works quite nicely. For a USB 2 scenario the program is significantly slower than USB 3: over 18 minutes versus under 6 minutes to back up 9.57 GB of data from my production Windows 8.1 UFD; and over 33 minutes to restore that same backup on USB 2 versus around 11 minutes on USB 3 (that’s because it takes longer to write to a UFD than it does to read from one).
For those Windows sysadmins who sometimes (or often) turn to fast UFDs for Windows installation, UB Image Tool is a very nice additions to one’s toolbox. If you do take advantage of this nice little utility, please do what I just did and send Alex a $2-5 donation (the price of a cup of good coffee, which I arbitrarily decided was 2 Euro in my case) to say “Thanks!” for his good work.
OK, so yesterday was “Patch Tuesday,” and MS posted a couple of interesting compatibility updates along with a number of security updates, and the latest version of the Malicious Software Removal Tool.
One version for new installs of Windows 8.1, the other for existing installs: both address the same set of application compatibility issues.
In particular, I’m talking about the following items:
- KB 2917929 “Compatibility update is available for Windows RT 8.1, Windows 8.1, and Windows Server 2012 R2…” This one covers a huge list of applications (65 or so, including well-known items such as 7-Zip, Acrobat X1 Pro, Audacity, the DivX Converter, Evernote, FileMaker Pro, Omnipage, Open Office, Opera, Safari, and WinRAR, among many others) to make older versions play more nicely with Windows 8.1. This particular patch applies only to those who upgrade to or install Windows 8.1 on a PC.
- KB 2917929 “Compatibility update is available for Windows RT 8.1, Windows 8.1, and Windows Server 2012 R2…” This one covers the same huge list of applications, and will be offered to those whose PCs already have Windows 8.1 installed (normal consumers of Windows Update on 8.1, in other words).
It’s probably worth exploring the list of applications covered by these compatibility updates to see if your PCs might benefit from its application. Visit either of the two KB articles linked above to see that list in its entirety.
A great recent post from Sergey Tkachenko over at WinAero explains how to recover the Desktop tile on the Modern UI Start screen for Windows 8 and 8.1, should it ever go missing. That post is entitled “[Fix] Desktop Tile is missing on the Start Screen in Windows 8.1,” and provides step-by-step instructions for those in need of same. Here’s a screen snap with that tile nowhere in site, courtesy of Sergey’s WinAero.com website:
Look Ma! No Desktop tile…
The Desktop tile can go missing for any number of reasons, of which the most common include corruption or loss of its associated .lnk (link) file, or inadvertent removal of the tile from the Start screen. To fix the latter problem, visit the Apps view in Windows 8, find the Desktop item, and right-click (or double-tap) so you can select the “Pin to Start” menu option. If the link file is missing you’ll need to grab a replacement copy (here’s a handy download link) and save it to the C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs directory. Providing you apply the proper fix to address the current situation, you’ll be able to get the Desktop tile back quickly and easily.
Thanks, Sergey: great tip/fix!
My 10-year-old son is a cheerful and active computer user, and is already able to download and print homework assignments from the fourth grade pages on his school’s website. He’s also a pretty interested gamer, and occasionally winds up installing unwanted software, toolbars, downloaders, and other forms of crud on his machine. He’s learning the basics of safe computing, and so far we’ve managed to avoid bringing anything into the home network that requires aggressive clean-up, remediation, or an outright machine wipe. When he tried to check our local school district website last night to see if a threatened winter ice-up would lead to delayed opening or outright closing of the Round Rock schools last night, he came to tell me that “something was stopping him from access the website.”
How does a Web Application Firewall decide when to block domain names? That’s why I’m trying to find out right now…
At first, I thought he’d installed some kind of toolbar or browser add-on that was messing with domain name resolution. I checked “Programs and Features” in Control Panel first, but found nothing new nor alarming there. Ditto for for add-ons to IE 11 on his Windows 8.1 desktop. That’s when I started searching for “remove Incapsula” and “how-to remove Incapsula” on Google, and quickly realized that this was an effect of software outside my son’s machine and in fact also outside our local network. I was able to fix the problem, which resulted from Incapsula’s decision to block access to the roundrockisd.org domain (for reasons I am still trying to elicit from them), by entering the domain into the “Trusted Sites” list from the Security tab in Internet Options in IE. I didn’t have the same issues when using Chrome or Firefox, either.
The whole situation is a little bit mysterious and interesting because I can no longer provoke the error response from Incapsula on his machine (nor on any of my other PCs, either). All I can tell is that somebody in the chain of devices between our local home network and the Round Rock ISD network blocked domain access last night. I’ve launched inquiries with the vendor, and the school district, to see if they can shed any light on this. Though I may never be able to run the whole thing down, it’s absolutely fascinating to me that a configuration setting, or a domain name whitelist/blacklist entry, somewhere in the IP chain between “here” and “there” can wind up (temporarily) blocking access to a publicly funded and supposedly publicly accessible government website.
I recently wrote an article with my old buddy Earl Follis for SearchVirtualDesktop entitled “Vendor options for VDI deployment — sans Microsoft.” In response, Rick Mack, an SME at Dell based in Australia was kind enough to remind me that I’d left one very important product out of the mix — namely, Dell’s capable and redoubtable vWorkspace product.
Indeed vWorkspace has a lot of useful and important characteristics necessary for a VDI or terminal server solution to endear itself to enterprise and business users. In particular it aims to provide effective access to computing resources whenever and wherever they’re needed, without imposing too much complexity on the users, and without taxing corporate coffers overmuch to provide usable tools and technologies.
Turns out that Dell vWorkspace hits the sweet spot between user access plus ease of use versus overall cost and complexity.
In particular, I liked Rick’s admonition to “Do your research properly, get your facts right, and give credit where credit is due. Otherwise you’re just adding to a bunch of useless marketing that could be best described as a biased piece of disinformation.” This is the real problem with any quick survey of a general market category or niche. That’s why I’m always glad to learn about products or platforms I might have overlooked in putting a story together, or in reporting on “what’s out there” in some particular area of the IT, technology, or certification landscape.
I’m especially grateful that he took the time to share his superior knowledge of the overall landscape and some of its denizens with me, and to help me see a bigger and hopefully better picture of the world I attempted to portray than I could see on my own. That’s why all feedback is always welcome, and all input gratefully accepted. Please keep those comments and emails coming: my work (and the information and occasional insight you might glean therefrom) can only improve as a result.
When I started seeing the news online this morning about recent discounts on various Windows 8.1 tablets, I couldn’t take them seriously. But upon traipsing over to the Microsoft Store online (the digital counterpart to Microsoft’s brick-n-mortar stores around the USA and in other locations), I discovered the following items and prices on their Discount PCs page:
1. $699 for the HP Envy Rove 20″ touchscreen tablet/PC.
2. $499 for a 4 GB RAM/128 GB SSD Ivy Bridge model Surface Pro.
3. $229 for a Dell Venue 8 Pro (32 GB) and $299 for the 64 GB model.
4. Toshiba Encore 8″ tablet (32 GB) for $249.
5. Lenovo Miix 2 8″ tablet (32 GB) also $249.
There are lots of good discounts on Win8 Tablets at the Microsoft Store right now, but this Dell Venue 8 Pro offer is especially hot.
For those interested in trying out a small format tablet at low cost, the Dell, Toshiba, and Lenovo items are especially compelling. The old-model Surface Pro is also a lot more palatable with its 4-hour battery life and limited storage capacity at $500 than it was at $900. Given the great reviews the Dell Venue 8 Pro has been collecting of late (despite its 1366×780 screen resolution) it’s almost too good a deal to pass up. I may have to find an excuse to pass by the Microsoft Store about 6 miles from our house sooner rather than later myself!
There are those who speculate that the depth of these discounts indicates problems in selling Windows 8 PCs in general, and Windows 8.1 tablets in particular, into the consumer market. My 9-year-old son loves our local physical Microsoft Store, so we’ve spent more time in there over the past year or so than many people. I have to say that if the size of the crowds and the amount of foot traffic is any indication of interest, there may be fewer passers-through and more buyers at these stores over coming weeks, thanks to better buying incentives in the form of lower prices. With margins on PCs and tablets already razor-thin, MS can’t be making much profit from such deep discounts — that’s for sure.
OK, so the latest Windows 8.1 Update 1 rumors are out, and they’re reporting something nearly everybody who’s ever used a Windows 8 version of any kind on a PC already knew, be that version beta, 8.0, 8.1, or whatever — namely, that most users work from the desktop with a keyboard and a mouse, and couldn’t care less about the tiled, touch-friendly interface and the Windows Store apps that go with it. Here’s how Tom Warren at The Verge reports on what’s driving a major upcoming change to the Windows 8 UI in the upcoming next release for Windows 8.1 aka “Update 1:”
The Windows Store continues to grow with applications, but we understand that Microsoft has been paying close attention to telemetry data that shows the majority of Windows 8 users still use a keyboard and mouse and desktop applications. This same telemetry data was used to justify the removal of the Start button shortly before the Windows 8 release, and contributed to its eventual return in Windows 8.1. Microsoft may have wanted to push touch computing to the masses in Windows 8, but the reality is that users have voiced clear concerns over the interface on desktop PCs.
Other sources indicate that the next update being tested changes default system behavior to boot to the deskop, and to make Modern UI applications (and the tiled Start screen) available through explicit navigation. Also, as reported in many other places, it will be possible to run Modern UI apps inside windows on the desktop, and even to pin them to the taskbar just as with desktop applications since the Windows XP days.
Hence, my title for this blog post, which recalls the title of a once well-known 1979 Supertramp hit song in speculating on the basis for this possible change of course from Microsoft. Of course, it’s still not a done deal, and it will be interesting to see how it all pans out when Update 1 starts to become available to a wider range of users, be that on March 11 as current predictions claim, or through earlier leaks onto the Internet.
In the past 10 days, rumors about the upcoming Windows 8.1 update have started to circulate with some degree of urgency and plenty of frequency. There are two particularly interest elements in these rumors (see the end of this blog post for pointers to some particularly interesting sources for same) — namely:
1. That it will become possible to “pin” Metro apps to the taskbar on the desktop, and run those apps within Windows on that selfsame desktop. This will probably irk the folks at Stardock, who offer this capability in the form of a $5 desktop application called ModernMix, but should be welcome news to those who spend most of their time in Windows on the desktop, with only occasional forays into Metro app-land.
2. MS also intends to reduce the disk and memory footprint for Windows 8.1, so that it will be better suited to reside on el-cheapo tablets, which seldom include more than 2 GB of RAM nor more than 32 GB of flash memory for storage. Right now, for example, my brand-new Fujitsu Q704 tablet running Windows 8.1 occupies 29.2 GB on its SSD (basic Windows 8.1 Pro installation plus MS Office 2013 Professional Plus, and less than two dozen other apps as detailed in my blog from last Friday entitled “Getting Desktops Ready for Windows 8(.*)“) and consumes 2.02 GB of RAM (running the OS, Task Manager, Desktop Gadgets, and PowerShell). I can see where MS would probably like to trim the bare OS below 20 GB and memory to 1.5 GB (or less) to give less well-endowed tablets some room to breathe.
Just with Windows 8.1, MS Office 2013, and a scant set of other apps, my disk footprint is already over 29 GB.
I wonder exactly how MS will accomplish the latter trick. My best guess would be some kind of special parameters to more aggressively manage active runtime elements, perhaps by reducing the number of services running, and background processes called into action during typical use. If true, it should be interesting to examine how Microsoft tweaks things so as to provide some guidance on how admins and power users might themselves do likewise if the setting is neither ubiquitous for all Windows 8.1 installations, or not directly available to informed users who’d like to reduce the Windows footprint on other machines as well. And in fact, I hope Microsoft is looking at sites like the excellent Black Viper (whose tag line reads “Have you tweaked your OS lately?”), to get some insight on what can stay, what must go, and what could go safely if what must go is not enough by itself to trim things down as needed.
Good Rumor Resources for Windows 8.1 Update
Other recent rumors indicate that the Update may surface as early as the March 2014 Patch Tuesday, which falls on the 11th of that month. Check out these stories for the inside scoop on this update:
1. Mary Jo Foley “Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 Update 1: Rumored release target is March 11” ZDNet (1/24/2014)
2. Kevin Parrish “New Windows 8.1 GDR1 May Arrive in March” Tom’s Hardware (1/27/2014)
3. Paul Thurrott “Need to Know: Windows 8.1 Update 1 and Windows Phone 8.1” WindowsITPro (1/28/2014) Thurrott indicates further that “…this disk savings will only be offered on new PCs, and isn’t something that can be added otherwise.” Bummer!
The latest results from AV-Test, an independent anti-malware and security software testing group based in Magdeburg, Germany, are out. In particular, results for what the site calls “Corporate Solutions” for Windows 8 versions — namely endpoint and client security software from big well-known vendors such as Bitdefender, F-Secure, Kaspersky, McAfee (Intel), Symantec, and others — should be of interest to readers of this blog. The latest chart from AV-Test sums things up pretty nicely:
The Jan 2014 test results for corporate Windows 8 solutions from AV-Test report on metrics for 8 different offerings. (Click image or link to see larger version)
I was a little disappointed to see my long-time favorite, Symantec Endpoint Protection (which comes of its Norton lineage), get dinged for less-than-stellar performance (a long-time beef against the company’s offerings, but one which they beat back for Windows 7 versions). The leaders in this round of testing are Bitdefender and Tend Micro Office Scan, with Kaspersky Endpoint Security not too far behind.
I’ve just taken delivery of a new Fujitsu Q704 Tablet with a keyboard dock that turns it into a somewhat hefty (4 lbs 12 oz, or 2.175 kg, according to my digital office scale) notebook PC. Although I ordered a Windows 8.1 model, I was surprised to see the unit arrive running Windows 7 SP1 and to hear the Fujitsu support tech tell me that it was up to me to install Windows 8.1 from the included system recovery DVDs (all three of them). Lucky for me, I had a USB DVD drive that I hooked up to the unit, and proceeded to do just that. As I worked after the Windows 8.1 install completed, I took notes on the system changes I ended up making and the software I installed, so as to provide a snapshot of what it takes to get a desktop or notebook PC for production use.
The new convertible Fujitsu Q704 tablet gets uplifted to Windows 8.1
Here’s what I ended up doing, over the course of a pretty long day, after completing the Windows 8.1 install from the media (which took longer than I’m used to, having now been pretty well spoiled by installing from a USB 3.0 UFD instead of optical media: about 70 minutes from DVDs, versus 15-20 minutes from UFD):
1. Cycle through Windows Update to get all 27 updates available installed, which required three passes and three system reboots to accomplish.2. Download and install the Fujitsu Download manager, to download and sift through 36 potentially applicable driver updates, to decide about 23 of them were needed, including a BIOS update and numerous peripherals.
3. During the previous process, I downloaded and installed my go-to compression/unpacking tool, 7Zip from the 7Zip.org download page.
4. A gaggle of helpful utilities came next, including: CCleaner, Start8 ($5), 8GadgetPack, Rufus, CPUID‘s CPU-Z and HWMonitor, FileZilla, IrfanView, RecImgManager, Revo Uninstaller, and finally, WinDirStat. All are free except Start8, which is part of my standard Win8.1 desktop setup anyway. I also added Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox to my browser arsenal. For the “mother of all Windows utilities management” try out the free Windows System Control Center (WSCC), but because it adds 140-odd programs to the Windows environment and requires operation with admin privileges, this is an “admin-and-power users only” kind of thing.
5. Downloaded and installed Microsoft Office 2013 from MSDN (subscription required).
6. Turned on Hyper-V capabilities using the Control Panel Programs and Features / Turn Windows features on or off facility.
7. Downloaded and installed some commercial software I like to use, including Corel PaintShop Pro X6, Gabe Topala’s System Information for Windows (SIW), and Norton Internet Security 2014 (NIS).
Those with enough identical systems to image (and reimage as needed for repair or restoration) would clearly benefit from using Windows Image Management and maintenance tools (such as DISM, System Center, and so forth) to create canonical images with all this stuff slipstreamed in, and ready to go.